RGS Prep, Guildford
Formerly Lanesborough Prep, RGS Prep in Guildford is known for its academic excellence and strong music programme. But it's no hothouse - boys are inspired to learn and love it.
The former Lanesborough Preparatory School has merged with the Royal Grammar School Guildford and the result is the brand new RGS Prep. It’s an all-boys day Prep school. Although it’s not exactly a brand new school – it’s Lanesborough by a different name. And aside from a tweak to the uniform and the new branding, much has gone unchanged.
Lanesborough and RGS have long had strong links – they’ve been part of the same charitable trust for 42 years and share the same governance structure – so an official merger was an obvious next move.
Well known for its academic achievements, excellent music programme, and links to RGS Guildford (obvs!), it’s also the choir school for Guildford Cathedral and if you arrive at the school early enough in the morning most days there’s a good chance you’ll hear the melodic voices of the boys at their morning practise.
Many of the 320 boys who come here live quite local to the school in or around Guildford so there’s a strong sense of community. But the school also attracts boys from up and down the A3 corridor from Cobham to Farnham, Haslemere and Godalming.
The school is split between the Prep school, which has its entrance on Maori Road, and the Pre-Prep fronts Aldersey Road which runs behind the Prep. They’re quiet residential streets, and a gate at the rear of the Prep site creates an easy connection for the Pre-Prep children to the main school site.
It’s pretty close to the centre of Guildford – so you’re not going to get super expansive grounds with acres and acres of fields. But you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the size of the grounds and the clever arrangement of sporting fields – both grassed and astro. When I visited, the boys were playing a House football competition and there were four matches in progress, each with several excited parents cheering on from the sidelines – it was lovely to see after months of Covid restrictions. There were four pitches set up that day, but the Director of Sport says this can increase to eight smaller pitches for the younger boys.
I was also rather taken by the science garden, a quieter part of the playground.
The school was formed in 1930 when two teachers from Dulwich College Prep acquired the 21-year lease of a former private mansion house called Lanesborough House. There were just 19 pupils to start, and by the end of the year numbers had risen to 55.
Lanesborough House and another late 19th century building, Markham House, form the main Prep school buildings. The former house that is now the Pre-Prep was known as Braganza House – and was acquired 22 years later.
Inside there are a homely labyrinth of corridors leading to bright and airy classrooms that have been given a modern touch. Facilities are impressive. There are two newly kitted-out science labs, a DT and an IT suite, plus an art room with its own kiln.
There’s also a fairly large performing arts centre called the Loubser Performance Studio and a separate dining hall.
The school is academically selective, so as you’d expect the learning moves at a steady pace. Lessons in Years 3 to 6 are taught by Form teachers and specialists for subjects such as French, Music, Drama, Computing, Sports and Games. Boys are mostly taught in mixed ability classrooms, but there’s setting in Maths from Year 4, and ability sets are introduced in Year 6.
In Year 5, Spanish, Latin, Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning are introduced to the curriculum.
Well, it is the Choir School for Guildford Cathedral – so music is high up on the agenda here as you’d expect. About 70 per cent of boys play an instrument – with a fair number of those playing two or three instruments. There are 220 music lessons taught each week by 16 visiting teachers.
The choristers rehearse at school four mornings a week, and they sing with the full choir at Evensong in the Cathedral two evenings a week, in addition to the Sunday services. Many of the choristers go on to become music scholars and eventually pursue a career in music.
If you think music and sport don’t go well together, you haven’t visited RGS Prep. It’s not uncommon for the boys to be learning one or two instruments and also have places on the schools A-teams for sport.
The main sports are played – football, cricket, hockey and rugby, but there’s a head-spinning number of extra curricular sporting (and non-sporting) clubs also on offer. There’s a real drive to offer boys a wide variety of opportunities with the aim of inspiring them.
Most boys go on to accept a place at RGS, but the transition is not guaranteed. Throughout the boys’ time at RGS Prep though, the school works closely with parents to make sure the boys go on to well-matched senior schools. Last year, boys went on to 13 different senior schools, although such a wide variety is uncommon. Other than RGS, boys traditionally go on to St John’s, King Edwards Witley, Churcher’s College, Reed’s School, Cranleigh School, Reigate Grammar, and Lord Wandsworth College.
Toby Freeman-Day came to RGS Prep just over a year ago in August 2020 from Guildford High School where he was Deputy Head for four years. He’s friendly, approachable and incredibly down-to-earth. And as well as the high standard of academics, he also has pastoral care close to his heart, and he’s keen for the school to develop its wellness programme further, and hopes the school will eventually be recognised as a hub that helps with guiding others.
The son of a school teacher of 40-plus years, Toby grew up in Guildford and has taught at a mix of independent and state schools throughout his career. You get a sense that teaching is his real passion – so it’s no surprise to learn that he still teaches now (geography to the Year 5s).
The Pre-Prep starts at Nursery and here the little ones here have their own separate classroom with separate play area, although they also have the use of the rest of the main Pre-Prep playground. The reception classroom, called Shell, is on the ground floor, and Year 1 and 2 are in classrooms upstairs. The Pre-Prep has its own little library and a multi-purpose hall.
The playground here is definitely worth a mention too – it’s fabulous. A huge wooden ship – HMS Lanesborough – takes centre stage, and there’s also a great little wooded area called Boyzone. The boys also have use of the facilities at the Prep school across the road.
Okay, so the fact that Reception is called Shell, is a little unusual. I’ve never come across that before – so that falls neatly under ‘quirky’.
Not quite quirky, but rather lovely and worth a mention is the school’s close involvement with a charity – Seeds for Development – which works with the poorest of post-war survivors in rural northern Uganda. When the school merged with the RGS, and all the Lanesborough-branded uniforms became obsolete, there was going to be an obvious surplus of uniforms, both new and secondhand. Already half a tonne of clothing has been donated, sorted, packaged and shipped to Uganda, with more containers planned for arrival by Christmas.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day goes from 8.25am to 3.50pm each day, but there’s breakfast club from 7.30am, and after-school care until 6.30pm. The school is a short walk from Guildford’s London Road Station, so this is a handy option for parents who commute. There’s also a wide choice of after-school clubs held each day – everything from arts and crafts to sport and music. Many of the music and sports clubs have waiting lists, but one of the most popular right now is the chess club. They are also looking to introduce LAMDA for the first time.
Nursery is £3,820 per term; Shell is £4515, Year 1 and 2, £4,590 per term; Years 3 and 4 is £5,370, Year 5, £5,410; and Year 6 is £5,460 per term. Fees include the cost of most stationery and textbooks, games and school societies. Individual music tuition is additional.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The school is unashamedly academic, but there’s room for all kinds of boys at RGS Prep which parents like. One parent said the school was also very nurturing, particularly in the Pre-Prep. The school is small and friendly, which parents also enjoy.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Lovers of music (or sons of lovers of music!) and bright boys who thrive on learning.
Not for: Boys who might struggle with the academics. The physical confines of the school might not fit with the rural idyll pictured by some parents.
Dare to disagree? There’s an open morning on Sat 9 Oct, from 9am – 12pm – book a place here.