Akeley Wood school is an attractive three-site non-selective independent nursery, junior and senior day school in rural North Bucks, close to Milton Keynes and Buckingham, taking boys and girls from 12 months through to 18 years. There are currently 710 pupils here – 233 at the Junior and nursery departments; and 478 collectively at the Senior (Years 7-11) and Sixth Form sites. Class sizes are small – between 10-14 (Junior) and 15-20 (Senior) in a collective 50 acres of grounds.
The Senior School – the main focus of this review – was once set across two sites but since 2021 has been given the run of Akeley Wood House area, its attractive 19th century historical buildings intermingled with more modern red-brick additions
The Senior School has seen some heavy sports investment over the last few years, including a heated dedicated sports dome, a gym, 12 tennis courts, a double astroturf, a basketball court, pitches for rugby and cricket, a running track and four badminton courts. Triathlon is having particular success here – the girls were winners of the Aylesbury Vale District Junior Triathlon competition in 2022 and there’s also been a strong showing in National ISA competition in athletics with multiple medals across the years and disciplines. Although rounders is still an option for girls at Akeley Wood from junior school through to senior, so are cricket and rugby (where the girls compete in matches at Buckingham Rugby Club). Football is currently an extra-curricular club but I’m guessing pupil pester power will see that mainstream soon enough.
Good to see also that there’s a weekly onsite Forest School for Years 7&8 – not something you often see in a Senior School, but it’s taken seriously and the kids love it. Activities include axe throwing, den building and low ropes.
This is the sweet spot for Akeley Wood Senior School, with music especially strong – there’s a recording studio here along with a dedicated Music Tech suite, with the children here able to take Music Tech for GSCE. Around 150 students take private music lessons which I’d say is a bit on the low side, but there are the usual orchestras and ensembles, from jazz band, guitar ensembles and music tech clubs plus smaller rock bands who play at Woodfest.
Drama performances are held in the main hall and the subject is offered for both GSCE and A Level, and LAMDA exams are offered within the school.
Art is well catered for, offering textiles, ceramics, fine art and photography in the mix in two dedicated art rooms – they’re a bit scruffy around the edges, but I kind of like that, and the Art teacher I spoke to was clearly passionate about the subject and allowing the children to really express themselves. With a Finalist award at the ISA Awards 2021 for Excellence and Innovation in Fine Arts and an A level pupil off to Central St Martin’s this term, art is a definite area of strength.
There are 6 science labs here, a slick Mac tech suite, a rather lovely refurbed and extended dining area (light, spacious and a window overlooking the foliage on the lawn). The DT area is getting an overhaul with new worktops, workbenches, floor, cupboards and some new equipment too.
Perhaps most importantly for the children, with the Sixth Form vacated to a new AW6 campus, the pupils’ swanky glass and chrome common room has been taken over by Year 11 – a real plus for Akeley Wood GSCE students who, unlike most secondary school pupils, have their moment of feeling they’ve ‘made it’ rather than having to wait until Year 13.
The Georgian gorgeousness of Wicken Park is home to the Junior School campus some 15 minutes down the road, all sweeping staircases and honey-stoned elegance. Its 6 acre site surrounded by field and woods, and includes ‘Tudor House’, one of Henry VIII’s former hunting lodges that now houses the Year 5&6 classrooms. Facilities here include a sports hall, astro turf for football, cricket and tennis, plus cricket nets and a cricket astro strip. There are weekly Forest School lessons onsite for all children here in the woodland that surrounds the main building.
The nursery area, with its lovely outside play area backing onto the playing fields, had a huge makeover a year or two back, and you’ll find it now with lovely muted colours and tasteful wooden toys. A smoother transition between Junior and Senior schools has been helped by the flow of teachers between the two campuses. The Junior School has two choirs and an orchestra, plus modern foreign languages, music and ICT all taught by specialists.
A £1m undertaking, the new Sixth Form AW6 site opened in Sept 21 at Tile House Mansion, a grand Victorian estate roughly 15 minutes from the Senior School. With a palpable campus-like feel (no uniforms and purely 17-18 year olds) it offers something very different to most day school Sixth Forms in the area. A full review on this will follow soon, but there’s plenty to impress here; a real mix of old and new – cornicing co-exists with neon signs, morning rooms are filled with modern work stations. No surprise that Akeley Wood was judged Highly Commended in our Muddy Stilettos Best Schools Awards 2022 in the ‘Special Sixth Form’ category.
