It’s off to prep school for Prince George this September but happily without a tuck box, teddy bear and tearful goodbye. If whispers are to be believed, the third in line to the throne, who turned nine this July, will become a day pupil at Lambrook School in Berkshire, along with his sister, Princess Charlotte, seven, and brother, Prince Louis, four.
The school, in a white stucco house surrounded by parkland, is just a short drive from Adelaide Cottage, the Cambridges’ new residence near Windsor Castle – and according to current parents, offers a modern, cosy and nurturing take on the quintessential prep school experience. “There’s no comparing it to the hot house our daughter attended in London – there’s acres of space and no pushiness,” says one. “The lessons are fun and there’s a tight, all-inclusive community. I defy any child not to love it.”
The Cambridge children, however, might not be feeling quite so enthusiastic about the move. Thomas’s Battersea, where the older two have spent their first years at school, is also known to be fun and all-inclusive. At Lambrook, where termly fees are currently £4,389 from reception and £6,448 from year 3, they’ll have to go to school on Saturdays – the weekend! – and there’s no ski chalet; Thomas’s has one in Austria, which they’d have got to use if only they’d been allowed to stay on to the senior school. And anyway, why Lambrook rather than Ludgrove, their father’s alma mater, or St Andrew’s in Pangbourne, where their mother was a pupil?
No doubt it’s been an agonising decision for William and Catherine. Moving the children out of the rat race of London day school to the rolling acres of country prep school was a no brainer yet when every prep school is, at least according to its prospectus, idyllically situated and academically unrivalled, finding the perfect match for multiple children is tricky.
Ludgrove is likely to have been ruled out as it only takes boys and the Cambridges, who strive to do school runs every day despite their hectic schedules, will find it far easier to have all their children at one school. St Andrew’s, meanwhile, 35 minutes away, is too far: having navigated the school run from Kensington to Battersea on a daily basis for the past few years, the Cambridges will want the next school to be as close as possible.
Lambrook, which William and Catherine have visited around half a dozen times, is just 15 minutes away from their new main residence, a pink-painted cottage orné in Home Park, which has four bedrooms and large, private gardens and was once home to Peter Townsend, the equerry to George VI, whom Princess Margaret wanted to marry in the 1950s.
There are even closer prep schools, though. The Cambridges have also looked around Papplewick, just 11 minutes away (a particularly astute pupil there told Catherine she looked like the Duchess of Cambridge) but again, it only takes boys. And they’d have been crazy not to consider Bishopsgate, a small and understated co-ed prep school on the fringes of Windsor Great Park, although they’d probably have decided it was too sleepy for their offspring after the buzz of Thomas’s Battersea.
Among Berkshire’s circle of prep schools, which also includes Cheam and Elstree, Lambrook is regarded as “very respectable yet not one of the posh ones” – rather similar then to Thomas’s Battersea, which was considered an off-piste choice for the Cambridges who, friends assumed, would send George straight to Wetherby in Kensington, the all boys day school Prince William himself attended before Ludgrove.
Like Thomas’s, Lambrook has a few aristos on its books but its bread and butter is driven, affluent families who want their children to have a happy, free-range childhood, while ultimately scoring places at top public schools. A bus load of pupils arrives from London each day but most families live locally – which is financially no mean feat, given that a nondescript-looking five-bedroom house a mile from the school, with just over 2.5 acres, is currently for sale for £3.5 million.
“Everything at Lambrook is freshly painted; it’s very blue chip parent wise and the children are all very polite,” explains one parent who opted instead for a more rough around the edges prep school. “On our open day tour the children all made personalised Lambrook key rings in the DT centre, and were sent home with Lambrook wooden yo-yos in a Lambrook reusable jute bag – I dread to think how much it cost them. We went back there a few weeks ago, as our son was playing in a cricket match and again I couldn’t believe how polished and manicured it is. I have to say that the match tea looked good but the cakes tasted of nothing.”
And yet, despite all the glossy marketing merchandise and swirly Victoria sponges, Lambrook does deliver for its 560 pupils. The common entrance results are excellent, with pupils receiving scholarships to both Wiliam’s former senior school, Eton, and Catherine’s, Marlborough. But as important to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be Lambrook’s commitment to raising happy, well-adjusted children who are interested in the world – it was one of the factors that drew them to Thomas’s, where the values of kindness, courtesy, curiosity and creativity are promoted. “They have one opportunity for the education that will form the basis of their lives and at the same time, one childhood,” explains Lambrook’s headmaster, Jonathan Perry, in the prospectus. “Our aim is to keep a happy balance between the two.”
This will chime with the Duke and Duchess, whose parenting philosophy seems to be all about balance. They’ll appreciate the fact that their children will no longer have to sit on a bus for 45 minutes to get to their games pitches – Lambrook has 42 acres of its own cricket, football and rugby pitches, plus a nine-hole golf course and a 25m pool. The Cambridge children will now play sport every day including a couple of matches per week. You are, according to the prospectus, never far away from the sound of ball hitting bat, stick or racket and you learn to accept both victory and defeat with grace and humility. It’ll pain William that Lambrook’s first XI football team was defeated by Ludgrove this year, but perhaps Prince George, who is a passionate footballer, will remedy that result in the future.
Meanwhile, Louis will have rows of welly boots outside his reception classroom ready for “Forest Fridays”, when the younger children head deep into the grounds for den building and marshmallows by the fire. From the age of seven, boarding during the week is an option, either for a night every so often or, for £1,481 extra per term, five nights every week. “Even the most local parents like the idea of their smalls being able to stay over for a night when necessary – it means they can throw dinner parties and have hangovers without having to get the kids to school the next day,” says a source.
For this reason, Friday night is most popular for boarding – parents can turn up well-rested after lessons on Saturday to watch matches, plays and recitals without it affecting their working week or their social life.
The Lambrook parents are tickled that the Cambridges would want to join their fold, yet there’s also a degree of trepidation that the school might change as a result. Demand has increased so steeply since rumour spread of the royal arrivals that there’s now a lengthy waiting list. “We’ll see what happens – if it gets too crazy we won’t send our second child there. We like it the way it is,” says one anxious parent.
Yet once the initial excitement has died down, they’ll see just how normal the Cambridges are. (In fact, with their four-bedroom house and no live-in staff, their set-up is positively modest compared to some Lambrook families). Due to their busy schedules they’re not likely to be running the PTA any time soon but they always show up for their children – a mother at Louis’ nursery school raves about how committed they are, turning up to even the most minor pre-school events.
Upon leaving Lambrook the Cambridge three will have their Lambrook “feathers to fly”, the skills to navigate life’s highs and lows. Where they’ll fly on to, however, is anyone’s guess as William and Catherine have already proved that when it comes to their children’s education they won’t be led by tradition.