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History oozes out of every nook and cranny of this country pile. We commented that entering school is like walking onto a Harry Potter set, ‘Everyone says that!’ our tour guide beamed. Immaculate, roomy, bright classrooms where setting is introduced from year 5 in maths and English and year 6 for science (three subjects taught in rotation). Pupils say they ‘don’t feel pressured’, parents agree that added to small class sizes pupils are ‘encouraged not pushed’. Those who excel in a subject join… 

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What the school says...

Bilton Grange will prepare your child for 13+ entry into the country's leading senior schools. Bilton Grange is part of the Rugby Group of Schools and around half of our pupils progress to Rugby School each year. Bilton Grange pupils have also gone on to Eton, Oundle, Uppingham, and Harrow often with academic, art, DT and sport scholarships. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since Sept 2021, Gareth Jones. Being the youngest of 10 provided an unique outlook on life - not many families can claim their own 7s rugby team or sing together at the Edinburgh Festival. Educated at St John’s School, Leatherhead, spending, ‘as much time as possible on the playing fields’, accruing life skills and philosophies that shaped him ‘on and off the pitch’. Considering options as a school leaver the military beckoned, but when a much-admired former headmaster offered gap year at Lichfield Cathedral School his vocation was realised.

Took an English with history degree and subsequent PGCE in Bath and developed his love of sport. First teaching post at Dragon School brought wealth of experience as form tutor, English and history teacher, housemaster, director of sport, first team rugby and football coach, director of extended curriculum and chair of common room. Here he learned ‘how high standards can be realised by valuing individuals, the importance of pastoral care and strength of a supportive community.’ Met and married head of PE, Jemma. Admits could have ‘stayed forever’ but undertaking a masters in educational leadership at Buckingham University saw him ‘look in the mirror’ and push towards headship. Shortly afterwards accepted position at St Andrew’s Prep, Eastbourne for six ‘happy’ years ‘in a wonderful school’. When Bilton Grange advertised headteacher post he immediately recognised ‘enormous potential with location, grounds, facilities, buildings and heritage. It just needed a more modern approach.’ A challenge too good to pass up.

Parents say he ‘values parents and their contribution’ and has ‘excellent communication skills and visibility’ - often refereeing and at performances, match teas and helping with decorations for school ball. He clearly gets stuck in - we met him on World Book Day happily cocooned in multicoloured sheath as the Hungry Caterpillar. Pupils ‘like him’, describing him as ‘approachable but strict’. An older pupil asked us to request he walk his dogs at lunch time to chat to pupils informally - request duly proffered. Teachers commend his ‘clear ambitions for school and including us in his developing vision.’

Lives on site with his wife and three children, (one at Rugby, two at BG) and mini sausage dogs, Dexter and Ottilie. Enjoys family tennis, hopes to lower golf handicap. Reading ‘Might Bite’ by Patrick Foster and next, Richard Osmond’s ‘The Man Who Died Twice’. Sharing that he hopes to pen a novel himself one day, he enthusiastically launched into opening scene of his thriller… We can’t wait!

The bay windows of his oak panelled study look out over lawns and woodland, with plush sofas, a large oak table and huge stone fireplace adding to the classic country prep aesthetic. Old school? Not a bit of it, he is ‘shaking up the system,’ starting by updating the school values, garnering pupil and teacher input. ‘We want everyone to have their say so they are invested, which makes it more powerful.’ Finds it challenging that ‘the way things are set up teachers can’t always recognise pupils as individuals. Certain things are still en masse. We need to recognise individuality.’ He believes this sits hand in hand with a more ‘modern perspective,’ stating curriculum is ‘too regimented’ and should be more ‘child centred’. Determined to ‘stand firm in our belief in boarding, expanding a little but retaining the homeliness.’ His overarching aim is an ambitious one – ‘to make Bilton Grange the best prep school in the country.’

Entrance

Non-selective throughout. Youngest visit informally to confirm ability to access curriculum. Pupils applying from year 4 assessed in maths and English. All pupils met in person or via Teams. Girl to boy ratio of 144:210. School currently full with healthy waiting lists. Boarding from year 4 with prep ratio of boarding to day pupil at 52:171.

Exit

Evaluating the academic prowess of a prep is challenging when subtracting Common Entrance. But expertise in individualised selection and preparation gets the job done here, with head saying secondary schools ‘trust us’. More than half to Rugby, with others to Shrewsbury, Uppingham, Benenden, Bloxham, Denstone, Stowe, Warwick Prep, Eton, Millfield, Oakham, Oundle, Radley and Repton. In 2023, 22 scholarships.

