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Superb example of that dying breed – the thriving family-owned school. Idiosyncratic - you will either ‘get’ this school or you won’t. There’s a relaxed feel, plenty of rough and tumble, all part of its charm. Not precious, but quite a cocooned existence. You will see at a glance that this school isn’t splashing your cash on fancy facilities, though new theatre recently completed – the place is delightfully worn at the edges. Unapologetically focused on doing its own thing – even the…

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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


Since September 2016, David Paterson, brother of proprietor and ex-head Nick, and previously deputy head. Born and educated at Woodcote, he returned in 1992 with his young family after a career in the City. Joined as head of mathematics and became deputy head to his brother in 2000. Woodcote is a real family affair with Nick still teaching Latin and scholarship sets, and Nick’s son, Oliver, teaching maths.


School has ditched its formal admissions exam and now invites boys in for a ‘taster day’ when they’re assessed in a classroom environment. No linked schools or significant feeders. (‘Wish there was a pre-prep,' said one mother). All quite laid back. Some boys will have been on a list since birth, others rock up mid-term somewhere along the line. Most families are from London and home counties. Boys may board from year 3. In essence, the school is looking for boys who will put something into the school. Will take the odd hard luck story, a boy who has been bullied elsewhere or got lost in a larger set up. Head has a ‘conversation’ with prospective pupils and their parents, and will suggest a chat with the SENCo if it seems appropriate – nothing more formal than that. ‘We are not going to say, in effect, “you are not clever enough for our school”, but you have to be robust enough to cope. We want boys who don’t mind getting their knees dirty. I wouldn’t say we don’t want sissies or prissies, but we want boys who want to be boys.'

The Paterson family put up the equivalent of two sets of boarding fees as scholarships (introduced to mark school's 150th anniversary) and divide as they deem fit – five boys could get 20 per cent of the available cash, or two boys get the lot, or sometimes nobody gets anything – school does not give them away for the sake of it. Must spot a spark or talent, academic, musical or sporting - boys are invited to a taster day, during which they are assessed in the classroom and on the sports field.


At 13 to all the top-notch public schools, with clutches of academic, music and all-round scholarships won. Most popular of late is Sherborne, followed by Bradfield, then Harrow. Others to Charterhouse, Eton, Stowe, Marlborough College and Oratory. Sometimes to King’s Canterbury, Lord Wandsworth, Tunbridge and Winchester. Parents given lots of guidance on future schools – evidently a strength of this place. WH parents are not always chasing the likes of Eton – it’s all about what is best for the child, and plenty of other factors are considered. ‘So the list of schools WH boys go on to does not always reflect the actual academic achievement,' said one parent. And any leaver will not have heard the last of Woodcote. Legend has it that popular long-serving master Colin Holman – a modern day Mr Chips - has been known to drop a note to many of the boys' new senior school housemasters when he remembers a nugget of useful information about them, to the effect of ‘If he’s like this, try this’.

Our view

Superb example of that dying breed – the thriving family-owned school. Idiosyncratic - you will either ‘get’ this school or you won’t. Sceptics ask where the owls are kept, but its parents and boys are so glowing in their praise it’s unreal. Feels like a proper country prep, although it’s just 40 minutes from London. Combines top notch teaching with tons of outside activities so that the boys are both mentally and physically challenged every day. But also makes time for them to do their own thing, so they are happy and flourish. Nice balance of nurture and push.

Unapologetically focused on doing its own thing – even the unusual brown and yellow school uniform seems a manifestation of a school confident in its own skin. Several parents mentioned how their sons had blossomed at this school, developing their personalities and interests. ‘We aim to turn out a young man with good manners who is well-rounded, honest, trustworthy and friendly.'

You will see at a glance that this school isn’t splashing your cash on fancy facilities, though new theatre recently completed and there's been some updating of classrooms and dorms – the place is delightfully worn at the edges. It really does look as if 100 boys have the run of the place. There’s a relaxed feel, plenty of rough and tumble, all part of its charm. Not precious, but quite a cocooned existence. Known to sort out an odd-bod or two.

