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A huge orchestra was successfully tackling Beethoven ‘on sight’ in the medieval Pilgrims’ Hall (also used for assemblies) when we visited, while the Big Band was swinging away in the music department. Nearly everyone learns an instrument. Teaching looked to be fun and boys clearly enjoyed an English lesson while a maths group we saw was involved in establishing the purpose behind algebraic calculations and definitely getting the point. For a smallish school Pilgrims fields an astonishing number of teams...

 

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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

Head

Since 2015, Tom Burden (40s), previously head of Hereward House in London. Originating from the Isle of Wight, he won a scholarship to Oxford to study theology. Teaching after graduating while considering careers, he realised that education was for him and so stayed for five years at Alleyn Court in Southend. He followed this with five years at Lockers Park boarding prep in Hertfordshire, as head of English, in charge of scholarships and doing lots of sports coaching. He ‘loved every minute’, realising ’that boys should be boys, enjoy their precious childhood and grow through being trusted with responsibilities’. A sportsman and fanatic about Southampton FC, fascinated by ecclesiastical gothic architecture, his passion is nonetheless for education. He believes that Pilgrims’ is first and foremost an all round academic prep school with strong sport, music and other activities, which happens to have two professional choirs. There is no hierarchy in the school even though the choristers - who sing in Winchester Cathedral - and quiristers - who sing in Winchester College Chapel - rank among the best in the country. He is adamant that these years, which will give boys the memories and foundations for their whole lives, should inspiring and enjoyable as well as industrious for every boy in the school.

Entrance

Boys are assessed in individual taster days, designed as much to gauge whether the boy will take to Pilgrims' life as to establish educational ability. Pilgrims’ is selective but interested in boys who will do well there rather than just academia alone. Entry to the pre-prep is by fun activity mornings, and there are 10 or so places available at 7+and 8+, and a few at 11+ for preparation for senior school entry at 13+. Boarding is from 8 and boys can come in for trial stays.

Applicants for the choral scholarships are auditioned in November and voice trials include a prepared piece, aural tests designed for those who may not have musical experience and academic assessment. Most choristers and quiristers join in years 4 and 5. Boys come from far and wide, including abroad, as well as from local nurseries, primaries and independent schools.

Exit

Pilgrims is not the prep school for Winchester but enough families see it as a route for there to be a separate form in year 8. Winchester exams are earlier and different from common entrance, which accounts for another form, as well a third group for scholarship candidates. Prepares scholarship boys are very specifically and successfully for the academic requirements of Eton, Winchester, Radley, Charterhouse, Sherborne and other major schools, as well as the local King Edward VI and Portsmouth Grammar. Unsurprisingly, music awards and exhibitions are also plentiful.

Our view

Strong academically with Latin as well as French, which is started from reception and later benefits from trips to France. Science in impressive labs, with some serious scholars on our visit assiduously absorbed writing down observations on an experiment. Teaching looked to be fun and boys clearly enjoyed an English lesson while a maths group we saw was involved in establishing the purpose behind algebraic calculations and definitely getting the point. The head says he has struck lucky in having remarkable teachers. Art, including some pottery, computing and CDT all well equipped too. Parents report pupils work conscientiously and one commented that the school is right for all of her boys although they are widely different in abilities and inclinations. SEN stepped up recently with screening from the beginning with plenty of expert support on hand, with the occasional pupil needing one-to-one but more benefiting from in class support. Plenty of prep but boys taught not to exceed allotted time for it, one parent gratefully explained. The pre-prep has its own new purpose built centre tucked lovingly in between the school and the deanery garden, which is generously open to them as a forest school, clearly much enjoyed by the muddy group we saw. Though pre-prep is a separate unit, it feels cosily within the main school and its staff value sharing the common room above it, which definitely facilitates coordination of curriculum and info.

