Skip to main content
  • Pangbourne College
    RG8 8LA
  • Head: Mr Thomas Garnier
  • T 01189 842101
  • F 01189 841239
  • E [email protected]
  • W
  • An independent school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 19.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: West Berkshire
  • Pupils: 460; sixth formers: 141: 83 boys, 58 girls
  • Religion: Church of England/Christian
  • Fees: Day £18,000 - £25,380; Boarding £22,620 - £36,600 pa
  • Open days: New Virtual Open Experience from mid-October 2020
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

Students parade in their number one (ceremonial) uniforms eight times a year, with practice every Friday morning. Uniforms have to be immaculate and shoes polished. A guest of honour inspects the whole school on the vast parade ground and takes the salute as pupils march past. ‘It’s not always massively popular with the younger ones, but the older ones start to realise what an amazing thing it is.' Pangbourne has its own distinctive vocabulary, much of it nautical...

Read review »

What the school says...

Pangbourne offers a challenging all-round education, embracing academic rigour and a diversity of sport, music and extra-curricular activities in a small school environment where every child can shine.
Set in 230 acres of Berkshire countryside west of Reading and just minutes from the M4, the College provides a superb quality of life in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Running through the heart of College life are our seven Flag Values of Kindness, Selflessness, Moral Courage, Initiative, Industry, Resilience and Integrity.
They underpin everything we do as a school. Students and parents take pride in being part of the College and are made to feel involved and valued in its close-knit community.
The ultimate aim is to provide a holistic well-rounded education, focusing on leadership and character development, to ensure our pupils are well equipped to make a valuable contribution to society.
...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.



Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.





What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2005, Thomas Garnier BSc PGCE (50s). Educated at Sandroyd and Radley, read physics at Bristol and was a seaman officer in the Royal Navy for seven years. He left the navy after meeting his wife Alexandra (who’s also very involved in school life, including running events such as an annual piano festival) and trained as a teacher. Did PGCE at Oxford, followed by first teaching job at King Alfred’s, high-performing state school in Wantage, Oxfordshire. Spent 10 years at Abingdon School, where he progressed to housemaster and then head of boarding.

We found him – sporting traditional attire with socks that Jon Snow would be proud of – animated, affable and reassuringly enthusiastic about students having their say, which made it all the more surprising that the ones we met seemed cautious of telling us anything even vaguely critical about their school (this happens sometimes when we visit schools and it's quite possible they couldn't think of anything on the spot). We were also struck by how willing he is to adapt, constantly reconsidering the school’s policies – he recently, for example, decided to trial a partial mobile phone ban ‘in light of what is emerging about their effect on young people’s mental health’. Students describe him as ‘tall’ (he really is), ‘well-respected’ and say ‘he knows all our names – amazing, really’. But although he occasionally manages to fit in some physics teaching, rowing coaching and is involved in the naval section of Pangbourne’s CCF, they said ‘you don’t see him much’. Parents agree: ‘You don’t have much contact with him, but you can always get a meeting if you need one.’ ‘I think he’s just the right balance of intimidating, which a head should be, and approachable,’ said one parent, while a student told us, ‘He’s friendly, but you wouldn’t make too silly a joke around him.’

Has two sons, both educated at Pangbourne (one still there). A firm believer in ‘lifelong learning’, he took up the flute again after a 25-year gap, passed his grade 8 with ease and has since done the same with piano.


Students come from a host of state and prep schools, including Brockhurst, Moulsford, Thorngrove, St Andrew’s, Pangbourne and many more. Main entry points are at 11, 13 and 16. At 11 and 13, admission is by school’s own entrance exam or CE (interview and head’s report taken into account too). Pupils joining sixth form (up to 20 a year) also sit an entrance exam and must have at least five good GCSE passes, including English and maths.


Up to 25 per cent leaves after GCSEs (most are replaced by new joiners), mainly to do subjects not offered here or ‘just for a change’. Around 90 per cent go on to university – around 40 per cent per cent of those to Russell Group, the rest to so-called ‘selective’ universities or the newer ex-polys. Edinburgh, Exeter, Bristol, Reading, Oxford Brookes and York recent big hitters. Subjects are wide ranging, including more vocational ones like agriculture, accounting and sports science. Apprenticeships growing in popularity and a handful go into the Forces. One medic in 2020.

