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Grace Dieu Manor School

Muddy says: A friendly but forward-thinking co-ed independent day school taking kids from 12 weeks - 11 yrs, set in 120 acres of lush Leicestershire greenery.

What, Where

Grace Dieu Manor School is an independent co-ed Catholic nursery, pre-prep and prep school for kids aged 12 weeks – 11 years (year 6), with 158 attending the school and 89 in the nursery. Located near the beautiful Charnwood Forest, it’s set in 120 acres (yes, you read right) of gorgeous greenery as far as the eye can see.

The handsome manor house makes up the main part of the school. Originally built as a family home for Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle in 1833, a hundred years later the Rosminian Fathers established Grace Dieu as an all-boys Prep School for Ratcliffe College. Jump to 2018 and Grace Dieu is very much a modern stand-alone co-ed prep school, that’s quite frankly, a bit of a hidden gem.

Last year, Grace Dieu not only was ranked as one of the top 100 independent prep schools in England by The Sunday Times 2018 Parent Power Schools Guide, and the only entry for Leicestershire.

The school is Catholic, (the chapel was worked on by Pugin who knocked up the Palace of Westminster and is still used for Mass today) but as with many faith schools, it now welcomes children from all faiths and backgrounds, with ‘catholicism’ in practice encapsulating Christian values.

Facilities

Where do I start? For a small prep school the facilities certainly don’t disappoint. Impressively everything is onsite, so there’s no busing around for the kids.

Sport is a seriously strong at Grace Dieu. There’s a large purpose-built sports hall and a 20 metre indoor swimming pool – clearly put to good use as the school reached the IAPS (The Independent Association of Prep Schools) Swimming Finals this summer in London. The success may, in part, be down to the fact that all pupils benefit from weekly swimming lessons (all included in the fees).

There’s also acres of sports pitches, for rugby, hockey, netball (whose teams went undefeated last year) as well as football, cricket, rounders and tennis courts.

The pre-prep is housed in a wonderfully light and spacious building, surrounded by playgrounds allowing the kids to burn off all their energy in-between learning to read and write not only English, but French too. Year 3 upwards are housed in light, bright, airy classrooms in the main building with beautiful views of the outdoor space.

There’s also a recently refurbed Science lab, a ‘Hub’ which doubles up as library, workspace and meeting area, a dedicated art room, as well as a large Arts Hall – a perfect place for the stage shows the kids star in throughout the year.

With so much of the forest on their doorstep, it would be a crying shame not to make the most of it – so of course they have with a Forest School. From the age of two, all the kids go out once a week for Outdoor Learning and plans are afoot for their Outdoor Learning sessions to become even more of an ‘extension’ of the classroom by incorporating more of the curriculum.

Ever heard of Kodály? We hadn’t either – but it’s a child-centred, all-inclusive musical education based on teaching, learning and understanding music through the experience of singing. Grace Dieu’s new Director of Music is a specialist in it, and the kids are loving this interesting, new approach to music. Combine that with all the specialist music classrooms and equipment, one-to-one music lessons and the burgeoning list of lunchtime concerts, we wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a few musicians in the making. On the drama front there are LAMDA lessons and regular school plays.

Littlies 

The nursery takes children from 12 weeks. It’s open 51 weeks and is separate from the rest of the school and comes with its own secure play area (every building in the school has its own unique code to enter) shaded by a beautiful ancient tree.

I wasn’t too surprised to learn that the nursery was rated ‘Outstanding’ in its first ISI report last year and I can see why; it’s all child initiated so staff will encourage them to play and develop what they’re interested in – be that bugs or cooking.

Nursery children, aged 3+, move into the Pre-Prep building to become ‘Cygnets’ – where they enjoy swimming lessons and French lessons with specialist teachers (all included in the nursery fees), all ready for when they emerge into ‘Swans’ (their reception class), to really begin to be able to ‘fly’ through their school years.

