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Girls wear kilts and despite the best efforts of Mr and Mrs Fox, boys still wear grey corduroy trousers. According to parents, who voted overwhelmingly to keep the said trews, they ‘wash well and take a lot of hammering’. Parents like the fact that ‘there’s no sloping off to the shop’. Because there is no shop. Difficult to know whether compliment or insult that the head’s own son chose to board even though he could see his own bedroom window from the boys’ house ...

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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 2019, Rob Fox BSc, PGCE (1997) taking up his first headship after returning from six years in Hong Kong as head of pastoral care and part of the team setting up Harrow International School. On paper his wife Kate is head of admissions, but this seems to be a wildly elastic role which involved the swift procurement of multiple summer play costumes on the day of our visit. Parents remark that they got ‘more than just a new head’ out of the deal. Their three children all now attend Shrewsbury, the youngest glimpsing two years at Packwood before his departure. 


Within weeks of joining Mr Fox was smiling all over the local press, heartily shaking hands (how retro) with the head of Shrewsbury, confirming that Packwood was joining the Shrewsbury school family, which also includes three international schools based in the far east. The move formalises an already strong relationship, with over a third of pupils currently exiting in that direction. Mr Fox assures us that the link with Shrewsbury won’t compromise independent advice on prospective schools and that there is ‘no aim for growth’ in the numbers joining. He explains that not only will Packwood benefit from greater investment, joined up governance and marketing, but also shared facilities, teaching staff and interaction with seniors. Parents are positive, reporting planned taster sessions in Greek, use of the music department and sports hall, before Covid spoiled everyone’s fun.

Contracts signed with Shrewsbury, Mr Fox moved on to coaching and developing staff, creating a faculty structure and rejigging the school day. Extending lessons to 45 minutes gives, he says, ‘more time to get stuck in’ and, far more importantly, increases the length of lunch play.

Pupils appreciate the fact that he joins in, whether it be refereeing sports tournaments or leading firelighting activities: ‘he’s not so health and safety’ they grin conspiratorially. They describe him as approachable, understanding (‘he sees two sides of things’) and someone who ‘won’t go ranting’. Before even starting he endeared himself to parents by flying over from Hong Kong for a meet and greet. Subsequent parent points have been gained from his visibility in the car park for drop off every day during Covid.

Entrance

Non-selective with no entrance assessment, just a taster day and review of school reports. Additional meeting with head of learning support if there are known issues. Language testing for overseas applicants.

Exit

A third to Shrewsbury, with a handful each year to Malvern, Sedburgh, Eton and Cheltenham Ladies’. Approximately one in three gain onward academic scholarships.

Our view

You’ll need a sat nav to find it. Just about as far into the middle of nowhere as you can get in Shropshire and tucked away at the top of an unlikely looking lane in the curiously named village of Ruyton-XI-Towns (a village, so not even one town, never mind eleven). Parents like the fact that ‘there’s no sloping off to the shop’. Because there is no shop. Main school, an attractive Victorian country house, sits atop 65 acres of rolling greenery, disguised on approach by the tall hedging of a delightful formal garden that screams Shakespearean comedy. An enchanted tree (okay so we made the enchanted bit up, but you’ll know it when you see it) surrounded by a circular bench is the perfect starting point for hide and seek, a magical centrepiece for the outdoor Christmas concert and a photographer’s dream for school marketing. Girls wear kilts and despite the best efforts of Mr and Mrs Fox, boys still wear grey corduroy trousers. According to parents, who voted overwhelmingly to keep the said trews, they ‘wash well and take a lot of hammering’.

With plenty of choice for girls only schools in the region, Packwood is unsurprisingly boy heavy (about two thirds). Class numbers are rigidly capped at eighteen, with a preference for less. Small numbers means there’s no need for teachers to raise their voices to be heard and shared soldering irons in the DT suite. English speaking board exams are compulsory at years 2, 4 and 6 (‘really rewarding’ say parents). Maths setted from year 3, with three academic streams from year 6.

Younger children are separately accommodated in Acorns pre-prep. Younger years enjoy specialist lessons in music, languages, PE, computers, Forest School (complete with yurt and pond) and swimming. A dedicated natural adventure climbing area includes an outside kitchen, water play and football goal. The Acorns bank savings scheme encourages years 1 and 2 savers to bring in coins in a purse, to be rewarded with the whole pot at the end of the year.

There’s pottery everywhere in the art room, which has two wheels and a kiln. The buzz was about the annual whole school art competition, theme ‘Here Comes the Summer’, it’s a serious affair, with a gallery for parents and chance for sixes points (we’ll explain later). Abstract is encouraged: ‘some get caught up in the paint and can’t help themselves,’ explains the head of art as we both puzzle over which way up one entry should go. Surprisingly not many recent ongoing art scholars, although many do art as part of an all-rounder scholarship. DT suite is chock-full of machines we had never heard of. We nodded casually and knowledgeably while being presented with gerbil plastic cutters, scroll saws, CMC machines and 3D printers. Transcending both art and DT is the infamous Christmas hat competition, which generates intricately designed (although rather uncomfortable-looking) headgear to be paraded at the Christmas feast.

