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Casterton, Sedbergh Preparatory School
  • Casterton, Sedbergh Preparatory School
    Kirkby Lonsdale
    via Carnforth
    Lancashire
    LA6 2SG
  • Head: Will Newman
  • T 01524 279200
  • F 01524 279208
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.sedberghprep.org
  • A mainstream independent school for pupils aged from 3 to 13 with a linked senior school
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Cumbria
  • Pupils: 228
  • Religion: Christian
  • Fees: Day £8,559 - £16,671; Boarding £19,422 - £25,239 pa
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Linked schools: Sedbergh School

What says..

While Sedbergh is not all about sport, the trophies and gongs on display are testament to a proud heritage that is still going strong today. Lots of music: house music competitions, half-termly concerts, musical workshops and choir tours. At the time we visited there was a wonderful masterclass given by a classical pianist, providing children with one to one tuition in front of the class. Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight ... 

Read review »

What the school says...

Casterton, Sedbergh Preparatory School is situated in the spectacular rural location of the Lune Valley. There is no rush to grow up here but, the foundations are laid for nurturing the resilience our children need as young adults and the tenacity essential for achieving high standards. This is evident in the unrivalled activities’ programme
and around the clock personal care which is offered to our children. Breadth of opportunity and depth of involvement is what sets us apart. Maths competitions, explosions and dissections in Science lessons, pony care at our stables and collecting eggs from the School chickens will, create outstanding prep school memories for the young people in our care. Above all, we incubate a sense of success in each and every one of our pupils.
Facilities at our Prep School are first class and include a new Design and Manufacturing Department, 7 Science specific laboratories, flood lit astro and tennis courts, a theatre, a heated pool, an equestrian centre and an iMAC and iPad suite. Our three boarding houses – Beale, Thornfield and Cressbrook – are very much ‘home from home’ environments with all houses having space for music practice and a kitchen for preparing those all-important snacks! Very few prep schools dovetail their educational lectures and activities in the way we do here at Sedbergh Prep. Likewise we balance our academics with outdoor learning, we are creating a School farm and pupils already consult with the School Chef about growing vegetables and herbs in the new Secret Garden. We are excited by the curiosity and thirst for learning that each child, regardless of their academic ability, naturally displays. We work hard to allow each child the time to question and develop their thoughts independently, leading to fresh discoveries in an innovative learning environment. Each child is actively taught to ‘own’ their learning because all our teachers plan their lessons using three strands – discovering, applying and communicating. To support this, we have recently introduced a Digital Enhanced Learning strategy, including SOLE (self organised learning environment) lessons. This encourages our children to use what they have learnt, to create their own ideas which are
then communicated to their peers. The end result is the celebration of learning – a reward in its own right! One of our strengths is a focus on the individual. We are not a School of rote and regurgitation. Rather, we understand that a child’s future success is dependant upon their ability to use what they know and to use it in a variety of creative ways, most of which we, as teachers could never have imagined. Every area of School life provides fantastic opportunities for creativity of all kinds. Day in, day out, we encourage our pupils to give their best in all that they do. Our ethos is ‘give it a go and try your best’ in order to help them develop a level of resilience and determination which will give them the best chance of
overcoming challenges, in all areas of their schooling and beyond. We are responsible for making memories and we are determined to make them special.
...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.

Sports

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2017 Will Newman. BA(Ed) from Exeter, MA (from University of Victoria, Canada, he won a Commonwealth Scholarship for postgraduate study there), previously deputy head of Taunton Prep. He breezes in to meet us in sports kit, all warmth and affability, apologising for being in mufti (the children are marking the Women’s World Cup in Paris by wearing red, white or blue). It is his second year in the role and his excitement, joy and relish is almost palpable. He clearly loves the school, the Sedbergh ethos (more of that later) and is – it turns out – very appreciative of the parental welcome and support he has received since arriving (which is not something you always hear, at least not with authenticity). Parents say he makes you feel welcome, that he joins in with the children (even on very long runs) ‘we like him a lot’.

