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The Elms
The Elms
The Elms
The Elms
top 200
The Elms Malvern, Worcestershire Visit
The Elms
160 pupils, ages 3-13
Day and Boarding

The Elms

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Our view

We’ve visited hundreds of country preps over the years, and every one is a joy in its own way. But The Elms is truly special and never fails to impress us with its super-polite pupils who sprint ahead to open doors, the stunning setting on the edge of the Malvern Hills and the (sometimes gently bonkers) celebration of all that is best about childhood. A mother once described The Elms to us as ‘just the best school on the planet’ – we have to agree.


The Elms sits at the western edge of the Malvern hills in the village of Colwall, at the meeting point between Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Its rural location and big, spacious, open campus is at its core (and a godsend for parents desperately seeking fresh air for their children), but this is no backwater – there’s a direct train from Colwall (via Oxford) to Paddington, while Bristol and Birmingham are an easy zip along the M5. In every sense, this is a well-connected school.

First impressions: 1) space; 2) fresh air. A favourite school hymn is I Lift My Eyes to the Quiet Hills – and goodness, they certainly do. One London parent talks of tree climbing and rope burns on her six-year-old’s first visit – she signed him up on the spot. Staff dogs are heartily encouraged too.


Utterly wonderful head Chris Hattam left The Elms in July to take up a new role as head of Westbourne School in Sheffield. The search is well underway for a new permanent head, but in the meantime, The Elms has appointed two acting heads: Jonathan Bungard, the school’s former director of studies, and David Pearce, the school’s former deputy head (he knows the Elms inside-out and back to front – he was here for 25 years), who has come out of retirement to take up the role. It’s safe to say the school is in very good hands.


Non-selective and keen to appeal to a broad range of children, The Elms does a good job of attracting London parents thinking of moving out west – and there’s a scholarship programme for local primary-school entrants too, plus Year 7 scholarships up for grabs for academics, sport, equestrian, art, music, musical theatre and drama (more information here).

All applicants are considered, but if a pupil has any complex needs, the head of SEND will look at any reports in advance to ensure the school can provide the necessary support. Once families have signed up, children are invited to pop in for a taster day to get a feel for the school.

The Montessori Early Years is incredibly popular – we know of at least one father who waxes lyrical about the system’s impact on his youngest son. Plans are in full swing to open Seedlings, a new pre-nursery for pupils aged six months to three years, despite a few inevitable Covid-related delays.

Academics and senior school destinations

Most children start in the nursery, Saplings, where there’s a fabulous Montessori grounding. More structured classes begin from Year 2 onwards - setting kicks in in Year 5. There’s no great pressure but tons of encouragement, and a general sense that children want to do well. Each term, every pupil knuckles down to a creative writing project to focus on improving their writing skills, and pupils were full of praise for Greek and Latin teacher Mrs A, who has an impeccable track record of getting her pupils the top marks in exams.

Pupils in Years 5-8 use a laptop in lessons when appropriate, and the door is always open to the small but mighty SEND department, with extra support doled out where needed.

CE is still the order of the day in the core subjects of maths, English, Latin, science and modern languages, but there’s plenty of cross-curricular learning in the humanities, leading to a separate project and skills-based qualification. And to keep their brains whirring, there’s a new EPQ for scholars to study towards after they’ve taken their scholarship exams for their senior schools, where the ethos is all about ‘learning how to learn’.

There is a huge benefit in being an independent stand-alone prep, and The Elms sends children on to a wide range of senior schools (often with scholarships in tow), from Malvern College on the other side of the hills to Cheltenham College, Cheltenham Ladies’ and Shrewsbury. Further afield, top picks include Eton, Marlborough, St Mary’s Calne, Rugby, Radley et al. Senior schools love Elms alumni, who regularly wind up as head boy or girl or arrive with a scholarship in tow.


Saturday school has been scrapped in favour of a brand-new STEAM initiative, fully endorsed by the heads of the senior schools pupils regularly hop onto. Taking full advantage of the school’s knockout facilities, including the idyllic school farm, children can sign up to practical classes that might see them focussing on engineering or practising their public speaking, honing essential skills that in some way or another replicate real life. In the afternoons, there’s matches or games until 4pm. 

