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Apart from the occasional hour of PlayStation on a Sunday or in the sixth form house - or perhaps the odd film night in the dorms - no screen activity is allowed. Even in lockdown they carefully managed the timetable so that it was limited. Upshot is that boys play conkers, climb trees, hurl themselves along the zip wire and build dens in the woods. At break they can choose to play a few holes of golf or a quick game of tennis. But it’s not all...

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What the school says...

A family-run school where manners matter and success is celebrated. 100 boys in 10 forms enjoy 30 acres of unspoilt Surrey countryside. Just 40 minutes from Central London near J3 of the M3. An exceptional learning environment for Boarders and Day Boys alike.

The Headmaster's awards morning takes place in March where Scholarship and Bursary candidates are assessed. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2016, David Paterson. Tall (but not at all imposing) and quietly spoken. His grandfather, Douglas, acquired the school in 1931, apparently buying the elegant Regency property together with its 30 acres on a whim as the village shared the same name as the prep school where he had been teaching. David's parents, the legendary Mr and Mrs Mark, succeeded Douglas as heads. David took over from his brother Nick after serving for some time as deputy head. The family are still proprietors, with an ‘advisory board’ made up of family, friends and ex-parents, who oversee the management of the school. As well as being on the advisory board, Nick is still a strong presence on the ground, teaching Latin and scholarship classes, with his rambling study full of books and wisdom tucked behind the school dining hall. Nick’s son Oliver (OP to the boys) is a Renaissance man – Woodcote, Eton, Durham – and is waiting in the wings for his turn at the helm. OP has an array of talent, sporting, musical and artistic, and is involved in everything from running the school play to playing the organ in the tiny jewel of a chapel in the grounds, as well as cricket (Woodcote’s own yard cricket is still a favourite pastime of his) and maths. Although David still calls the shots, and will no doubt still be present after he hangs up his boots, there is no doubt OP will be fast out of the blocks as soon as David fires the gun.

Entrance

No formal exams; a taster day instead. Often applicants come individually, occasionally in pairs, never in groups. They are assessed in the round, in the classroom, at lunch and at play. ‘We are not selective academically,’ says head, ‘but we do need to be sure that successful candidates will get the most out of their time with us.’ Some will have been on the lists since birth, others might arrive mid-term needing a place having relocated to the UK from abroad. There are no feeder schools. Growing numbers from London since the arrival of the London bus which ferries boys to school by 8am from Putney and other parts of south London. The head's son drives the bus and sometimes you might be lucky and be chauffeured by the headmaster himself. A core number remain local, within a 45-minute drive. (Very flexible) boarding from year 3. Most choose to board in their final two years.

Exit

At 13+ almost all to leading senior schools, mainly boarding. Sherborne, Bradfield, Marlborough, Wellington, Canford and Tonbridge recently popular. A handful each year to Winchester, Harrow and Eton. Preference is for full boarding though there is a realistic understanding from all parties that the days of genuine full boarding have passed. One of the many advantages of a small school like this is that the quality of advice and guidance given by the headmaster and his team is superlative. ‘They really know our son, have a thorough understanding of the schools and ensure the match is right,’ said a parent. Woodcote is a school that is far more concerned with substance over style and form, we heard – ‘We parents are encouraged to be grounded as much as the boys are; David Paterson is a good listener and won’t just tell you what you want to hear.’ As a result, most parents are largely prepared to accept that their son might not suit the school de jour.

Our view

School mottoes, in our experience, can feel tired or pretentious or both. But the Woodcote motto of ‘Live to learn and learn to live’ is spot on. It’s like entering the pages of Conn Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys - but substitute dangerous for adventurous, playful, fun, messy and muddy. In an age of screens and childhood stress, Woodcote provides the antidote. In fact, apart from the occasional hour of PlayStation on a Sunday or in the sixth form house - or perhaps the odd film night in the dorms - no screen activity is allowed. Even in lockdown they carefully managed the timetable so that it was limited. Upshot is that boys play conkers, climb trees, hurl themselves along the zip wire and build dens in the woods. At break they can choose to play a few holes of golf or a quick game of tennis. But it’s not all outdoorsy, with some preferring to do extra art or music - and after lunch they enjoy quiet time, which means silent reading at your desk. We were impressed with how many boys were eager to discuss the novel they were reading - increasingly rare. Cooking is another popular pursuit, with a new kitchen suite complete with several hobs, ovens and grey worktops. A games room with table tennis and snooker tables, as well as air hockey, was humming.

You won’t just hear the patter of schoolboys’ feet down Red Lane (the main artery of the school, so named because of the ancient red flagstones that line the floor) - dogs are another comforting feature that contribute to the warm family feel, as well as the shabby chic sophistication of the place. All staff are encouraged to feel part of the fabric of the place, their dogs too.

A very small school, with about a hundred pupils, Woodcote punches well above its weight in every area. In their almost comically vintage brown and yellow uniforms, the boys burst with a fresh enthusiasm and energy that carries them onto the sport fields, hurling themselves against the competition whether it be football or rugby but especially cricket, which the school prides itself on.

The same vigour is evident in the classroom where numbers are small (between 10 and 14 and sometimes even fewer in scholarship lessons) and attention is focused. Boys can’t hide behind their neighbours or their jumpers here. The head is a stalwart proponent of CE and they have fine-tuned preparation for the pre-test to keep in touch with the times. Politics has recently been added to the timetable for years 7 and 8 as well as LAMDA and a subject incorporating the school motto, which covers community, when to be a team player and how to lead. There is an unusually high number of male teachers, especially further up the school, and all staff - including marketing and admissions - roll up their sleeves and get involved with each aspect of school life.

