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There’s no mistaking what’s expected of you. Oppressively so? Not so far as our inquisitorial investigations revealed. Aspirational, more like. In any case, pupils know perfectly well who their brainy peers are and where they stand in relation to them. All the parents we spoke to assured us that eccentricity in all its guises is simply not an issue. And then Mr Smith-Langridge recalled the boy who loved knitting... and no one gave him a second glance. It helps to be gregarious, though...

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Sports

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

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2012, Clive Smith-Langridge. Limbered up for the role by spending 16 years in marketing before switching to boarding schools (was previously deputy head at Walhampton). Brings essential savvy plus the experience of having captained a Chile cricket XI vs Brazil. In an evolving boarding market, Packwood is lucky to have his sort of business nous and strategic expertise: finances are sound, numbers healthy, pupils and teachers audited and fine-tuned. Appointed in tandem with his wife, Sally, who glories in the possibly puzzling title of Headmaster’s Wife, a post you’ll find in many prep schools. Hers is a salaried role with responsibilities on the pastoral side. Parents very much like this proxy-parent, family-feel arrangement. Clive and Sally have two daughters.

Entrance

Co-ed (some two-thirds boys), non-selective. Informal assessment for prep - Eng and maths. No assessment for pre-prep, Packwood Acorns. Range of scholarships. Bursaries for Forces families and local children, one of whom is off to Eton. Children come from all adjoining counties and north Wales. Some, sons and daughters of devoted former pupils, journey from afar. Less than 10 per cent from overseas - Spain, Japan, China.

Exit

Packwood has long furnished the top public schools. Lots to Shrewsbury, others to usual suspects - eg Rugby, Malvern College, Eton, Harrow, Wycombe Abbey, Moreton Hall, Stowe, St Edward's. They know it’s important to get it right, so a smattering to Sedbergh, Ellesmere, Wrekin College. Eminent one-time pupils include Mark Rylands, Bishop of Shrewsbury; Tom Salt, head chef at Manicomio; Tom James MBE, double gold medal winning Olympic rower; and Rhys Bevan, Toby Fairbrother in the Archers.

Our view

A time-honoured top-tier prep school which celebrates its headmasters by inscribing their names in gold on the panelled ceiling of the entrance hall. Co-ed since 1968; we await the first headmistress. Former pupils celebrate glorious character-building idiosyncrasies, all now superannuated (Molesworth, where art thou?). Packwood is fully C21-compatible with heritage values - country prep school, ‘proper boarding’, traditional values, old-fashioned manners, fresh air, friendship, give it a go, play out of your skin. The food’s great - official. So nothing here evokes St Custard’s. But there is a skool dog, the head’s border terrier Belle, never cheerfuller than when egging on the troops from the touchline on match days.

There’s none of your oligarch-magnet hotel-quality accommodation and associated blingy ‘facilities’ here. We’re not talking spartan, we’re talking quite comfy enough - in the case of the girls’ dorms, very nice indeed, because of course girls are domesticable in a way that boys generally aren’t (boys here tend to call each other by surnames, girls by first names). What else do you want? Purpose-built theatre? Tick. Sports hall? Tick. Swimming pool? Tick. All-weather surface? Tick. Er, golf course? Yep. Lamasery? Oh yes, got one of those (it’s a quiet room set aside for contemplation.) Spinney? Yes, that’s where we go to make dens and Packwood Acorns have their outdoor school. Everywhere you go you don’t see children staring moodily into the middle distance of their smartphone screens. None, we asked? None, said the head (a non-negotiable no). Don’t need them. They can Skype home from their dorm in the evening. All good.

Packwood is a classic country house prep school set in a mere 66 acres of lark-filled Shropshire. It is not set haughtily apart, though; you happen on it off a side road, you don’t motor up an avenue to get to it. It adjoins the splendidly named Ruyton-XI-Towns (always XI) with which the Smith-Langridges have forged friendly relations on several fronts. There are collaborative links with local schools; many who work in the school live in the village; and Packwood boys and girls sing in the church choir. There are activity days to which all and sundry are invited. Some prep schools orbit real life. Not Packwood.