Sport is a serious business here, with local professional and county coaches coming in to inspire teams which, in comparison with larger schools, punch well above their weight (our pupil guides enthusiastically told us of their rivalry with neighbours The Downs). As well as the core prep-school sports, you might find pupils hurtling over nearby hills in cross-country, wielding air-pistols as part of a tetrathlon or at local equestrian events clearing jumps on the school’s ponies. The recently refurbished swimming pool is shared with a local primary school. 

The theatre is alive with energy, with all pupils getting their moment in the spotlight every year, be it on stage or behind the scenes in the tech department (lots of confidence-building improv too), while over in the music department there is endless scope to perform. The house singing competition is hotly contested, and there is ample opportunity for the angelic senior choir to flex their vocal muscles during services at the village church. Outside the art room, an honour roll of creative scholars heading off to well-known public schools tells you all you need to know about the standard of work, and an ‘artwork of the week’ hangs proudly in the dining room for all to see.   

Many describe life at The Elms as an ‘Enid Blyton’ education, and we certainly wouldn’t argue with that. The school is famous for its farm: the white-coated pupils and their show pigs, Dexter cows and miniature Herefords regularly win local and national competitions, and children often pop down during geography or science to add a practical element to their lessons. Pupils get involved with everything from mucking out to lambing, egg-collecting, preparing the veg beds and keeping up with the brand-new runner ducks. Riding is a big part of school life too, and pupils can bring their own pony (or borrow one) to go on hacks in the beautiful Malvern countryside and enter national competitions. That’s said, there’s no need to panic if you don’t know one end of a horse from the other – it’s absolutely not compulsory.   

Full marks for the incredible new clubs programme, which includes activities such as Arabic, philosophy, cooking, cheerleading, pistol shooting and coding.


The Elms has long been a proper full-boarding prep, but over the years it has cleverly adapted its boarding model into what must be one of the country’s best – and flexiest ever. Every child from Year 4 upwards gets a bed (decked out lovingly by a parent with clobber from home), meaning pupils can sign up for the occasional sleepover whenever the mood strikes them (even if it’s as late at 6pm that day). And with the dizzying choice of activities during the evenings and weekends, it’s no surprise so many of them do. Friday nights are almost always packed to capacity – everyone wants to be in school for Saturday morning STEAM sessions and afternoon matches.

By Year 8, almost everyone boards full-time. There are farm duties before breakfast; morning ‘breathers’ (whatever the weather) to get brains oxygenated pre-lessons; and wonderful rural additions to the more run-of-the-mill go-karting, laser-tag and waterpark fun, such as geocaching or yomps up the Malvern Hills with a compass.

The new day fee is a no-brainer for local families, or those after a gold-standard education at a more affordable price – pupils get the same, brilliant academic grounding, top-notch preparation for whichever senior school they choose to go onto, and a total rural idyll to grow up in – just without the bells and whistles extras such as boarding, after-school clubs and Saturday activities and matches. There’s also a new ‘day plus’ option for those who want to dabble in boarding on an ad-hoc basis, paying £45 a night to board any time (there’ll even be their own duvet and teddy bear waiting on their bed).

School community

Chapel plays an important role in school life; Sunday evensong services are led by the head, and pupils are often challenged to learn a hymn by heart (the reward: a whole-school Dominos order).

Inter-year group friendships are one of the joys of a small school like this one. The oldest pupils play unselfconsciously with the youngest, and Year 8s take their responsibilities as dorm prefects and pupil buddies tremendously seriously, acting as fantastic role models. In short, Elms pupils are the best possible advert to visiting parents and potential pupils: busy, happy and able to speak up for themselves. They are all quite clearly head-over-heels in love with the place, and one cheerily told us ‘school doesn’t feel at all like school’.

Everyone joins one of three houses (the Spartans, Trojans or the Athenians), with plenty of hotly-contested competitions in sport, music, spelling, drama and even ping-pong. We’re huge fans of the rather lovely tradition where pupils nominate their peers for weekly prizes in everything from art to ‘citizen of the week’, with special ties awarded to winners to wear with pride.

The parent community here is truly diverse (a well-bonded mash-up of local farmers, slightly bemused Londoners, the horsey crowd and the occasional helicopter), but there’s an overarching sense of everyone being friendly, welcoming and incredibly supportive of the school. The small cohort of international pupils mix in seamlessly and enrich the life of the school. Parents can join ‘Friends of The Elms’, meeting up twice a term for coffee, pizza nights and dog walks.

There are four local bus routes organised by the school: one from Monmouth (the school tells us it has seen a recent surge of interest from families in South Wales), and others from Hartpury, Worcester and Kemerton.

