The Croft Prep, Stratford-upon-Avon
Muddy says: For a warm, caring and family-orientated all-rounder education, this is a great high-achieving co-ed prep in a wonderful rural idyll with its own Conservation Woodland and Forest School.
A characterful independent family owned co-ed prep and pre-prep day school for 3 – 11-year-olds, established 86 years ago. It’s set in beautiful countryside 2.5 miles outside Stratford-upon-Avon on top of Alveston Hill around a large, imaginatively converted farmhouse. From the country roadside this attractive school is set back down a long scenic drive, surrounded by fields dotted with sheep among 30 acres of land – only when you see the fields at the back do you realise the extent of the grounds. First established in 1933 within Stratford-upon-Avon’s Old Town, the prep was bought by the Thornton Family in the early 1980’s and moved to the site of the former family farm in 1986. It has 392 children on roll: 292 boys and 160 girls. There are maximum classes of 15 – 20.
Here, children can really get back to nature. The star of the show is the outside space as Croft is set within 30 acres, which includes its own Conservation Woodland, an accredited Forest School in two acres of gorgeous woodland with a lake and a giant tee-pee as its headquarters. There are sheep a-plenty to spy from the school rooms, and a feeling of rural tranquillity.
With plenty of space for sports facilities, there’s 11 football and rugby pitches, two cricket pitches, rounders and hockey pitches, floodlit tennis and netball courts, a cross country trail and an on-site indoor swimming pool.
Academically, the school campus is based in modern, purpose-built classroom blocks with specialist teaching spaces including a Science Lab, an ICT Suite, a fabulous Art Studio with its own kiln, a Design and Technology room, sprung floor small-scale performance space, music rooms, music technology room, and two libraries with a full-time librarian. The Juniors’ library is currently moving into a bigger, brighter space and will have a futuristic theme.
There’s also a huge 600-seat well-equipped Theatre with lighting and sound rigs and a gigantic Sports Hall (below).
A lovely and airy brand-new kitchen and dining room re-opened last autumn following a kitchen fire in June 2018. Thankfully no-one was injured. Showing great resilience, three self-contained kitchen pods were set up temporarily and lunch was served in a marquee in the Prep playground. Over the summer holidays and the first half of Michaelmas term, nearly £1 million was spent creating the new facilities.
In July 2015, The Croft was awarded ‘Outstanding’ and ‘Excellent’ accreditation’s from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) for the third consecutive inspection. Over the last three years, pupils have impressively achieved 54 Scholarships and 46 11+ awards. Children go on to the Warwickshire grammars, Bromsgrove, Malvern, Solihull School, King’s School, Worcester, Princethorpe School near Rugby, Bloxham School, Oxon and Sibford School, Banbury. The Head has close ties with all the local heads and is very happy to advise parents on the best options to suit their children.
A lively, progressive school based on traditional values it has a real family feel with a well-planned curriculum. For the first time in January this year girls and boys had separate assemblies to question gender stereotypes with talks from a firefighter, a neuro-scientist and a nursery teacher who’ve all challenged stereotypes in their career. A highlight of 2018 was a highly-creative Stem Week set up by Canadian Head of Stem Angela Mills, whose passion for the subject is incredibly infectious. She set up pop-up shops where children could participate in a wide range of science, tech and engineering activities including code-breaking, trying on Virtual Reality goggles, making marble runs, LEGO challenges, learning about aerodynamics and inventing their own robots.
The Croft has an Orchestra, Senior Choir, Junior Choir, Percussion, Wind, String, Brass and Jazz Ensemble. The music department is extremely industrious with more than 150 grades passed in 17 instruments, with 31 distinctions and 54 merits. Pastorally strong with yoga (Years 3 – 6), and mindfulness (Years 5 and 6) clubs, other extra-curricular clubs include geology and train clubs, art, acting, cricket, netball, football, karate, ICT, Spanish, cheerleading, table tennis, library drop-in and an Eco Club. The school has a great relationship with the RSC just a couple of miles away, so drama is big with theatre trips and visits by creatives.
Under the Head’s leadership the school saw the introduction of seven Core Values in September 2018: Resilience, Respect, Friendship & Trust, Creativity, Growth Mindset and Excellence. Created by the children themselves and staff, they’re a visual reminder of how all pupils should behave and approach school life. During each half term, individual Core Values are focused on in assemblies, PSHE lessons and form time. Pupils each wear a specially designed colourful metal badge representing each in the shape of a head.
