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What says..

Shares the attractively lush, green and wooded 130 acre site on the edge of the town with senior school, but has a clear identity of its own. Art studios, science labs, a superb library (permanently staffed) and assembly hall, are all positioned to make the most of the site’s splendid views; the vistas are quite distracting ...

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What the school says...

A thriving co-educational, boarding and day school providing a first class, all round education for children aged 4 to 13 years on a shared campus with the Senior School (13-18 years). The school is large enough to provide an exceptional range of opportunities, yet small enough for students to be known and valued. The core strength of Bishops Stortford College lies in an ability to discover and nurture the talent within each individual student, wherever his or her talent lies. ...Read more

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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2013, Bill Toleman BA MSc FRGS. Previously head of Yarm Prep School and before that deputy head of King’s School, Worcester. Read geography at Nottingham University, later studying for an MSc in educational management and leadership and becoming a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Still very much a geographer – pointing enthusiastically to the large aerial map of the school and the grounds on his study wall to explain the school’s position in the town. In non-pandemic times he accompanies field trips but feels, as many heads do, that he gets to know the pupils throughout the school better by being available, visiting classes unannounced and being a, ‘presence,’ at changes of lesson and drop off and pick up times (which parents all mention, with approval). He is cheerful and easy with pupils and staff alike, completely un-pompous and fortunate to possess that, ‘Pied Piper,’ quality that children naturally respond to. On our visit he spoke to every pupil we met around school by name. Pupils approach him directly, ‘they can drop into my office if they want, if I’m not here my PA will make them an appointment’. Parents full of praise, ‘he gets on with everyone,’ ‘you can talk to him about anything, he is friendly and practical’. The head’s natural warmth contributes significantly to the atmosphere of the school with well-motivated pupils who come to school with a zest for the day’s happenings in and out of class, ‘He shines out,’ a parent commented. He is a man of broad interests but sport remains an abiding love, ‘all the team sports and I run, and we have a boat down in Devon for the holidays’. Keeps up with professional reading but enjoys detective fiction (Lord Peter Wimsey a favourite character). He is married with three grown-up sons and a dog called Jessie.


For the pre-prep (4-7) there are informal assessment sessions. Admission to the prep at 7+ (20 places) is via the entrance exam with tests in English, maths and reading. These are taken within a morning spent at the school, in class, and the process is kept as unintimidating as possible. Head meets all parents. A further 20 places are offered at 10+ and another 20 at 11+ (when academic and music scholarships are available). By the end of the prep, pupils are in a year group of 100.


Great majority (95 per cent) move straight up to the senior school. A handful to other boarding schools (Uppingham, Stowe, Benendon) and a few to local state schools at 11+. If it is thought a pupil will really struggle in the seniors parents are given plenty of notice and other schools are recommended – but this is rare. The school prides itself on helping under-achievers fulfil their potential rather than casting them out.

Our view

Shares the attractively lush, green and wooded 130 acre site on the edge of the town with senior school, but has a clear identity of its own. As the head points out, ‘In the end, pupils often spend more time in the prep than the senior school so this is where the good habits of work and behaviour are established’. Traditional naming of classes, so lower and upper shell is followed by forms 1 and 2. Pre-prep (age 4-7) has a rhythm of its own and is set in its own grounds and lower and upper shell have a separate building too so pupils are accustomed to the space they occupy, but also become familiar with the wider school. In the higher forms pupils move around the whole prep site with certain lessons in years 7 and 8 taken in the specialist facilities of the senior school. Parents praise the school’s handling of the transition from one stage to another, ‘it was done really sensitively, they were so well prepared for moving up,’ and another spoke of how, ‘when the time came, my son was keen to move.’ Despite the relatively small numbers who board (available from year 3 up), the school has that boarding ‘feel’. The longer days (5pm finish) plus Saturday school from year 3 mean lots of opportunities for drama, sport, music and other activities which also allow staff to get to know their pupils really well away from the formal classroom setting. Several parents spoke about this aspect, ‘one of ours boarded, the other didn’t but they both had the same sense of belonging to a community that exists beyond the school day,’ ‘there is time to develop relationships.’

The main prep school building is contemporary, lots of glass and acres of carpet - the entrance foyer somewhat akin to an art gallery. Though the buildings, of varying ages and styles, are not on the whole architecturally distinguished, they are updated and well designed for their purpose. Art studios, science labs, a superb library (permanently staffed) and assembly hall, are all positioned to make the most of the site’s splendid views; the vistas are quite distracting from certain vantage points and even the rooftops, visible from some classrooms, are intriguing. Moving about the site gives pupils a chance to relax in between lessons and get some fresh air. Setting for maths begins in year 4. French, German and Spanish are introduced to the pupils, as, ‘taster,’ lessons initially, with Latin added for years 7 and 8. Drama and DT from year 3.

