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Bruern Abbey Prep
Bruern Abbey Prep
Bruern Abbey Prep
Bruern Abbey Prep
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Bruern Abbey Prep Bicester, Oxfordshire Visit
school
Bruern Abbey Prep
Bicester
161 pupils, ages 8-13
Boys only
Day and Boarding

Bruern Abbey Prep

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Our view

If your son is miserable in a hothouse prep, we can’t even begin to imagine the relief of stumbling across this absolute gem of a school. Bruern Abbey is unique: it only accepts boys with learning difficulties (mainly dyslexia and dyspraxia), whom it cheers up, sorts out and puts right back on track. We love everything about it: the eccentricity; the jokes, japes and mischievous joy around the lunch table; the organised chaos; the outdoorsiness – and the fact that every single boy here seems to be having an absolute blast. 

Where?

About five minutes from chichi shopping destination Bicester Village, in the tiny Oxfordshire village of Chesterton. Set in a spectacularly palatial 19th century pile, the main house was originally built as a hunting lodge, and dorms sit in what used to be very grand bedrooms with a few chandeliers still intact.

The school was founded by Sterling Stover, a heavily dyslexic, anglophile Texan lawyer who, after retiring in his mid-30s, decided to turn his home into a school for boys who struggle with learning, just as he did. And it really does feel like a home, with masses of wood panelling, dozens of open fires (38!), stacks of Country Life and a distinct lack of signage and school paraphernalia (bar the endless piles of muddy rugby boots).

Outside, classrooms and the chapel sit in outhouses and converted stables. The art room is in the old potting shed, woodwork in a log cabin by the tennis courts and boys have 30 glorious acres to run wild in. And despite the blockbuster setting, forget any illusions of grandeur – this is a delightfully scruffy place in the best possible way.

There’s a high proportion of day boys here, but for those coming from further afield, the M40 is a stone’s throw away, trains zip from Oxford and there’s a direct link to Marylebone from Bicester Village. London parents benefit from a pick up in the city on Monday mornings, returning their boys home to the capital on Friday night.

Head

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect head for Bruern Abbey than John Floyd. Empathetic, practical and revered by parents, Mr Floyd has been head here for just over ten years. He is dyslexic himself and consequently understands the struggles of many of his pupils very well. He ‘cares about the things that matter’, says a mother, ‘and not about the things that don’t.’

Full of enthusiasm, this father of four boys is brilliantly open and straightforward, and chats to his boys in a semi big-brother way (he tells us the filing cabinets in his office are stashed full of Dairy Milk and Fruit Pastilles for his small charges). He is unequivocal about his aspirations for boys at Bruern: ‘We want them to be happy first and foremost, by quite a long chalk – and to be able to do their IQ justice and meet their potential’.

Admissions

Bruern Abbey may have a narrow remit, but it’s packed to the rafters and more popular than ever (they’ve been busy building more dorms to keep up with demand). Families come from every county from Cornwall to Norfolk, and it’s a first-come, first-served list - the 153 current pupils arrived from no less than 115 different schools. Boys join the school at different ages – often because parents have pulled them out of their current school – but there are typically around 120 enquiries for the 40 places up for grabs in each year group. They’ll always try and hold a few places back, so if the right candidate comes along, Bruern can swoop to the rescue. With the senior school recently opened, parents of older prep children will now have the assurance of staying in the Bruern nest until GCSE.

Parents pop in for a tour and chat with Mr Floyd, then there are a few ‘light touch’ activities for the boys (mainly to grasp what they can and can’t do), before an overnight trial stay for boarders. Picking the right boys is a delicate balancing act; there are always some who don’t need quite the level of help that Bruern offers, while for boys with wider special-education needs, they don’t want to ‘overpromise and underdeliver’.

