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St Margaret’s Prep, Calne

We love this well-appointed co-ed prep school in rural Wilts for its ‘have a go’ attitude, extensive facilities and dedication to pupils’ wellbeing.

WHAT? WHERE?

St Margaret’s Prep is a non-selective independent day school for boys and girls aged 2 to 11 years (its Bluebird Nursery was recently expanded to drop age of entry by a year – a blessing for parents wanting to get on the bottom rung early). It’s tucked away in Calne, on a whopping 28 acres of site which it shares with sister all-girls secondary school St Mary’s Calne – a real boon, as it gives St Margaret’s access to extended facilities that not many other standalone prep schools in the area can boast, such as multiple sports pitches, the 25m indoor swimming pool, fully kitted out science labs and access to more specialist teaching staff. The schools have separate Heads, but share a Board of Governors, and they’ve recently appointed Nick John, Executive Director of Sport, to oversee activities at both schools, such as festivals and holiday camps. 

The school’s 180 or so pupils are fairly equally split between boys and girls, with half living within a 15 minute drive. There are three minibus services to bring in children from slightly further afield, with families throughout Marlborough, Pewsey Vale, Malmesbury and Chippenham. Many children start at an early age in the vibrant, purpose-built Bluebird Nursery, with most moving onto the single class Reception. At Year 3, when more pupils join, the year expands to two classes. More children join from the state sector in Year 5 to prepare for secondary school entrance exams. Class sizes are reassuringly small, averaging 12 to 18, and classrooms are impressively light and airy considering the building was once a Victorian hospital. 

FACILITIES

Down a tree-lined avenue off the A4, St Margaret’s is nestled in an unexpectedly gorgeous green oasis. The attractive grounds include an Astroturf pitch for hockey, tennis courts, two playing fields and an indoor sports hall with cricket nets and a full-scale climbing wall. The six-lane, 25m swimming pool and sleek gym suite aren’t exclusive to the school – it’s open to the community, and families of pupils are able to use it at a discount.

St Margaret’s pupils also have access to the beautifully-designed sunken Lime Kiln Garden at St Mary’s, which was opened in September 2021 by BBC Gardener’s World expert Pippa Greenwood. As well as the garden, the schools also share a fully-staffed medical centre, science laboratories, dining hall, chapel and theatre. 

St Margaret’s is also home a dedicated computer suite equipped with more than enough Macs – although forget the mental image of a tech-y box, it’s packed with greenery, plants and aromatherapy diffusers, thanks to Head of Computing Mike Callahan, who also specialises in mindfulness. There is a spacious art room plus a host of music rooms including tuition rooms and a soundproof drum studio. In our experience, you’d be hard-pressed to find a prep school with better resources.

THE HEAD TEACHER

It’s been a baptism of fire for Head Luke Bromwich, who joined the school in September 2019 after an extremely successful six years as Deputy Head of Kellett, a British International school in Hong Kong – only to immediately be plunged into school life disrupted by Covid-19. Nevertheless, he’s managed to navigate some very tricky waters and hold the ship steady, putting the pupils’ wellbeing first and foremost and taking parents’ feedback on board. Under his first Headship (guided by newly-appointed Deputy Head of Academics, Alex Hopkins and Deputy Head of Pastoral Juliette Heal), St Margaret’s has seen an overhaul in its curriculum, with a renewed focus on thematic learning. Mr Bromwich is clearly passionate, and his aim to deliver new wellbeing initiatives and improve community outreach meshes well with St Margaret’s holistic approach. 

ACADEMICS

The new thematic curriculum complements the broad offering here – cross-curricular topics are introduced across subjects, so you might have Year 2’s geography lessons on Japan spill into making sushi in cookery class. There are specialist teachers in languages, performing arts, sports (including qualified swimming instructors) and music. Each Thursday, class assemblies are held so children can share what they’ve learned (it was Science Week when I visited, and the topic was Acids and Alkalines), and parents are invited to attend. 

All pupils gain entrance to their first choice secondary school, on which plenty of personalised advice is given. St Mary’s Calne is an obvious choice for the girls, but St Margaret’s pupils go on to a variety of different schools including Dauntsey’s, The Royal High, Prior Park College, Warminster, King Edward’s School and Stonar. This year’s 28 school leavers have a massive 17 scholarships – very impressive figures. 

SPORT

There’s plenty on offer here, including rugby, football, netball, hockey, swimming and athletics, and the school favours a ‘sport for all’ ethos, with everyone encouraged to take part in fixtures rather than just cherry-picked A and B teams. Pre-Prep play sports three times a week, rising to four times a week in Prep, and every child from nursery up takes a weekly swimming lesson (the benefit of that on-site pool). Inclusivity is the name of the game, with genders no longer as segregated as one might have expected in the past – for example, the PE uniforms are the same for both boys and girls, a far cry from shivering in compulsory netball skirts. 

