Davenies School is a day school for boys 4-13 years set a few minutes away from both Beaconsfield’s picturesque Old Town and the more practical charms of the New Town with its railway station, Waitrose and independent shops. Known locally as a strong all-rounder school, and the only boys’ day school in Beaconsfield, there are 340 pupils here in classes of no more than 20 across a 7.5 acre site, with the main architectural attraction a Grade II-listed former Georgian farm house complete with small, elegant formal front garden, interior wooden panelling and vertically-friezed walls. ‘Of their time’ additions from the Eighties have given way to the Jubilee Building, and more recent, stylish developments across the Pre-Prep (R-Y2) and Junior (Y3-4) areas.
The school, established in 1940, is old enough to have its own Latin motto (singulus pro fraternitate laborans – ‘each striving for the good of all’), and has retained a sweet bee motif that repeats throughout the school as well as the website, referring back to the bee-keeping days of its original head teacher. Other than that, Davenies feels more forward-looking than trading on tradition.
With its own 4 lane, 25m swimming pool – the only school in the area that offers this facility – swimming is a big deal at Davenies, with the school recently polling 12th out of 108 schools in the IAPS National swimming finals. Weekly swimming lessons start from Reception here and swimming iIs timetabled at least once a week for all, with additional extracurricular opportunities.
The school has a single astroturf, as well as two large football and rugby pitches that, in season, are marked to include four mini pitches. There are also two outdoor nets, a portable batting cage and an artificial wicket for cricket, as well as facilities for shot put, long jump, high jump and a throwing area. The school also has access to four pitches at St Mary’s Primary School a few minutes away for the main sports of rugby, football and cricket when an overflow is needed.
The sports hall is in good nick (built in 2006) and supports a good range of secondary /extracurricular sports including fencing and badminton. As with many smaller schools, there’s a strong thread through Davenies about sport for all and joining in – every boy gets the chance to represent the school in rugby, cricket and football and competitor schools are chosen carefully for well-balanced matches. Other sports teams that the boys can participate in include athletics, golf, gymnastics, hockey, squash, tennis and triathlon.
Drama is a strong suit here, with annual plays and musicals offered across each year group, and opportunities both to tread the boards or get creative behind the scenes. There’s a beefy uptake of 28% for LAMDA exams available for boys from Years 4-8. Plays and musical performances all take place the Performing Arts Centre, a large multi-purpose hall with professional sound and lighting systems.
Music-wise, despite its relatively small size, the school has its own orchestra (which I like – not all prep schools manage it), plus four choirs, jazz band, wind band, various ensembles, plus two hand-bells teams that the kids who were showing me around seemed very proud of. In terms of facilities, there’s a Music Technology classroom (all Apple Macs), one dedicated large music practise room and several smaller rooms for private music lessons with 55% of pupils here taking at least one musical instrument. A dedicated music centre opens in September 2022, to include ensemble room, 5 additional practice rooms, a drum cabin and a new music classroom.
Artists will like the light, bright, well-equipped art space known as The Studio – available for Years 3-8 with two potters wheels and a kiln, resulting in an impressive output of ceramics, including fruit bowls, ice cream sculptures and plant ‘love’ pots dotted round the room. There is an annual art exhibition in both the Pre-Prep and Prep School showcasing the work of each boy, and Artist of the Week, celebrating successes rather than just exceptional work, is also a popular initiative.
Modern, bright classrooms abound in the Jubilee Building, a £5m project opened in 2016 for the pre-prep and junior pupils and recognised in the RIBA Awards for their architectural interest. There are the usual labs and library, a super-bang-up-to-date computer room.
A trump card for the school is its own onsite Cubs group for boys in Years 3-5 complete with its own hut and Akela – that’s a first for me to discover in Bucks & Oxon. The boys who showed me around were so enthusiastic about it, and the moral and emotional compass that Cubs offers does feel central to the school.
There are several fabulous play areas, one of which includes a small exterior climbing wall for the younger children. The big news going forward is another build, this time a £2m Science and Tech development that will see a doubling of the current teaching space with two new bespoke science labs, a large new DT room to fit 20 pupils, as well as a new IT suite, freeing up space in the existing buildings to create a new innovation hub, further extend music provision and enhance specialist academic subject teaching spaces provision.
In an affluent area like Beaconsfield, with a myriad of other prep school options, punchy academics are non-negotiable. Though Davenies is non-selective at entry, its results are strong – since 2016 there’s been a 100% pass rate at Common Entrance, with all boys securing their top choice of next schools, including a clutch of scholarships across sport, art, music and academic that reflects the all-rounder offering here. Over the last 5 years, boys from Davenies have gone to 40 different and diverse schools – the Sylvia Young School in London, Eton, Rugby, and the local grammar schools (note: there’s no particular coaching for entry at the school, but last year’s pass rate out of 22 boys who sat the test was 60%).
Specialist teaching is offered here in French, Music and Sport from Pre-Prep and Spanish in Year 3 and from Year 5 it’s specialist teaching across the board. Personal iPads are given to all boys from Year 4. A particular strength of the school is its maths provision, with a Maths Mastery style taught from Year 1 up. By Year 5 the boys are split into three ability groups for both Maths and English and in Year 6 Latin is added to the mix. There’s also a dynamic STEM and computing emphasis, incorporating robotics, coding and programming – the school teaches Computing rather than IT, underpinned by the tidy school line that the children should learn to be ‘active builders rather than passive users’ of software.
