Moreton Hall, Oswestry, Shropshire
Muddy says: With a new £1.45m theatre and national lacrosse champions, this nurturing rural boarding and day school has a strong academic record, wonderfully quirky features and even its very own farm smallholding.
Moreton Hall is situated in 100 acres of parkland set within a most beautiful rural location on the Welsh Borders, four miles from Oswestry, with excellent views of the Berwyn Hills on a clear day.
It’s close to Chirk with its National Trust castle, Shrewsbury, North Wales and Chester. London is only two hours by train, with Manchester and Birmingham airport is an hour away.
This rural school is a co-ed nursery and prep, an all-girls selective senior school with boarding facilities, and has just over 500 pupils. Small class sizes ensure a tailored curriculum for individual children.
Three words in the school’s new logo ‘Scholarship. Gaiety. Humanity’ capture the essence of this warm, liberal, outward-looking and family-orientated school established in 1913 by Ellen Lloyd-Williams.
She was succeeded by her daughter Bronwen Lloyd-Williams (1945-1973) – a freelance journalist and former Welsh lacrosse captain – who is described as a “transformational” principal. The words in the logo speak of “rolled up sleeves, hard work, collaboration, laughter and comfort in being yourself”.
Pupils come from all over the country but mostly North Wales and the Welsh Borders, Chester, Mid-Wales, Birmingham, Manchester and London. International students make up 15% of the school’s population with pupils coming from Hong Kong, China, Nigeria, France, Spain and the Ukraine.
Over the Lockdown Moreton Hall has seen an increase in demand from families looking to move out of the bigger cities and relocate to the surrounding countryside.
Many of the school’s alumni such as Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor-in-chief of The Economist, the UK’s first black high court judge Linda Dobbs, Conservative Party Cabinet Minister Amanda Milling (MP for Cannock Chase) and global music industry exec Sas Metcalfe have established top careers in traditionally male industries.
“We do shattering glass ceilings rather well,” says new school Principal George Budd, who took over the reins in September 2019. He was previously Deputy Head of Godolphin School in Salisbury.
Other notable former pupils include Scottish actress Sheila Reid, known for playing Madge Harvey in ITV sitcom Benidorm and Pakistani politician and journalist Jugnu Mohsin.
Moreton Hall’s founder Ellen Lloyd-Williams first opened her small family boarding school at Lloren House, Oswestry in 1913.
Ellen was left with 11 children to educate after her husband, headmaster of Oswestry School died, so she decided to do it herself – and the school grew from there.
Today a stunning historic house is now the architectural nucleus of Moreton Hall overlooking a delightful 16th century walled garden with an apple orchard, well-tended by the grounds team.
On my school tour Moreton’s friendly and articulate head girl, Kundai, informed me that the apples are used for puddings in school kitchen, an ethical and eco-consciousness that pervades throughout.
She tells me the walled garden is the setting for barbecues, the annual Year 13 Leaver’s Ball and other social gatherings – but day-to-day it’s a nice place to sit, relax with friends and sunbathe.
New this September is Cornflower Farm, named after the school’s cornflower emblem. It is the school’s latest sustainability project – a small farm holding with chickens, two Welsh black sheep called Bron and Lil, pygmy goats and guinea pigs. There are hopes for alpacas too.
Pupils will be able to learn about the farming community in which they live, see the hatching of chicks, baby lambs and learn hands-on animal husbandry skills. Hannah Peel, Head of Biology and Ecology has been known to bring entire classes down to the farm already. She enthused: “The farm is a fantastic chance for children to learn how Biology is applied in agriculture. I am looking forward to a wide range of opportunities where they can really engage with the Science of Farming as well as developing a wider understanding of ecosystems, both natural and man-made.”
The £2m Medical Science faculty opened in 2014 with six state-of-the art teaching laboratories demonstrating the school’s commitment to STEM. It offers cutting edge technology for aspiring scientists, doctors, surgeons and vets. More than half of the Sixth Form take a STEM subject at A level.
