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The Downs School
Charlton House, Wraxall, BS48 1PF, UK Bristol
+44 (0)1275 852008

Welcome To The Downs School

The Downs is a leading independent day Preparatory School for boys and girls aged 4 to 13. It is situated in Charlton House, a magnificent Victorian building that is surrounded by sixty acres of idyllic parkland just five miles from Bristol.

The children at The Downs enjoy a vibrant all round education that is stimulating, challenging and exciting. Their academic progress is the focus of our attention but the immense benefits of immersing children amongst a diverse range of other experiences that serve to enrich their development are genuinely appreciated. Sport, Music, Dance, Drama, and Art are subsequently essential aspects of the school’s exhilarating culture.

Our aim is to nurture happy, caring accomplished children. We cherish childhood, we applaud gentleness and humility, we appreciate unaffected good manners and we respect traditional values. We enjoy celebrating success in any area of school life but achievement is never valued more highly than quality of character.

Regularly described as ‘outstanding ambassadors’, our children are caring, considerate, and confident without being arrogant. We are subsequently very proud of the ‘Charltonians’ that leave The Downs at thirteen to attend a variety of prestigious senior schools; they are articulate, interesting and well balanced young people who have a strong moral sense and enthusiasm for the challenge that lies ahead.

The latest Downs Matters
Directions to the school
2006 ISI Report

The Downs School

At the end of a long meandering drive, away from the frantic turmoil of urban life, approximately two hundred and fifty children excel in the tranquil, stunning rural environment of The Downs School.

The older children of the Prep School (Year Four to Year Eight) enjoy the excellent facilities of Charlton House, and the surrounding classrooms. Simultaneously the younger children (Reception to Year Three) thrive in the security of the striking independent Pre-Prep Department. The extensive playing fields and woodland, the impressive sports facilities that include a Swimming Pool and first class Sport Hall and various academic resources that include two ICT suites and a Theatre, are used for the benefit of all the children.

A small school, each child is very well known to us. No one is overlooked. Everyone is valued. We have a maximum of eighteen children in a class, there being two classes in each Year Group. The academic profile of the school is well above the national average nevertheless, exceptional support is provided for the gifted and for those who find the demands of the classroom more challenging.

Our children are well grounded in knowledge, skills and understanding. They demonstrate sustained concentration and they put significant effort into their work and play. They enjoy an unusual amount of success both in and out of the classroom, many of our Year Eight Leavers being awarded scholarships to their senior schools.


History of The Downs SchoolThe Downs School was founded in 1894 in a house overlooking the extensive parklands of Bristol. In 1927 it was relocated, according to the Headmaster of the time, Wilfred Harrison, to get away form the ‘incessant roar of traffic’ and the ‘nerve-racking turmoil of the city’. It was moved across the Clifton Suspension Bridge to Charlton House on the Tyntesfield Estate. In the autumn of 2002, the school and parklands was bought from the estate of Lord Wraxall for the Downs School Trust.

The oldest part of Charlton House is the East Wing which is Tudor and probably built during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603). There remain two arched windows, now internal, from this period.

The front hall is Jacobean (James I: 1603 – 1625) but it was completely restored in 1883. The wonderful fireplace, ‘crude but spirited’, erected by Sir Edward Gorges in 1624 remains. It bears the arms of Gorges impaling Speke, fittingly the figures in the upper part representing Justice and Mercy.

The Victorian Wing was added by the Gibbs family in 1883 and contained the smoking room, the billiard room and library. The original billiard table is now exhibited at Tyntesfield House. The paneling and stained glass windows are from 1877 and display the Gibbs coat of arms.


Our teachers inspire the children with their enthusiasm and energy, and with their outstanding teaching ability and experience they encourage each child to succeed.

Children enter the Prep School in Year 4 when they are approaching the age of eight.

The academic curriculum is focussed on Common Entrance Examinations in Year 8 which determine entry into senior independent schools. Each year a significant number of pupils succeed in winning academic, all-rounder, sport, music and art scholarships and awards to their chosen schools.

