The three best independent prep schools in and around Hook are;
- Wellesley Prep School (formerly Daneshill School) in Stratfield Turgis,
- Sherfield School Prep in Sherfield-on-Loddon, and
- St Neot’s School in Eversley.
The review includes towns and villages within the Hook postal district including Sherfield-on-Loddon, Hook, Hartley Wintney, Eversley, as far as Finchampstead. The area is bounded by the M3 to the south, Wokingham and Reading to the north, Basingstoke to the west, and Crowthorne and Sandhurst to the east.
The schools are eight miles apart, to the north of Hook, in rural, farming Hampshire. The is the northernmost part of Hampshire, straddling the borders of Surrey and Berkshire.
These prep schools offer a choice of educational experience. They’re not large schools; one or two classes per year. They’re all mixed schools, with two standalone preps, and one junior departments of an all-through school. One has boarding. All teach to age 13. And sport and the arts are particularly well provided for.
But the reason to consider them is because these Hook prep schools rank in the top 4% of schools in the country, as determined by the Schoolsmith Score.
If you’re putting together a shortlist of schools, this brief note might help you, because it actually compares the schools, just like you do. And there are links throughout to explainer articles (they open new tabs). There is also a partner review for state primaries in the same area. And that can be found here (soon).
There are differences between the schools, which I’ll expand on below. But, to cut to the chase, the highest scoring Hook prep school is St Neot’s School. But there’s not much to separate them. The lowest fees are at Sherfield Prep, and it’s also the best value for money. Do you get what you pay for? It depends on what you want, and what’s important to you. I’ve got some quizzes to help you with that. Otherwise, dear reader, read on.
Age range, gender mix, and faith
Many parents don’t get beyond the obvious differences between schools. These are the structural differences such as age range, gender, faith, all-through or not. You may have a preference one way or another, but these aren’t indicators of a better education.
First of all, there’s gender mix. That’s easy. All three Hook prep schools are mixed. Wellesley Prep School has a roughly 50%/50% boy to girl ratio. Sherfield Prep and St Neot’s School have slightly more boys than girls; closer to 60% boys.
They have a similar age range;
- Wellesley Prep School; 3 to 13 years,
- Sherfield School Prep; 3 months to 13 years,
- St Neot’s School; 2 to 13 years.
Which means that all teach to Year 8, and all have a nursery or pre-school class.
In addition, each of the schools offer wraparound childcare from 7.30/8.00am to 5.00/6.00pm.
As for faith, they welcome pupils of all faiths and none. Two of them, Wellesley Prep School and St Neot’s School have a traditional affiliation to the Church of England. Christian social morality informs the culture and pastoral care at all three schools, but it is not doctrinal.
Standalone preps and all-through schools
Wellesley Prep School and St Neot’s School are standalone prep schools. They exist to prepare pupils for entry into a range of schools at the end of Year 6 or 8. The benefit being that choice of destination is more informed in later prep years than in Nursery or Reception.
Sherfield School Prep, on the other hand, is a junior department of an all-through school to age 18. The curriculum is geared towards preparing the pupil for moving up into the senior school, rather than transferring to another school. And pupils are expected to make that transition. Which brings a benefit of a stress-free Year 6 or 8 for pupils, and parents. The schools might also argue that teaching time can be diverted to activities more beneficial than exam preparation.
St Neot’s School became part of the Lord Wandsworth College group in 2021. Currently, the standalone nature of the prep remains. But over time we may see more of a feeder relationship, if other similar mergers are a guide.
Academic selection and inspections
None of the Hook prep schools are academically selective.
ISI, the independent schools’ inspector, observes that pupils’ ability profiles at Wellesley Prep School and St Neot’s School are ‘above average’. Selective or not. Ability profiles at Sherfield School (whole school) are ‘broadly average’.
The most recent ISI inspection for Wellesley Prep School was ‘Excellent’ across all areas.
The whole school inspection at Sherfield School was ‘Excellent’ for pupil development and ‘Good’ for pupil achievement. Inspectors judged St Neot’s School to be ‘Good’ across all areas.
Buildings and grounds
This is rural Hampshire. It is classic country prep territory, typified by large Victorian manor houses or mansions in 70-100 acres of grounds. In other words, attractive schools. They each have modern purpose-built additions too.
So, Wellesley Prep School is based in a large country house in 100 acres of the Wellington Estate. St Neot’s School is based in a red brick Victorian house in 70 acres.
Likewise, Sherfield School is based in a Grade II listed Victorian manor house in 72 acres. However the Prep is housed in a 1960s purpose-built facility.
Class sizes and classes per year
The size of a school can influence the ‘feel’ of a school, as well as the extensiveness and variety of facilities. It just so happens that Hook has three prep schools of similar size;
- 1 or 2 classes per year; St Neot’s School,
- 2 classes per year; Wellesley Prep School, and Sherfield Prep.