The tennis courts on site allow for tennis tuition after school, and Bath Rugby visit the school in the autumn term to deliver ‘Attacking Maths’ as part of the Year 4 curriculum. Other extra-curricular sports clubs include yoga, swim squad (both Junior and Senior), ballet, tag rugby, ultimate frisbee and martial arts. 

PERFORMING ARTS

This is an area in which St Margaret’s excels. The school engages a wide range of specialist tutors, so if your child shows an aptitude for the harp, or bagpipes (two recent examples), music lessons can be arranged. Around 60% of children take individual lessons, with rock instruments particularly popular thanks to the extra-curricular Rock School every Thursday, but music and performance play a central role in St Margaret’s life. 

Every child in each year has the opportunity to perform to an audience, with most Prep School pupils in the choir, and all of Pre-Prep in theirs. The yearly Spring Concert showcases the Prep School’s musical talents, while the Summer Production in The Southwell Hall is also a highlight of the calendar (last year’s performance of The Lion King looked very impressive indeed). The school also reached the most recent semi-final of BBC Young Choir of the Year, and in 2019 (and 2017) they were finalists in the Barnardo’s National Choral Competition. 

PASTORAL

Pupils’ wellbeing is clearly paramount at St Margaret’s – especially given the difficulties of recent years. Juliette Heal, the Deputy Head of Pastoral, leads the charge, with Years 1 to 6 each given laminated Easy Cards that they can leave on her desk to let her know they’re in need of sympathetic ear. Early Years’ classes have an Easy Bear to hug – if a teacher sees them hugging the bear, they know that child would like to talk. From September, Mrs Polly Marsh will be joining the team as Head of Learning Enhancement and Wellbeing, and will oversee St Margaret’s SEN provision as well as their approach to supporting children’s wellbeing.

NURSERY AND PRE-PREP

The Bluebirds Nursery and Pre-Prep have been revamped of late, with the Lower Nursery, Upper Nursery and Reception rooms all being joined to give the space more of a sense of flow and increase mingling between classes. There’s also a brand new Early Years Courtyard, which is designed with Montessori-style sensory play in mind, and bridges the gap between indoor and outdoor for play for the classrooms.  

The specialist teaching and access to those excellent facilities starts early here, with ages 3 and up encouraged to use the climbing wall and swimming pool, and taking lessons in computing, music, games and modern foreign languages. There’s plenty of outdoor space for Early Years too, with Forest School, a wildlife garden and mud kitchen. 

WRAP AROUND CARE

Working parents take note – provision of care is on offer across the school from 7.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday, as well as clubs that run during the holidays. The affectionately-named Maggots Club (something to do with Maggies being short for Margaret’s, I’m told!) is available 50 weeks of the year and takes place in a large purpose-built space with its own catering facilities for breakfast club and hot dinners. There are also buses available for those partaking in after-school clubs, the last of which leaves at 4.45. 

QUIRKS

The School Shop, which is shared between St Margaret’s and St Mary’s, is so much more than a place to pick up uniform – it’s also a coffee shop for parents to mingle in after drop-off, and sells everything from St Eval scented candles to nice hand cream. Er, can I pop in? 

WORD ON THE GROUND

Parents make their voices heard at St Margaret’s, and luckily the consensus is very positive. There’s an active parenting association with representatives in every year to give feedback to the school, and parents are kept up to date with weekly newsletters and via social media. Overall there’s a tight-knit community feel here, with staff doing everything they can to keep children content and confident. 

FEES

Bluebird Nursery starts at £28.20 for a morning session, or £52.88 for a full day (8.30 to 4pm). Pre-Prep starts at £2,560.80 per term for Reception (this includes 15 hours free funding), and costs £3,405 per term for Years 1 and 2. Years 3 and 4 cost £4,160 per term, and Years 5 and 6 cost £4,635 per term.  

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Those who want a holistic, all-round approach from ages two and up, with a range of excellent facilities you’d be hard-pressed to find in other standalone preps. 

Not for: Children not keen on getting stuck in and trying new things. There’s too much you’d miss out on here!

Find out for yourself: The headmaster runs twice-weekly tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays for prospective parents, or you can visit their next Open Morning on 13 October

St Margaret’s Prep, Curzon Street, Calne, Wiltshire SN11 0DF, tel: 01249 857379, www.stmargaretsprep.org.uk

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