Space is key here, with 100-acres of parkland and a long scenic driveway approach. There’s woodland across the grounds – and making the most of this, the school has two outdoor classroom, which is used by the nursery and junior school for any lesson that would benefit from some fresh air and a change of scene, as well as a Forest School.
A school with a forward-looking attitude (more on that later) and modern facilities, with a core belief in turning out independent, diverse, entrepreneurial, and creative women, Moreton has always placed a huge on the creative arts, drama and public speaking.
Shortlisted as a finalist in the Independent school of the Year Awards 2020 for Performing Arts, Moreton Hall celebrated the grand opening of the £1.45m impressive 180-seater Holroyd Community Theatre in December 2019.
It launched with a spectacular major school production of Chicago and a community production of Beauty and the Beast. A vibrant state-of-the-art and multi-use performance space, it’s the biggest professional theatre between Shrewsbury and Chester.
And the school’s Face2Face performance academy attracts more than 50 young actors and performers from the community aged nine to 18. Moreton Hall has also been shortlisted in the TES Awards for Community Engagement.
Drama is not only a compulsory part of the curriculum up to Year 9, but also a popular subject at GCSE and A Level. Two full scale productions are staged every year in the Senior School and Middle school, plus there’s frequent devised and scripted shows by the GCSE and A Level student. Last year 100% of students entered for LAMDA performance examinations passed with Distinction. Theatrical agents, actors and casting directors regularly visit the school.
A two-storey Design Centre comprises of a large bright art studio with big windows overlooking the parkland, next to a ceramics room with large kiln. Upstairs is a photography dark room and editing suite. Art and History of Art are on the curriculum and extra-curricular with three full-time teachers offering extra classes in Pottery and Life Drawing. At A level students can study Fine Art, Photography, Textile Design and History of art – with many opting for more than one.
Everywhere there’s lots of incredible art pinned up on the wall, rows of ceramics on wire shelves, and sculptural rope hanging down over a balcony – it’s open seven days a week and clearly a place of great experimental artistic expression, where pupils are taught art by artists – even remotely during a global pandemic.
In Lockdown two Sixth Formers won first place and runner-up prizes in Falmouth School of Art’s national ‘Where there’s still life, there’s hope’ competition. Kundai, who hopes to study architecture at university, was the runner-up with her bold portraits a response to Black Lives Matter.
33% of all pupils have musical instrument and singing instrumental lessons whether it’s the harp, sax, piano, acoustic or electro guitar and a third of those learning two or more instruments – that’s 400 lessons a week!
The Musicianship Programme has been a huge success across all year groups incorporating numerous chamber ensembles as well as scholarship preparation classes supporting both internal and external pupils. The Lady Barbirolli Music Society sees visiting professional musicians providing individual masterclasses as well as excellent concert opportunities.
A singing programme includes weekly choir time up to the end of Lower 4. Many students go on to join the Chamber Choir and the Show Choir (the school’s equivalent of a Glee club). This year, for the third year in a row, the Chamber Choir have been centre stage at a celebrity-studded Chelsea charity event in aid of FAIR (Funding Auto-Immune Research).
And the opportunities don’t stop there, music tours abroad take place every two years. Past tours have visited Boston, Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Prague, and Salzburg.
Moreton is also the home of North Shropshire Music (NSM), a hub of musical excellence in the North Shropshire and Welsh Border areas offering instrumental ensembles for all ages and abilities. Musicians can join two county level ensembles: String and Woodwind in addition to the School’s Orchestra.
Placed in the top 35 schools for sport in the UK, Moreton punches well above its weight in national competitions. The under-14 Lacrosse team made history by winning the 2019 National School Lacrosse Tournament – beating top teams across London and the south.
