The Country Life dream school

For our dream school we have selected the best elements of different prep schools, from the best clock tower to the best drama department, to create the establishment no child will want to leave,

Chapel and cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral School, Wiltshire

Enviably positioned in 27 acres of the Cathedral Close, children have unrivalled access to the cathedral, as well as their own dedicated chapel within the former Bishop’s Palace.

Lambrook, Berkshire

Dream schools have happy staff- and those at Lambrook are kept so by a fantastic rural pub, The Cricketers, which nearly adjoins the extensive playing fields. Discussing lessons over steak and ale is thus a merry business

Science department
Winchester House, Northamptonshire

Three state-of-the-art laboratories each have their own prep rooms, and are all fully equipped for a range of experiments. Annual rocketry workshops are a highlight of the school year, and the Lunar Society is always popular with budding astronomers, thanks to the school’s large reflector telescope.

Sandroyd, Wiltshire

Both an ideal lookout spot for games of forty-forty and a quiet place to gather your thoughts, the folly at Sandroyd is at once beautiful and useful. Built by then owner Gen Pitt-Rivers in 1890, it commemorates the birth of his first grandson, and is comprised of 15 fluted columns of Bath stone surmounted by Corinthian capitals. The school’s logo was even designed around it.

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The Elms, Herefordshire

Like something out of a favourite children’s book, pupils enjoy regular hunting with the Ledbury over fantastic country, shepherded by the Latin mistress. The school hosts its own meet once a year, attended by everyone on horseback, no matter how small or wobbly in the saddle they are.

Westbourne House, West Sussex

Having recently acquired a lake and 40 acres of additional land adjacent to the school, Westbourne House now offers both kayaking and canoeing to its delighted pupils, who will soon also be able to sail and row.

The Dragon School, Oxfordshire

Pupils in Years 7 and 8 look after five hives, and recently took their first orders for honey from local shops. They make the honey from scratch, even designing the jars’ labels.

Hanford, Dorset

With school ponies in all shapes and sizes, girls are not only able to ride out every day, but can also go down to the stables and groom in their spare time. There are three full-time stable staff, as well as ‘galloping matrons’, who bring their horses into the school to accompany the children out riding.

Cothill House, Oxfordshire

The Cothill Educational Trust owns Le Château de Sauveterre, near Toulouse in France. All boys in the penultimate year at Cothill spend a term in residence there-school life continues as normal, except that all lessons are in French.

Golf course
Ludgrove, Berkshire

Ludgrove’s beautiful 130 acres belie its proximity to nearby Wokingham. The school boasts its own ninehole golf course, allowing the boys to perfect their putting skills and even host their own golf matches and tournaments.

Clock tower
Abberley Hall, Worcestershire

A local landmark, this famous tower can be seen from six counties. The children use it for abseiling, as well as for making sure everyone gets to lessons on time.

Grounds and gardens
Kitebrook House, Gloucestershire

The school has 20 acres of idyllic parkland, including its own wildflower meadow, set in the glorious Cotswold landscape, which offer plenty of opportunities for Just William-style adventures for girls.

Moulsford, Oxfordshire

Boys at Moulsford can shoot from the age of nine, with professional coach James Shouler. As well as competing in national competitions, the school hosts an annual game day on a local estate. Here, each boy can shoot at live quarry with close supervision from an adult, who both helps them with their shooting and teaches them all the crucial etiquette involved.

Climbing trees
Windlesham House, West Sussex

Cocking a snook at health-and-safety killjoys, pupils at Windlesham are allowed to get muddy knees and make the most of their woodland by climbing trees in a fantastic array of shapes and sizes.

Climbing wall
St John’s Beaumont, Windsor

A brand new 30ft climbing wall is used both as part of regular sports lessons and in extracurricular activities for keen mountaineers in training.

Drama department
The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ Prep, Hertfordshire

For 14 years, it has had a 100% pass rate in the biannual London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) exams. The boys have their own stage and theatre facilities, and access to the Bourne Hall at the senior school-one of only five school stages in the UK to be equipped with a fully operational fly tower. Comprehensive wardrobe and prop stores make productions unmissable.

Dunhurst, Hampshire

As well as the animals themselves, including a heavy horse, pigs, bees and sheep, the farm also offers the children the chance to tinker with traditional machinery such as antique tractors and gipsy caravans. Lambing is a particularly exciting time, when all the children are encouraged to watch and learn. Homemade bread from the wood-fuelled oven also goes down particularly well with pupils, especially when accompanied by the school’s own jam.

Port Regis, Dorset

The new ecologically friendly classroom block features a revolutionary natural ventilation system. Fresh air is sucked in from outside before being heated and circulated in winter; in summer, warm air is released through the top of the building as cool air is drawn in from the bottom.
The whole thing works together with a geothermal heating and cooling system, so there’s no need for oilfired boilers or air-conditioning.

