Beaudesert Park School, Minchinhampton
A high-achieving and nurturing co-ed Prep school with a laser focus on pastoral care, all wrapped up in a fairytale Cotswold setting that oozes Swallows and Amazons charm.
WHAT & WHERE
Beaudesert Park School is a high-achieving weekly, flexi boarding and day school for boys and girls aged 3 to 13. Academically aspiring and nestling in acres of glorious Cotswold countryside you’d struggle to find a more idyllic, storybook setting for a school.
Tucked away on the edge of Minchinhampton Common, the school has 400 pupils on the roll – one of the biggest in the region – and is just ten minutes drive from Stroud (named Best Place to Live 2021 by the Sunday Times).
Founded in 1908 at Henley in Arden, Warwickshire, the school moved to its present site in 1918 and became an Educational Trust in 1968. Originally a boys’ boarding school, it has grown over the past 110 years to be the educational big-hitter it is today.
As well as being a renowned springboard for some of the best senior schools in the country this inspiring independent has a reputation for drawing out great results from children, but without the hot-housing.
The mantra at Beaudesert is happy, purposeful children who know their own strengths and the school prides itself on being forward-thinking whilst retaining strong traditional values.
Last year, in 2020, a five-year development plan was launched – not for the ‘next big building’ or ‘shiny new thing’ – but with a focus on helping pupils develop a connection with their environment, an understanding of sustainability and how they can be change makers in that field – very much in chime with the current global climate debate.
Beaudesert certainly offers the full package in terms of facilities. The last decade has seen the school add new classrooms and sports grounds, some of the most notable include a new Nursery in 2012; art studio and DT workshop; three new science labs; two dedicated Forest School areas in the grounds; a multi-level modern Wi-Fi enabled school library; The Qube teaching block; and rather stunning glass and wood performing arts centre, opened in 2015.
The school also boasts an 18-metre indoor swimming pool which is a great plus point, and used throughout the year groups.
Children here get to romp in 30 acres of greenery during break and lunch times, indeed, Muddy knees are very much encouraged at Beaudesert, particularly after children gain their tree climbing licence! Popular too is the pond, an eco area which is used not just for leisure time, but educationally, to inspire the children in science, art and poetry lessons.
And although laid out on large, hilly terraces, the landscape lends itself well to children who don’t want to run straight out onto a rugby pitch, but instead might want to read a book, look for newts in the pond or play on a swing. The school’s playing fields are just a ten minute stroll across the Common, where all the children get to play cricket, rugby, football and do athletics as well as take part in sports days.
The Performing Arts Centre is an incredibly impressive (very Grand Designs-esque) facility and music and drama are clearly a strong offering here. During my visit Year 8s were practising their end of year play and were having a ball. Further down the corridor children can use the modern pods for individual music tuition and practice. Indeed music and drama are taken all the way through the school with inclusivity being key – all children ‘have a go’ at performing each year, either in concerts or assemblies.
There is a cavernous sports hall for indoor Games and PE and a sleek and modern library with lovely little reading nooks, jam-packed with books. And Years 3 and 4 have a self-contained teaching area which is intended to help them to gain independence and confidence before they ‘graduate’ up to the older year areas.
The two Reception classes (with 16 children in each) were adorned with bright artwork and seemed really happy places, they have also been recently re-designed area to include a big shared outdoor space.
Beaudesert has a rich curriculum that stretches the children academically, and in 2020 more than a third of Year 8 students went on to gain a scholarship to leading senior schools across the UK.
In the last Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) Report done in 2017 it came out as scoring both ‘Met’ and ‘Excellent’ in multiple areas. Indeed, in previous years the school has scooped all three gold, silver and bronze awards in a national maths competition, and a large majority of pupils who enter external speech and music exams receive ‘distinction’.
What they’ll learn here is broad, going beyond the confines of the National Curriculum. Timetabled subjects are complemented by plenty of enrichment workshops which take place throughout the year including study skills workshops, author visits and poetry competitions to name just a few.
