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Performing arts and debating a particular strength and seen as key skills in confidence building. Much time spent outside in all weathers, with waterproof trousers and wellies on the uniform list. A parent from London describes the lack of pressure and stress at the school, noting ‘St Hugh’s is more relaxed than London, but the same stuff gets done.’ And yes, there is something …

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What the school says...

At St Hugh's we are committed to children's broader personal development as well as their preparation for scholarship and common entrance examinations to senior independent schools. We are a leading co-educational, day and boarding school with 352 boys and girls from the ages of 3 to 13, sited in and around a Jacobean manor house with extensive, wooded grounds and excellent, modern educational facilities. St Hugh's is a very special place and we warmly invite you to come and see why. ...Read more

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Sports

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

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2019, James Thompson, BA QTS. Previously head of Royal Russell Junior School, Croydon, has held posts at Ardingly College Prep and Kingswood Prep in Bath. Educated at Dulwich College Prep and Cranbrook School, he has first-hand experience of both boarding and day schools. His grandfather was deputy head at Marlborough House Prep for over 30 years so education is very much in the blood. Actively involved in numerous sports throughout his career, he specialised in PE while teacher training at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. With a background teaching maths, geography and even KS1 French ‘the lure of being able to lead the whole school community as opposed to just one part of it’ was always his dream.

Mrs Thompson ran the Minors Nursery in Notting Hill and is now director of early years education for Chatsworth Schools. The couple have two daughters, both boarders at Cheltenham College.

Mr Thompson is very visible around school, not just due to the colour of his trousers. He is enthusiastic, approachable, and popular with pupils, parents, and staff. Pupils applaud his love of odd socks and pink trews, and how he approves of muddy knees. There is enormous pride in his voice when he pinpoints what is at the core of St Hugh’s: ‘We are a proudly non-selective, high achieving, all-inclusive school with the opportunity for everyone to develop their own talents.’ His understanding of the mindset of London relocators is seemingly also paying dividends for a prep with no full-time boarding or Saturday school.

The head’s office is an ordered yet homely sanctum, complete with dog bed and tasteful eau de nil sofas, overlooking the grounds. During a lengthy sandwich lunch he barely drew breath in his impassioned praise of the school, and his child-focused ethos. He explains one of the key roles of the head is to work with parents in deciding the right senior schools for their children – sometimes this may entail balancing expectations.

Entrance

Non-selective. Early registration is recommended as priority is based on the date of registration (although school will do its best to accommodate families). Taster days for prospective pupils include assessments in English and maths for entry into year 3 and above. Majority join in reception (28 places) though pupils can be integrated throughout the year if space allows. Weekly boarding available from year 3.

Exit

Advice about progression to senior schools is rated ‘excellent and spot on’ and the broad spectrum of over 20 destination schools bears this out. About 60 per cent go on to board and popular destinations are St Edward’s, Oxford, Radley College, St Mary’s Calne, Marlborough, Eton, Winchester, Wellington College, Cheltenham College, Abingdon, Headington and St Helen & St Katharine. Seventeen scholarships including four to Radley (academic, music, sport, art) in 2021.

Our view

Established in 1906, St Hugh’s moved to Carswell Manor, a pebble dashed Jacobean house set in 45 acres of Oxfordshire countryside, in 1945. Once home to the Niven family and the birthplace of quintessentially English actor David Niven, initial impression of fading grandeur is quickly erased on stepping into the immaculate oak panelled interior with its views of well-manicured playing fields as far as the eye can see. Impressive modern buildings house superb facilities and the setting provides a rarefied rural bubble for this small (350 pupils, balanced number of boys and girls) nurturing school. ‘Family’ and ‘community’ are descriptions frequently used. ‘St Hugh’s is a very kind place’ explained one parent, herself a teacher, ‘where children are encouraged to be the best that they can be. The standard of teaching is exceptional. Timetabling is very consistent, it’s well organised and led by consistently outstanding practitioners.’ A parent from London describes the lack of pressure and stress at the school, noting ‘St Hugh’s is more relaxed than London, but the same stuff gets done.’ And yes, there is something rather special about this school, summed up by comments from a couple of prospective parents who were ‘completely blown away’ by their visit to the school. ‘The grounds and buildings are incredible, and we couldn’t wait to tell our children about the Harry Potter style dovecote, what a magical place to have a library, and the new gym and swimming pool facilities. But above all, it was the children who made our trip so fantastic’.

Our visit on a busy day during the summer term left no stone unturned. We were accompanied by the head girl and boy who provided an impressive example of the St Hugh’s end-product: self-assured, enthusiastic, articulate, considerate children, ready to take on the world without a sniff of arrogance. In fact, everyone we met during our visit was equally keen to showcase their school’s many opportunities - we absolutely failed to uncover any dissenters.

The Cottage Nursery is the first step of the St Hugh’s journey. It opened over 10 years ago in response to parental demand and offers two sessions per day for 20 children each. Recent influx of children from families where both parents are working and those who have moved out of London is in keeping with an emerging demographic shift that also includes more ‘first time buyers’ than used to be the case. With acres of space, including a large Forest School and adventure playground, children are encouraged to enjoy being active outside. The vibrant classroom is equally stimulating and fun, pupils we saw were engaged, relaxed and content. Specialist teaching in music, PE, and ICT with access to the phonics programme used throughout pre-prep. French is introduced via croissants and chocolat chaud. A rest room is provided for ‘time out’. Children look forward to frequent visits from the head and attend whole school assembly.

