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Confident balance between carrot and stick, independence and structure, work and play: ‘in amongst the madhouse, they get the results’. Boys given unusual responsibility in terms of managing themselves, but safety net provides a soft landing if need be. ‘Set the bar high and they really go for it’, says Mr Bunbury. Indeed, lessons are go go go, teachers and pupils firing on all cylinders as they try out new ideas and learn from each other. Thursday afternoons a cornucopia of activities. Herpetology leads the way (‘a knowledge of creeping animals’, one boy helpfully translates from the Greek). Loads of sport, masses of fixtures (amongst the most at any prep, school claims): ‘the best way to learn the importance of respect, teamwork and being gracious in both winning and losing’.

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What the school says...

We provide an outstanding academic education in an atmosphere where 'boys can still be boys' and individuality is celebrated. We offer the broadest possible range of extra curricular activities including polo, snake club and rocket making, and continue to maintain our highly successful academic record, gaining no less than 38 awards in the last 3 years, including 2 King's Scholarships to Eton together with art, sport and music scholarships.

The school prides itself on having a modern, family-friendly approach to boarding. Year 2 boys have a slightly shorter day, and no Saturday morning school.
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Sports

Polo

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2004, Mr Tom Bunbury (50s). BA (Hons) in law from Durham, criminal solicitor for four years, PGCE (Cambridge) and a year at Woodcote House. Joined Papplewick in 1993.

Absolutely adored by the school community. ‘Funny’, ‘sincere’, ‘caring’, say parents; ‘totally charming, not in a dreadful smooth way’. Really, really understands boys (‘little itchy scratchy creatures’). Has given his life to the school (‘totally dedicated, but not a loser,’ one parent suggests), and still finds huge joy in it: ‘The whole thing should be fun.’ Unafraid of boys-will-be-boys approach: ‘They need exercise and food, like puppies.’ Invests a lot in recruiting tremendous teachers ‘who see the world through children’s eyes’.

Confident balance between carrot and stick, independence and structure, work and play: ‘in amongst the madhouse, they get the results’. Boys given unusual responsibility in terms of managing themselves, but safety net provides a soft landing if need be. Boys tumble from activity to lesson to fixture, but staff know exactly what they’re doing: ‘We set the guidelines and then let them out of the trap.’ Their glorious freedom is thus carefully orchestrated, creating a uniquely spontaneous-feeling environment from which boys emerge having learnt an awful lot.

Married to Sallie, teaching assistant and ‘mother figure’, say parents; ‘absolutely lovely’. ‘During lockdown she sent a birthday card and a Milky Bar– he felt he hadn’t been forgotten.’ Four children, boy-girl-girl-boy, arrived in consecutive years after Mr Bunbury became head. ‘The governors said we needed to fill the house they’d given us,' he laughs. Now they babysit staff children; oldest is a gappy.

Entrance

No academic selection. Mr Bunbury spends a couple of hours with each boy, looking for kindness and character: ‘I choose the nicest boys I can and surround them with other nice boys; we couldn’t run the school with so much freedom if they weren’t so nice.’ Ten in year 2 grows to 40 by year 8. Majority join at 6+, 7+ or 8+ from local or west London preps and state primaries.

Exit

Almost everyone to boarding. Greatest number go to Eton (10 awards in last three years including two King’s Scholarships) followed by Harrow (10 awards), Winchester (two awards) and increasingly co-eds like Bradfield, Charterhouse, Wellington. ‘Lots of you seem to be scholars – is it difficult for those that aren’t?’ we asked the boys: ‘Not really – so many people are scholars that it’s not a big deal.’

Our view

‘Set the bar high and they really go for it,’ says Mr Bunbury. Indeed, lessons are go go go, teachers and pupils firing on all cylinders as they try out new ideas and learn from each other. Exceptionally sparky – constant back and forth, whether in scholarship Greek or year 5 maths. ‘What’s your favourite subject, apart from maths?’ we asked the latter group. ‘History!’ cried one, launching into an explanation of tanks at Cambrai in 1917. By the time we left, a book about tanks had been retrieved and the maths lesson had taken an unforeseen turn (sorry, sir). Average class size of 13. Streamed from year 3. Parents describe ‘healthy competition’ between the boys.

