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Monkton Combe Prep School, Bath

Muddy says: A Prep with Nursery/Kindergarten where the teaching is ambitious within a gentle pastoral setting, they keep alpacas and design their own racing cars

WHAT? WHERE?

Independent Prep with Nursery/Kindergarten for girls and boys aged 2–13 years, set in sprawling 30 acres of grounds high up on Combe Down, just south of Bath’s city centre with fabulous views over the Midford Valley (you can even spy a real castle).

Monkton Combe School was founded in 1868 by the Reverend Francis Pocock, a junior school followed 20 years later which then became the Prep, which moved to its current site in 1907. Initially for the sons of missionaries and clergy, it’s still a Christian school today, where Christian values are not just an underlying ethos but central to the life of the school. Having said that, the school welcomes pupils of all faiths and none.

Currently around 285 pupils from Nursery to Year 8.

FACILITIES

An impressive period house with three floors given over to accommodation for the boarders lies at the heart of the school, with a cluster of more modern buildings named after previous headmasters, behind and around.

Coates includes an impressive, purpose-built Design & Technology dept with the latest soft and hardware, where an inspirational teacher fires up the pupils’ imaginations with projects including designing – and racing – real racing cars, simulating monsoon rain over different types of roofs and mummifying mackerel (yes, honestly).

The light and airy LeRoy library’s 6,000 books, cushions, study tables make it a popular place to hang out during breaks and after school. Accelerate reading scheme.

Art rooms equipped with classic printing press, Apple Macs, spray booths allows pupils to produce impressive multi-medium artworks.

Music is in Law.  Over 60% of all pupils learn a musical instrument, with a plethora of ensembles, orchestras as well as 21st century music tech.

There’s a good sized theatre. All pupils put on their own productions, from a nativity in Years 3 & 4 to all singing and dancing Guys and Dolls in Year 8 after the Common Entrance exams are over. Every two years, there’s a whole-school show (most recently, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat).

The Grand Design-like lower years, Nursery and Kindergarten building opened in 2016 overlooking woods, sports grounds and sometimes herds of alpacas or mountain goats.

Very well-equipped sports-wise, with an impressively large astro, an all-weather pitch,  sports hall with a bouldering wall, indoor competition-sized swimming pool in the Clarke Swimming Centre, gym, extensive playing fields where a new high ropes course was being installed on our visit – and a nine-hole golf course. Fore!

ACADEMICS

Not academically selective, it’s more about the fit – is this the right school for this child?  Years 1 – 5 follow the theme-based International Primary Curriculum (IPC), where pupils spend several weeks delving deeply into a topic into which other subjects are interwoven. This allows for creativity and original thought, and puts learning into context. Years 6–8 work towards the Common Entrance (the only school in Bath to offer the CE) but this is under review.  Hero subjects science, humanities, art, DT, music, Latin/Greek. Between 70–80% pupils move onto the Senior School.

HEAD TEACHER

Headed up by the dynamic Catherine Winchcombe, who comes to the school via teaching positions in the Middle East. During her time overseas she held both Primary and Secondary school posts, alongside serving the Syrian and Iraqi refugee community in Jordan with her husband. Prior to spending time abroad, she was Deputy Head at a Church of England school in Surrey and also served in a variety of other leadership roles.

Pastoral care lies at the heart – everything else comes out of that – with pupils across age ranges integrated within the house system, older kids mentoring the younger and tutor groups meeting three times a day – early morning reg, lunchtime reading periods, 15 mins catch up at the end of the day – so that every gets to know everyone else.   She has built up the school’s reputation for academic rigor, and introduced the International Primary Curriculum to replace the National Curriculum, and will continue to develop that model.

She believes strongly in the school’s Christian values of humility, integrity, service and confidence. She aims to keep children younger for longer – no phones allowed in school – and to prepare them well for Senior school, the workplace and life beyond.

SPORTS

This is a sporty school, with a reputation for punching above its weight, achieving success at county, regional and national level, notably in hockey, judo and cross country. They take part in the IAPS triathlon. Close links with Bath Rugby and the first school in Bath to create a girls’ Rugby 7 side. The Year 8 and 9 team are now the 2019 Sibford 7s champions at their first attempt.

WHAT ELSE?

This is a Christian school, with regular chapel services and a Christian Union called Icthus run by Year 8 pupils, with Bible-related games, quizzes and study.

Saturdays: lessons in the mornings, sporting fixtures in the afternoons.