Our view

Founded in 1873, school moved to Bilton Grange situated in 90 acres of quintessentially picturesque English parkland in 1887. History oozes out of every nook and cranny of the country pile whose panelled walls, striking staircase, jaw dropping library, and latticed barrel ceilings were designed by Augustus Pugin – Gothic Revival architect and designer, responsible for the interior of the Palace of Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower (home of Big Ben). We commented that entering school is like walking onto a Harry Potter set - ‘Everyone says that!’ our tour guide beamed. Across the rear quad a series of buildings are flanked by vast swathes of lawn, sports pitches and woodland. A pathway leads to the refurbished nursery and pre-prep, with impressive array of climbing frames.

Only a hop skip and a jump from Rugby School, relations have always been close and in 2020 they were formalised when BG became part of the Rugby School Group. Significant funds have been pumped in to enhance already excellent facilities. Not purely financial, the influence filters to every element of school life - teaching, coaching, equipment, catering, a new chorister programme and global reach opportunities with Foundation schools in Thailand and Japan.

The Nest offers play-led nursery education to the youngest Biltonians. Countless inspiring activities inside while outside bikes, kitchens, water troughs and gardening all secured by picket fence. As we arrived a tidy up song trilled out in French as teachers sang along chirpily, encouraging their otherwise absorbed pupils to pack away. Biltonians will soon get even younger as Little Grange Nursery opens.

In the pre-prep interconnecting rooms provide collaboration for two year 1 classes. We loved the creative 3D World Book Day door collages - clever idea to save freshly painted walls? Year 2 and 3 have airy classrooms with colourful variety of written work on display. Beyond assembly hall, kitchen and dining room, two feverishly active reception classes packed full of artwork, play zones and tables. Classes average 13 pupils.

Younger pupils enjoy one afternoon a week in the ‘really cool’ wild gardens. Energetic head of pre-prep donned wellies to guide us as we ducked overhanging branches in the woods to where an enchanting clearing emerged strewn with planks, tyres, logs and fire pit. She delighted in recounting that groups pick apples from their produce garden transforming them into crumble and custard to be instantly devoured - all in the great outdoors. Older pupils complain that such activities are limited to pre-prep although teachers all keen to demonstrate their departments take full advantage of surroundings.

Across to prep and their equally immaculate, roomy, bright classrooms where setting is introduced from year 5 in maths and English and year 6 for science (three subjects taught in rotation). Pupils say they ‘don’t feel pressured’ – and parents agree that added to small class sizes pupils are ‘encouraged not pushed’. Those who excel in a subject join ‘high fliers’ extension programme. Soon to be four well equipped science labs where teachers use ‘practical where possible’ approach inside and out; wildlife cameras in woodland, explosive experiments in gardens.

Headmaster wants to see calculated risks pupils demonstrate outside brought into the classroom more often, encouraging his teachers to step back and aallow pupils to lead, make mistakes and learn.’ Themed events such as team and global awareness weeks see pupils collaborating in groups to develop and present ideas. Big Saturday offers pre-prep, juniors and year 5 activities in a similar vein.

A number of parents extol the head of learning support as ‘fantastic’, bringing about ‘real change’ with whole school dyslexia screening and Dash handwriting tests but some felt more could be done. One commented that assistance is ‘only offered if school deem necessary, not on parental request’; another frustrated that ‘limited help was offered when we pushed for it.’ Headmaster confirms comments might have been true ‘a few years ago’ but says much has changed with ‘wonderful’ head of department going ‘above and beyond’ co-ordinating individualistic approach between professionals and parents and ensuring learning assistants now undertake SEN qualification.

Jolly head of music enthuses about new Rugby School chorister programme and reels off a vast range of choirs, orchestras, ensemble groups, music soirees and concert opportunities. ‘It’s all about building confidence in music and life.’

In contrast to the fresh decoration elsewhere, the art room is reassuringly paint splattered - a hub of sculpture, painting and print. Exuberant teacher expounds, ‘It’s not just about drawing and painting but dabbling in textiles, sculpture, clay, batique...’ Trained in secondary education he brings a wider perspective to his young proteges. Ravenscroft Theatre provides spacious auditorium for performance and rehearsal - currently for Alice in Wonderland. LAMDA undertaken by many.

