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Based in and around a former hunting lodge, approached directly from the charming high street, with grand wrought iron gates guarding an 18-acre, Tardis-like campus. It must definitely wow escaping Londoners, the main building so characterful it even moonlights as a wedding venue in the holidays. Delightful pre-prep setting (across a small road) with large, bright classrooms, every possible millimetre of space adorned with creative offerings and the ceilings festooned with bunting and mobiles. ‘Proper computer science’ is taught as part of the curriculum, and pupils have twice…

 

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What the school says...

'The aim of Winchester House is to develop life-long learners with a spirit of resourcefulness and self-reliance within a warm and purposeful community.
As parents the greatest gift we can give our children is to create opportunities for them to develop their self-esteem to ensure that they are resilient, enabling them to tackle and overcome any obstacle they face. At Winchester House we encourage children to take up opportunities and embrace challenge with tenacity.
We strive to give each child a thirst for life-long learning through a stimulating and innovative curriculum which pursues excellence.
Winchester House has a long tradition of delivering a holistic education and we are constantly reflecting on how to evolve to provide an education relevant to young people facing the challenges of contemporary society.
I hope you will take up the opportunity either to visit us for an Open Morning or come on a bespoke visit. I feel very lucky to be part of such a vibrant learning community which has an energy and sense of fun where children thrive.
I look forward to welcoming you.'

Emma Goldsmith, Head
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Sports

Polo

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

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2014, Emma Goldsmith (50s). Born and educated in Durham before reading English at Manchester. As a fourth generation teacher she was at first adamant that ‘teaching was the last thing I was going to do’. Happily, her rebellious instincts were soon quashed, and she landed first teaching job at Oakham where she threw herself into coaching netball.

Later recruited to help set up sixth form girls’ boarding at Rugby. Fell in love with Bloxham School when visiting for a sports fixture and was hired to manage the transition to co-ed, including the first girls’ boarding house. Ended up as deputy head, where her husband is still director of rugby and a maths teacher. Two of her four children attended Winchester House, and she was asked to join the board of governors, so approached the headship ‘from a unique position’.

Parents like her very much, respect her knowledge of local secondaries, her candour, and the way she really listens. One told us, ‘She’s fabulous — professional but totally approachable. She gives you her time and understanding but doesn’t sit on things; she takes action when needed.’ 
Warm and stylish, she hosts regular Friday night suppers — ‘to help me get to know parents and them to know each other’ — teaches year 8 English, helps with playground duties, welcomes pupils on the drive each morning and joins in with activities: ‘If you've had a bad day, a bit of Lego with the nursery is very good for you.’

Her family has a home on site and she loves that her children have been able to grow up in this school community.

Entrance

Non-selective into pre-prep with automatic entry to prep. All assessed prior to entry into year 3 and above to identify learning needs. Pupils mainly local (within 10 miles) supported by a minibus network bringing pupils in from further afield. The busiest bus service brings pupils in from Chipping Norton.

Post pandemic, the school is noticing — like many others — increasing numbers of families fleeing London. Strong old school, rather than aspirational, bias. Lots of former pupils in parent cohort. Some year groups oversubscribed.

Exit

Almost everyone stays through year 8, with co-ed boarding schools the usual next step. The school prides itself on sending its pupils to a broad range of destinations. Though the numbers going to each aren’t shared on the website, Stowe is consistently the most popular (the school is just down the road from Stowe and is now a member of the Stowe Group, with Stowe and Swanbourne House School), with Radley, Rugby, Uppingham, Oundle, Bloxham and Tudor Hall popular choices after that. Odd ones go to Millfield, Abingdon, Uppingham, Headington, Eton, St Edwards and Winchester. Fifteen scholarships in 2020.

Our view

Based in and around a former hunting lodge, approached directly from the charming high street, with grand wrought iron gates guarding an 18-acre, Tardis-like campus. It must definitely wow escaping Londoners, the main building so characterful it even moonlights as a wedding venue in the holidays. Founded in 1875 in coastal Sussex, the school moved here in 1918 to be safer from possible attacks.

Delightful pre-prep setting (across a small road) with large, bright classrooms, every possible millimetre of space adorned with creative offerings and the ceilings festooned with bunting and mobiles. Seamless transition for the youngest from on-site nursery, housed in a light and spacious extension. Years 3 and 4 housed in own building, with much evidence of the ‘creative curriculum’ followed on display.

