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To compare the fabric of Maidwell to many other boarding preps would be as to compare Sandringham to Beckingham Palace. Here you will find no trace of architect designed theatres or gleaming new boarding houses (they did think about one for the girls, but parents vetoed it, preferring to keep their daughters in the characterful main school attic dorms) but a low-key wealth of facilities that’s right in line with...

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Meet Maidwell Hall at the Independent Schools Show 2018, Stand 614

What the school says...

The school features full boarding with plenty of parent access. Two or three leave outs per term run from Friday at 12.30pm until Monday at 7.30pm. In their first year children have the option of weekly boarding. There is also an attractive day pupil package. A significant building programme during the last 8 years has given the school enviable facilities including most recently an indoor swimming pool. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2001, Robert Lankester MA PGCE (50s). Educated at Charterhouse and Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he read history. Military family – and he has a touch of it in his demeanour although never served; decided to leap into teaching after seven years in the City (‘the best decision I ever made’). PGCE at Durham then 13 years at Uppingham, 10 as a housemaster. Exudes an air of calm confidence that pervades entire school and, as is often the case with outstanding leaders, his charges (averaging around 127 in number) have acquired in spades his self-assured qualities as if by osmosis. Was responsible in 2010 for the introduction of girls (‘an interesting journey’) who are now fully established at around 40 per cent of the cohort.

Adored and revered by parents who say he is ‘a figurehead, and incredibly all-seeing’. A teacher at heart, still teaches CE history six periods per week and mingles with pupils at mealtimes. Lives on site with multi-talented wife, Carey (‘a very special person,’ say parents), a Montessori trained teacher also heavily involved in Maidwell life as tutor, swimming coach, teacher of drama and PSHCE and reader of bedtime stories to the younger boarders. Two grown up children: a daughter training to be a teacher and a son, the ‘very popular’ head of history at Maidwell (‘an amazing teacher and perfect role model,’ parents told us). With such idyllic rural surroundings, there’s probably no need to escape to the country, but when the Lankesters do, it’s to their home in Carmarthenshire, where they enjoy walking. Other leisure pursuits include skiing and – recently – golf.


‘Pretty comprehensive’ is how head describes intake. Fifteen to 20 join school into year 4, with handfuls joining each year thereafter, resulting in numbers almost doubled at top of school. Small numbers of pupils join aged 7 and are taught with year 4, repeating the year. Very gently selective (‘I can count on one hand the number of children we have turned away over the past 10 years,’ says head), prospective pupils assessed in maths, spelling, reading and NVR, plus short interview.

Majority join from pre-preps or other prep schools, very few from state primaries, and live within a 90-minute radius of school (East Anglia, Suffolk, Cambs, Derbyshire, Herts and Bucks). Very few London families, Forces ‘significant’. Less than 10 per cent international; small numbers from Spain, Japan, China and Thailand. Old Maidwellians include Earl Spencer, novelist Boris Starling and Masterchef judge William Sitwell.


Almost all girls as well as boys stay until 13+, progressing to (mainly co-ed) public schools. Greatest numbers to Uppingham, followed by Stowe then Oundle. Boys in ones and twos most years to Eton and Harrow, a few more to Radley, with girls only very occasionally opting for the single sex route, eg Queen Margaret’s, York or Roedean. Extremely rare exits at either 11+ or to day schools ‘tend to be for financial reasons’. Some scholarships, although head says, ‘We don’t push them. They can be a weight around your neck and ruin your last year of prep school. We’d rather good grades at CE than shaky scholarship results.’

Our view

How many prep schools of such modest pupil numbers can boast such riches in terms of breathtakingly spacious grounds? Maidwell’s extensive gardens, five rugby pitches, trout-stocked lake, six hole golf course and ‘wilderness’ – where its pupils can climb trees (‘only to three times our own height,’ we were earnestly assured) and build dens to their heart’s content – are framed by spectacular Northamptonshire countryside and farmland as far as the eye can see, the school instantly seducing visitors with its quaint Swallows and Amazons feel (‘as soon as we drove in, we knew it was the one’, said one parent). Founded in Derbyshire in 1913, school moved to this picturesque spot in 1933, making use of the 17th century turreted hall itself as main school building and boarding accommodation, plus recent additions. To compare the fabric of Maidwell to many other boarding preps would be as to compare Sandringham to Beckingham Palace. Here you will find no trace of architect designed theatres or gleaming new boarding houses (they did think about one for the girls, but parents vetoed it, preferring to keep their daughters in the characterful main school attic dorms) but a low-key wealth of facilities that’s right in line with the lifestyle of the well-heeled parent cohort. There’s a croquet lawn, used for family tournaments in summer (we were honoured to have last year’s champion as our guide); a carpentry shed where pupils can create, well, anything in their spare time; rowing boats for year 8 leavers to bob around on the lake in summer months; a shooting shed and clay pigeon shooting activity on Sundays. The idyllic frieze could only have been improved on the day of our visit by the presence of the head’s golden lab, who was otherwise engaged at the time, and we’re willing to bet that the Range Rovers picking up pupils at leave-out are of the proper, mud-spattered country variety.

