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Pinewood School

Muddy says: Top marks go to this seriously family-friendly education for boys and girls aged 3-13, in acres of rolling countryside on the edge of The Cotswolds

Pinewood School, Bourton, nr Shrivenham

Set in 84 acres of rolling countryside on the edge of The Cotswolds, Pinewood offers a seriously family-friendly, day and boarding education for boys and girls aged 3-13. Saturday school is still going strong, sport is tip-top, academics are excellent and there is an all-round vibe of fun and adventure.

Founded in 1875 in Farnborough, the school moved to its present site (and a very handsome one it is too) in 1946. Around 400 children are divided into year groups of between 45-51, split further into forms and academic sets. The whole place bursts with energy, there is no Head Girl or Head Boy (or prefects) and a spirit of equality prevails at this thriving, healthy, outdoorsy school.

Facilities: The main house is at the heart of the school, with a homely oak panelled hall and open fire, leading on to a reading room with snooker table, sofas and computers. The drawing room is home to ballet classes, match teas and concerts, with all spaces made full use of by the children during the day and when boarding – they are very much part of a working school rather than unused pristine spaces to wine and dine parents in. Upstairs are classrooms for Years 5 and 6 (soon to be moving to a new space – see below), common rooms and dorms.

The Lower School (Years 3 and 4) is self-contained in a chalet-style block that is bright, colourful and relaxed. Nursery and Pre-Prep reside in the former stable block with a fab play area in old walled garden. Plans are afoot (a bit more than that actually, as foundations have already gone in) for a new Teaching and Learning centre housing Middle School classrooms in a bright, modern building (with a Learning Street, no less) and dedicated SEN space.

Sport facilities are excellent with a sporting hub comprising of a sports hall, new tennis courts, huge astro, acres of pitches and a mountain biking track. There’s an outdoor pool that won’t win any prizes but does what it says on the tin. Boys play rugby, football and cricket, with hockey in Years 7 and 8. Girls play hockey, netball and cricket, no rounders. Sport is strong and prolific but this is not a school that drafts in top rugby coaches to wipe the floor with the opposition – it’s about taking part and having fun.

We especially loved Tree Tops – an adventure playground with walkways, swings and climbing ropes. Pinewood is very much a get-outside-and-climb-a-tree-school (except that one child told us that they weren’t allowed to climb trees due to health and safety.) It’s pretty much as good as it gets here.

Academic results: Excellent. Pinewood is a strong academic school which can and does support the brightest and best. Around a third of leavers win a scholarship to their chosen senior school, with a firm clutch of 4/5 academic scholarships bagged each year. Saying that, I am assured that the school is most definitely not a hot house – admission is wholly non-selective and there is a broad church of abilities in all areas. Indeed, led by head Philip Hoyland, the school is a strong believer in developing emotional intelligence over intellectual intelligence. Academics aren’t everything – it is more important to be prepared to have a go.

Common Entrance is still going strong, although history, geography and TPE (theology, philosophy and ethics) have been replaced by an internal programme with extended essays and projects – a robust syllabus that allows for collaborative work and team building. Learning is encouraged for the love of it and cross-curricular themes run throughout these subjects. There are no plans to move away from CE altogether. Latin is taught in Years 7 and 8 with some classical civilisation from Year 5, although there is talk of the subject being replaced by computer science. In fact, STEAM all round is strong, with smart new science labs with all the gadgets and fiddly bits.

Children primarily go onto co-ed boarding schools including Marlborough, Stowe, Cheltenham, St Edward’s Oxford and Bradfield. Single sex choices are Sherborne Boys or Girls, Radley, St Mary’s Calne, Cheltenham Ladies College and Tudor Hall. Some day pupils to Abingdon or St Helen and St Katharine.

Boarding:  Ah, this is where the fun starts. While Pinewood is a local school, with most children living within a 40-minute drive (there are buses from Marlborough, Chilton Foliat and South Cerney), weekly and regular boarding is popular. Boarding is on offer to Years 5-8, with 20% of children boarding in Year 5, rising to 75% in Year 8. The girls’ dorms are cosy and sweet, pastel pinks and ponies on the walls, while the boys’ slightly poorer relations are the more lived-in attic rooms. Although since when did boys care? Absolutely no phones allowed, but there is a funky phone box.

Clubs run until 5.30pm and after prep and tea evenings are filled with sports, Project Runway, Wii Dance and, in true Pinewood tradition, games of spotlight, where children try to get from one point to another outside in the dark without being caught in the teacher’s torchlight.

Headteacher: Philip Hoyland has been the main man here for the past seventeen years. Previously Housemaster, then Deputy Head, at The Dragon, he and his wife Henrietta have had an incredibly positive influence on Pinewood, breathing life into it and marking it firmly on the prep school map. They are very much a partnership – she is joint Head of Boarding and takes a central role in the pastoral side of the school. Both pride themselves on being visible – not only do they know every child but they have breakfast, lunch and tea with them (indeed, the kids know what Mr Hoyland likes on his toast.)

