All Hallows Prep School, Cranmore
Muddy says: Small co-ed prep school with a family feel, very good results, Famous Five forest school and a cutting edge design studio
A small day and boarding prep school, All Hallows sits in 25 acres near the village of Cranmore (‘crane in the mere or marshes’ which explains the bird in the school logo) just off the road between Shepton Mallet and Frome. The stone frontage of Cranmore Hall dates back to the 17th century but the school was founded in Bognor Regis in 1938 on All Hallows’ Day with just one pupil and arrived here in 1946. Today there are around 265 boys and girls aged from 3 to 13 on the roll. The Head, admin and boarding dorms are in the main manor house; the rest of the school’s housed behind – a hotchpotch of ornate old buildings, converted stables and newer teaching blocks.
Open to all faiths – and none. Christian principles add a spiritual aspect to school life, where good relationships are paramount and there’s time for reflection and contemplation as well as prayer with a weekly mass. The Head’s not a Catholic but 30 per cent of teachers and pupils are.
The design and technology focused Creative Centre complements the traditional arts and ceramics workshops and is fully tech’d up with the latest 3D printer, laser cutter and digital design packages. Very popular with pupils, it’s resulted in some great things, including scholarships to Marlborough and Millfield.
The brand new library, opened by author Jeremy Strong, looks good.
The art department is thriving, producing works of an impressive standard. Innovatively, all pupils work to a common theme, like ‘enchanted forest’, and ‘fun of the fair’ creating exhibitions where every child can see their work on display. Lots of projects with local artists and galleries like the internationally renowned Hauser & Wirth just 20 minutes down the road.
Like many country prep schools, there’s a Forest School but this one goes on and on with three different base camps, a giant tipi, pizza oven, log cabin, an impressive, pupil-made totem pole and now a wooden sailing boat. Younger pupils come here every day; older kids as and when, with lots of different stuff going on, from A Midsummer’s Night Dream to pizza in the woods.
Sports-wise – the usual pitches, nets, astro turf (new one in the pipeline), tennis courts and a small indoor pool.
The Junior School follows the theme-based International Primary Curriculum. In Years 6, 7 & 8, the focus moves towards Common Entrance/Scholarships. Despite being non-selective results are very good: around 65 percent of pupils leave with some sort of scholarship or exhibition and everyone passes the Common Entrance to the school they want. Having said that, the CE doesn’t drive the syllabus and is seen more as a way of developing skills and experience to deal with formal exams. Lots of support in finding the right senior school. Unlike some other prep schools, there’s no fixed group of ‘scholars’ from day one; flexibility is key, with pupils attending special scholarship classes as required.
Headmaster Dr Trevor Richards is a qualified Educational Psychologist – pretty useful, I’d say – and has been in post since January 2017 but with the school for years as Deputy Head and previously the school Ed Psych.
He believes that the pastoral and academic systems should be intertwined (happy first, then teach) and focus on the whole child, instigating regular ‘whole child’ meetings for everyone who comes into contact with the pupil. He doesn’t pigeon hole pupils with ‘gifted and talented’ but rather, ‘high performing’. Traditional values are important but not tradition for tradition’s sake. An emphasis on self-belief, resilience and mental wellbeing, inclusivity and community, with lots of whole school projects across the curriculum and links with the wider community and beyond; recently a chief from an Amazonian rain forest tribe visited the school. Relationships between pupils and teachers are important and two-way. Dr Richards himself is clearly very approachable, witness the story of the leavers who left 120 little ducks hidden around the school with notes saying ‘please take to the headmaster for a reward’ … cue 120 knocks on Dr Richards’ door.
All the usual prep school sports and games, with layers of teams so all abilities can have a go, though there are a fair number of sports scholars too. English internationals come into help with coaching. Girls cricket on the curriculum with girls’ rugby after school club. Body Armour PE, which is about strength and conditioning – getting fit responsibly – is a great idea.
The Director of Music is hugely dynamic, bringing music, theatre and dance to all pupils across the school. One of the latest projects involved the band playing in Victorian costume to local residents and visitors on the East Somerset Railway.
Eleven peripatetic music teachers offering 1:1 tuition (want to play the harp?) and 100 per cent success rate in LAMDA exams. This music room’s in the old billiard room – never seen timpani drums in a small prep school before.
Creativity isn’t limited to the arts. Children are learning to think critically in the classroom and spend more time working things out rather than learning by rote – 21st century skills.
The Learning Support Centre is not just for pupils who are struggling or whatever but for support in any area, including extension work and 1:1 preparation for scholarships (and it’s free).
Almost everyone in Years 6–8 joins in the Saturday morning enrichment programme with typical countryside activities like clay pigeon shooting and bushcraft as well as photography, animation and cookery. Turns out they’re hot shots too (podium places in the Independent Ass of Prep Schools Clay Pigeon championships).
The Post-Common Entrance programme sounds fun, with visits to the Houses of Parliament, a CSI forensics trip and Thorpe Park (not just riding roller coasters but designing one).
All the boarding’s in the big ‘ouse, with boys and girls on different landings. A warren of rooms and corridors with mostly spacious dorms and common rooms. Clubs and activities each evening plus regular whole house get-togethers. Around 40 boarders (with a sprinkling from overseas) as well as a ‘boarding pass’ day plus boarding option to sleep over for up to 25 nights a term.
Pupils wake up to views like this.
They’ve got their own Tennis Academy linked to the sports village at Bath University, with around over half the school playing tennis and benefiting from specialist coaches (parents can join too).
There’s an Art Club for parents.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day starts at 8am and ends 4/4.25pm with prep at around 5pm – day pupils can be picked up as late as 7.30pm. Supervised prep (so you don’t have to). After school clubs include band, chess, creative design, photography, trampolining and Scouts and they’re responsive to pupils’ suggestions for others. Transport currently set up around the Chew Valley, Bath, Frome and Gillingham areas.
From September 2019: Nursery £51.50/day; Pre-prep (Reception and Yrs 1 & 2) £2,560/term; Yr 3 £4,815/term; Yr 4 £5,050/term; Yrs 5 & 6 £5,350, Yrs 7 & 8 £5,450/term with boarding £8,250/term. There’s the option to have up to 25 nights boarding a term for an additional £580/term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The Head’s been well-liked in his previous incarnations and seen as a strong positive force in the school. Parents describe the school as down to earth and caring, producing happy kids that do well. The whole child meetings and the fact that the school doesn’t top slice the pupils comes in for praise. A good sense of camaraderie between parents and school.
Good for: Anyone wanting a supportive, friendly school with a caring family feel that does well on the academics without being a hothouse.
Not for: As it’s a standalone prep, there’s no automatic follow on to a senior school but the upside of that is that you choose the senior school that’s a perfect fit for your child, with pupils moving onto some 20 different schools.