Wrap around care & extra-curricular

If you’re a working parent you’re going to love the wrap around care here – it runs from 8am – 6pm. And the best bit? It’s all included in the fees, as well as most after school clubs – such as  art, choir, coding, cookery classes and construction club. The only bit that costs extra is breakfast club from 7.30am and a few after school clubs like tennis.

What else

The oldest pupils (Yr 6) have their own Common Room complete with table tennis, pool table and a TV but don’t expect to see any of the pupils pulling out their phones: mobile phones are not allowed to be used on school premises by pupils. I think this is a brilliant idea.

The Head

Margaret Kewell is the first female Head in the school’s 84 year history and she’s ‘done her time’ at the school to deserve the accolade. She was Head of RE, senior teacher, and Deputy Head for 18 years before getting the top job in Jan 2018.

She’s easy to chat to and with such a small cohort, any Head is going to have a close relationship with the kids and she refers to them as ‘my children’.

Term fees

At a glance, slightly more expensive but when you add up what’s exactly included (lunch, swimming lessons, wrap around care and most after school activities) it works out cheaper and you don’t get that dreaded ‘extras’ bill at the end of term. Per term; Pre-Prep Swans (Reception) – Year 2, £3595.00 per term and Junior Prep:  Years 3 – 6, £3,784.00 includes wraparound care, lunch, snacks, books and weekly swimming lessons. The weekly nursery rate is £208.75.

The Academic Results

Strong. The success of the school is partly due to the small class room sizes (average current class sizes are 16 with 20 pupils being the maximum) and termly testing and tracking of the kids means that your kids are in very safe hands academically here.

The kids are regularly snaffling scholarships  (academic, sport, drama and all rounder) to their next schools, and all of last year’s pupils got into their first choice of secondary school. Children mostly head off to the Foundation Schools and Ratcliffe, and occasionally to the Leicester day schools or boarding schools such as Trent, Oakham and Repton Foremarke.

School bus service/travel

The school is 15 minutes from Coalville, Ashby de la Zouch and Loughborough. They also offer a minibus service picking up from local villages each morning. If those routes don’t work for you, don’t despair, they can change the pick up points depending on the cohort.

Quirks

The 120 acres of playground the kids have at their finger tips are a serious quirk – but it’s what they actually do there (mudslides are a highlight) that gives Grace Dieu serious bragging rights. Outdoor Learning is also properly embedded into school life – it’s not a bolt on.

A whopping 11 acres of the parkland have been designated by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and have recently undergone complete regeneration to include woodland, meadows, a large pond and an abundance of flora and fauna.

Is your child crazy about animals? The school has its own chickens and alpaca herd which are also featured in the Outdoor Learning sessions.

It’s not all about the outdoors at Grace Dieu though, the library has recently been fully restocked and there’s an annual Harry Potter-style ‘Sorting Hat’ ceremony that organises pupils into one of the four school Houses.

Word on the ground

Lots of hard work in the classroom balanced with lots of outdoorsy play is what I’m hearing and the kids here are nurtured and grow in confidence.

The forest is literally the kids’ playground and they’re encouraged to make the most of it – climb trees, den building, pond exploring and Gruffalo trails. The parents like the mix of old fashioned outdoor play and freedom but that it’s not at the expense of developing a good academic basis and a strong moral compass.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Kids who will benefit from a small, nurturing environment – the school prides itself in striking a healthy balance across academic and pastoral care. Kids who love being outdoors – the sport and Outdoor Learning really are major pluses.

Not for: There’s no boarding, so if you’re looking for the traditional prep school experience you’re out of luck. The rural location won’t appeal to those who want culture on the back door or a city location. Perhaps not the right school if your child really doesn’t like to be outdoors.

Dare to disagree: Don’t take my word for it! Go see for yourself. The School’s next Open Mornings are Thurs 8 Nov and Thurs 29 Nov.

Grace Dieu Manor School, Coalville LE67 5UG, 01530 222276.

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