Latest results

In 2020, 43 per cent 9/7 at GCSE: 29 per cent A*/A (52 per cent A*/B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 36 per c ent 9/7 at GCSE; 20 per cent A*/A at A level (40 per cent A*/B).

Teaching and learning

School welcomes a wide range of ability, although says it has ‘become more discerning about only taking students we feel we can genuinely support without it having too much of an impact on others’ (the idea being that everyone gets a slice of the pastoral cake, not just a needy few). Head agrees that Pangbourne is sometimes perceived as being ‘for the less able’ (particularly in the context of the surrounding selective schools) but is vexed, claiming they do a very good job for academic children (there’s a 'high potential achiever' programme for the most able) and parents agree: ‘We’ve got one child who is really bright and another who is a bit slow with processing, but they’ve supported both brilliantly,’ said one (and most families we spoke to said they send all their children here because of this).

Setting in maths, science and French from year 7 and English from year 10. Students get a taste of French, Spanish and German in year 7, then most pick one for GCSE (although it’s not compulsory). Eight or nine GCSEs is the norm here, including IGCSE English language, English literature and maths.
Students choose between combined science and two or three separate sciences. Latin is offered as an additional extra, despite small numbers. At GCSE, strongest results in English and maths.

Around 25 A levels offered (popular ones include maths, English, geography, economics and business studies), plus BTecs in sport, music tech and DT – ‘great for the less academically focused students or those who find exams stressful’. School says some of the most heartening performances are found among those who worked tremendously hard to secure Bs and Cs – ‘We take real pride in these.’

Tracking data used extensively by teachers; students get ‘heatmaps’ to highlight their strengths and weaknesses. ‘There’s been a big push on helping student take greater ownership over their learning and students talk about their work in a much more reflective, positive way now,’ says school. Students say teaching staff (two-thirds male and a third female, half of whom live on site) keep most lessons lively, ‘but even when the lesson is boring, you do learn,’ said one. Good mix of experienced and newly qualified teachers (school has links with teacher training departments at universities of Buckingham, Reading and Oxford Brookes). One parent told us, ‘The teaching level has fluctuated a bit and there have been complaints, but latterly they’ve really upped their game and got some really good new ones in.’ Staff hold regular academic clinics and students can also email their teachers.

From September 2019, no more academic lessons in Saturday school (there will still be sports and activities) – one parent wondered if the cheers could be heard the other side of Berkshire. No loss of teaching time, though, as lessons will be moved into the week.

Learning support and SEN

Learning support available for students with minor learning difficulties - individual lessons offered at extra cost, ‘although for most, it’s a case of making sure their teachers know how to go the extra mile for them.’ School works hard to identify those whose SEN hasn’t yet been picked up.

The arts and extracurricular

Terrific music school houses recital hall, recording suite and 10 practice and teaching rooms, as well as four prized Steinway grand pianos – ‘I practically live in here,’ beamed one student. Around a third of pupils take individual music lessons, with brass, drums, guitar and singing leading the pack. Loads of musical groups to join, including orchestra, jazz band, choirs and a marching band. Performing arts are on the up with a variety of college productions, theatre trips and drama workshops. Three drama studios and pupils encouraged to take Trinity exams. Everyone does CCF for at least a year and DofE is compulsory in year 9, with three-quarters of students doing silver and a third doing gold. Spectacular art and DT spaces, with healthy numbers taking subjects at GCSE and A level and some mind-blowing work displayed throughout – some of the most imaginative we’ve seen, including large 3D installations.

Relatively few clubs and societies – school feels that after DofE, music, drama, sport etc, ‘the week is already well filled’. All the usual day and residential trips, including to far-flung places such as New York (academic) and South Africa (joint rugby and hockey).