The overall vibe of the school is wholesome, jolly and humane. No abrasive bells to signal the end of lessons or break: ‘This is their term time home,’ says head, ‘and we try to make it feel as homely as possible.’ Also: ‘We have less a uniform and more a code of dress, allowing pupils to express their individuality’. The result of this is an absolutely charming array of corduroy trousers or culottes, a striped or checked shirt and tie of choice (boys and girl prefects only), topped off with a jacket tailored in pupils’ own choice of tweed. Screen time is almost non-existent, save the occasional sports match projected onto a giant pull-down screen or the news for prefects. Phone calls home are made from one of a few good old-fashioned landlines situated in nooks and crannies around the school and the tradition of a compulsory weekly letter home to parents continues to thrive. Free time, or ‘muckabout’ as it’s known, is spent running around the vast grounds, taking part in one of the plethora of activities and sports on offer or – we were delighted to see – reading. An actual book. ‘Reading rest’ takes place after lunch each day, with pupils kicking back on their beds with their choice of ripping yarn and help on hand from learning support for anyone who needs it. Parents love that their children ‘are not just getting an education, but a childhood too’. The 21st century has not bypassed Maidwell, though, and technology is very much alive and kicking in the classroom, with all pupils now taking a standard issue iPad to every lesson. These used to great effect with teachers accessing the latest educational apps or facilitating online research for projects or artwork.

So, we asked, what kind of 8-year-old goes full boarding these days? Head very clear that Maidwell pupils are not ‘sent away’ from home as was often the case yesteryear. Boarding here is ‘always a positive choice’ and ‘to be honest, the children clamour for it’, he says. All have a 24 hour boarding trial in the summer prior to starting and, as far as we can make out, it’s consistently a hit. About half of parents are ‘old school’, with the rest ‘a lovely smattering of everybody else, but definitely not flash’, we were reliably informed. Those we spoke to – most having had the debate at some point about the benefits of weekly versus termly boarding – were keen advocates of the full boarding model, grateful that their children are not subject to the weekly upheaval of lengthy travels, the emotional switch between school and home life or constantly exhausted without a chance to fully recharge between Saturday tea time and Sunday evening. They also appreciate the fact that they’re all in the same boat and there are no lonely ‘remainers’ wafting around a near empty school at weekends. ‘Parents choose us because we’re small,' says head. All were keen to extol the virtues of the high quality family time, either when the children come home for their four day leave-outs twice every term or at one of the multitude of fun family days laid on by the school, where ‘everyone mixes in’.

Small class sizes of up to 15 but more often around 12. All lessons taught by subject specialists, many of whom are trained secondary teachers, which ‘enables us to be teaching at almost GCSE level by the time pupils leave’, says head. Two streams in each year, with pupils set separately for maths. Trad curriculum (languages are French and Latin, with Greek for potential scholars taught outside of usual timetable). Parents of very academic children full of praise for teaching, with staff spending their break times to offer extra tuition to scholarship candidates around exam time. Exam technique covered in detail at frequent revision seminars in the run up to senior school exams and all CE pupils create revision plan with deputy head, with up to eight hours' extra independent study expected at key times: ‘we make sure they are always in the right place at the right time’, he says. High praise, too, from parents of the less academically stellar who, if necessary, are ‘taken off quietly by the incredible learning support department’, often resulting in pupils becoming ‘unrecognisable’ in their outcomes. Mild dyslexia, dyscalculia or dyspraxia all in a day’s work ‘but pupils do have to be mainstream’, says head. Mild ASD (mainly undiagnosed) also fine but ‘I dislike labels and won’t allow them’, says head. ‘The structure of a boarding school plays to the favour of children who may have been told they have ADD or ADHD – we work with it as we would anything else’. Specialist EAL teacher supports international students, who are often withdrawn from French or Latin. We loved the vertical tutor system – there are no forms and pupils have the same tutor from the start of their school career to the end and meet weekly in groups of six to eight – ‘it engenders a lack of hierarchy among the pupils’, says head. Behaviour and manners a major strength of school: ‘we are very strict, although pupils don’t really realise it and parents comment on improvements after just a few weeks’, says head. Mothers concur: ‘if you want a well-mannered child, send them to Maidwell’.

