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Parents really happy with what’s on offer, ‘my child loves going to school and because of this he has flourished academically.’ The Princethorpe mile walk is a popular start to the day. The nut walk has been reinstalled so there's plenty of  space for cross country with the ‘bluebells and bunnies.’ There are two rules at the school: be kind and do your best. The whole school runs on this ethos and it appears to be ...

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What the school says...

Princethorpe College is a Catholic, co-educational, HMC independent day school and welcomes members of all faiths. The College is renowned for the way in which it looks after its pupils and is characterised by its strong Christian ethos, which underpins everything we do.

The school has a unique history, beautiful surroundings and unequalled character. The atmosphere is warm, open and friendly, but the traditional values of courtesy, discipline, organisation and mutual respect are expected from all; pupils are not stuffy but know how to behave.

We pursue academic rigour, want our pupils to be enthusiastic about hard work and to play a full part in the broader aspects of school life, whether in sport, drama, music, charitable fund-raising, community service, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, or the many other activities which are on offer. We also want them to enjoy their education.

Our aim is simple: to treat every pupil as an individual, supporting them as they grow into mature, confident, resilient and well-rounded young people with a strong set of moral values to guide them through adult life.
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Sports

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

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2009, Ed Hester. Engineering degree from Oxford plus PGCE in maths. Long family history of teaching so was pretty inevitable he would follow the same route; three of the four siblings are heads or teachers. Very sporty with a cricket blue. ‘Sport was what attracted me to Oxford.’ Has taught across broad spectrum including boarding, tough northern comprehensive and a stint in Bahrain before landing at Rugby as head of maths, rising to assistant head before joining Princethorpe as head.

Last of his family to arrive at Princethorpe. All three children educated here and wife teaches history as well as being Oxbridge co-ordinator. ‘I arrived as a fee paying parent of three so knew the school well, from the other side so to speak. We had chosen the school for our eldest as we wanted a kind and caring school.’ Eldest got on so well that the other two followed. Parents love him ‘I hope he’s not going anywhere!’ ‘As a parent, as well as the head, he really gets us.’ All parents spoke of his work ethic, ‘He’s always in his office whatever time of day I turn up,’ and how highly visible he is. ‘Intelligent, articulate, a great public speaker and very approachable with an excellent team around him.’

‘He’s always trying to improve the school,’ said more than one parent. When he took over ‘it was lovely but with fresh eyes I could see the huge potential…,’ he says. He had plenty of time between being appointed and taking over so was able to plan accordingly and as he knew the school, and many of the staff, albeit as a husband and parent, he was able to get it organised quite quickly. School has vastly improved under his tenure. Numbers have risen (now at capacity), results improved, new buildings constructed with more planned and profile of the school raised considerably. Furthermore he has also led two mergers of prep schools that have joined the Foundation, of which he is also head. Interestingly fees have also risen so profitability of the school has improved. ‘We should not be selling ourselves short.’

He’s only Princethorpe's second lay head - he has a strong Catholic faith and is very interested in spirituality, but remains pragmatic. He looks at life from a Catholic perspective but keeps an open mind and this approach is reflected throughout the school. We can see why parents admire him and want to hang on to him; he’s very likeable and oozes competence and confidence.

Entrance

Pupils come from far and wide; 360 degrees around the school from up to 170 feeder schools; 50:50 state and independent. All sit entrance exam including children from the two prep schools in the Princethorpe Foundation (Crackley Hall and The Crescent School). Close look taken at the profile of each child before place offered. ‘Some children need to be here,’ says the head. Not an academic hothouse but children expected to be able to keep up with the curriculum. Interest taken in pupils who will contribute to the wider life in the school. Around 20 join in the sixth form, usually from local comprehensives or private; all are interviewed and need six GCSEs, grades 9-5 including three grade 6s. Sciences, maths and languages need specific grades

Exit

Rare to lose any before year 11 unless due to relocation. After GCSE about 15 per cent leaves mainly to local grammars or colleges. Virtually all go to university, occasional gap year, apprenticeships unusual. Warwick, York, Loughborough, Leads, Exeter and Nottingham all popular. Three Oxbridge in 2021, plus three medics.

