Kitebrook Preparatory School
Muddy says: A co-ed day and boarding school with a strong family ethos, that is seriously upping its game in the prep school stakes
What? Where? A gorgeous prep school for 3-13 year-old boys and girls in the heart of the Cotswolds, Kitebrook Preparatory School provides an outstanding all-round education where children are allowed to develop at their own pace in a happy and supportive environment. This small school of 250 pupils is certainly one to keep an eye on – the setting is postcard-perfect, pupil numbers are ballooning and the school is going from strength to strength under very impressive Head Susan McLean.
In 1959 Anne McDermott founded Kitebrook with the aim to run a school that would not just provide academic rigour, but a place where the school would work together like a family, encouraging freedom of thought, individual development and mutual respect and trust. In our opinion, it is exactly the same today!
Several years ago Kitebrook might have been thought of as a tiny, uninspiring school for girls, where pupils sought more exciting pastures after the Pre-Prep years, but that has all changed now. While the top year is still a little light on boys (there is only one chap in Year 8), Year 7 and below are equal boys/girls and there is no longer an exodus to larger schools. Parents and children love the family atmosphere, the acceptance and encouragement of each child as an individual, the outdoor life – overall, the happy, wholesome sense of childhood that permeates the whole place.
There are no school buses on offer but children come from Cheltenham, Northleach, Cirencester, Chipping Norton, even Banbury.
Facilities: When it comes to the largest squash courts and shiniest swimming pools, Kitebrook can’t compete with some of its rivals, but it makes the most of its stunning site, pristine lawns and acres of land. It’s all about the outdoors here, building dens, enjoying forest school, climbing trees. Some of the trees even have ropes to help the children reach their way around the trunk. Platforms, ladders and rope swings add to the sense of adventure.
There’s plenty of space for sport – cricket, rugby, football, hockey, netball and lacrosse, and although some year groups are mixed in order to field full teams, there is certainly enough sport for all. All children play in fixtures every week from Year 3 upwards, plus there is golf, tennis, swimming, cross country and a strong equestrian team. A new sports hall and play area have been built, and watch this space for more shiny new facilities.
We particularly loved the location of The Cottage – the home of Nursery, Pre-School and Reception right in the middle of the school. Older children pop in regularly for playdates!
Academics: Change is on the agenda academically, with the Prep School Baccalaureate replacing Common Entrance. Classes are small and teaching is of a high standard, both of which contribute to the strong academic level of the school, despite its non-selective intake. We found the lack of academic sets interesting – while a few classes are streamed many remain in mixed ability groups in the belief that learning is tailored to children’s individual needs in all areas, so sets aren’t necessary. Kitebrook is a growth mindset school, rewarding and celebrating collaboration, focus, resilience, perseverance, initiative, empathy, self-reflection and taking risks.
A nod must go to the child-led learning here – we heard about one child who was keen to do their English project on tanks so the teacher invited in an expert specifically to talk about tanks. Or Year 5, who experienced an evacuation on a WWII train…
Kitebrook was one of the first schools to introduce the English Speaking Board exams – Oral English – now an intrinsic part of school life, giving the children the confidence to speak in public. The standards are high and a huge number of pupils are awarded distinctions.
The Head works very hard to get the children into the right school for them, with many going on to further independent schools, such as Radley, Eton, Stowe, Oundle, Cheltenham College, Cheltenham Ladies College and Wycombe Abbey, with others to Bloxham, Kingham, St Edward’s, Oxford and Tudor Hall.
Boarding: Boarding is truly flexible, offering everything from four nights a week to occasional B&B style nights. No boarding on Friday nights except for a few special activity nights when boarding is opened. Around 50% of the Upper School board at least occasionally. Boarding dorms are light and bright, with a fabulous common room decorated with mantras ‘Never Give Up and ‘Follow Your Heart’. Every child is catered for – small numbers at this school mean that any and all quirks can be addressed, and if an occasional boarder prefers the same bed each time to ensure continuity, they’ll get it!
Headteacher: Head Susan McLean is truly extraordinary – amenable, down to earth, inspiring. Pretty amazing all round, to be honest. She is passionate, bold, firm, has high standards and yet has the most extraordinary touch with the children. Younger ones will run up for a hug, older ones will approach her with ideas for introducing school badges or adding to the lunch options.
She talks about the strengths of Kitebrook – it offers real excellence in education without compromise, without losing what is really important in child development. If you don’t have education with other facets then you’ve only created half a person – it is vital to get the balance of high standards academically while allowing children to have a real childhood. Nurturing and development of the individual child is key, and at Kitebrook there are numerous success stories proving this.
What else? Drama is a biggie here, with all children taking part in a production each year. Pre-school, Reception and Years 1-2 get the honour of performing the nativity, of course!
The list of extra-curricular clubs is long – from dance, gymnastics, Taekwondo and outdoor adventure to board games, book club, musical theatre, BBC Young Reporters and riding club. Some lucky pupils (this is optional!) spend a whole term during Year 6, 7 or 8 in Kitebrook’s sister school Sauveterre in the South of France, coming together with children from many different schools, immersing themselves in the French language and culture and, unsurprisingly, returning fully fluent!
We particularly noticed how seriously wellbeing is taken here, with pastoral tutor groups running vertically from Year 5-8, and older children keen to nurture the younger ones.
Wraparound care: Nursery starts for children aged three, when littlies can be dropped off at 8.30am and picked up at 4pm – it’s very much a pre-school than a wraparound day nursery.
Fees: From £3140 to £4720 per term. Boarding from £52 per night, £160 for four nights per week. Find a full list of fees here.
Word on the ground: Parents love the caring, family atmosphere, along with the nod to old-fashioned values. They also appreciate the strong, pastoral support which produces high academic standards without the need for hot-housing.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Parents who want their kids to remain childlike for as long as possible and believe children learn through being happy. Anyone keen on getting muddy! The school focuses on the academic, while still determined to maintain its close family feel. This is very much a school that is all about the outdoors, while breeding a caring, nurturing, family ethos. Every child is an individual, every child has its own talents, every child is special.
Not for: Parents who wrap their offspring in cotton wool – here, children are encouraged to play outdoors in all weathers, climb trees, get muddy building dens and generally live out an Enid Blyton fantasy. It might not be the place for the most sporty child – it’s not necessarily set up to provide a fast track to Wimbledon.
Dare to disagree? Find out more for yourself and call them to arrange a personal tour.
Kitebrook Preparatory School, Kitebrook House, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0RP, Tel: 01608 674350, www.kitebrookhouse.com