Honours boards, honours boards everywhere. There’s no mistaking what’s expected of you. Oppressively so? Not so far as our inquisitorial investigations revealed. Aspirational, more like. In any case, pupils know perfectly well who their brainy peers are and where they stand in relation to them. More to the point, how does it feel to be in the wake of them? For one dyslexic pupil, no problem, the learning support is great, some of the brightest have it too and anyway your friends don’t measure you by how many marks you get. Hats off to the teachers, though: for an open access school all these scholarships represent an extraordinary achievement. Hurrah for the SENCo, too. Parents praise the way their children are ‘pushed and stretched’. Mr Smith-Langridge has upped the game in terms of monitoring individual progress and thereby also the effectiveness of the teaching. He likes his data and he wants more of it. But he doesn’t want to run a hothouse or a sweat shop. For him it’s all about making the best of all the opportunities of the long, boarding day - and not just academic opportunities, either. He and his colleagues delight in the richness of achievement of all their charges according to their lights, not just their honours-board-worthiness. Art is good, drama on the up, music ubiquitous and top-notch.

If boarding isn’t done well, ‘twere well it were not done at all. Packwood has intelligently reinvented it and, just as important, made it a specialism, because no one wants to board at a school where most children go home at night. Boarding is phased in, there’s a range of flexi-options and the majority graduate to full-time in preparation for their senior school. Weekends are busy with numbers boosted by those returning late on Saturdays from sports fixtures in faraway schools. Boys are in the big house, hugger-mugger, as they like it. Girls have their own residence. A number of teachers live in school, there are houseparents and there are lovely matrons. There’s masses of care and oversight from warm, watchful adults who know these children and mind about them. There are bright posters bearing improving/banal quotes on the walls (we’d have preferred quotes by the children). Beds are cosy and teddy comes too. But take a look at the boys’ washbasins, tidy as can be, and you’ll see there’s rigour here: this is no sleepover city, it is home from work; talking after lights out is a big no-no. A happy school is a deceptively rigorous place and all the happier for it. All parents praise Packwood’s code of conduct and the way the children buy into it. Said one parent: ‘They know when they’ve done wrong and genuinely feel contrition’. Another indicator of emotional health: Packwood children are no respecters of age and happily chat to those below and those above. There are boarding captains, older children to whom the younger ones can turn for counsel. And here’s the point. We were accompanied by a viscerally antipathetic visitor to whose mind boarding is a bad, weird thing to do to a child. She visibly melted, the more she saw and heard, and ended up easily envisaging her grandson here, happy as a sandboy. One recent parent wistfully said she wished she’d known about Packwood for her other two girls.

Yes, the children really are terrifically nice and lit up, their manners are excellent, they’re very at ease among adults, they’re great company. It’s easy enough to see how an outdoorsy, team-sporty child will thrive here, and the school aims to enable every single child to represent the school at something. There’s a big games playing tradition at Packwood, another heritage touch, and not just in main sports. To survey the offering all round is to find yourself muttering clichés about punching above their weight. Like all knackered clichés, it exactly pinpoints the truth.

So what of the ones who are indoorsy, solitary, geeky? They’re the ones you worry about, so we pried. Unlikely as it may seem, more than you’d think take to fencing; indeed, Packwood is nationally famed for its swordsmanship. And for its horsemanship. Some take to cross-country running (very strong here). We learned of one child who managed deftly to schedule guitar lessons in games time. All the parents we spoke to assured us that eccentricity in all its guises is simply not an issue. And then Mr Smith-Langridge recalled the boy who loved knitting... and no one gave him a second glance. It helps to be gregarious, though, obviously, it’s in the nature of the place. And at least a bit fresh-airy. Outside, after all, is where it happens every afternoon.

Packwood has a devoted fanbase of parents. Former pupils keep in close touch and their feats serve as an inspiration to the present generation. The school has shrewdly and effectively remodelled itself to align with the needs of today’s working parents and carried with it the best of the old values. Our view: you get the best of both.

Special Education Needs

One-to-one support is available through our learning support department. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
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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