Muddy Best Schools Guide: St Petroc’s, Bude
My grumpy teens are at secondary school now, so its been a few years since a prep school went under the Muddy Cornwall microscope. I spend a day at St Petroc’s School in Bude last week, nosing around, meeting staff, chatting to the kids and generally doing a bit of, well, ‘digging’. There’s a new(ish) head at the helm (two years done) and exciting changes going on left right and centre. Time to see what all the fuss is about.
St Petroc’s is approximately three minutes from popular Crooklets beach and the South West coast path, and conveniently close to Rosie’s Kitchen (popular with everyone after school), and the North Coast Wine Co – no, I’m not advocating early morning apple sours, it serves coffee before 11 – a marvellously convenient post-drop-off meet for parents.
This is a small school – 130 boys and girls aged between three months and 11 years, with a roughly even gender split. Don’t expect a sprawling tree lined drive way or grand country estate: its not the most beautiful of buildings from the outside. Essentially two town houses knocked together serve as the main school, apparent in the style and size of classrooms which enhanced the homely feel. It’s a bit higgledy piggledy, but the kids seem to embrace the layout. Despite being in a residential area it sits in ample grounds.
Petroc’s recently joined the Methodist Independent Schools Trust (MIST) group, benefiting from the shared expertise and support of a nationwide group of schools with a strategic plan. Part of that plan is to improve the facilities and the joint reception/ year one class room is the most recent addition. Since joining MIST, they’ve installed new windows, a new nursery room, art room, food tech and a new playground. Once a week, year six head to Shebbear and use their science labs, and a visiting Shebbear Spanish teacher compliments the modern languages taught from year two.
No parking which is a bummer, (typical in a residential area I guess), so you’ll have to leave the Range Rover at the carpark on the beach and walk, (local children often do) and there’s a bus route serving Holsworthy and soon Kilkhampton. With the children in mind, the head is not keen to expand bus routes too much further- he doesn’t see the sense in putting littlies on a bus for more than 20 minutes.
Facilities: Solid, with all the usual you’d expect – tennis courts/all weather hockey, an adventure playground and oodles of playing fields to really knacker the kids out – and in all weathers too. No pool, but lessons five minutes away at the Splash Leisure complex. The great outdoors is a big thing at St Petroc’s – the beach is a regular fixture in school life, and plans for a new forest school style woodland area on the top field. I tested the head on his conker policy, he confirmed that they are positively encouraged. A big tick for that. I was impressed by the obvious freedom the outdoor space and facilities gave them and the independence and creativity that follows on. An IT suite, shared by the whole school, a new library (in progress) and space for music, art and drama.
The day I visited was Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, and the whole school was immersed in actives – whether that was year two making peach juice for their James and the Giant Peach project, or the little ones in reception making Georges Marvellous Medicine potions. The BFG even taught year six! A nice touch. There was a gentle hum of brains ticking and lots of chatty participation and interaction going on when I gatecrashed, and at that point the head left me in the capable hands of two new year sixes – both had been at the school ‘since babies’.
The kids: I joined them for lunch in the canteen, looking forward to the special Roald Dahl whipplescrumptious desert. Sitting with a table of year two students in fancy dress: an oompa loopa, two Maltildas, a Miss Trunchball, and a Sophie in her dressing gown (good call on fancy dress that mum!), the children I spoke to were confident and chatty – comfortable speaking to adults. As much as this is a largely informal school with a genuine family feel though, a strong emphasis is placed upon the importance of excellent behaviour, good manners and consideration towards others, evident in the way the year six girls mother the little ones.
The head: Headmaster Mr Dan Thornburn had an unconventional route to St Petroc’s, via a trek around New Zealand with toddlers in tow (if he can do that, he can pretty much do anything in my book). Both his children are pupils and his wife works in the office. Despite bursting with new ideas, he’s a history buff at heart and proud of St Petroc’s big history. OP’s include three olympians, a Hollywood film star, a politician and most recently, Emily Currie – English women’s longboard champion surfer.
Littlies: The early years provision is a strength. Children progress from being Little Turtles (aka ‘The Babies‘) (0-2) on the ground floor in the main building, to Sea Lions (2-3) and then Dolphins (3-4) in a new purpose-built early years centre. The early years classroom is light and airy with lots of space opening onto their own garden and play equipment. Mr T is well known and loved here by the tinies (though he made at least two babies cry when we poked our heads in to Turtles); every Thursday he visits and reads with them. This means that the transition to the main school from nursery is a doddle.
Academic results: St Petroc’s prides itself on being all inclusive – there’s no entrance exam to sit, and no 11+. The school tag line is ‘Developing self-confidence for life’ and that was evident in all children I interacted with. Children excel in public speaking and performing, which gives them the confidence to do well, and become prefects and heads of schools in their next schools. Speaking of which Petroc’s is unusual for a private school in that pupils go on state schools such as Budehaven as much as independents St Joseph’s School, Shebbear College and Mount Kelly.
Sport: I was impressed to see that this is offered daily – so often cut back nowadays. PE is overseen by England counties and Cornwall rugby player, Ben Hilton (aka The BFG), and sport is a strength. Fixtures for under 9 and under 11 levels, and pupils often qualify for the ISA Nationals in Swimming, Cross Country, Athletics and Netball.
Creative arts: Drama is important and contributes to the school aim of developing confidence and music is offered weekly by peripatetic music teachers as well as permanent staff. My guides were very keen on the art room, with its separate drying area and were eager to show me their work. Every corridor and class room displayed works of student art.
Quirks: If you came looking for something special, you found it: quirks by the bucket load – beach school, babies, even a school dog. The school was founded with ‘five boys and two dogs’ so I guess its just tradition. Humphrey the golden retriever can be found stretched out in Mr T’s office during lessons and at break times running around the field with the kids – all under the watchful eye of the head of course. Both my guides surfed – that’s pretty standard for this school, who take full advantage of their location.
Wrap around care: A free (yes free) stay and play, from 3:30-6pm for the juniors (reception to year 2) – great for those of us who work. The school day for seniors finishes at 5:30 and entails sport and prep, so no arguments about homework (hurrah). Three activities every Tuesday on a termly rotation.
Fees: Early years has a waiting list: 15 free government funded hours a week, then from £4.75 per hour. Fees for reception onwards are stonkingly good value and start at just £1645 per term. Lunch is included, and there are generous sibling discounts. A healthy number of students leave with Scholarships to Independent secondary schools in sport, music and academic all-round greatness.
Word on the ground: a lot of loyalty towards the school from the parents I nobbled. All praised the small class sizes, pastoral care and Mr Thorburn and the changes he has brought. The sense is that they were long over due and difficult, but that the school has adapting well and the move to MIST is positive.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
The students really sold the school for me. While some updating to the building is overdue, its clear to see where your fees are going – in developing bright, inquisitive and confident children.
Good for: Those looking for a smaller, intimate family setting. Those who might usually dismiss independent schools because of the fees – from only £1645 this is amazing value and within more parent’s reach.
Not for: Those looking for sprawling bucolic grounds and a campus style setting. Boarding – cross that off your list now.
Dare to disagree? St Petroc’s are having an open week from Monday 3rd October. Book yourself a visit and let me know what you think.
St Petroc’s School, Ocean View, Bude EX23 8NJ