The six best independent prep schools in Wokingham and Bracknell are;
- Dolphin School in Hurst,
- Reddam House Berkshire Junior School in Bearwood,
- Waverley Preparatory School near Finchampstead,
- Ludgrove School in Wokingham,
- Holme Grange School, Prep & Pre-Prep in Wokingham, and
- Lambrook School in Winkfield Row.
The schools are all either in Wokingham or Bracknell, or in the neighbouring villages.
Why choose them? Because these Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools rank in the top 4% of schools in the country, as determined by the Schoolsmith Score. Three of them; Holme Grange School, Ludgrove School and Lambrook School rank in the top 1%.
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 a partner review for state primary schools in Wokingham and Bracknell. And that can be found here (soon).
To cut to the chase, the highest scoring Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools are Ludgrove School and Lambrook School. Unsurprisingly, with excellence comes a price tag; they also have the highest fees. The lowest fees are at Waverley Prep. Holme Grange Prep & Pre-Prep offers 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 and gender mix
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.
Five are day schools. Ludgrove School is boarding only. Lambrook School also offers flexi-boarding.
Then there’s gender mix. Ludgrove School is a boys’ school. The other five are all mixed schools. Dolphin, Holme Grange and Waverley Prep have a roughly 50%/50% boy to girl ratio. Reddam House Berkshire Junior and Lambrook School are closer to 60% boys.
As for age range;
- Dolphin School; 3 to 13 years,
- Reddam House Berkshire Junior School; 3 months to 11 years,
- Waverley Preparatory School; 3 months to 11 years,
- Ludgrove School; 8 to 13 years,
- Holme Grange School, Prep & Pre-Prep; 3 to 11 years,
- Lambrook School; 3 to 13 years.
Each school prepares pupils for Year 7 entry to senior school. But Dolphin, Lambrook and Ludgrove Schools also cater for pupils wishing to stay on to Year 8 to prepare for entry into some independent day and, in particular, boarding schools.
Pupils join Ludgrove School in Year 4. The other five have a Reception class and a nursery or pre-school class.
In addition, five of the schools offer wraparound childcare from 7.30/8.00am to 5.30/6.30pm. Ludgrove School provides 24-hour care!
When it comes to faith, all six Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools welcome pupils of all faiths and none.
Holme Grange, Lambrook, and Ludgrove Schools have a historic affiliation to the Church of England. There are some religious assemblies and celebrations. And Christian social morality informs their pastoral care, values, and culture.
Standalone preps and all-through schools
Four are standalone prep schools, and two are junior departments of all-through schools to age 16 or 18.
Reddam House Berkshire Junior, and Holme Grange Prep & Pre-Prep are the two junior departments. This usually means that the schools’ curricula are geared towards moving up into the senior school, rather than transferring to another school. And pupils are as good as guaranteed an automatic place. Which brings a benefit of a stress-free Year 6 or 8 for pupils, and parents.
On the other hand, Dolphin, Lambrook, Ludgrove and Waverley Prep are standalone prep schools. They exist to prepare pupils for entry into a range of schools at the end of Year 6 or 8. There is, of course, the stress of Year 6 or 8 exams. However, parents will have a better idea of the right senior school at the end of primary education, than at the beginning.
Academic selection and inspections
Only Dolphin School is academically selective, with age-appropriate assessments as part of the admissions process.
The other five have non-selective entry policies. They operate a waiting-list admissions procedure. However, they often assess new candidates for older year groups.
The degree of academic selectivity can dictate the pace of lessons. It can also be a prime determinant of academic outcomes; smarter pupils get better results. But not always. Demographics and, dare I mention, teaching, influence academic outcomes too.
ISI, the independent schools’ inspector, observes that pupils’ ability profiles at these Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools are at least ‘broadly average’. Irrespective of the selection criteria. They find that pupils’ abilities at three schools, Lambrook School, Ludgrove School and Waverley Prep are ‘above average’.
The most recent ISI inspections for all six schools were ‘Excellent’ across all areas.
Buildings and grounds
For those who are enticed by beautiful buildings and extensive grounds, four of these schools will attract your attention.
Reddam House Berkshire is based around a neo-gothic Victorian mansion house in 125 acres of grounds of fields, parkland, woods, and lake. The junior school occupies the Grade II listed coach house.
Ludgrove School is also based in a Victorian mansion, in 130 acres.
Lambrook School occupies a large white Victorian manor house in 52 acres. And Holme Grange School occupies a red brick Grade II listed Arts & Crafts style Victorian country house, with modern additions, in 21 acres.