In terms of extra-curricular activities, the boys here are well catered for, with a mix of the usuals (chess club, triathlon and fencing) with some more experimental and exciting additions such as quidditch club – yes really – plus NFL, advanced mountain biking, and documentary and ornithology clubs, not forgetting the Year 3-5 Cub nights twice a week. A string to Davenies’ bow for Year 7-8 is its Davenies Award Scheme (DAS) which offers a huge range of activities and skills along with a series of ‘Whacky Weekends’ on Friday nights or Saturdays that include go-karting, curry nights, plays, an assault course, falconry, geocaching – DAS is so popular the school now has a 75% retention rate for Years 7-8 up from 50%, stemming the flow of boys moving to the local grammar schools at Year 7 (11 years old).
All the expected support on offer here, with a separate Pastoral Head for Pre-Prep (R-Y2), Junior (Y3&4), Middle School (Years 5 & 6) and Senior School (Years 7 & 8) overseeing the individual form teachers, SENCO team and school nurse who feedback weekly plus a peer mentor scheme that has trained up the Year 8 boys to be available for drop-in talk sessions at breaktimes with the younger children. The school has access to a counsellor onsite, and pupils’ wellbeing is tracked weekly using the Reflections programme. The boys I spoke to felt strongly that Davenies has a supportive, relaxed atmosphere and bullying isn’t an issue here, but just in case there’s an anonymous anti-bullying survey that runs annually.
Carl Rycroft has been Head at Davenies since 2015, and comes with decades of experience across both co-ed and single sex, state and independent sectors. Hailing from Yorkshire and an ex-rugby player himself (he was England Rugby’s head of youth development for Hertfordshire for several years in his twenties) Rycroft comes across as thoughtful, direct, professional and serious about the job – I’m betting he’s not a man, who spends a lot of time unnecessarily flattering and wooing parents.
Instead, his energies have been firmly pointed towards making sure pupils reconnect to Davenies’ original core values and building on a sense of community – case in point the parents and teachers who are part of a joint choir. Like many heads I meet, Rycroft no longer teaches his subjects of PE and RE (and also, like many heads, wishes he had time to do so), but it’s no surprise given his background that he takes a keen interest in sport here. Music and art are regarded as improving on his watch also, and he’s been the driving force behind the current plans for the £2m SciTech building. Academically he’s keen to broaden the curriculum in Years 7-8 to be more baccalaureate in feel, his view basically being – if not now, when?
Well, I’m loving the Quidditch team. A non-contact game instigated for Years 3-5, it’s been a not-so-surprising hit for the latest generation of Harry Potter fans. As I mentioned earlier, the school’s Cub Hut with its own Akela is highly unusual and deeply popular. And what’s not to like about The Flop Club, the evocatively-named Pre-Prep after school provision?
WRAP AROUND CARE
As a local day school with a stream of commuting parents, wrap-around care needs to be replete and it ticks the boxes. A Breakfast Club runs daily from 7.45am for all pupils, at £3, with breakfast available. In the Pre-Prep, Flop Club until 4pm is free, up to 5.30pm is £7.50 and until 6pm is £10.00, with the boys offered sarnies, fruit and a drink at 4.15pm to keep them going.
There are currently 14% of pupils at Davenies with SEND needs, the vast majority of which are SPLds such as dyslexia – dyslexia screening is undertaken in Year 2, with ongoing pupil tracking from Year 1 onwards. The pupils are supported largely in class, but also in small groups and where necessary on 1:1 by the full time SENCo and her four learning support teachers, either in the Specialist Learning Support classroom or one of the three additional tutor spaces.
The most recent inspections are from October 2019 and November 2016. See both here.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Mobiles aren’t permitted in school, and those arriving with them for travel purposes must hand them in (switched off) to a Form Tutor, to be returned at the end of the day.
There are no school buses offered here, mainly because almost all pupils are local to the area. There’s no parking at the front of the school either, but the Sainsbury’s immediately next door is used for drop-off and pick-up by agreement – their car park even has a manned school gate accessing the Davenies site.
Largely in line with local competitors. Fees per term are £4,035 (Reception); £4,695 (Years 1 & 2); £5,720 (Years 3 & 4); £5,780 (Years 5 & 6); £6,085 (Years 7 & 8).
WORD ON THE GROUND
There’s no doubt that Davenies has thrived since Carl Rycroft’s arrival. Old complaints of Davenies boys being arrogant and the school out of touch are long since gone and there’s a strong core feeling through the school about service to others, kindness and teamwork. A genuine family feel pervades here and the parents rave about the balance of academic and extra-curricular. There’s an acceptance that some facilities could be improved in places – the science labs and music in particular – but these are being addressed in the next big build project.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a strong all-rounder single-sex school that promotes inclusivity and teamwork. With the vast majority of pupils live in the Beaconsfield area, there’s a cohesive community that some prep schools pulling from further afield can lack. Beaconsfield is a large, affluent town with great amenities, all of which are easily accessible for the kids.
Not for: Positively palatial in size at 7.5 acres to pupils coming from London schools, but relatively compact compared to some of the more rural ‘manor house’ alternatives. If you’re looking for Brideshead Revisited, take your teddy bear elsewhere.
Fancy a visit? Be my guest! Whole School Open Mornings are held on a Saturday in the Autumn Term, and during the week in both the Lent and Summer Terms. See details or arrange a private visit here.