The children study a core of academic subjects which include French, Spanish, Latin and the Sciences. These more traditional disciplines are complemented by contemporary subjects such as ICT (Information and Computer Technology) and the Creative Arts of Music, Drama and Art & Craft.

All of our teaching staff receive regular training to help them identify and guide children who may need additional help. Individual Learning Support lessons in numeracy and literacy are given to the children during the school day.

Clubs, Activities and After School Care

We believe that rounded and fulfilled children grow into happy and confident young adults, so we provide the time and opportunity to explore hobbies and discover new interests.

It is our intention at The Downs to provide a diverse and varied programme of School Clubs for all the children. Such intent illustrates our philosophy to provide a diverse all round education whilst simultaneously demonstrating our understanding of the increasingly demanding world of parents. We regularly review our After School Clubs so that we can provide an increasingly effective programme to suit your needs.

The Clubs we provide include:

3D Art

Ballet, Tap and Jazz Dance




Choir Practice




Cricket Coaching

Cross Country

Debating and Current Affairs




Free Swim

French Handball

Golf Coaching




Horse Riding (Pre-prep)


Model Making

Pitt and Putt


Puppet Making

Real Tennis




Tag Rugby

Tennis Coaching



Vocal Ensemble


Water Polo

Wind Band (Junior)

After School Care- Pre-Prep
(5.00 – 6.00 pm)
After School Care is available for those parents who are unable to collect their children at 5.00pm. It is carefully supervised by one of our Matrons, the children enjoying tea, television and some games. There is a cost of £6.00 per session.

Breakfast and Supper Clubs
Children are welcome to come for an excellent breakfast any morning of the week from 7.50 am. A super hot supper is also available each evening. A small cost is charged for each meal.

ISI Report

The summary conclusions below are from the Independent Schools Inspectorate report following an inspection of the school in the period 2nd - 5th October 2006.


The school fully meets its aims and aspirations. Pupils are prepared well for the next stages of their education through a good quality of education, effective teaching, successful pastoral care and excellent links with parents. The curriculum is broad and balanced, and pupils enjoy an outstanding range of extra-curricular activities. Pupils learn very successfully and have very well-developed literacy, numeracy and scientific skills. The very strong spiritual, moral, social and cultural development promotes excellent attitudes to work and personal development. This is a happy school where pupils readily support and help each other. Assessment is thorough, but marking is variable in quality and does not always encourage pupils to improve their knowledge and understanding. The school is successfully managed and governed. The headmaster is a highly effective leader and with an excellent senior leadership team inspires high staff morale and outstanding behaviour in the pupils. Consequently, teaching staff are responsive to advice and recommendations. Teaching and non-teaching staff and pupils have great pride in the school.

Significant improvement has been made since the previous inspection. These improvements have been recognised by parents, governors and staff. Pupils’ achievement has been strengthened and high attaining pupils and pupils with learning difficulties now make good and sometimes rapid progress. Behaviour has improved. Assessment is now thorough and a new policy implemented. The policy and arrangements for health and safety have been updated and all the issues related to safety and risk assessments have been addressed. Significant improvements to the governance, leadership and management of the school enable governors to be more involved in strategic development and financial planning. The school development plan now provides an effective tool for improvement. The management roles of staff and monitoring and evaluation have been strengthened, and there is a pride in the school’s achievements.

The school meets all the regulatory requirements.

Download the full ISI Report (PDF 77k)

The Good Schools Guide

2006, 11th Edition entry for The Downs School, Wraxall
Date of visit: 25th November 2004

Writer: Mr G W Bishop

Pupils:  153 boys, 68 girls (6 boys board, 147 day boys, 57 day girls).   Ages: 4– 7 pre-prep; 8-13 prep. Religion: Christian ethos

