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They are praised for what they can do, and encouraged to adopt the growth mind-set philosophy of ‘I can’t do this – yet’. Cross-curricular learning here too, and a healthy attitude to risk: tiny children were chopping up apples with sharp knives and close supervision when we visited in late summer. Cross-country running a Monkton perennial, and it was wonderful to see any stumbling stragglers cheered home as warmly as the loping long distance runners...

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What the school says...

Monkton Prep is a most exciting place to live and work. It is a real privilege to play such an important part in the development of the young children that have been entrusted to our care.

Maintaining the delicate balance between academic success and personal development is one of the School's great strengths. From the tiny two-year olds in the Pre-Prep to the teenagers in the Prep School, the happiness of every child is of paramount importance. ...Read more

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2017, Martin Davis BEd (late 40s), a Monkton old boy and graduate of what is now the University of Gloucestershire. Born to missionary parents, Mr Davis spent his early life in Thailand (and indeed his gap year), although he was sent back to the UK to Monkton as a boarder – aged 5. ‘They looked after a small boy only used to wearing shorts and flip-flops very well’, he adds, slightly misty-eyed. Between starting out at Monkton and ending up there, Mr Davis’ career has taken him to St Andrew’s Turi (a well-trodden path to or from Monkton) and a long stint at Hazlegrove as deputy head. That long experience of prep schools gives him a delightfully relaxed yet assured demeanour, but it would be underselling this man of quiet resolve and his vision for the school to say that Mr Davis is a safe pair of hands. That said, stability is exactly what Monkton Prep needs, after a period of uncertainty at the helm. ‘I believe passionately in childhood’ he told us, ‘and I want to create an environment where children thrive, a place where they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.’ To that end, he has introduced the thematic international primary curriculum, hour-long lessons and slowed the ‘frenetic’ pace of the day to include half an hour’s reading in the middle of the day with tutors. Married to the lovely Nicky with twins at the senior school and a son in the prep, Mr Davis enjoys all sport and a spot of wood-turning and guitar-playing to relax.

The pre-prep has been headed by Catherine Winchcombe (40s) since 2016, with a first degree from Cambridge, a masters in educational leadership from Nottingham and a career which encompasses the state sector and posts in the Middle East. Dynamic, stylish and warm, she fizzes with enthusiasm for all things Monkton, not least the fantastic new building which opened as she arrived. ‘Exciting!’ was the word she uttered most often during our visit. A consummate professional, whose way of leading the school is tacitly underpinned by her Christian faith, Catherine is married to Simon and has 2 daughters, one at university, one about to go.

Entrance

Non-selective to the pre-prep, though there’s an informal interview, and an automatic pass to the prep school at year 3 in almost all cases. For the prep, children are assessed in English, maths and, ‘if appropriate’, reasoning. Joiners in year 7 are asked for CAT scores and invited to one of 3 assessment days in the year

Exit

The only prep school in the area which prepares children for common entrance or scholarships at 13+. A few leave at 11 to join local day schools, state and independent; a significant majority of the rest to Monkton Senior School, others mostly to day and boarding schools in Bath and the south west, including Millfield, Canford and the Sherborne schools. Generally a good clutch of various scholarships, especially to Monkton.

Our view

Founded in 1888 and beautifully positioned on top of a hill in Combe Down (a desirable villagey part of Bath) with stunning views over rolling countryside from the back of the site, Monkton’s buildings range from handsome to utilitarian – but the acres of green space surrounding them (mostly turned over to rugby or cricket pitches or an athletics track in the summer, plus Astro) make up for any aesthetic failings. The pre-prep and nursery was purpose-built in 2016, with safe enclosed play areas and delightful light classrooms where lots of phonics are dinned into happy children by means of Read, Write, Inc, and where they are praised for what they can do, and encouraged to adopt the growth mind-set philosophy of ‘I can’t do this – yet’. Cross-curricular learning here too, and a healthy attitude to risk: tiny children were chopping up apples with sharp knives and close supervision when we visited in late summer. Average class size 16, and children benefit from specialist teachers from the prep school for sport, French and music.

For the first years in the prep, children are taught mostly in their own classrooms, but subject teachers feature from year 6; a mixture of streaming and setting is used for differentiation. Common entrance (scholarship for the most academic) syllabus proper starts in year 6: those exams are set in English, maths, the sciences and languages (French and Latin; Greek for the brightest sparks) with extended projects in the humanities. Parents generally reckon that just enough pressure - ‘but not to the point of freaking them out’, as one mother put it - is applied to ensure entry to the senior school of choice, but some felt children could be stretched more, with greater focus on getting them into better known public schools outside the south west. Monkton is the only Bath school to retain Saturday school from year 5; this time is now used for the study of themes beyond the narrow CE syllabus, such as migration and the concept of a just war. Masterclass Saturdays laid on three times a year: the principal of the senior school might teach Chaucer, or kids might learn to play the ukulele in a morning.

