In search of best boarding schools in the UK – we have found Stonar

In September, the representatives of PRODIREKT, together with a small selected group of other agents, were invited by Stonar, a leading UK boarding school, to be their guest for a couple of days and to visit their premises. Stonar laid on an exclusive coach to transport the group to the school. The guidance and care offered by schools’ representatives as soon as we boarded the bus in London signaled something very pleasantly different. Kasha, Rachel and Judy made sure that we didn’t miss anything…and that didn’t stop until we sadly parted company with them at the end of our familiarization trip. What follows is our testimonial to what we experienced and just a taste of what our students and their parents can expect to find at Stonar.

Click on photos to enlarge them

Stonar, founded in 1895, is a British day and boarding school for girls and boys aged 2-18. The school occupies 80 acres of parkland and gardens in Cottles Park, near Atworth, Wiltshire (south-west England), which is about 13km from the city of Bath and just 1¼ hours by train from London. Stonar is also an outstanding equestrian centre, offering a horseback riding education alongside the regular academic curriculum.

Upon arrival at the school, we were given the school presentation by the principal Dr. Sally Divall, who first made sure that she personally served everyone with tea, coffee and homemade cakes (a very nice gesture, showing dedicated care from the very top). During the presentation, we learned that Stonar consistently scores in the top 10% of schools for added-value, which is measured annually in an independent long-term Durham University study of over 40,000 secondary school students. International pupils at this school achieve higher results in their International GCSE (IGCSE) for Mathematics and English as a Second Language than the UK and worldwide averages. We should mention that for entry to the senior school, the pupils, for whom English is a second language, must do an English language exam and a maths paper. Scholarships are offered for entry into years 7 (age 11-12), 9 (age 13-14) and 12 (age 16-17) for academia, plus art, drama, music, sport and horseback riding. Sixth form scholarships are also available.

Pupils are encouraged to take three A levels; vocational courses are ‘add-ons.’ Sciences are popular at A level with most opting for at least one Science or Maths or Psychology. The arts are also strong, particularly Photography and Art. Upon graduation, students go on to university courses ranging from Medicine and Law to Computer Design and Performing Arts.

The principal Sally’s presentation was followed by a school tour. The actual campus is a mix of old and new buildings. Traditional wooden-style chemistry labs contrast with the modern physics laboratories. We noticed that the pupils are in small classes, while all the teachers we talked to tend to be helpful and devoted.

Stonar pupils are particularly strong in Photography and Art

Next, we walked to the nearby boarding facilities – Hart House. The House has been completely refurbished, keeping all the best features of an old farmhouse but with modern facilities. Bedrooms, mainly twin rooms, are spacious, warm and airy. There is WiFi throughout. About 65% of boarding students are from overseas, including Europe, America, Australia, China, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa. Around a third of these (mostly those from France, Germany and Spain) are short stay boarders, usually for one term.

The school tour was then interrupted for a lunch and well deserved break. That was also a good opportunity to see the dining room and have a Stonar made meal. We were nicely surprised with a wide selection of food…and the food was very tasty. The nice, sunny spell after lunch made our relaxing time perfect while we watched the youngest Stonars playing out on the front lawn of the main house.

The real treat came at the end of the school tour when we were taken to the new equestrian center. For horse-lovers this is a dream come true. And we adore horses! We were told that up to 65 horses and ponies can find their temporary (in case when a student brings his/her own horse) or permanent home at the school’s stables. Pupils can earn a riding lesson by working as stable helpers. Around 50 per cent of pupils ride, although at various levels; some may own a horse, take qualifications and compete, others may just have a weekly riding lesson. And it’s not just about the riding; stable management skills are taught too. Other activities include all the traditional sports, and Stonar has very good sports facilities, including a swimming pool.

It is worth noting, that since 2013, Stonar has been part of the NACE Schools group, an international educational group with 21 schools across five countries. Stonar is the only school based in England; the other NACE Schools are in Spain, France, Italy and India, so the children from Stonar have unique opportunities for language immersion, exchanges and links with pupils from those countries.

Stonar relatively recently started accepting boys (it used to be a single-sex school), thus it is expected that the school will continue to grow. This also means that more facility upgrades and developments will be needed. The growth will certainly pose the main challenge to the management in many other areas as well.

As we came away from this very exciting school visit, our impression is that we saw much more than just a school. Stonar’s pervading ethos from its earliest days, of warmth, support and a ‘can do’ attitude were also felt on our visit. And we hope it stays that way for long.

 

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