Local Education Authority: North Somerset

Since 2001, Mr Marcus Gunn MA(Ed) BA PGCE (late forties). Went to Bloxham then Liverpool followed by South Bank and an OU postgraduate degree in education. A cheery traditionalist who believes in children developing old-fashioned virtues such as ‘opening doors for others, shaking hands and looking adults in the eye.’ Career began at now defunct Marton Hall before deputy headship at Mowden Hall in Northumberland. Didn’t quite realise what he was walking into as fourth head at The Downs within two years. After some much-needed hatchet work in the staffroom precipitated by a critical ISI report in November 2000 and substantial withdrawals by unimpressed parents, he has now managed to turn the school around. Has established a ‘happy, talented staff’ encouraged by a positive follow-up inspection in October 2002 and seen through some major changes. With wife Valerie looking after the few boarders still at the school and three children (Joshua 16; Olivia 14; Henrietta 12) going through the independent school mill, the Gunns are clearly seen as good news by the parents whom they have gone out of their way to get on side. A former windsurfing buff, Marcus is less athletic these days and when we visited was limping badly following a spot of rugby refereeing; likes to snatch quality time with the family or perhaps dabble in a bit of painting or photography. 

Candidates above year one are assessed informally for a day and offered places if they are of at least average ability. Low ability candidates are accepted provided school’s learning support department can meet their needs. Former nursery, located near the entrance off the B3128, has been off-loaded to a year round, whole day care outfit which meets local demand better. Pre-prep now free to recruit four-year-olds from various local nurseries with encouraging results. 4:1 ratio of boys to girls in prep may be partly attributable to school’s long rugby tradition but girls appear confident and are increasingly making their presence felt. Four or five scholarships offered annually with academic scholarship worth up to 50% of day fee.

Majority of CE candidates go to Clifton or QEH though King’s College, Taunton and Millfield are currently popular choices as have been Badminton, Bryanston, Malvern and Sherborne. All in recent years have been accepted by first choice school. Impressive scholarship success rate continues. Very few now go off to Bristol day schools after 11+   entrance exams so majority, including girls, stay to 13. 

Founded in 1894 overlooking Clifton Downs, school ‘escaped’ from Bristol in 1927 and were tenants on late Lord Wraxall’s estate until 2002 when Charlton House along with assortment of other school buildings, 60 acres of playing fields and parkland were bought by governors ‘for a song.’ 20mph speed limit on mile long drive is a first challenge for visitors; unsympathetically rendered exterior to mansion finally comes as anti-climax. Entering the matrix (Hugo Weaving is an old boy), Victorian gothic interior with magnificent fireplace and spooky staircases more than compensates.

Experienced staff exact high standards in what still feels like trad prep; has woken up to unpopularity of Saturday lessons and scrapped them; boarding ends in July 2006. For parents who don’t want their children to leave home before 13, The Downs offers as full a programme as you can find in a day prep. Attracts broad social mix and now that school has accepted the inevitable (though Saturday afternoon matches continue most weekends) demand is likely to rise further. Accessible from quite a wide area, being close to junction 19 on the M5 and only ten minutes’ drive from Bristol’s western edge. 

Pre-prep’s classroom accommodation being upgraded to provide a better indoor- outdoor facility. Teenies taught to read phonically with a number of schemes (not just ‘Jolly Phonics’) in use. Children not hemmed in by formality and come across as lively but respectful. Music at this level includes recorders; plenty of creativity though thematic work would benefit from more imaginative displays.

School is retaining positives from boarding régime with older ones mostly staying for after school clubs (ranging from warhammer to cookery) or supervised prep until supper at 6.00pm despite formal day ending at 5.10pm. After-school care for pre-prep children also runs until supper. Even second prep and activities session between 6.45 and 8.00pm. is set to continue. Saturday matches off menu every third weekend. Workaday uniform is low key and practical but children don garishly striped blazers (which they refused to have scrapped) for all travel to and from school as well as functions.

The curriculum from year 5 is geared to demands of CE with all subjects, including Latin, French, Spanish and science (separate sciences in years 6, 7 and 8), taught by specialists. There is a new art area but not much provided for DT as yet. New library, which would benefit from a CD-Rom facility, is a long overdue bonus. 

Sporting tradition is paramount but head has worked at improving creative and performing arts. Music department is particularly strong with 75% being taught one or more instruments; there are junior and senior choirs plus variety of concerts and productions. Boys’ and girls’ sports teams perform exceptionally well. The Downs has won the prep schools’ rugby sevens at Rosslyn Park more than any other school and the girls are currently national rounders champions and runners-up in hockey. There is an imaginative alternative to games for the less sporty known as The Downs Award Scheme which concentrates on more individual and outward bound type activities and in which everyone participates on Thursdays.