A former professional Rugby player, Marcus Cook is 6ft 4in and by his own admission “not the smallest person”. He’s very aware this could be rather intimidating to some of the younger children. Funny, down-to-earth and charismatic, children are certainly not too afraid to ask him what size shoes he takes, as one pupil did earlier that week when Mr Cook was being interviewed by pupils on recycling.
Mr Cook was already a qualified secondary school teacher before playing rugby for Bedford, the Harlequins and Moseley. He returned to teaching after retiring from the game choosing to work in primary education. The father-of-two has now been at The Croft for 17 years and been fortunate to see his son and daughter go through the school. First appointed in 2002 as Head of Geography and Boys’ Games Teacher, he was promoted to Director of Studies, and, later, Deputy Headmaster. It’s Mr Cook sixth year as Head. Still a keen sportsman and coach, he continues to teach games at school amid a busy schedule.
The Head takes pastoral care and well-being very seriously. It’s his view that a happy child not only excels academically but is also able to make a positive contribution in activities outside the classroom, whether it be sport, music, acting, science or art. He’s appointed James Ferris as Assistant Head Pastoral and Gemma Cook, Head of Emotional and Physical Development. There’s also an Assistant Head Academic, Charlotte Hughes.
As you’d expect with a former top sportsman as Head, a strong emphasis on sport for all means that all children are exposed to a wide range of sports and swimming lessons.
Early Years all have gardens facing onto their open-plan classrooms, as well as all-weather outdoor areas. Horse chestnut and Sycamore trees provide shade in the summer and an abundance of leaves in autumn for fun and games. The extensive grounds mean children can enjoy great snow play, welly walks, storytelling, Forest School, den-building, making fairy houses, nature trails, conker-collecting and duck-watching. Little Crofters were enjoying some free-play during my tour and had been drawing on a huge sheet of paper stuck to the floor. A small group of girls were pretending to fly their own helicopter. Go, sisters! The teachers were just lovely.
The Croft offers outstanding provision, with each girl and boy allocated a key person. Classrooms are bright, welcoming and have lots of colourful artwork, including this fab Elmer mural, with well-equipped outside play areas with world maps on exterior walls and a tactile farmyard mural. You can see how many children have tried to stroke the horses muzzle as it’s all but faded away. A Baby and Toddler group is held on Tuesday afternoons and is £2 per session. Little Crofters for children aged 3+ can attend a minimum of two morning a week and can stay up to a whole day if required. When they’re four they can attend pre-school every morning until 1.15pm, including lunch. Afternoon sessions are also available, and are arranged on a termly basis.
The Denim Breakfast Club and After School Club run from 7.50am before school daily (£6) and from the end of the school day until 6pm (between £11 and £14).
As you approach the school the first unusual thing that catches your eye is a striking Motte-and-Bailey Castle, on top of a grassy mound. It’s a big favourite with the younger pupils. But The Croft Prep has some other very interesting quirks that give the school its own special character. There’s an Eco Club’s potting shed and allotment, an orchard for making apple juice and a small pond with dipping jetty.
It also has its own fascinating miniature Geology Museum run by Sam Thornton, housing more than 2,000 rocks and other items to fire the children’s imagination from volcanic yellow fluorescent sulphur to impressive Icelandic black sand. I love that the children bring back colourful rocks, unusal stones and sand from their family holidays to add to the collection. Sam also runs the school Geology and Train Clubs. Another ‘engine-eous’ curiosity is a huge train shed with an O Gauge model railway, previously owned by the school’s philanthropist founder, the late Tim Thornton.
Fees are in line with other local prep schools from £3,619 a term for Years 1 and 2 and £4,071 a term for Years 3 to 6. There’s an additional cost for school lunches – £160 a term – and £30 for a mid-morning snack and drink (Years 1 and 2).
WORD ON THE GROUND
The Croft has a very good reputation among parents for its nurturing, friendly and unpretentious vibe, allowing children to be children, but also making sure they deliver on academics. They love the fact that the children can play outdoors in the woodlands and Forest School. Also some mums remarked on how special it is to have the Christmas service at Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare is buried.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Outdoorsy kids – the idyllic surroundings and space allow for a tremendous sense of freedom. Brilliant for enquiring minds to discover what it is that makes them tick, as there are a wide range of opportunities and superb facilities on offer.
Not for: Those who like a town centre location. The anti-hothouse ethos won’t appeal to all.
Dare to disagree?! Come along to the Early Years Open Morning to have a look around on Saturday March 16, 10am-12noon. You can register online here
Alveston Hill, Loxley Road, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 7RL. Tel: 01789 293795, croftschool