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What says..

Willington is now the only independent, co-educational prep school in Wimbledon and numbers are healthy. ‘One of my pet hates is an obsession with exams and outcomes,’ declared the head. Parents are grateful for initiatives such as maths clinics which help them understand methods taught at school so they can support their children at home. The only gripe... 

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What the school says...

At Willington Prep, our sole purpose is to provide the best possible childhood experience in collaboration with parents. Childhood is not a practice run, but life's foundation.

We are proud to offer a co-educational learning community for girls and boys aged 3 to 11 in the heart of Wimbledon. With over 135 years of experience in providing an education for life, we have recently welcomed girls into our community, making Willington a truly family friendly school.

We believe in providing a high-quality education that cultivates self-confidence and happiness in our pupils. We uphold the values of kindness, honesty, respect, and humility in all that we do.

Our dedicated teachers are passionate and supportive, ensuring a broad curriculum and rich co-curricular programme from Nursery onwards. At Willington, we instil in our pupils the school's motto - "non scholae sed vitae discimus" - we do not learn for school, but for life.

Our Year 6 pupils are quietly confident and go on to a vast range of destination schools, many with scholarships from academic, sport, music, and art. We are committed to providing an exceptional education that equips our pupils with the skills and values they need for a successful and fulfilling life.

In the latest ISI Inspection (2023) the School was awarded Excellent in All Areas.
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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2018, Keith Brown. Born, raised and educated in the Scottish borders. Mother and grandmother both teachers (PE and classics respectively). A move south and a job teaching PE at St Benedict’s Junior School (Ealing) led to a degree in sports science. After ten years, a transfer to the senior school with promotion to deputy head of sixth form. Appointed pastoral deputy at St John’s School (Northwood) in 2013.

While at St Benedict’s, he completed an MA (computers and education). Describing himself as ‘an AI enthusiast’, he’s all for using technology effectively in schools but does not underestimate the challenges involved. Believes children (and adults) should be taught to understand the potential, and the limitations, of such technologies.

The shelves beside his desk are rammed: biographies and autobiographies, books on rugby (including The Official History of the Melrose Sevens - no doubt paying homage to his roots), books on political and social theory, history, child development, education, psychology and various titles from the bestsellers lists of the last decade or so. We spotted a couple of blue bound volumes by the head himself (testament to his MA, completed in 2004) and, on the top shelf, some rather lovely old editions of classics.

He's seen as amiable, clear-thinking, straight-talking, pragmatic and with a ‘great sense of humour’. Decisions made re the school’s general direction of travel have been well-received with the majority of parents thinking him a very safe pair of hands. One told us, ‘He is very right on - politically correct in a great way.’ Another said simply, ‘Mr Brown … he is always there, mixing with the crowd.’ His sporting origins have given him ‘a lighthearted competitiveness’, a spirit much in evidence at the annual quiz where he ‘really wants the staff to win!’


Relatively tight catchment area, most pupils hail from Wimbledon, Raynes Park, Southfields, South Wimbledon and Earlsfield. About 40 per cent walk to school (although our observation was more that they skip or run). Ostensibly non-selective (but head admits they are sometimes ‘subtly selective’), the school caters for a range of abilities.

First-come-first-served for nursery places. Nursery pupils guaranteed entry into reception when about 22 additional places are offered. Stay-and-play sessions enable staff to ensure children joining will be able to access what’s on offer and (importantly) that parents will support the ethos of the school. Year 3 entry involves an assessment morning plus reports and references from current schools. For occasional places, children attend a taster day, are observed in a classroom environment and are assessed in English and maths.


Recently, offers (and a smattering of scholarships) from around 30 schools with Whitgift, Hampton, St John’s and Epsom College topping the destination lists for year 6 boys. Head and team now focused on building relationships with girls’ schools too so they are well-positioned when the first cohort reaches year 6.

Our view

When the head arrived, following the sudden departure of the previous incumbent and a period under an interim leader, the school was in a parlous state. Numbers were falling: boys were jumping ship early and the perception was that you would approach Willington ‘if your son couldn’t get in anywhere else’. Mr Brown quickly realised ‘we needed to change, or we would disappear’. Radical decisions were made: the school would become co-educational, the top two years would be cut, and a nursery would be added. In 2019 girls joined the nursery and reception classes and the focus shifted from the 13+ to the 11+. Willington is now the only independent, co-educational prep school in Wimbledon and numbers are healthy once more.

Consistent with the school motto, ‘Non scholae sed vitae discimus’ (we do not learn for school but for life), head declared, ‘One of my pet hates is an obsession with exams and outcomes,’ so he abolished setting (‘unnecessary with such small classes’) and school exams (although pupils are assessed twice a year using standardised tests). Homework was reduced with Wednesday now homework-free. Looking ahead, the focus will be on the thorough and sensitive integration of girls until the school becomes fully co-educational in 2025 and the incorporation of STEM learning across the school.

Parents, described by the head as ‘nice, down to earth, sensible people’, are hugely supportive. Coffee mornings for parents and grandparents (often the feepayers) are well attended and parents socialise widely both in and out of school. There is an active POW (parents of Willington) group. Class reps meet regularly with the head and termly with the senior leadership team. Ideas are shared and ‘any problems are nipped in the bud’. Parents are grateful for initiatives such as maths clinics which help them understand methods taught at school so they can support their children at home. The only gripe we heard concerned the lack of outdoor space but all agreed there was little that could be done about that given the school’s location in a residential street. The advantages of being at the school far outweigh this minor inconvenience.