Three specialist teachers support pupils with special needs; department has experience of a range of learning disabilities. Targeted support in literacy and numeracy working well to raise pupil performance.

Older pupils still to benefit from own social areas; children in year 8 have at least one school responsibility so no-one gets left out. ‘Tiffin’ is provided for all mid-morning and afternoon; tasty nosh served up for a fairly formal lunch with staff in the dining-hall which ends in ‘pin drop’ silence while notices are given.  Plenty of places outside to let off steam; good use has been made converting a former walled garden into an area for tennis and other ball games. Floodlit Astroturf in the pipeline. Science laboratories adequate for Key Stage 3 and are located adjacent to music school. Large multi-purpose hall suitable for plays and concerts. ICT suite being extended into former dormitory accommodation; definitely not a laptop school and thankfully still a mobile phone free zone. More than adequate sports hall somehow got past planners fifteen or so years ago; bears external scars inflicted by hockey sticks in rowdier days. Heated, outside pool has failed repeated attempts to get it covered but remains popular through summer months.

In a school where manners still matter, we felt that most children would be happy and do well. Not an obvious stomping ground for city slickers but parents from nearby Bristol might be pleasantly surprised at the benefits for children of regular exercise in fresh air.    

Scholarships At The Downs School

The Downs School award scholarships to pupils of exceptional potential entering Year Four of the Pre-Prep. The vast majority of awards are offered to pupils with outstanding academic potential, however, All Round Scholarships may be offered to children with exceptional musical, artistic or athletic talent.  It is emphasised that children awarded All Round Scholarships are expected to attain a very good academic level regardless of their other talents, hence the title ‘All Round’.

All candidates will be required to sit Maths, English and Verbal Reasoning Tests.  In addition they will be interviewed by the Headmaster or a member of the Leadership Team.  Whilst we will be evaluating each child’s potential, successful academic scholars will have achieved SAT Level 3 in English and Maths at Key Stage One.

The maximum Academic Scholarship will be 25% of the day pupil fee.   Smaller awards are also offered. Bursaries can be applied for in addition should a greater reduction of fees be necessary. Bursaries are evaluated by Means Testing.

Candidates for the All Round Scholarships will be required to present evidence of their achievements and they will be given the opportunity to display their particular talents by performance.  Musicians will be expected to play two pieces of music and they will also be invited to sing with the Director of Music.  Artists will be asked to present a portfolio of work before being asked to undertake a small piece of work with the Head of Art.  Those candidates with exceptional athletic ability will be offered the opportunity to discuss their success before undertaking some co-ordination exercises in the Sports Hall with the Director of Sport.

The maximum All Round Scholarship is 20% of the day pupil fees.  Smaller awards might also be offered.  Bursaries can be applied for in addition should a greater reduction of fees be necessary. Bursaries are evaluated by Means Testing.

Scholarships are awarded at the discretion of the Headmaster.

Whilst there may be exceptional circumstances, pupils that accept a scholarship to The Downs School are expected to stay until the end of Year Eight, which is until the child is thirteen.

If you would like to receive further information about our Scholarships, please contact us.

Future Term Dates

Spring 2007

  • Term ends - Friday 23rd March at 5.10pm

Summer Term 2007

  • Term Begins - Wednesday 18th April at 8.35am
  • Half Term starts - Friday 25th May at 5.10pm
  • Term recommences - Monday 4th June at 8.35am
  • Term ends - Friday 6th July at 5.10pm

Autumn Term 2007

  • Term Begins - Wednesday 5th September at 8.35am
  • Half Term starts - Friday 19th October at 5.10pm
  • Term recommences - Wednesday 31st October at 8.35am
  • Term ends - Friday 14th December at 5.10pm

Spring Term 2008

  • Term Begins - Monday 7th January at 8.35am
  • Half Term starts - Friday 8th February at 5.10pm
  • Term recommences - Monday 18th February at 8.35am
  • Term ends - Thursday 20th March at 5.10pm


The Downs Prep School 

An independent prep school, The Downs nevertheless enjoys constructive links with many senior schools. As a consequence the Headmaster is able to work closely with parents and in doing so offer considered objective advice as to which senior school most suit the needs of their children. Over the last six years our children have moved on to such schools as: Badminton, Blundell’s, Bristol Grammar, Bryanston, Clifton College, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, King’s Taunton, King’s Bruton, Malvern College, Marlborough, Millfield, Monmouth, Sherborne, Uppingham and Winchester.