Set in its own 30 acres, including some attractive woods, the main building is Regency and hits you with a real sense of tradition and history – ask about 18th century highwayman, Captain Snow, when you visit. But school has been in its present incarnation since 1931 when it was bought by the Paterson family. Old boys would definitely recognise the place – and that’s the idea. ‘The Paterson family is very strong and not swayed by fashion. They know what they want to provide and are very good at doing it,’ explained one parent. Healthy sprinkling of old boys have their sons here.

Pictures of former pupils line the walls, and many of them were clearly recalled by Paterson matriarch Angela (Nick’s mother) when we bumped into her during our visit. And the main thoroughfare, Red Lane, is a literally well-trodden path of black and red tiling, pitted and undulated from the patter of boys’ feet over the years. Then the dining hall, where whole school, pupils, staff, visitors, all eat together, is decorated by the honours board and pictures of school founders. As they sit chatting together boys are clearly in a stable, traditional environment and confident about talking to adults.

Lessons are relaxed, but industrious. None of the staff ‘just teach’, they all wear a number of other hats so the boys see their teachers all the time, as much outside the classroom as inside it. Hence no forced formality about the classroom setting, but all is most respectful – staff exude an air of relaxed authority. Still boys scramble to their feet when visitors enter the classroom and to walk through the grounds with a staff member is to be met with a cacophony of ‘Morning sir, morning sir’. Very small class sizes, average 10, never more than 14 and just four in the scholarship class we visited – having fun with the Kubla Khan. Fairly holistic approach to teaching as staff tie in topics across subject areas, so that talk of battlefields in history will link to their locations in geography. Staff more like synchronised swimmers, rather than everyone ploughing up and down their own subject lane. Parents full of praise for an enthusiastic staff always pushing for excellence.

Long day (8.20am to 6.10pm) for day boys, furthest of whom travel around 20 miles to school. First thing every morning is prep – sensible move as boys are nice and fresh and aren’t able to get help from parents. Not a whiff of an interactive whiteboard around the place and school is currently rather conflicted about the role of ICT – never a huge deal here, where teachers largely prefer projectors and coloured pens. ‘Many schools will find their fancy ICT suites defunct as everyone clutches hand-held devices like iPads now.' (Not that school has those either.) ‘ICT is certainly a subject in transition and we need to decide what stance we will take.’

Nothing state-of-the-art about other facilities either, though the boys we met described them as ‘good’ – ‘we’ve got everything’, said one. It’s a bit scruffy and ramshackle in places, but not because nobody cares, rather it’s just rather battered in places as a result of hundreds of boys kicking around the place - it’s clearly a home from home for them.

Woodcote is able to accommodate some special needs and has a dedicated SENCo to handle boys on the autistic spectrum, dyslexia and EAL. About 20 boys (but a fifth of the school, remember) have some type of learning support, for which their parents pay extra. Languages taught are French and Spanish – a significant Spanish entourage among the pupils and Nick Paterson is a fluent Spanish speaker. A few boys from Thailand and Russia and some 15 per cent of Forces families, who particularly appreciate that the place is properly focused on boarding, so that weekends are busy and boys are far more than simply ‘minded’. School keen to get the UK/overseas balance right - the latter about 20 per cent. Very good relationships between the boys themselves and then between themselves and their teachers. The overseas boys tend to spend exeats with their more local friends, leading to an informal exchange programme.

Years 3 and 4 are housed in a separate juniors' building to facilitate a slow integration into main school life. Lots of praise for junior head: ‘She is so very kind to my sons,’ said one mother. Similarly, year 8s are given a taste of teenage life when they spend a term during their final year living in Dominies House - within the grounds, but away from the main school and set up to give year 8s some preparation for their life to come at public school – not least a taste of going to and from school each day.

Parents struggle to put their finger on a stand-out subject – ‘It’s all fantastic,’ said one mother. ‘Whatever the talent, they will bring it out’ - but music and art mentioned several times. A Woodcote boy beat 13,000 entries to come second in The Sunday Telegraph/Saatchi Gallery prize. And if your son plays an instrument, however badly, he will perform - this place is big on performance opportunities. ‘My heart was in my mouth as I saw my son approach the piano, knowing that he’d only been learning for a couple of weeks,’ recalled one parent. Not much timetabled drama, but usually a production per term. Staff write the plays – they seem to enjoy it, though it’s probably also a necessity to find parts for so many small boys.