Sport makes full use is made of the excellent facilities, both the prep’s own courts and playing fields but also those of the senior school for rugby, hockey, cricket, netball and tennis. The school competes at the highest levels in all sports – often national finalists- and promising pupils receive professional coaching. Girls play cricket, also reaching national finals, and there is talk of them beginning rugby. Music is encouraged and pupils try out a variety of instruments in class, often leading to their learning seriously. Lots of choirs and ensembles and solo performances encouraged from pre-prep onwards, ‘It helps build confidence if you start young.’ Plays and musicals performed regularly (in non-pandemic times) in the large hall, most recently ‘Armageddon outa here’. Pupils belong to one of four houses for sports, behaviour (merit points), music and maths challenges and other competitions. The houses also run various fundraising efforts such as a teddy bears’ picnic and film nights which help raise awareness of the need to, ‘give back to society’.

Great attention is paid to pupil’s wellbeing. During the lockdowns, there were weekly assessments (scoring from 1-10) to check on moods and attitudes and parents speak of the efforts the school made, ‘staff kept in close touch and quizzes and competitions were held regularly to keep them together as a class’. There is a specially designated garden for quiet reflection and yoga and other forms of relaxation are taught in the activities programme. The form tutor is the key person for parents to consult, followed by heads of year, senior teachers, finally deputy head and head but it is rare for problems to rise to this level as the school encourages communication rather than waiting for parents’ evening to air a worry. There is a school counsellor and medical team available. As with the seniors, families often move out from London to take advantage of the school’s extended day and the boarding offer. Most are dual-career with many in business and finance, farming or the professions.


The prep boarding house, Grimwade (rather aptly named as it is large and gothic) has five resident staff, including gap students. Relatively small boarding contingent of ten or so full-time boarders (majority from overseas) plus around 15 flexi boarders makes for a strong sense of being in a real home. Equal numbers of boys and girls board with Wednesday and Friday the popular nights. Pupils sleep in four and eight-bedded dorms furnished with the usual bed-cupboard-drawers combo but each has a pinboard for display of pictures and personal mementoes and rooms look cheerful and comfortable. Boys’ rooms slightly bigger than the girls’ on the (debatable) grounds that, ‘they need more space’. Bathrooms all in good nick and there are plenty of games, TV and recreation areas for off-duty times. ‘We try to keep up the, ‘fun,’ side of boarding , even with pandemic restrictions,’ says the housemaster, explaining the presence of a large tent pitched in the middle of a common room. ‘They couldn’t do the usual expedition this year so we pitched camp in here and they enjoyed an evening under canvas playing games’. The slightly, 'Malory Towers' sounding, ‘Matron’s sewing room’, is the central, ‘hub,’ and place to go if a pupil needs help or company and efforts are made to create a family feeling at weekends with breakfast cooked in-house on Sunday mornings. Pupils' colourful hand prints (signed) cover a whole wall of the dining room, ‘they all look for their own when they come to visit,’ says the housemaster. Bedtime is between 8.45 and 9.45pm and mobile phones are not allowed except for full boarders at the weekend. There is lots of support with prep and great attention is paid to helping overseas boarders, ‘settle,’ when they first arrive.‘ We send pictures of weekend activities and keep closely in touch with parents.’

Money matters

Academic and music scholarships at 11+ and bursaries (currently 11) are offered where possible to support an applicant who might otherwise be unable to accept a place. No sibling discounts.

The last word

An extremely well-run prep. It would suit a wide range of pupils but offers the greatest opportunities to those motivated to work and take advantage of the outstanding extra-curricular offer. Nurtures good relationships and looks after its pupils, laying the ground well for the move at 13+ to the main college.

Special Education Needs

Pupils who have a Special Educational Need, e.g. dyslexia, are welcomed at all stages of the school, providing they are deemed able to cope in the mainstream classroom, with support on a withdrawal basis; a 40-minute lesson on a one-to-one basis each week. This support is with either the SENCO or the other member of the Learning Support team. Both specialist teachers hold the Diploma in Specific Learning Difficulties (Dip SPLD). The pupil identified with a need, will then be given a pupil profile outlining difficulties with suggested strategies for learning, together with targets. Staff will be aware of the level of support that the pupil is being given by the Learning Support team. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability Y
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment Y

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