School Life: The best schools in the South of England

We know all about Eton, Ludgrove and Downe House, but what about those schools that offer an equally excellent education on less eye-watering fees? Catherine Austen lists the schools you should know about but probably don't.

St Gabriel’s School, Newbury

01635 555680

This Berkshire girls’ day school occupies Grade I-listed Sandleford Priory and surrounding Capability Brown parkland and offers prep and senior education (boys can attend from ages 3-7).

Good all-rounders rather than brilliant academics, the girls gain confidence and go on to do well. Reflects a strong local tradition in the horse world-each year has an equestrian prefect and pupils compete in showjumping and eventing. Clubs include philosophy and textiles.

Churchers College, Hampshire
Junior school 01730 236870; senior school 01730 263033

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Dynamic, non-denominational day school founded in 1722. Comprises co-ed junior and senior departments on different sites in Liphook and Petersfield with some 1,000 pupils in total. Good academically, with strong drama and music departments. Pupils appear confident (but not arrogant), settled and socially aware. Male OCs are eligible for the East India Club, with which the school’s founder, philanthropist Richard Churcher, was associated.

Ripley Court School, Surrey
01483 225217

Medium-sized co-ed prep and pre-prep day school which gets good results, but prides itself on not being an academic hothouse. ‘We do not run a university for small children. Nor do we attempt to accelerate their ageing,’ declares its web- site. Numerous after-school clubs, including Russian and Mandarin.

Rydes Hill, Guildford
01483 563160

A friendly, family-oriented Catholic day school that has boys from 3-7 and girls from 3-11. Former pupils remember it extremely fondly, and it continues to thrive in this competitive area. Parents are enouraged to take an active role.

Seaford College, West Sussex
01798 867392

Housed in a beautiful building with co-ed prep and senior departments outside Petworth. Particularly good at supporting children with special educational needs (SEN), but achieves more than respectable academic results all- round. New headmaster John Green starts this term.

St Helen’s, North London
01923 843210

Northwood girls’ day school (3-18), which gets cracking results but isn’t oppressively academic. Big (1,100 girls), but not impersonal. Has an amazing amount of space, given its location, and is good at sport. Girls leave inspired to make their way in the world.

* See the best schools in South West England

* See the best schools in the East of England

* See the best schools in the West of England