On top of all the academic subjects (history was the pupils’ firm favourite when we asked), very strong art, led by the ‘young, fizzy’ head of department, and drama equally impressive. One ‘massive’ production every year (recently The Wizard of Oz, Oliver, Romeo and Juliet), described by parents as ‘brilliant – so slick and fresh.’ About two-thirds take peripatetic music lessons in the somewhat makeshift music rooms adjacent to the boys' boarding floor. ‘Not ideal, but it all just happens,’ says head, although watch this space for news of an all-singing-all-dancing performance space and library over the next few years. Perhaps Maidwell will get a touch of architectural gloss after all. Sport six days a week with ‘everyone in the teams’ and plenty of match day success. It’s rugby, hockey and cricket for boys, and girls – whose sport is ‘good now’, thanks to new head of girls’ games – play netball, hockey and rounders, albeit sometimes in mixed age groups to make up numbers. Great to see girls’ football on offer as an activity – how about cricket next? Girls would also like to see some more ‘serious’ gymnastics and dance. Older pupils jet away on fabulous sports tours (eg hockey to Barcelona, rugby to Dublin and cricket to Antigua). Weekly swimming in school’s indoor pool, also used for free swims during activity time. Activities aplenty, with two compulsory during the generous 45 minute morning break and three in the evening each week, from various sports to street dance and climbing (trees and walls) or origami and Airfix. Squash and pool ladders also popular.

Boarding quite literally at the heart of the school with boys’ dorms up a sweeping staircase off the main entrance halls and girls (who have to access their dorms via a different route in the evenings) on the charming attic floor above. Pupils allowed to board weekly during their first year – and can even choose to be a day pupil throughout their Maidwell career if they so wish – but very few do. Dorms for both sexes sleep six to seven pupils, with boys’ clothing kept centrally and dished out as required by matron. Dorm captains – top year pupils placed to keep an eye on their younger peers – in every room ‘to make sure everyone’s happy – and tidy.’ Super, homely feel to all dorms, with spectacular views across the grounds and surrounding countryside (beds in turrets most coveted) and the girls’ rooms in particular, with their sloping ceilings, lending themselves to festooning with cheerful bunting. When we visited, pupils were buzzing in anticipation of the competition for most festive dorm decorations (whilst on the subject of Christmas, we are told that the carols round the tree, with the tradition of head boy/girl placing the star on top and youngest boarder a glass dove on a lower branch, followed by an ‘amazing’ Christmas lunch, are ‘magical’). No boarding parents per se but head and his wife, a director of boarding, two matrons and three gappies live on site.

Whole school assembles each morning in the entrance hall cum library with prayers read by a pupil and a thought for the day from a staff member (‘some more interesting than others’, pupils told us) and there’s a service in the church – conveniently situated next door to school, negating need for own chapel – every Sunday, with plenty of parents in attendance. Meals all taken in quite the loveliest prep school dining room we’ve ever seen. Cleverly combines the ancient walls of the original hall with a modern glass ceiling that floods the room with sunlight, and homely farmhouse-style tables and chairs beneath the beams. Family style meals (‘the food’s amazing,’ said pupils – and we can vouch for Friday fish and chips) served out by either a member of staff or, for the older ones, a pupil. Lunch is fairly formal, with grace at the beginning and end announced by head’s hand bell, and the tradition of a box of boiled sweets passed round to finish. Breakfast and supper are less so and pupils can sit amongst their friends or siblings in different year groups. Weekends in school are action packed, with lessons on Saturday morning generally followed by a sports fixture and relaxed evenings in with pizza and movies. After church on Sundays, there are trips (eg ice skating, trampolining or Woburn) or friendly sports matches. As one parent told us, ‘there really isn’t time for homesickness’. House system in place with head boy/girl, house captains and fiercely fought competitions for absolutely everything, from general knowledge or croquet to debating and baking.

Maidwell parents ‘couldn’t be more delighted’ with their choice. Traditional in the most positive sense, parents describe as ‘extraordinary’ the extent to which staff know their children and love the fact that school allows its pupils to elongate their childhood, free from the pressures of social media and the internet, whilst packing a hefty academic punch and shimmying them smoothly into their next schools.

Special Education Needs

The school has a strong learning support department which provides extra lessons for those who need them. This covers moderate learning difficulties associated with dyslexia or dyspraxia together with study skills lessons and more general subject support. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
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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