St Swithun’s Prep, Winchester
This prep and pre-prep just outside the city centre has a great academic record, but the focus on pastoral care, positive relationships and unique extra-curricular activities means the overall approach is well-rounded.
St Swithun’s Pre-Prep and Prep, is located on the same campus as the illustrious St Swithun’s senior school, just outside Winchester city centre. The all-girls environment (bar a couple of boys in the preschool) offers places for up to 200-day pupils aged between 3 and 11, with an average class size ranging between 16 and 18. Despite its proximity to the city centre and excellent transport links to the surrounding towns and cities, there’s plenty of space here over its whopping 45-acre site.
The Prep itself is purpose-built, the building is shiny, incredibly bright and has a brand new feel to it. The Prep shares access to all the senior school facilities such as the 600-seat auditorium, music school, art and technology block, sports hall and a full-size indoor swimming pool.
The Prep has an open-plan library in the main entrance of the building, right next to the wonderfully decked out ICT suite. In the centre of the building are the steps up to the upper floors and faculty space, these also double up as a mini amphitheatre that looks a bit like something you would find at Google or Apple HQ.
There’s a minimum of 3 hours of sport per week for the girls, going up to 4.5 in the Upper Prep covering activities such as netball, football, cricket, swimming and cross-country. There are 124 teams at last count and the extra-curricular rotate year-by-year with options such as sailing, skiing and – how cool is this? – scuba diving all available at various times.
MUSIC & DRAMA
A strong suit of the school, there are plenty of actors-in-the-making at St Swithun’s and there’s a busy roster of both curricular and extra-curricular options when it comes to the creative arts. The school has Film Academy twice a week and there is also the super popular Little Voices (a performing Arts club, leading to LAMDA qualifications), and for pupils who really want to up their game, kids can opt for individual drama lessons as well.
Year 5 get involved with the national Shakespeare Schools Festival and every year the Year 6s put on a full-scale musical for parents and guardians.
Music-wise 80% of the kids who are eligible for individual music lessons (Year 2 and above) take them – that’s one of the highest percentages I’ve come across locally, reflecting the popularity of music at the school. From Year 3 all children are paired up in twos or threes to learn a musical instrument, such as the violin, flute or cornet. There’s also a big culture of singing here with year group chamber choirs and choir lessons as part of the timetable in years 5 and 6.
As a ‘gently selective’ school, the decision was made to switch from the original non-selective status as many pupils want to continue to the selective senior school. Last year 86% of the prep school girls received an offer from the senior school, whilst other destinations for pupils include Amery Hill; Churcher’s College; Godolphin, Salisbury; Handcross Park School; King Edward VI, Southampton; Kings’ School; and The Henry Beaufort School.
St Swithun’s subscribes to the High Performance Learning (HPL) philosophy, using the curriculum to tap into five Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics: meta-thinking, linking, analysing, creating and realising. My brain hurts just writing that sentence.
STEAM is a big focus at this girls’ school and some stand-out points include the Year 5 girls designing and creating wooden toy carousels, using the equipment in the senior school’s Technology department. As part of the STEAM programme, the girls also take part in mixed year group lessons (Years 3-4; 5-6) and have a year-long project that they explore each term over a range of disciplines.
No surprise with the well-documented anxiety and pressure that children are under now that pastoral care and wellbeing are paramount – all students have access to School Psychologist and Emotional Literacy Support (ELSA). St Swithun’s is also part of the Girls on Board programme, which helps girls learn the skills to develop and foster positive relationships with each other without the need for adult intervention.
Head Jonathan Brough was previously headmaster at Hurlingham School in London for 10 years, and, before that, head of prep at City of London School for girls for six years. His philosophy of education is that children should develop a passion for learning, literature and life, with an emphasis on kindness and compassion.
While St Swithun’s Prep has the name and gravitas of a ‘traditional’, there’s very much a lovely informal feel to the setting, spearheaded by the senior management team. The school’s motto is Grit, Gratitude and Generosity – I really like it, it feels like a modern motto to me, something the girls can understand and run with.
Plenty! Starting with the fact the school is the only girls’ school in the area – something that is becoming rarer as time goes on.
Extra-curriculars are unique as well, from the popular Watercolour Club to the opportunity to do some scuba diving, the clubs here are as varied and unusual as they come.
At the end of Reception, each of the girls gets placed into her house in a ‘Sorting Hat’ ceremony and there’s also the in-house tortoise Tonka, often seen wandering very slowly around the place.
The preschool is co-ed, and caters for littlies aged 3-4, with plans to expand the offer moving forward. There’s much focus on physical activity through learning in nursery and reception, with swimming classes, Forest School and more, as this super-sweet reception video shows. The kids also have the upgraded courtyard space at their disposal, complete with the most impressive mud kitchen I’ve ever seen.
Higher than average but you’re absolutely getting the value for it and this is in a prime commuter-belt location. Starting at £3,723 per term for Reception, Years 1 & 2 and climbing to £4,843 per term Years 3, 4, 5 and 6.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone wanting a supportive, friendly school with a caring family feel that does well on the academics without being a hothouse. If you want your daughters to get into St Swithun’s senior this is a good place to start and if you have a goal-orientated girl, she will thrive here.
Not for: An all girls’ environment of less than 200 might feel too small for big personalities, though in fairness the school does have strong links to the nearby all-boys Pilgrim’s School and the two often collaborate on a mixture of curricular and extra-curricular activities and events.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Click to book a place on one of the Prep School open afternoons. Years 3 and 4 are on Friday 28 January 2022. Reception is on Friday 4 February 2022.
St Swithun’s, Alresford Road, Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 1HA. Tel: 01962 835750