Muddy says: An all-through day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 – 18, with the most extraordinary equestrian centre, this is certainly a school to look at
What? Where? An all-through day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 – 18 based in Atworth, near Bath, Stonar is certainly a school to look at – highly ambitious for their pupils, they also provide a nurturing education which brings out the best in every child. Oh, and there is an absolutely outstanding equestrian centre.
Founded in 1895 and celebrating its mighty 125th anniversary this year, the school 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, Qatar 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.
The big news is that Stonar is now completely co-educational. While the prep school is close to 50/50 boys and girls, the senior school has been busy transforming itself from a girls’ school (with, dare I say it, a previous reputation for catering for more horse-obsessed and less lessons-obsessed girls) into a modern, flourishing co-ed full of inspired, academically ambitious children, many of whom also love to ride, obviously. The aim is still to keep the school relatively small, with a family feeling and plenty of individual support.
Day pupils 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. Boarders come from all over the UK and Europe and as far afield as Hong Kong, Nigeria, Singapore and Kazakhstan.
Facilities: The grounds 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. And then, of course, there are the whoppingly impressive new facilities…a smart astro, an impressive pool and an upgraded sixth form centre with its own cafe. Students run the cafe and staff are welcome to come and buy treats!
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 – DT is now a curriculum subject and product design is a core curriculum subject for Years 7-9, and optional GCSE subject..
Team sport is strong and there is good support for elite athletes. The new Head is an extremely keen sportsman, so watch this space for more developments on the sports front. Individual sports do well too, with one pupil a current National kayak champion.
Drama and music are popular, with opportunities to sing or play in choir, chamber choir, wind band and orchestra. Carol concerts take place in Bath Abbey and the Wiltshire Music School.
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 just £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. (New for 2020, the School will be hosting residential riding camps in the Easter and Summer Holidays – the perfect way to try out the School!)
Academic: While the school is not non-selective, there is a wide range of academic abilities. Saying that, classes are small (two to three classes in each year with up to 15 pupils and even smaller in the sixth form). I particularly noticed the extra mile many staff will go to for their pupils – a pupil recently joined the school in Year 11 mid-way through his GCSEs and his teachers have gone well above and beyond, working with him on a one-to-one basis to get him up to speed. There is a real ethos of looking at the individual here, whether it is choosing options, career advice or offering extra help in the classroom.
It is A levels all the way here, with the school receiving an outstanding set of results this summer and 70% of pupils being awarded A*-B grades and 46% of pupils A*-A grades. There is no IB provision but BTECs are now under consideration. Pupils are encouraged to take a vocational add-on in the sixth form, which may be British Horse Society qualifications or a Leith’s Toolbox Cookery Course.
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 and there are plans to extend this all through the senior 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. Pupils go on to universities including Exeter, Loughborough, York, UCL, St Andrews and Cardiff as well as creative and performing arts colleges. Pupils are encouraged to follow their passion – there is no shoe-horning into a Russell Group if it’s not the right path. That being said, over 50% of the 2020 cohort have taken up places at Russell Group unis. A strong careers programme prepares students for life after school, teaching them about renting properties and financial planning amongst other things.
Boarding: Stonar is a full boarding school – there are no exeat weekends and students can even stay and study during the spring and summer half terms. However, there is no Saturday school so boarders can go home on Friday nights for the weekend whenever they want. Occasional boarding is offered to day pupils from Year 5 upwards including two free nights per term, subject to availability, so everyone experiences the benefits of being in a boarding school. 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 with licensed bar for weekends and special occasions.
Weekends are packed with activities – a full boarders’ programme offers choices both inside and outside school and many 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.
Headteacher: 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. An infectiously enthusiastic man (who I warmed to instantly), I will put money on the fact that he is going to make some exciting changes here. A talented sportsman, he coaches hockey (and teaches History) and is keen to further improve sports facilities, teaching and pastoral support at the school.
He is clearly a man who understands children – we spoke at length about how important it is for children to find their own space, their own abilities and strengths, and to know that they count as individuals. He encourages, indeed requires, all children to participate in Stonar life, in sports teams, music performances and drama productions. Stonar is a school that is perfect for bright children who will thrive with more support, for those who will flourish with strong input and care from staff. It suits a child who needs to be known, to find out what they’re good at in order to thrive. And isn’t that all children?
Prep School: A new Head of Prep also started last September – Rob Cunningham, previously deputy head of The Mead School in Trowbridge. The department is small, only 100 children throughout – one class in each year, with two classes in year 6 – but they get to enjoy all of the facilities of the senior school. While the school won’t change in its family ethos, there is some room for it to grow. The intention is for all pupils to move up to the senior school in year 7.
Nursery is on site, and there are playgrounds, sand pit, a nursery sensory garden and a forest school for the younger years.
What else? Pastoral is strong, with a stand-alone Active Health and Wellbeing Centre.
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.
Wraparound care: Very good and free of charge from Reception upwards. Even nursery aged children can stay until 6pm daily, and this provision continues throughout the school. Tea is included at no additional charge.
Fees: Day pupils: Reception – Year 2 £3020 per term, Year 3-4 £3555 per term, Year 5-6 £4105 per term, Year 7-8 £5475 per term, Year 9+ £5905 per term. Boarding: Year 5-8 £8150 per term, Year 9+ £11,300 per term.
Equestrian fees: Prep school weekly riding group lessons £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. Full details of equestrian centre charges here.
Word on the ground: Parents love the school for its academics, sport and of course the riding! I’d watch this space – this is a school going places.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Horse lovers, talented sportsmen and women and bright, inquisitive children who could do with a little more time and support to reach their full potential. Those looking for an all-round education, who believe that extra-curricular activities are just as important as what happens in the classroom.
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.
Dare to disagree? They are now offering limited and pre-booked school tours of the Nursery, Prep and Senior School, in line with social distancing requirements. In addition their Admissions team and academic staff are also available on the phone and for virtual meetings via Zoom and Skype. Register at www.stonarschool.com/admissions/open-mornings-school-visits
Stonar School, Cottles Park, Atworth, Wiltshire, SN12 8NT, Tel:01225 701740, www.stonarschool.com