An all-through day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 2 – 18, with the most extraordinary equestrian centre, this is certainly a school to look at.
An all-through day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 2 – 18, set in gorgeous Wiltshire countryside at Atworth, near Bath, with the equestrian school of dreams on site.
Founded in 1895 in Kent, the school moved to its current location during the second world war and occupies an impressive 80 acres of parkland and gardens with, at the heart of it, a Grade II listed manor house. The school is part of the Globeducate group, an international schools group with over 50 schools across nine countries. Stonar is the only English boarding school; others are in Spain, Canada, France, Italy, Portugal and India, which gives the school a feeling of being part of a strong global network. Students take part in the a variety of events (both virtual and physical) with their fellow classmates in the group, such as the Globeduate Academic Olympics, and have the opportunity to spend time in their sister schools.
Although it’s grown slightly in recent years, it’s still a small school of around 400, of which 90 are prep and 75 sixth form. Originally a girls’ school, Stonar has been completely co-ed for almost 8 years now. The ratio is still slightly weighted towards girls with 60:40, largely because the horsiness often appeals to girls.
60% are day pupils, who come from within an hour’s radius (half an hour for the prep school), with school buses running to Bath, Chippenham, Devizes, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Bradford on Avon and Trowbridge. Of the boarders, many are from military families; 20% are international and come from Europe (the riding is popular with Germans) and as far afield as Hong Kong, Nigeria, Singapore and Kazakhstan.
The surroundings are, quite frankly, stunning. While the main building is certainly a looker, some of the outbuildings and add-ons don’t have quite the same flair, but overall the mixture of old and new across the campus suggests a comfortable, lived in feeling.
Set in the bucolic grounds facing the main building are loads of rugby pitches, hard tennis courts and a 20m swimming pool (along with specialist swim teacher). Around the back of the site are the newer facilities of immense Astros, basketball courts and play areas. There’s a massive sports hall with cricket nets, and a second hall with retractable seating is used for assemblies and drama productions. A third hall is for dining, and the prep lunch we witnessed was a surprisingly calm affair, with a scrumptious, homely-looking spread of sausages, macaroni cheese, baked potatoes and a salad bar on offer.
Main sports are rugby (boys), football, swimming, hockey, cricket and tennis, with opportunities for loads of others, including athletics, gymnastics, volleyball and trampolining.
Art is big here, with an art studio, kiln, photography studio and dark room, and incredibly passionate teachers, who are working artists in their own right, keeping their teaching relevant and current. There is a separate sixth form art studio and a DT suite.
A self-contained music block is a warren of cosy practice rooms leading to a classroom that doubles as a performance space. New head of music, Dr Andrew Passmore, has an infectious air of enthusiasm about him, and I suspect will be a great asset to the school and it’s productions once he’s had a chance to settle in. Around half the students study an instrument (take-up post-covid is proving strong), with chamber groups and choir available. Everyone is encouraged to at least have a go at a trial lesson or learn a bit of piano.
Food and nutrition has it’s own specialist space, with GCSE available as well as Leith’s Cookery Classes an optional sixth form extra.
On to the pièce de résistance – Stonar’s equestrian centre will really blow your mind. I haven’t seen another school in the country that can compete with this facility, or the riding support that is offered here. There are 64 stables, a floodlit outdoor all weather manège, large indoor school with viewing gallery, and a cross country schooling field with a variety of different fences and a hacking track. Pupils can stable their own horses here or take over responsibility for a ‘loan’ horse. For serious competitors, teams compete both on and off site in a number of National schools’ competitions as well as Stonar’s own inter-schools championships. At the other end of the scale, group lessons start at £295 a term. While many pupils ride, there are as many levels of interest and ability. Stable management skills are taught too, and it’s a 7am start for pupils to muck out. For horse lovers, Stonar really is the stuff of dreams. The School has started hosting residential riding camps in the Easter and Summer Holidays from age 9 – the perfect way to try out the School!).
While academic ability is a factor in selection, there’s a wide range of academic abilities here, with “character and contribution” also important. Prospective students attend a full assessment day rather than an entrance exam.
Classes are small (three to four classes in each year with up to 15 pupils and even smaller in the sixth form).
2021 GCSE results were characteristically strong, with a 99% pass rate, of which 14% scored 9s and 54% levels 7-9. A levels were really good too, with 100% pass rate, 53% scoring A-A* and 74% A*-B.
After the core GCSE subjects, there is broad selection of 21 to chose from. At sixth form, similarly, there are over 20 courses, impressive given the size of the school. They’re mainly A levels, including photography, psychology, music and computer science (but not sociology or history of art). Maths and science are very strong, with around a third of leavers pursuing science, and veterinary science a popular choice.
There’s no IB provision, but recently introduced are Level 3 Diplomas (like BTECs, the equivalent of 2 A levels) in Fashion & Textiles, Equine Management and Sport & Exercise Science.
There’s a strong learning support department, with a SENCO member of staff even in the nursery. In the senior school needs catered for include ADD, ADHD, ASD, Asperger’s, dyspraxia, dyslexia and speech and communication difficulties. More complex needs are considered on an individual basis.
Spanish is taught every day in the prep school, so if you’re at Stonar you will be learning Spanish. This is complemented by a number of overseas trips and plans to offer children in Years 6-8 the opportunity to study in one of Globeducate’s Spanish schools for a term.
