The Prebendal School, Chichester
Muddy says: A choir school for neighbouring Chichester Cathedral yet with a cosy, family feel, Prebendal stands out for music and wrap-around care and takes some lessons to the beach.
This co-ed prep and pre-prep of around 135 pupils sits in Chichester town centre right next to the famous cathedral, which it uses for assemblies and concerts. Prebendal has long supplied the cathedral’s choristers (who receive a reduction in fees). The school is within walking distance of Chichester railway station and metres from the main shopping area.
A smart door in a relatively modest frontage next to the cathedral leads to a surprisingly labyrinthine set of historic and modern buildings behind. Prebendal is the oldest school in Sussex and, along with the cathedral, dates back to perhaps the 11th century. Characterful older buildings include the beamed former kitchen of the Bishop’s Palace that is now used for drama and music practice. Thankfully there’s no longer a need for the ‘blood drain’!
Prep school runs up to Year 8. Pre-schoolers aged three and four can attend the Pelicans Nursery. There is also a weekly Shake Rattle & Roll toddler group at Prebendal.
The feel is of a lively, relatively relaxed school. A mock election was in preparation on our visit (the Greens were heading for a landslide from the environmentally-aware children). Even Pre-prep children were being allowed to go through the motions of voting, though the head admitted their slips would not be counted (“they’ll just pick their favourite colour!”)
Chichester Cathedral functions as the school hall for many events and is privately accessed through an entrance in the Memorial Garden.
On our visit we caught a cathedral assembly in which one child confidently sang a solo of Fly Me to the Moon before the head led a discussion about presents that didn’t cost money. (There was some laughter when one enterprising chap suggested repurposing school photocopier paper!)
There is a decent-sized playground for a city school, with a ping pong table and an informal ampitheatre behind.
The school’s nine-acre playing fields nearby are beautifully set beneath the cathedral – the Queen even used them to park her helicopter on her royal visit to Chichester! Other sports facilities include an all-weather cricket pitch and nets.
Prebendal uses Chichester’s public library rather than having a large one of its own. Novium Museum is another handy nearby amenity.
Class sizes are small – around 10 to 15.
Pupils study towards Common Entrance and also work on the Pre-Senior Baccalaureate. Years 6 to 8 undertake the school’s Quadrivium programme (including subjects like philosophy) which aims to encourage broader thinking and helps pupils to become more articulate. “It’s all the bits the curriculum doesn’t cover,” explains the head.
Last year’s leavers went on to nine different schools. Destinations have included Eton, Benenden, Lancing and Charterhouse but the head says there is not the narrow fixation with ‘names’ that some other prep schools have and parents and pupils are encouraged to be ‘more exotic’ in their choices.
A senior school fair introduces parents and pupils to possible next steps. 30 schools are taking part in the one in February.
There is a SEN provision at the school.
After school club options include camera club, touch-typing, science clinic, music theory, lego, Japanese and dodgeball.
Basic coding is taught from Year 2. ICT is incorporated into the wider curriculum to underpin other subjects rather than being taught solo. Older pupils have iPads on their kit lists and use them to support learning in the classroom.
Pupils undergo a leadership programme in Year 7 and are given extra responsibility in Year 8, helping to host events, giving speeches and buddying younger children.
Those keen on drama have the opportunity to take LAMDA exams. The school also runs a Young Writer of the Year competition each summer.
Many ex pupils are now professional musicians. The head herself has a musical background and there is a team of specialist music teachers. Each year a high proportion of Year 8s secure music awards to leading senior schools. Pupils achieve well above the national average in ABRSM exams.
The tradition of Prebendal supplying Chichester Cathedral’s choristers dates back hundreds of years. They take part in services, concerts, broadcasts and tours. There are 14 choristers and four probationers at any time, chosen through informal auditions, with most joining in Year 3 or 4. Besides their training they receive a scholarship for half their school fees.
Before you join a stampede, it is, however, a huge commitment, not to be taken lightly. Choristers also follow the normal school curriculum, must board at the school, take part in at least daily services during term time and come Christmas morning they’ll have work to do before they rip into their presents. Oh, and it’s boys only.
The straight-talking head is addressing the male nature of the choir but admits there will be no change any time soon. A second, girls’ choir would necessitate the church producing double the scholarship funding and there are also difficulties with integrating both sexes into one choir. In the meantime, at least sport is more balanced, with girls getting to play cricket and football at Prebendal.
Prebendal is an official Beach School, with younger pupils visiting the coast regularly to tackle cross-curricular projects. It is a fun, multi-sensory experience, which also helps instil environmental awareness.
There is a run housing ex-battery hens in the playground. The children can pop in, under supervision, to feed the birds and collect their eggs.
Boarding and wraparound care
Full, weekly and flexi boarding are offered for pupils from year three upwards. There is a capacity for 45.
Some of the dorms have a touch of Harry Potter about them, with rafters and old wood panels scratched with the names of past pupils.
Wraparound care is available for day pupils and the school runs Pre-Prep holiday clubs for reception to year 2 and Prep holiday clubs for years 3 to 8.
The Pelicans nursery accepts three- and four-year-olds 46 weeks a year, with wraparound care now available 7.00 to 19.00, including breakfast and supper.
Head and ethos
The head Louise Salmond Smith says Prebendal is foremost a friendly school. She stresses that the parents are ‘very normal’ in that the vast majority work and she says they are less pushy than at some other schools. As a consequence, she believes, the children are not stressed out, neither are they mini adults.
It is a ‘very genuine school’ she says, pointing out there is not an excess of rules. In a further effort to downgrade formality she is phasing out the pupils’ need to stand when she enters a room. Indeed on our tour some classes did and some didn’t. Children also seemed at ease chatting with her.
The head is proud of the good relationship between pupils and teachers and the loyalty that children show to each other. There is an emphasis on rewarding attributes like being a team player, a good friend and other life skills.
She shared a nice story of how children had sprung to the defence of their teammates during a verbal bullying incident at a match with another school and how this was discussed and rewarded in a subsequent assembly.
The head says the school would particularly suit families who put some value on the arts besides the regular academic subjects, also children who are willing to ;have a go at anything’.
Although it is a cathedral school, the head claims that on a day-to-day basis Prebendal is less overtly religious than many regular Church of England primary schools. (Far from dour, the school nativity had a Strictly theme!) Prebendal also has some pupils of other religions and of no religion.
Per term: Reception £2,800; Year 1 £3,250; Year 2 £3,250; Years 3 & 4 £4,950; Years 5 & 6 £5,320; Full boarders £7,650; Choristers and Probationers £3,825 (with cathedral scholarship).
Word on the ground
Pupils talk about the friendliness of the school, interaction across year groups, the music and the excitement of performing in the cathedral. Parents mention the family feel and the flexibility.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Working parents who appreciate a handy town centre location and good wraparound care. Musical families. Those with a cosy, friendly school in mind. Parents seeking a Christian school but one that is not overfond of ritual.
Not so good for: Those with their heart set on acres of land and country views. Pushy parents seeking a more regimented target-driven atmosphere. For children not interested in music and the arts some of the school’s strengths would be wasted.
Dare to disagree? Visit for yourself on the next Prebendal open day on Thursday 27 February 2020.
The Prebendal School, 52 – 55, West Street, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1RT. 01243 772220, firstname.lastname@example.org