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What says..

Venerable trees, an Italian garden, rumours of secret passages, mullion windows and acres of green space – Hatherop feels like the setting for the kind of storybook childhood most parents, above all urban parents, want their children to have. 

No Saturday school means everyone gets a proper weekend and weekly boarders from London can return home by train, accompanied all the way to Paddington on the Friday Cotswold Flyer (Kemble/Swindon stations are both close by), homework done and with a packed supper provided. A member of staff will meet them at Paddington on Sunday evening for the return journey. 

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What the school says...

Hatherop Castle School is a vibrant and exciting place to learn. The school produces happy, articulate and confident children who feel their efforts and achievements are valued and appreciated. Our leavers all achieve entry in to their first choice schools. In 2015 the school received the ISA awards for the top Prep school for Excellence and Innovation in Provision and the award for Excellence in the Arts. After a whole school Inspection in March 2016, including Nursery and Boarding, the school was judged to be excellent in all nine categories.

This together with fantastic academic results makes Hatherop Castle the first choice school for many parents. Numerous pupils leave the school at 13 with scholarships to their senior schools. The curriculum is complemented by a beautiful rural location, sports facilities including gym, cricket nets and outside pool and educational visits.

Prep 3 to 8 pupils take part in a well-planned programme in connection with Cumulus Outdoor Education, which engages the children in several activities whilst encouraging physical development, team building and co-operation skills.

The Nursery is a brilliant start for the very young who make a natural transition in to our busy Pre-Prep department.
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Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.


What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2017, Nigel Reed MEd BSc PGCE (30s). Formerly deputy head of Wallhampton School, Hampshire. Educated at Trinity School and Kelly College, both in Devon, and boarded from the age of 10 (‘I loved it’). His father and grandfather were both in the navy and so, nearly, was he, but a taste of sports coaching while studying for his degree precipitated a sharp about turn into teaching. He started at Dulwich Prep in Kent where he taught PE and was a boarding house tutor, thence to Wallhampton where he was director of sport and, ultimately, deputy head.

Mr Reed met his wife, Jo, at Wallhampton – she’s a forest school leader and a qualified teacher of mindfulness and meditation to children. She is also trained as an emotional literacy support teacher and has introduced emotional literacy to the school’s pastoral care team, ‘We already do a huge amount to promote physical well-being so we’re keen to give the same attention to emotional literacy – offering support to parents, as well as children.' The couple have two boys at the school; ‘It’s a great adventure for us all.’ We think they make a great team – relaxed, cheerful and full of energy.

Mr Reed is only the second head since the school started in its present guise as a prep in 1992 (before that it was a girls’ school). We imagine that stepping into the shoes of Mr Easterbrook, who ran the show for 26 years, must have been a little daunting, but all seems to have gone very smoothly. Mr Easterbrook himself continues to work for the Wishford Group, who have owned Hatherop since 2014. Parents seem to agree, ‘The transition was managed really well; we saw him (Mr Reed) quite a few times before he started and knew he was just the right fit.’ The rapport was mutual; Mr R told us, ‘I loved the feel of the place at once.’

He favours a collaborative style of headship and has appointed two new deputies, one academic, one pastoral. Of course, he has other plans – what new head doesn’t – but parents who adore Hatherop because, not in spite of, its faded grandeur and old-fashioned courtesies have nothing to worry about on that score. ‘Good manners are so important. We sit together at meals and all pupils from reception to year 8 shake a member of staff’s hand at the end of the day.’ Building up the boarding has been one of the school’s priorities and London parents keen to ‘educate their children out of the rat race’ are catching on.

Mr Reed teaches computing and coaches rugby and girls’ hockey. Since knee problems forced him to give up football, golf and cycling have become his recreational sports. He likes the fact that golf ‘turns frustration into a positive’ and that you can ‘have a game at any age.’ When he’s not outside, Mr R enjoys reading crime novels and autobiographies - Douglas Bader’s Reach for the Skies ‘inspired him as a child’. And if all this sounds a bit hearty, he’s also a huge fan of musical theatre and loves a good, old fashioned panto. He says he ‘always wanted run his own school’ and now finds himself doing just that – and king of a castle to boot. ‘It’s fabulous, I’m loving every minute.’


No formal entrance tests; prospective pupils are assessed during the course of a taster day and on the basis of reports from previous schools. Exams and assessments for academic, art and music scholarships take place during the lent term.