Music department
Wells Cathedral, Somerset

With a senior school boasting a world renowned music department, it makes sense that the junior school should follow suit. The range of choirs, orchestras and musical activities available to children is impressive.

Tennis courts
Culford Prep School, Suffolk

Greg Rusedski opened the new four-court championship standard indoor tennis centre in 2009. As a result, the school now offers tennis scholarships and hosts a large number of tournaments throughout the year. Successful scholarship candidates get a tailor-made coaching course that combines with their academic studies.

Hazlegrove, Somerset

Set within 200 acres of parkland, this 17th-century house, mentioned by Pevsner, was remodelled by owner Carew Mildmay on Palladian lines in 1730-35. Hazlegrove has been home to the prep school since 1947, and the house, formal gardens and park were bought by the school in 1952.

Packwood Haugh, Shropshire

The school’s bespoke theatre seats 250, with state-of-the art sound and lighting desks, and every pupil performs on stage at least once a year. The productions are renowned for their elaborate costumes, stage make-up and sets.

Art department
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

The school enjoys a fantastically light, purpose-built art room with its own kiln. Visiting artists and regular gallery trips help to inspire pupils to create work for the end of year ‘showcase exhibition’, which is displayed in a dedicated exhibition space. Work includes toymaking, boat-building, stone carving and sculpture, as well as textiles, painting and pottery.

Taverham Hall School, Norfolk

Former national and professional rugby and cricket coaches have inspired the Taverham under-nines to enjoy an unbeaten season. Headmaster Mike Crossley used to play professional rugby for Cambridge and deputy head Joel Worrall coached Lancashire and Dorset county cricket clubs.

The Harrodian, Barnes, London SW13

Fittingly, the Harrods Sports Club once stood on the school’s site, so the tradition for fantastic food is longstanding. From lamb tagine to Spanish paella, followed by lashings of gateaux and ice cream, the menus are every schoolboy’s and girl’s dream come true.

Taverham Hall School, Norfolk

Former national and professional rugby and cricket coaches have inspired the Taverham under-nines to enjoy an unbeaten season. Headmaster Mike Crossley used to play professional rugby for Cambridge and deputy head Joel Worrall coached Lancashire and Dorset county cricket clubs.

Langdale, Blackpool

It’s set on the shore, so Langdale’s pupils use the beach as an extra playing field, for games, sports and playtime.

Gordonstoun Junior, Moray

Training in seamanship is undertaken by the students in Hopeman harbour, near the school. This serves as training for voyages off the coast in the school’s own 80ft oysterclass ketch, Ocean Spirit of Moray. Later, senior pupils can charter her in the Tall Ships Race, and she even sailed to the Arctic in 2009.

Boarding house
Horris Hill, Berkshire

Horris Bank is an ideal boarding house-a family home with just 20 boys (and a dog). It’s a comfortable and attractive house built in the early 1900s, with a large garden and croquet lawn. Just five minutes from the main school, it seems miles away when you’re there, like a home away from home.

Knighton House, Dorset

Itchy tunics are replaced by yellow polo shirts and red dungarees, perfect for everything from cartwheels to colouring.

Carol-service venue
Elstree, Berkshire

The Benedictine Douai Abbey has excellent acoustics, which Elstree children take full advantage of during their end-of-term services. Just around the corner from the main building, few schools can boast such a venue.

Belhaven Hill, East Lothian

Far from baulking at the onset of snow, Belhaven embraces the elements and offers skiing as a wintersports option, at the Midlothian Snowsports Centre at Hillend. Instruction is offered to those who want to hone their skills before the family holiday.

Sports facilities
Sunningdale, Berkshire

As well as traditional sports, the boys have been playing in Eton Fives tournaments since 1892. Polo, clay-pigeon shooting, golf, hockey, fencing, judo and water polo are but a selection of the sports available. A seven-hole golf course, indoor heated pool, cricket nets inside and out and a range of playing fields make Sunningdale first over the line.

Rendcomb College Junior School, Gloucestershire

Rendcomb backs onto a beautiful stretch of the River Churn, but it’s not just for admiring from the bank. The lake it feeds from is trout-stocked, and the children can regularly learn and practice their casting skills.

St George’s, Windsor Castle, Berkshire

Its splendid wisteria is said to have been planted by Queen Victoria. Rumour has it that it was one of the first of the species to come to this country, and, in harsh winters, heat from an oven built into the wall prevented it from getting frosted. Today, the sight and smell of it are a wonder.

Camps and dens
St Martin’s Ampleforth, York

The annual boarders’ den-building competition, held in the school’s beautiful woodland, is hotly contested.

Illustration by Laurence Whiteley

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