Academics and senior school destinations

For parents with unhappy boys, Bruern is the proverbial knight in shining armour. Pupils are given focused help and specialist teaching, ace CE and then get popped back into the mainstream public-school system either at 13+ or following GCSE’s at the new senior school. So what’s the secret? Short, punchy lessons to keep boys engaged; teeny class sizes, with two proper dyslexia-qualified teachers in each; and no homework, ‘more lessons are much more worthwhile,’ says Mr Floyd. Once the day’s academic lessons are done, boys are free to roam, garden, cook, chuck a ball around or ride a bike (there are no electronics or TV as these distractions don’t help boys with communication). Instead it’s all about good food, relaxation and having fun with your friends.

Younger pupils in Years 4-6 follow a skills-based curriculum where the focus is on ‘how to learn’ as well as catching up on areas where they may have fallen behind. Boys follow the national curriculum but have double the English and maths provision of a mainstream school – eleven and eight lessons per week respectively. Teacher to pupil ratios are 1:5 in the lower school and 1:10 in Years 7&8, and every child reads with a teacher on a daily basis. Every pupil has a laptop to use in class (most can type at four times the speed they can write, and laptops help with spelling and spacing so boys can put their focus on the content of the lesson instead), and there’s heaps of visual learning: games of Battleships in maths to help teach coordinates, for example. Boys meet with their tutors every morning and communication between staff members is close and focused – small numbers make it quick to spot if ‘something is brewing’.

Once boys’ confidence has been built back up, they head off to top senior schools (Bradfield, Charterhouse, Bryanston and Stowe all made the list last year), totally transformed – and sometimes even with scholarships in tow. The senior school (about 20-minutes away from the prep) will be open to current pupils – about half of whom are expected to stay on. The first Year 9 cohort will be in the region of 20 – 30 boys and will grow upwards year on year to a maximum of around 120.

SEND provision

With an eminently kind environment, this school is set up to offer maximum support for those with significant learning difficulties in speech, language, literacy and numeracy. A very small proportion of pupils have education, health and care plans. The supportive style of teaching is great for the majority – and we’ve heard from many parents who tell us just what a transformative experience it’s been for their boys – but might not suit those with significant occupational-therapy needs or who aren’t aiming for a mainstream senior.

Co-curricular

‘We don’t claim to be a great sporting or epic music school,’ says Mr Floyd, ‘but a big part of Bruern is all the fun stuff’ – and he’s right. It might lack showcase playing fields, splashy sports facilities and match-winning prowess, but they still manage to cram in as much sport as possible (lots of games against Moulsford, Abingdon Prep and Cothill) and show boundless enthusiasm and sportsmanship while doing so.

At breaktime, boys run off into the grounds to make dens, ride bikes down the hill, tend to the chicken army and return covered in mud (sometimes with crayfish plucked from the stream for the chef). There’s a whole raft of quirky extras: judo, clay pigeon-shooting, gardening, cookery, partridge plucking and – our favourite – the gourmet Oyster Club, where pupils are encouraged to try new foods such as bouillabaisse and gravadlax. The food here is stellar – spiced parsnip soup and rabbit on the menu on the day of our visit. Tons of trips too, such as cricket tours to Sri Lanka, choir jaunts to the Loire Valley, skiing in Chamonix and regular visits to Bruern South, Mr Stover’s house in France.

Boarding

For many Bruern boys, boarding may not have been part of the original plan, but it’s very flexi (they can stay from one to four nights per week), and there are plenty of opportunities for parents to pop in and see their sons or join one of the twice-weekly candlelit dinners (totally hilarious, totally wonderful – serving wine to parents is big privilege for the boys). There’s no Saturday school, so everyone heads home on weekends for all-important family time (lots hop on the London bus, which picks pupils up from Sloane Square on a Monday morning and drops them off again on Friday evening). Boys bundle up together in big dorms in the main house, and Wednesday night is movie night, replaced by BBQs in the summer term – come rain or shine.