Little Owls Nursery takes from age 2 and there’s a toddler group on Friday mornings where parents can bring their children (6m upwards) to familiarise them with nursery life.


At 11+ to Gloucestershire state schools and grammars. At 13+ mainly to local-ish day and boarding schools. Cheltenham College, Dean Close, Abingdon School all popular. Others to eg Marlborough College, Rendcomb, Cheltenham Ladies’.

Our view

Hatherop is recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Etherope’, which means ‘high outlying farmstead’, and 900 years have not diminished the name’s descriptive accuracy. To reach village and school requires a delightful meander through the lush meadows of the River Coln, followed by a steep ascent of its eponymous valley. At the height of summer this is a vision of quintessential English pastoral; what it’s like on a dark winter’s evening may be another story (imagine less romantic, more slippery); we hope it’s on the council’s gritting lorry route. The approach through classic estate parkland is hardly likely to disappoint, but the building that rises to meet you is definitely more stately home than fortified residence. If you happen to have any back-seat passengers who demand crenellations and a moat of their castles you may need to manage expectations (but only until you get inside).

For the youngest pupils at Little Owls nursery, the emphasis is on creativity, outdoor learning and imaginative play, embodied by the delightfully sticky ‘mud kitchen’ and wooden pirate ship outside. Pirates and mud chefs were having 40 winks when we crept round but we spied nothing amiss. Like much at Hatherop, nursery facilities are spick and span, if somewhat make-do and mend. Friendly, dedicated staff and nurturing atmosphere more than make up any lack of superficial glitz and parents we spoke to were verging on evangelical; ‘It was the nursery that sold the school to us,’ said one. Several said that for them, the fact that the nursery is run along ‘traditional’ lines was a deciding factor. ‘There’s a caring, family ethos and they’re brilliant at slow, but sure, nurturing.’ Specialist teaching from ‘transition’ (age 3-and-a-half) onwards in French, music, and gym. Little Owls is open for 50 weeks a year. From the nursery buildings in their walled garden just off the yew walk, pupils move to the stable yard for reception and pre-prep. A serious game of Castle Vet was under way when we dropped in here (we very much hope the blue snake has recovered). Reception pupils may not yet be 5, but it’s never too early to have a taste of work experience and they enjoy the chance to ‘help’ school maintenance or kitchen staff.

This is a small, inclusive school and parents love the fact that every child is known as an individual, ‘teachers work with parents on developing each child’s strengths – each child finds their place and all progress is celebrated.’ The learning support department says school can accommodate children with ‘mild to moderate SEN.’ Staff will work with pupils who may just need a ‘couple of terms’ catch-up’ and longer term one-to-one help is also available at extra cost. Study skills sessions are provided for pupils in years 7-8 to help them prepare for entrance exams. Our pupil guides took us in and out of lots of lessons and we saw quiet individual study, energetic teamwork, eager questions and answers, role play and great pupil teacher rapport. One parent told us, ‘I’ve yet to meet a teacher here who regards their work as “just a job”; they all give so much time and energy.’ School has won the Lego robotics regional finals for the past two years and last year came eighth nationally.

An Astro was high on everyone’s wish list and one is now destined for the newly acquired market garden site. It will make a huge difference to the sports fixture programme, enabling school to host home matches. Head wants to build up girls’ sport – not just hockey but also football, with girls’ rugby ‘a possibility.’ Other sporting ambitions include developing school’s own equestrian team – riders currently put through their paces at the local riding stables – and introducing golf. Fencing is one of Hatherop’s strengths – the high-ceilinged ground floor reception rooms must make excellent salles. Also on offer as clubs are judo, gymnastics, cross-country, ballet, Scottish dancing and yoga. The new performing arts centre is a well-designed modern venue that sits comfortably in the grounds. Drama and music programme is busy and ambitious, pupils of all ages and abilities are encouraged to take part in plays and concerts.

Girls who studied here in the 1940s had the use of the house’s original grand ground floor library. Today Hatherop’s pupils make do with a fairly dreary kind of box-room cum book store – let’s hope that new library comes after new Astro Mr R’s to-do list.

Parents told us it was the pupils who made the biggest impact when they visited, ‘I saw the year 8s and just thought how much I wanted my own child to turn out like that.’ Another said how impressed she’d been with pupils’ good manners and confidence: ‘that’s what sold the school to me.’ Our guides were charming, thoughtful and very proud of their school, telling us with some nostalgia about ‘cross-country runs through the woods’, ‘wonderful’ Christmas activities and the disco in the front hall; ‘Pupils from all the Wishford schools come here for that.’ The tradition of year 8 leavers jumping into the outdoor pool in uniform on their last day was being eagerly anticipated.