Dolphin School is based in the grounds of a red brick Elizabethan manor house, though most of the buildings are more recently purpose-built.
Waverley Prep occupies more recently built facilities in 13 acres of grounds.
Boarding at Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools
Two of these Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools offer boarding; Ludgrove School and Lambrook School.
Ludgrove School is a rarity in the UK in that all pupils board. There are no day pupils. Boarding is on a fortnightly basis, from Year 4. Dormitories are upstairs in the main house and sleep eight boys in single and bunk beds.
Lambrook offers boarding from Year 3 in two boarding houses. Lambrook House for girls, and Westfield for boys. Each has four or five dormitories and a total of 50 boarding spaces. Boarding is weekly (from Year 5), or more frequently, flexi.
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 and Saturday morning school. For a longer review of the benefits of boarding see here.
Class sizes and classes per year
Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools range from one class per year to four. Size can have an influence on the look and feel of the school, and the facilities;
- 1 class per year; Waverley Preparatory School.
- 1 class per year, some years with 2 classes; Dolphin School.
- 2 classes per year; Reddam House Berkshire Junior School.
- 2 classes per year to Year 2, 3 thereafter; Holme Grange School Prep & Pre-Prep.
- 3 classes per year; Ludgrove School.
- 3 classes per year in pre-prep, 4 in prep; Lambrook School.
Ludgrove School has the smallest average class size at 12 pupils per class. Average class sizes at all the other schools are between 15 and 18 pupils, with those at Waverley Prep closer to 20 pupils.
Sports and arts facilities at Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools
All six of these Wokingham and Bracknell preps have specialist facilities to support their curricula. Some have more than others, clearly. Lambrook and Ludgrove have exceptional facilities. Dolphin School, Holme Grange and Reddam House Berkshire Junior have a wide variety by any definition. Waverley Prep has fewer, but, then again, extensive facilities are not its selling point.
Starting with sports facilities. Dolphin School and Holme Grange have sports fields, sports halls, all-weather pitches, swimming pools, netball/tennis courts, cricket nets, and outdoor pursuits hubs. In addition, Reddam House Junior, has a rifle range, a nine-hole golf course, riding stables and boats for the 50-acre lake. Lambrook has squash courts instead of the boats and riding school. Ludgrove has squash courts, five courts, and an extensive tree house complex. One other point of difference between these five is that at Reddam House and Holme Grange, these facilities are shared with senior pupils.
Waverley Prep pupils also has sports facilities, though a narrower range; a multi-purpose hall and outdoor games spaces.
As for arts facilities, the multi-purpose hall and an art room or practical room are the baseline provision for these Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools. Dolphin School also has a music room.
Reddam House Junior, Home Grange, Ludgrove, and Lambrook have a wider variety of arts facilities. They include a dedicated performance space or theatre, a variety of music rooms including music technology, studios for drama and dance, and a Chapel. Again, at Holme Grange and Reddam House, those facilities are shared with senior pupils.
Academic facilities at Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools
Academic learning facilities are usually a computer suite, networked or wi-fi enabled in-class computers and devices, a library, science lab, outdoor learning spaces and learning support rooms.
The comprehensiveness as well as the variety of the facilities varies. For example, the outdoor learning facilities at Holme Grange include five Forest Schools with three outdoor classrooms, a ‘Willow Village’, a ‘mini-farm’, and a gardening area with polytunnel.
Pupils at Ludgrove School and Lambrook School also have access to more sophisticated DT facilities. Ludgrove School, in particular, has a new ‘Exploration Centre’, a set of facilities dedicated to STEAM projects.
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. For example, pupils have their own laptops from Year 5 at Lambrook School and Reddam House Berkshire Junior. Pupils at Waverley Prep have their own Chromebooks from Year 3.
Otherwise, the schools furnish pupils with pooled iPads, Chromebooks, and laptops, on an as-needed basis.
The six Wokingham and Bracknell independent prep schools offer curricula based on, and augmenting, the National Curriculum. The three schools that teach to Year 8 switch to the ISEB Common Entrance curriculum, wholly or partially, and scholarship curricula from Year 6.
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, cross-curricular topics, or even ’21st Century skills’. The idea is to help develop pupils’ enquiry and thinking skills, essentially through project work.
Each of the six acknowledge the importance of skills development, as well as fact acquisition. But they implement skills learning in different ways and to a differing extent.
