Muddy says: An independent boarding and day school for boys and girls aged 7 to 18, situated in gorgeous Gloucestershire countryside, Bredon is certainly one to look out for!
What? Where? Bredon is an independent boarding and day school for boys and girls aged 7 to 18, situated in gorgeous Gloucestershire countryside and, you could say, truly an undiscovered gem. A small family school, it enjoys a happy and supportive atmosphere with a particular focus on supporting children with dyslexia. The school’s motto is ‘Come Alive and Thrive’ – an ethos that is borne out in each pupil’s love of learning.
Just over 200 pupils enjoy 84 acres of space in a location with fabulous rural views, yet near enough the cities of Cheltenham, Gloucester, Worcester and even Hereford. While there are plenty of independent schools within this triangle, their offering is sometimes more hot-house than holistic, enabling Bredon to provide all-round education and support for those who desire it. It is not unusual for parents to consider Bredon for a child who is experiencing difficulties, but then decide its style will suit all of their children.
Bredon’s strength is its support for pupils with specific learning difficulties, as well as those who have struggled academically or socially in larger schools, but it is also a wonderful place for children who will benefit from its different approach to learning and its emphasis on outdoor learning (for this, read maths lessons working out the finances of the school’s working farm or studying estate management, rather than merely pottering about in forest school). The school celebrates every success – a grade D for one child is as impressive as an A* for another.
The school was founded in the 1960s as a boys’ boarding school offering families a different approach to learning – mornings were spent with noses in books, while the afternoons saw boys working on the farm, repairing fences and digging a swimming pool, all of which the current cohort of students enjoy today.
Pupils come from all over to take advantage of this unique school, with seven different bus routes collecting day pupils who live up to an hour away. Boarders come from all over the country and just under 10% are based overseas. 5% of children are from military families. Oh, and there are lots and lots of dogs!
Beyond the main house the buildings vary in aesthetic beauty – a mixture of lovely old stable blocks and walled gardens, and slightly less lovely 1970s teaching blocks. While the school is always looking to improve and extend facilities, they already have an attractive outdoor pool, used for not only swimming but kayaking practise, a huge sports hall, climbing wall, four-acre fully-fledged forest school (weekly forest school lessons sit alongside farm school lessons in the curriculum), and a world class shooting ground. The school’s clay pigeon team has won the Schools Challenge competition for years in succession and a current pupil has been selected for the England team, making Bredon one of the top shooting schools in the country. With an emphasis on individual sports, climbing and bouldering are popular, as are kayaking and canoeing (the River Severn runs along the boundary of Bredon’s acreage and they have their own canoe launch there.) Kayakers head to Symonds Yat in the Forest of Dean to get wet.
Academic results: It is important to state that although Bredon offers strong learning support, it is a mainstream school with a good academic record. Tiny classes (8-12 in a class and even smaller in the junior school and sixth form) makes for a different approach to learning. Pupils can choose almost anything they like to study and if it’s not already on offer, the school will bend over backwards to try to change that.
Most pupils do GSCEs, with some studying a combination of GCSEs and vocational courses. At sixth form level there is a wide variety of study, encompassing everything from academic A-levels (29 options) to BTECs (including business studies, catering and engineering) to vocational qualifications such as estate management and agriculture, childcare and catering. Everyone has bespoke timetables, mixing and matching subjects, and failing GCSE English or maths is not a barrier to sixth form. ‘Some may be repeating GCSE English and maths two or three times; it doesn’t stop them going into the sixth form and retaking them while doing something else as well.’
Art and photography are popular at both GCSE and A-level – during my visit I observed an art class taking place outside, before pupils brought in outdoor elements to photograph and study. This is a perfect example of Bredon – whether it is taking photographs on the farm, or students growing vegetables in the kitchen garden for their catering course before baking them in the outdoor pizza oven and then selling them, every element crosses over and complements each other.
A big mention must go to Bredon’s on-site Cisco Academy. Partnered with Cisco Systems to provide advanced, hands-on learning opportunities, the courses prepare students for technical jobs, as well as for further education in engineering, computer science and related fields. The courses are intensive and equip pupils to tackle the physical side of building computers, including cabling, working towards careers as bench engineers at companies such as Dell or at GCHQ.
A thorough work experience programme in the sixth form offers pupils a chance to spend one day a week in a workplace setting, gaining solid experience for their future lives.
The entrance process to Bredon is interesting – prospective pupils meet the Head but it is more chat than interview. There are no entry exams or assessments; instead children are invited to come and spend a significant period of time in the school before being offered a place – three days for prospective day pupils and five days for future boarders – to make sure they will thrive. You can imagine the commitment and investment from both school and prospective pupils in order to accommodate this. Children join the school at any point of the school year and in any year. On the day I was there there were seven pupils doing doing taster weeks!
Leavers go on to study everything from law at Russell Group universities to art or drama at creative or performing arts colleges. Around 20% go to university, with destinations including Loughborough, Westminster, Oxford Brookes, Kent, Southampton, Bournemouth and Plymouth. Others on to further education colleges, some into apprenticeships or even straight into the workforce, thanks to their vocational training.