Dedicated weekly lessons are also provided to help children develop the key skills required to move on successfully to senior schools. These include problem solving, reasoning, public speaking, current affairs and team challenges.
Subject specialists teach pupils after Year 4 and class sizes are small, typically 14 to 18. Pupils are taught in groups that most suit their needs to enable maximum progress. This commences with Maths in Year 4, and with English and French in Year 5. Latin and Spanish is introduced in Year 6 and these are studied by the majority of pupils. There is the opportunity to learn Greek off the timetable too.
For children who would benefit from a greater focus on core subjects in preparation for Common Entrance examinations, there are extra lessons in English and Humanities. All subjects use ICT from Pre-prep up to Year 8 and every classroom is equipped with Interactive Whiteboards, and visualisers. Although pupils aren’t equipped with individual iPads here they are used as a frequent addition to lessons.
During my visit I was especially struck by the dynamic DT and Art departments. Year 8s were creating beautiful glass fridge magnets and pedants which were fresh out of the kiln, and there’s a big focus here on encouraging children to come up with their own creative ideas and designs from the beginning of any topic.
Head Chris Searson emphasises the importance of ‘inquiry-led learning’, teaching children how to develop questioning skills and think outside the box.
The big news for September 2021 in Pre-prep comes in the shape of a new Head. Anna Packman took over from Mrs Harriet Searson (the Head’s wife) who has been helping out as the Acting Head of Pre-prep since September 2020. A teacher of Pre-prep aged children for almost 20 years she’s spent the last six years as Headmistress at Bromsgrove School in Shenzhen, China and her daughter, Ada, will also be joining in Reception.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Children at Beaudesert are not allowed any phones or technology in the classrooms, with the school being very hot on a zero-phone policy.
Beaudesert has a very ‘local’ feel to it compared to some independent schools, with most of the children on the school roll living within a 40 minute radius. There are no full-time boarders, instead, championing a convenient ‘flexible hot-bed approach’ to after-school care and boarding where children can book in for ad-hoc overnight stays every term.
There are 86 beds up for grabs in the boarding house, which is located in the main house. And with most children boarding at least once or twice a term, there’s no sense of ‘them and us’ as the Head puts it as most of them many dip in and out through the year.
Both the boys’ and girls’ dorms were cosy, colourful, well-kept and homely with stunning views over the grounds – you really couldn’t get a more nature-filled, beautiful bedtime vista.
Head teacher Chris Searson joined Beaudesert in 2018. He comes across as warm, affable and focused, clearly passionate about the school and its sense of community.
Pointing out that Beaudesert is a non-selective Prep-school he seems very proud of the fact that the children here are a broad bunch in terms of ability and character. Whilst he clearly values academic achievement, he is at pains to point out to me that all level and abilities are supported well.
There is a very good learning support department in place with four dedicated members of staff to aid children’s learning.
It certainly feels like a nurturing environment. During my visit there were children as young as 4 outside in the courtyard lining up eagerly to take part in a row-a-thon, inspired by their teachers to match the 2,700 miles one of the school mums is currently rowing near Hawaii for charity.
There is a big focus here on building good relationships, indeed, walking around with Chris he chatted with every child we met, wishing one a happy birthday, asking another how their music exam went or just a cheery hello. Pupils seemed confident and relaxed enough to engage articulately with their teachers.
The two main pillars of the Beaudesert journey are demonstrated in the school hall – Kindness and Trying Your Best. I learnt how children collect little leaves they then pin to a mural that mark any ‘kind’ experiences they’ve had (I lost count there were so many).
Strong pastoral care is a strong feature of the school with form teachers meeting with children every day. The staff have a weekly pastoral meeting to share and discuss any concerns and there is also a pastoral team, including the Deputy Head, Head of Girls, Head of Boys and Assistant Head (Pastoral) who meet regularly to monitor children’s welfare.
