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Despite the rather ramshackle – and in some parts shabby – school fabric, all mod cons are incongruously present and correct. But it’s the innately confident buzz at Papplewick that blows any comparison with more pristine schools out of the water. Boys whizzing past on scooters? Check. Teachers strolling around in fancy dress for a themed language day (the first time we’ve ever been introduced to a teacher as...

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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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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2004 Tom Bunbury BA PGCE (50s). Educated at Woodcote House Prep and Millfield before heading to read law at Durham and ultimately returning to Woodcote to try his hand at teaching. Landed at Papplewick in 1993 after completing PGCE at Homerton College Cambridge, and has remained ever since. Route to headship included spells as head of maths, housemaster and deputy head.

Quite the most genuinely charming head teacher we have ever met. Jolly (we were reliably informed by a pupil that ‘head’s detentions are actually fun’) yet utterly sincere; a wry smile never far from his face. At heart an educator in the most holistic sense: he speaks of the ‘luxury of inculcating the values required to be a really good human being’ upon his young proteges and turning them into ‘leaders… but compassionate ones’. ‘Kindness’ is also a buzz word around here. We don’t doubt that under his influence they emerge with such attributes in spades. Firm believer that ‘prep school should be fun – but with some really high standards.’ Parents say that he ‘knows every boy’ and is ‘headmaster first, businessman second’. During his tenure has made enormous investment in the staff team (evidenced by eye-watering fees) – says ‘there’s genuinely not a weak link.’


School ‘passionately non-selective – but character counts,’ says head, as do reports from former schools, and no offer will be forthcoming ‘if there are any worries on a behavioural front’. School structure is an ‘inverse pyramid’. Up to 16 boys join year 2 from a mixture of local pre-preps (Upton House, Coworth, Lambrook) and state primaries. Class splits into two smaller forms in year 3 when more come from the surrounding areas and there’s another significant intake into year 4 when the London boys start to appear, transported by the Papplewick Express that whisks them away from the academic pressure-cookers of west London (stops are in Brook Green and Chiswick) in a mere 40 minutes. A good handful join in years 7 and 8 and ‘integrate seamlessly,’ according to parents.


Feeds all the biggies – Eton takes the largest number then Harrow, Wellington, Radley, Bradfield, Uppingham and Charterhouse, as well as all the other great and good in smaller numbers. Between 10 and 15 scholarships most years (seven in 2020 and five exhibitions), across the board from academic to sport and art.

Our view

We’re trying not to think of Papplewick as the Prince Harry of the school world but if it were human you’d definitely be attracted to its quirkiness, sense of humour, wit and kindness (may we add slightly dishevelled appearance?) rather than any trace of flawless beauty. A surprisingly urban campus directly opposite Ascot racecourse, with ‘the square’ – a concrete playground littered with lethal-looking ripsticks and scooters (anyone for ‘ripstick wars’ at break?) at its heart, surrounded by a jumble of buildings of various architectural styles. None of the superficial beauty boasted by some of the local competition, but things are getting smarter with the addition of a new, purpose-built year 8 boarding house atop two year 5 classrooms and the airy newish entrance hall: part entertainment space, part art gallery to showcase boys’ masterpieces. And anyway, Papplewick parents say they value ‘culture and staff above new facilities’.

Despite the rather ramshackle – and in some parts shabby – school fabric, all mod cons are incongruously present and correct. But it’s the innately confident buzz at Papplewick that blows any comparison with more pristine schools out of the water. Boys whizzing past on scooters? Check. Teachers strolling around in fancy dress for a themed language day (the first time we’ve ever been introduced to a teacher as ‘the school dragon’)? Yup. Seven-year-olds casually sporting living, breathing royal pythons around their necks? Well, yes – and more of that later.

Plenty of first-time buyers take away any sense of old school stuffiness, with a healthy mix of entrepreneurs, professionals and dual-income families thrown in with the more trad boarding prep sort. Boys unassumingly charming and totally down to earth. It’s been a while since we’ve been asked over lunch whether we have any brothers and sisters or pets, but ask they did with a disarming innocence and then told us all about theirs. No script or message, just good old-fashioned small talk, and parents love the way their children’s eccentricities and individual character traits are embraced.

‘We genuinely don’t want to be known for anything in particular,’ says head. Papplewick has the nonchalant air of an all-rounder about it (‘we are absolutely a boys’ school to our core – but not macho,’ says head). ‘Deliberately’ trad curriculum (‘it’s evolution not revolution here’) including French (taught by a native speaker), Latin plus Greek for scholarship candidates. It’s a six-day-a-week timetable with Saturday school, followed by assembly, chapel and sports fixtures. Never fear that you’ll barely see your boy at weekends, though – parents, siblings and even grandmas and grandads are invited to join for proceedings from chapel onwards, including lunch which ‘makes for a big family feel,’ says head.