Boarding: 40% of Bredon pupils board on a full or weekly basis, with a spattering more doing flexi boarding. There is no Saturday school and few Saturday matches, so weekly boarders can head home on Friday night, however a healthy contingent of up to 50 pupils can be found in school on most weekends, enjoying trips to the cinema, ice skating, paint balling or, back on site, grass boarding or running club.
Boarding starts at age nine but is more popular from Year 7 upwards. Boys share rooms up to the sixth form, while girls, unusually, each have their own room in a converted stable block.
Evening activities include horse riding, golf, film club, Minecraft, Warhammer, rugby, badminton, archery, fitness and yoga. Day boarders can stay for prep, supper and then activities, taking their school day to 7pm.
Headmaster: New to the school in September 2019 is Nick Oldham, formerly deputy principal at West Heath School in Sevenoaks, a specialist school and, interestingly, the building that housed the school where Lady Diana Spencer received her childhood education. He is a big advocate of learning outside the classroom and, accustomed to catering for a diverse range of needs for children, he understands the importance of getting things right – that seeing pupils as individuals and being able to teach them in tiny classes can reap huge rewards.
Junior School: Years three to six are housed in delightful wooden cabins, with the obligatory rows of wellies outside. Classrooms are small, but so are class sizes (often no more than eight in a class), with a teacher and one TA per class. During my visit I was impressed by their use of dyslexia-friendly buff-coloured paper, and Chrome books (one per child) in every classroom.
The 30-ish junior pupils head up to the senior school for art, DT and other specialist classes. Sport is good, but small numbers in the Junior School (as well as the senior school) mean that teams are mixed across years and that competitive matches against other (similarly sized) schools only take place every other week or so.
All pupils stay on for the senior school.
What else? Plenty of work on mindfulness and wellbeing, with an awareness that many pupils may have struggled in their previous schools, or even suffered from bullying. Mindfulness lessons take place in Year 7 and all of Year 8 are treated to a mindfulness retreat, where pupils enjoy mindful walking, surfing and sleep aid workshops. The very first lesson of every week is energetically entitled Move It Monday, with pupils taking long walks or mediation sessions, yoga or gardening. This certainly puts pupils in the right frame of mind for the week ahead.
While Bredon is not a special school (I would term it a nurturing mainstream school), it offers an incredible amount of SEN support. Many children do not have additional learning needs but those who do are well supported with dylsexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, and mild-to-moderate levels of ADHD and autism. Out-of-class learning support is delivered by the Access Centre, which also offers life skills such as helping pupils study for their driving theory test. When children join the school they have a profile made up for them, so members of staff know exactly what support each child needs (for example, a child who struggles with sensory overload might need to leave a lesson for a break occasionally). Crucially, pupils who struggled in their previous school flourish and thrive here: given the space to learn at their own pace and in their own time, they are happy, relaxed and engaged, and make progress never thought possible before. ‘Transformation’ is the word I’d use.
Quirks: The biggie here has got to be Bredon’s working farm. A huge part of school life, the farm has pigs (I was lucky enough to see a litter of gorgeously cute piglets on my visit), sheep, cattle, Shetland ponies, duck, geese, chickens and turkeys…until December. While it is a fully working self-sustaining farm in itself, it also forms a large part of the school curriculum, with children taking part in formal lessons in agriculture up to Year 10, when they then have the option of choosing agricultural studies and/or farm estate management as part of their studies. Children feed animals, garden, build fences, muck out and generally take part in and are responsible for all areas and aspects of farm life. Many weekend activities take place here, and farm work is intrinsic to many academic lessons too. Plans are afoot to sell homegrown Bredon ham, salami, beef, bacon and turkey, enabling pupils to understand the entire food cycle from farm to table (and study the costs of it in maths’ class). In, fact, currently the Friends at Bredon (the PTA) make and sell the school’s own Bredon apple juice.
Fees: Year 3-6 £3,830 per term, Year 7-9 £5,810 per term, Year 10-13 £7,610 per term, boarding supplement £4,580 per term. Flexi boarding is £55 a night and day boarding (staying from the end of the school day until 7pm) is £20 per evening. Withdrawal lessons, therapy, dedicated TA support, and EAL courses are charged as extras.
Word on the ground: Parents I spoke to love the all-round support and the non-competitive, low-stress environment. Children are happy and smiling and truly reach their full potential. With specialist teaching and by offering pupils a huge number of activities, opportunities and experiences, the school helps restore confidence and self-belief.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The quirky and the cool, animal lovers, creatives and lovers of life. You could fill a Bredon in every county with those children who don’t sit easily in mainstream or special schools – it is perfect for those who might have had poor experiences elsewhere, been bullied or ignored, feel anxious or struggle with learning or social situations.
Not for: Children who don’t like being part of a large extended family, or those who don’t want to get stuck in to everything Bredon has to offer. Perhaps not the best environment for super high flying academics chasing those four A*s at A-level.
Dare to disagree? Find out for yourself at their Open Mornings on 20 November and 28 January. Sign up here for your place www.bredonschool.org/open-days-tours
Bredon School, Pull Court Bushley, Tewkesbury, Glos GL20 6AH, Tel:01684 293156, www.bredonschool.org