A newer innovation from a previous head of English has been the introduction of 'kinetic letters’ in reception, a multi-sensory method of preparing children's whole bodies for writing. The sight of children doing the plank and lying down to write may be unusual but one mother could not believe the difference in handwriting between her sons who'd been through the programme and her two sons who had not – ‘It's very clever, almost like a gym class, but it's been phenomenal for them.’

‘Proper computer science’ is taught as part of the curriculum, and pupils have twice won Rugby’s annual digital scholarship — involving coding, web design etc.
 If parents were slightly underwhelmed with the online teaching provision during the first lockdown, the school nailed it second time around with full live lessons, and marvellous co-curricular ideas including a virtual pet show, contest to build the longest marble run (with brilliant ensuing Twitter posts), and guest speakers from around the world. ‘We were really keen first time round that children weren’t in front of screens all day but also able to get out in that amazing weather,’ explains Mrs Goldsmith. ‘But in fact parents said, "Actually, we need to work," and I’m proud of how we reacted to their input.’ Any family with three of more children was offered the loan of a Chromebook, and pupils were required to wear uniform while studying at home – ‘There were moans initially, but actually it's allowed children to differentiate between school and leisure time,’ explains the head.

Also useful in lockdown was the school's increased focus on wellbeing (partly in response to increasing exam pressures in year 6) which has been supported by a restructured senior management team and new Heads of Year who encourage children (and parents) to have more open discussions. House at Home workshops are run to help parents support their children emotionally and academically, and these continued through lockdown.

That the school has a higher proportion of SEN pupils than average may be down to the Learning Development department’s thorough screening: ‘We’re much better at identifying learning needs and putting in plans. It’s a real strength of the school,’ says head. Dedicated SENco and seven LD staff ‘aim for as little withdrawal from the classroom as possible’, although those with greatest need are withdrawn from Latin to receive extra support. In counterpoint, high achievers work with the head of HLP (higher learning potential), some of them those children we’ve all met who are very gifted academically but find emotions harder, and may need attention in both areas. ‘They have designated sessions with our head of HLP — it's very bespoke to each child but has been a massive improvement on just giving them extra work in the classroom.'


Many secondary schools would envy the enormous sports hall and full-sized Astroturf. A lovely outdoor pool and cricket nets sit among the manicured lawns of the walled garden with the main playing fields across the road (though the pool is unheated so sadly for summer use only). Each year group has its own play area – some with super modern equipment and all with new, rainbow striped ‘buddy benches’. The real magic of Winchester House, however, is in its enchanting and unique features – a secret garden tucked through a tiny archway, where year 8s are allowed to ‘hang out’ and lower years tend allotments and sit around camp fires; a beautifully panelled dining room where lunch is served family-style by teaching staff; tongue in cheek rules on the walls of the girls’ boarding house (our favourites: no whining, laugh a lot and break the rules…sometimes) and a creative collection of vibrant works of art by visiting artists and pupils.


Fully co-ed, with a charming cohort of pupils who mix easily together and come across as children enjoying being just that – no ties, lots of untucked shirts and not a hiked up skirt or gelled quiff in sight.

The innovative ‘creative curriculum’ followed in the lower part of the school is well established and revered by staff and pupils alike – head speaks passionately about its execution: staff burying artefacts to be found by children with metal detectors (Romans) and children arriving at school to find snowy footsteps leading to their classrooms, which were draped in fur throws (Frozen Worlds).

Pupils in year 3 and above are each assigned a tutor, who keeps a beady eye on their pastoral and academic well-being, stepping in to help them handle heavy workloads around exam time or making sure they keep up their sporting commitments when academics threaten to take over. The school day is quite long (8.30 to 5pm from year 3 with an optional breakfast club and after school prep, tea and activities til 6.30pm), but parents say ‘it does balance out’, with prep done and dusted by the time a child goes home.



Science a strength, with all three sciences taught separately by specialist teaching staff through ‘as much practical work as we can manage,’ according to the physics teacher. French from reception by native speakers (‘they only talk to children in French,’ says head), Latin from year 6 and Greek from year 7. Setting from year 3 in maths and English, when pupils start to move between teachers, leading to entirely specialist teaching from year 5.

Parents feel the head has been good for staff recruitment. When concerns were raised about class sizes increasing in one year group, she responded swiftly, hiring a new teacher and adding a new form. She in turn considers it healthy when some staff move on to higher things and points out that several colleagues are currently tutors for Buckingham University’s PGCE course – ‘That is refreshing as you always get new ideas coming though.’