Excellent sporting facilities include new hockey Astro, 25m swimming pool, sports hall, raft of rugby pitches, six netball courts, eight tennis courts, nine-hole golf course and cross country trails. Parents say BG is competitive but ‘could be more so’. Headmaster admits, ‘We get some great results but sport needs some tlc and can be a little elitist’ with some pupils in the past being ‘overlooked’. He’s keen to change that and foster the ‘desire to win but being gracious - creating an enthusiasm for sport, its health benefits for all and what being part of a team can teach.’ Boys play rugby, hockey and cricket; girls hockey, netball and cricket - some senior years merge to field teams. Competitive opportunities include Spratton Hall, Dragon School, Oundle.

Variety in ‘options’ from golf to riding or Scouts. Supper offered each week day evening at no additional cost to prep pupils due to 7.30pm finish. Parents grateful that homework done – ‘it’s literally come home and flop.’ Others find flexi-boarding ‘a blessing’.

The house or ‘sections’ sorting ceremony is utterly charming and shamelessly filched from Harry Potter. Year 4 ‘Hobbits’ sit on stage hidden beneath large BG flag. A voice booms from the ether announcing their ‘section’ as flag whisked away to roars of delight from pupils. Usual array of expeditions and residential stays with occasional far flung ski, sport or educational trips.

Pastoral support teachers wear yellow lanyards for easy identification. Onsite counsellor via teacher recommendation or parents’ request. Anonymous ‘Whisper’ phone support for older pupils. Friendly full-time nurse. Strictly no phones except for boarders who complain time is ‘too limited’. Parents and pupils alike praised lockdown provision which saw tutors call pupils individually each week to ‘check in’. Teachers suggest ‘word of mouth’ resulted in recent intakes and knock-on effect of increased enquiries.

Truly multicultural community - Spain, Finland, Kenya, Japan, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Ireland and more. Some Forces pupils. Headmaster describes a foundation of ‘humanity, inclusivity, tolerance, understanding and community.’ Parents agree that school is inclusive, but feel more could be done to explore diverse cultures of pupils. When we put this to the headmaster he confirmed they are commencing a full review to develop, bringing in external expertise to run discussion groups with pupils, staff and parents.

Perhaps we were lucky to visit on roast Thursday? Potatoes crunchy, yorkshires crisp, vegetables al dente, meat juicy, gravy plentiful. Following much chatting our table was silenced in rapture at delectable toffee muffins. Vegetarian, vegan and Halal available. We were delighted to hear that no clubs run at lunch times, leaving pupils free for - in their words - ‘hectic football’, tree climbing, or hanging out.

We found pupils mature and measured yet chatty and companionable with big smiles and cheerful ‘hellos’ at every turn. Parents say pupils are ‘happy’, ‘can be children’ and that school is ‘nurturing’ and ‘supportive’. Day pupils travel up to 30 minutes. Parents from ‘all walks of life’. PA is ‘enthusiastically’ supported by headmaster and his wife. Community also brought together (especially post-pandemic) with headmasters’ Saturday pre-match bacon butties, parents’ morning dog walks in school grounds and WhatsApp groups. Area’s excellent transport links offer comfortable commute to London or Birmingham for day parents. Headmaster feels more could be done to entice boarders from the cities.

Boarders

Two separate, homely boarding areas for boys and girls. Cosy warren of large dorms and common rooms in main building, with plans afoot for new purpose-built accommodation. Kitchens for hot drinks, snacks, tuck for Wednesday and weekend indulgence. Showers modern and clean. Twice a week girls welcomed to boys’ side for film night or socialising. Just over 50 full and weekly boarders share dorms with 30 or so flexis. Oft repeated criticism from boarders is ‘far too early’ bedtime. Weekend excursions to Cadbury World, trampolining, Warwick Castle. Pupils rave about ‘candlelit suppers’ and ‘pyjama Sunday’ breakfasts. Termly night-time ‘boarders’ break-out’ with staff and torches is highlight.

Money matters

School offers up to six means-tested bursaries per year of up to 100 per cent at year 7 entry. These are intended for candidates from primary schools who will progress to Rugby School in year 9 provided entry requirement met – two are specifically for boarders. Occasional bursaries offered from year 4 to 8. Chorister Awards for year 3 to 8 entrants. Year 7 scholarship applications (sport, music, drama, art) on individual merit.

The last word

An ambitious new headmaster, a modernising ‘shake up’ and joining the Rugby School family herald exciting times for this historic prep. We look forward to seeing how it flourishes in the coming years and whether the headmaster can realise his dream of making Bilton Grange the leading prep school in the country.

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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