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Parents uniformly impressed with teaching staff: ‘there are way more people here that go the extra mile for every child than in other schools’ and ‘they are so upbeat – religiously so’. Will they have to adapt their teaching styles to accommodate older boys, we wondered? Apparently just ‘tweaking’ is required; all staff have taught boys before and tend to use the interactive, hands on techniques often preferred by boys already, although...

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What the school says...

‘To challenge, cherish and inspire’

Recently receiving the highest grade of ‘excellent’ in all areas by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, The Manor Preparatory School, situated in Abingdon, Oxfordshire offers children an unrivalled start to their education.
Welcoming children aged 2-11, The Manor creates an atmosphere of happiness and warmth where every individual is actively encouraged to give their absolute best so they can reach their potential and beyond. Children are delightfully self-confident and there are many opportunities for them to shine during their time at the school.
The children’s personal development is further strengthened by staff who act as outstanding role models. By offering small classes, children receive the care and attention they need to flourish. Parents constantly praise the dedicated teaching staff, noticed also in a visit from the Good Schools Guide.’ There are far more people at The Manor that go the extra mile for every child than in other schools’ (read the whole review at www.manorprep.org).
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. Aside from a wealth of enviable achievements academically, on the sports field and in creative and performing arts, the outstanding pastoral care is renowned for preparing children for life and not just for secondary school.
Beyond a stimulating start to school life, The Manor recognises that many parents are juggling busy lives and so offers fully flexible wraparound care which parents are able to change on a daily basis. Making the school easily accessible, children in Reception and beyond can take advantage of the Minibuses that run daily and have a dedicated supervisor on board. The in-bus supervisors really get to know the children and ensure a smooth and stress free start and end to the day.
The school is very proud of the exceptionally happy, creative and colourful journey offered to the children. Come and see for yourself and learn how each child is challenged, cherished and inspired. To arrange a tour, please email Mrs Karen Copson at [email protected] or call 01235 858462.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since January 2018, 2018, Alastair Thomas (40s). Educated at Kingshott Prep, Felsted (music scholar, playing flute and sax) and King’s College, London (BA in French). Brief flirtation with graduate career in retail before realising that corporate life wasn’t for him, at which point he contacted alma mater Kingshott and returned post haste as year 4 teacher, eventually becoming head of French. From there to The Downs Malvern, where he was head of French and Latin before joining Lambrook as deputy head, academic. First headship at The Elms School, Malvern before joining The Manor. Says there was ‘no need for revolution’ when he arrived, and indeed seems to have slipped seamlessly into the shoes of his popular predecessor (retired – still coaches school debating team). Focused on ‘the exciting move’ towards a fully co-ed cohort. Professional development of staff another priority (‘I encourage them to take risks and always ask how we could do things better’). Staff say they feel ‘challenged, appreciated and noticed’.

Energetic and extrovert with ‘a great sense of humour’, according to staff, and a palpable positive energy. Loves all sports, music (plays double bass in school orchestra) and dogs. Married to Hannah, also a teacher at the school; they live in nearby Wantage with their two daughters and labrador collie cross.

Entrance

Non-selective, although school meets all children before offers made. Nursery accepts tinies from 2+ and reception class has capacity for three classes of 20, although numbers are generally smaller, with places offered in registration date order. Boys, formerly leaving at the end of year 2, now able to stay until the end of year 6.

Exit

No formal links to senior schools. Majority of girls (20+) to St Helen and St Katharine, with Headington taking a good number (up to 10), plus twos and threes to eg Oxford High, Didcot Girls, Downe House and Queen Anne’s as well as other day and boarding schools far and wide in smaller numbers. Boys expected to head off to the Oxford day schools (Abingdon, Magdalen et al) at 11+. Excellent track record of scholarships across all disciplines; 14 in 2018 plus three places on Headington’s athletic development programme.

Our view

Approach via the education super-highway that is Abingdon’s Faringdon Road and just when you think there can’t be another school, take a sharp turn into The Manor. Georgian manor house with sympathetic modern additions providing spacious, airy teaching spaces for all year groups. Stand out features are the spectacular new sports hall (2018); delightful kitchen where small groups of pupils from years 2 to 6 learn not only to bake cookies but also about seasonal produce, affordability and culture of food (‘they can’t make any mistakes in here’, smiled teacher); and the recently refurbed library with its cosy corners and vibrant murals. There are computers at every turn and outdoor space is well utilised with separate playgrounds for different age groups, each kitted out with age-appropriate play equipment. Adequate playing fields, plus nature pond for outdoor science lessons and forest school (on curriculum for pupils aged 3–7).

Not a prep school of the prim and proper variety. Perhaps it’s the presence of the boys in the lower part of the school (up to year 3 at the time of our visit – now able to travel all the way to year 6 along with their female counterparts), that gives The Manor a more relaxed energy than expected, but the girls we met were, well, not particularly girly. Tumble down socks, the occasional unbrushed head of hair and a mish-mash of old and new style uniform gave us the distinct impression that Manor minds are on far more important things than the exact height of girls’ ponytails (yes, some schools really do check) or whether the boys’ hair touches their collar; ‘they have one childhood and we want them to live it’, head told us. Who plays football at break times? We asked. ‘We all do,’ chirped our (female) guide. Parents tend to be mainly dual income professionals, some having moved from London, and many take advantage of either the small fleet of school minibuses or the joint bus service that ferries pupils to and from Abingdon, St Helen and St Katharine, The Manor and Abingdon Prep schools. Top of head’s to do list is to improve wrap-around care to ease the burden for these families – a new homework club has been introduced with a fully flexible offering to follow. Watch this space.