Since arriving he has set in motion a number of curriculum changes; STEM is being given greater emphasis, computer science has been added and the DTE (Design, Technology and Engineering) offering revved up so pupils are more like ‘young engineers than cookie cutters’. (So no lessons where 16 lookalike bird feeders are churned out.) The music and drama departments have also been combined into ‘performing arts’ to allow for greater collaboration and participation; every child from pre-school to year 8 has the opportunity to perform in an annual school production.

The lazy cliché that Sedbergh is all about sport is even more slothful than ever – the arts are just as keenly pursued. Both, Mr Newman emphasises, feed into character. True, pupils still play mainstream team sport nearly every day but Mr Newman has dropped one session per week and broadened the options to tennis, athletics, badminton, more swimming.

Mr Newman loves the outdoors - mountain biking and surfing being top the list. In quieter moments, he continues to teach himself to play the guitar (badly, he says). Married to Liz – also a teacher (not currently working) and well-known to all the parents. They have a son who has just started at the senior school and a daughter at the prep.

Entrance

Non-selective – entry by taster day. Previous school reports requested. Assessments for scholarships or where there might be a high level of SEND support required.

Exit

Almost all go on to Sedbergh senior school.

Our view

Around 13 to a class. Broad curriculum which becomes more specialist as the children get older - maths, English, science, art, PSHE, games, humanities, French, Latin and classics, RE, computer science and DTE. In years 7 and 8, Latin is added. The latter merits a special mention not just for the technology (PCs with 3D modelling software and five highfalutin 3D printers), but for the engineering-style approach. Year 6 were making some rather magnificent cranes to a sophisticated and tight brief. Year 8, litter pickers. In robotics pupils were creating and coding Sumo Robots for a battle and there was drag racing opening up aerodynamics and friction. The teacher (who used to teach the subject at GCSE and A level) is taking it to new heights. Parents seemed happy with the academic side of things, one saying ‘they seem to bring it alive for the kids’. Small class sizes, another commented, meant you ‘can’t hide’.

Art, in a beautiful large light space, looked dazzling and the children seemed both interested and proud of the ‘artist of the month’ accolade for pupils. ‘You can do your own thing too’ a pupil said, meaning facilities were open for individuals to work on projects or pieces. There are light bright science labs for the three sciences, a theatre and well-stocked ICT rooms.

At three points throughout the year all pupils, apart from reception, are assessed in reading, spelling, maths and writing levels. Reception pupils are assessed throughout the year against the early learning goals and complete a test at the end of the year. Any difficulties picked up are discussed in the twice-weekly staff meetings and referrals to SEN teachers are made if necessary. The head cited a few recent examples of mild learning differences being detected at school by teachers (one of which we had never heard of) so the school seems alert to this. Homework is around 45 minutes a night and the school is introducing a ‘pick n mix’ of various activities so pupils can do more if they wish, tackle difficult areas or reinforce ones that need more practice.

There is a rich extra-curricular offering with lots of performance opportunities. School plays across years, recently a bold production of The Lion King, and children are encouraged or coaxed into public speaking. In year 8 pupils are all expected to speak in chapel and events like poetry competitions promote it further. Parents say it is a supportive environment. LAMDA is on offer too.

Lots of music: house music competitions, half-termly concerts, musical workshops and choir tours. At the time we visited there was a wonderful masterclass given by a classical pianist, providing children with one to one tuition in front of the class. Everyone got their moment in the spotlight. Other masterclasses have included saxophone, violin and vocals with an opera singer. The variety of everything on offer is clearly a selling point for parents who seemed most wowed by the musical concerts where the children got up the courage to play in front of a large audience.

While Sedbergh is not all about sport, the trophies and gongs on display are testament to a proud heritage that is still going strong today. Boys play rugby, rugby sevens, hockey, cross country, fives, swimming, cricket, tennis and athletics. Girls get stuck into netball, hockey, tennis, rounders and athletics. The school has stables and there are riders of all abilities with lessons open to all. Pupils can have structured, weekly riding lessons or attend stable management sessions. Head says the sport philosophy is not to win at all costs but instead to take risks. ‘The Epic’, a school tradition, is a run done by years 7 and 8. It is a microcosm of the school community and ethos, according to the head – camaraderie and cheering on (and probably some hard muddy slog).

