A co-ed day and boarding school with a strong family ethos, that is seriously upping its game in the prep school stakes
What? Where? A gorgeous prep school for 3-13 year-old boys and girls in the heart of the Cotswolds, Kitebrook Preparatory School provides an outstanding all-round education where children are allowed to develop at their own pace in a happy and supportive environment. This small school of 250 pupils is certainly one to keep an eye on – the setting is postcard-perfect, pupil numbers are ballooning and the school is going from strength to strength under very impressive Head Susan McLean.
In 1959 Anne McDermott founded Kitebrook with the aim to run a school that would not just provide academic rigour, but a place where the school would work together like a family, encouraging freedom of thought, individual development and mutual respect and trust. In our opinion, it is exactly the same today!
Several years ago Kitebrook might have been thought of as a tiny, uninspiring school for girls, where pupils sought more exciting pastures after the Pre-Prep years, but that has all changed now. While the top year is still a little light on boys (there is only one chap in Year 8), Year 7 and below are equal boys/girls and there is no longer an exodus to larger schools. Parents and children love the family atmosphere, the acceptance and encouragement of each child as an individual, the outdoor life – overall, the happy, wholesome sense of childhood that permeates the whole place.
There are no school buses on offer but children come from Cheltenham, Northleach, Cirencester, Chipping Norton, even Banbury.
Rendcomb Junior School
An outdoorsy co-ed junior school for ages 3-11 with small pupil numbers but whopper facilities, hidden away in the heart of the Cotswolds.
What? Where? Rendcomb College Junior School near Cirencester is a co-educational, non-selective junior school for ages 3-11 (little ones can start at rising three if they’re well behaved, sorry, potty trained) deep in the Gloucestershire countryside, with fewer than 100 children from Nursery to Year 6. The attached Senior School runs to 18, with full boarding facilities (about 50% of the kids board). The school was founded in 1920 by Frederick Noel Hamilton Wills in a gorgeous former stately home (with possibly the grandest entrance hall of a school I’ve seen) where it remains, and thrives, to this day. Indeed the Wills family, who also helped found Bristol University, are still very much involved with the school, echoing its family-orientated vibe. The school is nestled in Rendcomb village with a wonderfully bucolic, rural feel, though only a few miles from both Cirencester and Cheltenham. Children come from the local area but some as far afield as Faringdon. Well, wouldn’t you, for these gorgeous grounds?
Rendcomb College Senior School
What? Where? Rendcomb is an all-through, co-ed school located in a fabulous 19th-century grand – and I mean grand! – stately home with a stupendous 230 acres of grounds, including a forest and deer park. Nestled in the village of Rendcomb on the old Cirencester to Cheltenham road (about ten minutes away from the former), it’s a bucolic spot where, from age 11 to 18, pupils can board and soak up the glorious surroundings 24/7. There are around 270 pupils in the senior school – about 90% of the 100 or so junior school pupils (see the Muddy review here) choose to stay on, with a big new intake in Year 7 and a growing number of pupils joining at Sixth Form. It has a socially progressive history and pioneered the granting of bursaries to pupils from modest backgrounds when it was founded in 1920 by Frederick Noel Hamilton Wills to provide free boarding education to 12 boys in a bid to help them win scholarships to public school. In 1970, to celebrate its fiftieth year, the Noel Wills Scholarship was set up to fully fund a senior school place for a pupil from a state primary school in Gloucestershire.
A gently-selective co-ed with a progressive ethos rooted in deep traditions, this prestigious Prep is an impressive all-rounder in the heart of Regency Cheltenham.
Cheltenham Prep School is a co-ed day and boarding school for ages 3 – 13. Sitting in a platinum location on 75 acres of prime Cheltenham real estate it’s the younger sibling to the prestigious Cheltenham College (they share the same campus and some facilities). Pupils start in Kingfishers in the Pre-Prep (3 to 7) then move up to The Prep with many going on to the College after Year 8. Although it is a multi-faith school you’ll find a defined and proud Christian spirit here with Years 3 to 8 attending the spectacular cathedral-like ‘chapel’ across the road, hymn books in hand, on Friday afternoons (Westminster Cathedral eat your heart out).