Facilities here are excellent and include four lacrosse and hockey pitches, four netball courts, 12 tennis courts including astro tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, a 24m indoor heated swimming pool, a large sports hall and fitness suite, where the head of Physiotherapy runs regular strength and conditioning classes for sports teams.
Lacrosse and Hockey are the principal sports in autumn and spring. Girls have sport every day – often including two competitive fixtures a week. The school is the regional centre for the English Lacrosse Association and the school’s lacrosse teams are among the top eight in the country. Hockey is played to an equally high standard. Tennis and Athletics are the two major summer term sports, with cricket popular also.
Former England Lacrosse international Carina Walsh was recently recruited to deliver elite training to talented students and offer outreach lacrosse to Shropshire community.
Moreton Hall is a finalist in the Independent School of the Year Awards 2020 Student Careers Programme for its diverse and far reaching Careers and Futures advice.
This is a fantastic endorsement for Head of Careers Catherine Ashworth, Life Skills Co-ordinator Sarah Pritchard and Senior Sixth Form Tutor and UCAS advisor Caroline Lang, and the department’s passionate commitment to young people.
This nomination recognises one of the many in-school initiatives such as the Rylands Diploma, the school’s bespoke life skills programme through which, under the guidance of former barrister, Sarah Pritchard, the Sixth Form girls develop a range of core skills including driving theory, essential car maintenance and managing finances.
During lockdown the Careers team provided Year 13s with a bespoke six week virtual ‘Bridging the Gap’ programme. Recent alumni shared their thoughts and insights on the things they wish they had known before embarking on their career journeys. The team also created a bespoke Year 10 Careers Roadshow for pupils and parents in local state schools offering advice and guidance on A Level choices and beyond.
Another, perhaps lesser known, star turn of Moreton Hall is Moreton Enterprises, an Apprentice-style challenge run by lower sixth girls founded 25 years ago impressively netting up to £50k a year! Alan Sugar would be proud.
And to celebrate International Women’s Day, the Moreton Means Business Conference saw top businesswomen from across the region lead a series of seminars and workshops for students from Upper Four to Upper Six.
Another forward-thinking legacy is that all students receive lessons in public speaking, Spoken English, as part of the curriculum and enter the English Speaking Board Advanced Certificate in Spoken English in Lower Sixth. Some then choose to enter the Business and Professional Women’s Public Speaking Competition, the Shropshire Festival of Verse and Prose and Thomas Cranmer Awards.
On top of several societies’ enrichment includes the Model UN, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and Leiths Certificate in Food & Wine, an 18-month long practical cookery course – with a recent visit from its founder, Prue Leith the Great British Bake Off judge and her niece, Peta Leith, a professional pastry chef and food writer!
Extra curriculars range from Art Appreciation to Beginners’ Greek, Astronomy to French Film Society, Fencing to Photography, Polo to Wine Appreciation.
This year pupils gained 70% of A Level grades achieving A* to B.
It was also another record-breaking year at GCSE with more than 50% of girls achieving top grades 9 – 7/ A* – A.
Two thirds of Year 13s won places at Russell Group universities studying subjects including Architecture & Urban Planning, Medicine, Chemical Engineering and Computer Science; while other girls opted for vocational creative courses ranging from Hand Embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace, to Acting at Manchester Met, and Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins in London.
First Steps nursery accommodates up to 50 children in term-time and school holidays, offering an informal but structured programme including Gym minis Ballet, Sing and Sign Forest School Languages including Welsh, French, Spanish and Chinese (Transition Class), Drama and Music.
The ‘Outstanding’ selective Moreton Hall Prep school has a focus on boosting creativity, imagination and STEM with a recent Science Day welcoming 300 children from across the region for a ‘carousel of experiments’, as well outdoor learning in the two outdoor classrooms and Forest school.
It’s also very community-spirited – Harvest Festival donations went to Oswestry Food Bank, £1,000 was raised in a Santa Run for The Movement Centre at Gobowen hospital – and over lockdown a brother and sister in Years 3 and 5 even sold rhubarb from their garden in aid of the NHS!
