Skip to main content

What says..

The school feels very much part of the city. In fact one of the opening clips on the local news shows a line of happy children in royal blue tartans and sunny sweatshirts snaking across Cathedral Green. The balance feels just right here; ‘there is an expectation for children to do their best and give their all at any task, and there is an academic push, but it is a gentle, perfectly pitched push,’ parents said...

Read review »

What the school says...

Exeter Cathedral School is a leading independent day and boarding Prep School for girls and boys aged 2½ - 13.

Founded in the 12th century as a choir school, ECS now offers a fully-rounded education to 250 pupils from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of talents and interests.

We have an enviable location in the heart of the city; a maximum class size of 18, meaning we know each pupil as an individual; a proven track record of securing places and scholarships to a range of leading senior schools; and a firm commitment to being a forward-thinking Prep School with traditional values. We aim to offer an outstanding Prep School experience and are proud of our commitment to educating the ‘whole child’: we seek to do this by providing a nurturing, purposeful, exciting and gently-Christian environment in which each child is known as an individual and encouraged to be mindful of, and grateful for, those around them, and aware of the part that they and others play in building their community.

Above all, we are a school where people matter, and where staff and families work in partnership to help children acquire the right habits for life.
...Read more

Do you know this school?

The schools we choose, and what we say about them, are founded on parents’ views. If you know this school, please share your views with us.

Please login to post a comment.

Other features

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2016, James Featherstone (30s). Previously head of lower school at Perse School, Cambridge. Studied French and Spanish at Durham, followed by a PGCE. He was a choral scholar at Durham Cathedral and later joined the choir of Jesus College, Cambridge and became part of the professional quintet at St-John-at-Hampstead, London.

Lives with his family in Hall House, the pre-prep school. Julia, his wife, teaches music part-time at ECS. Both are well-suited to this lifestyle; James is son of a headmaster so grew up in boarding schools, and Julia spent her childhood in vicarages.

To date, he has made significant improvements at ECS. Parents are impressed. ‘I think he has exactly the right attitude for ECS,’ one parent reported. ‘A breath of fresh air,’ said another. ‘He is dynamic, accessible, enthusiastic and ambitious for the school with a passion for nurturing the best in all his pupils and ensuring that they understand that success is not just based on grades but being a good person too.’


Taster days with informal assessment, plus interview with headmaster. Voice trials for choristers (boys and girls). Children may be turned away if behaviour is not up to scratch on taster day (most are given a second chance). If academic standards are not met, a place may be offered as long as a learning support plan is agreed. Mild special needs can be supported. One parent reported, ‘It was very much what the school could offer them, rather than whether the [children] would assist their results. Very refreshing compared to some of the other schools!’ Choristers must be above the baseline academically. Choristerships are worth 25 per cent off tuition fee; there are currently 36 choristers.

As well as taster days there are ‘come and be a chorister for a day’ and ‘taste of boarding’ sleepovers. For transition there is a tea party for new pupils and teachers. Parents said, ‘We were impressed with the staff, and the general warmth of the place.’ Most choose ECS as it is a natural step on from a small village primary school.


Majority stay on to 13. A head of scholarships guides families through the process. Destinations include Blundell’s, Canford, Charterhouse, Clifton College, Downside, Exeter, King’s College, Marlborough College, The Maynard School, Plymouth College, Queen’s College, Sherborne, St David’s College, Stover, Taunton, Wellington, Wells Cathedral and West Buckland.

Former pupils include 14th century theologian Boniface; more recently, bass player Orlando le Fleming; Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay (who apparently once said, ‘ECS is where it all began’); Hampshire CCC manager, Giles White and Dave Webb, ENO.

Our view

Founded in the 12th century as a choir school, ECS is one of 35 choral schools in the UK, and the only independent boarding school in Exeter. As one parent put it, ‘ECS is a rare kind of school,’ and we agree. The Chantry, the prep school, and Hall House, the pre-prep, are on either side of the magnificent Exeter cathedral; an impressive backdrop to learning by anyone’s standards. Although the multiple sites mean there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, it also means that the school feels very much part of the city. In fact one of the opening clips on the local news shows a line of happy children in royal blue tartans and sunny sweatshirts snaking across Cathedral Green.

Hall House is a former canonry and houses reception up to year 2. Securely enclosed by ancient Roman walls (and keypads), it is welcoming, bright and playful. A new ‘spongey’ all-weather playground separates the main building from the nursery, which was purpose-built in 2015. This is a fantastic area, free-flowing from inside to out. From the cosy keyworker areas and rooms, little ones (all in uniform) can play under awning in an area that leads to the shared playground one end, and the Woodland Garden at the other. This is a child’s dream. Centred around a huge hawthorn oak tree, there’s a mud kitchen, a bug hotel and The Hide, their very own shed to bird watch, play games or make dens. Beyond this there are allotments for each class and the gardening club. Worried about noise from the city’s neighbours? Next door is the bishop's garden.

Classes are small, between 11-18 pupils. And the classrooms are imaginatively set up; we saw one with a zoo area, another with a bakery café. The creativity continues into The Bookwormy, the library, which has a car for a bookshelf and bug beanbags. On our visit, pupils were just back from swimming and were settling down in comfy tracksuits, devouring healthy snacks, ready for storytime. The balance feels just right here; ‘there is an expectation for children to do their best and give their all at any task, and there is an academic push, but it is a gentle, perfectly pitched push,’ parents said. ‘My son has only been at ECS for a year but the school has made him more inquisitive and he has learned so much already,' said one. 'Even this morning, at the age of just 4, he was explaining to me why he could hear building work echoing as he walked across Cathedral Green.’

