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Witham Hall School, Lincolnshire

This rural co-ed prep school for day pupils and boarders has an inclusive, family feel alongside immaculate facilities.

WHAT? WHERE? 

The attractive village of Witham-on-the-Hill is the setting for this smart, non-selective prep school for boys and girls aged 4 -13. This area is Lincolnshire’s answer to The Cotswolds (think honey-coloured stone cottages, rolling hills and posh pubs), without the hefty house prices and endless tourists. The school attracts pupils from the nearby villages and towns of Stamford, Grantham, Peterborough, and Corby, as well as further afield including the capital. 

Founded in 1959 with just six pupils, the school has always been based in Witham Hall, an elegant Queen Anne style manor with pretty manicured gardens set over 30 acres. Over the years, original outbuildings have been repurposed and sympathetically designed modern structures added to accommodate the increase in pupils which currently stands at 252 (140 boys and 112 girls). The school is divided into Pre-Prep (Reception – Year 3), and Prep, (Year 4 upwards), with weekly and flexi boarding for children from the age of 8.  

FACILITIES 

Sport

Pretty much everything you could wish for in a prep school, and then some. The indoor and outdoor state-of-the-art sports facilities are really worth shouting about. The School has invested heavily in this area and pupils now have access to a vast, smart sports hall, a light-filled dance studio, slick fitness suite, full size flood lit astro turf pitch, tennis and netball courts, grass pitches, a squash court, indoor and outdoor cricket nets and full-size wicket, athletics facilities and even a nine-hole golf course. The only thing obviously missing, considering the sports facilities are so swish, is a swimming pool, though plans are afoot to address this.  

No surprise with these facilities that sport is a big deal at Witham Hall School with all the major team sports catered for – rugby, football, netball, hockey, tennis and cricket – as well as individual sports such as athletics, cross-country, golf, biathlon, equestrian, and squash. Recently the girls’ hockey has been particularly successful at bringing home the trophies, while the boys have been making a name for the school on the rugby scene. Individually the school has seen lots of success in cross country and biathlon, as well as in equestrian and tennis.  

Arts

Purpose-built Stimson Hall houses a 250-seat theatre that gives all the children from reception upwards the chance to tread the boards and is also big enough for whole school assemblies. There’s a specialist music and drama department, with the former stables providing plenty of separate rooms for individual music lessons. Whole class music lessons and individual lessons are taught from Reception age and all children including the Pre-Prep have at least three chances throughout the year to star on stage. This year there’s a new initiative for Year 4 children called StringThing, where every pupil gets the chance to learn a string instrument (good job they’re in the middle of the countryside!). The top floor of the large coach house is given over to the light-filled art department, which has space for both lessons and to display work. 

School

An ICT Suite spread across two large rooms, specialist science labs in the Prep School building, a delightfully zen library, ‘The Wilderness’ (an outdoor learning centre) and two Hogwarts-style dining rooms (where food tech takes place) complete the dizzying array of facilities on offer here. A new dedicated D.T department, the only part of the jigsaw currently missing, is in the planning stages. Outside the grounds here are glorious, including a pretty walled garden (a popular sun-spot for the students at break time), a fabulous obstacle-filled Pre-Prep adventure play area, a veg patch, orchard, wooded area, and a brand new tree house for 2022. The formal gardens outside the manor include a pond that is currently fenced off, but there are plans to turn this into a quiet, reflective space for students who need it in the middle of a busy and noisy school day.  

ACADEMICS 

Witham Hall successfully feeds into some of the best independent schools in the area and beyond, including Uppingham, Oakham, Oundle, Rugby, Stamford High School, Repton, Shrewsbury, Eton, Wycombe Abbey, Gresham’s, Millfield and Stowe. In 2021 nearly half of the Y8 leavers (14 of the 32 pupils) were awarded scholarships to their chosen senior schools, including art, music, sport, all-rounder and academic awards – given it’s non-selective, that’s mind-blowing. Interestingly, despite its reputation as a sporty school, art was the top scholarship subject in 2021, reflecting its creative strength.  

In Years 7 & 8 pupils are divided into three classes to allow for a scholarship group class, which aims to extend and enrich the curriculum for pupils who are preparing to sit the Common Academic Scholarship Exam in May.  

PASTORAL CARE 

There’s the usual support from form tutors/ class teachers and a House system, as well as “vertical” support – pupils are divided into mentor groups led by members of staff and with a representative from each school year, allowing older pupils to be role models for the littlies. The fairly small student cohort allows every child to be known on an individual level too. 

There’s a school counsellor who used to visit three times a term, but recently the school has upped this and now there are weekly drop-in sessions for the students. The counsellor also joins the pupils at lunch in order to help remove the stigma around asking for help. There’s also on-going pastoral training for all the school staff including weekly CPD sessions covering best practice in pastoral care and a monthly CPD book club where wellbeing and pastoral care are regular topics of discussion.  

