Warminster Prep, Warminster
Muddy says: The younger sibling to the co-ed day and boarding school on the edge of Salisbury Plain where bright-eyed kids and teachers exude confidence and a love of life.
What? Where? Really one should talk about Warminster School not Warminster Prep and Warminster Senior as it really is a blended entity shepherding boys and girls from age 3 to 18 – but there’s so much to see and say! Thus two visits and two reviews (click here for the senior school). The younger years are cosily housed across the road from the architecturally impressive edifices where the Year 7s and above reside. Compared to the 400 or so in the upper years, numbers in Nursery to Year 6 are an intimate 120 which makes for a snug, family feel, but with the fringe benefit of being able to access big school facilities. Located in the heart of the pretty market town of Warminster, it feels very much part of the community. And indeed on Monday mornings while Nursery and Reception are off doing PE and Music, the school hosts a free community toddlers’ group, Little Fledglings, which on the morning I visited was a warm and happy hive of activity. The school doesn’t affect any airs and graces and this is just one of its community outreach programmes, with many of its teachers also going out and teaching in the state primaries and secondaries.
Facilities: While the younger years’ buildings won’t have you reaching for your camera (no Christopher Wren-designed doorways of the upper years campus), on the inside the classrooms are bright and inviting with colourful art and craft decorating every inch of wall space. In the pre prep block, younger learners have their curiosity piqued with crafty corners, writing areas and a little courtyard space (home to some tadpoles on their way to becoming frogs on the April day of my visit).
There are interactive whiteboards which help make learning fun – Year 1 were singing along to a maths video when I popped my head in, jiggling around with big smiles on their faces while adding up 8+8, 9+9, etc. The main building for Years 3 to 6 is equally dynamic. I was struck by how the pupils don’t remain static in one classroom or with one teacher. There are specialist teachers in French, science, art, design technology, computing, music and sport, who all impart to the pupils their own passion for their subject.
The Art and DT room is a wonderfully light and airy space with painted stools and tables, the music block is stuffed full of instruments for pupils to have a go on (including some inviting African bongo drums), the computer suite has a 3-D printer (!) and there’s a dedicated science block where pupils from Year 3 can get stuck into experimenting. A Year 4 class was so absorbed in what they were doing when Head of Prep Philip Titley showed me the space that they didn’t even notice us. There was no standing to attention for Mr Titley, no looking around for a distraction – the pupils were 100 percent engaged in their task, which when it comes to education is the gold standard frankly. Outside space is generous too, with a large field for sports and play, tennis courts, climbing frames, a willow dome and plans to build more climbing frames and balances.
Academic results: Class sizes are small – from only seven in Reception to two classes of 14/15 in Year 6 – so every pupil is guaranteed individual attention. The emphasis is very much on the whole child and helping them find their passions and explore their ‘stretch’ areas rather than a narrow focus on academic success.
This holistic approach – teaching children to love learning, be curious and try their hand at new things – seems to yield fantastic results if the measure is happy, self-assured children with high self-esteem and an acute sense of community and responsibility to others. There’s a tangible air of positivity at the school – everyone seems really happy to be there and it’s infectious. The sense is of pupils and teachers alike pursuing learning as a great adventure to find out about the world and its wonders. That’s the starting point rather than the Sisyphean task of trying to attain top grades.
Boarding: A small number of pupils from the prep school board with numbers rising dramatically in the senior school. The lower year pupils share boarding houses with pupils up to Year 9 and the way the school fosters a sense of responsibility means the older kids take the younger ones under their wing. The boarding accommodation feels family house rather than institution with comfy sitting rooms and house masters and mistresses eating meals with the boarders and organising Sunday cinema, trampolining and ice-skating excursions.
Headteacher: Head of Prep Philip Titley joined the school two years ago and after two terms as deputy stepped into the head’s role. Like Headmaster, Mark Mortimer, he bounds with energy and enthusiasm, and wants nothing more than to give pupils a joyous experience and foster in them a belief that the world is their oyster. The school’s mantra “Why not you?” runs deep and everyone is encouraged to pursue their dreams and passions. Mr Titley is a great believer in everyone having a go at everything and, like Mr Mortimer, embraces failure as an opportunity for growth. He’s very friendly and approachable and doesn’t engender a straighten-your-tie reaction in pupils, whom he all knows by name.
What else? Forest school is a fully integrated part of the curriculum with all forms visiting the school’s bucolic patch of woodland in the Longleat Estate once a week. When Year 6 were putting on a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream recently, they went to the forest to rehearse ahead of their performance at the Merlin Theatre in Frome. Drama is an important part of the education at Warminster with everyone taking part in nativity plays for the younger years, pantos for the middle years and full-on productions for Years 5 and 6. Music is also pursued energetically with an all-school choir, chamber choir, wind band and string orchestra, while sport is enthusiastically taught by specialist teachers, one of whom is an England hockey coach!
Quirks: The school has its own award scheme which not only helps pupils tap into their passions and skills, but subtly prepares them for the wider world with its inspired 360-degree approach – among the core skills pupils are asked to develop are leadership, teamwork, resilience, responsibility and community. This reinforcement of the school’s key values really opens up the opportunity for every single pupil to experience a sense of achievement. By Year 6 each child is given a position of responsibility that reflects their strength be it a sports captain, digital leader, charity representative or a place on the school council.
Wraparound care: Pupils can be dropped at Early Morning Club half-an-hour ahead of the start of the school day at 8.30am and an After School Club runs from 3.30pm to 5.15pm where children are looked after by members of staff who supervise a range of activities. Being so closely connected to the senior school makes transition from prep easy – and most of the pupils do continue at the school.
Fees: Reception, £2,500; Year 1 and 2, £2,700; Year 3, £3,190; Year 4, £3,560; Year 5 & 6, £3,999; boarding £7,065 boarding.
Word on the ground: Parents love the fun and friendly atmosphere at the school – it seems to provide a bit of a social life with all the events it organises! They also like the fact that it feels like a family where everyone is accepted and celebrated as an individual.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The school makes me think of the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”, and I reckon the community spirit and rock solid values espoused by Warminster will bring out the best in children of all abilities and personalities.
Not for: I’m struggling to think what type of child wouldn’t benefit from this education, so it’s probably more about whether parents feel they share the same values as the school. If not, it might not be such a good fit.
Dare to disagree? The next Open Day is in Saturday 6 October, but parents are always welcome to visit and you can even Skype if it’s difficult for you to get there in person. If you go, do let us know what you think!
Warminster Prep School, 11 Vicarage Street, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 8JG, tel: 01985 224800, warminsterschool.org.uk