St Huge’s school, Faringdon, South Oxon
A warm, friendly, non-selective co-ed day and boarding school in gorgeous grounds in rural South Oxfordshire.
St Hugh’s is a co-educational, proudly non-selective prep school for kids aged 3-13 years deep in the South Oxfordshire countryside, with 350 kids in pre-prep, middle and senior departments.
The school started its existence in Kent 114 years back, but moved to Carswell Manor, a stunner of a Jacobean mansion with architecturally stylish modern additions, set in 45 acres of perfectly manicured grounds, in 1945 – it’s probably one of the most prettily situated prep schools I’ve come across. The school is definitely rural, though ‘remote’ is too strong a word – it’s a mile or so to the town of Faringdon and a hop and skip to Lechlade, while Oxford and Swindon are further away, at around 30 mins.
Muddy says: Top marks go to this seriously family-friendly education for boys and girls aged 3-13, in acres of rolling countryside on the edge of The Cotswolds
Pinewood School, Bourton, nr Shrivenham
Set in 84 acres of rolling countryside on the edge of the Cotswolds, Pinewood offers a seriously family-friendly, day and boarding education for boys and girls aged 3-13. Saturday school is still going strong, sport is tip-top, academics are excellent and there is an all-round vibe of fun and adventure.
Founded in 1875 in Farnborough, the school moved to its present site (and a very handsome one it is too) in 1946. Around 400 children are divided into year groups of between 45-51, split further into forms and academic sets. The whole place bursts with energy, there is no Head Girl or Head Boy (or prefects) and a spirit of equality prevails at this thriving, healthy, outdoorsy school.
Kingham Hill School, North Oxon
An idyllically placed co-ed, non-selective secondary school with a Christian ethos and strong academic results, set in 100 acres of Cotswolds countryside.
Kingham Hill School in Kingham near Chipping Norton is an idyllically placed co-ed day and boarding school with a strong Christian ethos, a couple of miles outside Chipping Norton in North Oxfordshire. Driving up the sweeping drive is kind of like entering a village in its own right with pretty Cotswold houses around the various greens – it has the slightly unreal, cinematic feel of a Richard Curtis movie (just add snow and Hugh Grant).
There, 346 kids from 11-18 years roam in 100 acres (yes, you read that right) of handsome stone Victorian buildings, playing fields and woodland. The school welcomes children of all abilities into classes that average 15, so your child will get plenty of attention here.
Radley College, radley
With its stunning 800 acre grounds, seriously impressive facilities and strong results, this prestigious all boys full boarding school needs no introduction
Nestled in an epic 800 acres in a quiet, south Oxfordshire village, in a handsome red-brick, largely Victorian site that reflects its grand age this year of 175, Radley College is one of the few remaining all boys full boarding schools in the UK. With 760 pupils from 13-18 years old, 15% of whom are international boarders, the school ranks with Eton, Harrow and Winchester in the elite band of English boarding schools where names are put down at birth and places can be hard to come by – though Radley is currently taking great strides in widening its cohort through the Open Entry scheme (apply in Year 6) and an enticing funded places programme that will see 20% of all places offered to those otherwise unable to pay the fees.
Dragon School, Oxford
One of the biggest co-ed boarding schools in the UK, the Dragon in the centre of Oxford roars with its results and its A-list alumni
Blissfully hidden amongst 15 acres of grounds next to the River Cherwell around 10 minutes from central Oxford, the Dragon School is one of the city’s most famous prep schools with an alumni list that could fill a red carpet – and frequently still does (hello Hugh Laurie, Emma Watson, Tom Hollander, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Dancy and friends).
Dating from 1877, the school was founded by a group of Oxford University dons for their own children, with the then-progressive view that education should be enjoyable for children and help them understand the world around them. Now The Dragon is one of the biggest co-ed boarding schools in the UK (around 180 of its 800 pupils call the school home) set on two sites – a compact but attractive site for 4-7 year olds in central Summertown, and a second larger site for 8-13 year olds, with a mix of traditional and more modern functional buildings, attractive playing fields and direct access to the river. Average class sizes are 16 in Reception, rising to a maximum of 21 in Y8.