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Visitors enter through the charming grade 2 listed former Georgian farm house, complete with original panelling, roaring fire and honours boards that give it a trad feel, plus stylish and architecturally interesting modern additions. Head describes boys as ‘fine, upstanding – with a bit of mischief’. Those we lunched with (we can recommend the mac and cheese) were just that: chatty and articulate and when we asked them to describe Davenies in three words, all included ‘fun’...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Carl Rycroft (youthful 50s) BEd. Forces family hence landed at boarding prep Malsis School in north Yorkshire from age 9 (‘it shaped who I am and what I value’) before moving to state maintained Richmond School aged 13 where he put his prep school passions to good use, going on to become a prefect and captain of the 1st XV. Set to join the army straight from school before a change of heart took him to St Paul’s College, Cheltenham where he earned his BEd. Has worked across the state and independent sectors, teaching PE, RE and running boarding houses. Took a break from teaching in his 20s to spend three years as head of youth development for Hertfordshire at England Rugby. First headship at Barnard Castle Prep before joining Davenies.

A firm believer in prep education to 13+ - not always the easiest sell in south Bucks grammar school heartland – but parents say that years 7 and 8 have been ‘transformed’ on his watch, providing the increasing number of boys who choose to stay on with ‘a small and safe environment where they learn to love school’. Parents in all age groups appreciate the change of energy and tone since his arrival as well as omnipresence pitch side and on the gate each morning; ‘what you see is what you get – he’s really down to earth’, they say. We say: authority and charisma in equal measure; a likeable, straight talking Yorkshireman (is there any other kind?) with his feet on the ground and eyes on the prize for his pupils.

Entrance

Non-selective. Forty places in two form entry reception on a first come, first served basis. No official intake into year 3, although a handful of places usually crop up at this point. Seven or eight join most years in year 7 from local state primaries and, in recent years, Gayhurst School. Scholarships and exhibitions for existing and new pupils available for years 7 and 8, worth up to 75 per cent of fees (means-tested).

Exit

Of the 40 boys in year 6, around a third to local grammars: Dr Challoner’s Grammar, RGS High Wycombe – where two former pupils have been head boy in recent years - John Hampden Grammar or (occasionally) independents. Those who stay head to a range of day and boarding schools at 13+. Shiplake the most popular, then Berkhamsted and Merchant Taylor’s. Others in ones and twos to boarding schools including Eton, Harrow, Wellington, Charterhouse, Bradfield, Stowe and St Edward’s recently. Decent clutch of scholarships every year (nine in 2019) across all disciplines.

Our view

Founded in 1940 by the Petty family who relocated an existing school from Northwood and appointed their son in law, the Reverend Newton, as headmaster. School motto, ‘singulus pro fraternitate’ (each striving for the good of all) delightfully inspired by the Rev Newton’s observations of the sense of community in his beehives, kept to provide and sell honey when sugar was rationed during the war. Urban location in the heart of Beaconsfield. Visitors enter through the charming grade 2 listed former Georgian farm house, complete with original panelling, roaring fire and honours boards that give it a trad feel, plus stylish and architecturally interesting modern additions. Parents and pupils use an alternative (and rather less aesthetically pleasing) conduit via Sainsbury’s car park (cue groans and eye-rolling all round from parent body forced to navigate their 4x4s into ‘tiny spaces’) to take them into the cleverly designed site with its surprising host of excellent facilities. Modest playing fields supplemented by a reciprocal agreement with neighbouring St Mary’s primary who allow use of theirs in exchange for access to Davenies’ super indoor pool (it’s the only boys’ prep in the area with one). Jolly, bright and modern classrooms for all ages, spread across different buildings to keep little ones safe from the rough and tumble of their older peers as well as to give the eldest boys a sense of differentiation and responsibility. Super indoor/outdoor play space for pre-prep pupils and separate outdoor play equipment for years 3 and 4. Wonderful art department (the tidiest we’ve ever seen), flooded with natural light and equipped with two potters’ wheels and kiln. Labs are standard fare – and next on the list for investment – as is library. Plays, concerts and assemblies take place in a multi-purpose hall and there’s also an enormous sports hall for indoor games and PE.

Parents choosing a school in this most leafy and affluent of commuter towns have a host of outstanding local primary schools in the vicinity to smooth (admittedly with the prolific engagement of tutors), should they wish, a path to the top state maintained grammar schools in south Bucks, and those leaning towards educating their sons in the private sector will most likely be considering three (possibly four if boarding’s on the cards) prep schools in the area; in short, competition is fierce. But with Davenies not too big, not too macho and not too focused on (or exclusive of) any one destination (‘all options are on the table at Davenies,’ says head), if Goldilocks were comparing Davenies to its local competitors, she would probably describe it as ‘just right’. Overall vibe is friendly and purposeful; favourable comments about the boys’ behaviour oft overheard in next door Starbucks (years 7 and 8 have ‘home passes’ and can await their lifts there after school if they wish) and head describes boys as ‘fine, upstanding – with a bit of mischief’. Those we lunched with (we can recommend the mac and cheese) were just that: chatty and articulate and when we asked them to describe Davenies in three words, all included ‘fun’.

