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Our visit began with assembly and a rousing blast of Land of Hope and Glory from the small but perfectly pitched orchestra, segueing into Dancing Queen – a fine start to anyone’s day. Mr Heyworth’s inspiring talk on heroic failure was illustrated not only with famous examples (Eddie the Eagle) but also anecdotes from staff and pupils. The most frequently cited experiences were riding and skiing challenges – doubtless a reflection of the school’s demographic, but one brave soul claimed to have ‘weeded the garden in the rain’...

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What the school says...

Founded in 1907 and situated in Abingdon, the Manor Preparatory School is an independent co-educational preparatory day school that welcomes boys and girls aged 2-11.
The school has a wonderfully happy, creative atmosphere where every individual is valued and nurtured to reach their potential. The Manor’s most recent ISI Inspection took place in April 2017, with every area of school life receiving the highest possible rating of ‘Excellent’. Inspectors commented that “Pupils approach every day with an overwhelming passion to learn and develop.”
This is in part due to the exceptionally caring and invigorating tone of the school, where laughter is an essential part of the school day, and also by children’s personal development being further strengthened by staff who act as excellent role models. Every child is encouraged to push themselves to new challenges and fulfil their own potential, resulting in outstanding results academically, on the sports field, and in creative and performing arts.
The school has an excellent record in ensuring leavers move on to the next school that is perfectly suited to each individual. Scholarships, awards and exhibitions feature highly in all areas.
Completion of a new Sports Hall in September 2018 underpins the exciting development programme that is underway, and extends even further the breadth of opportunities that are on offer to the children.
The school aims to simplify the logistics of family life as well, and so have created an extensive daily bus service covering Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire, and fully flexible wraparound care.
For further information please visit our website or contact Mrs Karen Copson, Director of Admissions and Communications on 01235 858462 or [email protected]
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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since January 2018, Alastair Thomas, previously head of The Elms School near Malvern. A degree in French from King's College, London was followed by a brief stint at John Lewis before he joined Kingshott Prep School, where he became head of French. Moved to The Downs School nearby as head of French and Latin before becoming deputy head at Lambrook in Ascot. A very social animal, approachable and full of energy, very keen on sports and music. Married to Hannah; they have two daughters and a labrador collie cross, Barney.


‘Virtually non-selective’. Informal visit with parents for youngest, trial day for pupils entering years 1 to 6.


No formal links to any senior schools but pretty seamless progression of girls trailing scholarships and awards – majority (around 40 per cent) to St Helen and St Katharine; Headington and Rye St Antony also popular, some also to Oxford High.

Boys have left at 7, most to Abingdon Prep where they have a ‘reserved’ but definitely not ‘guaranteed’ place, also The Dragon and Magdalen College. Becoming co-ed throughout gradually, starting with year 3.

Our view

Approach via the educational super-highway that is the Faringdon Road in Abingdon and just when you think there can’t be another school, take a sharp turn into The Manor. We arrived at drop off time and bravely nosed the modest GSG-mobile between the juggernauts of the Oxfordshire school run. One of the sensible benefits of the Abingdon4Education partnership (or ‘soft federation’, as the school calls it) is a joint bus service that ferries children in from all points of the compass (Henley the latest to be added) and serves Abingdon, St Helen and St Katharine, The Manor and thence (by minibus) Abingdon Prep. Apparently, even The Manor’s tiniest will soon have their own dedicated bus with age-appropriate booster seats and school staff to accompany them on their travels – this should ease car park congestion.

Our visit began with assembly and a rousing blast of Land of Hope and Glory from the small but perfectly pitched orchestra, segueing into Dancing Queen – a fine start to anyone’s day. An inspiring talk on heroic failure was illustrated not only with famous examples (Eddie the Eagle) but also anecdotes from staff and pupils. The most frequently cited experiences were riding and skiing challenges – doubtless a reflection of the school’s demographic, but one brave soul claimed to have ‘weeded the garden in the rain’.

The friendly, relaxed but orderly atmosphere of assembly set the tone for the work and play we observed. Manor Cottage is the first stop on the ‘chronological horseshoe’ plan of The Manor estate, the charming home of the pre-nursery Manorites, brightened outside with little pots and wellington boots full of pansies. Up to 16 boys and girls come here for anything between one morning and five full days from the age of 2. Play, gardening, stories, cookery – children make their own snacks once a week – this is very much a home from home.