School community

When most boys arrive at Bruern, their self-esteem has taken a real bash – and the school does a stellar job of building it back up. ‘Pastoral care is totally out of this world,’ emails a mother, and there’s non-stop emotional support, two school counsellors on hand, caring matrons ready to give cuddles to the homesick and no such thing as bad marks – boys are constantly rewarded for good work, manners and behaviour.

Pupils are endearingly open and honest; plenty have been through a lot to get here, and it’s not uncommon for parents to break down in tears in Mr Floyd’s office. As they’re all in the same boat, they bond quickly and easily – and all equally value their sons’ education. They sure know how to party too – Mr Floyd has entertained us with many a tale of raucous school parties going on well into the small hours.

And finally...

An extraordinary, incredibly refreshing school, true to its mission in every single way. Boys we met were some of the most unselfconscious, cheery and engaging we’ve met anywhere – a product of Bruern’s focus on fresh air, muddy boots, good manners and building confidence. We can’t imagine a better place to send a dyslexic son – and with the senior school poised to welcome its first intake, parents of older children can breathe a sigh of relief.

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  • Senior school destinations

    Senior school destinations

    Destination Schools 2019: ACS Hillingdon, Bede's School, Bradfield College, Bryanston School, Charterhouse, Claire Court Senior Boys, Clayesmore Senior School, Cokethorpe, Epsom College, Hampstead Fine Arts College, Hurstpierpoint College, Kingham Hill School, King's Ely, King's School, Bruton, Malvern College, Millfield School, Milton Abbey School (Art Scholarship; DT Scholarship), Seaford College, Shiplake College, Sibford School, Stowe School (Sport Scholarship).

  • Scholarships for senior schools

    Scholarships

    Sport1 Stowe
    Art1 Milton Abbey
    DT1 Milton Abbey


  • Fees and bursaries

    Day fees per term

    Nursery-
    Reception-
    Year 1-
    Year 2-
    Year 3-
    Year 4£9,550
    Year 5£9,550
    Year 6£9,550
    Year 7£9,550
    Year 8 £9,550
    Boarding fees per term

    Nursery-
    Reception-
    Year 1-
    Year 2-
    Year 3 -
    Year 4 £11,490
    Year 5 £11,490
    Year 6£11,490
    Year 7£11,490
    Year 8 £11,490


  • Transport links

    School Transport
    School bus service to/from London

    Public Transport
    Nearest mainline train station: Bicester village / Bicester North
    Journey time to London by train: 52 minutes
    Nearest international airport: London Heathrow (50 miles)


  • Parents tell us

    ‘It is the best school for dyslexic boys who are coming up for the 11+ in London and are in need of an alternative route to continuing their education. My child and I found the admissions process very easy and friendly.

    The head John Floyd is an inspiration: he is straightforward, thoughtful and cares about things that matter – and not about things that don't. Miss Berry, who teaches English, is kind and friendly to the boys.

    The school’s communication with parents is regularly on a Friday and John has an open-door policy so if we needed to we could address issues immediately. The pastoral care is pretty good. I would say that the facilities are also very good.

    There are some parents’ events but, as it is a boarding school, they aren’t frequent. Parents are welcomed nicely. It is an amazing school – my son has grown in confidence in the classroom.’

School Updates

  • See Bruern Abbey Prep in our All-through Schools Guide.

    See Bruern Abbey Prep in our All-through Schools Guide.
  • See Bruern Abbey in our Country Preps Focus

    Find your perfect country prep school. Whether you're contemplating a move for your entire family or want to explore the education options within a daily minibus-ride of the capital, we can help.
    See Bruern Abbey in our Country Preps Focus

Bruern Abbey Prep is
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Essentials

Address
Chesterton House, Chesterton, Bicester, Oxfordshire OX26 1UY

Contact
admissions@bruernabbey.org
01869 242 448

Website
bruernabbey.org

ISI Report

Fees

Term Dates


Open Days

Open days and how to visit View Open Days Register for open Day



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