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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 Harrow often with academic, art, DT and sport scholarships.

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2013, Alex Osiatynski. He has an impeccable background to understand the heritage of Bilton Grange. 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. 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. 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 and just over half to Rugby, with which the school is merging in January 2020. Others to Bloxham, Eton, Oundle, Repton, Rugby, Stowe, Tudor Hall, Uppingham, Worth, Kings School Canterbury and Kingham Hill 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 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.

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. A number of parents who have moved children out of the London pressure cooker told us that while Bilton Grange is less 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 works 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 gives further tailoring to meet specific needs. Where difficulties are identified, specialist staff develop 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. 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.

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 with 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 serious machinery and love it. The options and curriculum enrichment programme, which runs after school and on Saturdays, is extensive.

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.

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 in leaders from a wide field to help the children become aware of the vast number of opportunities now available. There are other forms of outreach going on - 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.

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 Saturday lessons 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. 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. 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 quiet times and these, too, are built into the day. Sports facilities are good and 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 in matches and the top players compete 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. 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. 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.

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.

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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