Solid academics have ‘been taken to a new level’ since Rycroft’s arrival, say parents, who describe teachers as ‘a highly motivated group’. Particular strengths in maths (Singapore style teaching led by dynamic new departmental head – parents invited to ‘how to’ sessions) and MFL (taught by effervescent native French speaker who also runs French cinema club, oversees production of French language magazine and writing of French play plus, apparently, raps). History teaching ‘fabulous’, say parents, and English ‘improving’. French from reception, with Spanish from year 3 and Latin from year 6. ‘No pressure’ approach throughout, according to parents, but expectations build gradually, and crucially teachers are proactive in their communications with parents – ‘we never have to contact the school; they always get to us first’, said one. Major focus on reading; accelerated reading scheme from year 3 (parents report formerly reluctant readers now reaching ‘willingly’ for books) and years 3 and 4 have four 20 minute reading periods per week. We approve. New focus on STEM and computing (another passionate new HOD as driving force) has started to bring together science, maths, DT and computing; strong on robotics. Study skills on curriculum in years 5 and 6 and the ‘Davenies learning words’ – courage, perseverance, reflection, enthusiasm and curiosity – are visible throughout the school. Setting for maths and English from year 5, with the two year 7 classes split into three sets. Year 8 split into three streams with the X set focusing on scholarship preparation which is ‘rigorous’, according to parents. Supportive of pupils taking Bucks 11+ but no specific tuition offered. Prep for the ISEB pre-test takes place during lunch times during lead-up. Part time SENCo supported by four learning support teachers plus a maths specialist; parents of children with additional needs report ‘fantastic’ support, describing department as ‘stand out’. Can support mild to moderate SPLd; mainly within classroom but if required, one-to-one sessions take place before and after school at no additional cost and some boys given additional English and maths lessons in place of Latin.

At the time of our visit, the ‘very traditional’ music offering – although there were no complaints – was considered by parents to be the underdog to drama, but on paper it ticks the boxes, with plenty of peripatetic teaching plus choirs and ensembles for all. New director of music is on the way, though, along with plans for a new facility, so watch this space. Drama, on the other hand, is reportedly ‘wonderful’. On curriculum from years 3 to 8, with productions galore from a traditional Christmas nativity for the youngest pupils to year group plays for the middle years (recently an abridged works of Shakespeare for year 5s), a newly introduced year 6 play and major senior productions, in recent years The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Toad of Toad Hall and Oliver! Head of drama, formerly of Wellington College, ‘really gets the most out of the boys’, say parents. Huge LAMDA take-up, with an excellent clutch of results come exam time.

With some ferocious local sporting opposition on the fixture list, the Davenies of yesteryear was not seen as particularly serious competition. Current head is ‘much more behind sport’ (particularly rugby) than his predecessor and following the appointment of a new dedicated rugby coach (‘exceptional’, say parents), plus increased pitch time, including structured pre-season training for all major sports (rugby, football and cricket), results are on the up, although the inclusive ‘sport for all’ ethos still remains and the only parental grumbles were related to far-flung fixtures. Plenty of opportunities to compete in minor sports too – school fields teams in eg fencing, badminton (recently placed third in the IAPS competition), athletics, cross-country and tennis amongst others.

The extra-curricular day starts at 7.45am with breakfast club, and older pupils can stay for clubs or prep until 6.00pm. Something for everyone on the activities list – up to 60 clubs on offer with all the usuals plus quirky options such as handbells (junior and senior), NFL, sailing (in Bray) and comic book creation; strong take-up of these, with boys participating in three clubs a week on average. School also has its own Cubs pack – and hut to boot. Years 7 and 8 spend Monday afternoons participating in the Davenies Award Scheme which sees them benefit from activities including entrepreneurship, financial education and first aid, plus coaching in crucial life skills such as ironing, sewing on a shirt button or how to behave in chapel. Optional Whacky Weekend programme also in place for top two years to get out and about with a variety of fun outings including go-karting, curry nights and African drumming workshops. Trips are ‘massive’, bright eyed pupils told us (parents also delighted that the majority are included in fees). Annual residentials from year 4 start in Devon for the younger boys and build up to a major outdoor pursuits week in Wales in year 8 (Isle of Wight, Peak District and Normandy visited along the way).

Parents told us that Davenies is a school that’s ‘all about the boys’ and ‘small enough for everyone to be known’. Pastoral team comprises heads of year, SENCo and ‘school sister’ (matron), there’s an annual anonymous anti-bullying survey and a new peer mentor programme, with year 8 boys trained to run break time sessions to listen to the concerns of their younger peers. Top two years are split into small tutor groups, remaining with the same tutor for the remainder of their time at the school. Major focus on service and sense of social responsibility integral to school culture, with plenty of inter-house charity initiatives; ‘when the Grenfell disaster happened, the boys immediately started raising money’, one parent told us. Active parents’ association raises funds for school through host of social occasions, not least a biennial summer ball, apparently ‘on everyone’s list of best nights of the year’.

Not only going from strength to strength but quietly moving from cosy local prep to major contender, especially if you want to keep all senior school options open. One for the list.

Special Education Needs

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