A very sporty school, with at least an hour a day spent exercising, with plenty of wins against other schools especially in hockey and rugby; the school’s size means virtually all get the chance to represent it. Pangbourne boathouse is a mile from the school, on the scenic banks of the Thames, and school has won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley four times. Unlike some schools where pupils drop sport in the sixth form, everyone keeps it up here: ‘I’m a firm believer that you learn so much on the sports field or hall or in a boat,’ says head. Main boys’ sports are rugby, hockey, rowing and cricket while girls do netball, hockey, rugby, rowing and tennis. Lots of equestrian enthusiasts – riding popular. One parent told us, ‘Initially, it was hard for my son to settle because he wasn’t that sporty – thank goodness for the hockey, which he did like – but he’s at the top of the school now so that may have changed.' School insists it has and students agree: ‘It’s really OK not to like rugby – I don’t,’ said one, while another said, ‘The increase in breadth of sports means there’s pretty much something for everyone’. Decent facilities, including newly refurbished open-air pool and a new Astroturf in the pipeline, though students said hockey pitches need updating.


Four boys’ houses and two for girls (with another one in the pipeline for around 2024), integrating both day and boarding students (‘the day boys and girls are very much included as part of the boarding ethos,’ said one parent). Just over half of students board – around a third of these are full boarders while the rest are either part boarders (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) or weekly boarders (introduced in 2017 as a third option). The latter two options grow in popularity as the students move up the school – by sixth form around 70 per cent board. ‘We don’t actively push boarding,’ says head. ‘It’s a natural phenomenon.’ No flexi boarding, although school offers parents chance to buy 15 extra boarding nights a year per student. Houses are functional, with some homely touches and dorms ranging from single bedrooms to those housing four. Pupils eat breakfast, lunch and supper in the central mess hall. Boarding staff praised by parents for being ‘very nurturing’ and ‘genuinely caring’.

The youngest pupils (years 7 and 8) are housed in Dunbar, a detached red-brick house with its own garden (loads of space to play football, jump about on the trampoline and catch up with friends). Lower school lessons take place in the main school, but the rest of the time students make their way back to these cosy environs. Students told us how students are divided into four ‘watches’ (Port, Starboard, Forward and Aft), each with their own ‘watch captain’. Capacity for 22 in Dunbar, with around 16 beds taken up when we visited – generally larger dorms than for senior boys.

New life has been injected into the boarding programme in the last couple of years, say students, who cite comedy evenings, magic evenings, Come Dine With Me house competitions (‘the food was good – surprisingly good,’ says head), among others. ‘It’s more exciting than it used to be.’

Ethos and heritage

School is set in 230 acres (‘half an acre per student isn’t bad,’ laughs head), in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Founded in 1917, Pangbourne’s aim was to prepare boys for service in the Merchant Navy and Royal Navy. In 1969, however, the school was established as a charity, with a similar curriculum to other schools, and these days only two or three leavers a year join the Forces. Even so, Pangbourne prides itself on maintaining many of its original traditions and is the only school in the UK where students wear Royal Navy officer cadet uniform every day.

Students parade in their number one (ceremonial) uniforms eight times a year, with practice every Friday morning. Uniforms have to be immaculate and shoes polished. A guest of honour inspects the whole school on the vast parade ground and takes the salute as pupils march past. Head says Pangbourne’s parades are an integral part of school life and help to develop self-discipline (pupils have to stand still for 15 to 20 minutes, often with a biting wind whistling across the parade ground), confidence, teamwork, leadership – ‘and above all, a community spirit.’ ‘It’s not always massively popular with the younger ones, but the older ones start to realise what an amazing thing it is and the pride really kicks in,’ a parent told us.

Pangbourne has its own distinctive vocabulary, much of it nautical. Study bedrooms are cabins, house common rooms are gun rooms, the dining hall is the mess hall and casual clothes are always referred to as scruff. Current head introduced ‘flag values’ – kindness, integrity, industry, moral courage, selflessness, resilience and initiative – and students are urged to display them throughout their time here. Chapel is a key part of Pangbourne life, including ‘congers’ (Saturday morning congregational practice), reflecting the school’s firm Christian ethos with a ‘forthright and challenging’ chaplain (although students tell us ‘it’s fine to be atheist’). Many services are held in the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel, opened by the Queen (who has visited the school five times). The rest of the extensive campus is a mixture of buildings, some in need of updating (eg labs) but most on a rolling programme and everything is fit for purpose. Food good – we enjoyed a hearty roast on a frosty day.