Children with SEN are looked after by the learning support team, and four categories of need are clearly set out in the school’s policy, including social and emotional aspects alongside mild to moderate SpLD. The behaviour management policy acknowledges that ‘some pupils on our SEN register find [shouting out, fiddling, making silly noises for example] very difficult not to do’ and offers ideas to help manage them in the classroom. Some children arrive with identified needs, others are diagnosed while at the school. Parents greatly value the inclusive approach taken by the school as a result of its overt Christian ethos: ‘we believe each individual is uniquely created by God and has a distinct contribution to make to our community’. One mother told us how the family had moved 200 miles to go to Monkton and that the school had been ‘unequivocally welcoming’ to her child with a complex chronic long term health condition. A few children are turned away at the enquiry stage if the school genuinely feels it cannot meet their needs.

Masses on offer outside the classroom too, for ‘the guiding principle of a Monkton education – the development of character’. Extensive outdoor space – not just for sport, but also for play – is complemented by a super indoor pool, dance studio and rather tired sports hall, in line for a facelift. Usual sports on offer but these days, boys can (and do) opt out of rugby. Sports teaching widely praised and even the tiniest in the pre-prep benefit. Minor grumbles from competitive parents about small schools having to field the sporting talent available to them – and being (on occasion) thrashed by bigger ones. Cross-country running a Monkton perennial, and it was wonderful to see any stumbling stragglers cheered home as warmly as the loping long distance runners. Monkton runners is open to anyone, and enthusiastically led by the joint head of boarding. Drama traditionally a strength too, with several productions grouped by age in a year: recent offerings include A Midsummer Night’s Dream – not watered down, either – and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Much enjoyment and silverware gained at LAMDA and the Mid Somerset Festival. Music has had a shot in the arm with the arrival of a new head of music, teaching ‘Oats and beans and barley grow’ to the youngest children to the accompaniment of her guitar when we saw her in the pre-prep’s charming assembly hall with its glass lantern. Over a third of pupils learn an instrument individually, but class music and singing are timetabled. Musical highpoints of the year include hotly contested house music, a joint concert with the senior school and the carol service in Bath Abbey. Art has a proper messy room, where work of considerable talent is produced, and then hung around the walls of the school. DT is taught by an infectious dynamo, whose projects include a Greenpower car – which has been round the famed race track at nearby Castle Combe.

Although boarders are in a minority, Monkton is run as a boarding community with its long days, Saturday school and spare beds. Hatton House occupies the two upper floors (one for girls, the other for boys) of the main building, all presided over by the delightful and flamboyantly clad houseparents and team, not forgetting Spotto the whippet. Light dorms with homely touches and plenty of space to pin up photos and posters alongside clean, functional bathrooms and cosy communal spaces make it comfortable rather than luxurious, but there’s a tangible warmth coming from all the staff: it’s a very happy and united ship. Children are kept busy with activities in the evening and a weekly pancake night in the houseparents’ kitchen. Mobile phone use kept to a minimum and as a means of keeping in touch rather than mindless YouTubing or Instagram; all devices are handed in to charge overnight.

Unapologetically Christian in its foundation and prevailing ethos with all chapel Bible-led, Monkton’s faith is a living one, according to the head, who explained it in terms of ‘doing what we talk about in chapel. You can’t inflict faith on people’. Whether believers, church-goers or not, everyone we spoke to profoundly appreciated the school’s values, and often chose the school for them. ‘Christian values are not just a strapline,’ said one mother. ‘Every child really is a unique blessing’. And looked after as such: two parents told us how their child ‘walked taller since coming to Monkton and was the best version of [him/herself]’. Had they been primed? We suspect not. Even when things go wrong, the school seems to handle it well, with the emphasis on remedy and explanation rather than punishment, though detentions are given for repeated offences.

Monkton has particular appeal in Bath and beyond to those seeking an education based as much on Christian values and opportunities as on academics, but also to those wanting an ‘old school’ prep school, to take their offspring through common entrance to the public school of their choice, likely as not Monkton Senior. Many families make great sacrifices to send their children, and fortunately find little to complain about. ‘If I had beef, I'd tell you,’ affirmed one mother; we didn’t doubt it.

Special Education Needs

Learning development at Monkton is done in three ways; in-class support, booster groups, and one-to-one or shared tuition in a specially equipped room. The staff are trained to help children with mild/moderate learning difficulties. Learning support is charged as an extra. The school has links with Bath Spa University's education department as well as with Patoss. Extra help is given to dyslexic pupils as well as a range of other learning difficulties by a dedicated and experienced team of staff.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
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 Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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