Though Akeley Wood isn’t going to be tickling the top of national results league tables (its non-selective cohort and local grammar school competition makes that difficult), its showing in 2022’s GSCEs and A level results that it can perform at the top level. In GSCEs, 38.2% of grades were 9-7, 60.2% at 6+ and 80.7% at 5+. For A Levels, 100% of students passed, and 25% attained A and above. Value added scores at Akeley are perhaps the most telling – these are the scores that show how much ‘value’ the school has added to a child’s grades. At Akeley Wood it’s a 1.5 grade raise, making it in the top 2% of value added independent schools in the UK for 2022.
Destinations this year included pupils heading to a broad range of unis and courses, including Loughborough University to study Automotive Engineering; Central St Martins for an Art & Design foundation course; Birmingham Uni for Chemistry and Liverpool Uni for Politics and Hispanic Studies.
Akeley Wood is well known locally for its pastoral care offering, testing its Senior School pupils twice a year with AS Tracking (a way of monitoring wellbeing in the pupils that accurately flags up any personal issues). The school uses peer group mentors, and a counsellor comes in each week too. There’s a Wellbeing room for kids who want a bit of time out to de-stress.
Although Akeley Wood is non-selective, it does quietly cap its SEND pupil intake, so bear that in mind if you’re eyeing it up for that reason. That said, the SEND pupils here are well looked after, with 1:1 learning support in a dedicated SEN facility to help those who need some extra help.
Chris Drew took over in Summer 2022 from Simon Atwiss’ four year tenure, and already seems to have made his mark on what he calls ‘resetting the balance’ of the school, which I think translates to ‘letting the kids know who’s boss’. With huge experience across all sectors of education – he’s taught in state, academics and independent, full boarding to day students, co-ed and single sex – he’s friendly but no-nonsense and has made clear that he expects high standards of behaviour from the children. After a tricky few years for Akeley with changes in management, Drew has created stability and calm.
I’m not sure quirky is the word for Akeley Wood, there’s a strong creative string running through the school – the Creative Curriculum, taught on Friday afternoon throughout the school, offers a huge range of experiences from sports coaching to print making, robotics to archery. Music Tech, Business Studies, Media Studies and Photography GCSEs show a modern outlook, and there are DJing classes on offer here – frankly, not a sentence I often write in a school review!
Little to go on externally, I’m afraid, other than a 2018 compliance report which the school met.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Mobile phones are allowed to and from school, but mustn’t be switched on during the school day.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day starts at 8.50am, and children can stay for after school activities until 4.30pm free of charge, with paid for after school care until 6pm. Early drop off provision from 8am across junior and senior schools are included in the fees. For an extra charge, children can be dropped off from 7.30am for breakfast club at the junior school. At the nursery, earliest drop off is at 8am, and latest pick up is 6pm.
The school offers bus pick ups within a 25 mile radius. No need to deploy time travel if you have children at more than one of the school’s campuses either – there’s a minibus that moves the children to one central pick-up point for the end of the day.
Competitive for a Buckinghamshire school. Senior School fees are £5925 per term, moving to £5597 per term for sixth form. Reception, Y1 and Y2 starts at £4027 per term, moving to £4725 for Year 3 and £4975 for Years 4-6. Nursery fees work out at between £68 – £318 per week depending on the age of your child and how many days you opt for.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Akeley Wood has a good reputation amongst parents for its inclusive, unpretentious vibe and its excellent SEND provision. Parents I talked to are pleased to have the stability of Drew at the helm, and the new streamlined, easy to digest communications from the school are going down well. School lunches get a big thumbs up from the kids.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for an unpretentious, friendly school that won’t ‘hothouse’ children, set in idyllic surroundings. It’s a small enough school to suit those who thrive on individual attention but big enough to field A-D teams and put in decent productions. Ideal for parents who want the ease of keeping their kids at the same school from 1-18.
Not for: Akeley Wood’s relaxed ethos and non-selective cohort might not suit more overtly ambitious parents.
Fancy a visit? Be my guest! There’s a Whole School Opening Morning on Sat 24 Sept; an AW6 Open Evening on Thurs 6 Oct; Senior School and Sixth Form Open Morning on Sat 25 Feb; and Junior School and Nursery Open Morning on Sat 4 March.
Akeley Wood School, Akeley Wood House, Buckingham, MK18 5AE. Tel: 01280 814110.
Akeley Wood School, Tile House Mansion, Lillingstone Dayrell, Buckingham MK18 5AN. Tel: akeleywoodschool.co.uk