The form tutor is first port of call for pastoral matters - each child has a prep diary into which teachers note down successes (and presumably difficulties) both in the classroom and around school. Year 7s apply for positions of responsibility and service of which there are many, from librarian to reading buddy. It’s all taken very seriously and children are interviewed by a member of staff and recognised in assembly for their achievement. No mobile phones during the day – they are returned at night for journeys home or given to boarders for an hour to make calls. No social apps which have a 13+ restriction are allowed. This has had ‘universal support from parents’, head says.

Head says there is a great sense of belonging and refers to the ‘brown’ (the colour of the uniform) which runs through every pupil. He defines being a Sedberghian as ‘superb resilience’. He feels the school produces children who are tough, down to earth, part of a team, confident without being overbearing. He reels this off with aplomb but having visited the senior school not so long ago and seen how the location, not just the surrounding hills but the remoteness from high street glitz, feeds into character, there really is something in it. It’s hard not to have that appreciation for nature, adventure and a can-do attitude when children are exposed to the great outdoors 24/7. Or as one pupil put it to us: ‘you definitely build up your personality.’ She was shy when she arrived, she said, and while she found it hard to pin down the components that helped her blossom (there was no trace of shyness talking to us) she settled on: ‘the hockey really helped’.

We felt, though, that despite all the talk about resilience, this is also very much a nurturing prep. The atmosphere was one of great warmth and friendliness which envelops you the moment you walk into the cosy lamp-lit hallway. Warmth emanates from all the staff too. So when the head said children who might not like sport – and there are plenty apparently – would still really enjoy the school, we were inclined to believe him. Parents of day children say they come back happy which is a ‘massive thing’. Another parent, whose child had some specific issues, felt the school fully understood what was involved, made allowances and everything worked well.

Around 60 to 70 full or weekly boarders, with additional flexi-boarders each night. Separate girls’ and boys’ boarding houses and there is a range of activities on offer that includes fives, clay pigeon shooting and kayaking. Parents say there are opportunities to do all sorts ‘even if your child is not that into it’. A fantastic lecture programme also runs, on subjects from Macbeth to the ascent of Everest. Pianos scattered about are a reminder that this is a school about arts as much as sport, though they were considerably outnumbered by framed shirts of famous sportspeople – the legacy of generous old boys and girls.

The boys’ boarding house has cheery common rooms (one with pet hamsters) and kitchen. All very jolly and surprisingly tidy. The rooms also astonishingly tidy, though we were assured not for our benefit: two to three per room, desks and sink. Similar set up with the girls: likewise, clean, tidy and very cosy – with smart bright kitchen, lovely common room, a handy juke box in one corner.

We spoke to a couple of articulate, mature and well-mannered pupils about the inevitable home sickness you feel on arrival, especially if you are an international boarder. They talked about everyone doing things together, not being left on your own and throwing yourself into activities ‘so your mind is off your parents’. They loved boarding now. One parent said her child had difficulty sharing with a noisy room-mate – a quiet word was all it took to sort it swiftly.

The 200 year old school is in a village in the stunning Lune valley and has the same secluded feel as the senior school with which it merged in 2013. There are numerous places in the school grounds where the sight of the rolling hills takes your breath away. Children get to hang out in play areas, on climbing frames and in stables, surrounded by all that gorgeous green. It really does have an Enid Blyton feel, an impression deepened when the children pointed out the hens and goats to us. You can apply for an animal badge to help with the livestock and walk the goat, they said proudly.

Lovely canteen, healthy food; table manners important, children told us. The library, with its invitingly squishy sofas and bean bags struck just the right note too. Corridors seemed vibrant with posters and the classrooms of the younger children were especially stimulating with great displays of work

Parents seem a friendly, down-to-earth lot, mostly local families but some from as far as Carlisle or North Yorkshire who take advantage of the flexi-boarding. Between 10-15 per cent are international boarders from a range of nationalities: Spain, France and China are the most common. Communications solid, though one parent commented that they were not necessarily great when it came to last minute changes. Another said any small issue raised gets dealt with quickly and that teachers are ‘very hands on’.

This is a warm and friendly prep where children are encouraged to reach their academic potential, explore a vast array of interests and enjoy the magnificent great outdoors which surrounds them.

Who came from where

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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