Boarders are also encouraged to make regular contact with parents and phone home in the evenings and the school also has an ‘independent listener’. The Matron’s Department, headed by qualified nurses, oversees all of the medical requirements of the School and they are available at all times of the day (and at night for boarders).
To bolster the pastoral offering further a new mentoring and buddy system is operating at the school from September 2021, where older children will buddy-up with younger ones for activities, reading time and general friendship – something the children already do but Chris says he wants to formalise as it’s so important.
There are 39 different clubs for children to take part in and around the school including some very cool-sounding ones, such as Remote Control Club, Castle Building and Bushcraft, to name but a few.
Beaudesert Park also offers a number of means-tested Bursaries each academic year for children from Year 4 and above, whose parents would not otherwise be able to afford it, and help is also given to parents who need assistance securing funding beyond Year 8.
Bursaries are worth from 80% to 100% of fees and take into account a family’s financial circumstances.
I had a show-around the canteen which was a large, bright area. The food is cooked by professionally-trained chefs on site and it looked like a great spread, from plenty of hot choices and colourful salads, with fresh fruit standard at every meal. The latest initiative – Meat-free Mondays – was dreamt up by pupils and was so popular that it’s now a permanent, weekly feature.
As Beaudesert Park School is not affiliated to any senior school great care is taken to match each child with the right school when the times comes, a collaborative process done with the headmaster and school team.
Last year, in 2020, pupils went on to around 25 schools including Cheltenham Ladies College, Marlborough, St Marys, Radley, Winchester and Eton.
The school has a four-house system, until recently known as ‘A B C D’, but as of September 2021 they will be renamed after trees in Beaudesert’s grounds – Maple, Willow, Rowan and Hazel – reflecting the renewed focus on environment at the school too. A healthy spirit of competition is being more encouraged here under Chris, and the new system is part of that.
Flexible wraparound care is provided here for pupils at no extra cost which is great. For the youngest children this could be staying until 5.30pm to coincide with collection of older pupils; for the Prep school children this may mean staying later. Plus the school also offers bus transport from Kemble, Cirencester, Great Somerford, South Cerney, Malmesbury, Tetbury, Grittleton, Westonbirt, Painswick and Bisley (with routes changing on demand).
There is a strong and passionate alumni at the school – ‘once a Beaudesertian always a Beaudesertian’ is the mantra. Added to that the parent body seems very tightly knit and connected to the school. Indeed, one parent – who happens to be a past Gold medal Olympian – volunteered recently to come and give an assembly on rowing when he heard about the children doing the fundraising courtyard row.
Fees start from £2,095 for Nursery (5 mornings or 3 days per week), to £3,350 for Reception pupils and £6,390 for Year 5 to 8 day pupils. Boarding is from £40 per night (max five nights per week). Pretty good value for a highly regarded Prep in the county.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents varyingly describe the school as ‘wonderfully supportive’, ‘happy’ and having given their children a ‘brilliant start’. I recently met a family from London who had relocated to Stroud from the capital for the school alone – having fallen in love with the setting and feel of it.
Well-rounded kids. A place that will give them a modern education but anchored in strong traditional values. The superior drama, music and sport facilities are impressive and all children get to participate. Freethinkers and next-gen global citizens, Beaudesert puts a massive emphasis on getting children ready for the world; creating kind and confident go-getters.
Those who require full-time boarding or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ approach to schooling. Beaudesert has a wonderfully inclusive ‘have-a-go’ ethos, so children need to be up for that.
Dare to disagree?
Have a peek for yourself – Beaudesert holds two Open Mornings during the academic year and parents are welcome to come and be shown around by the senior children. These take place in October and March, watch this space for more details. Or, book in at your leisure for a guided tour at a time to suit you. Please contact the Admissions Registrar on 01453 832072 to arrange this.