The extraordinary uniform deserves a mention too: grey corduroy shorts, knee-length grey socks, tank tops and thick tweed blazers. Parents think it looks like something out of the 1950s – pupils love it.

And finally...

A breath of fresh air in every sense, this is a flourishing school with a clear sense of its purpose, led by a dynamic head. Elms pupils get a grounding in everything that matters most in life – and have a whale of a time while they do so. As one Worcestershire local put it, ‘I have never, ever known a child to be unhappy here’.

Gallery See All

  • Senior school destinations

    Senior school destinations

    Cheltenham College, Malvern College, Shrewsbury School, Tudor Hall, Cheltenham Ladies College, Marlborough College, Rugby School, Radley College, Eton, Harrow, Hereford Cathedral School

  • Scholarships for senior schools


    Academic3Shrewsbury School and Hereford Cathedral School
    Music1 Cheltenham College
    Drama1 R.G.S. Worcester
    Sport6 Cheltenham College, Malvern College, Sedbergh School and R.G.S. Worcester
    Art1 St Mary's, Calne
    All Rounder1 Shrewsbury School

  • Fees and bursaries

    Day fees per term

    Year 1£3,260
    Year 2£3,625
    Year 3£4,575
    Year 4£5,145
    Year 5£5,145
    Year 6£5,145
    Year 7£5,145
    Year 8 £5,145
    Boarding fees per term

    Year 1-
    Year 2-
    Year 3 -
    Year 4 £8,975
    Year 5 £8,975
    Year 6£8,975
    Year 7£8,975
    Year 8 £8,975

    Day plus fee, Years 4-8: £6,865
    Flexi-boarding fee, Years 4-8: £7,915

    The Elms offers bursarial support through both its own allocated fund and the Ashby Elms School Trust, with means-tested fee remission available to families who qualify and who complete a full financial review. These awards are reassessed annually and available at the normal points of entry. For further details, see the school’s bursary provision:

    Bursary contact:
    Bursar Mrs Suzy Brandwood
  • SEND

    This school currently supports the following kinds of learning needs, health needs and physical disabilities:
    Dyslexia, ADHD, asthma, allergies.

    This school currently delivers the following interventions to pupils in class and outside class to support their learning, health and/or physical needs:
    The team of specialised teachers in the Learning Support department plan structured 1:1 and small group sessions to help children with a range of specific learning difficulties successfully access their learning in the classroom. Small class sizes at The Elms and a nurturing and supportive staff who have access to regular, current CPD ensure that children can achieve their potential with appropriate and innovative teaching and learning strategies. A strong pastoral team empowering children with the emotional vocabulary to talk openly underpins several routes of support for social and emotional needs at The Elms.

    This school currently provides the following support for pupils' mental health needs
    The Elms offers deep pastoral care for all of their pupils and the staff have a unique relationship with the pupils and get to know the individual very well. The mental wellbeing of the pupils is deeply embedded in the ethos of the school and, where required, they have Health Care Plans for children requiring additional supoort.

    Co-ordinator: Mrs Jo Vizor
  • Transport links

    School Transport
    School bus service to/from London
    School daily bus network

    Public Transport
    Nearest mainline train station: Colwall
    Journey time to London by train: 162 minutes
    Nearest international airport: Birmingham (48 miles)

  • Parents tell us

    ‘It was the perfect school for our girls and the one which just felt right. It aligned perfectly with how my husband and I have raised the girls: respect for yours and others’ achievements; traditional prep-school ethos; being outside! And, crucially, no access to personal tech. In 10 seconds, we knew as parents that it was the school for our children. The headmaster offered the girls hot chocolate and the decision was made! 

    Mrs “Bootcamp” Buckley was a solid foundation for my daughter to land on. 

    The whole-school communication is good. All the members of the school community know the children and there is a great sense of warmth. I have no doubt our girls will leave happy, well-grounded and kind. 

    The school has a very close-knit community, which is very welcoming to new families and there is an active PTA which holds regular parent social events. The Elms has lived up to our expectations.’ 

    ‘The school was sold to us by family friends who had two children there. It looked like it had something truly special. The admissions process was all very easy and it felt very relaxed. 

    Mrs Stokes helped one of my children get an art scholarship and was generally patient and amazing. Mrs Bailey is good for sport and Mrs Austen for hunting and triathlon, as well as being a great teacher. 