One parent told us, ‘Staff and pupils are kind and gentle. Pupils are treated equally, regardless of ability’ - a very different ethos to the one encountered at their son’s previous school. Her son is now ‘super happy’ and is thriving. There appear to be a few disgruntled parents at the top of the school who chose Willington because it was a single sex boys’ school that would take their sons through to the end of year 8. However, the vast majority of parents we encountered are delighted with the way things are turning out and one told us, ‘We have struck gold in finding this school’ which is now a ‘happy place’ for their son and daughter.

When we visited, little people had been painting to classical music in the nursery. A long sheet of lining paper, taped to the floor, was covered with paint that had been enthusiastically applied both to it and to the surrounding area. Meanwhile, in the reception play area, we found healthy-looking potatoes growing in large pots. No predictable sunflowers or beans here.

Keeping up with the times, year 6 pupils were investigating the use of ChatGPT in creative writing. Taking plots provided by year 1, the children wrote their own stories, used ChatGPT to write to the same specification and then compared the two. One boy told us, ‘We are better at writing than ChatGPT’. We agreed.

In the absence of setting, differentiation is very much in evidence. Teachers adopt their own vocabulary to reflect the challenge presented by various tasks (mild, spicy, hot and deep, getting deeper, midnight zone, were a couple we encountered).

For year 6 pupils, the weekly Oates afternoon (Captain Lawrence 'Titus' Oates who sacrificed his life for the sake of the other members of Scott's Antarctic expedition is the school’s most well-known alumnus) is a much-loved initiative. Pupils visit exciting outdoor venues to explore, build skills, have fun and ‘to relax and not stress about all the work we are doing’, we were told. There is also an 11+ accelerate program which aims to nurture each pupil’s individual interests and potential to boost confidence and performance. In the summer term, our guides explained how they participate in an entrepreneurial project using a ‘grant’ from the school. All profits to charity. The year 6 production (this year, The Tempest) is the final hurrah before they head off to pastures new.

In terms of future schools, one parent claimed there was pressure to apply for particular schools (which this parent will probably ignore) but another told us, ‘I trust the school. They will know. They will guide us.’ Proof of the adage, ‘You can’t please all of the people all of the time’. It seems Mr Brown manages to please most of the people most of the time which is no mean feat for a man in his position.

Manners matter at this school. Call us old-fashioned, but there is something heart-warming when a class of children stands as a stranger enters their classroom. The pupils we spoke to (ranging from a delightfully chatty and entertaining five-year-old to a thoughtful and gentle 11-year-old) were articulate and engaging. Inevitably, discussion touched on school lunches which have apparently improved. One epicurean pupil explained this was due to the addition of ‘coriander, parsley, basil and seasoning’ to the dishes on offer. All agreed that pizza (‘soft and with loads of stuff on’) was the most popular option. Lunch is eaten in the hall; three sittings with playtimes for the various year groups fitted around eating times.

Outdoor space, limited but carefully utilised, is sufficient for children to run around in during their (staggered) break times and for PE. In common with most schools locally, pupils travel a short distance to access their extensive sports’ grounds for the usual range of sports (with dodgeball the most recent addition). Regular fixtures against other schools, biennial skiing trips, BMX club on Wimbledon Common and a football tournament with parents and old boys just some of the extra-curricular sport activities on offer. There are many, many others.

Pupils speak enthusiastically about art/DT (coronation-themed clocks were the focus when we visited) and drama. Music is witnessing a resurgence. Choir for pupils in years 1 to 6 is ‘no longer an elite group’ (most see this as a positive). Recorders, violins and ukuleles feature in class lessons and peripatetic lessons are picking up numbers with around half of pupils now learning an instrument.

Extra-curricular clubs and activities abound: many free and most held after school. In addition, some older children are invited to attend the head’s curiosity club in which they ponder and discuss tricky questions (‘What does it mean to be famous?’) or work together to solve problems. Similarly, children in the pre-prep are selected for wonder club which extends critical thinking and analysis skills.

Pastoral care is prioritised and always accessible. Parents tell us the school is impressively inclusive, ‘catering for the nervous and anxious as well as the confident and extrovert’. Mental well-being champions support children on an individual basis while a psychologist is available to address any social or behavioural needs. During Covid, a Google classroom was kept ‘open’ so that any pupils could ‘pop in’ if they were feeling anxious. An active and healthily competitive house system reinforces a sense of belonging with the annual paper aeroplane competition a particular highlight.

The school caters well for a range of special needs. Early diagnosis and intervention is key and appropriate provision is put in place. Booster groups and clinics, movement breaks, handwriting clubs (to help with fine motor skills) and nurture clubs are all available alongside 1-to-1 lessons and support in the classroom. One parent described the school’s response to her son’s recent diagnosis as ‘very nurturing’ meaning they, and their son, felt ‘totally supported’.

Refreshingly honest on the matter of tutoring, head admits, ‘It happens’. He understands why parents find it hard to resist even if they are initially reluctant to go down that route. A small number of boys are tutored early on (for King’s College at 7 and 8+) but in year 5 many others jump on board.

Money matters

Fees notably competitive. Means-tested bursaries (up to 100 per cent ‘in extreme circumstances’) available.

The last word

A lovely, friendly and unassuming school. Facilities may not be as shiny and cutting-edge as some other preps in southwest London, but care is taken to keep fees reasonable and there are exciting changes underway. The four pillars – humility, kindness, respect and honesty – are constantly reinforced by the head and his team with the impact of their endeavours clearly in evidence. Not the place for excessively ambitious or massively aspirational parents, it is a school for parents who want their child to be valued, to be happy, to be refreshingly ‘normal’ in the often frenetic and highly-pressurised London prep-school world. Brave but necessary decisions have been made and, as confidence builds, one suspects applications will rise and waiting lists will grow. Worth getting a child’s name down early.

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