The nursery building, with its ‘family feel’, has an enclosed garden to enable as much outdoor learning as possible, plus a mezzanine space for those who do a full day to have ‘cosy time’ – sleep or rest according to their parents’ requirements, often helped along the way by doting year 6 girls. Formal teaching commences in reception, and follows the Creative Curriculum in years 1 and 2. Specialist teaching for music and PE right from the start and, often, paired reading with senior pupils; specialist French, art and DT added as pupils progress through the years. Setting for maths from year 3 and English from year 5, when pupils also start moving around the school for individual lessons in readiness for secondary school as well as occasionally taking the minibus to Abingdon School to experience working in their labs. Reading homework set every night from reception (pupils allowed to select books themselves), rising to around 30 minutes per night by year 4. Technology fully integrated into classes with Chromebooks for years 3 and 4 and Google Classroom just introduced. Parents uniformly impressed with teaching staff: ‘there are way more people here that go the extra mile for every child than in other schools’ and ‘they are so upbeat – religiously so’. Will they have to adapt their teaching styles to accommodate older boys, we wondered? Apparently just ‘tweaking’ is required; all staff have taught boys before and tend to use the interactive, hands on techniques often preferred by boys already, although more boy-friendly books are being introduced to the library. ‘We all teach children’, smiled one teacher. Quite.

Learning support takes place in The Cottage – a quirky, cosy space adjacent to the manor house. Two SENCos are supported by four staff and a manager. ‘There’s absolutely no stigma whatsoever,’ says head, ‘the children love it’. We’re not surprised. A more welcoming environment you’d be hard pushed to find – groups often take place around a kitchen style table, with one-to-ones making use of technology such as giant iPads. Two of our guides had received help in here in the past (they said they missed it) and the one who hadn’t was ‘jealous’. Can support mild to moderate SpLD plus has experience with pupils with visual and hearing impairments. Around 85 pupils on EAL register at any given time, mainly European or Chinese; ‘we celebrate and applaud different languages,’ says head. For the most able pupils, school reports a ‘no ceilings’ approach; all are assessed and tracked annually and more challenging tasks made available to those who need them.

Music and drama seen as a ‘great strength of the school’ and ‘very inclusive’ according to parents; there are over 20 orchestras and ensembles and the standard of performances – which range from tea concerts to a formal carol service at Christmas – is ‘excellent’, the choir (currently an all-female affair – come on, boys!) returning from the Oxford Music Festival with silverware most years. Around 70 per cent of pupils take peripatetic instrumental lessons in addition to their one hour a week of music on curriculum which sees the whole of year 6 learning the ukulele (Smoke on the Water at the time of our visit). The orchestra doesn’t stick to stuffy standards either – recent performances have included Uptown Funk, Mamma Mia and various songs from The Greatest Showman. We felt honoured to be allowed to sit in on the Glee Club’s lunch time close harmony rehearsal. Drama productions are plentiful and are refreshingly ‘democratic – there’s no one star’ (and who doesn’t love a school that gives everyone a moment in the spotlight?), with plays often penned by staff members to cleverly incorporate the various strengths and personalities of the current cohort. Magical art room with its papier mâché tree, branches winding their way around the room all the way to the door (‘we had to bring it in from taking over the rest of the school’, laughed head of art) provides pupils with inspirational space to create. School was recently awarded the Artsmark silver award and the entire school is festooned with samples of pupils’ work.

Sport ‘tightened up’ since head’s arrival, with more tweaks to come. Future plans afoot to increase number of games sessions per week and bring training for clubs and squads, currently either before or after school and therefore prohibitive to some parents, into the school day. New appointment of a head of boys’ sport sets the tone for future success. Rugby, football, hockey and cricket are on curriculum – often with mixed gender teams. It may take a while for boys’ teams to become as stellar as their sisters (whose trophy cabinet groans; recently placed fourth in IAPS hockey and second in IAPS netball) due to numbers, but on the upside as boy numbers are small in comparison to their single sex opponents, every boy gets a match even if it’s only A and B teams playing. Places on the match-bound minibuses are harder fought for by girls. There are also, of course, a plethora of minor sports on offer (dance, gymnastics, badminton to name a few) and swimming takes place at Abingdon School. Extracurricular programme, mainly taking place at lunch times, includes production of a school newspaper, the Manor Mash-up, as well as debating society, practising at the time of our visit for a fourth victory at the Winston Churchill Public Speaking competition. We loved the fact that mindfulness is on curriculum to year 4 and available as a club for older pupils.

New appointment, deputy head pastoral, will develop mindfulness and resilience training: ‘not just box ticking,’ says head. Pupils we spoke to earnestly told us that they had ‘never heard of any bullying,’ but knew just what to do if ever they did. Parents describe atmosphere as ‘very happy’ and ‘nurturing’ and with school consistently turning out enviable results, we wondered how it does it – apparently not via the well-trodden path of external tutors (‘just not part of the culture here,’ parents assured us). Could it be a case of the studious atmosphere of those high-octane senior schools wafting along the Faringdon Road? Head says school’s job is ‘to prepare children for life, not just secondary school.’ In our opinion, it’s doing both jolly well.

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