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Prep school groups expands into secondary education with eighth school acquisition

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Sam Antrobus of the Wishford Group, Westonbirt Schools headmistress Natasha Dangerfield, and Westonbirt Prep headmaster Sean PriceSam Antrobus of the Wishford Group, Westonbirt Schools headmistress Natasha Dangerfield, and Westonbirt Prep headmaster Sean PriceWestonbirt School is the latest educational establishment to be acquired by the Corsham-based Wishford Schools group with the help of Swindon-based law firm Thrings.

A family-run group, Wishford’s independent schools span Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Kent and Wiltshire. Until now focused on prep schools, Westonbirt School marks the group’s first steps into secondary education.

Housed in a 17th century stately home near Tetbury, Westonbirt Prep school offers co-ed learning from ages 3 to 11 while Westonbirt Senior School educates girls from Year 7 through to Year 13.

With highly regarded leisure and sports facilities and a dedicated Forest School, the school grounds offer 200 acres of beautiful countryside, a lake and an amphitheater.

Beginning in 2012 with the acquisition of Heywood Prep in Corsham, Sam Antrobus, executive chairman at Wishford Schools, began to buy and develop educational establishments.

Sam sought to build stability and security into the group structure and foster strong relationships between the schools - maximising know-how, experience and ideas.

Six years on, the group comprises eight schools: Heywood Prep and Cricklade Manor Prep in Wiltshire; Hatherop Castle and Westonbirt in Gloucestershire; St Edward's Prep in Berkshire; and St Faith’s Prep, St David's Prep and The Mead in Kent.

Thrings has been advising the group since 2015, when it helped buy St David’s Prep. Since then, it has provided legal support for the acquisition of The Mead, Prior Park Prep (re-named Cricklade Manor Prep) and now Westonbirt School - which has recently celebrated its 90 years.

The Thrings team, whose work has focused on ensuring the Wishford group is suitably protected, has been lead by Corporate partners John Davies and Simon Hore, as well as Alex Pinhey from Thrings’ Property team.

“We have been looking for some time to bring a senior school into the group that fits with the Wishford educational ethos," said Sam.

"We have known and admired Westonbirt for many years, and already have a close and very positive working relationship with the school.

"Westonbirt therefore represents the perfect opportunity, with a strong reputation on which to build and huge potential for further development. We very much look forward to working with headmistress Natasha Dangerfield and her team.”

Natasha Dangerfield, said: “This exciting development ensures continued progression and investment for the future of both our schools.

"We are delighted to welcome the expertise and significant experience of the Wishford Group as we continue our journey."

Sam has a long family history in education. Speaking of the group’s future ambitions, Sam said: “We’re never going to be a big corporate.

"Our aim is for around ten or twelve schools. We want to get the group to a size where we really see the benefits of sharing best practice and collaboration, but where we can still get everyone around one table.”

John Davies, corporate partner at Thrings said: “The Wishford Schools group has been making strong progress on its ambitions to become a solid network of a dozen or so schools, offering great opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of facilities among pupils and teachers.

"We are pleased to continue to support Sam and his team in their efforts to spread excellent educational standards and memorable school experiences across the South of England.”