Clifton College Preparatory School, Bristol
A super creative, stimulating all-round education for boys and girls in a school with a liberal ethos and where the parents are as much a part of the school community as the pupils
The co-ed independent Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep School (called The Pre) for 2 to 13 year olds is part of Clifton College and is located in, guess where? Yep, gorgeous Clifton in Bristol, right next door to Bristol Zoo (you can see right into the zoo from parts of the school) and within spitting distance of Clifton College’s Upper School which is across the road and round about.
Clifton College was established over 150 years ago by a man ahead of his time, Dr John Percival, who believed in the importance of science, the higher education of women and racial tolerance – and the school retains that liberal ethos.
There are currently around 500 pupils on the roll across the Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep Schools.
The Nursery (for 2 to 4 years) and Pre-Prep (Reception, Years 1 –3, ages 4 to 8) are housed in elegant Victorian villas – high ceilings, shuttered sash windows but with white boards, computers and other tech, too – with classrooms, music room, ICT suite and more from the ground all the way up. On my visit, the Reception kids in their Clifton College Prep trackies were eager to show off their Willy Wonka style golden tickets for good work, behaviour and being kind, before going outside to the adventure playground, rather impressively part paid for with funds raised by the Prep School Council.
The Pre (Years 4 – 8, for ages 8 to 13) sits close by in its own grounds with a main building, school hall, classrooms, drama studio, design technology and art departments, with assorted science labs, a dance studio and music rooms across the road.
The Nursery/Pre-Prep and The Pre both have outstanding libraries and librarians in charge of each (one of whom is a Carnegie Medal judge) who fill the shelves with enticing titles and organise author/illustrator visits. The Pre library’s glass-fronted computer suite and other study areas at the top of a spiral staircase creates a quiet little eyrie. The libraries are linked to the Upper School’s Hogwarts-style Percival Library via the school intranet – or pupils can always pop over.
Pupils start making music from the youngest age and there is plenty of singing in class, assemblies, in the playground. In Year 2, everyone learns the violin or cello in a weekly class lesson, in Year 3, it’s recorders and other reed instruments; overall, they reckon there are about 200 individual music lessons a week, including the harp (and even the bagpipes). Masses of musical groups and ensembles. Not just trad music, there is also a 20-Mac computer suite and a recording studio. They join forces with the Upper School for assorted concerts throughout the year.
Very appealing art studios in the Art Dept, with views out over the zoo probably inspiring some of the impressive artworks on the walls. They combine trad/modern techniques with IT and lots of visiting artists.
Cutting edge (literally – look at their lasers – not to mention 3D printers and CAD software) tech in the design and technology dept, where recent projects include designing a F24 and Goblin racing cars (raced at Goodwood), a two-seater hovercraft and assorted robots.
Three state-of-the-art ICT suites with the latest software (and a giant banana).
From Nursery to Prep School, kids jump into a bus for the short ride over to Beggar’s Bush to their award-winning Forest School run by a full-time forest school leader. Not just a woodland but a meadow too, where pupils can learn about the environment and develop skills and knowledge, try their hand at bush craft or go on a Julia Donaldson trail and enjoy a drink and snack around the campfire.
Pupils with learning difficulties like dyslexia, or who’ve fallen behind with school work can have one-to-one teaching and a tailor made Education Programme in The Coach House specialist learning centre.
Years 7 & 8 eat in the Big School Kitchen, though not at the same time as the Upper School pupils (can you imagine the commotion?) with younger kids eating in the Prep. Veggie day once a fortnight and plenty of vegetarian options throughout the week.
A school nurse/matron’s in every day in the fully equipped health centre called The San, and there’s a full-time dedicated counsellor offering specific support.
All the Upper School’s excellent facilities are close by: a 25m swimming pool, Dome indoor sports centre and Olympic size hockey pitch at Beggar’s Bush sports ground, and the atmospheric College Chapel. School plays are performed in the professional level Redgrave Theatre (named after one of the school’s old boys, Sir Michael Redgrave).
Entrance is by informal assessment for Pre-Prep (age 4 upwards), entry test for The Pre (age 8 upwards). The curriculum is described as ‘traditional with add ons’, focusing on 21st century requirements so pupils can develop the soft skills that AI and the like won’t replace. Specialist music, PE and language teachers – the Littlies start learning French in the Nursery and keep on going until Year 7 when three more modern languages thrown into the mix: German, Spanish and Mandarin. Pupils also learn Latin in their Classics lessons in Years 7 and 8. Classes are small, around 12 in the Pre-Prep and no more than 20 in The Pre. Most pupils move on to the Upper School.
Jim Walton has been the Head here since 2018. Aside from stints at Clifton High School, Cheltenham College Prep and Elizabeth College Junior School on Guernsey (where he was Head), interestingly, he’s also been involved in high level projects at The Lost Gardens of Heligan and The Eden Project and is enthusiastic about the outdoors and the environment. Walking around the Nursery and Pre-Prep with him, pupils rushed up to talk to him or just give his knees a hug (he’s very tall). He not only knew all the pupils’ names but about their interests and families too. He finds time to teach geography and games and is constantly looking for innovative ways of teaching in the school, like a maths class where everyone learns standing up.
He talks about the school’s three aims – aim high, be kind and be brave – and for pupils to develop integrity, spirit and resilience but he also stresses the importance of enjoying what you do. He’s proud of the way the kids can be themselves, and have healthy honest relationships with each other.
