Muddy Stilettos reviews Waverley...
Muddy Stilettos is an independent body that reviewed Waverley Prep School and Nursery and published this review in September 2022.
This quietly brilliant co-ed prep school and nursery is family focussed, rated ‘double excellent’ and ranks highly in the Sunday Times Top 100 for its superb academic record.
Waverley is a non-selective independent day school for boys and girls, aged 3 months to 11 years on the outskirts of Wokingham. It’s just received a ‘double excellent’ rating’ and has featured in the Sunday Times‘ Top 100 Prep Schools for an impressive 11 years on the trot. There are 240 pupils (100 in nursery and 140 in prep) with average class sizes of 21. This is not your traditional Prep. Set in just 13 acres the school is purpose-built with a modern approach – so a bit of departure from the Hogwarts vibe of traditional Preps.
Waverley started life just down the road in Crowthorne, teaching the children of Wellington College’s masters. It gained a reputation for providing a high quality education, with a particular focus on meeting the needs of individual pupils. It’s a tradition that continues to this day, and that ethos starts in the Scandi-style nursery which is so popular with local parents, it’s got a waiting list. *Gulp*. Get those names down early.
The school building flows well with wide corridors, reducing the chaotic shoulder barging that you see in the narrow hallways of period buildings. Classrooms are light, bright, and dare I say it, TIDY! There are several outside play areas – and a seriously swish outdoor play area – divided into year-group zones, plus a forest school and playing field at the back.
A wedge of investment was put into the new library, and the result is a calming hangout for the kids to enjoy quiet time during their break or finish the book they cannot put down. They have to be speedy, though, if they want to bagsy one of the cocooning hideaway seats. Access is via the music room, so pipe down, or Waverley’s next Beethoven might hit a bum note.
Since my last visit, there has been a lot of focus on Waverley’s sports provision (lead by Assistant Head Henry Mitchell) to ensure they are offering opportunities, competition and quality teaching. Sporting success should not be limited by size – and Waverley has taken that idea and run with it.
Everything’s catered for: tennis and netball courts, pitches for rugby, cricket, football and hockey. A sports hall means they can offer dance and gymnastics, plus the children go off site for weekly swimming lessons. After school clubs now feature pro coaching in golf, tennis, gymnastics, plus Scrumys Rugby and fencing.
Waverley joined The Independent Schools Association to ramp up competition opportunities. They have played regional and national tournaments with girls and boys’ football, there was an impressive medal haul at this year’s ISA Athletics meet with a silver medal in the 600m national finals. Rounders is out, cricket is in and girls get to play football, cricket and rugby and there are opportunities to take part in mixed gender teams. Traditionalists will recoil in horror, but with England’s Lionesses crowned European Champions, it’s good to see grassroots sports covered in this way.
Music and Drama
Although academic success is at its heart, creativity flows through Waverley’s veins. Everyone takes part in school choir assemblies, many learn to play instruments or work towards speech and drama exams and they LOVE performing in the annual productions – which have included Matilda, Wind In The Willows, Scrooge The Musical and Mary Poppins. Whether your child’s an enthusiastic jazz hander, musical maestro or simply having a go, the boys and girls embrace the opportunity to prove Waverley’s got talent – banking important life skills, nailing public speaking and super-charging their confidence. Love it.
Squirrelled away on the first floor are the music rooms. There’s individual practice rooms, plus larger music spaces. Traditional woodwind, brass and string instruments are offered for tuition, and drama is a big deal here, with a dedicated Speech & Drama/music room with the main hall doubling up for the theatre productions.
Waverley goes like the clappers on extra-curricular activities, offering music groups, sport and 11+ coaching plus more unusual ones such as yoga, forest skills, cheerleading, cookery (run by a chef), chess, coding, Lego and Make and Do. I didn’t get a sense of teachers trying to push the children to do more-more-more in a negative way – that truly doesn’t seem to be the ethos of the school. It’s all about happy kids having opportunities.
Mental health provision was hot before the pandemic – and it’s even more important now. There are two wellbeing officers at Waverley, Luna the therapy dog is a big hit and the kids have the opportunity to talk about their feelings and concerns. Worry boxes and Time to Talk boxes allow them to raise issues (large or small) in confidence. Wellbeing is no longer a nice to have but a necessity in schools, so a big tick.
Outstanding! Waverley is proudly non-selective but manages a haul of scholarships and grammar school places every year, as well as impressive SATs results. It explains the accolades: Top marks from the ISI inspectors, ranked 34th in the National Prep School League tables in the Sunday Times‘ Top 100 UK Preps; 14th best UK primary school and the Best Prep in Berkshire.
You don’t often see SATs taken in independent Preps, but Waverley feels it’s a measure that parents understand. Leavers tend to move onto Wellington College, Lord Wandsworth, Reading Blue Coat, Leighton Park, Luckley House, Reading Boys Grammar and Kendrick School (Girls Grammar), to name a few.