A key change has been ending academic teaching on a Saturday. ‘Children — and staff — are really busy during the week and I was really concerned about fatigue,’ says Mrs Goldsmith. ‘It’s had a very positive effect on wellbeing.’ The parents we spoke to felt the move fitted with modern trends.
 To smooth the transition, some inter-house matches are still held on Saturdays (so working parents may spectate) and a Mastery Morning enrichment event is organised one Saturday each term, with pupils required to sign up for at least two a year. Topics may range from CE revision techniques to a talk from a BAFTA-winning documentary maker, and this weekend provision is no doubt part of the reason the school's fees are a little higher than some competitors in the area.

Another innovation is ILT — Independent Learning Time — during the day for year 7s and 8s, in which top-up or catch up clinics are offered, children may drop in with any concerns, and scholarship preparation is done, rather than having a scholarship stream. ‘It has revolutionised how we up-skill pupils to become more independent learners,’ says head. 



A school alive with the sound of music – ‘we’re very much a singing school,’ says the head and parents concur, describing the termly concerts in glowing terms. A massive 80 per cent or so learn an instrument, with choirs (both auditioned and otherwise, and choir tours), bands and ensembles aplenty for musicians of all levels. Performance is ‘one of the key aspects of the school,’ says head, but ‘you don’t have to be brilliant to perform – we’re building pupils’ confidence all the time.’ Specialist taught drama on the curriculum to year 8 and around 60 per cent take up LAMDA. Strong art department (complete with a kiln, 3D printer etc) focuses on ‘much more than just drawing,’ says head, with visiting artists offering masterclasses on disciplines from woodcarving to animation.

Winchester House became a member of the new Stowe Group (see above) in 2021, a three-school alliance facilitating shared expertise, resources and cost efficiencies. Stowe is also investing substantially in infrastructure plans, and Winchester House pupils may also make greater use of Stowe’s facilities. The scheme gives more families incentives to send their children on to Stowe ‘though we are certainly not Stowe’s prep school’, adds the head.

On the sporting front WH are again high achievers because ‘we invest heavily in good quality coaching and do sport every day except Thursday’. Hockey is especially big here — and in the Midlands generally — but everyone will represent the school in something, and there is a great variety, including an equestrian team (run largely off-site by horse-mad mums).


Many leading prep schools run internal programmes or awards schemes alongside CE and here it is the much enjoyed Learn to Lead programme. Initially designed to help pupils develop resilience, take risks and manage failure with a sense of humour through expeditions and on-site activities, it has lately expanded to incorporate more charity and community work — consider the school’s dementia choir, started in 2019, which sings to and with local care home residents, even doing so remotely through lockdown. ‘Parents know their children are privileged but want to keep them grounded too,’ says the head.

Some 46 clubs run each week, and many, such as squash, chess, gymnastics, laser shooting and debating are included in fees, with others like skiing (at Milton Keynes) and golf charged as extra.

Daily minibus services bring children to school from locations including Chipping Norton, Bloxham and South Newington.

Boarders

Pupils can board from year 3, and some do, in one of two single sex boarding houses – boys upstairs in the main school building, girls in a purpose built block. Unsurprisingly, the girls’ house with its cosy dorms (sleeping up to 10) has a homelier feel than the boys’, although both are comfortable, with plenty of spaces for down time. Head says boarding ‘really takes off’ in years 7 and 8, with an ‘all or nothing’ approach for the oldest pupils who are required to board all week rather than occasionally, as is allowed lower down the school — ‘so it’s not hot-bedding, it’s a community’. Boarders have their own schedule of after-school activities, and are full of praise for the food.

Money matters

Means tested bursaries of up to 100 per cent are available from year 3, with 5 per cent of the pupil body currently receiving one.

The last word

Under an established head with apparently inexhaustible drive and plans for the school’s next steps, Winchester House excels on many fronts. From enterprising teaching systems to sport, learning support and beyond, parents are effusive in their praise, and particularly value the happy environment and friendships between pupils. Small wonder almost no one leaves before year 8. As one parent puts it, ‘It says it all, how excited the children are to go back…’

Special Education Needs

We provide a broad, inclusive curriculum with all teaching staff recognising the full potential of each child. Support is provided through a variety of methods including extensive in-class support across the classroom range, small group work and individual withdrawal sessions. The school is fortunate in having an occupational therapist on site, a visiting speech and language therapist and an educational psychologist visits the school on a termly basis. Several learning support teachers also teach various aspects of the curriculum eg maths, history, classics. On entry to the school, in addition to a screening process, parents are requested to inform the school of any previous assessments. There are strong home-school links with regular meetings and workshops for parents. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
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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