It’s not just about the pupils here. When a child joins Clifton, the whole family joins Clifton. Parents are seen as part of the Clifton community and encouraged to become involved. The first Saturday of each term is a parents’ INSET training day with tips, advice and training in different aspects of school life/education, for example mental health. The school’s also involved in the wider community, working with other Bristol prep schools on environmental issues, for example.
This is a sporty school with a reputation for high performance. In The Pre, three sessions of sport every week, with weekly swimming. Everyone has a go at all the usual sports as well as rackets (an ancient form of squash), archery, judo and more. The likes of rugby pro Danny Grewcock helps with the training. A fair few former pupils have gone on to represent the country in hockey, rugby and cricket. The fastest growing sport in the school is girls’ cricket. Girls also play rugby and the girls’ U11 hockey team are current IAPS champs.
Although the school’s got an Anglican foundation and is open to all faiths and none, it’s got a strong Jewish tradition. So Jewish pupils can go to the school’s own synagogue, learn Hebrew and prepare for Bar Mitzvah.
The Twelves are the school prefects, chosen not for academic, sporting or other excellence but for their kindness.
Every pupil, both day and boarding, is attached to one of eight Houses (ah, so that explains the ties with different coloured stripes) named after founding heads and teachers, which provide a ‘school family’ for each pupil. Every single teacher is attached to a House too. There are six day and two boarding Houses, each with a common room, Housemaster or Mistress, dedicated staff – some of whom were displaying impressive baking skills on our visit – and the occasional House dog. Tutor groups within each House, each with around 6 pupils, meet weekly. Friendly but determined House comps throughout the year.
Saturday school from Year 4 starts with all-school assembly, then sports fixtures or practice – so far, so standard – but their eclectic 12-week enrichment programme for Years 7 & 8 sounds pretty awesome, with everyone having a go at 3D gaming, Tai Chi, sign language, debating and more. Polymaths are encouraged here.
School trips sound brilliant, with a camel safari in Dubai, netball in Australia and Latin trips to the ancient capital of Roman Corinium (Cirencester to you and me).
From September 2020 there will be a new co-ed boarding house that will sit at the heart of the Prep School which will provide the family atmosphere that the pupils enjoy. There are full, weekly and flexi boarding options while the day pupils often stay for prep or supper. The boarding and day houses are all well kitted out with sitting rooms, prep rooms, computer and games rooms aplenty.
Budding Brian Coxes take note: three Noble Prize winners studied at Clifton College.
The College has a strong sporting history, from cricketer AEJ Collins who set a cricket runs record which stood for 117 years to Lily Owsley MBE who was part of the GB Hockey team that won gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
It’s one of the only schools located alongside a zoo, was one of the first UK public schools to have its own theatre and is one of only five schools in the country to have a Real Tennis court on campus.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Can drop off Nursery children at 7.30am for breakfast club. School day officially starts at 8.30am but you can drop off half an hour earlier. Lessons finish at 4pm but lots of day pupils stay on for clubs, prep or tea before collection any time before 6pm – very handy. Lots of clubs, some free, including creative writing, swing band, karate, Lego, bee keeping, yoga, dance, art, IT, drama, pop group, orchestra, ukulele, F24 racing, squash, athletics…
Holiday club for pupils from age 2 to 13, with age-appropriate stuff like pottery painting, bush craft, mountain biking, fashion & creative textiles, forest fun, martial arts, photography and performing arts.
Fees per term 2020/21: full-time 2 year olds £3,780; full-time 3/4 year olds £3,440 (other fee combos available). Pre-Prep, reception £3,440; Year 1 £3,650; Year 2 £4,015; Year 3 £4,105. Prep: Years 4-6 £4,540 (day), £5,595 (flexi-boarding, 3 nights),£8,300 (full boarding, 7 nights); Years 7 & 8 £5,990 (day), £7,060 (flexi-boarding), £9,835 (full boarding).
WORD ON THE GROUND
‘This is the school I wished I’d come to as a child’, said one parent, ‘teachers really seem to know the children, make the effort to understand how they learn and use a variety of methods to engage them across all the subjects, so that they learn without feeling as if they’re being preached at or just learning by rote’. Facilities like the sports and theatre are ‘world class’; the House system is ‘fantastic’; members of staff are enthusiastic, warm and approachable. ‘I’m filled with confidence whenever I speak to the housemasters; house tutors; matrons or Gappys. I know that my son is cared for and that the key people really understand him and will do everything in his best interests’ says the parent of a boarder. Parents feel a close affinity to Clifton and feel an integral part of the community.
Good for: A super creative, stimulating all-round education for boys and girls in a school with a liberal ethos and where the parents are as much a part of the school community as the parents. Academics, sports and music are all excellent. Pupils reap the benefits – and top notch facilities – of the Upper School, just over the road. There’s continuity with most pupils moving up there at the end of the Prep. The convenience of being in the city for those working or living in or near Bristol.
Not for: Parents who prefer a totally self-sufficient Prep school with every single facility on site (though you’d be hard pushed to able to match the quality of those at Clifton College).
Want to see for yourself? Register for their next Virtual Open Day for Nursery to Reception pupils on Fri 31 July or contact the school to find out more about the Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep at email@example.com or call 0117 315 7503
Clifton College Preparatory School, The Avenue, Bristol BS8 3HE. Tel 0117 315 7000. cliftoncollege.com