There’s a fantastic SEN unit supporting those who struggle as well as the gifted, talented and scholarship kids. If you have a child with specific needs, they’ll do well here, with specialist teachers employed and staff training given to ensure all pupils thrive.
Guy Shore, former Head of Middle School at St George’s Windsor Castle, has been in post since 2015. I’d describe him as a humble, quietly confident man – who is immensely proud of Waverley’s achievements. Guy and his team are laser focussed on nurturing each child to reach their potential. Aside from encouraging the children to be individually ambitious, the overwhelming feeling of respect and kindness towards each other resonates throughout Waverley.
He’s not particularly interested spending your hard-earned school fees on shiny new buildings, instead splashing the cash on quality teaching and things that benefit the pupils. For instance, Y3-6 are now in possession of shiny new Chromebooks (funded entirely by the school), with age-appropriate tech eventually filtering down to the lower year groups. He’s a humble man who could be shouting from the rooftops about his school’s list of accolades, but chooses to crack on and tackle the to-do list instead. He’s kind, generous with his time and a man who doesn’t rest on his laurels. I think you’ll like him.
Little people start here at three months old, and seem very safe, secure and content. They reside in their own self-enclosed area, with the usual accoutrements of sandpit, outdoor space, good staff ratios, all the crafty stuff you can imagine, and happy kids. At this age, that’s all you want really.
There’s a lovely Scandi vibe to the Nursery – with natural materials used in all aspects of play and learning, they gets lots of fresh air, Forest School is a highlight and most of the toys are made of wood. The nursery is now such a hit with local parents, there’s a waiting list *gulp*. Not the pre-birth kinda waiting lists you see in London, but something to consider when you’re looking around. Get your little darlings name down… stat.
Wrap Around Care
Waverley is super flexible about kids staying late. Although encouraged to book in advance, children can tell the teacher even on the same day that they need to stay on and, providing there’s space, they can be accommodated up until 6pm. Cue grateful, overstretched parents everywhere. Children 4+ can attend Breakfast Club from 7.30am and Nursery children are also welcome at Nursery from 7.30am. As if that wasn’t enough, working parents rejoice, because there’s Holiday Club and child care available 51 weeks of the year. No need to dread the long holidays, help is at hand. Phew.
It may sound strange, but I think its biggest quirk is its modernity and sense of normality. For a prep school judged to be the ‘best in Berkshire’ there’s a lack of pomp or show-offness about Waverley – no mansion blocks, or scenic woodland driveways. The entrance is a bit meh at the end of a modern housing estate, and the school buildings are functional rather than beautiful.
The children’s social conscience is worth noting. When they heard Ukrainian refugees needed help, they raised £3k. They donated Easter eggs to children who wouldn’t get one and the annual Race For Life, supporting cancer charities. #bekind might sound a bit trite these days, but one we all would like in out locker.
Parents are welcomed with open arms, with a calendar of family events and the open door policy gives you the opportunity to voice any concerns on the QT. Even their experience is considered: ticketed productions so everyone gets a seat and not one but four sports days so that everyone gets to have a go. I think you’ll also love that money from fundraisers is spent on experiences for the pupils. In the past, it’s paid for athletics training; Reptile Day, panto and more. No excuse not to sign up to help out now.
Bang up to date, with the latest ISI report published in Spring 2022. They raved about the pupils’ exemplary attitude to learning, academic achievement (the advanced maths skills wowed), communication and self-awareness. Read the report here.
Really good value in my opinion. The core school fees and breakfast/after school club are charged separately, so you only pay for the wrap-around care you use. Nursery from £60.65 per day. Reception: £3,456 (15hrs free EY funding can be used until their 5th birthday); Y1-2 £3,858; Y3 £3,939 and Y4-6 £4,132. Fees include lunch and all sports activities including swimming. Breakfast (8-8.30am) and After School Club (3.30pm-6pm) are extra. Discretionary discount available for siblings.
Word on the Ground
Waverley has a well-earned reputation for pastoral care along with its academic and extra-curricular success. I know a few mums whose kids go here, and they’re absolutely ecstatic about it. My feeling on walking around was that it was a very warm, welcoming, nurturing school. It doesn’t have that sense of old-fashioned freedom that traditional preps offer – the kids aren’t left to roam in woods or whack each others’ eyes out with conkers for example. Instead, there are age-specific areas for play, and permission is needed to run off into the grounds. It may not appeal to the romantic in you but sure is reassuring for pragmatic parents.
The Muddy Verdict
Good for: Those looking for a superior all-round option – kids nurtured, brains engaged, opportunity to get involved in loads of different activities in a caring environment that has been judged outstanding. Waverley is less expensive than some other schools I’ve reviewed in the region.
Not for: Those who like pomp and grandeur, or for anyone looking for a country idyll – the school is semi-urban.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! Take a personal tour of the school, meet the head and meet the kids. Contact Helen Jenkins, Head of Admissions by email or by phone 0118 973 1121 and she will book you in.
Waverley Prep School, Waverley Way, Finchampstead, Wokingham, Berkshire RG40 4YD.
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