Hello from a rain-soaked Richmond,
Autumn has well and truly arrived in the UK. Short days, grey skies, strong winds and gusts of rain. Not exactly ideal school-visiting weather. And yet, this is what it’s like rather a lot here on the island. So, if you want to experience what your child will experience for at least four months a year, then November is probably the perfect time to visit schools.
Visiting Westonbirt School the weather matters much less than one might think. This is such a beautiful, cozy school that you could visit in a hailstorm and still come away charmed.
Read below to find out more!
Westonbirt pupils loitering before class
Clients regularly ask us for schools with a classic boarding school flair. Schools with buildings reminiscent of Downton Abbey or Hogwarts. With lusciously green lawns for kids to play cricket on. A school that looks and feels like the archetypal British boarding school.
This is Westonbirt School to a T. It’s a proper countryside boarding school, set on 210 acres of luscious parkland, sports playing fields and beautiful Victorian gardens. The truly stunning main house is a former Victorian stately home, complete with beautiful interior high walls with oak and walnut paneling, 19th century silk wallpaper and Cordoba leather wall coverings. Just.Wow!
A roaring fire in the main hall awaits
And yet, despite its Victorian splendor the school instantly felt homely to us. We arrived on a wet November morning and were greeted by a blazing fire in the main hall’s fireplace. That surely must have helped.
You’d be forgiven for worrying that today’s youngsters might use this uniquely beautiful space irresponsibly. Fortunately that’s not the case. Everyone here seems to know how lucky they are and pupils struck us as extremely respectful of their surroundings. Luckily the school returns this sentiment with a suitably trusting attitude. No “Don’t walk on the lawn’s” signs here!
The school's stunning library!
But it’s not just the main house that impresses. As a listed heritage site, Westonbirt School is obligated to follow strict building regulations. The rest of the school’s campus is all attractive buildings that cohere architecturally with the Victorian ‘mothership’. We were especially taken by the new greenhouse-like classrooms. This is clearly a nod to Robert Holford, the landowner who built Westonbirt House. He loved growing orchids in greenhouses here. Truly some of the nicest classrooms we’ve seen at any school!
The school's dining hall
Unlike some other schools we know, you won’t find any ugly, hidden prefab buildings here.
Westonbirt School is located in the Cotswolds, about 10 minutes from the small market town Tedbury, about 20 minutes from Kemble train station with a direct link to London Paddington Station. London Heathrow is 1,5 hours away by car. It took us under two hours from London by car.
Stunning Victorian gardens
What we think Westonbirt School is about
Westonbirt School is a school that is going places. We know very few schools that have changed as fundamentally in recent years as this one. A small all-girls school only eight years ago, today Westonbirt School is a coed-school, providing a home to over 500 boys and girls. This transition is overseen by the indefatigable Headmistress Natasha Dangerfield (with a name like this, what do you expect?) and her senior leadership team. No doubt, this kind of radical change bears risks. However, Mrs Dangerfield had a clear vision of what she wanted Westonbirt School to be and is developing the school accordingly. The result is a school brimming with vibrancy and purpose. New buildings like the amazing new sports center and a new boarding house are being added, new sports staff hired, and new academic and leisure activities offered. There is a palpable sense of excitement about the future here!
Oh, and we aren’t the only ones feeling this: Westonbirt School was voted ‘Coed Boarding School of the Year 2023’ at the latest Independent School of the Year Awards. What an amazing achievement!
At von Bülow Education we’ve always loved Westonbirt School for its strong performing arts and creative arts offer. The school’s theater productions are renowned to be stellar. As you’d expect, theater productions make great use of the stunning backdrops the school’s Victorian buildings, greenhouses and gardens provide, spilling out of the school’s 500-seater Orangery theater. Music is very much on the up also. Two-thirds of pupils play at least one instrument at Westonbirt School, the choral music is exceptional, and a variety of bands and ensembles allow pupils to explore genres from classical, via jazz to pop. We didn’t hear any music during our visit, but we saw lots of amazing art. This is in no small part due to the vibrant Westonbirt art department
Very strong lacrosse here
Lastly, we’ve always loved Westonbirt School for its friendly, warm-hearted school culture, exceptionally strong pastoral care and individualized academic support. The result is a school full of happy, thriving children. As our lovely tour-guide and Head Boy Calum put it: “ I am applying for physics at Oxford University and Westonbirt are doing so, so much to prepare and support me. I couldn’t be more grateful!”
