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We got the feeling that this school does lots of things well, and parents confirm that academic standards are good. Despite being renowned for music, Pilgrims’ manages to field an impressive 11 teams for football, 12 for rugby, nine for cricket and a first hockey team. Parents say results are respectable, even though one laughed, ‘The boys are so polite that they’re more likely to say “after you” on the football pitch.’ Usual range of…

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What the school says...

Located in the heart of historic Winchester, less than one hour from London, The Pilgrims' School aims to educate its pupils well, to give them self-confidence and a delight in achievement. It aims at much more than this, however.

The Pilgrims' School is home to two professional choirs, the Winchester Cathedral Choristers and the Quiristers of the Winchester College chapel choir. In unique association with Winchester College, we have high academic standards and outstanding resources. As one of the major choir schools of the UK, The Pilgrims' School has many talented and budding musicians, Choristers and Quiristers aside, who inspire in all a love of music and the arts. As a church school, it has sound discipline and exceptional pastoral care. As a sporting school, it plays all the major games with almost daily rigour. High ambition, zeal and determination, an awareness of the worth of others, solid commitment, a deep faith; these are the fundamentals we try to instil.

Rather than open days, we prefer to offer an individual tour of the school with one of our senior boys as a guide, affording the opportunity to sample the working day character of the school, to see our style of teaching and to spend time with key members of staff. Visitors are always very welcome, please feel free to call us if you would like to book a visit.
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What the parents say...

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Other features

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since January 2015, Tom Burden (40s), previously head of Hereward House School in London. He grew up on the Isle of Wight, where he was educated at local schools before proceeding to Oxford (with a scholarship) to study theology. After graduating, he started teaching as a bit of fresh air before settling down to something earnest, but was soon gripped. Five years at Alleyn Court School, Southend, then a further five at boarding prep Lockers Park, Hertfordshire, where he headed the English department and ran the scholarship set, while still managing plenty of sports coaching. ‘I loved every minute and took away the idea that boys should be boyish, enjoy their childhood and be trusted to have responsibilities.’ A sports fan and regular at Lords, he relaxes by playing football, bowls and cricket. His boys' own enthusiasms include Bletchley Park, the Underground, the Gothic Revival and the London sewer system. He‘s also ‘hugely interested’ in politics, philosophy and religion.


Boys are assessed at all main entry stages and tests vary depending on age. Reception entry via 'fun activity morning'. School offers around 10 extra places at 7+ and 8+ - assessment during individual taster day. Around six more join the school in year 7 to prepare for 13+ entry to senior schools. Those interested can get a taste of boarding life (from age 8) by spending a few nights in school. Places in other years are occasionally available. School states that it is ‘selective in the broadest sense’ but clearly has an academic focus.

Auditions for the two choral foundations are in November, with most new choristers (who sing in Winchester Cathedral) and quiristers (who sing in Winchester College Chapel) joining in year 4 and 5. Voice trials include singing a prepared piece, aural tests and an academic assessment.

Boys come from all over to be a Pilgrim, moving from local nurseries, state primaries, independent pre-preps and London schools. Overseas parents choose the school as a route into Winchester College.


Around 50 per cent of leavers to Winchester College and Eton in any given year, many with music scholarships and exhibitions and a few with academic or double awards. Steady trickle to Harrow, Radley, Charterhouse, Wellington, Canford, Bradfield, Sherborne, Bryanston etc, many with music, academic and all-rounder awards. One or two may leave at 11+ for independent day schools.

Our view

School can probably trace its origins back to the early song schools associated with Winchester Cathedral in Saxon times. Current school was founded in 1931 in former priory (thought to have been redesigned by Sir Christopher Wren) when non-singing ‘commoners’ joined the choristers for their education. Quiristers, boys who have sung Winchester College chapel services since 1382, moved from the college to Pilgrims’ in 1966. Cathedral and remains of Wolvesey Castle form an imposing backdrop to main school building, which sits in a far corner of The Close. Once inside, there’s more space than the outer façade suggests; two inner quadrangles flanked by octagonal concert hall and modern classrooms rub shoulders with ancient medieval hall and converted Priory stable block. School escapes feeling cramped thanks to extensive playing fields in front of Bishop’s Palace and design of newer buildings.

We got the feeling that this school does lots of things well, and parents confirm that academic standards are good. Form tutors and academic tutors (years 6-8) keep tabs on individual study via daily meetings with their charges and are ‘very honest about progress.’ Director of studies ‘seems to know the capabilities of all the boys and school reports are extremely thorough, accurate and personal.’ Maths set from year 4, English from year 5 and there is further division from year 7 into Winchester entry, scholarship and CE sets (depending on destination schools). Separate sciences taught from year 5, Latin from year 6 and French from year 3 (senior French classroom had piles of shiny new textbooks and posters of complex tenses on walls). Enthusiastic head of English encourages creative writing at every opportunity; clearly has a love for poetry, and boys produce some really imaginative work inspired by anything from Pilgrim’s Progress to a letter from the Queen. Rest of curriculum is as expected and music is clearly strong. The three groups - choristers, quiristers and commoners (non-scholars, the majority) - are all mixed together in lessons and socially. The school is geared up for boys with lots of what it describes as 'strong male role models'. At the time of our visit, 15 students had SEN reports (dyslexia, dyspraxia) and two learning support specialists were giving individual and group lessons to around 30 pupils. Class numbers are capped throughout at 20; numbers in year 7 and 8 classes are smaller and determined by ‘next schools.’

