Located in a beautiful rural setting, this co-ed day school for 12 months through to 18 years is proudly mixed ability, places great importance on value add performance, and offers a broad and creative curriculum with academic and vocational pathways.
Founded as a small all-boys prep school in Ipswich in 1846, Akeley Wood has branched out and moved with the times. Today, it offers an all-through education to boys and girls aged 12 months to 18 years: Wicken Park (Nursery and Junior), Akeley Wood House (Senior, including Years 7 and 8 from September 2021), and Tile House Mansion (with its Sixth Form).
In September 2021, Akeley Wood relaunched its Sixth Form as AW6 at its Tile House Mansion campus, which promises to offer a broader curriculum, more independence, and a greater focus on university prep for its oldest students.
Spread across three campuses, Akeley Wood educates 700 students who can enjoy the benefits of smaller, dedicated campuses as part of a larger school. It is a mid-sized school that is large enough to field plenty of sports teams, stage various productions, and run a wide range of clubs and events. It’s also small enough for teachers to ‘know’ every child – class sizes remain at about 20 students, and the Junior School has one or two forms per year group, which increases to up to five in the Senior School. There’s also specialist teaching staff from Nursery upwards.
Akeley Wood is also part of the global Cognita education group. While Akeley Wood offers its own individual ‘brand’ of education (typical of all Cognita schools), there are benefits to being part of an international family of schools. These include students participating in Cognita’s Global Be-Well Day (a day dedicated to student mental health and wellbeing), supporting charitable initiatives such as Solar Buddy and Light Up Learning, and improving their Spanish through online chats with peers in Cognita’s Spanish schools.
The school talks about ‘Learning Adventurously’ and students are encouraged to be the best version of themselves. Whatever their talent, it is celebrated, and the school doesn’t expect all students to excel in the same areas and takes a flexible approach to education. It’s a school where parents can expect their child to discover new interests, push their boundaries, and have plenty of fun (there’s also a fair bit of tree climbing and campfires too!) It’s this approach that means Akeley Wood is so well suited to students of all abilities.
As the school says:
“Distinctively, at Akeley we take children with a broad range of abilities, and we support them in recognising and achieving their personal goals. We do not expect them to conform to a certain mould; rather we encourage them to thrive in an environment where independence and individuality is celebrated. Our students are given the freedom to find their distinct voice, and to flourish in their diversity, ultimately becoming whoever they want to be.”
Wellbeing is clearly forefront at the school, which has several forward-looking and creative initiatives. As well as having an anti-bullying team, peer group mentors and counsellors, Akeley Wood uses an early warning system that helps teachers identify potential mental health issues. The Affective Social (AS) tracking system, which was trialled in other independent schools including Harrow and Wellington College, tests Senior School students twice a year.
In the younger years, the school helps to encourage positive behaviour by awarding Rocket Recognition lanyards to students, teachers and parents, and these are worn with pride around campus. Students are also recognised in weekly Celebration Assemblies, which ends with a treat of hot chocolate with the headteacher and Milkshake Mondays!
Headteacher Christopher Drew joined Akeley Wood in March 2022 taking over from Simon Antwis after his four year stint at Akeley Wood. Mr Drew has significant experience in both the independent sector, where he led an academic department and a day/boarding house, and in the state sector, as the Headmaster of the King’s Academy in Middlesborough for 10 years where he oversaw the establishment and growth of the sixth form and significant investment in facilities, from performing arts to outdoor adventure.
From Nursery to Sixth Form, Akeley Wood offers a broad and creative curriculum that goes beyond the structures of the conventional English curriculum. Akeley Wood is a school where art, music, drama and sport are as important as the academic subjects.
While Akeley certainly has high expectations of its students, the school’s relaxed ethos might not suit families looking for a rigorous academic environment. But students who thrive in a creative environment, can embrace the unconventional, or need that extra helping hand, will find learning at Akeley Wood exciting and rewarding.
One parent is quoted as saying that Akeley “balances high expectations for students with a nurturing, motivating environment and so many lovely opportunities beyond academic lessons.”