Latest results

In 2021, 69 per cent level 9-7 at GCSE; 55 per cent A*/A at A level (79 per cent A*-B) In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 48 per cent level 9-7; 29 per cent A*/A (53 per cent A*-B)

Teaching and learning

Every parent we spoke to was hugely impressed by the diligence and commitment of staff. ‘They are very good at keeping a close eye on the pupils and really know them well.’ Those struggling are nurtured and encouraged, high fliers encouraged to fly. ‘They seem to be quite strict in the classroom which I think stems maybe from their history of being a boys’ school. But it works. They know what makes pupils tick and get the best out of them. The children have fun but learn too.’ Extra curricular clinics run for different subjects, well used by pupils. ‘The pandemic seemed to help as teachers were so approachable over teams, and it’s stuck,’ said one parent. Girls encouraged to study STEM subjects higher up the school, and they do. DT and textiles as well as STEM subjects greatly improved under head’s tenure. Very enthusiastic textiles teacher pulls all along with her and inspires interest throughout school life, as A level numbers show.

Setting begins on arrival with maths in year 7 and a reshuffle after half term. Seven or eight sets to cater for all needs; smaller numbers in lower sets. English and RS set in year 8, sciences in year 9. Language choice of French and Spanish with every pupil having to do at least one. Possible to do three languages including Latin; unusual though. Two thirds of cohort take triple science with remaining third doing combined science. RS compulsory to GCSE, note the library now housed in the original chapel. Lessons observed showed good rapport between pupils and staff; mutual respect seemed to be the order of the day. Pupils very happy to chat and discuss their work. Good to see lots of washing up going on in the food tech rooms; enjoyed the delicious smells too. Parents really happy with what’s on offer ‘my child loves going to school and because of this he has flourished academically.’ ‘Pandemic provision was phenomenal in the first lockdown, they were just on it,’ said every parent, ‘and it carried on during subsequent ones with teachers keeping in close touch with pupils.’ ‘The best was made of a bad job and I felt it was worth every penny.’

Sixth form have their own block. A levels and BTECs offered; sociology and psychology very popular. Lots of support and encouragement on offer for UCAS, extra help and uni choices appreciated by parents and pupils. Every parent whatever the age of their child spoke about the good contact they had with staff and how easy it was to get in touch with them. ‘Teachers sing from the same hymn sheet so the continuity is excellent and pupils and parents know where they stand.’

Learning support and SEN

There are 120 pupils are on the SEND register but only four have an EHC plan. Mainly dyslexics but about 40 with high neurodiversity and 15 with a visual or hearing impairment. As the head said, ‘some children just need to be here.’ ‘We’re not a template school and really do treat each child as an individual.’ This is reflected by the quite broad range of SEND needs. Quirky and unconventional happily and kindly absorbed, 'Children can be themselves here,’ was said by head and parents.

Lots of opportunities for extra help, usually within small groups. Opportunity to take one less GCSE to allow for more subject support. ‘They keep a close eye on the children without them realising and are quick to step in if they feel they are taking too much on work-wise,’ said one parent.

The arts and extracurricular

Art and textiles very popular subjects here with excellent teaching and facilities and very impressive work on display. Creative sorts certainly seem to thrive here and school has strong reputation for arts. There’s an art and DT exhibition held every summer. Music lessons popular with 142 pupils taking part. We enjoyed listening to a trumpet lesson happening on the balcony while we were being shown around the Pugin chapel; impressive acoustics. Music tech lessons take place in the Round House which is where the nuns were originally buried; rather atmospheric to think they are all watching over pupils. Lots of bands, orchestras and choirs with virtual performances taking place. ‘There’s an opportunity for everyone to be involved,’ said more than one parent. ‘They are not elitist, everyone gets a chance which is good.’ Plenty of clubs and groups which are well supported. D of E popular.

Sport

With a sporty head the ethos feeds through the school. Lots of space for pitches and plenty of teams for all. Note the football pitches and cricket ground in the pretty walled garden. The Princethorpe mile walk is a popular start to the day. The nut walk has been reinstalled so there's plenty of space for cross country with the ‘bluebells and bunnies.’ Sports festivals for fun to encourage children back to school, now pupils delighted to be playing matches again. Sporty children with outside commitments are encouraged.

