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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. There’s no holding back: ‘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. Parents commend the school for its teachers and its leadership, some saying that Phillips ‘believed in our son, when previous heads didn’t’...

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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 2012, Peter Phillips, who defies all head stereotypes. He looks the part, tall, suited and with a firm handshake, part of the establishment. There are however, no guards here – he is genuinely likeable from the moment you come under the spell of his warm smile. Get him sitting on one of his cosy sofas in his office and he is like a gentle giant, full of humour and honesty. He is full of surprises; he's a twin (the better looking one, he reasons), and openly admits he would choose a coffee chain over an independent café because he knows what he is getting. Perhaps that’s why he is so passionate about the constant that is education, something he always had a love for - driven by the fact that he knows how much it helped him in life. Defining himself as a working class boy, he wasn’t born into this life - he worked for it. Starting out as a surveyor, he changed careers to teach English, and then quickly worked his way up the ranks to head of English at Yardley Court and Dulwich College. This was followed by director of studies at Cargilfield in Edinburgh, and then by head at Cundall Manor, Yorkshire, for 13 years.

Phillips’ likeability is what persuaded head of college, James Mortimer, to uproot from Yorkshire and his post at Cundall to join his old boss here. The move says everything about their relationship. Staff fall over themselves to work with him.

Phillips is now becoming somewhat of a scholarly celebrity, a world away from his humble roots, after he made his thoughts on technology public. Having been quoted everywhere from the Spectator to the Telegraph, it’s clear the friendly, rosy-cheeked headmaster, not one for self-publicity, finds it all rather perplexing. Blushing slightly, he confides, ‘I don’t think I’ve said anything out of the ordinary, I just believe pupils should be able to concentrate when in school.’ Defending his mobile phone ban, he reasons that it gives children ‘eight hours of peace of mind a day.’ One may expect S Anselm’s to be a technology free zone, yet the irony is that it’s at the heart of everything they do, something Phillips chuckles about. From whole school double coding lessons, to technology workshops for parents, online learning journeys, purpose built Lego Innovative Centre and electric car charging points for staff and visitors alike. It’s about ‘IT for a reason, no gimmicks included.’

There is no sense of Draconian here – only a head who moves with the times while maintaining the core values they allude to – clearly a popular approach, with pupil numbers doubled in the five years he has been at the helm. He discusses every single pupil with staff during their weekly meeting. The challenge is how to equip for the future, the workplace? ‘Careers are fragmented these days with three or four in a lifetime.’ Perhaps it was this combination of core traditional values with a forward-thinking approach won Phillips the Best Head of a Prep School – Tatler UK School Awards 2017, an accolade he is humble about. Self-conscious, he ponders that perhaps his character comes through too much in the school? He takes banter from office staff, including his wife, in good humour. The first cohort of year 11s are about to embark on their GSCE’s. ‘There is always a pressure. It’s always about the children.’ To prove this point he still teaches a full 12 periods of year 7 and 8 English.

While acknowledging the sacrifices parents make to send their children here, he asks they trust staff to look after the education side, freeing them to savour the pastoral delights on offer - from quiz and curry nights to pet shows and the weekly Sunday supper where families feast on a delectable roast and all its trimmings.

Academic matters

Setting off a high-altitude balloon and it tracking 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 over three years ago and staff are now starting to see it embed. This pedagogy equates to a curriculum so creative it is hard to keep up. Software is up to date, think 3D printers, trials of VR, and their Lego Innovative Centre 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; others gushed about their hockey lessons and some boldly asked if we wanted to take a photo of their work.

Projects have ranged from the prerequisite Roman V’s Celt 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 wonder whether staff ever switch off – it seems they are a perpetual ideas factory, fuelled by buckets of enthusiasm. The Good Schools Guide 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.

College students - the 13-16 year olds - are named not by year group but by a nod to their Derbyshire base, with Kinder (Y9), Derwent (Y10) and Arkwright (Y11). Proud of their achievements, they happily enthuse that there are ‘Loads of opportunities and good trips.’ When we visited many students were missing, despite trying our best to track them down. Residential in Oxford, history trip in Hull, the Birmingham Symphony Hall. It all makes sense – they clearly prioritise here. Who needs to sit in a classroom when you’ve got the world to explore? Those left behind were on task and mature. Small class size and mentorships help. Kinder were head down and learning in a French lesson. Derwent completed group programming work showing the maturity of undergrads. Maths students were genuinely enthusiastic about their double lesson last thing on a Friday. It seems they come to class fully focused, whatever time of day, perhaps a rest from all their other activities. 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 new library, run by senior pupils, offers a sanctuary for all. The Our Shelfies display of photos of staff bookcases was a homely, playful touch.

Supportive of all children, the school prides itself in ‘helping students achieve their own potential’ and is more than happy to accept children with special needs. This level-headed attitude of education for everyone 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.

Games, options, the arts

No shying away from competition 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. Sports are integrated into the timetable so even those on the A squads find their talents can be accommodated without eating into their own time. There’s no holding back: ‘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.