Perhaps the most straight-forward curricula are taught at Waverley Prep, Lambrook School, and Ludgrove School. You might characterise them as traditional. These prep schools prefer subject based teaching, but they do incorporate cross-curricular links where appropriate. For example, Lambrook has a ‘Creative and Connected’ curriculum in pre-prep whereby some subjects are linked and cross-referenced by a common half-termly theme. The school also expands the curriculum with its ‘Monday Afternoon Enrichment’.
Reddam House Junior teaches subjects separately but there is cross-curricular linking through a proprietorial Challenge and Extension (CHEX) programme. CHEX fulfils several objectives, mainly to stretch and stimulate pupils. It is embedded into the curriculum and is tailored to each pupil so helps to engender a ‘mindset for learning’.
Holme Grange also has a curriculum where subjects are taught thematically up to Year 2, then separately, from Year 3. But it is ‘tailored teaching’, ‘challenge for all’, and ‘learning habits’ that differentiate Holme Grange. Most schools claim to give more individual attention to their pupils. What makes this school different is the evidence that they are making the effort. The school has an ‘Accelerated Learning Centre’ for dyslexic pupils. It is an accredited and regional hub for the National Association for Able Children in Education. And the school is an active participant in several educational research projects and trials.
Dolphin School also has a thematic curriculum in pre-prep. In Years 3 to 5 the curriculum includes Global Citizenship and Earth Studies to broaden the curriculum and promote debate and lateral thinking.
All the schools introduce verbal and non-verbal reasoning usually in Year 5 in preparation for Year 6 entrance exams and/or the increasingly popular ISEB Pre-Test.
None of the schools has a track record in national academic competitions.
Outdoor learning and trips
Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools offer plenty of educational trips and visiting speakers to support and stimulate their curricula. And there are residential field, cultural, adventure, sporting, and musical trips, usually from Year 5. Dolphin School, Waverley Prep and Holme Grange Prep start residential trips in Year 3. At Dolphin School pupils spend 120 days on trips in their time at the school.
In terms of outdoor learning, they all have some form of Forest School activities for the youngest pupils. Some schools extend outdoor learning to older pupils and make it a feature of the curriculum.
For example, Waverley School pupils take part in Forest School through to Year 6. Holme Grange pupils have one session per week throughout the school.
At Lambrook School, there is outdoor learning linked to the academic curriculum. The umbrella CARPE Award encourages pupils to participate in the co-curricular, in activities related to the Community, the Arts, in Recreation, as Pioneers and Leaders, and to the Environment.
Similarly at Dolphin School, The Delphic Challenge, for Years 6 to 8, challenges pupils in four main groups of activity; Expedition, Service, Skilled Activity, and Dolphin Project Qualification.
At Ludgrove School, bushcraft and outdoor challenge are part of the co-curriculum.
Foreign language teaching
French is the main foreign language taught at each of these schools, often starting from Reception or Years 1 and 2.
The three Common Entrance Schools add further languages as part of the ISEB and scholarship curricula, usually from Year 6 or 7. For example, Lambrook and Ludgrove Schools add Latin from Year 5 and Greek from Year 7. Dolphin School is more adventurous, adding Latin from Year 4, a Mandarin taster in Year 5, and Spanish and Ancient Greek from Year 7.
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, and when they offer it, varies.
The six Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools offer a similar menu of class-based teaching to Year 3, but with subject specialist teaching in sport, music, languages, and sometimes art, DT, drama and computing.
They gradually increase the number of subjects that specialists teach. By Year 4 at Reddam House and Dolphin School, and Year 5 elsewhere, the majority of subjects are taught by specialists, not the class teacher.
Sport at Wokingham and Bracknell 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.
At these Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools the variety of sports on offer, typically 13-15, is high. But there are two exceptional sports programmes. At Lambrook and Ludgrove Schools, there are four or five games sessions per week, and nearly 30 different sports are on offer.
Facilities, pupil numbers and specialist teaching are the key ingredients for sporting achievement at independent prep schools. All six schools turn out representative teams across, at least, the major sports. On numbers alone, we might expect Holme Grange Prep, Lambrook School and Ludgrove School to field the more competitive teams.
And it is these three whose senior teams also have track records of successes in national competitions;
- Holme Grange Prep & Pre-Prep for basketball and rugby.
- Ludgrove School for athletics, cross country, football, and rugby.
- Lambrook School for athletics, football, skiing, and trampolining.
The arts at Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools
Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools are notable for their involvement in the arts. For a start, they all have curricular art lessons and extra-curricular art activities. Ludgrove School also has pottery and CDT lessons timetabled from Year 4.