Located in the village of Wicken near Milton Keynes, Akeley Wood’s Nursery enrols students aged 12 months to four years; pre-schoolers benefit from specialist teaching every week in computing, PE, Forest School, French and music, and they have automatic entry into the Reception class of the Junior School.
Also located in Wicken (and run by the same head as the Nursery, which has been Kara Dowson since 2019) the Junior School takes in students from four to 11 years. It offers an enriched version of the English National Curriculum within a very rural setting that lends itself well to letting ‘children be children’ in the great outdoors.
Akeley Wood says that the “breadth and dynamism of the curriculum at Akeley Wood Junior School sets it apart from most schools”. It’s a bold statement but one that can be supported with various examples.
From Year 1, the subject choice is wide – modern foreign languages, history, geography, food technology, design and technology, PE and gym, religious education. Students learn French from Year 1, and Spanish is added in Year 6; there’s also setting for maths and English from a young age (Year 3). Students are taught by specialist teachers and in age-appropriate facilities (junior-sized food tech stations, for example). And, thanks to a longer school day (students finish at 3.45pm from Year 2), there’s time in the timetable to fit it all in.
Outdoor learning is high on the agenda. All Nursery and Juniors have weekly Forest School lessons, where learning is informal and child-led (while enjoying a wonderful helping of fresh air).
Friday afternoons are dedicated to the Enriched Curriculum where students in all year groups come together in mixed-age groups for a huge range of activities ranging from horse riding, ballroom dancing and skiing to Warhammer, archery, print making and robotics. It’s all about giving students choice and encouraging them to discover new interests, which is to be encouraged.
The school also keeps its curriculum ‘fresh’ thanks to new ideas from a forward-thinking team of teachers. For example, one teacher introduced the Innovation Rotation programme for Years 7 and 8 that sees students focusing on topics ranging from fabrics and fashion to sustainability, global mindedness and robotics. It’s proven to be a popular part of the curriculum and inspired students to set up a green committee, an arts committee and a sustainable outdoors committee.
“It blends practical knowledge with theoretical insight and consciously aims to access the world beyond, which can sometimes be hard to appreciate if you are growing up in a relatively rural part of the world.”
Most Junior School students, (88% in 2019) continue into the Senior School, which offers children and seamless and well-managed transition into secondary education. A smaller group take the 11+ test required by selective grammars and other private schools in the area. Reasons for parents choosing to leave Akeley Wood include a preference for a boarding school or a school with a more academic focus.
In Senior School, students prepare to take their GCSEs in Year 10 by studying the core subjects, humanities, sciences, art, design and technology, French, computer science, music, religious studies, Spanish, textiles, outdoor learning, PE and games. There are more than 20 GCSE options, and students can choose to follow the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) core academic subjects (English, mathematics, history or geography, two sciences and a language), which are required or preferred for entry to degree courses.
The Sixth Form offers A Levels, as well as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), the Extended Project Qualification and ESB qualification. There’s a broad range of over 25 A Level subjects including the traditional, the new (media, music technology psychology), the arts, and languages (French and Spanish), as well as vocational options (BTECs and CTECs were introduced in 2019). The Sixth Form curriculum is enriched with networking breakfasts, a leadership programme, webinars and career talks, speakers Programme, and 1:1 careers advisors – all incredibly valuable opportunities to help students prepare for university.
It signals the school’s commitment to a well-rounded curriculum and belief that one size does not fit all. This is a not a school with a typical student who is steered towards one pathway to further education. The school offers variety and encourages students to play to their different strengths.
Akeley Wood has a very inclusive culture with a learning support team that works with children on a 1:1 basis, with small groups and within the classrooms. It’s also a school where you can expect your child to be stretched and challenged. High-performing students are offered extension activities such as coding activities at Bletchley Park and writing workshops with published authors.
The focus at Akeley is very much on the traditional sports such as rugby, football, hockey and netball, although archery, badminton and strength and conditioning for older students are also offered as extra-curricular activities. In line with the school’s inclusive culture, there are teams for students of all abilities from A-D, and regular matches at local, county and national level. The school’s sportiest students can also take PE at GCSE and A Level.