‘Idiosyncratic’ is a word often used to describe Moreton Hall. Last summer pupils this was embodied perfectly by The Circus, a large-scale Gifford Circus inspired full school production which looks just amazing – with jugglers, dancing horses and its own big top in the grounds! Everyone from the Junior School to the Sixth Form was involved in the acting, singing, dancing, costume-making and back-stage over 10 days of prep and rehearsals.
Moreton’s school campus has a mix of the old and new, with historic timbered buildings sitting next brand new purpose-built blocks but a row of highly unusual triangular roofed structures really caught my eye – they used to be dorms in the early days but are now Prep School classrooms. Some of the more risqué stories told to the head by old Moretonians involved pupils’ sliding down the triangular roofs!
And then there’s the school’s very own open-air amphitheatre – a brilliant space for school drama festivals, summer barbecues and even an Abba Tribute act.
The loo in the main reception area I noticed, is part of an inspiring Toilet Twinning campaign, supported by the bursary and admin team, enabling a family in Nepal to build a basic toilet.
LEARNING IN LOCKDOWN
Moreton Hall may have been closed, but remote learning continued, as did virtual choir practice, Face2Face’s West End online masterclasses with industry professionals as well as Bridging the Gap for senior girls.
Moreton has 80-day pupils, many of whom frequently stay overnight, the rest are boarders. By Sixth Form more than 90% of girls board. There are six boarding houses, each with its own Housemistress, Assistant Housemistress and Tutor team – offering outstanding integrated pastoral care.
Newly announced short-term plans include the refurbishment of boarding accommodation, the re-introduction of a Director of Wellbeing and mindfulness, as well as plans and to develop evening and weekend activities.
One of Moreton Hall’s exceptional strengths has been its ability to inspire a generation of girls over the last 100 years with long lasting friendships. The school has a thriving and committed network of former pupils, the Old Moretonian Association (OMA) which runs events, reunions, newsletters, business networks, mentoring schemes as well as the database facility to allow ‘OM’s to pick up lost friendships. Strong links continue with the school with many contributing to Values, Vision & Commitments and expressing, to the head, how much they adored their Moreton experience.
George Budd has been the man at the helm since September 2019. He succeeds Jonathan Forster who retired after 27 years. He was deputy head academic at Godolphin School, a girls’ only boarding school in Salisbury, following appointments at Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, London and Sir William Perkins’ School, Surrey.
He met his wife Nicky at Lady Eleanor Holles School where she was Director of Sport at Lady Eleanor Holles School and head coach of the under-19 England Lacrosse Team. It was through lacrosse nationals that the couple first discovered Moreton Hall.
“Nicky and I had been to lacrosse nationals up and down the country for 15 years. You learn the schools where you’d like to work – and this was definitely on my radar.
“It’s great – I love it here. It’s a real family and so welcoming such a warm supportive place people go to the ends of the earth to help each other.
“I’ve loved meeting Moretonians past and present; they’re very grounded. They possess a great deal of integrity which matters to me. It’s rated one of the top 35 schools sin the country for sport – and they’re so proud of it.”
The Principal’s office is in one of the oldest parts of the school with lovely views over to the tennis courts and has an ornate wooden carved fireplace that’s “either a 17th Century original or a replica” featuring crocodiles and figurines – another quirk. This is complimented on the wall by stunning framed contemporary abstract art by A level Fine Art students.
George has enjoyed getting to know the school’s cohort. He says: “Our pupils are very supportive, kind and proud of each other’s achievements. We are a nurturing, supportive school and pupils who find things a bit tough come out of their shells as they get the chance to try everything here.
“We have School Council and Prefect meetings, but for me it’s as valuable to have lunch or hot chocolate and cookies in the boarding houses of an evening.”
