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S. Anselms School

What says..

Locality – in the awe-inspiring Peak District – is massively important: ‘It’s everything about us and shapes us as a school.’ Simple things like using Derbyshire oatcakes in their pancake day races and studying iconic Derbytonians. Since most children live in the locality, it is easy for the school to integrate naturally into local life and create a sense of community. Local state schools are invited periodically for sporting events, computer programming and science workshops. There is so much going on here that it’s not a case of ticking boxes, but more what…

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What the school says...

S. Anselm's is one of the country's leading prep schools. We provide a happy and thriving environment where children are encouraged to give their best and to flourish amidst traditional values.

We prepare children for their journey through life, equipping our boys and girls with the wisdom and skills to succeed. We look to do so in a fun and engaging way, whilst encouraging good manners and humanity. The safe, homely and family environment in stunning Derbyshire countryside lends itself to superb opportunities for the strong boarding community. They delight in the strength and breadth of the activities programme, whilst being supported emotionally and academically by the school's dedicated pastoral team. Despite having no academic entry requirements, at 13 more than half our pupils win a scholarship which is a tribute to the quality of the teaching at the school and the small average class sizes. We would love to meet you and encourage you to come and see us in action. ...Read more

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Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2023, Lisa Donnelly, previously senior deputy head for four years. She joined the school 26 years ago and later became head of pre-prep. She has a passion for sport and her mantra is for children to ‘work hard, play hard and get the most out of every day’. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family and walking her dogs in the Peak District.


Most pupils join the non-selective nursery or pre-prep; prep school entry subject to an interview with the head and report from their previous school.


Exit destinations at 13 include Eton, Cheltenham Ladies’, Winchester, Shrewsbury, Oundle, Oakham, Rugby, Malvern, Moreton Hall, Repton and Birkdale. School has ended provision for students aged 14-16 – the final cohort of year 11s completed their GCSE courses in 2022.

Our view

Setting off a high-altitude balloon and tracking it from the comfort of a classroom is nothing new, but this is the kind of school that literally goes the extra mile – or hundred. S. Anselmians think nothing of jumping in a minibus and driving four hours to Norfolk on an epic balloon chase while tracking the progress on laptops. Project-based learning was introduced in collaboration with a Danish school and Harvard University several years ago and staff are now starting to see it embed. Software is up to date – think 3D printers, trials of VR, and their Lego Innovation Studio which showcases 3D inspired chess sets. When Griselda, a forest monster, terrorised the local woodland, pupils were so engrossed in using adjectives that they wanted to work through the dinner bell.

Projects have included the prerequisite Romans vs Celts battle (two-day stopover and an actual catapult: no cardboard boxes here); giant plastic turtles, an ethical nod to the modern-day plastic problem; Tudor houses set on fire to allow pupils to experience the Great Fire of London (some cried); lessons in surgery with an actual pig’s lung and a digestive system made out of Lego. The list is endless… anything goes in the name of learning. We tried to ignore the proudly displayed newspaper reports lacking in the fundamentals, with spelling mistakes in headlines, and pupils grappling with knives in cooking without basic chopping techniques. On the plus side, pupils were self-reflective, one reasoning that she needed to take more risks in her work, another learning collaboration as part of a group.

Maths students were genuinely enthusiastic about their double lesson last thing on a Friday. Parents remark that it is ‘a truly wonderful school’ and that ‘my boys look forward to going every morning and come home full of stories of what they have done that day’.

The school is more than happy to accept children with special needs. This is backed up by a strong learning support department with dedicated spaces, three specialist teachers including speech, language and communication therapists and dyslexia experts, one-to-ones, group work and EAL support, as well as plentiful resources for specific needs such as specialised laptops. Additional charge for learning support lessons.

Music is strong, boasting 15 peripatetic teachers and 15 ensembles: everything from rock bands to modern music and chapel choirs. The proof of the pudding is in the listening – mesmerising sounds of music flood through open windows, showcasing the ability and dedication of pupils. The Hargreaves Hall auditorium offers a great performing space, with modern repertoires ranging from Fight Club monologues to full-on productions of Around the World in 80 Days and Fantastic Mr Fox.

Art rooms – which include dedicated spaces for ceramics and textiles – are a hive of activity. When we visited, a local exhibition of art included handcrafted toys, product launches, metaphorical poems sewn and draped on a mannequin’s skirt, the cabinet of curiosities containing ceramic fantasy creatures and even a bird’s skull which the pre-prep discovered and donated – the whole exhibition a work of art in itself.

After-school activities cover every taste. The rule is, if there isn’t an activity with your name on, then there soon will be. Not a space is left unused here, with the gardens being the next big project – pupils have already started crafting grand designs.