Children enter the dynamic institution that is the Downs Prep School in Year Four. After five years of careful nurturing they are then ready and prepared to leave at thirteen to enter the final exciting stage of their education. The boy and girls benefit particularly from the privileges and responsibilities associated with Years Seven and Eight as they improve confidence and self esteem, traits that ultimately enhance inter personal skills and academic attainment. Being a big fish in a small sea has unquantifiable advantages.

The culture of our school is ‘why not have a go The children are encouraged to make the most of the numerous opportunities available to them.

An independent prep school, The Downs nevertheless enjoys constructive links with many senior schools. As a consequence the Headmaster is able to work closely with parents and in doing so offer considered objective advice as to which senior school most suit the needs of their children. Over the last six years our children have moved on to such schools as: Badminton, Blundell’s, Bristol Grammar, Bryanston, Clifton College, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, King’s Taunton, King’s Bruton, Malvern College, Marlborough, Millfield, Monmouth, Sherborne, Uppingham and Winchester.

Children enter the dynamic institution that is the Downs Prep School in Year Four. After five years of careful nurturing they are then ready and prepared to leave at thirteen to enter the final exciting stage of their education. The boy and girls benefit particularly from the privileges and responsibilities associated with Years Seven and Eight as they improve confidence and self esteem, traits that ultimately enhance inter personal skills and academic attainment. Being a big fish in a small sea has unquantifiable advantages.

The culture of our school is ‘why not have a go The children are encouraged to make the most of the numerous opportunities available to them.


Children at The Downs enter the Prep School in Year Four. Whilst they become accustomed to the thrill of increasing independence, they remain largely class taught in two colourful, adjoining classrooms that create a sense of unity for the year group. The two dedicated and caring teachers deliver most of the curriculum but as the children move into Year Five they are taught by specialist teachers who happily foster further interest, enjoyment and intellectual challenge.

The pupils follow the Common Entrance syllabus, a syllabus that is based on the National Curriculum but enables the school to make the most of its independence: Years Four and Five enjoy an unusual allocation of the Creative Arts, Years Five and Six study the Theory of Music, Science is taught in the three separate elements, French is introduced early in the Pre-Prep, Latin and Spanish being taught later in the prep school where there are also plans to introduce Mandarin.

Classes are of mixed ability but from Year Five the children are set in Maths, English, Science and French. Those gifted academics are nurtured towards Scholarship Entrance. Bristol schools candidates are prepared for entrance in Year Nine but along with other pupils, take the Common Entrance Exams at the end of their final year.

Prep School Sport

In addition to PE lessons, our children take exercise at least three afternoons a week. We firmly believe that all children benefit greatly from sport; that it is a positive channel for energy; encourages essential team skills and develops confidence. Accordingly we operate a policy of inclusion that ensures every boy and girl has the opportunity to represent the school in the major team sports at a level appropriate to their ability. We play a competitive fixture list and we are delighted to regularly field thirteen teams on one match day.

Those children playing for the major teams achieve remarkable standards and we are very proud of the national reputation we enjoy for success on the games fields. Regular winners of the National Rosslyn Park Sevens, the school have also recently been national Lacrosse, Hockey and Rounders Champions. Additionally, eight girls have recently been awarded national honours.

There are inevitably some individuals who do not enjoy the vigours of the games field and alternatively these children enjoy the excitement and challenge of The Downs Award Scheme. The programme offers a variety of outdoor pursuit experiences such as canoeing, climbing, sailing, caving, shelter making and orienteering. The DAS is highly valued in the community.