The head, a Durham University geography graduate and teacher, is going to be running a new Geography Enrichment course for Senior girls looking to study the subject at university.
A keen sportsman himself, George spent 20 years involved in competitive mountain bike racing. After relocating to the countryside he couldn’t wait to explore the Berwyn Hills on his bike but now prefers taking in the hilltop sights. “I’m a sucker for absolutely spectacular views.”
VALUES & ETHOS
When asked about his vision for the school, the new head explained how over the last 18 months he and his team have been seeking out the views of old Moretonians, parents, staff and governors on capturing the school’s optimistic, outward-looking values and kind ethos – which were clear but had never been written down.
This is all laid out in a new highly comprehensive 19-page Values, Vision and Commitments booklet complete with a new school logo. Ironically, the inspiration for this was, he says, staring him in the eye on a 70-year-old plaque outside his office dedicated to former principal Bronwyn Lloyd-Williams: ‘Her vision and courage gave this school scholarship, gaiety and humanity’.
A former Welsh lacrosse team captain and a freelance journalist she enjoyed choreographing dance productions and leading country rambles at the school. She left her journalism career to take on the headship after her mother died.
Not only does the booklet set out the school’s vision but clearly outlines short-term plans (1-3 years), medium (3-5) term and long term (5+ years) for education, boarding pastoral & wellbeing, teaching & learning, plus community outreach.
Some very exciting and innovative proposals include Moreton’s very own literary festival, a new modern languages resource centre and the creation a Sports Performance Centre to attract and develop talented young athletes in lacrosse, hockey tennis and golf.
Plans are also afoot to extend the teaching of Computing, Product Design and Music Technology and Production, reflecting the schools excellence in STEM and creative and digital arts.
Other improvements range from a new cutting edge whole-school ICT infrastructure, a complete curriculum review including Saturday provision listening to pupils to the creation of a new holiday club for half-term, Easter, and summer school programme.
Full boarding for UK senior school students is (Y9-12) £12,100 termly (£36,300 per year), £11,450 (Y7&8) and for Moreton Hall Prep , £7,870 (Y3-6).
Day student fees include mid-morning break, lunch and tea and cost £9,960 per term (Years 9 -13), £9,200 (Y7&8), £4,850 (Y3-6) and £3,410 9 (R-Y2). Overnight stays are offered at £42 per night for Moreton Hall Prep and £54 per night for Years 7-13.
Additional costs include music and singing lessons, group theory, ballet, Spoken English public speaking (£100 per term) and tennis coaching. Nursery fees are £61.50 per full day (8am-6pm) including healthy snacks, lunch, light supper, and milk. Breakfast club is £3.45.
See the full schedule of fees here.
See the latest ISI reports here
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents particularly like the breadth of experience. They say staff help their children enjoy the arts to their greatest capacity. Regardless of background, there’s a sense of freedom that children from any walk of life have the chance to follow whatever path they choose. The teachers will go out of their way to help pupils reach their goals. Everyone praises the warmth, sense of ‘normality’ (even in a pandemic) and family feel.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Unpretentious, joiner-inner types with a thirst and willingness to try new experiences and do their best. Moreton has a mentality of ‘just giving it a go’. The spacious parkland is wonderful for outdoorsy kids; and city children who’d benefit from the hearty, rural experience would also be well served.
We also like the international vibe of the pupils and close-knit sense of family – great for pupils making a home from home. This is a school with a myriad of opportunities, so anyone with a positive give-it-a-go attitude will love it.
Not for: Moreton Hall is in a quiet, semi-rural location, so if you want your daughter to be in a vibrant, town centre school, it won’t tick that box. But pupils tell me they do enjoy regular trips out to Shrewsbury and other cities.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Two virtual open days will take place on Sat May 8 at 10am. More here.
Moreton Hall Weston Rhyn, Oswestry, Shropshire, SY11 3EW, Tel: 01691 773671.