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What says..

A number of parents who have moved children out of the London pressure cooker told us that while Bilton Grange is less in your face, academically pushy than its London counterparts, it does get children to the best schools. We visited as academic scholarship exams had finished, and one group was busy designing Bilton Grange’s own Cluedo whilst another was making a trebuchet.  The children love the fact that they can do sport more or less every day and they like the fact girls play cricket...

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What the school says...

Bilton Grange will prepare your child for 13+ entry into the country's leading senior schools. In recent years pupils from Bilton Grange have gone on to many such schools, including Rugby, Eton, Oundle, Uppingham, and Wycombe Abbey. Sixty-six scholarships have been awarded by senior schools to Bilton Grange leavers in the last four years. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2013, Alex Osiatynski. This is a head who has the right school and a school that has the right head. He has managed to distil the essence of the school into an inspiring package. He has an impeccable background to understand the heritage of Bilton Grange and a vision for how to maximise this heritage in order to create a 21st century education for children. His own education was at Dulwich College and Oxford; he came to Bilton Grange from being director of music at Loughborough Endowed Schools, and has worked at Gresham's and the British School in the Netherlands. He is married to Freya and has two sons. Freya is a theatre design professional and her creative eye is visible in the imaginative decor around boarding areas and elsewhere. ‘She is busy teaching professional theatre lighting skills to the children for the next school production rather than being the traditional tea pouring headmaster’s wife,' Alex tells us.

He is Polish by ancestry, and his family’s close involvement in the Polish struggle for liberal democracy makes him acutely aware of the need to educate children in political global awareness - something in which he is clearly succeeding, judging by a group of older children who told us earnestly how important it was that every single person voted and had thought about it.

He has overhauled communications with parents and this has been much appreciated. ‘Boarding staff and academic staff get back to you so quickly and they often tell you things before you have had time to ask,’ a parent told us. He is a head who is seen as having time for people, has high standards and is open and collaborative in style. He is generally considered to have driven a lot of change, some of it a bit rapid for a few parents, we gather, but Alex is now committed to those small steps that can take everyone along.

Entrance

Two or three form entry. Slightly more boys than girls (particularly amongst boarders) but it’s not obvious looking round. Non-selective, though the school says they are looking for children who can access what is, in an age appropriate way, an academic curriculum. Applicants are interviewed by the head. If places become available, children can enter at any stage. A number come in from London at 11+ for the final two years, to get the boarding experience or just to get away from the London hothouse.

The school is very keen to offer means-tested bursaries and is working hard to forge partnerships to increase these. There is, as a result, a slightly wider social mix that you find in many country prep schools.

Exit

Parents felt very well advised by the school about appropriate choices at 13+. A few leave to go to grammar schools at 11 but mostly it's senior boarding - around half to Rugby but also Eton, Uppingham, Repton, Oundle, Bloxham and Stowe with a number of scholarships each year. As you might expect, the focus is on 13+ and the head is not keen on 11+. ‘It puts a lot of pressure on children much too young’, he says. ‘They lose out on years of childhood’.

Our view

Set in 90 acres of its own countryside and woods, the Pugin designed buildings stand as a symbol of stability, tradition and British cultural heritage. The children can’t but be reassured and uplifted by the glorious wooden panelling and carvings of chapel, library and staircases, the huge windows, the period wallpaper sourced from the Houses of Parliament. Within this, modernity in the form of ongoing building development sits comfortably. Not all the 20th century builds are as stunning as the Victorian heart but buildings are being adapted and renovated – science labs are bright and fresh and lots of the classrooms have had a complete and attractive overhaul.

Academically Bilton Grange does very well both by its high flyers and by those who are not going to get the big public school scholarships. Most subjects are taught in ability sets by year 7 and although this clearly causes some angst, by and large parents and children are on board. The children in particular spoke about the benefits of being with a group that learnt at your sort of speed. A number of parents who have moved children out of the London pressure cooker told us that while Bilton Grange is less in your face, academically pushy than its London counterparts, it does get children to the best schools and even more importantly, it creates highly motivated and self-driven children who succeed well beyond 13+.

The school takes in children whom they expect to access an academic curriculum, and within that can work positively with those who might be considered to have a mild learning difficulty. Small class sizes (around 12 to 16) allow for a lot of individual support within lessons and the increasing setting as they get older allows for further tailoring to meet specific needs. Where difficulties are identified, a team of specialist staff works with parents and develops an individual learning plan which may involve a range of strategies – one-to-one sessions, in class support, Saturday literacy enrichment, for example.

The school identifies high flyers who might be heading for senior school scholarships during year 7 and is about to look at year 6 as well. The children are offered various opportunities and teachers watch how they respond to the stretch and challenge. The children say the teachers are always ready to help when they need it and don’t want them to have to do masses of work in the evenings. These children don't feel under tremendous pressure but get the scholarships without it.

We visited as academic scholarship exams had finished, and one group was busy designing Bilton Grange’s own Cluedo whilst another was making a trebuchet scaled up from some carefully worked out computer calculated designs. Others were writing policy papers for a forthcoming election in school to mirror the June general election manifestos. ‘Our children are moving beyond party politics to think about policies’, the head told us – a very enlightened and much needed approach, we all agreed.