With such an elite list of destination schools, surely there must be some sneaky outside tutoring afoot? Not much, apparently, and it’s ‘actively discouraged’, according to school. Parents say ‘they just don’t feel that pressure.’ Preparation for the pre-test is covered in English and maths and ‘thinking skills’, including verbal and non-verbal reasoning, is on curriculum in year 5. ‘What we do in school is sufficient,’ says head. ‘There are many layers of preparation for Common Entrance and above all you need to be interesting to get into Eton or Winchester. You can’t tutor that.’ Well said. Parents concur that ‘there’s real intellectual rigour’ in the upper years.

Not an obvious choice of school for a child with anything above mild to very moderate SEN. All pupils screened for dyslexia with a small number benefiting from two additional support lessons per week (charged as extra). ‘We don’t write anyone off,’ director of studies told us – ‘there’s no sense of not being able to do it and our potential scholars pull up the 50 per cent CE candidates.’

‘Very good’ drama, according to pupils and parents, with recent productions including A Christmas Carol and Macbeth and all parts covered by boys. Director of music (Classic FM’s 2017 Music Teacher of the Year, no less) is breathing new life into the department. All year 4s now learn whole-class recorder and year 5s a brass instrument. African drumming is another new addition to the music curriculum, inspired by music director’s recent past teaching in an inner London school. Music technology on curriculum for all in years 7 and 8. On top of all the funky stuff that’s going on there are three choirs – non-selective for the younger pupils, and the first of which sings in chapel every morning. Wind and brass bands plus a string ensemble give the 70 per cent of pupils taking peripatetic music lessons the chance to brush up their performance skills.

Over 600 fixtures a year on the sporting calendar with ‘opportunities for all’ and A to D or sometimes E teams fielded most weeks. ‘Being in the A team is really played down,’ said one parent, ‘to encourage kindness.’ A legacy of a former ex-pro director of sport, it’s football rather than rugby in the long Michaelmas term (‘it plays to our international strengths,’ says director of sport – ‘our Spanish boys, for example, have never picked up a cricket bat before they come here’), followed by rugby then cricket, but there’s also croquet (including fixtures), golf and basketball. Boys say ‘it’s quite important for us to win’, but school feels that its 60 per cent win/draw hit rate is just the ticket to teach boys how to lose with humility too.

And so to extracurricular. In true Papplewick style this is stuff boys’ dreams are made on. There are, of course, other schools that can match the karate, fencing, chess, Airfix and Lego activities on offer here. Perhaps a few can also offer shooting and polo (played off site). But we are yet to find another that can boast herpetology – known to Papplewickians as ‘snake club’. Less of a club and more of a school obsession, herpetology takes place in a science lab with wall-to-wall cages homing reptiles of all shapes and sizes, plus the crickets and newborn chicks needed to feed them. When we visited, the club was in the ongoing process of breeding ‘the most orange’ snakes (and bearded dragons, of which they hatch around 40 per year) possible. Breaks and lunchtimes see boys in their droves head off to handle and care for their reptiles – ‘these are the eco warriors of the future,’ we were told. True enthusiasts are presented with the covetable ‘herpetology colours’ – a tie featuring a serpent coiling one of its stripes. Well if that doesn’t make a boy interesting enough to nail the Eton interview, we’re not sure what will.


Boarding compulsory – absolutely no exceptions – from the summer term of year 6, with a few full, part-time or occasional boarders beforehand in years 5 and 6. Official visiting is Wednesday afternoon but it’s a ‘modern, family-friendly model of boarding’ these days according to head and ‘parents can drop in whenever – we make sure they know they’re not being a pain’. A compulsory, non-stop merry-go-round of activities in the first two weeks of boarding life wards off homesickness and boarding parents report that thereafter, although allowed mobile phones in the evenings, their offspring are ‘too busy to call home’. There are ‘lots of fun and games’ right up until bedtime, when tutors scoop up their charges for hot chocolate and a chat about the day. On top of that, ‘babies and puppies help,’ says head, and with two-thirds of staff living on site, there are plenty of each. Photos of matches and other activities emailed to parents unable to make it in person. Colourful, cheery dorms, walls adorned with murals of snowboarders and surfers, are reached via a narrow staircase in the main school building. Unusually for boys, it seems to be cool here to have plenty of personal effects around your bed, although that might just be because storage is minimal – just a few hooks behind the bed, with ‘home clothes’ kept in a separate location and handed out by matron as needed. Importantly, boys know exactly who to call if they need an ‘outside listener’ – posters are prominently positioned in each dorm. Full boarders are treated to outings on Sundays, or are just able to ‘chill out’.

The last word

‘Infused with kindness and understanding,’ said one happy parent. Another: ‘Teaching is just a small part of what Papplewick is all about.’

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
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

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