While the swimming pool is all whistles and bells, it is only 20 metres, and by school's own omission could probably have been a bit bigger. That said, all pupils use the facility under the care of outside swimming instructors. A full-sized Astroturf pitch is a given these days, but thanks to the steep gradient of the landscape, it is nothing short of an engineering miracle here. Land was lovingly flattened - a task attacked in true S Anselm’s spirit.

Music is equally strong, boasting 15 peripatetic teachers and 15 ensembles: everything from rock bands to modern music and chapel choirs. The proof of 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 for all ages, 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 are a hive of activity and include a ceramics studio plus specialist teacher, with textiles offered as a separate subject. 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.


‘We have a pillow fight every Wednesday morning, so they can get it out of their system,’ boasts the housemaster. Under his charming guise, the pupils gush boarding accolades with superlatives galore. Numbers are good for juniors (around 50 early on in the week, 70 on Thursdays and Fridays and 35-40 over weekends, with largest numbers from year 8). There are no boarding facilities for college students (years 9 to 11). A few year 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 wonder 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 (head's request) 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 Innovative Studio to fit in; we are not even sure the TVs in the common rooms are used.

Background and atmosphere

The successful pre-prep and prep school expanded to open the college in 2015, with an emphasis on traditional subjects and values combined with a more adult approach to responsibilities and rights. There was a slight nervousness about the first cohort of year 11s, but they are well supported in small groups, if they can tear themselves away from the packed schedule of scuba diving and hosted dinners to ‘keep them busy in those teenage years’.

Locality - in the awe-inspiring Peak District - is massively important: ‘It’s everything about us and shapes us as a school,’ remarks Phillips. 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 a create a sense of community.

Local state schools are invited periodically for sporting events, computer programming and science workshops. These are both time and resource generous, with the reward (aside a few pupils picked up along the way) pupils' pride in their school.

That afternoon, staff were busy setting up an all-encompassing arts exhibition at the local Cromford Mill. Volumes of work produced by the prep would knock the socks off the V&A. Every single morsel of the topic of Joseph Wright’s ‘An experiment on a bird in the air pump’, had been explored and exemplified to the nth degree. Exhausting for the staff, we are sure, but exhilarating for all involved none the less. Hand crafted 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.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

There is the S Anselm’s way based on common sense, sensible skirt lengths, no make-up, ensuring children remain children. Dinner hall etiquette follows a similar vein: teachers and staff sit at the end of long wooden benches and promote table manners and conversations. Food is delicious and revered amongst staff and pupils, with a four-week rotating menu as well as a salad bar. We listened to the excited chattering of pupils and sampled Friday’s fish in the cosy dining hall, providing a sociable dinner time arrangement. 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. Cloakrooms are tidy and pupils move calmly around school. The house system, based on four national heroes - Pitts, Churchill, Nelson and Wellington - is used at every opportunity to provide natural competition amongst pupils and staff of all ages, with the later 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. The on-site nurse personifies caring, showing a sprinkling of humour whilst looking after a senior pupil complete with sick bowl. Who wouldn’t want this lady on hand in their hour of need?

Pupils and parents

Pre-prep pupils showed great honesty with 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. ‘Sport is the best thing about school.’ 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.’

Parents commend the school for its teachers and its leadership, some saying that Phillips ‘believed in our son, when previous heads didn’t’, and that he has a ‘knack of knowing every child.’ Phillips' wife jokily suggested that his success is due to the fact that he is still ‘like a child' himself.


Most pupils join the nursery or pre-prep, and in the prep school subject to an interview with the head and report from their previous school. Many older pupils still remember their early days with fondness, ‘excellent teachers who gave them a great start’. Around two-thirds of pupils have gained places elsewhere at 13+ - in 2018 half are staying on - with some returning after experiencing new pastures. New entrants to the college have an assessment and interview with the head and head of college. When one recent recruit instinctively opened the door for us, the deputy mused that students soon slot into the S Anselm's way of life.


Phillips has a relaxed attitude to pupils exiting at 13+ – pleased when they gain their scholarships. It shows – all scholarship boards, from academic to sport and music, are up to date, and exit destinations include Shrewsbury, Oundle and Eton. Out of the last cohort, two-thirds left at 13 for other schools, something the school supported wholeheartedly, but many year 8 pupils talked of their excitement of staying on, and half are doing so in 2018. Year 11 leavers are off to Shrewsbury, Gordonstoun, Sheffield High, Birkdale (with a scholarship) and a mixture of local sixth forms. The college is looking to expand into the centre of Bakewell, and it is likely to continue to grow.

Money matters

Academic, music, art and sports scholarships at 7+ and 13+. Some means-tested bursaries.

Our view

We came away with a headache, a good one at that. There is so much going on here that it’s not a case of ticking boxes, but more of what boxes can we come up with next to tick off. Staff are positively buzzing with enthusiasm, and Phillips, in his wisdom, knows when to retire to his office and let them do their thing - he is the yin to their yang. A yes kind of man, staff suggest, and he equally trusts them explicitly to see projects through. There is no them and us: the school fully embraces the local community and its families, and vice versa. What has evolved is a non-stop busy hub nestled in the stunning but calming national park.

S Anselm’s tries to keep it real, true to the motto: Esse Quam Videri…to be and not to seem to be. There is no stuffiness here. They embrace Derbyshire roots while 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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