Food got the thumbs up, particularly fish and chips, roast chicken and brownies. Parents say it’s much improved over the last few years with increased use of local produce and sensible efforts to reduce sugar. We certainly enjoyed a delicious roast when we visited.

Like many stately homes, Hatherop (and its charming adjacent church) has been owned, sold, built and rebuilt over the centuries. In the 1860s it was leased by a Maharajah – there are tales of elephants on the lawn – but he didn’t stay long because the railway authorities refused to give the estate its own station. It first became a school (of sorts) in the 1920s when the owner’s wife, Mrs Francis Cadogan, offered to educate a handful of her friends’ daughters alongside her own. One of those girls was Nancy Mitford, who recalls enjoying her time at Hatherop apart from the cold – morning wash with an icy sponge, anyone? When Mrs Cadogan’s children had all flown the nest the school was moved to Cambridge where it became known as Owlstone Croft (hence Little Owls Nursery and school owl mascot), under the governance of a Mrs Theodora Fyfe. By 1946 the school had outgrown its Cambridge premises and returned to Hatherop where Mrs Fyfe was known for producing girls who ‘finished very well and debbed beautifully.’ Mrs Fyfe and her successor, Dr Pandora Moorhead, sound like redoubtable characters; apparently Dr Moorhead installed a carousel on the lawn to provide relaxation for the girls. Her idea of discipline was ‘come to the drawing room for a sherry darling and we’ll talk about it.’ Those were the days.


School offers full, weekly and flexi boarding; numbers aren’t huge, but they’re growing as parents from further afield ‘discover’ Hatherop. There are currently about 30 beds but scope for expansion in this area if necessary. Small regular contingent of short-term boarders from Spain and other, mainly European countries, dilute the Anglo-Saxon mix just a little. No Saturday school means everyone gets a proper weekend and weekly boarders from London can return home by train, accompanied all the way to Paddington on the Friday Cotswold Flyer (Kemble/Swindon stations are both close by), homework done and with a packed supper provided. A member of staff will meet them at Paddington on Sunday evening for the return journey. There’s a programme of castle fun and excursions for boarders who stay at school for the weekend and weekly boarders can join in at no extra cost. Things are flexible enough that pupils can be scooped up in a crisis and one-off bed and breakfast option is very reasonable £35 per night – better value and more convenient than a babysitter. Working parents love the 8am-6.30pm wrap-around care option too.

Head describes the Hatherop boarding vibe as ‘homely’ and we’d agree. Boarders sleep in large, comfortable rooms up in the eaves – apparently the children ‘prefer to be together in a big dorm’ together rather than smaller rooms. We were impressed by the decoration of both boys’ and girls’ rooms – there was a competition to redesign them and parents judged the entries. Home duvets and lots of quirky touches, not to mention stunning views over trees and honey coloured Costwold stone cottages, more than make up for paintwork and carpets in the corridors that are showing inevitable wear and tear. A recent ISI inspection declared the boarding provision (and pretty much everything else at Hatherop) to be ‘excellent’ and we concur.

Money matters

Hatherop was acquired by Wishford Schools in 2014, joining a group of seven preps located in Kent and along the M4 corridor. Prior to this the school was suffering as a result of changes to Forces school subsidies (RAF Fairford and Brize Norton are nearby), not to mention the financial burden of upkeep to a historic building. Let’s be frank, if it’s flash you’re after then Hatherop isn’t the place for you, but parents say that investment from Wishford has made a real difference, citing improvements to everything from food to communications.

Some means-tested bursarial support available.

The last word

Venerable trees, an Italian garden, rumours of secret passages, mullion windows and acres of green space – Hatherop feels like the setting for the kind of storybook childhood most parents, above all urban parents, want their children to have. It’s an idea the school has taken and run with – their interactive prospectus is even called ‘The adventure of childhood’ and references Narnia, Enid Blyton and, of course, Harry Potter. Cynics may scoff, but if your school happens to be a castle in glorious rural surroundings, conjuring such visions is hardly a liberty. Any resident dragons and fairies must have made themselves invisible when they heard The Good Schools Guide was visiting, but we still caught a whiff of magic in the air.

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