Pupil numbers are currently light, compared to recent years. Wellesley Prep School has had some year groups with three classes, and St Neot’s has had two classes per year throughout the school.
Average class sizes at Hook prep schools are similar at between 15 and 16 pupils.
Facilities at Hook prep schools
All three of these Hook preps have a wide variety of specialist facilities to support their curricula. In fact, your child won’t be wanting for facilities at any of them. If you’re splitting hairs, you might decide that the widest variety are at St Neot’s School. And you might downgrade those at Sherfield School, because the sports facilities are shared with the seniors.
Starting with sports facilities. Wellesley Prep School and St Neot’s School have the sports fields, sports halls, all-weather pitches, swimming pools, netball/tennis courts, cricket nets and so on. St Neot’s School also has a shooting range and a mountain biking trail. Sports facilities at Sherfield School compare well, with the obvious exception of a swimming pool.
As for arts facilities, they all have music rooms, music practice rooms, a music tech room, the multi-purpose hall with stage and lights, an art room(s), and a performance space.
Academic learning facilities are also similarly broad. They each have a computer suite, networked or wi-fi enabled in-class computers and devices, a library, science lab(s), outdoor learning spaces and learning support rooms. DT facilities at St Neot’s School and Sherfield Prep (shared) are more varied.
Computing and remote learning
As well as computer suites for teaching computing skills, or classroom/library devices for research and project work, there are also dedicated devices.
During the pandemic, remote teaching, assisted by technology, became a necessity. Blended learning (face to face and online) is now a reality. Perhaps not for the youngest pupils, but certainly for those in Year 3 upwards. As such, schools are starting to issue dedicated devices to their pupils. Here in Hook, prep pupils have access pooled iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, on an as-needed basis.
Boarding at Hook prep schools
Only Sherfield School offers boarding. The boarding house, Archer’s Lodge is new and purpose-built with 60 ensuite rooms. Boys’ rooms are upstairs, girls’ downstairs but they can share communal leisure areas. It’s mainly for senior pupils, but prep pupils can board from Year 4. And about 10% do, 60% weekly/flexi and 40% termly.
Though many parents initially focus on the boarding accommodation, the main benefit of attending a boarding school is the access to an extended extra-curricular. For a longer review of the benefits of boarding see here.
The three Hook independent prep schools offer curricula based on, and augmenting, the National Curriculum. At Wellesley Prep School and St Neot’s School there’s also a nod to the ISEB Common Entrance Curriculum and school-specific scholarship curricula.
Learning skills, as well as facts, is the trend in prep school, in fact, all primary education. So, you will hear a lot about in-subject topics and cross-curricular topics. The idea is to help develop pupils’ enquiry and thinking skills, essentially through project work.
As such the curriculum at Sherfield Prep has some cross-curricular linking. At Wellesley Prep School cross-curricular linking is made with two ‘subjects in the spotlight’ every half term. At St Neot’s School, there is a topic-based curriculum in pre-prep. And then in Years 7 and 8, a more skills-based curriculum, the Pre-Senior Baccalaureate to complement the more traditional ISEB.
There are other devices schools use to help encourage lateral and critical thinking. St Neot’s School, for example, teaches philosophy to Year 5 upwards, and thinking skills to Years 7 and 8. And when it comes to stretching the talented, Wellesley Prep School has enjoyed success in national science quizzes, coming 3rd and 4th in recent years.
All three schools introduce some degree of verbal and non-verbal reasoning in preparation for Year 6 11+ and ISEB Pre-Test exams.
Outdoor learning and trips
The three prep schools offer plenty of educational trips to support and stimulate their curricula. And there are field, cultural, adventure, sporting and musical residential trips too, starting as early as Year 2 and 3.
As you may suspect, these three country Hook prep schools excel in their outdoor learning provision. They all have some form of Forest School activities for the youngest pupils. For the older pupils at Wellesley Prep School there is the Adventure, Service, Challenge programme.
From Year 3 at St Neot’s School there is a structured outdoor learning programme every week. It includes the St Neot’s Outdoor Learning Award for bushcraft, adventure, and leadership skills. There are also courses in first aid, mountain biking and orienteering.
From Year 3 at Sherfield Prep, Friday afternoons are for the AVP Diploma. AVP refers to the school’s motto. It is skills based, and pupils work together to gain a recognised accreditation, volunteer, or learn a new skill.
Foreign language teaching
Modern foreign languages are a significant part of Hook prep schools’ curricula too. All three schools teach one of French or Spanish from Reception, adding the other one from Year 2 or 3. There are few areas where two languages are taught throughout most of the school.
Latin was also part of the curriculum but has been dropped within the last two years by all but St Neot’s School. It is part of the Year 7 and 8 syllabus.
Subject specialist teaching
Primary school teachers can, and often do, teach a wide range of subjects to their pupils. Their expertise is in teaching this age group. Prep schools make the case that subject specialists may be better for some subjects. Also, the progression from one to several teachers prepares pupils for teaching in senior schools. How much subject specialist teaching each school offers varies, as does when they offer it.