Whiteboards in classrooms covered in notes or reminders. One ‘Quote of the Day’, scribed in unmistakably small-boy handwriting, was from West Indian cricket commentator Ian Bishop: we imagine a lot of father-son test match viewing goes on. Year 7s and 8s soon to get laptops, ‘to prepare them for senior school’, but not as a substitute for writing. Library chockablock, every wall covered with posters of eg Terry Pratchett and Roald Dahl (apt, given that we felt like we’d walked into a Quentin Blake illustration). Books stuffed sideways into overflowing shelves. Boys hanging out at break time working through huge box of Lego.

Six per cent have EAL support. Twenty per cent on SEN register including dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia. Teachers differentiate within lessons; small groups allow for it. Targeted support in Learning Support department too.

Almost three-quarters learn a musical instrument and over 10 per cent identified as potential scholars. Supervised practice slots from dawn till dusk; minimum of two weekly. Around five scholarships each year, mainly to Eton, Harrow and Bradfield; growing success in music tech, too. Bassoon club to flute ensemble via ‘junior toots’. Chapel choir sublime, though ‘the chaps at the back give it some welly in chapel’ too. In art room, pupil work piled perilously high on every surface, clay dragons on top of painted tiles on top of beautiful, mature acrylics on canvas. Lots of art scholarships.

Thursday afternoons a cornucopia of activities. Herpetology leads the way (‘a knowledge of creeping animals,’ one boy helpfully translates from the Greek). We met a corn snake coiled on a desk chomping lazily through a baby chicken; a thick black millipede creepily crawling over orange peel; bearded dragons (‘beardies’ to the boys) feeling perky after a mid-morning cricket snack. For anyone that gets the heebie-jeebies, the bibliomaniacs visit London fairs to sell antiquarian books (punters must swoon), military buffs to Airfix, Potterheads to Harry Potter club and budding adventurers to pioneers, Papplewick’s version of Scouts. Props in last year’s leavers’ photo included chess sets, wickets, science goggles, snakes as thick as your arm and a clarinet.

Loads of sport, masses of fixtures (amongst the most at any prep, school claims): ‘The best way to learn the importance of respect, teamwork and being gracious in both winning and losing.’ Football, rugby, cricket. Written on old-fashioned whiteboard daily – seven teams out playing on the afternoon we visited, including first XI vs Eton. Staff had given boys a run for their money the previous evening, drawing three-all only after a late equaliser. Year 3s summed it up saying grace at lunchtime: ‘Thank you, god, for friends and family and, um, good luck in the matches today. Amen.’

Pastoral care and discipline thoughtful but not cotton-woolly. ‘They are carried, but they don’t know they’re being carried,’ says Mr Bunbury lovingly. Year 6s assigned to a tutor in small groups and stay with them until year 8: again, quite senior-school-y (‘This term seems mainly about listening to David Bowie,’ one parent told us approvingly). PSHE delivered throughout; lots of focus on consent post-Everyone’s Invited. ‘There’s more work to be done,’ says Mr Bunbury, who’s keen to establish further working partnerships with girls’ schools rather than just the odd awkward social: ‘It’s crazy that we don’t do more.’ ‘Papplewick words of wisdom’ peppered around the school: ‘Be like a pineapple!’ proclaims one poster: ‘Stand tall, wear a crown and be sweet on the inside.’

‘We don’t mind untucked shirts; it’s just not necessary here,’ say staff. Head agrees: ‘If they smuggle in a pot noodle, good luck to them – the water’s not hot enough.’ Give out ‘masses’ of house points. Boys feel sheepish about a minus: ‘It’s not something they look forward to telling us that evening,’ says one parent whose ‘spirited’ son quickly got the hang of what was expected of him. Rolling Bloomberg-esque screen in foyer shares the latest house point news, both positives and minuses. ‘Getting technology wrong’ taken seriously, as is any breach of the golden rules: ‘no theft, no vandalism, no unkindness’. Headmaster’s detention on a Sunday the ultimate horror for these boys: they really admire him.

