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Our lunchtime hosts were bright-eyed, chatty and full of the joys of boarding – quite something for 11 year old boys. A traditional vibe prevails and school makes no bones about its boarding culture and preparation for public school, but it’s by no means stuck in the dark ages. The innovative ‘creative curriculum’ followed in the lower part of the school is well established and revered by staff and pupils alike – head speaks passionately about its execution: staff burying artefacts to be found by children with metal detectors (Romans) and children arriving at school to find snowy footsteps leading to their classrooms...


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What the school says...

'The aim of Winchester House is to develop life-long learners with a spirit of resourcefulness and self-reliance within a warm and purposeful community.
As parents the greatest gift we can give our children is to create opportunities for them to develop their self-esteem to ensure that they are resilient, enabling them to tackle and overcome any obstacle they face. At Winchester House we encourage children to take up opportunities and embrace challenge with tenacity.
We strive to give each child a thirst for life-long learning through a stimulating and innovative curriculum which pursues excellence.
Winchester House has a long tradition of delivering a holistic education and we are constantly reflecting on how to evolve to provide an education relevant to young people facing the challenges of contemporary society.
I hope you will take up the opportunity either to visit us for an Open Morning or come on a bespoke visit. I feel very lucky to be part of such a vibrant learning community which has an energy and sense of fun where children thrive.
I look forward to welcoming you.'

Emma Goldsmith, Head
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Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2014, Emma Goldsmith (40s). Born and educated in Durham before reading English at Manchester. Landed first teaching job at Oakham where she threw herself into coaching netball. ‘The last thing in the world I wanted to be was a teacher, but from that point on, I was committed to boarding schools.’ Later, recruited to help set up sixth form girls’ boarding at Rugby. Fell in love with Bloxham School when visiting for a sports fixture and was hired to manage the transition to co-ed, including the first girls’ boarding house. Ended up as deputy head. Both her children attended Winchester House, and she was asked to join the board of governors, so approached the headship ‘from a unique position.’

‘Bowled over by the quality of teaching, level of dedication and commitment of staff.’ Focuses on every child leaving with a ‘tool kit’ for success in their future school. Parents approve and describe her as the kind of person they would want running their business, as their best friend or their sister: ‘She’s fantastic,’ they say. ‘She is everywhere and has time for everyone…which has stopped all the tittle tattle because you can ask her anything.’

Warm and attractive, ‘a brilliant communicator,’ with a gentle humour (happily swapped places with a pupil for Comic Relief day) – and the chicest office we’ve ever seen. Still teaches year 7 English and ‘occasionally’ umpires netball matches, reads stories in pre-prep and on the odd occasion serves lunch. Children attend Bloxham, where husband is a teacher.


Non-selective into pre-prep with automatic entry to prep. All assessed prior to entry into year 3 and above to identify learning needs. Pupils mainly local (within 10 miles) with those joining after pre-prep usually from families moving out of London or from local state primaries and pre-preps. Strong old school, rather than aspirational, bias. Lots of former pupils in parent cohort. Some year groups oversubscribed.


The school prides itself on sending its pupils to a broad range of destinations. Stowe by far the most popular destination (school has recently announced formation of the Stowe Group, with Stowe and Swanbourne House School), followed by Radley, Bloxham, Oundle, Rugby, Tudor Hall and Malvern College. Odd ones to Millfield, Abingdon, Uppingham, Headington, Eton, St Edwards and Winchester. Seventeen scholarships in 2020.

Strong focus on ‘right school, right child’. Conversations regarding moving on start in year 5, with 100 per cent heading off to their first choice school.

Our view

Set in a former hunting lodge, approached directly from the charming high street, with grand wrought iron gates guarding an 18-acre, Tardis like campus. Delightful pre-prep setting (across a small road) with large, bright classrooms, every possible millimetre of space adorned with creative offerings and the ceilings festooned with bunting and mobiles. Seamless transition for the youngest from on-site nursery, housed in a light and spacious recent extension. Years 3 and 4 housed in own building, with much evidence of the ‘creative curriculum’ followed on display.

Many secondary schools would envy the enormous sports hall and new full-sized Astroturf. A lovely outdoor pool (parents would like it used more) and cricket nets sit among the manicured lawns of the walled garden with the main playing fields across the road. Each year group has its own play area – some with super modern equipment and all with new, rainbow striped ‘buddy benches’. The real magic of Winchester House, however, is in its enchanting and unique features; a secret garden tucked through a tiny archway, where year 8s are allowed to ‘hang out’ and lower years tend allotments and sit around camp fires; a beautifully panelled dining room where lunch is served family-style by teaching staff; tongue in cheek rules on the walls of the girls’ boarding house (our favourites: no whining, laugh a lot and break the rules…sometimes) and a creative collection of vibrant works of art by visiting artists and pupils.