The philosophy here is that it is good to be a big fish in this small pool. One mother with several boys at the school felt strongly that each of her sons had found an inner confidence at Woodcote. ‘I don’t mean they are cocky, in fact they are more polite now, but simply that they’ve all formed quite distinct personalities and developed a love of study that definitely wasn’t there before.’

While things are rather cosy inside, outside the school the boys are spoiled for space, with 35 acres of grounds to run about in, and are encouraged to try out a huge range of outdoor activities. Boys are even kicking about on Ripstiks during break. From the usual cricket, football and rugby, to the more unusual CCF, bushcraft and even clay pigeon shooting (for older boys) there is masses on offer. School takes its sport seriously and reckons to punch above its weight when taking on other (almost always larger) schools – has only lost 20 per cent of its fixtures over the last five years.

Keen on outdoor education, school considering a ‘very small’ smallholding, and an outdoor pizza oven is also on wish list. Shame more use not made of on-site swimming pool – but boys seem too busy with other things to be very bothered about this.

And fears that a non-sporty boy might flounder in this place are apparently unfounded as more indoor types can make the teas and help the parents park their cars on match days. ‘In fact my incredibly non-sporty son even got a few games with the B team – all the rubbish players do,' said one mother. Other activities for the less physically inclined include archery and golf and plenty of indoor pursuits, even a turf club.

Very accessible and welcoming of parents – none of this waving them off at Waterloo in September and not seeing them till Christmas. Parents swing by if they are in the area and teachers happy to respond to ‘Can I have a quick word’ during a match afternoon in favour of any formally structured pastoral system. ‘Pastoral care is fabulous,’ said one parent. ‘You drop the boys off without a worry.’


School has a refreshing ‘let children be children' attitude and is happy for them to cook outdoors sitting around a campfire - not in a cavalier way, but just acknowledging that they will enjoy a few safe risks. Think Just William updated for 21st century. So not surprising to hear that these happy, busy boys sleep like logs. And of course with 75 per cent of pupils boarding, they sleep at school in clean and cheerful accommodation – small dorms with sea blue walls, punchy primary coloured duvet covers. Largely settled for the night by 8pm (9pm for older ones), older boys three to a room, more as you go down the year groups, but even larger dorms divided into little ‘pods’ to give a homelier feel. All tidy. A fairly basic common room full of bean bags for when they want to collapse.

Sky Sports available along with controlled access to TV, phones, play stations and associated electrical detritus of modern life, but school would far rather they were outside or generally more gainfully employed – and they usually are. Lovely old-fashioned insistence that, Skype and emails notwithstanding, boys will write a proper letter home once a week. Weekends (starting after Saturday morning school) typically include sports matches against other schools, an outing and a service in the school’s own chapel (a charming building – apparently an early flat-pack of the type originally destined to be shipped out to missionaries in the 1800s).

Parents are welcome to attend matches and chapel and lots do. In fact we were surprised to see quite a number of parents at a predominantly boarding school – even though several of them were actually parents of day boys dropping books in or sorting out for their sons to stay on for some or other evening activity. There’s a full programme of popular Friday night entertainments including visiting speakers – recently a sports commentator and a seven peaks climber. Many day boys do ask to board in the end, so that there are more day boys in the lower school and only one or two by year 8. ‘My son doesn’t even always want to come home for exeats, he is so happy at school,' said a parent. School offers a graduated approach to boarding, three nights as well as seven, but this is aimed to be an introduction to boarding rather than a babysitting service, although it would be flexible about the odd night here and there.

Staff all casually dressed when we visited – no airs and graces here. You won’t get a fresh paint-type royal tour, but will see the place warts and all – the showers, the worst dorm (the last awaiting refurbishment) and maybe even the popular Warhammer dungeon.

The last word

Not flash or fancy; old fashioned in the best sense of the world; ‘Traditional with a modern twist?’ offered one mother. Warm and inclusive, quite a gem. A school with a heart and soul where boys will definitely be boys.

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
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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