    The communication with parents is generally good. I feel involved with my children’s education. The governor and head communications are also good. 

    The pastoral care has been good. There have been some amazing matrons who helped in the early years of boarding. I felt like my daughter was well looked after. The staff really care about the children and I think the staff do know them. 

    My daughter is in Year 8 and is ready to leave now, in a good way, so I think they’ve done their job in that respect and she got into her first-choice school. 

    I think the school is very good at offering lots of community activities. The school has lived up to my expectations and I would recommend it highly.’

    ‘Firstly, the school is in a beautiful location; with a stunning backdrop of the Malvern Hills and away from the mad rush of traffic, but close to a vibrant large village community – the setting is a real dream. 

    I was happy enough that my children would enjoy and benefit from the class size, inspirational teachers, sports facilities and its own farm. So, its greatest strength is seemingly not one thing, but the way it lovingly bundles a multitude of things into a joyous experience for the child and parent. 

    We were shown around by an experienced member of staff whose passion for the school was genuine and my children seemed to become instant friends with the pupils who showed them all the nooks and crannies. 

    We were able to talk openly and honestly about finances, which was very helpful. We felt like we were about to join a special family. 

    I would not be exaggerating if I said that all the staff play a part in positively guiding our children. Mrs Underwood-Webb (a form tutor) delivered everything with passion and is a real inspiration. 

    A weekly newsletter keeps all parents up-to-date with academic and sporting achievements. Also, a steady flow of emails on specific matters help explain the logic behind certain decisions or give a personal touch to other events. 

    This ensures that parents remain aware of what is happening and able to support if needed. As a result, we feel involved with our children's education without being overbearing.  

    Each form tutor manages the pastoral care at the class level, with a senior member of staff in overall charge. I have been particularly grateful to the pastoral care as the system – which includes the dedication of the boarding staff – treats the children as individuals. 

    The school is one large family, there is no side to it – everyone looks out for one another, it's as simple as that. 

    We have been advised on the type of school that our eldest might flourish best in and we have been given the time to explore some options – one of which we are very happy with. 

    We now know that we can succeed at CE and the final year will be spent maximising that potential. We couldn’t ask for more preparation. 

    It is a very close-knit school community that brings together pupils and parents from all over the world. The children and parents really do care and support each other. 

    There is a parent forum for each year group and there are regular events that parents can attend, such as school and visiting play productions, bonfire nights, a farm show and more.  

    I’m just very grateful that our children are at The Elms. It really is a hidden gem of a school. If you ask my youngest what he likes most about the school, he replies “everything”.’
  • Pupils tell us

    ‘The three best things about school are: the hockey and all the sport, the animals and riding ponies. My advice to new students would be to be confident because everyone is so friendly.

    I wish I had known about how many home and away matches there are.

    It took me about a month to settle in with the help of my teachers and friends. If I had a problem, I’d go to my teacher or a friend.

    Mrs Moore is the best teacher I have ever had, but I really like all of the teachers. I am really looking forward to starting boarding next week.

    The food is delicious. The best thing on the menu is chocolate cake with sprinkles.

    If I were head for the day, I would introduce more riding! I love my school.’

School Updates

  • News from The Elms School

    News from The Elms School
  • Rethinking school fees

    Rethinking school fees
  • Starting senior school: the eight pieces of advice you need to know

    Starting senior school: the eight pieces of advice you need to know
  • The changing face of Saturday school

    The changing face of Saturday school
  • The Elms School Launches Exciting New Outreach Project

    Teachers at The Elms School, Colwall, are offering online lessons in maths and English for children who need extra educational support in the Key Stage Two years (years 3-6).
    The Elms School Launches Exciting New Outreach Project
  • WATCH: Hear a parent talk about their experience of The Elms

    WATCH: Hear a parent talk about their experience of The Elms
  • WATCH: Talk Education's Country Preps Focus - The Elms

    WATCH: Talk Education's Country Preps Focus - The Elms
  • See The Elms 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 The Elms in our Country Preps Focus
  • First Class Cricketer In The Making : Bertie Michael

    First Class Cricketer In The Making : Bertie Michael
  • Welcome to The Elms: watch here!

    Welcome to The Elms: watch here!

The Elms is
linked with:


Colwall, Malvern, Worcestershire WR13 6EF

01684 540344


ISI Report


Term Dates

Open Days

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

Open Day
08 October 2022

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