School has been fully co-ed since 1996 (the boys-girls ratio is now approaching 4:3). Lots of student committees, including boarders, food and general student councils. Very inclusive Team Pangbourne feel to the place and pupils are fiercely loyal to their school. All students expected to greet everyone they walk past – ‘it can get tiring, but I can see why they insist on it,’ said one. Sixth formers can apply to train as peer mentors. Raft of prefects – called cadet captains – chosen by head and senior staff. Lower sixth pupils take leadership course in readiness for their responsibilities in the upper sixth. New sixth form centre in the making.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘Happiness’ is a word you hear a lot here, the ethos being that if youngsters are happy then their self-worth and academics will follow. The main vehicle for the pastoral care is the house system, with weekly meetings among staff using a traffic light system for all students. School counsellor is well used – students self-refer. Growing emphasis on mental health, including outside speakers. Sixth formers have their own bar (Medway), which is open for soft drinks on Thursday evenings and pizzas and beer/lager (strictly limited) on Saturday nights.

There’s a feeling you can make mistakes here – ‘everyone makes mistakes,’ points out head. But there are ‘crystal clear’ policies on everything from boy-girl relationships (PDAs banned) to bullying and drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. All have caused issues at one time or another, admits school, with one or two permanent exclusions a year, most recently for substance abuse or ‘inability to reform bullying behaviour’. Around 10 suspensions a year, ‘usually for inappropriate, offensive or unpleasant behaviour’. Less serious sanctions include the ‘sin bin’ – a kind of mini-detention for failing to produce prep or applying yourself in class – while Saturday detentions are for repeat offences or more grave misdemeanours. An equal emphasis on praise means positive input is also rewarded.

Strict uniform policy. Students must need hefty trunks to pack all their kit, though – list includes number one uniform (jacket, trousers/shirt and cap with badge for Sundays and ceremonies), number two uniform for every day (trousers/skirt, navy jersey, epaulettes, beret and Dr Martens shoes), and recreational rig (known as ‘rec rig’) for social occasions and away matches (sixth formers may now wear suits instead). And that’s before they even think of throwing in games kit and weekend clothes. Trousers only to be offered as an alternative to skirts from September 2019 – surprising to us that it took so long, though seemingly not to students who are also fine with the strict ‘not too long, not too short’ haircut rule (questioning societal ‘norms’ doesn’t seem to feature highly among students here).

Students say it’s ‘a caring, friendly school’ and that it’s easy to settle in.

Pupils and parents

Fleet of minibuses brings day pupils in from as far afield as Basingstoke, Newbury and Highclere, with bus routes also now offered from Henley-on-Thames, Wargrave and Twyford. Majority of boarders live within an hour‘s drive. Around 11 per cent from overseas (including the Far East and Germany). Despite school’s naval associations, only around 20 youngsters from Forces families. Families mainly hard-working – ‘you get the odd child picked up in a Lamborghini but plenty of VWs like ours too,’ one student said. Former pupils include the late film director Ken Russell, Olympic gold and silver medallist sailor Andrew (Bart) Simpson (a sailing foundation was set up in his name after he drowned whilst training for the America's Cup), motorcycle racer Mike Hailwood, hedge fund founder David Harding, former Second Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Michael Layard and Dazed & Confused founder and journalist Jefferson Hack.

Money matters

Not a rich school, but a significant number receive some help with fees. Means-tested bursaries are available from 10 per cent upwards, with around 10 to 12 students receiving 100 per cent. Scholarships include academic, music and sport at each entry point – not very significant in value so means-tested for those who need help.

The last word

A small, distinctive, grounded and family-oriented school that puts huge emphasis on self-discipline, teamwork and leadership. Caring and supportive, Pangbourne buzzes with activity and encourages every pupil to have a go.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

A well staffed learning support centre ensures that students who need extra subject specific exam preparation or general academic support are well catered for. Prospective families are encouraged to enquire about learning support when scheduling a visit or tour of the College.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
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

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

Buy Now

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