Nurturing environments: Westonbirt's fabulous greenhouse-inspired class-rooms
Westonbirt School is a non-selective school. Considering its very broad intake, it is producing impressive exam results: in 2023, 27 per cent of pupils received 9-7 at GCSE and 41 per cent A/A at A level (64 per cent A-B). The trend is upward. Unsurprisingly, Westonbirt School is among the top third of British independent schools on value-add, a measure of academic progress a pupil makes over time. At von Bülow Education we feel that value-added is a metric that should get much more attention than fantastic exam results!
Classroom from the inside
Westonbirt offers A-Levels and BTECs. Interesting, unusual subjects like Psychology and Hospitality are on offer here and vastly popular.
Westonbirt’s learning support department also deserves a special mention. True to the school’s vision of lending great individual support, Westonbirt’s SEN team are experienced with helping kids with dyslexia, ADHS and learning anxieties.
We met four teachers at Westonbirt School, for the subjects maths, sciences, languages and cooking. All four impressed us. They were genuinely friendly, interesting, clearly passionate teachers. Great ambassadors of the school.
Getting sporty - the school's new sports hall
We’ve mentioned the performing arts already. Theater especially sits at the heart of extracurricular goings-on here, with musicals, theater productions and dance performances being staged regularly in the Orangery theater, the school’s Great Hall, and the school’s stunning grounds. The school regularly gets invited to take shows to the legendary Edinburgh Fringe Festival and pupils compete at festivals like the Mid Somerset and Cheltenham Festivals.
...which includes a beautiful indoor pool
Developing Westonbirt’s sports offer is a key focus for the moment. The school recently added a state-of-the art sports hall and swimming pool. Already, the school already excels at girls lacrosse and netball. The boys hockey, cricket and rugby are also coming along nicely. Our tour-guide Calum told us about how he is helping develop the school’s football. A new Head Coach for Sports is joining the school in January 2024. A golf academy is also in the works, of which the school’s own 9-hole golf course will take pride-of-place. Other key sports on offer are equestrian and polo, athletics, cross-country running, fencing, judo and tennis.
Would Westonbirt be our top choice for a very sporty pupil? Probably not quite yet for the moment. Yet, given the school’s successful track-record for reinventing itself, we would not be surprised if it managed to transform itself into a sporting powerhouse. Trust the process!
Leith's Cookery School very popular!
Other leisure activities abound and include anything from robotics to cooking. Daisy, Westonbirt’s affable head-girl and second tour-guide for the day, excitedly told us about her involvement in Model United Nations (Westonbirt had represented Hungary at the last convention - not an easy task!). Daisy also raved about ‘Politics and Breakfast’, a very lively, weekly discussion about politics over - you guessed it - breakfast with Mrs Dangerfield herself. We were very taken by the Leith’s Cookery School, where pupils learn to cook to a semi-professional standard in Westonbirt’s swish test kitchens. Apparently this activity is hugely popular here, and we understand why.
Textures of Westonbirt: the ceiling in the main house
Westonbirt School also does its part in preparing its pupils for life after school. Most senior pupils spend some time doing mini-internships with local businesses, lawyer’s offices or a doctor’s practice in nearby towns. This gives them a first taste of professions they might pursue later. The 6th Form Leadership Programme sounded especially interesting to us. Pupils attend 5-day offsites in Wales to learn about how effective leadership works, how to organize themselves, how to work in and lead teams and - very importantly - how to deal with failure. Sounds really helpful!
Cozy: girl's common room at Gloucester House
About 35% of pupils board at Westonbirt School.
Westonbirt School has four boarding houses onsite, Sedgwick House, Badminton House, Beaufort House and Gloucester House. The co-ed boarding house for Y13 pupils is offsite in nearby Tetbury. This is deliberate. With a boarding house off campus, the oldest pupils at Westonbirt get more freedom and will be better prepared for the transition to university.
Cozy: girl's single bedroom at Gloucester House
Each house is run by a house parent with assistant staff to support them. Westonbirt has a Health and Wellbeing Center, to provide medical care, access to doctors, psychological counselors and even a physiotherapist.
We first took a look into Gloucester House, a girls boarding house for Y12 girls. We thought that both rooms and communal spaces were very cozy and in good repair. Most rooms were single rooms. We also took a look into Beaufort House a senior boys house, which was similarly cozy.
Room with a view
On week-ends, pupils are free to go to nearby Tetbury to go shopping, or to join the regular trips to Cheltenham, Oxford or London.
Exeat week-ends are compulsory here.
Beautiful Victorian gardens
Our view of a suitable Westonbirt School pupil
Westonbirt School is a fabulous school that could fit a very broad spectrum of personalities. For the moment we think that pupils with an interest in art and the performing arts would likely get most out of being here. That said, the sports offer looked and sounded very good, too. But one thing is certain: anyone looking for a school with a bit of “Hogwards-Factor” will be very happy here.