St Hugh’s School, Faringdon
A warm, friendly, non-selective co-ed day and boarding school in gorgeous grounds in rural South Oxfordshire that hits 100% success at common entrance.
St Hugh’s is a co-educational, non-selective prep school for kids aged 3-13 years deep in the South Oxfordshire countryside, with 355 kids in pre-prep, middle and senior departments. The school started its existence in Kent 111 years back, but moved to Carswell Manor, a stunner of a Jacobean mansion set in 45 acres of perfectly manicured grounds, in 1945. The school is definitely rural, though ‘remote’ is too strong a word – it’s a mile or so to the town of Faringdon and a hop and skip to Lechlade,while
Plenty, in an independent school you would expect sport to be strong, you’ll find a floodlit astroturf, large sports hall with cricket nets and lines for basketball/badminton etc; outdoor heated swimming pool, 5 rugby pitches (all boys play rugby), football/grass hockey pitches, 7 netball / tennis courts, 6 cricket nets, a woodland cross country route and a new adventure playground (rope bridges, fireman’s pole, scramble netting and all that jazz) in the woods – just to let you know that St Hugh’s kids are expected to play, run and compete outside in all weathers! The day I arrived the were just hanging out on this old bough outside, playing and chatting, which I thought was lovely.
On the artsy side, there’s a very cool new music building with plenty of room for orchestral groups and a newly refurbished Barn where the kids perform. Big shiny exciting investments include a spinky spanky new school library on the site of the Grade 1 Listed Dovecote (linking with the music room) and a new courtyard garden. The Sports Hall is getting a new roof and changing rooms. And a 20 metre indoor swimming pool with viewing gallery will replace the outdoor pool. Yeah, that’ll do for starters.
St Hugh’s is a deliberately non-selective school and so clearly it’s not just a gallop to the academic hothouse – some kids will be super-bright, others may have talents elsewhere. Somehow – and respect to St Hugh’s for this one – it still hits 100% at Common Entrance to schools, including the toppies like Abingdon, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Eton, Malborough, Radley, etc. Clearly those maximum-of-15 class sizes and integrated SEN provision are put to good use. This year it snaffled 22 scholarships for its kids in Academic, All Round, Art, Music, DT and Sport. So I guess what that says is that St Hugh’s is an all-rounder school, and like all good schools should, looks for the ‘thing’ that makes that child stand out.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Music wasn’t a St Hugh’s strong point a few years back, but there’s clearly been a lot of work done in this area, with an energetic Director of Music and not least the awesome modern music building itself. The Chamber Choir are the top tonsils – they won their class of the Music for Youth National Festival in 2016 and there are 4 additional choirs at the school, various brass, rock and string groups. 80% of the kids learn an instrument here, one of the highest percentages I’ve come across on my prep school travels. The orchestra is open for Grade 1 plus (so beginners essentially) so give the conductor a prize and a set of earplugs. On the drama front, there are 6 performances across the school each year, LAMDA exams on offer and curriculum Drama taught from pre-prep onwards.
The Boarding House, accessed over two floors in the main Manor house, has just had a total refurb and actually looks smarter than my own children’s bedrooms (*the shame*). In keeping with most of the prep schools I review these days it’s weekly and flexi boarding provision at St Hugh’s rather than the full-time option – most students are within a local commute. St Hugh’s dispensed with Saturday morning school last year, another boarding school tradition that is slowly dying out. The flexi boarding is up to 3 days a week, and encompasses those getting their kids ready for weekly boarding at next schools, to working parents who need flexibility, and probably the occasional mother like me who can’t be arsed to cook! Whatever the reason, they pretty much have it covered.
Andrew Nott is the main man, friendly, normal (by which I mean, not madly posh) and giving the air of a man focused on the task. I liked him. With five (FIVE!) kids of his own, including one still at the school, he understands young minds, and having also been a school inspector for many years, he knows how to check up on and improve his own Manor (an ISI inspector comes to the school this month, btw, to issue a new report). With the acreage at St Hugh’s, there’s room for many more kids, but Nott has taken the decision to keep it small, friendly, family-oriented and inclusive. That’s clearly the USP of the school and it’s working.
Well, first off I think the head gardener needs a medal – it’s the tidiest, most perfectly-manicured school I’ve seen for some time. But we’re not superficial at Muddy so let’s move past mere looks. There’s a strict no mobile
WRAP AROUND CARE
Good. The flexi boarding means that parents who are late have the option to book their kids in for a night boarding. There’s early drop off at 8am and kids can stay after school for a bonkers number of after school clubs until 5.30pm (various sports plus robotics, debating, creative writing, nature and gardening club and, um, Ancient Greek Club), after which they can have supper and then be picked up at 7.30pm.
Reception (4+): £3740 per term, Pre-prep (Yrs 1 & 2): £4080 per term, Middle School £5940 per term and Upper School £6440 per term. Add £1260 for termly weekly boarding. Flexi boarding is £35 per night. I’d say these fees are comparatively good value, as they also include all trips, SEN support, extra-curricular activities and all meals, including tea. Music lessons and some extra curricular clubs such as judo are extra.
WORD ON THE GROUND:
I’ve been struggling to find any murmurings of dissent at all on this one. Parents love the friendly, inclusive, non-pretentious family vibe.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Supersporties are well catered for here but so are the triers – the size of the school means kids are strongly encouraged to join in a team and participate.
Not for: With a maximum 15 in a class, more rumbustious, knee-scuffer type boys might benefit from a bigger pond to swim in.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it! The next Open Day is 9.30-12pm, Fri 6 Oct, 2017. firstname.lastname@example.org
St Hugh’s School, Carswell Manor, Faringdon; Oxfordshire, SN7 8PT. Tel 01367 870700. st-hughs.co.uk.