Beachborough School is a bucolic day and boarding prep school at Westbury Manor, tickling the Northants, Bucks and Oxon borders, and perfectly positioned for those around Bicester, Buckingham, Banbury (or further if you don’t mind the drive). The coeducational school is set in 35 acres of frankly gorgeous grounds, and has a 50/50 boy/girl split. With 400 pupils enrolled this year, it’s at full capacity (and has waiting lists in every year group).
The main building is very attractive and homey when you go inside – sofas in hallways, light and spacious, cosy tweedy armchairs. If you like your schools with a feeling of informality and intimacy, you’re in the right place.
You’d expect any prep school charging nearly £16k a year to have some decent sport, drama and music facilities, and Beachborough has invested heavily in the last few years, with the requisite Performing Arts centre, massive sports hall, astro, netball and tennis courts, forest school and spingly spangly pre-prep area. The big headline all-lights-flashing development is the impressive £700k DT building which, in a typical Beachborough move, doesn’t offer ‘DT’ but its own take on it called TED – Technology, Engineering, Design – including robotics, coding, 3D printing and electronics to inspire the next generation of engineers.
The focus on tech reaches beyond the TED building and into every subject – music had a digital composition suite, while science has an augmented reality set-up that allows pupils to walk through a solar system – gone are the days of a tennis ball and an apple to explain rotation around the sun… Connections with the business world mean kids get contact with execs and engineers at companies including Mercedes-AMG Petronas and Silverstone – they’ve also been learning about designing a product from the CAD sketches through 3D printing to product testing and building. This is business studies/DT 2.0, people.
There’s a bright spacious workshop space, an exhibition space in the hall and a large computer lab suite. I’m the least DT-type person on the planet and even I wanted to sit there and make something.
For those more interested in green space than science, the grounds offer big views out onto the fields with woods for den building – there’s no ‘stay off the grass’ signs here (hence the boiler suits – see below). The Wetlands area offers a space for outdoor learning from pond dipping to drama (The Gruffalo was performed here – how sweet is that?).
Roughly 25% of kids at Beachborough board, either flexi or four days a week (there’s no termly option here), and the boarding houses here are well above average, with lovely individual murals, below, that raise them way above the usual white plasterboard dorms.
100 per cent of children at the school pass the Common Entrance exam – as a broadly non-selective school that’s a big academic tick. The June 2020 leavers achieved 22 Scholarships out of a year group of 29 children – 3 Academic, 3 Music, 5 Art, 3 DT, 4 Sport, 2 Head’s Award, 1 All Rounder and 1 Drama.
Destination schools include Eton, Millfield, Uppingham, Marlborough, Stowe, St Edward’s, Headington, Repton, MCS… the stellar list goes on. The benefit of Beachborough, according to its head, is that the school is truly independent (not owned by a senior school), so can offer wholly objective advice about senior schools, helping to pick the right destination for each child.
Christian Pritchard took over in 2018, having replaced Jeremy Banks (now at Caldicott). Growth mindset and well being was the major initiative for Banks but Pritchard, with many years teaching overseas, has a passionately global outlook that looks to combine the all-rounder benefits of this nurturing rural school with ‘real life’ tools – ties with business, foreign schools and technology (Pritchard is a computer wizard, he teaches computer tech and admits it’s his passion). With all prep schools promising good academics and extra curricular delights, it’s exciting to see a head who’s so unapologetic about getting on board with technology and getting the kids ‘world ready’.
Little people can start at 2.5 years in the nursery and it’s waaaaay superior to the various nurseries I’ve used for my kids over the years and gives kids a strong start before they’ve even stepped through the door of Reception. While many schools are paring down their nursery provision, Beachborough is upping its game – the nursery is spacious, bright, with a great outdoor space right next to the main lawn. The Pre-prep is next door (to help transition up the school) and just as lovely, and as you go up the school and into the manor house itself, it’s more of the same.
All the kids have to wear boiler suits to go out and play which looks super cute when they’re toddlers but is probably a bit tough on the street cred by the time they’re in Years 5 and 6. Still, no one forces them to wear them as they get more senior in the school, so your 12 year old won’t have need for a full pre-teen fashion strop.
Parents must be rejoicing at this one – the Friday night special – where kids can stay at school on Fridays, be entertained by the likes of laser questing or a magician, get their weekend homework done, and be ready for a late collection on Saturday morning at 10.30am having been fed a full cooked breakfast. Seriously, where do I sign?
The headmaster, staff and kids’ water fight at the end of summer term and bi-annual Family Campout on the front lawn (alternating years with a school ball) suggests a good a sense of humour and strong community feel to the school.
WRAP AROUND CARE
It’s very good, and entirely flexible. Kids can stay for tea, or after school clubs without charge, or even board at short notice (an extra cost). Flexi-boarding is the norm; kids can book in for as many nights as they like and weekly boarding is also offered.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The mums I’ve talked to have really rated it, and it definitely has a very upbeat, ‘can-do’ aura. The Beachborough Triathlon series and the Beachborough Eventers Challenge (cross-country horse-riding competition) in the school have been going down well.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Well-rounded kids. The vibe is informal and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. The superior sport, drama and music facilities are impressive and all children get to participate fully. Good flexible after-school care is particularly helpful for busy working parents.
Not for: Those who require full-boarding, a town location, a larger school cohort, or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ or edgy approach to schooling – you’ll either love or hate the unapologetic wholesomeness of the place.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself — Open days are planned for Fri 1 October, Fri 4 March 2022 and Fri 6 May 2022. The school is also encouraging interested families to book an individual tour to get a real feel for the place. Email the Admissions Manager Lucy Glynn (email@example.com) to arrange yours: a full tour of the school with the Headmaster, and a proper in-person chat.
Beachborough School, Westbury, Nr Buckingham, NN13 5LB. Tel: 01280 700071.