Heatherdown Prep: the exclusive school that taught David Cameron his ambition

Heatherdown Prep: the exclusive school that taught David Cameron his ambition

The small boy smiling shyly in the back row of the school photograph bears no early traces of greatness. But, at the tender age of 11, David Cameron was already ambitious beyond his years.

So quick was the future Conservative leader’s ascent through the academic ranks at his exclusive Berkshire preparatory school that he entered its top academic class almost two years early.

Now former pupils and teachers have broken their silence about the highly private establishment to defend Mr Cameron against claims, made earlier this week, that he was a “dunce” who had languished at the bottom of his class in 1978.

A school report emerged on Thursday showing Mr Cameron ranked last in the elite sixth form at Heatherdown Preparatory School – one of the great feeder schools to Eton until it closed in 1982 – following poor results in Latin, maths, geography and French.

But James Edwards, the former head teacher, told The Daily Telegraph that only the brightest boys were allowed to enter the elite form, with most leaving the school in the fifth year.

Mr Cameron was as much as two years younger than the boys against whom he was competing, after teachers marked him out as “very bright” and promoted him up the school.

“There was nothing thick about David, nothing wrong with him at all,” said Mr Edwards, now in his eighties.

“The whole thing was based on merit, so if a boy was bright and a high achiever, he would go up, regardless of age.

“The fact that David was in the sixth form at the age of 11 is an indication of how clever he was. If a pupil made the sixth form at any age, it meant he had done well.”

Rhidian Llewellyn, a former teacher at Heatherdown, said he remembered Mr Cameron as a “charming and bright" pupil with a “cheeky grin”.

"To suggest he was a dunce is rather unfair because you would expect a younger boy to be behind chaps who had already sat their scholarship exams to Eton," said the 52-year-old, who now runs an educational consultancy firm.

The Daily Telegraph has also tracked down the 12 “exceptionally clever” boys who ranked above the future Conservative leader in the 1978 class.

Edward Mallinckrodt, who came top of the form, went on to study at Eton with Mr Cameron.

Now an entrepreneur who has founded a raft of successful businesses, including the web consultancy Oyster Partners, he was named a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in 2001. He now lives in west London with his wife and three children.

Viscount Giles Goschen, who ranked closer to Mr Cameron in 9th place, went on to become a transport minister in John Major’s government at the age of 29 and became the youngest hereditary peer elected to remain in the House of Lords by any party at just 34 in 1999.

The pattern of stepping into positions of eminence at a young age was established early, when he became the 4th Viscount of Goschen at just 11-years-old following the death of his father during his time at Heatherdown.

Viscount Goschen, who now lives in Sussex with his wife and three children, paints a romantic picture of his days at the exclusive school of around 80 pupils.

“It was a charming little school. We were all friends and we had lovely grounds with a miniature steam railway we could ride, and where little boys in blue suits and Wellington boots spent a lot of time building dens in the woods,” he said.

“I remember the lovely sports days and the fathers’ day race where lots of beetroot-faced colonels took part”.

Three separate lavatories were provided on sports days at the school: one for ladies, one for gentlemen and one for chauffeurs.

Among others higher up the class ratings than the man hoping to become Britain's next Prime Minister was the Honourable Charles Bruce, son of the late 4th Baron Aberdare, who came 4th.

Simon Andreae, brother of the cartoonist Purple Ronnie, came sixth and is now a multi award-winning television producer. The Old Etonian lives in California with his wife and four children.

John Drummond, the 9th Earl of Perth, was also in the class.

Other old boys at the exclusive boarding school include the Duke of York; James Ogilvy, son of the Queen's cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent; and George Windsor, son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent.

Peter Romilly, who ranked just above Mr Cameron in the second to last place, is now Chief Operating Office for Pan Index Ltd, a financial spread betting firm in Dublin.

He remembers the Conservative leader warmly. “There are no skeletons anywhere. He was a thoroughly decent chap, and he wasn’t the most intelligent in the class, but he was still very clever. There are no horror stories,” he said. “Looking back, it was a remarkable place with remarkable people at a remarkable time.”

License this content