Pinewood has always been known as a properly holistic school, but it does a very good job at developing well-rounded individuals while achieving on the academic front too: two more senior school academic scholarships were announced on the very day of our visit.
The prep school is divided into lower (Years 3 and 4), middle (Years 5 and 6) and upper (Years 7 and 8) schools. Lesson times were recently increased from 35 to 45 minutes to slow down the pace of the school day and to give pupils more time to engage with each subject, as well as factor in five minutes for a brisk walk between classes where necessary. Prep can be done at home or in school. Pupils are taught both by class teachers and specialist teachers in science, ICT, French Latin, music and art. Setting begins in the lower school with maths, building up to additional subjects higher up the school.
As a non-selective school, it is fully understood that some children will struggle with certain subjects (and there is plenty of support for these young learners) but it’s equally appreciated that these children will be the ones who go on to be the very best creative thinkers, designers, chefs or whatever else takes their fancy – and Pinewood aims to grow provision for exploring practical skills which are increasingly valued by secondary schools. The curriculum has also evolved to reflect the changing life of a prep school child (who now has to ‘peak at least twice’, according to the head – both in the Year 6 pre-test and then again as they exit at Year 8). It’s a case of discreetly preparing pupils to give the best account of themselves at 11+ and then continuing to motivate these young minds by making learning as relevant and interesting as possible.
As pupils reach the top years of the school, the emphasis is firmly on finding the right senior school for the child rather than meeting parental aspirations. Pupils go on to a wide range of schools, with most choosing co-eds: roughly half head for Cheltenham College or Marlborough, and last year’s 52 leavers went to 19 different schools.
Outdoor pursuits rule at Pinewood, and everyone from Year 4 upwards heads off on an annual Pinewood Adventure weekend to let off steam in Somerset, Wales, Chichester or France. Clubs and extras include everything from riding to archery, fly-fishing and clay-pigeon shooting.
Expect plenty of sport. Top of the agenda is hockey, netball, rugby and football – and thanks to the imminent arrival of a new Astro, there’ll be a bumper twelve tennis courts by the summer, plus grass pitches galore, a nine-hole golf course and an outdoor swimming pool. Participation is the priority but there are some pretty excellent performances too – the U13 girls recently reached the IAPS National netball finals. Wednesday afternoons are dedicated to fiercely contested house matches.
Drama, music and art are all thriving. Annual musical highlights include the bumper summer concert and the hugely successful rock show (this lot sure know how to raise the roof), and there are a number of more informal opportunities for soloists to perform throughout each term. Drama productions here are some of the most professional-looking on the prep-school circuit, and one pupil won Pinewood's first ever art scholarship to Bedales last year, with another bagging the top art scholarship to Marlborough.
It’s not every day that we come across a school that tackles wellbeing in such a positively all-encompassing way. Pinewood has its own head of wellbeing and emotional support whose bright, cosy calm office is centrally located on the ground floor and whose day is dedicated to being there for pupils, parents and staff members alike. There are regular drop-in sessions for pupils and staff members, as well as scheduled one-to-ones with coffee, hot chocolate, Lego and tissues all on hand. Nici Bailey, in her role as safeguarding lead, is a huge driving force in this aspect of the school’s direction and places wellbeing at its heart. Children take part in termly wellbeing surveys to keep an eye on morale, and to help the school establish what pupils are and aren’t enjoying.
Everyone from nursery upwards eats in the central dining room and we love Pinewood’s spirit of relaxed equality (no head boy or girl; no prefects) and pleasantly informal uniform.
Families are local: most live within a 40-minute radius of the school, with a handful from London. Parents praise the sense of community and the warmth of the welcome they received.
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