Every prep school worth its fees has a forest school these days, but The Wilderness area at Witham goes beyond the usual offering with age-appropriate outdoor teaching that doesn’t just tail off once the kids leave Pre-Prep. The space is also used for team building, bushcraft club and leadership days and the children get involved in gardening and vegetable growing in the orchard too.  

SEN PROVISION 

The Learning Support department is at the heart of the school and offers separate 1:1 lessons and group sessions rather than having Learning Support staff within the subject classrooms.  

BOARDING  

Children can board weekly at Witham Hill School from the age of 8. The boarding provision here is really accommodating, with most children taking advantage of the flexible approach that allows them to stay over as little or as much as they like (beds allowing). Funnily enough, Friday nights are very popular with parents, and unlike some schools there’s no divide between the boarders and the day pupils, because so many pupils give boarding a go at some point or other.  

The two boarding houses are what you’d expect for prep school age kids – with large rooms full of bunk beds with capacity for around 50 boys and 50 girls each night and a couple of cosy common rooms.  

THE HEAD 

William Austen took up the role of Headmaster in September 2020, having previously served as Deputy Headmaster at Ludgrove School. His wife Jossie has also joined the Witham Hall staff as Head of External Relations and also as an ‘extra mum’ as a member of the pastoral care team. With the Covid-19 pandemic it probably wasn’t the dream start to his first headship for William, but he has successfully steered the school through the uncertain times and still had plenty of energy to put his own stamp on things.  

Approachable and energetic he’s leading force behind the current drive to cater for the top end students and is clearly ambitious for the school. Streaming in core subjects has been introduced down to Year 5 to allow for a quicker pace of learning and a third form group is being introduced in Years 7 and 8 for scholars. He’s also invested in more specialist subject teachers. In terms of facilities Mr Austen has revamped the library to make it more of a calming space for reading and quiet time, and has moved the Learning Support Department from a hidden away corner into the heart of the main school building so it’s easier for students to get to and is seen as a part of their academic provision in the same way any subject would be and not something to be kept secret.  

So many headteachers end up managing rather than teaching, so it’s good to see that Mr Austen, alongside the Deputy Head of Pastoral, teaches Learning for Life to every form.  

QUIRKS 

You wouldn’t describe Witham Hall as particularly quirky. ‘Family-oriented’, ‘traditional’ and ‘ambitious’ are probably better words for this school. As quite a small school in the country, the parents get to know each other well and there’s a thriving parent-teacher community organising annual events such as Michaelmas Fireworks, the Winter Fair, the biennial Summer Ball, Macmillan coffee mornings and the annual Fun Run. It’s a lovely inclusive environment – parents can drop the kids off then head to the sports centre’s gym and bash out a workout before heading to the office.  

For parents who appreciate traditional values rest easy – the school has a very strong focus on good manners. All the children are meticulously polite, stand up for their headmaster when he enters the classroom and address him as Sir.  

WRAP-AROUND CARE 

Witham Hall caters well for working parents – with its rural location it needs to. Breakfast club is available on request, plus the day starts early at 8:15 and Pre-Prep pupils can stay in the Crèche once school finishes at 3:30pm until 5.15pm. There are clubs and activities for Pre-Prep students that run until 5pm too. Prep students all complete homework (prep) in school and can then, have dinner and take part in clubs and activities until as late as 7pm. And then there’s the option of flexi boarding too. Saturday school starts in Year 4 and runs from 8:30am until 12:30pm, with sports matches for some children afterwards.  

ISI REPORT

You can read the latest school reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate here: https://www.withamhall.com/policiesandisi 

MOBILE PHONE POLICY 

There’s a no phone policy across the school, including in the boarding houses. Boarders have access to free-to-use phone boxes to call home, as well as email and the Internet (behind the school’s firewall) in the ICT suites. 

TRANSPORT 

There are two school minibuses that run each morning (Monday to Friday). The routes start in Oakham and Uppingham and include stops in Cottesmore and Ketton. View the bus routes here

FEES 

Fees are in line with other Prep schools around the country that have similarly amazing facilities. Reception and Year 1 is £3,515 per term and Years 2 & 3 £3,910 per term, going up to £5,925 per term (or £7,995 for full time weekly boarders) when children enter the Prep School in Year 4.  

THE MUDDY VERDICT 

Good for:  Parents whoare looking for a school with small numbers, pristine facilities and a family feel in the countryside. Kids who are happy to give everything a go and make the most of all the facilities on offer will thrive here. As it’s fairly remote parents who need flexible wraparound care will love the boarding provision too. 

Not for:  Parents who require early years provisions (there’s no nursery here). There’s a really strong parent-teacher community at Witham Hall, so if you just want to drop your child off and run then this probably isn’t the best fit.   

Dare to disagree?! Be my guest!  There’s an Open Morning on the 5 March 2022, where you can find out for yourself. Register your interest by emailing Mrs Claire Paylor,  admissions@withamhall.com, or phone 01778 590222. 

Witham Hall School, Witham on the Hill, Bourne, PE10 0JJ 

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