The nursery block has an enclosed garden with space to ride bikes; ‘we do as much learning outside as we can’. Eager beavers in smart bottle green sweatshirts were having break when we visited, excited about making jam tarts after break – part of the term’s jubilee theme. For nursery children who do a full day a mezzanine area allows a soft space, if not for sleep, then quiet rest according to parents’ requirements. We thoroughly approved of the ‘Ask me about…’ whiteboard at the entrance to the building – staff write up some of the day’s key events so that parents can ask their forgetful darlings leading questions and maybe even receive answers.

More formal teaching begins in reception and, as in other schools, hard stuff goes on in the morning. In every classroom we visited busy hands were doing: in one class pupils were sitting on the floor with little whiteboards practising writing numbers; in another fractions were being explored by folding sheets of paper. Lessons start with a mental maths warm up, move on to practical work and finish with ‘recording’. In each room thinking skills boards pose problem-solving challenges. ‘What we don’t do is spoon feed.’ Indeed, independent learning and ‘risk taking’ are built into the teaching programme right from the start. Pupils are set from year 2 in maths; an extra set means that each gets exactly the support or extension work they need. All the requisite technology is in place and IT lessons are once a week; screens are mostly in dedicated areas, actively used for research but not dominating classrooms. The hands-on approach to learning persists in the science lab: we saw enthusiastic year 6 girls pile in from the grounds brandishing newly captured mini beasts in magnifying jars, ready to be drawn, described and then released…until next time. The library has had a recent refurb with some wonderful hidey holes created in which to curl up and read.

The learning support department is at the centre of things, in the manor house from which the school gets its name. ‘We can cope with anything, from a pupil needing a bit of extra help with maths and reading, to severe dyslexia.’ Parents we spoke to endorse this, describing the learning support team as ‘fantastic’, ‘working wonders.’ Three dedicated teachers assess all children and offer support individually, in small groups or in class; this is free up to the end of year 1. According to one parent whose child needed significant support, ‘costs can escalate but the school advised us what to expect so at least we didn’t get any nasty surprises.’ A private speech therapist is also available and the school has accommodated children with hearing and sight problems. Support is tailored to the individual: ‘we are flexible according to need’. EAL also on offer and pupils often go from speaking no English to fluency in an astonishingly short time. Impressive gifted and talented programme also in place.

And now to sport. Lucky Manor sports staff (all specialists) are based in a splendid stone barn. There’s plenty of green space for running around; additional specialist netball and tennis take place at the nearby White Horse Leisure Centre and swimmers get to use the splendid pool at Abingdon School. When asked about Manor sport, there was a temporary modesty lapse, ‘We win everything!’ Can this be true? We checked: from cross-country to equestrian, tennis to biathlon, Manor girls leave others standing and compete at county and national levels. Part of the secret of the school’s success could be the fact that one member of staff is employed solely to coordinate matches and ensure that all clubs, sporting or otherwise, run and run smoothly. If The Manor says it offers a club, it really does; ‘we’re not half-hearted’ (as if).

Mainstream offerings are free, specialist options such as Spanish or Mandarin are charged and pupils can pursue interests from golf to face painting, chess and touch-typing. Instrumental lessons (including harp) are supported by before and after-school music clubs including guitar, chamber group, singing and wind band. The dreaded music practice is encouraged by an awards scheme; teachers set weekly goals and give practice tips. Our charming guides were looking forward to the year 6 Stratford visit (a post-entrance exam treat) which includes a trip on the river, a play and the chance to romp through the Bard’s home town in Elizabethan costume and duelling scars (courtesy of a former head of wigs and make-up at the theatre). Other excursions include camping on the Ridgeway, outdoor pursuit adventures on the Isle of Wight and a week in Normandy.

Some of the parents to whom we spoke described how The Manor had ‘rescued’ their children from unhappy schooling elsewhere and ‘returned the smiles to their faces.’ Others praised home/school communication, saying that queries were always answered promptly and parents felt that dialogue with teaching staff was genuinely encouraged. A few had concerns about how the pace accelerates in year 5 in advance of entrance exams but said that their daughters, having been ‘thoroughly manored’, took this in their stride.

So, what manner of magic goes on here? Does the studious atmosphere of those high-octane senior schools waft along the road? Perhaps, but that doesn’t quite account for the enviable results achieved by this happy, unpressurised, non-selective school. The head defines it thus, ‘We want to cultivate bright-eyed enthusiasm, to say “let’s go for it and play with heart”; learning should be linked to the fun of life.’

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