Hook prep schools offer a similar menu of class-based teaching to Year 3, but with subject specialist teaching in sport, music, languages, and sometimes drama, art and computing. From Year 3 they add more subject specialist teaching. Subject specialists teach most subjects at Wellesley Prep from Year 4, St Neot’s from Year 5, and Sherfield Prep from Year 7.
Sport at Hook prep schools
It is in the provision of sports and the arts that private schools excel. In particular, time spent on sport, and lessons dedicated to music, art, drama and sometimes dance set them apart from state schools.
And these three schools are no exception. They offer at least three PE/games sessions per week and 10-15% of curriculum time for sport. They also offer between 13 and 20 different sports, with St Neot’s School providing the widest variety.
Facilities, pupil numbers and specialist teaching are the key ingredients for sporting achievement at independent prep schools. With the schools being of similar size, we might expect bragging rights to be shared.
One measure of sporting prowess is the regularity with which the senior teams appear in the final stages of national competitions. By this measure, none are particularly strong, except, perhaps for St Neot’s School which has a track record in national judo competitions.
The arts at Hook prep schools
Just like sport, art and music are popular pursuits throughout these schools’ curricular and extra-curricular programmes. For a start, they all have curricular art lessons and extra-curricular art activities.
Music in these Hook prep schools is well supported. Each school has at least one choir, a string orchestra and a couple of instrument ensembles. St Neot’s School has more choirs and ensembles. And at St Neot’s and Wellesley Prep, over 70% of pupils play an instrument outside curricular music and take graded exams.
They all offer drama as a standalone curricular subject. And they have musical and dramatic performances and extra-curricular ESB and LAMDA speech and drama exams.
Dance doesn’t feature on the curricula beyond Year 2, though it is usually part of the extra-curricular programme. For its commitment to the arts, St Neot’s School has an Artsmark Gold accreditation.
And there are extra-curricular clubs. There’s sport, of course. But in addition, St Neot’s and Sherfield Prep offer over 10 non-sport clubs per year group per term.
Exam results and destination schools
It’s hard to compare these three Hook prep schools on exam results since they don’t all enter the same comparable national exams.
And there’s not a great difference in the calibre of the destination schools of Year 6 to 8 pupils. They would all feature in the top 5-10% of independent secondaries.
Pupils at Sherfield Prep invariably progress to the senior school.
As for Wellesley Prep School and St Neot’s School leavers, they go on to a similar profile of local independent day and boarding destinations. Popular choices are Lord Wandsworth College, Bradfield College, Wellington College, Luckley House, Queen Anne’s Faversham and Pangbourne College. 30%-40% of pupils win awards and scholarships.
Fees and value for money
For the 2022/23 academic year, Year 6 tuition fees at these prep schools range from £5,100 to £6,000 per term. Fees at St Neot’s Prep are the highest, those at Sherfield Prep are the lowest, and halfway between, is Wellesley Prep School. These fees exclude lunch and extras such as residential trips.
But tuition fee structure can change over the academic years, but here, they show the same pattern. Cumulatively, over Years 1 to 6 it is Sherfield Prep that has the lowest fees. They are 15% higher than the national average for independent day schools. Fees at Wellesley Prep School are 24% higher, and at St Neot’s School, fees are 31% higher. That said, these are not especially expensive Home Counties prep schools.
|Schoolsmith Score||Tuition Fees v National Average (Years 1-6)||Value for money (rank)|
|Wellesley Prep School||83||+24%||3|
|Sherfield School, Prep||82||+15%||1|
|St Neot’s School||86||+31%||2|
The current highest scoring school is St Neot’s School. The best value for money, as measured by £/Schoolsmith Score, is Sherfield Prep.
What accounts for this difference in fees? In general, it’s location, grounds, facilities, class sizes, staffing, and local demographics. Some of which applies here. Of course, the adage of ‘getting what you pay for’ can also be true, which I hope this note has highlighted. These are all good prep schools, providing a worthy educational experience. But when it comes down to it, what are you prepared to pay for?
See also the best independent prep schools in Windsor, Ascot, Farnham, Basingstoke, Crowthorne and Sandhurst, Wokingham and Bracknell, Guildford and Godalming, Reading
Why are these the best independent prep schools in Hook?
Schools that feature in these notes are those with the highest Schoolsmith Scores, not just in Hook, but nationwide. This is an objective score that accounts for 50 different aspects of schooling, grouped into 5 broad categories. You can read more about them from the links below, and the Schoolsmith Score here.
- their achievements; academic, sporting and artistic,
- the breadth of the education they offer,
- the quality of teaching,
- their facilities,
- their look and feel.
A quick pause for breath
By now you might be wondering what you should be thinking about when choosing a school? It happens to everyone. Why not try my 7 one minute quizzes for those starting their school search? Wood, trees, and all that…