Pupils walk to the Chantry for lunch or to the cathedral for worship. For sport they are minibussed around the city; there never seems to be a dull moment here and it adds to the charm of this inner-city school. School begins with daily morning worship in the vast cathedral chapter house. This includes spiritual readings, hymn practice and a chance to ‘just be’. The Chantry houses the offices, plus years 3 and 4. Other buildings including Evans for years 6, 7, and 8 are dotted around nearby. It feels like a maze but it’s not; it’s full of character. Walks between buildings are across pedestrianized walkways, and glimpses of the cathedral, pretty cobbled courtyards, small peaceful gardens and cleverly planned playgrounds areas make it all feel really rather special.

The boarding accommodation is made up of three Georgian houses with 22 boys' beds and 18 girls' beds for 7-13 year olds. All boarders are from the UK, most live within an hour's drive, and around half are choristers. Girl and boy choristers sing on alternate evenings so pupils do get downtime, but this adds to the irregularity of the boarding numbers throughout the week. One parent said, ‘[They] are at home there and I know they are happy.’ The large dorms have three bunkbeds each and a piano, or in some cases, a harp. Older pupils can have a double room with two single beds. Decent showers and toilets. Efficient laundry system; even flexi-boarders get their own laundry basket. There’s a comfy common room, a TV room, a prep room, and the Cosy Club in the basement with sofas, DVDs, a games table and a crafts area. One parent admitted, ‘parts of the boarding house could do with a lick of paint!’ and this is true, but the housemistress is gradually upgrading it. After supper, prep, choir practice and Mrs Jolly’s Hot Choccie Trolley, there’s not much time for activities during the week. At weekends there can be anything from a handful of pupils to 25, and activities include trips to Haven Banks, Dartmoor or beaches. Spanish tapas evenings, Irish evenings and making sushi are also popular.

As expected, music plays a big part. One parent told us, 'Her music has gone from strength to strength and she has gone from a child who never stopped singing to a violinist, pianist and a member of Devon County Junior Choir with a place as a cathedral chorister. Yet the music hasn’t taken over and she is developing a real love of hockey and netball.’

Mornings are for core lessons with form teachers and afternoons are for specialist lessons and sports. ‘The English department in particular has exceeded our expectations – my son has studied TS Eliot, Roald Dahl, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Shakespeare, Michael Morpurgo and Michelle Paver in the past three years,’ we were told. Specialists teach science as separate subjects. French, from reception, is popular. As is the teacher's dog. We met Ted, a floppy puppy who was thrilled to have tickles as pupils made their way between lessons. Latin is taught from year 6. The arts are just as impressive; we saw some fantastic (and huge) decorative masks on display. Pupils are encouraged to think big and express themselves. For drama, year 4 recently performed Splash, a musical based on Noah’s Ark. And year 8s perform a leaving review each year.

Learning support caters for mild needs including dyslexia and dyscalculia, at extra cost. Small classes are beneficial and a big draw for parents. One explained, ‘We were amazed at how quickly and accurately the teachers understood what made each of our boys tick and used the knowledge to help them both move forward.’ Parents are impressed with the ‘all-round education.’ One told us, ‘her love of reading, spelling, maths and sport have all been developed at the school but I have also seen her become a kinder and more considerate child.’

No sports facilities on site, but ECS makes good use of facilities in a traditionally sporty city. There’s some 60+ fixtures per term plus an U7s festival for netball, soccer and athletics. Other sports include judo, squash, swimming, cross-country and athletics plus outdoor pursuits like climbing, kayaking and Dartmoor walks. Some pupils play county-level hockey and take part in the National Prep Schools Athletics Championships; there are also talented sailors and netball players.

Sports clubs take place after school and musical activities throughout the day. Judo is particularly popular. Other clubs include fencing, ukulele, cricket, maths, poetry, bell ringing, tennis and cooking. Equestrian club at weekends. Parents are delighted, ‘After-school clubs cover an incredible variety (and are inexpensive) - but if you're running late for pick-up ECS happily keeps them for prep and supper…As working parents this has been perfect.’ Trips make the most of the local area including Roman walks. Years 5, 6 and 7 go to France for a week every two years, year 8 goes camping on Dartmoor, plus there’s a Buckfast Abbey choir camp.

The only grumble we heard from parents was that ‘The food is not great,' and ‘the school dinners are very unappetising.’ We have no doubt that the head and his team will be onto this with a fix straight away. This city prep school isn’t perfect but it’s definitely doing it’s best to head that way. It’s full of charm, balances academia and childhood brilliantly, and most importantly, it gives pupils and their parents exactly what they want and need.

Special Education Needs

Children with special needs are considered on and individual basis and accepted at the discretion of the Headmaster. The SENCO coordinates the provision provided by four part-time specialist teachers including: support for children with moderate dyslexia and other mild learning difficulties, and English as a second langurage.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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

  Zoopla sale properties   Zoopla rent properties   Hide Zoopla markers

Powered by Zoopla

Who came from where

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
 Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
 Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

The Good Schools Guide manifesto for parents