Thorpe House School is a boy’s day school in Gerrards Cross, South Buckinghamshire, for 330 children from 4-16 years. The school was founded in 1923, and boasts former Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, as a former Cricket Master (he failed his Oxford University divinity exams and came to teach here for the year).
Set in 5 compact acres on a road lined with expensive houses in this most rarified of South Bucks neighbourhoods, the Senior School at Thorpe House (Y6-9) looks more like a banker’s mock-Tudor house than a school if you ignore the separate traditional-looking Junior School (Y1-5) to its right. Whichever building your eyes settle on I doubt you’ll be sending your child to Thorpe House School on the basis of its aesthetics (though internally it’s much improved) – more likely that the exam results, small class sizes averaging 12-15 and the highly driven head teacher will swing it.
There’s been a flurry of investment in Thorpe House school over the last two years – around £3 million in fact – with 2020 the recipient of a brand new multi-purpose hall (basketball, trampolining, futsal, indoor cricket nets and badminton were added to sporting programme, pre-Covid) along with changing rooms, and three shiny extra classrooms. Last year also saw in a new Junior Physics lab, a Lower School library, a black box theatre space in the Lower School, and in the Senior School an extended DT classroom and workshop. The bright reception area, a huge improvement on its dingy, cramped predecessor that was an affront to feng shui; a spruce up and paint job on the play area. Even the dining room has had an overhaul.
There’s a covered swimming pool adjacent to the site, plus a seven acre playing field site two minutes drive away (the school minibuses take the kids down to the field) with four full sized pitches, a hard tennis court and a large pavilion for changing and after match entertainment.
Music wise, there are the usual peri-teachers, plus prep and senior choirs and various ensembles. No full school orchestra which is a shame, but on the plus side there is a rock band so, you know, swings and roundabouts. The current head is an ex chorister and passionate about music, but with Covid it’s been a difficult year to encourage music provision, so I’ll report back more on how this develops as 2021 progresses.
Thorpe House maintained a comprehensive online teaching programme during lockdown, utilising AI platforms such as Century Tech, as well as focusing on giving boys time away from screens. The school has also continued its programme of investment to enhance facilities in the students’ absence including a new classroom block, design and tech classrooms, physics lab, library for the lower school, plus improvements to the sports hall, dining hall and the refurbishment of an old school hall into a black box theatre.
Nicholas Pietrek started in Sept 2019, coming from independent Birkdale School (pre-prep through to sixth form) in Sheffield, where he was Acting Head. He’s a calm, gently-spoken character with a penchant for neat suits and an eye for detail – to have powered through the number of improvements he’s made in just over a year is quite phenomenal, and word is clearly getting out, with numbers at the school are increasing.
Pietrek, it’s clear, has high ambitions for Thorpe House School – he has already trimmed down the numbers of GSCEs to 9 so that boys can concentrate on quality and grades, moved Y6 children into the ‘Senior’ School as he’s (rightly in my opinion) clocked that Y6 for many children in the grammar school system is a ‘lost’ year in the top year of primary school, where nothing happens. Better to integrate them with the bigger boys, and give them a secondary school experience with proper expectations. Next up is, he hopes, the introduction of A levels in 2023, making Thorpe House the only through boys’ school in Buckinghamshire from 4-18 years.
There is a much higher emphasis on academic success under Pietrek – 2021 saw record-breaking GSCE results with 48.4% of all grades 7-9 (the national average is 26%). All pupils passed their Maths and English Language exams at grades 4-9.
The children now take one hour lessons, with less moving around time necessary and more focus, an extra 30 mins of teaching time has been added to the day – but also an extra hour of sport has been added to the curriculum, and homework has been kept to a minimum of 15 minutes consolidation of the lesson that day with an eye to not overloading the children and allowing them to unwind at home. Also added to the curriculum is Mandarin, First Aid and Cooking.
Former quirky features like the horrific lime green office chairs of Pietrek’s predecessor and the teeny tiny dining room previously used by The Borrowers are long gone. The nearest you get to quirky here is the school uniform – almost indecently natty with its stylish, sharp collared blazers.
Average prices for Reception to Y6, and then moving to very good value for Y7 – 11, no doubt based on the small acreage on site. ,A stepping scale starting at £3,940 for reception, £4140 for Years 1-2, £5150 for Years 3-6, then £6035 for Years 7 – 11.
WRAP AROUND CARE
I write this in the third lockdown so we’re all currently wrapped around each other at home, but in ‘normal’ times you can leave kids for Breakfast Club from 7.30am (for boys aged 5+) for a charge of £3/ day or £2/ day depending on whether they are having breakfast or just being supervised. At 8am the school gates open and boys can come into school and play in the playground under the supervision of Thorpe House’s gap year student.
There are after school clubs or supervised prep sessions for boys in Y3 upwards, plus a separate after school club for Seniors from 5-6pm. Basically, the safety net is there for those, like me, who are habitually running late or have to juggle work, school and home life and drop more balls than you keep in the air.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Nurturing and friendly are the words I keep hearing about this school. The head master has made a good impression during his short tenure. All parents agree that Thorpe House’s appearance (even with the improvements) is not one of beauty but this is largely shrugged off – they are keen on the central location and its through-education from Reception to GCSE. Local fingers appear to be crossed for A levels to be added to the mix.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those who prefer to be a big fish in a small pond – the teachers pride themselves of knowing every child individually, and creating a supportive, friendly environment that would benefit kids who need a confidence boost. I felt the teachers were very caring and interested in the children. The head teacher’s own children attend the school which is always a good sign!
Not for: Really big personalities. Some kids just need more physical and mental elbow room than Thorpe House School provides. The size of the school means that all kids get a chance to join in school teams, but the super-competitive may find that kind of inclusivity frustrating. That said, there’s a new confident edge to Thorpe House School that may persuade waverers.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! See for yourself at one of their upcoming open days: Sat 9 Oct (whole school), Tues 12 Oct (whole school), Tues 16 Nov (lower school). In the meantime, you can check out the virtual open day video here and explore the school virtually from the skies.
Thorpe House School, Oval Way, Gerrards Cross, Bucks, SL9 8QA. Tel: 01753 882474.