No shying away from competitive sport here. It’s embraced at all levels, with the key being inclusion. Children are divided into A, B and C teams with the As naturally playing more fixtures. ‘We wipe the floor with other schools, despite our small size,’ say PE staff. Pupils compete nationally in swimming and netball and have had an unbeaten season in rugby. The large range of sports from shooting to steeplechase, cricket for both girls and boys to the usual netball, hockey and tennis mean that players achieve at all levels including regional and county. Parents said the AstroTurf pitch was ‘a real bonus and all the children (and mums) are enjoying the hockey tuition’ with families being invited in for weekly coaching. Smallish swimming pool.

Locality – in the awe-inspiring Peak District – is massively important: ‘It’s everything about us and shapes us as a school.’ Simple things like using Derbyshire oatcakes in their pancake day races and studying iconic Derbytonians. Since most children live in the locality, it is easy for the school to integrate naturally into local life and create a sense of community. Local state schools are invited periodically for sporting events, computer programming and science workshops. There is so much going on here that it’s not a case of ticking boxes, but more what boxes can we come up with next to tick off. Staff are positively buzzing with enthusiasm.

We sampled Friday’s fish in the cosy, sociable dining hall. Pupils went out of their way to help visitors and took delight in clearing away our things. Parents are confident their offspring are eating well, remarking, ‘The boys tell me how good the school lunches are and my eldest loves the full English on a Saturday morning.’

Pupils are, on the whole, dressed smartly. The house system, based on four national heroes – Pitt, Churchill, Nelson and Wellington – is used at every opportunity to provide competition amongst pupils and staff of all ages, with the latter exchanging friendly banter about a recent quiz night. Staff are not afraid to address any issues head on – whether it’s lesson time or not – with one teacher taking a pupil aside for a heart-to-heart when we were there.

Pupils are confident, and even those in pre-prep showed great honesty in their opinions: ‘It’s too easy, I did fractions last year, and I have to do them again this year.’ Another, exasperated: ‘We have to work until 5pm.’ They don’t. Pre-prep finishes at 3.20pm, with after-school clubs available. We found pupils enthusiastic and on task in class, barely glancing up. They were polite, courteous and relaxed. The Guide was not immune to the inevitable plethora of prepped answers by the older students but found genuineness when probing. ‘Good sport, no pressure.’ ‘Lots of opportunities and mix of everything.’ ‘Feels like a family’ and ‘really family-friendly environment’.

Staff use online learning journals in early years and reception to record pupils’ progress for parents. While all agree it provides great communication, it ironically leaves staff with little to say on parents’ evenings. Some can also get carried away with recording, as one teacher openly admitted she had conducted 38 observations on one child in nine weeks because ‘they were achieving so many amazing things’ and she just wanted to ‘capture them for the parents’. Lots on offer for parents, from quiz and curry nights to pet shows and the weekly Sunday supper where families can enjoy a delicious roast with all the trimmings.

The school joined forces with Birkdale School in Sheffield in September 2023, sharing best practice, facilities and resources, but there are no day-to-day changes for pupils, families or staff at either school.


‘We have a pillow fight every Wednesday morning, so they can get it out of their system,’ boasts the housemaster. Under his charming aegis, the pupils gush boarding accolades with superlatives galore. A few years 6-8 boarders are international pupils; in some cases, families have moved nearby so they can send siblings as day pupils.

One parent told us they live only four miles away, yet their son has chosen to board. Who can blame him when weekend activities range from watching live ice hockey matches and paintballing to water parks? Lots of staff are on site: no one wants to miss out on the fun. Older pupils earn the privilege to wander down to Bakewell and spend a pound. ‘It’s a wonder what they come back with,’ chuckles the housemaster.

Junior dorms have been spruced up with bright, but slightly garish and stereotypical wallpaper: flowers in the girls’ dorm, and a world map in the boys’. We did wonder why the girls only got daisies. Senior dorms are slightly worn looking, if not dull, and could do with a lick of paint. Bathroom facilities are modern and clean. None of which matters, really, because S. Anselm’s boarders are too busy making the most of their time, with prep, music, supper, sports, swimming and the Lego Innovation Studio to fit in; we are not even sure the TVs in the common rooms are used.

Money matters

Academic, music, art and sports scholarships at 7+. Some means-tested bursaries.

The last word

S. Anselm’s tries to keep it real, true to the motto: Esse quam videri – to be, rather than to seem to be. The school embraces its Derbyshire roots, preparing students for modern life with traditional values. Individuality is key, and pupils leave with their characters intact, nurtured rather than remodelled. A juxtaposition of old and new, with a dash of good nature, humour and honesty that just seems to work.

Special Education Needs

S. Anselm's is a mainstream school and as such we welcome pupils with a broad cross section of ability. Gifted children are stretched and those with specific learning difficulties have access to dedicated one-to-one specialist teaching. All children are fully integrated into every aspect of life at the school. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dyslexia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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