Fully co-ed, with a charming cohort of pupils who mix easily together and come across as children enjoying being just that – no ties, lots of untucked shirts and not a hiked up skirt or gelled quiff in sight. Our lunchtime hosts were bright-eyed, chatty and full of the joys of boarding – quite something for 11 year old boys. A traditional vibe prevails and school makes no bones about its boarding culture and preparation for public school, but it’s by no means stuck in the dark ages. Technology is up to date (the ICT room recently upgraded) and the curriculum strikes an excellent balance of remaining traditional whilst moving with the times. The innovative ‘creative curriculum’ followed in the lower part of the school is well established and revered by staff and pupils alike – head speaks passionately about its execution: staff burying artefacts to be found by children with metal detectors (Romans) and children arriving at school to find snowy footsteps leading to their classrooms, which were draped in fur throws (Frozen Worlds).

Science a strength, with all three sciences taught separately by specialist teaching staff through ‘as much practical work as we can manage,’ according to the physics teacher. Outstanding computing, too – our year 8 guide lost us totally in a conversation about coding, but her enthusiasm and knowledge was clear to see. Pupils we spoke to unanimously voted history their favourite subject, thanks to the inspirational young teacher. French from reception by native speakers (‘they only talk to children in French,’ says head), Spanish from year 5, Latin from year 6 and Greek from year 7. Setting from year 3 in maths and English, when pupils start to move between teachers, leading to entirely specialist teaching from year 5.

All screened on arrival for SEN to identify areas for either support or extension. Dedicated SENCo ‘aims for as little withdrawal from the classroom as possible’, although those with greatest need withdrawn from Latin to receive extra support. Can accommodate mild to moderate dyslexia and dyscalculia and mild ASD.

A school alive with the sound of music – ‘we’re very much a singing school,’ says the head and parents concur, describing the termly concerts in glowing terms. With around three-quarters of pupils playing an instrument, it’s music for all, with choirs (both auditioned and otherwise), bands and ensembles aplenty for musicians of all levels. Performance is ‘one of the key aspects of the school,’ says head, but ‘you don’t have to be brilliant to perform – we’re building pupils’ confidence all the time.’ Specialist taught drama on the curriculum to year 8 and around 60 per cent take up LAMDA, although parents would like to see more productions. Strong art department (recently upgraded) focuses on ‘much more than just drawing,’ says head, with visiting artists offering masterclasses on disciplines from woodcarving to animation.

Sports department is ‘successful and ambitious,’ but the head is keen to point out that her charges should ‘learn to fail.’ Inclusive approach with everyone getting the opportunity to represent the school – sometimes with up to 10 teams each for boys and girls representing the school each week. Recent introduction of graduate gap year coaches helps keep sport fun.

Awareness of pupils’ pastoral needs dramatically stepped up under the present head. School’s unique Learn to Lead programme encourages pupils to take risks and approach failure with a sense of humour and to build emotional resilience, through expeditions and on-site activities. Recent appointment of retired staff member as well-being mentor for pupils to turn to if things do go wrong. Head’s visibility and approachability also seen as having ‘made school a friendlier place’, particularly in keeping ‘alpha’ parents in check. Pupils in year 3 and above are each assigned a tutor, who keeps a beady eye on their pastoral and academic well-being, stepping in to help them handle heavy workloads around exam time or making sure they keep up their sporting commitments when academics threaten to take over.

New, open approach to extracurricular welcomed by parents, who say it was previously a bit ‘cloak and dagger’, focuses on three pillars – creative, enriching and physical. Many, such as squash, chess, gymnastics and debating are included in fees, with skiing (at Milton Keynes) and golf charged as extra. For working parents, children are able to arrive at school from 8.10am, with pre-prep children cared for until 4.45pm and from year 3 onwards until 6.30pm, when they can be collected having done activities, prep and eaten supper. Daily minibus services bring children to school from locations including Chipping Norton, Bloxham and South Newington; new service from London planned.


Pupils can board from year 3, and some do, in one of two single sex boarding houses – boys upstairs in the main school building, girls in a purpose built block. Unsurprisingly, the girls’ house with its cosy dorms (sleeping up to 10) has a homelier feel than the boys’, although both are comfortable, with plenty of spaces for down time. Head says boarding ‘really takes off’ in years 7 and 8, with an ‘all or nothing’ approach for the oldest pupils who are required to board all week rather than occasionally, as is allowed lower down the school. There’s no boarding on Saturday nights and Saturday school has been abolished altogether for years 4 and below - the rest following from September 2019. Prep kept quite light and boarders have their own schedule of after-school activities, with all catering for both sexes. Boarders describe food as ‘amazing’ – and having sampled the kitchen’s roast beef followed by banoffee pie, we can’t disagree.

The last word

Under the present head, Winchester House is one to watch. In the words of a year 8 parent: ‘I wish my children were starting from the beginning now. In a few years’ time, Winchester House will be one of the top preps in the country.’

Special Education Needs

We provide a broad, inclusive curriculum with all teaching staff recognising the full potential of each child. Support is provided through a variety of methods including extensive in-class support across the classroom range, small group work and individual withdrawal sessions. The school is fortunate in having an occupational therapist on site, a visiting speech and language therapist and an educational psychologist visits the school on a termly basis. Several learning support teachers also teach various aspects of the curriculum eg maths, history, classics. On entry to the school, in addition to a screening process, parents are requested to inform the school of any previous assessments. There are strong home-school links with regular meetings and workshops for parents. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dyslexia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
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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