Music is well supported, even in the smaller schools. They each have at least one choir, a string orchestra and a couple of instrument ensembles. Holme Grange Prep, Ludgrove School and Lambrook School have more choirs and closer to 10 different ensembles. In most of the schools at least one third of pupils play an instrument outside curricular music and take graded exams. But at these three it’s over 50% of pupils.
For its commitment to the arts, not just music, Home Grange School has an Artsmark Gold accreditation.
Reddam House, Dolphin School, Holme Grange Prep, and Lambrook School all offer drama as a standalone curricular subject. At Ludgrove School and Waverley Prep drama is part of the English curriculum and co-curriculum. All six schools have musical and dramatic performances, of differing degrees of grandeur. Most offer extra-curricular ESB and LAMDA speech and drama exams.
Dance doesn’t feature on any curriculum beyond Year 2 though it is usually part of the extra-curricular programme at the mixed schools.
There are also extra-curricular clubs at all six prep schools. There’s sport, of course. But in addition, nearly all offer over 10 non-sport clubs to every child per term. Ludgrove School offers about 20.
Exam results and destination schools
It’s hard to compare these six Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools on exam results since they don’t all enter the same comparable national exams.
But if you judge a school by where its pupils go on to, then they are successful. Destination schools are usually competitive entry and highly regarded. But the type of secondary school the preps target is different. And they are different in three ways; independent, grammar or comprehensive, local or further away, day or boarding.
Pupils at Reddam House Berkshire Junior tend to move up to the senior school. Similarly for pupils at Holme Grange School, since the opening of Eaton Grange, the senior school.
SATS results from Waverley Prep put the school in the top 15% nationwide, though in some years much higher. Its Year 6 pupils go to a fairly even mix of Buckinghamshire, Reading or Slough grammar schools or a local independent school.
The weighting towards independent school destinations increases for Dolphin School leavers. About half of the 30% of Year 6 leavers go to a grammar school, the rest a local independent. The 70% who stay on to Year 8 go on to wide selection of independents, with Abingdon School and Queen Anne’s School the most popular destinations.
At the end of Year 8 Lambrook and Ludgrove pupils tend to move on to one 20, mainly boarding, independent schools. Wellington College, Bradfield College, and Eton Colleges seem to be the most favoured destinations for around half of Lambrook School leavers. For Ludgrove School leavers, the favoured destinations for over half of the pupils are Eton College, Radley, and Harrow School.
Fees and value for money
For the 2022/23 academic year, Year 6 tuition fees at these Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools range from about £3,800 per term at Waverley Prep, to £7,150 per term at Lambrook School. These fees exclude extras such as lunch and residential trips.
There are three distinct groupings of schools, if Year 6 fees are a reasonable guide. Lambrook School has the highest fees, by some margin. If Ludgrove School had day pupils, its fees might be similar; its boarding fees are £10,300 per term.
Year 6 termly tuition fees at Reddam House Berkshire Junior, Dolphin School and Holme Grange Prep are in a £4,700 to £5,300 range. Fees at Waverley School (£3,800) are the lowest.
Tuition fees structure can change over the academic years. However, in these Wokingham and Bracknell prep schools, the pattern is the same.
Cumulatively, over Years 1 to 6 fees at Lambrook School are 54% higher than the national average for independent day school fees. At Reddam House Berkshire Junior, Dolphin School and Holme Grange fees are around 11%-28% higher. At Waverley School fees are 4% lower than the national average.
So, in terms of fees, there’s quite a marked difference, and positioning by the schools.
|Schoolsmith Score||Tuition Fees v National Average (Years 1-6)||Value for money (rank)|
|Reddam House Berkshire Junior School||81||+11%||3|
|Holme Grange School Prep & Pre-Prep||85||+15%||1|
|Waverley Preparatory School||80||-4%||2|
The current highest scoring schools are Ludgrove School and Lambrook School. They rank in the top 15 of all prep and primary schools in the UK. And Holme Grange Prep & Pre-Prep ranks in the top 1%.
The best value for money, as measured by £/Schoolsmith Score, is Holme Grange Prep & Pre-Prep, followed by Waverley 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, Crowthorne and Sandhurst, Hook, Woking, Reading, Henley, and Maidenhead.
Why are these the best independent prep schools in Wokingham and Bracknell?
Schools that feature in these notes are those with the highest Schoolsmith Scores, not just in Wokingham and Bracknell, 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…