Facilities at both campuses are excellent. The Junior school has a sports hall, Astroturf for football, hockey and tennis and cricket nets and Astro strip. While there’s no swimming pool on-campus, students still have lessons at a nearby pool. Senior students have their own all-weather full-size Astroturf pitch for football and hockey, 12 tennis courts, four badminton courts, and a heated sports dome – all set in woods and fields.
The school puts art, drama and music centre stage and there are many opportunities to perform and sing (and work backstage), both on and off the curriculum. The school has several choirs (including one for the Junior School), orchestras and several musical groups, as well as a good uptake of peripatetic music lessons. DJ-ing lessons have recently been introduced, and there’s the opportunity to study music technology at GCSE and A Level. Students perform and compete in local and national shows and competitions such as Young Voices and the Northampton Festival.
The school’s “fun and inventive” extra-curricular programme offers a choice of 35 different activities to students from Reception upwards. Held during break and lunch times or after school, these include chess, beading, Spanish, nature, pet club and board games.
While Covid-19 has put a hold on overseas travel, residential trips have typically included European ski trips to adventures in Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire and Dorset. And there’s a full calendar of events for students and their families, including the annual rock festival, Woodfest, a Colour Run and Christmas Market.
As a Cognita school, it has the use of the group’s Cuffley Active Learning Centre where students attend a variety of residential and activity trips. It’s actively used by the school; this year for example, all Sixth Formers ended their first week here.
Akeley Wood’s results are well-above the national average but, as you’d expect from a non-selective school, they are not top of the league.
In the 2021 GCSE results, 49% of grades were 9 -7 (A**/A*/A), 90% of grades at 5+, and 98% of grades at 4+. In the same year, 71% of A Level grades were A*-B, 75% of BTEC results were a Distinction or above, and 100% of CTEC students achieved Distinction. It’s interesting to see where the highest grades are – in Music and Music Technology, Fine Art, Psychology, Economics and Photography – which reflects the diversity of students.
The true value of an Akeley education can be seen in its high Value Added Score, though, which looks at where a student started and the progress they have made. The school says it aims “to exceed 0.5 Value Add by end of A Level” which means that students should achieve at least half a grade more than expected by being at the school.
In 2021, the school’s Value Added Score increased for a fourth year in a row with students achieving almost a full grade higher than expected for their ability. Many students achieved a VA of over +2, so achieving at least two grades higher than expected (based on their CAT scores from Year 7).
Located on the Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire border, Akeley Wood has a countryside setting that lends itself to the school’s relaxed and friendly feel. The three campuses are a 15 minute drive from each other.
Cognita has invested in some fantastic facilities across all three campuses, from Food Technology suites, specialist facilities for Music Tech, Science, ICT and Art, to an Astroturf and Sports Hall erected on each of the three sites.
The Junior School has a country mansion house-style setting. As well as enjoying the benefits of a standalone Nursery and Junior School (there’s a smaller, close-knit community on each campus, and dedicated age-appropriate and child-sized facilities), Juniors also have access to the Senior School buildings and equipment.
The Junior School has science and modern foreign language labs, specialist art and design and technology rooms, as well as food technology kitchens, two specialist music rooms and three practice rooms, and a drama studio. Also, making the very most of its woodland setting, the school has a fantastic Forest School with lodge, large pond, allotment and nature areas. For families searching for that extra layer of outdoor education, you’ll find it right here.
The Senior Campus, Akeley Wood House, is housed within historical and purpose-built contemporary buildings and has specialist rooms for art, textiles, design technology, music and drama, as well as sport.
Akeley is a non-selective school, and admission is based on school reports and either attending a taster day (Junior) or interview (Senior) when students are assessed on “whether they will thrive from an Akeley education”. The school has a small international student community and welcomes applications from students with English as their second or foreign language, who are supported by an EAL teacher.
Annual tuition fees range from £11,355 for Reception to Year 2 up to £15,885 in Years 12-13.
Scholarships are available in Academia, Creative and Performing Arts, Music, and Sport for Year 7, Year 9 and Year 12. They are awarded at gold and silver level between £500 and £2500 per year and last for the duration of the students’ time at the school.
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