The same Pinewood energy that the pupils have emanates from their captain too, although he’d probably object to me calling him that – inclusiveness and equality are all-important here. Tolerance, compassion, kindness and resilience are all buzz words too – we all have differences, and we must learn to live with them, he tells me. He is happy for children to challenge the settled order (within reason) and always, always to question – while Philip Hoyland might appear traditional (and indeed manners and old-fashioned values are key at Pinewood), he is most definitely forward thinking and embraces innovative learning. Charming and warm, he has a serious twinkle in his eyes as he tells me the story of an elephant being transported from one side of the country to the other: the driver of the truck, sitting in the cab, hears a terrible thumping noise from the back. He turns and says to the elephant, ‘If you want me to, I’ll release you so that you can run wild.’ The elephant replies, ‘No, no. I was just checking that the bars are strong enough to hold me.’ At Pinewood, children are allowed to test their boundaries but it is important that they know where those boundaries lie, and that they are both supported and checked.

He leaves for retirement heaven in July 2020 but rest assured that all structures and systems are firmly in place and the staff he has appointed reflect both his and the school’s ethos. This ship is perfectly steady.

What else? Music takes a big role at Pinewood (the brass section was preparing for an afternoon concert during our visit), with over 75% of children learning a musical instrument. There are masses of bands (jazz, brass, strings amongst others), orchestras and choral groups.

The theatre is host to assemblies, concerts, drama classes and theatrical productions, of which there are many. A highlight must be Year 5’s Play in a Day, culminating in a 45-minute production.

Thursday is activities afternoon. If you had a spare half hour I could list them all, but suffice it to say there is a massive choice (from which the children choose two per term), including fencing, judo, golf, horse riding, shooting, dog walking, lacrosse, sketch and paint, cross county, table football, swimming, biathlon, Monopoly, chess, ballet, squash, girls’ rugby and base building in the woods. Phew!

No expensive overseas tours here – the Pinewood Adventure Programme is firmly (almost) within the UK and is the highlight of the year. Taking place in the first week of the summer term, pupils from Year 3 upwards head for the hills (well, further afield than home at least) for a weekend of fun. Year 3 hit Foxhills for a day of high ropes, Year 4 have two nights away on an adventure, Year 5 go sailing in Chichester, Year 6 learn bushcraft skills in Sussex, building fires and staying in bell tents, and Year 7 go to a chateau in France, shopping in French markets, visiting the battlefields of the Somme and having serious adventures tackling assault courses and building rafts. The exception is Year 8, who save their high jinx for a leavers’ trip in Wales after Common Entrance – a week of mountain biking, walking, canyoning and water adventures. And none of it costs anywhere near as much as a family ski  holiday.

Littlies: Most prep schools offer nurseries these days – it makes financial sense to start them in the system young – and Pinewood is no different. The nursery and pre-prep enjoy their own dedicated building with courtyard and two classes in each year.

Quirks: Pinewood isn’t what you would think of as particularly quirky or eccentric. It has tradition and places a lot of emphasis on manners (which I love). If forward thinking counts as a quirk, then you’ve got it here. Wholesome, healthy, outdoorsy – pretty perfect, really.

Wraparound care: Well, it’s basically a boarding school, so that’s covered! You can leave your cherubs here as long as you like. Trust me, they won’t want to go home.

Fees: Day fees per term £3100 in pre-prep, £5,230 Years 3 and 4, £5,965 Years 5-8. Weekly boarding supplement £1,455, regular boarding £45 per night. For full list of fees see here.

Word on the ground: The parents we’ve spoken to are very pro the school, happy with the academic side, and especially the sport. There are loads of opportunities for all kids to take part in sports teams. Like most schools we visit there are corners of scruffiness but this isn’t a school about gloss and shine, it’s about happy childhoods and kids who feel respected, loved, and well looked after. Parents appreciate the ‘winning isn’t everything’ ethos, but know that their children are still expected to do their best.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Parents who are looking for a true country prep, with more mud-spattered Defenders than flashy Teslas. Those who appreciate the relaxed look (no blazers and caps here), the odd cobweb in the corner, where a smile is more important than a tucked-in shirt. Anyone looking for a truly wholesome school that buzzes with enthusiasm, perfect for keen sports men and women, but also those with boundless energy, sporty or not. A school with positive values and all the extra curricular trimmings, with the ability to feed into all the top national senior schools.

Not for: Helicopter parents or those who wrap their offspring in cotton wool – here, children are encouraged to play outdoors in all weathers, climb trees, get muddy and generally live out a childhood fantasy. Not for those demanding super-flashy Olympic-sized diving pools or indeed future world champion swimmers – swimming is for fun here and not overly competitive!

Dare to disagree? Want to find out for yourself? Their Open Day is on Thursday 16 May, and if you bring the kids with you they can even join in some of the Thursday afternoon activities. To find out more or to register for the Open Day, get in touch with Emily Miller, Registrar on EmilyMiller@pinewoodschool.co.uk or 01793 782554.

Pinewood School, Bourton, Shrivenham, Wiltshire SN6 8HZ, Tel: 01793 782205, www.pinewoodschool.co.uk

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