This rural co-ed prep school offers an aspirational education while creating happy childhood memories in a glorious countryside setting.
Located in Berkshire, Elstree became fully co-ed in 2020, having previously only accepted girls through to Year 3; the decision was popular with existing families looking for a family-focused school that could offer the same opportunities for their daughters. While the decision has made waiting lists at this popular school even longer in all year groups, it has maintained the family atmosphere and low teacher:student ratios that the school is much-loved for.
The current cohort of just 225 students learn on a beautiful countryside campus of 150 acres of rural Berkshire countryside. Students can choose to flexi or weekly board from Year 4, offering families an ideal balance between school and family life.
It’s a school that believes “happiness breeds success” and an education here balances plenty of academic ambition with the time to enjoy a proper childhood. While the school has high academic expectations, it has recently updated its curriculum to add more breadth, more innovation, and more creativity. The school has developed its own junior version of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, it has launched a ‘Headmaster’s Project’ for all Year 6 students, (projects such as designing a telescope test students’ creativity and craftsmanship), and it has introduced Big Weekends where year groups can board for a themed weekend jam-packed with activities. Since 2021, the school has introduced more digital learning into the classroom and all Year 7 and 8 students now have their electronic device.
While the school is non-selective, it has a reputation for its very high academic, creative, and sporting achievements; students achieve excellent results in Common Entrance and academic, sport and art scholarship exams (in 2022, four scholarships were awarded, in 2019 it was 13). Students leave the school as academically strong but well-rounded students, ready for senior school. And they leave with places at leading senior schools including Bradfield College, Eton, Radley, St Edwards School, Sherborne, and Wellington.
The Pre-prep is set alongside the main school and is home to around 80 girls and boys aged three to seven years. The Pre-prep and Prep school share the same ethos and facilities, and while each have their own dedicated building, they feel part of one happy family. There’s also a wonderful blend of public school tradition with a heathy does of joyful fun. Teachers and students all eat together in the dining hall, they enjoy ‘buns’ for morning snack, and learn to keep those elbows off the table in a ‘table manners’ challenge.
Founded in 1848, Elstree remains a Christian school; values such as kindness and respect are paramount; there are weekly services at a local church and the school choir plays a very active role in the local community. There’s wraparound care from 8am until 6pm, which is good news for busy working parents.
Headmaster Sid Inglis joined the school, along with his wife Olivia, from Ludgrove in 2019. He’s dynamic leader, (he led 21 prep headteachers through a triathlon for children’s mental health charity Place2Be) and he takes a very active role in helping students with their senior school applications.
An education at Elstree is praised by ISI inspectors in its most recent inspection in 2015 for helping students “of all abilities to make excellent progress through the school”. Teachers focus on collaboration and problem solving, they celebrate ‘Marvellous Mistakes’, and they provide an encouraging environment.
An enriched version of the National Curriculum for England includes English, maths, French, science, geography, history, TPR, ICT, art, design technology, music, PE, PSHE, and Latin and Spanish from Year 5. It starts with plenty of specialist teaching and topic-based learning in Pre-prep as students work towards their last two years here, which are focused on Common Entrance preparation.
Small class sizes (average 12 per class) ensure students are supported whether they are gifted or talented, requiring learning support, or anywhere in between. The school still has a six-day week for students in Years 5 and above, with Church and lessons in the morning, followed by matches or games in the afternoon. In the final year, this Saturday morning enrichment programme provides students with some valuable preparation for senior school entrance exams.
The school has some enviable sporting facilities: a sports hall, competition trampoline, new full size all weather pitch, two mini seven-a-side hockey pitches and nine tennis courts, outdoor heated swimming pool, six outdoor cricket nets, nine-hole golf course and putting green, and a low ropes course.
As well the main sports – football, rugby, hockey and cricket – students also take part in athletics, badminton, basketball, cross-country, fencing, golf, gymnastics, health related fitness, horse riding, judo, kayaking, swimming, outdoor education, sailing, squash, shooting, table tennis, tennis and trampolining. There are many opportunities to represent the school in a number of sports and it’s a top school for cricket.
There’s a diverse music programme, teaching everything from classical arias to jazz and music technology. Most students learn at least one instrument, and there’s every kind of music ensemble on offer from choirs, orchestra and strings to jazz and pop bands.
Students are introduced to a wide variety of media in art, and design and technology; they may be painting using watercolour in one class, creating sculptures from recycled objects in another. The annual residential art trip to Cornwall in Year 6 is very popular.
The whole school is also encouraged to get involved with drama, as a timetabled subject and in the many school productions (whether on stage or as part of the backstage team). There’s also a wonderful drama department where one teacher has gone as far as writing his own pirate-themed play, exploring some serious themes such as wellbeing, specifically for his Year 3 & 4 students.
Elstree promises to offer an all-round education, and a significant part of this is allowing students access to and the freedom to select a wide choice of extra-curricular activities. These are as varied as art, drama, logical reasoning, Spanish, chess, golf, tennis and Scottish reeling.
Students can also complete an Elstree Award (Elstree’s junior version of the Duke of Edinburgh Award with a focus on charity, leadership, life skills and problem-solving). There is a huge number of trips held throughout the academic year. There’s also a very active student eco council, with students taking the lead on some brilliant sustainability initiatives such as planting a WWI memorial garden, creating a reading garden and Improving menu choices for lunch.
The school’s flexible boarding policy from Year 4 means families can choose from one to seven nights a week. Full boarding was phased out a few years ago, and Elstree’s flexible boarding model means parents can strike the right balance between school and home life.
Around half the students are boarders, so students who choose to live in have plenty of company – and plenty of fun activities to keep them happy. There’s a wide choice of Boarders’ Clubs – from bridge to cookery, fishing and shooting to judo and touch rugby – and weekly events like hot chocolate and cake in the houseparents’ flat helps to settle students in.
At the heart of Elstree is the Georgian house surrounded by 150 acres of parkland, where the school moved to at the outbreak of WW2. In the last 30 years, it has modernised facilities and accommodation to include a new library, all-weather tennis courts, dining room, junior classroom block, a sports hall and science centre.
It’s offering students a wonderful way to spend their childhood – a countryside setting less than 10 miles from Newbury and Reading and about an hour from west London.
Elstree is non-selective, but all children joining in Years 3 to 8 will be required to do a taster day and complete some informal assessments to “gauge the suitable entry for that pupil into a particular form, set or stream”. It’s a popular school and waitlists are growing, so parents are recommended to register their child for a taster day well in advance.
Annual tuition fees for day students range from £12,840 to £23,310, and £26,275 for full boarders.
Good for: If searching for a high achieving, non-selective school, Elstree has an excellent track record of moving children on to their first choice of senior school. If looking for plenty of individual attention for your child, there are small class sizes (the smallest class size is 10 and the largest is 15); it’s a well-mannered school where high standards of behaviour and effort are expected, and it has a family atmosphere that supports the idea that happiness gets results. Also, Elstree has responded to the growing demand and trend towards co-educational settings to meet the needs of its community.
Not for: While the school has huge amounts of space, it has a small cohort of students so if it’s a large school community you’re after, you may choose to look elsewhere. Also, the rural location may not appeal to city-based parents wanting to avoid a long commute.
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