Games every day, with PE and after school sports on top. There’s a floodlit Astro, six hole golf course and now, at the recent request of the children, a mountain bike course. Parents are impressed by the respect given by coaches to sports captains who genuinely discuss tactics and advise on how to host visiting teams. Older swimmers, who currently bus out to Shrewsbury, bemoan the size of the indoor pool, much more suitable for teaching the younger years. Commendably, year 7 do external sports leadership courses and year 8 learn about disability sports using a dedicated set of school wheelchairs.

Physical activity doesn’t finish when the lesson does though. The newly extended lunch break means there’s now time to pad up to face a few cricket balls, swing a golf club, grab your racquet and head to the tennis court (locally known as ‘the bombsite’), play outdoor ping pong, whizz about on scooters, skateboards and ripsticks, hotfoot it to the treehouse, clamber over the ‘space net’ or run down to the spinney to climb a few trees.

The head of drama is also a specialist in dance so don’t think you’re going to get a sit down here either. There’s ample space in the 280-seater theatre for self-expression. In an improvisation lesson we observed, eager hands flew up, waving to gain maximum attention, when Cap’n Silvertongue (aka the teacher) asked for volunteers to crew an imagery pirate ship. ‘Three, two, one! Blast!’ she shouted, and they all reeled from the impact of the explosion. Recent school productions include Dream On, a take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bugsy Malone with real splatter guns and the staff panto, last year Harry Potter Saves Christmas. Children are encouraged to get involved in sound and lighting, translating into recent technical drama scholarships.

Around 75 per cent of children take additional music lessons. ‘We cater for any instrument; French horns, oboes, you name it’ the head of music assures us. ‘Apart from maybe bagpipes’ she caveats. Performance opportunities aplenty at termly music concerts (outdoors in the formal garden in the summer), as well more intimate stages provided for those with upcoming exams. There are junior and chamber choirs, junior and senior orchestras, as well as ensembles geared to the level of the child, with music impressively written by the teacher.

New from September 2020 is the Packwood Award, a Mr Fox initiative designed to ‘join the dots between Forest School and DofE’ (very popular with parents). Activities include lighting fires, den-building and ‘smoke me a kipper’ with cooking on trangias. Year 6 took part in Model United Nations for the first time this year. The annual Packwood French poetry speaking competition has ‘snowballed’, now involving 40 independent and state schools across 20 countries, after the head of French reached out to his online contacts through Twitter and Facebook. A rebrand is now required as it now includes Spanish, German, Welsh, Italian and English as a foreign language as well as French.

Learning support is managed by the deputy head (Junior). The school recognises that it is not specialist, but is comfortable dealing with children with dyslexia, dyspraxia (not motor) and ADHD. Parents report children dropping a language to do LS if required.

No surprise that Mr Fox, a previous pastoral head, has upped the game in this area. New ‘walk and talk’ chats ensure that care is ‘more proactive than reactive’. Parents report that there are ‘no flies’ on matron (glad to hear it!!), ever present around school and rocking the fluorescent look on the rugby pitches. Expectations of behaviour are described in the Packwood Way which sets out desired positive principles including respect, honesty and forgiveness. The associated Packwood Code spells out the detail, including a lengthy paragraph avoiding any loopholes in the strict no devices at school policy. Intriguingly (and highly specifically) the list of serious offences includes ‘piercing yourself or someone else at school’. Pupils were keen to explain that there were also plenty of opportunities for reward, often resulting in the head dipping into his secret stash of gummy strawberries and fizzy snakes. A missed opportunity not to mention this in the Code, we thought.

What we would call houses, they call sixes. Confusingly, there are only four of them, each with an unnecessarily long double-barrelled name. Competition between sixes comes into play for sports day, house matches, singing competitions and annual extra-curricular day, most recently a democracy day with children creating their ideal country with national anthem and sports. Acorns pre-prep children have multi-coloured sixes bird boxes in the foyer filled with tokens for good behaviour.

Boarders

Bucking the downward trend in prep school boarding numbers, Packwood is thriving with 60 full borders and three quarters of all pupils regularly flexi boarding at least once per week. Some internationals (mainly from Far East, Spain and France) have been temporarily lost due to Covid. Difficult to know whether compliment or insult that the head’s own son chose to board even though he could see his own bedroom window from the boys’ house. ‘Boarders are at the forefront of everything we do in the school’ remarks Mr Fox. ‘We’ve captured the market in this area’, he goes on, explaining that boarding has become the natural progression beyond year 5. House parents actively push boarding and a new boarding award almost shamelessly seeks to convert occasional to full boarders.

No complaints about the food; ‘You get the biggest slices of pizza’ say the kids. There are activities every Sunday, recently including bellringing, a tour of Anfield stadium, zorbing, fishing (surprisingly so popular that you’ll need to sign up quick), drum workshop and bubble football as well as the more puzzlingly titled ‘random night’.

Military parents are particularly complementary about the support they receive; summer uniforms are sourced (and name tagged), hems are adjusted and videos of fixtures sent, all without specific request.

Money matters

Scholarships up to twenty per cent available for academic, sport, art/DT, music and all rounders. Bursaries available on a means-tested basis.

The last word

Look up in the entrance hall and the observant will notice names of ex-headmasters inscribed in gold. Under their traditionalist watchful eyes Packwood retains its long established focus on boarding and balance between academic and the outdoors. Mr Fox brings a modern interpretation that reinforces the existing culture of fun, discovery and development and a gleam in his eye that suggests that he’s only just got going. ‘I forgive them that I have lost my child to boarding school’ sighs one very satisfied parent.

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
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
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
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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