Wycliffe Prep School, Stroud
Muddy says: Looking for a nurturing school with strong academic, sporting and extra-curricular form? This non-hot-housey co-ed for ages 2-13 could be just the ticket.
What? Where? Located in the Cotswolds on the edge of Stonehouse near Stroud, Wycliffe Prep School is a co-ed, day, boarding and flexi-boarding offering for children aged two to 13, with Wycliffe College Senior School a jump, hop and a skip away that sees pupils through to 18 (read the Muddy review here). All the main school buildings are in roomy but not humongous grounds, which makes it easy for pupils to navigate, with a bridge over to the other side of the road that takes you to expansive fields, a massive AstroTurf, tennis courts and the two boarding houses. There are 300-odd pupils with some 50 boarders, mainly from Forces families, with a small number of international students.
Facilities: With its mixture of handsome Cotswold stone edifices and shiny new builds, there’s a happy balance of history and future-proofing in Wycliffe’s facilities. The Year 8s have the run of the almost brand spanking new Etheridge Hall (it opened three years ago), which over two floors houses classrooms and a spacious common room with squashy sofas where, I was informed by my two Year 8 guides, they get to make themselves toast at break! And can they slouch around here at lunch? No, they shook their heads, they have to go outside to get some fresh air and exercise. Quite right too! And, as mentioned there’s plenty of space for outdoor fun and frolics, and I saw lots of happy, rosy-cheeked kids charging around on the January day I visited. When it’s pouring with rain, there’s a covered playground pupils can take cover in – not the glossiest of venues, but it’s in the head’s sights for a refurb. And opposite it is a rather nice pool. The school promotes exercise and takes sport seriously, but never lets the urge to win override enjoyment, so there’s no pressure to be the next Charlie Sharples (a former pupil). However, if your offspring is a budding international or Olympian, you can be sure their talents will be properly nurtured here.
Academic results: With small class sizes (maximum 18) and teachers who are specialists in their subjects, the teaching is excellent here and yields results that speak for themselves, with over 95% of pupils in Years 3 to 8 working at or above national age-related expectations in English, maths and science. However, the head is keen to point out that Wycliffe is not an academic hothouse and is keen to see pupils fulfil their potential in every subject. To that end, he’s recently introduced a Wycliffe Baccalaureate, which gives equal weight to all school subjects, from English and maths to art, sport and citizenship, and is awarded to Year 8 pupils when they leave. With around 95% of pupils continuing on to the senior school (which is non-selective), the school doesn’t do Common Entrance, though they can if desired – last year they prepared one pupil who went on to gain a place at Cheltenham College. In the transition to Year 7 the school is both a winner and a loser from the 11+ system, though interestingly there are pupils who having won a highly coveted place at Pate’s Grammar School in Cheltenham have opted to remain at Wycliffe, which says a lot for the latter.
Boarding: There are two boarding houses – Windrush for the girls and Pennwood for the boys – both homely abodes with comfy sitting rooms (jam-packed with entertainment including TVs, computers, books and board games), kitchens, snug bedrooms for up to three, updated shower facilities and super-friendly staff. They’re surrounded by green space, overlooking the playing grounds which pupils have the run of in their downtime.
Headteacher: Adrian Palmer, with his wife, Julie Palmer, are in their 15th year at Wycliffe, but still have the zeal of newbies. Adrian came from Rendcomb where he founded the junior school and this is his third headship, so he’s got a lot of wisdom in his briefcase. I liked his attitude – he told me that he tells all his pupils that he wants them to a) be happy, b) do their best, and c) not worry. This last point can so be easily overlooked, but of course is vital for achieving the first two. He’s got a very pastoral attitude and takes genuine delight in his charges, showing me a portrait a former pupil had done of him (it was incredible, more of the art department later) and singing the praises of my two guides. Not in earshot though, as while he wants his Year 8s to leave happy and confident, he doesn’t encourage arrogance. When I ask him what his greatest achievement has been so far, he says making it much more difficult for parents to make the decision to leave for the grammars if that door opens for them. Which is quite an endorsement as, you know, the grammars are FREE!
What else? The art produced by the pupils is really outstanding. I was quite blown away by the work on the walls – you’d have thought it was by secondary school age pupils. My two Year 8 guides were heading over to the senior school the day after my visit to throw their hats into the ring for art scholarships and both had impressive portfolios of work. I’d also been struck by the art department at the senior school on my visit and when I mentioned this, my guides’ eyes lit up too – they clearly can’t wait to get stuck into senior school art.
Drama and music are also big draws at the school. There’s an impressive modern theatre where each year group puts on an annual production – Madagascar will be the Year 8s swansong, while previous shows have included Hairspray and The Lion King. There’s an orchestra, as well as string groups, flute groups, brass ensemble and three choirs, while over 150 pupils take individual lessons learning all sorts of instruments from the ukulele to the harp.
Quirks: Year 8 pupils were about to head off on a three-day sports tour in London which I really want to go on! They’ll be visiting Wimbledon, swimming in the Zaha Hadid-designed Olympic Pool, cycling at the Velodrome and running their socks off round the Olympic stadium. I know! Do they know how lucky they are? Each term, normal service is also stopped for Years 3 to 8 for a special activity day, where pupils can try out their skills doing things such as caving, canoeing, orienteering and climbing. In Year 8 pupils head off for an outward bound week as a sort of finale to their time at the school.
Wraparound care: With breakfast club starting at 8am and after-school finishing at 6pm, working parents can relaaax about childcare. The Nursery is open most of the year (46 weeks) and the school has a great relationship with Manor Farm which offers full-time care during the holidays and is very popular with Wycliffe families. Day pupils are always welcome for sleepovers if there’s an available bed.
Fees: From £2,480 to £4,600 per term (see full list here). The school offers 11+ scholarships for academic excellence and non-academic awards in sport, music, art and drama. Means-tested bursaries are also available.
Word on the ground: All the parents I spoke to warmly praised the school for its strong pastoral care and the way it fostered their child’s confidence.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Pupils of all abilities and talents. There’s no pushiness here, just gentle encouragement to achieve your potential, whatever that may be. The school caters equally for the talented and gifted as it does for the pupils who find school life more of a challenge. Parents who like the idea of taking the angst out of senior school transition as pupils can segue seamlessly into Wycliffe College in Year 9.
Not for: Parents who have the big public schools in their sights. As mentioned, Wycliffe doesn’t routinely prepare for Common Entrance, though it does offer it at parents’ request.
Dare to disagree? Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning on Saturday 3 March, 10am-12pm –and do let me know your thoughts!
Ryeford Hall, Ebley Road, Stonehouse, Glos GL10 2LD, tel: 01453 820470, wycliffe.co.uk