Since September 2013, Mr Scott Carnochan (forties), previously head of Sedbergh Junior, now head of the new joint school. Educated at Dollar Academy, BEd from Herriott-Watt Edinburgh, former Scottish U18 rugby cap. Married to Kate, they have two young children; Mrs Carnochan also works in the school, doubling up on the key roles of headmaster’s wife and head of marketing. They are a strong, capable and immensely likeable team and parents are huge fans.
Assessment by head's interview and previous school report for younger children; English, maths and cognitive ability tests for year 4 upwards.
Nearly all to senior school.
Relatively recent merger combining Sedbergh Junior with Casterton to form a co-ed prep school on the Casterton site offering a veritable smorgasbord of activities from ghyll scrambling to ballet, fishing to mountain biking as well as a range of flexible boarding options. The newest member of the family is the Mulberry Bush nursery for those six months to four years old, housed separately in an adjacent building with lovely play facilities. Common Entrance is the yardstick here so take high academic standards as read, but it’s the what-else that gives this place the edge, and the what-else is (almost) limitless. Small class sizes throughout, impossible to either hide or get lost in a crowd.
Eggs, ‘laid with love’ (says the sign) from the free range chickens here, plus the goats and the rabbits bring out the ‘softer side of a prep school’ says the Head. The children, whilst not quite ‘free range’ (tiger mothers and helicopter parents need not worry), have an abundance of outdoor space and room to breathe. They mostly ignore the glorious views and the weather that changes almost hourly, they are too busy enjoying their childhood.
Housed in a range of buildings, with plenty to spare; specialist science labs, inspirational art studios, music and superb sports facilities, these prep and pre-prep children are enjoying all the benefits of this former senior school. With reference to the relatively recent merger, parents say ‘it was the best thing that could have happened’ – Casterton parents with older girls may disagree somewhat, but undoubtedly the feelgood factor is back and they are bucking the trend in this northern demographic with excellent post-merger recruitment figures and a good solid number of boarders. This is no mean feat in a school tucked away with no passing traffic, you have to seek it out but advice from parents is ‘if you are at all unsure, go and take a look – and take your children with you, that’ll do it’. Most of us have at some point seen teary parents and weeping children at school gates at some point – well here the children were weeping because they’d been for a taster morning and didn’t want to leave...
Variously described as a ‘broad church’ and ‘a good all-round education’, the facilities are matchless as a prep school, having originally been designed for pupils up to A level. Note the six full size science labs, massive sports hall with cricket nets and a bowling machine, swimming pool, Astroturf, music practice rooms and much more besides and they make full use of every bit of it. Nothing precious about it, parents say the children ‘live in it’ rather than ‘just exist’ and whilst they are quick to add that ‘it’s the people who really make the place’ they also tell us they feel as though they have ‘hit the jackpot here’.
You can bring your bike, you can also bring your horse- though not essential if you have a love of riding as the school has ten ponies that they happily loan. Work hard and play hard could be the school’s motto, though presumably only if translated into Latin, the energy is astounding, before, during and after school. Rugby, hockey, cricket, netball and much more besides mean that there is no lack of fresh air and exercise. For obvious reasons, the location means that boarding makes sense, it also allows you to join in with activities ranging from a parachute regiment leadership day to abseiling, bouldering, go-karting, clay pigeon shooting, bushcraft and (for the gentler soul) cheese-tasting, essentially you just ‘don’t stay in’. The pupils are a refreshing and captivating blend of childlike naivety and honesty alongside a wisdom that belies their years. Shoe-polishing night for boarders, fastening your top shirt button and a ban on chewing gum are happily tolerated by pupils, but, for them, the deal-breaker would be bullying, ‘a real no-no’ as is anything which essentially ‘makes the atmosphere less friendly’. All meals are prepared in-house from, as far as possible, local produce; adults sit with the children in mixed age groups and apparently the curry is legendary.
Boarding accommodation, in rooms with views to die for, is spacious and homely; there are kitchens for extra toast-making and generally hanging out, plus a sitting room with TV and games for the boys; similar though slightly smaller and prettier accommodation for the girls with the obligatory One Direction posters. It’s so quiet here that one boarder told us he falls asleep each night to the sound of the birds singing outside, and then they wake him up again in the morning.
Parents are a mix of medics from Lancaster, local business owners and landed gentry, tweed is somewhat de rigueur – practical and stylish, as befits the place. It’s only a fifteen minute drive to the senior school from here so parents and staff can and do manage both. Parents say it ‘doesn’t matter what car you drive, or even if you land your helicopter on the back field, you’re made very welcome here’. House staff use Twitter to keep parents of boarders up-to-date, regular photos home of joyful, smiling children.
Clearly the merger and change of status required careful handling, but thanks to good management and huge parental advocacy, they’ve not only survived but thrived. A portrait of old girl Charlotte Bronte still hangs in the sitting room, and although it’s still slightly old school here (and all the better for that - good manners and etiquette still count), she’d hardly recognise the warm and happy place it is today.