Music is central to the curriculum with pretty distinguished senior and junior choirs and chamber choir, as well as the two professional choirs. A huge orchestra was successfully tackling Beethoven ‘on sight’ in the medieval Pilgrims’ Hall (also used for assemblies) when we visited, while the Big Band was swinging away in the music department. Nearly everyone learns an instrument and the boys said that both music and games are ‘cool’ here. Lots of opportunities for small groups and supervised practice for boarders. Music school in the converted stables bulging with pianos (even one tucked into a practice cupboard under the stairs), rehearsal space and equipment apart from designated chorister rehearsal room. The high musical standard enhances productions such as the Mikado. Drama is on the curriculum, but there are masses of events like the Christmas cabaret as well. Other activities range from Latin and Greek speaking workshops and trips abroad to wetter pursuits such as wakeboarding and angling.

For a smallish school Pilgrims' fields an astonishing number of teams. Sport is cleverly timetabled so that choristers do not miss main sports for rehearsal, though sometimes musical team players have to bow out for a professional engagement. Football boasts 20 and rugby 18 teams for the various different age groups while cricket has nine, though not all play very frequently. Lots of sporting activities, sailing, hockey, water polo, though as yet listed building planning has prevented cover for the outdoor pool. Boys also get plenty of supervised kick about time on games pitches where, one pointed out, Henry VIII might have watched events from Wolvesey Castle, which forms a stunning backdrop.

Being in the middle of the close in largely medieval buildings, Pilgrims’ has managed to expand into three attractive courtyards, one grassed with a pretty little pepper pot venue for small performances, one Astroturfed for play with a climbing wall, and one tarmac, where parents collect day boys and mingle with boarders up to all sorts of intriguing after-school pastimes. Lovely light and spacious purpose built classrooms and library cleverly harmonise on the outside with the medieval and Georgian close.

Pastoral care is mainly through form teachers until the last three years, when boys are in tutor groups of up to nine. Fortnightly progress bulletins to parents now ‘thankfully online’, said one parent, no longer drowning in paper. Very prompt action on behavioural and other issues with parents kept in the loop.

Boarding, 90 strong but expanding by parental demand, is available from year 4. The two houses originate from the choristers' and quiristers' needs, which form the core of boarding life. The increased number of main school boarders means that activities, which can sometimes be a little denuded by choral demands in the lower years, will become more viable. Dormitories must be the nicest anywhere. Six or eight on bunk beds with cunningly themed rooms amazingly decorated – the Beano room even has comic strips revealed when the blinds go down. Pristine decoration, though the head feels they should not be too unnaturally tidy. Teaching houseparents, with their own boys in school, make it seem like a family, and three professional nurses are all approachable, parents say, and happy to keep in touch over the smallest thing. Particular concern given to supporting troubled or anxious pupils to the extent of appointing a new director of well-being, available to all. Parents can visit whenever and apart from the demands of the choirs and overseas boarders it is all pretty flexible. Wrap-round care from breakfast with boarders and supervised prep until 8pm for families that need it for a ‘small fee’. Choristers who have to stay on over Christmas and Easter for choir weeks get a pretty good time as well as working hard and one mother told me her son couldn’t wait for his first Christmas.

Uniform is informal and comfortable with jerseys, red for choristers and blue for quiristers, while year 8s wear hairy tweed jackets. Food ok with formal dining and grace before meals as well as a much-loved new tuck shop. Parents from all walks though still pretty well to do, with a good sprinkling of musical families. Boarders from abroad (10 per cent), Hong Kong etc plus some expats. Past pupils include Patrick Gale, Jack Dee, Jon Snow and four BBC choirboys of the year since 2000, with at least one finalist almost every year.

Choral scholars get 40 per cent off fees and free tuition on one instrument. Bursaries and music awards means-tested up to 100 per cent, with first school uniform free to holders.

Altogether a stunning and distinctive school, gracefully combining an up-to-date outlook with ancient traditions, now becoming more cohesive and adventurous under Mr Burden’s guidance. There’s something special here for almost every boy.

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