While the curriculum is fairly traditional, the focus is on encouraging what the head calls ‘flexible’ learners. The school now teaches the three sciences together rather than separately as in a secondary school. ‘That’s not what life is really like,’ says the head. ‘We want children to see the connections.’ This leads to an emphasis on the applied aspect of science - the children had a talk from a Jaguar Land Rover designer recently and have been creating their own rocket-propelled cars. DT is a real strength. Even young children work on scary machines and love it. The school encourages them to make cross-curricular links all the time. The options and curriculum enrichment programme, which runs after school and on Saturdays, is extensive and includes academic extension subjects such as Japanese as well as lots of creative opportunities in technology and science. Teachers’ continuing professional development is taken seriously – there are weekly staff meetings where teaching and learning ideas can be shared and everyone benefits from hearing about the excellent practice.

The school is also traditional in terms of its values and behavioural expectations. There is an emphasis on courtesy, respecting one another and the community but this in no way inhibits the children's enthusiasm, which is celebrated round every corner of the school. Parents, too, are expected to uphold the school values and the head has very little time for those who don’t. While traditional, the school is certainly not static, however. ‘We are constantly future gazing’, the head told us. ‘We have stopped the pattern of doing great strategy plans every four years or so and changing dramatically at that point: we are thinking about the future and introducing small developments on an ongoing basis. Modern institutions can’t wait for the old pattern of management reviews: they need to be much more nimble.’

The school runs a lecture series for years 7 and 8, their parents and the wider community three or four times a year that aims to bring into the school leaders from a wide field to help the children become aware of the vast number of life opportunities that are now available.

There are other forms of outreach going on - though the head has found some of the DfE generated initiatives pretty school-unfriendly. One success is the Scout group, started and still run by the head. It is now the biggest in the district and gets together very regularly with other packs for scouting activities.

School welcomes parents in and considers their needs thoughtfully. This is regarded as a huge strength. There is a lounge area in a charming stone-slabbed Victorian conservatory for parents who are waiting to pick up a second child, or just want to chat or browse the senior school brochures, with a little play area for tinies. Talks that are regarded as important for parents to hear are videoed and sent to parents who can’t make it. ‘The school really understands working parents’, one family told us. ‘We need all-encompassing care so we know if BA lets us down on a flight back from a meeting, a phone call to school will ensure the children can stay and are cared for. It’s brilliant.’

Most don’t start boarding until year 4. The school is very careful to try to ensure that boarders are emotionally ready for it – and indeed that their parents are. Some flexi-boarding is possible but by year 8 most are full boarders. There is deliberately gradual transition. Saturday mornings are optional for year 4s, with an exciting new programme called the BiG Saturday that should tempt many back before afternoon sports matches. By year 6, there are some lessons on Saturdays for everyone as well as the vibrant enrichment options. In years 7 and 8, everyone is in for academic morning lessons and games in the afternoon. If you are not actually in a match, you are in a training session.

We enjoyed the food, which caters for various special diets as well as provided keenly anticipated treats such as roasts and steaks. Matron is on the door to ensure plates contain a variety of colours. Boarding accommodation is refurbished on a rolling programme and the rooms, most of which house about six, are fresh and unregimented. The boys have a playroom with Scalextrics, table football, a model railway and snooker. The girls have a charming sitting room with plenty of books. Day children are very welcome to join boarders for prep and boarders are encouraged to invite their day friends in for the odd sleepover at weekends.

Pastoral care is high on the school’s priorities. Staff are caring and clearly love children. They are also well trained and knowledgeable about theories around children’s mental health. The PSHE programme aims to tackle the issues that start to cause anxiety as the children head towards the teen age years. No-one was worried about bullying; yes, normal friendship ups and downs, but nothing the school isn’t highly experienced at resolving. Although it is a school where masses seems to be going on all the time, staff are conscious that children also need to relish quiet times and these, too, are built into the day.

Sports facilities are good and sport is relished as only healthy, active children can relish it. School encourages non-team sports (golf, clay pigeon shooting, zumba, trampolining) though the head also wants everyone to experience the community values playing in a team can bring. The children love the fact that they can do sport more or less every day and they like the fact girls play cricket. One family, whose children are clearly sporting stars, felt a bit more of the ‘winning at all costs’ drive wouldn’t come amiss, but that was not a general view, most going along with the sport for all approach. In fact the school does do well against other schools and the top players participate at county and, indeed, national level. The grounds lend themselves to a vigorous relationship with the outside world. Some of this is formalised – a science garden, a gardening club - but probably more important is the tearing about outside that goes on around lessons. There is an Astroturf within a Pugin walled garden but what strikes us most is that there is simply masses of space with which the children engage in every way they can.

Drama thrives and much use is made of the theatre. ‘Being able to participate in plays has really given my son the confidence he lacked before coming to Bilton Grange,’ one father told us. The head is a musician by training and keen to develop music facilities. The director of music’s regular hymn practices are apparently highly entertaining and eagerly anticipated. Lots of the children play instruments (about 80 per cent have individual music lessons each week) and there is a wide range – the harp as well as the mainstream orchestral instruments. There are many performance opportunities for the various ensembles and choirs, both in the school and outside – the choir has sung in Coventry Cathedral, the Royal Festival Hall and St John Smith Square recently.

Bilton Grange is unpretentious despite its splendid buildings. ‘Not posh enough for some,' the head told us, with some pride. It has been co-educational for many years and there is none of the alpha male feel of some prep schools. It has a genuine child-centred core – children are not there just to fulfil parental expectations and not allowed to be mini-teenagers plugged full time into the cyber world – they are there to experience and enjoy childhood.

There are many highlights to make both local families and those from the south east sit up and take note. Not least the recent improvements to the perennial school problem of car park space – which allows the school to make the most of its magnificent façade and is one of the most efficient systems we have seen.

Special Education Needs

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
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 Y
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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