The school day is long with a 6.15pm finish (in the senior years it can be as late as 8pm) but all work is done at school – there is no ‘home’ work, avoiding the potential for parents to interfere as well as ensuring that holidays live up to their title.

The school is steeped in charm, history and a heavy dose of myth and legend (think Dick Turpin and the original incarnation of the school as the Pelican Inn in the 18th century and ask the boys about Mr Mark’s famous rounds in his golf buggy). From the moment you enter the very short drive it feels as if you are in the heart of the countryside despite being only a 40-minute bus journey from the capital. Not polished or sparkling with swanky facilities, Woodcote’s proudest recent investment has been a new central heating system - ‘We miss the wrought iron radiators,’ the head confided, ‘but I think everyone is happier to be warm.’ On almost every wall, in practically every common space, hang sepia-coloured portraits of every boy who has attended the school. Whether they were taken in 1940 or 2020 every photograph bears the same yellowish hue, a black and white photo of a boy, wide eyed and full of promise. We couldn’t help wondering whether the photograph tradition alone would force the school to modernise to make more gallery space. The head was quick to point out that their regular annual investment has recently yielded new Astroturf pitches, as well as a theatre – but he agrees, ‘We will never be swanky.’

Art is one of the jewels in the Woodcote crown. The teacher is gold dust and ‘though her art room may look like a bombsite’ (head’s words), we know from experience that this usually reveals a creative lack of inhibition. No mean feat to engage all the boys and not just the talented few. Some find their way to the art room to seek the mental release drawing and painting can bring but all of them love seeing their art displayed on the walls. Several art scholarships are won each year and there have also been several prestigious prizes won including second prize in the Saatchi competition.

Drama is vibrant. When we visited years 7 and 8 were rehearsing A Christmas Carol. Boys get involved in every aspect of the production – we watched some constructing and painting the set of The Marley Arms. Past productions have included Titanic, Sweeney Todd and Spamalot! Don’t expect any girls to get involved (although the school’s relationship with Cowarth Flexlands, a local girls’ prep, is starting to flourish).

The dining room – where every boy sits and is served together with members of staff – is overflowing with silverware, a plethora of cups and shields, the most striking of which is a huge sword used to cut the house cake awarded to the winning house at the end of each school year - ‘our Harry Potter moment,’ winks the head. No wide and colourful choices of food or salad bar here (though we were assured that there is salad tea), but we enjoyed a beef stroganoff followed by roly-poly pudding and custard. Another bow to traditional excellence. ‘Boys are encouraged to eat what they’re given,’ we were told.

Like so much about this school, you cannot put the parents in any kind of box except one that is marked ‘very supportive and enthusiastic about the school’. They fly the Woodcote flag with enthusiasm, commenting on how well their sons behave, how proud they are of their progress through boyhood to teenager and how confident they are in the process of making the transition to senior school. The longstanding tradition of the final year group clubbing together to give a present to the school (which has included a zip wire, pizza oven, and a climbing apparatus, as well flashy professional lighting for the theatre) is concrete evidence of the devotion and affection for the school held among generations of alumni.

Boarders

Boarding quarters are housed in the main building. High ceilings, carpets barely concealing the thud of wooden floors, and beautiful large Georgian windows. Fairly spartan but well-kept dormitories, as is so often the case with flexi-boarding when boys rarely put down roots. Matrons wreathed in smiles and clad in informal T-shirts go a long way to making the dormitories feel safe and cosy. Some senior dorms have a flat-screen TV discreetly positioned on the wall, used for the treat that is film night and the occasional Sky sports.

Weekends are punctuated with a chapel service after lessons on a Saturday. Parents are invited and many come – standing room only – followed by drinks, lunch, a match and tea, confirming the view of many parents we spoke to of how involved they feel – and perhaps more so than they would in a day school: ‘We are given so many opportunities for informal chats with key members of staff,' said one. For the few who stay in school for the whole weekend, the school will always provide some form of entertainment, eg bowling, Thorpe Park. The latter is hugely popular with the boys but the head can barely conceal his grimace - ‘a ghastly place but the rides are rather fun!’ As frank and open as ever, the school is keen for parents to understand that although they do offer full boarding as well as part boarding and part day, boys tend to be pretty thin on the ground on a Sunday. This does not stop them from catering to the requirements of all three sectors, however, and each one gets equal attention.

Money matters

The Patersons reserve funds for families in need though they prefer not to give them the formal title of ‘bursaries’ and there is no formal means testing. The money is ‘awarded at my discretion,’ says the head, his soft eyes twinkling. Scholarships are awarded ‘for outstanding ability of any kind and we will offer a reduction as an award, regardless of means.’ Old style, and as with so much here, a tonic.

The last word

An enchanting place for boys to grow and learn. If you are tired of marketing speak and glossy presentations and yearn for a school that takes pride in its roots, looks you in the eye when it has to tell you any uncomfortable truths and is unashamed about an infrastructure that can seem a bit threadbare, then look no further. Woodcote is that rare breed of school, family owned and run with a warm and authentic heart.

Special Education Needs

Woodcote has a fully qualified and very experienced Special Educational Needs teacher (SENCO), who can deal with a variety of needs. She sees about 10% of boys for anything between one and three sessions per week, sometimes on their own, sometimes in small groups. She is very much considered part of the full-time staff, and briefs the mainstream teachers at weekly staff meetings as to the best way to help individuals in their lessons. She is in regular contact with all the parents of boys she teaches, either in person or by telephone, and liaises closely with external agencies, which a boy may have. Woodcote welcomes all boys who can make the most of the opportunities offered, including those with Special Educational Needs or learning difficulties on the proviso that our SENCO has the capacity and resources to ensure each boy receives the support that he needs.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
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
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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