Unassuming driveway opens up to reveal fairly ordinary red-brick architecture, the odd dollop of pebbledash; don’t be fooled, though, there is nothing ordinary about this school. Facilities ‘the right side of too scruffy’, say parents, who universally tell us that this is part of the charm (we agree, for the record), like everyone’s too busy having a whale of a time to mind. And they are: we have never laughed so much on a school visit. ‘Expectations of the boys are really high,’ say parents, ‘but it’s all done with a joke and a sense of fun.’ ‘They’re all characters,’ say staff, ‘and we have great back and forth in the lessons.’ Affectionate nicknames, in-jokes: lots of the warm humour that ensures boys feel part of the gang. An exceptionally cohesive gang, too: staff living on site don’t come up for air during term time, with partners and kids mucking in too. ‘As long as you bring something to the party, it doesn’t matter what it is,’ says Mr Bunbury of the whole community.

Traditional, but not stiff. The best bits of ‘old-fashioned’ without the canings or the cold custard (food’s delicious, in fact: yummiest pudding apple crumble, according to connoisseurs), like Enid Blyton without the casual racism. A myriad of special ties for extracurriculars, responsibilities, sports tours. Saturday school ‘alive and well’ for year 3 upwards. Staff use surnames for the boys. Ripsticks (those skateboards that wiggle) lie all over the place, used and then dropped between lessons. Very few screens around. Year 6 common room a multisensory 90s timewarp: dark, Trekkie-style space scenes covering the walls, red velvet seating and a dishevelled rabble playing a furious game of table football. Bookshelf stuffed with boy-friendly paperbacks from ‘Stig of the Dump’ to Bear Grylls’ ‘Mission Survival’. Bliss, if you’re 11.

Relaxed and open to parents. One mortified after recent slip-up: ‘I’d completely forgotten to collect him! He was very happily reading in the library, and lovely staff said, "don’t worry, you can never be late at Papplewick’’.' Londoners (a quarter of pupils) have opted out of that more frenetic landscape. Buses (‘jolly drivers,’ say parents) ferry them from Chiswick, Brook Green, Gloucester Road. Lots of involvement for those that want it – boys vs mums in football and cricket, dads-and-sons camp outs – but not as glossy a social scene as elsewhere. No return school bus on a Saturday, encouraging parents to come to Saturday chapel and then ‘chaotic family lunch with grannies and siblings and boys rushing off to play matches’. ‘Your whole Saturday quickly becomes Papplewick,’ parents tell us; most, though not all, delighted by it. Lower key than some preps and parents feel they’re an unflashy bunch – ‘no snobs’ – though fees hardly bargain basement so we wouldn’t take this for granted.

Boarders

Compulsory boarding from summer of year 6. Many flexi-board earlier. Evening activities compulsory throughout winter and spring but optional in the summer, when boys would rather run around building dens or playing cricket into the evening. No smartphones allowed – only ‘old bricks’.

Dorms bright and boyish with manga-style cartoons, retro Batman posters, Arsenal duvet covers, paintings of sharks on surfboards wearing suits. ‘Fun fact,’ our guide announced: ‘my duvet cover’s dad’s old one from boarding school.’ Smart new block houses the oldest boys. Hot chocolate for all before bed. Winning ‘tidiest dorm’ gets you ‘cool rewards’, our guides tell us, ‘like spending £12 as a dorm at Londis’. Excited to have a toaster in year 8 – gets them used to endless toast at public school. ‘We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t prepare them for Eton,’ says Mr Bunbury.

Money matters

Scholarships up to 15 per cent ‘for a really great all-rounder’; means-tested bursaries add a further 35 per cent. Work with Springboard; Forces bursaries too.

The last word

A mock-up Penguin book sleeve in the foyer sums it up: ‘Papplewick School: snakes, ripsticks and other great adventures for boys’. Many of those adventures happen within the classroom, where boys given the freedom to think, challenge and explore with funny, passionate teachers. It’s horses for courses, though, and don’t expect glamour: a school with its knees out all winter and a big, crooked smile.

Rarely do we spend our drive home mulling over a relocation to Berkshire (lovely though it is). Indeed, it’s our policy not to fall in love: professional distance, don’t gush. Papplewick tested our mettle and seems to have the same effect elsewhere: ‘I can’t get him out of the place!’ said one mum, whose son had announced midway through a trip to the circus, ‘This is fun, but I wish I was at school.’ The truth? At a school like this one, we don’t blame him.

Special Education Needs

Papplewick provides support to those with mild SEN through our extra tuition team providing one-on-one support to the boys. This is paid for as an 'extra'.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
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
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

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