Housed in converted medieval stables, music department is very accomplished, active and busy, with around 235 individual music lessons taught each week by 27 visiting music teachers. ‘Almost everyone plays an instrument,’ noted a parent; singers usually learn two. Every boy is assessed for musical potential on entry to the school. Children in year 2 have strings and woodwind taster sessions and usually begin formal instrumental lessons in year 3. Bands, orchestras and choirs abound. Main prep school orchestra tackles repertoire such as finale of Beethoven's Fifth and Mahler's First (arranged by director of music) with weekly sectional rehearsals. Big band, woodwind and baroque ensembles also practise weekly; music staff ‘team boys up into [chamber music] groups that work.’ Junior strings and band sometimes join seniors for concerts. Four other choirs besides the two professional choirs give everyone a chance to sing. Music lessons rotate through the timetable and aim to miss the same subject no more than once every six weeks. Practice sessions for boarders (four per instrument per week) are timetabled and supervised; 25 pupils can practise simultaneously, including a few day boys. Music theory lessons for all and acres of space for music technology and composition suites. School organises two full days of ABRSM music exams every term, routinely passed with distinctions and merits. Music department has access to Winchester College for larger concerts and uses hall and the Octagon for smaller affairs. Cathedral (chorister) and College Chapel (quirister) choirs sing to professional standards and parents say there is no difference in kudos between the two. Parents (and boys) can choose at audition whether they wish to be considered for one or both. Daily singing for all, although quiristers sing fewer services, practise more secular repertoire and have no holiday commitments (a bonus for some families). Both choirs make recordings and go on tours. ‘It’s fantastic to go to a school where there is music going on, it’s just part of life … even if you don’t know you’re learning, you are.’

Despite being renowned for music, Pilgrims’ manages to field an impressive 11 teams for football, 12 for rugby, nine for cricket and a first hockey team. Parents say results are respectable, even though one laughed, ‘The boys are so polite that they’re more likely to say “after you” on the football pitch.’ Usual range of sports and games timetabled daily; less mainstream activities include fives, golf, fencing, rounders, judo, martial arts, squash, water polo and sailing. All-weather court floodlit for use on darker evenings. Sporting successes include U13 1500m national prep schools champion and cricket at Hampshire county level. Heated outdoor pool - affectionately dubbed ‘the puddle’ – for swimming in warmer months, although boys use 25m indoor pool at the college next door for serious swimming, eg lessons, swim squad and galas. Large art room, smaller DT room, ICT suite and library dotted around the quads. Parents say that drama is very good lower down the school, with a ‘fantastic junior production each year,’ but add that they would like to see more for older pupils. School says, ‘We have a senior production every year, the last was an outdoor Shakespeare.’ Productions staged in atmospheric, medieval Pilgrims’ Hall, in purpose-built Octagon theatre, outdoors in the Quad or in the cathedral.

Two boarding houses have space for 82 beds, all fully occupied when we visited. Lovely couple in charge stress that all boarders are treated equally and there is a clear division between the school day and boarding. Senior quiristers board in Q-school, a few minutes’ walk away. Dorms homely and comfortable; each has a year 8 dorm monitor in charge of waking boys up etc. Breakfast served on family tables, after which boys go off to choir, instrumental practice or have free time. Extracurricular activities (known as Commoners as singers have choir practice) happen after school on four afternoons a week. These include lots of sport, but unusual pursuits like fishing, bell ringing and Mandarin caught our eye. Boarders come back to the house after evening prep; houseparents keep a close eye on any missed homework and help singers cope at busy times. Laundry done in-house and parents say belongings are checked regularly. No flexi boarding, but commoners can go home at weekends and choristers occasionally; around a dozen boys are in school regularly on Sundays. Lots of trips and activities arranged on weekends and during ‘choir time’, when choristers board over Christmas, Easter and a week in summer.

Parents are happy with pastoral care and school’s attitude towards misdemeanours, bullying etc. ‘Issues are dealt with proactively and nobody brushes anything under the carpet.’ New director of well-being. In spite of the fact that boys wear distinctive sweaters depending on whether they are choristers (red), quiristers (blue) or commoners (green), we didn’t sense any social divisions. Boys are mixed up when allocated to one of five ‘Sets’ (houses) on entry to the school, and we observed different coloured jumpers dotted all over at lunch tables. Although the two choirs spend a lot of time together, close bonds are also formed on the football field. Parents of commoners say their sons couldn’t care less about the name and feel ‘just as important as anyone in a red jumper or a blue jumper.’ The only quibble was that there are too few phones in the boarding house, although any urgent messages are unfailingly delivered by staff on duty. School says, ‘Several mobile phones are handed out each evening and there are ample landlines to use.’

Super little pre-prep has its own hall for assemblies (youngest children have lunch here) and plenty of outdoor space. Outdoor learning in forest school every Monday and there is an outdoor play area and garden. Pre-prep holds special assembly in the cathedral every fortnight and parents are welcome. Has its own choir and music teacher (director of music also takes lessons) and there are two clubs just for the under-7s. Lots of non-fiction in library encourages boys to enjoy reading.

Pilgrims’ attracts a broad mix of families - overseas nationals (around 10 per cent of boarders) hail from Hong Kong and China; a few others come from Russia and Switzerland. Some overseas British based in Brazil, France and Russia. Boys are lively, but generally well-behaved, courteous and very natural. Not a Sloane Ranger in sight. Choral foundation provides scholarships worth 40 per cent to all choristers and quiristers and free music tuition on one instrument. Means-tested bursaries worth up to 100 per cent are available for all. Over 20 boys had additional funding when we visited. Any boy awarded a bursary also receives his first set of uniform free. Former pupils include Jon Snow, Jack Dee, Patrick Gale, Ollie Baines and Jules Knight (members of Blake), Nick Glennie-Smith (film composer) and Anthony Smith (sculptor).

A fine school in which the musical, the sporty and the clever boy will positively flourish. Atmosphere is now less formal and the school has a good work/life balance.

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