Entry points are Years 7, 9 and 12 and I am reliably told that there are no departure points – if a child joins Stonar as a little-y the intention is for them to stay all the way through. 65% of the 2021 cohort have places at Russell Group unis, with 95% at their first choice. A strong careers programme prepares students for life after school, teaching them about renting properties and financial planning amongst other things.
The school are justifiably proud of their value-added record, which is recently in the top 1% at GCSE and top 2% at A level.
There are no Saturday lessons here but there are regular sports fixtures, after which boarders can go home for the weekend, although the vast majority choose to stay. There are two boarding houses (one mixed, one girls only) for Years 5-11, and a separate co-ed sixth form boarding house, York, which is one of the cosiest, most homely boarding spaces I’ve seen. As well as a large common room with comfortable squashy sofas, there is a kitchen, study area and a social area.
Weekends are packed with activities – a full boarders’ programme offers choices both inside and outside school and most local boarders stay to enjoy this – think kayaking, shopping in Bath, go-karting and trampolining at AirHop. A visiting climbing wall experience comes to the school, along with falconers, archery and fencing instructors, plus there is plenty of craft, sport and baking.
Matthew Way took up the headship of Stonar, his first, in September 2019, joining the school from Milton Abbey School, where he was Deputy Head.
Mr Way is proud to have nurtured an atmosphere where it’s ok for kids to be ambitious and enthusiastic; there’s no sneering at the back of the class here. While academics are thorough, he’s keen to turn out well-rounded, kind students who feel they can contribute to the world, rather than simply chase a string of A*s.
In some ways he runs a traditional school: academic offering is classic and strengths, like science, are solid. Where it departs from the old-school, so to speak, is in the subtle underlying female bias of the place. Sporty boys can flourish here, for sure, but there’s none of that jock-like atmosphere that can rule certain boarding schools, even co-ed ones. It’s a subtle weight that, in our opinion, is to the benefit of all: girls are in the majority and carry a natural confidence that knows it; boys can escape any kind of overly-macho culture. Consequently, it seems that on the whole boys and girls here rub-along as easy-going friends.
His plans for the future of the school include some site development, including improved facilities for the creative arts. His other area of focus is somewhere around that extra-curricular area where outward bound adventure meets charity and engagement with the world. We look forward to this taking shape, and will watch with interest!
The Head of Prep, Rob Cunningham, also started in Sept 2019, and was previously deputy head of The Mead School in Trowbridge. The department is small, currently only 90 children throughout – one class in each year, with two classes in year 6 – but they get to enjoy the facilities of the senior school. The intention is for pretty much all pupils to move up to the senior school in year 7. Senior school specialist teachers in music, PE, drama and Spanish also serve the prep school.
Nursery is on site, and there are playgrounds, sand pit, a nursery sensory garden and a forest school for the younger years.
There is a stand-alone Active Health and Wellbeing Centre. Pastoral issues can be taken here, to Head of House, or to Deputy Head, Pastoral, Tina Tilley.
A huge variety of activities and clubs, including Explorer Scouts, touch typing, cookery masterclasses, gym, photography, fashion design, Plan Your Own Business, dog walking, meditation, elite swim squad, orchestra, indoor football and trampolining. They prefer the term co-curricular to after-school clubs, so intrinsic are they to Stonar life. It’s expected that most will join in, and they run from 4.15-5.15pm, when buses depart.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Very good and free of charge from Reception upwards. Even nursery aged children can stay from 8am to 6pm daily, and this provision continues throughout the school. Tea is included at no additional charge.
Not sure there’s anywhere else where you’re encouraged to rise at 7am to muck-out the ponies. Heaven for some.
The most recent report in 2018 rates pupils’ personal development, academic and other achievements all as “excellent”.
Relatively reasonable: Day pupils: Reception – Year 2 £3071 per term, Year 3-4 £3591 per term, Year 5-6 £4147 per term, Year 7-8 £5530 per term, Year 9+ £5965 per term. UK Boarding: Year 5-6 £8762 per term, Year 7-8 £9332; Year 9+ £11,413 per term.
School buses: from £570-£910 per term for morning & afternoon.
Equestrian fees: Prep school weekly riding group lessons from £295 per term. Senior school weekly riding group lessons £315 per term, all the way up to Development Programmes at £938 per term. Full Livery is £2514 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents love the school for its prioritising of confidence, self-esteem and all-round happiness in their children. And of course the horses.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Horse lovers, inquisitive children who could do with a little more time and support to reach their full potential. Those who believe that extra-curricular activities are just as important as what happens in the classroom. Wholesome outdoor-y kids who would rather be mucking out in wellies than Tick-tocking their moves in Glee club.
Not for: Children who aren’t joiner inners. This is a school where everyone is expected to take part. Possibly not the best for those who would thrive in a strictly academic hot house environment where everyone is chasing a string of A*s; or for those who need a larger cohort to thrive.
Dare to disagree? Book an individual tour or open day here: www.stonarschool.com/admissions/open-mornings-school-visits
Next open days scheduled for 12 Feb (virtual); Equestrian 9 March; Prep 29 April; Senior 21 May 2022.
Stonar School, Cottles Park, Atworth, Wiltshire, SN12 8NT, Tel:01225 701740, www.stonarschool.com