The School is surrounded by over 60 acres of sports fields and parklands. It has a large, modern sports hall for cricket nets, winter tennis, badminton, football and so on. There are netball courts in the walled garden, an outdoor heated swimming pool and adventure playgrounds. Numerous sports are offered, the major team sports for boys being rugby, hockey and cricket. Simultaneously the girls play hockey, netball and rounders.


Music and drama at The Downs SchoolMusic plays an important part in the life of The Downs; the joyous sound of children making music pleasingly reverberates through the school. All the standard instruments and singing are taught, the children being enthusiastically encouraged to get involved. Presently almost 75% of the Prep School children have taken up the opportunity, many of whom are also involved in various ensembles. All music is celebrated be it one of the Rock bands, the Swing band or the Vocal Ensemble. Many opportunities are provided for performance at assemblies, festivals, informal concerts or in more formal situations.


Drama is included both in the timetable and outside of the curriculum. Every opportunity is taken to enable pupils to perform. Two major productions are presented each year; usually written ‘in house’, French is regularly included in the script. Less lavish productions take place throughout the year and numerous children also attend Speech and Drama lessons which lead to public exams. Our theatre has first class lighting, sound and multi media facilities and so opportunities are created for those who do not aspire to the stage but can bring other skills to bear.


As a continuation of the Pre-Prep, expert dance tuition in jazz, tap and ballet is provided throughout the school. Understandably many girls enjoy the opportunity and we are proud that a reasonable number of boys also continue to tap right through the Prep School.

Art And Design

We are keen for our children to have the time to express themselves and for this reason an unusual amount of time is allocated to Art in the timetable; our nine and ten year olds have more the two hours of art lessons a week; external exams concluded, in the summer term we terminate lessons for a week to host Arts Week, five days of Art Workshops when all the children receive external instruction from choreographers, potters, musicians cartoonists and alike and various after clubs also provide artistic opportunities after school.

The Art Department provides a stimulating introduction to amongst other genres painting, drawing, printmaking, three dimensional design, textiles, pottery and sculpting. The children are encouraged to handle a variety of media with confidence and regularly find themselves covered in paint and glue!



The Downs Pre Prep School 

In their first years at The Downs children join the Pre-Prep, an independent and self-contained department with its own Head teacher; Mrs Audrey Marsden. The department is designed for the younger children, cheerful, purpose built classrooms overlooking the beautiful Somerset countryside.

This is a particularly happy and caring setting where children are encouraged to learn in a safe and secure atmosphere. The unique rural environment encourages imaginative and purposeful play, where children can have direct access to the large and varied school grounds. Taking advantage of the fields and woods that surround the school, children are introduced to the thrills and excitement of discovery, both inside and outside the classroom.

We spend time to get to know our children and families before they join us, working closely with parents to provide a happy start to school life.


Our small class sizes and experienced staff, ensure that careful consideration is given to individual development. An enriched curriculum provides children with a sound social and academic foundation, the essential building blocks for their future education.

Pre-Prep children are taught mainly by their class teacher, but are gradually introduced to specialist staff. Dance, Drama, ICT and swimming are all part of the curriculum in Reception, with French and instrumental playing being added in Year 1. All children are encouraged to become independent learners and take the opportunity to join a myriad of extra clubs and activities.


From the very start of their schooling, Pre-Prep children are introduced to the idea that physical activity is fun.

Pulling on wellie boots for an energetic run in the field, or splashing through puddles is encouraged, whatever the weather!

PE lessons are taught by specialist staff and by Year 3, the children are beginning to represent the school in a range of sports. All Pre-prep children have swimming lessons each week, throughout the year. Extra coaching in a variety of disciplines is available during the after school activity programme.

Creative Arts

Music, Drama, Dance and Art are an integral part of the Pre-Prep curriculum. The children celebrate through displays, informal concerts, special assemblies and end of term performances. Pupils may also choose to specialize in a wide range of instruments, or take speech and drama, ballet or tap lessons.

And More……..

We encourage our children to join a mix of after school clubs; from horse riding to chess, or sketching to nature watch, pottery or gymnastics. There’s something for everyone to enjoy!

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