Pre-prep (ages 4-6) is housed in the adjacent stable block with classrooms positioned around a central space offering flexibility for small group work. The average class size is 15. Cross-curricular teaching is impressive; we witnessed children in year 1 eagerly imagining what creatures found in the Forest School might like to eat. Each year tends a raised vegetable bed, proudly growing their own produce which sometimes ends up on the lunch menu. Having achieved model status for phonics programme Read Write Inc, there is a high ratio of qualified teaching assistants (HLTA) with maximum literacy groups of eight. In the words of one parent ‘the school encourages excellence, where any ability is nurtured and where there is no capping at the top or bottom’.

Years 3 and 4 enjoy lessons taught mainly by form teachers in their own ‘middle school’ teaching block. Maths and English, set from year 3, are taught first thing in the morning with remaining subjects taught throughout the day in mixed-ability groups. Upper school starts in year 5 with specialist subject teaching the norm. Year groups are divided into three sets; Latin introduced in year 5; scholarship set from year 7.

The provision of online learning during the pandemic gave parents an insight into their children’s enthusiastic participation and interaction during lessons, reassuring them of the inclusivity and quality of education provided. Keeping IT provision up to date is one of the head’s priorities.

Focus is placed on detecting learning challenges early with fellow pupils taught to respect different learning styles. The SEN team carry out assessments and provide support, either individually or in booster groups, at no extra charge. Children can dip in and out as necessary.

Much time spent outside in all weathers, with waterproof trousers and wellies on the uniform list and at least one hour of sport per day timetabled. Facilities are outstanding and pupils are encouraged to play at their own level with sportsmanship held in high regard. Equal attention paid to general fitness for pupils of lower sporting ability, promoting both physical and mental wellbeing. Every pupil in years 3-8 participates in school fixtures, day, and residential trips; A,B,C and D teams equally involved in Wednesday matches. Core sports plus basketball, tennis, lacrosse, synchronised swimming, water polo, gymnastics and dance; very strong equestrian team. Excellent sports scholarship record with many playing at county and national level. Trips abroad offered to all in years 7 and 8 with the Barbados cricket and netball tours very popular. The year 8 post exam trip involving camping, coasteering, surfing and beach barbequing in Devon is a highlight of the school calendar, with the leavers’ programme providing a memorable end to their time at St Hugh’s. Pupils enjoy making a music video, learning first-aid and lifesaving and an Apprentice-style entrepreneurship competition.

School is ‘a great believer in the crucial role of co-curricular learning’ whether through sport, music, drama, or the creative arts.’ Some 80 per cent of pupils play a musical instrument and there are numerous choirs and orchestras. Performing arts and debating a particular strength and seen as key skills in confidence building. Songs from the musical ‘Joseph’ echoed across the grounds as we completed our tour and the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the pupils was evident. Light and airy art block inspires creativity and imagination, number of leavers with art scholarships is testament to its success.

Drop off is from 8am with the option for late pick-up after prep on weekdays, at no extra charge. No weekend boarding but Friday night boarding with pick up after prep on Saturday morning is very popular.

Wellbeing is integrated into the curriculum. Examples include pupils choosing a member of staff as their mentor, campfire sessions in the Forest School and the pre-prep one-minute pause for silence at the start of every lesson. Support for staff wellbeing is also strong with turnover exceptionally low throughout the school.

Policy of no mobile phones (brief use allowed for boarders) recognises that constant screen time is detrimental to a child’s development. ‘Above all, St Hugh’s offers the space for pupils to learn physically, academically and socially.’

Parents we spoke to have confidence in a school that ‘has seen it all before’. It is understood that young people make mistakes, but it is how they react to and learn from them that is important.

Boarders

Highly flexible weekly boarding. Flexi package is for three nights or more, availability for occasional boarding published weekly. Boarding takes place on two floors of the manor house. Recently refurbished dorms and sitting rooms are tasteful and cosy, with a genuine home from home feel. House parents are ‘cool’ according to boarders, who enjoyed telling us about fun Friday evenings of movies and popcorn, face mask nights and silent discos. For those in year 8 weekly boarding is seen as a stepping stone to full boarding at 13.

Money matters

Meals, all trips (home and abroad, with the exception of the optional Barbados sports tours) and SEN support are included in fees, making surprises on the termly bill unlikely. Full means-tested bursaries available.

The last word

Very well run, excellent teaching and a focus on being active in the great outdoors. With professionalism and quiet confidence St Hugh’s guides pupils and parents skilfully through from nursery to year 8. The end result? Happy, achieving, energetic, children who are more than ready for their next adventure.

Special Education Needs

At St Hugh's, children of all ages receive extra support if any area of their learning is of concern. We have small classes throughout the school which means that all children's needs can be supported and catered for, whether they are gifted and need extension, or need extra support to enable them to cope with the curriculum. The Prep-Prep department has a qualified learning support assistant who can give extra help to individuals or small groups of children. As they move through the school, specific concerns are first dealt with in the small teaching groups, with advice from the Learning Support staff, who later withdraw children from class for one to one lessons. As shown below, we support a wide range of mild and moderate learning difficulties, including dysgraphia. 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
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
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
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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