Ethos and heritage

A relatively new school Princethorpe was established in 1966, but its history goes back much further. Housed in a red brick, gothic Victorian monastery it dominates the skyline in an otherwise bucolic scene and can be seen from the Fosse Way which runs close by. Built around a quad the ecclesiastical atmosphere seeps its way into the soul. Constructed in 1830 it was the first monastic building to be built since the reformation and was for many years home to a closed order of French Benedictine nuns. It then became a rather upmarket Catholic girls' boarding school attracting pupils from all over the world (they still visit). Housed in 250 acres of grounds the nuns were originally quite wealthy, helped by many donations from families, but the cash ran out and the monastery was then bought by priests from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who had a school in Leamington Spa. Thus in 1966, almost overnight, it became a boys' day and boarding school. (‘Probably a slightly unorthodox boarding school,’ says the head.) Boarding gradually petered out and in 2000 it merged with an all girls' Catholic school in Kenilworth, becoming fully co-ed. Since then it has grown physically, numerically and in reputation, more than holding its own with nearest rivals.

Catholic heritage remains very strong, lots of religious icons throughout and dining hall housed in the original monastery. Eucharist held every term. Mention must go to the stunning ‘new’ chapel which is also used by the local parish. Interestingly, although around a quarter of families are Catholic every parent we spoke to described themselves as not particularly religious, but all bought into the ethos of the school and praised it. ‘It’s an important part of the school and the spiritual life is important.’ ‘The spirit of family is what the school is about and it really is.’ All pupils attend eucharist and religious services. ‘All are expected to attended and no one ever opts out,’ says the head. ‘Sikhs, hindus, muslims and atheists all like and embrace the Catholic values.'

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

There are two rules at the school: be kind and do your best. The whole school runs on this ethos and it appears to be all that is needed as pupils and staff adhere to it. The school is renowned for its pastoral care and kindness. Every parent we spoke to mentioned it and for virtually all of them it was the reason they chose the school. ‘It really is like a family and we are included too.’ These two old fashioned values shape the school. It’s open minded and all are very welcome but the Catholic teaching permeates throughout. Every child is treated as an individual ‘and they really are,’ said parents. The quirky, odd, retiring and nervous all find their niche here. The overall feeling that this is a kind school, we would concur.

Discipline appears to be fair and consistent with parents feeling school is mainly ‘ahead of the game’ when it comes to noticing miscreants. Lots of support for online misdemeanours with parents educated too. ‘No school is perfect but I think they handle things well,’ said one parent. ‘There’s an open system of discipline and the children know the outcome of badness.’ Discipline accepted and respected according to parents. School aware of challenges of social media and the toxic environment this can create. Lots of pastoral lessons about internet safety and ‘rape culture’ particularly in the sixth form as well as peer pressure, driving safely etc. ‘It’s not brushed under the carpet,’ said a parent. ‘They’ve grappled with it but it’s no different to any other school.’ Another parent said how ‘good they are with girls, they get them.’

Pupils and parents

Initially a school made up of mainly local farming families and professionals. The farming element still quite strong with second generation now coming through. London contingent now joining the school as good rail network allows quick travel as well as children whose parents work at the local large car manufacturers and engineering plants. All mix well and accept that because of the wide catchment some have to travel quite a distance for socialising. Pupils from all backgrounds and religions. Slightly more boys than girls because of larger numbers of local girls’ schools, but barely noticeable.

Money matters

Scholarships and available for up to 50 per cent of fees in variety of subjects; vast majority vary between 5 and 20 per cent. Means tested bursaries up to 100 per cent of fees.

The last word

We have the impression that Princethorpe College just gets on with things, modestly feeling no need to blow its own trumpet. But during the long term tenure of this head it has gained in confidence, reputation and status and parents have sat up and taken notice. They know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to educating their children and have found the school that agrees with them; a good outcome for all.

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.

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Special Education Needs

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