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Abberley Hall School

Muddy says: A day and full boarding school for boys and girls aged 2 to 13, set in 90 acres of wooded grounds amid truly stunning countryside

Fancy a very rural, bustling prep in a gorgeous Swallows and Amazons-type setting? Head for Abberley Hall, a non-selective co-ed prep school for 2-13 year olds that nests atop the very pretty Worcestershire hills. A traditional, community-minded prep school, it offers day, part- and full-time boarding for 220 children.

 

What? Where? Bought in 1921 to house boys relocated to the safety of Worcestershire during the First World War, AH’s Grade II-listed main building is an 1840’s Italianate country house at the end of a long drive through lovely gardens, featuring lots of wood panelling and a particularly elegant staircase. However, it’s not pretentious or intimidating in the slightest; entering the front hall you’ll encounter lived-in furniture, a stuffed moose head, stacks of children’s art work and a welcoming fire. The main house contains the boys’ dorms, dining areas, classrooms and several high-ceilinged but still-cosy common and games rooms (including a very stylish newly-decorated one on a “Brit” theme). Girls and pre-prep are situated in next-door converted stables, and a 50-metre clocktower (not a stranger to a spot of abseiling) dominates the school grounds.

 

Facilities: Masses and masses. Full sized, floodlit astro, two tennis courts (also used for netball), sports hall, ricochet court, 25- metre indoor swimming pool, a shooting range, stables and ménage. Spangly new cricket nets were installed last year. There’s also a climbing wall, a lake for fishing and archery facilities. The school also makes the most of its rural setting by getting pupils up and down those hills on foot and on bikes, as well as out kayaking and abseiling. Fantastic light-filled art and DT studios with all the trimmings, a library with what might be that room’s loveliest view in England, and two beautiful wood-panelled dining rooms that manage to be welcoming, not intimidating. The purpose-built theatre (music department in the basement) isn’t particularly pretty but is extremely substantial for a school of this size. Several pupils I met mentioned the fabulous newish tree house, located across the rugby pitch, which ranged from 6 metres to 30 in height, depending on the child I spoke to!

 

Academic results: Not a hot house, but the results speak for themselves: leavers (“Top Year”) last year won 51 scholarships or exhibitions to 13 schools. Headmaster Will Lockett is particularly proud of the recently introduced personal tutorial system. Every pupil has a weekly one-to-one with his or her tutor, who stays with them for three years, overseeing every facet of the child’s educational and pastoral development. Pupils plough through 29.5 hours of teaching a week, but there’s no prep before Y6. Upper years complete their homework at school from 5-6pm, squeezing in their tutorial during that time. The school has also recently created a Science Technology, Engineering and Design (STED) curriculum for pupils to develop learning in Maths and Science in a more practical and hands-on way. Forest school has also recently been expanded, taking full advantage of all that really fabulous nature surrounding the school.

 

Pupils and Boarding: There’s no bus service, and some children travel up to 45 minutes each way from three counties. Fifteen percent of pupils come from further away, including Wales, Warwickshire, London and north Shropshire, and 10% are overseas students.

Last year, 44 leavers carried onto 14 different senior schools, including Malvern, Ampleforth, Eton, Harrow, Radley, Stowe, Cheltenham and Winchester. There are 50 full time and 30 part-time boarders; with no flexi-boarding here, part-timers are required to spend a minimum of two nights a week. “It’s a full-boarding ethos and structure here: we work hard at our weekends,’’ says Lockett. The meandering girl’s dorms were very personalised – some lucky girls sleep in the former theatre and have decorated it with lots of fairy lights and happy family photos. The boys’ dorms were less homely but incredibly tidy, light and bright, boasting views to Wales. Pupils I met were engaged, cheerful and unaffectedly well-mannered, immediately standing up and smiling when I popped into a few classrooms.

 

Head: Warm, affable and completely unstuffy Old Abberlian Will Lockett has been head since 2014. He puts his Classics degree to use teaching Latin and Greek to years 7 and 8 (as well as leading the bee-keeping club) but he’s not stuck in an ivory tower, having spent years in industry before educating young minds at Dauntsey’s and Bryanston. “I love selling the school – it’s a pleasure when you believe in the place,’’ he says. This year he’s formed a formal association with Malvern College, which is investing in Abberley over the next four years as a direct feeder to the senior school. Half of Lockett’s teaching staff live onsite, and I got a serious feeling of family and inclusivity there, necessary in part due to its geographical remoteness. “I’m conscious we need to work hard at engaging with the outside world,’’ says Lockett. “Those large gates at the bottom of the drive don’t help!”

 

Little Ones: Abberley offers a nursery pre-prep section for children two to seven. Visiting “The Palace” (a snug common room for pre-prep) I saw really cheerful littlies in smart home clothes (the school as a whole doesn’t have a uniform as such, but rather guidelines that ensure everyone’s wearing pretty much the same thing anyway) zooming between lessons of art, ICT, French, maths, music and drama – and donning layers for Forest School in the school’s 90 acres of grounds. Young ones can come as early as 7.45am for Breakfast Club and stay on until 6pm, during which time they’ll have had an activity and supper.

 

What else? As often goes hand in hand with such a bustling atmosphere, there’s a serious sense of competition on the sports-side of things. Most recently, U13 Girls became the regional IAPS hockey champions. Games every day from 3-4.30pm, and matches twice a week, with a Saturday game wrapping up the week. Rounders is being phased out in favour of cricket, though hockey seems to be the most popular. Lots of free time to devote to work on individual projects such as the Abberley Awards, a sort of mini D of E of tasks ranging from “spend a night in a shelter you have built” to “learn a poem and perform to the school.” Minds and hearts broadened in post-supper clubs for skiing, foraging, yoga, fishing and film. There’s also an annual cycle for brave pupils, parents and staff who ride a bonkers 140 miles in a day to the Pembrokeshire coast to raise money for charities, most recently Help for Heroes and MS Society.

 

Fees: Day fees are £6,790 per term, boarding is £8,525, and the school offers means-tested bursaries, as well as bursaries to those from military and services families.

 

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: A robust school in a big space, Abberley’s warren-like layout and emphasis on participation may not suit a quieter child who needs a pace less cracking and place less large. But if you’re after that classic sort of bouncy prep that will never go out of fashion, Abberley Hall could provide your go-getters with some of the best years of their lives.

Dare to disagree? Find out for yourself at their Open Days on 29 Feb and 16 May 2020. Abberley is also hosting an Open Afternoon on 6th December for entrance to Nursery-Y2. Prospective parents are welcome to visit any time, to meet Mr Lockett have a tour of the school.

Abberley Hall School, Worcester WR6 6DD, Tel: 01299 896275, www.abberleyhall.co.uk

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