LOWER YEARS, NURSERY & KINDERGARTEN

The Nursery (2–4 years), Kindergarten (3–4 years) and Lower Years (4–8 years) are based in the rather nice two-storey building which opened in 2016. Airy classrooms on the ground floor lead outside to safe areas with toys for the youngest children and a large play area with play frames for the older. Interlinking rooms allow different classes to work together; flexibility is important here as teachers adapt and change dynamics as lessons and topics develop.

Drama, dance and assemblies in the Hall.  Specialist teachers for French, music, art and PE. Pupils are well integrated with the Prep, sharing DT, music, swimming and sports facilities. Lots of outdoor learning, including Forest School in their own woodland copse every Thurs afternoon.

In the Nursery, sessions are very creative and child-led, with short bursts of high quality effective teaching. Focused Read Write Inc phonics and Maths from Reception. Years 1 & 2 follow the IPC. Impressively, last year the average reading age in Year 2 (6-7 year olds) was 9.8 years;  the average spelling age was 10 years.   No endless worksheets or boring stickers as rewards, Mrs Winchcombe describes the school as traditional but forward thinking, with an emphasis on encouraging joy in learning, developing skills for learning and taking responsibility for learning – with no cap on what the children can achieve. Learning about care and sharing is equally important as academic success.

BOARDING

A red and white woollen beanie hat on the end of a staircase on the ground floor of the main school building signals that you’re about to enter Hatton House, home to around 50 boarders aged 7–13 and mostly from the UK.  All the boarders and some extra special people (including the Queen) have a Hatton beanie.

Headed up by jolly house parents, there’s definitely a family feel with pupils’ artworks on the walls, a large games room and lounge and friendly dorm bedrooms (girls on the first floor and boys on the second), each sleeping between two and nine pupils. Younger kids get bedtime stories read to them every night.

Hatton House is very definitely home, with house dog Spotto and lots of fun organised after school – every Weds is pancake day – and on weekends, when most boarders stay over, like trips to the beach, the Indoor Wave at Cardiff (note to self, must visit).  The emphasis is on enjoying an old fashioned childhood with time outdoors, no screens allowed and phones kept in the office.

BOASTY BITS/QUIRKS

Their Greenpower racing teams used CAD and CAM to design and build a prototype car before building a racing car which competed at Castle Combe race track.

They’re a talented bunch: Prep school pupils scooped up an incredible 35 1st – 3rds places in music, drama and creative writing at the 2019 Mid Somerset Festival. Future RSC thesps and Oscar winners perhaps?

In the latest ISI Inspection report, the Nursery was rated ‘Outstanding’.

WRAP AROUND CARE

Can drop off kids as early as 7.30am for breakfast club (with breakfast, natch). After school until 6.30pm. No time to get bored, with a new programme of after school activities every term.  All the usual plus judo, Mandarin, animation, hand bells…

FEES

2020/21:  Nursery and Kindergarten £37/morning, £29/afternoon; £62/day and Kindergarten £3,340 10 sessions/week/term.  Reception £3,340/term; Years 1 & 2 £3,435/term. Prep, standard day from £4,035/term; extended day which includes breakfast, activity, supper and 3 nights boarding/term, from £5,085. Boarding from £7,850. Options for wrap around care/supervision, flexi boarding and more.

WORD ON THE GROUND

Parents describe the school as ‘gentle, inspirational yet ambitious’;  academics are ‘robust but not pushy’ and ‘supportive of all types of learner enabling children from both end of academic spectrum to flourish’. They like the fact that pupils are greeted personally every morning by the Head and fare-welled at the end of the day, that all staff (not just teachers) really know each child and that contributions to the school and wider community are recognised, building confidence and self-esteem. ‘Everyone has a smile on their face’, teachers are ‘enthusiastic, encouraging and approachable’ and problems are resolved ‘swiftly and compassionately’. Great sporting facilities all in one location meaning more pitch time – and apparently the match teas are brilliant.

MUDDY VERDICT

Good for:  nurturing confidence and self-esteem as well as academics, with an underlying Christian ethos.

Not for:  hothouse parents look away; the teaching is ambitious but within a gentle pastoral setting.

Want to know more? Call their Admissions team on 01225 721133/email admissions@monkton.org.uk.

Monkton Prep School, Combe Down, Bath, Somerset BA2 7ET. Tel 01225 837912. monktoncombeschool.com

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