The Good Schools Guide

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2010, David Price whose warm, engaging, interested and open manner inspires confidence and immediately puts anxious prospective parents at ease. Midlands grammar school-educated father of two (girl and boy, so well-placed to handle transition to coed), with degree in environmental science, he cycles to school and takes a keen interest in sustainability, clearly proud of eco-initiatives suggested by pupils. Previous experience includes stints at Melbourne Grammar (wife is Australian) and Latymer Prep, then head of year 3 and director of studies at The Mall before taking up headship. Large, modern study directly opposite the entrance mirrors his approachable style, with comfortable sofas and brightly coloured artworks by pupils of all ages. Fiercely committed to a broad education not just exam prep, Mr Price sees the school’s job as ‘teasing out’ individual pupils’ particular skills and enthusiasms. Clear that a narrow focus on 11+ subjects is ‘not a proper education’; commendably broad curriculum and extensive extracurricular offer gives the feel of ‘a 13+ school that finishes at 11’. Calm and empathetic: doorstepped by boys on our way to lunch, he answered their questions kindly without a hint of impatience. Universally praised for the way school ‘really gets boys’ and for his responsiveness to feedback from pupils and parents alike: ‘he’s one of the main reasons parents join and stay’. Not one to hide behind a desk, he clearly really knows his charges (even had the names of newcomers to the nursery off pat) and parental consensus is that ‘we trust him completely to help us make the right decisions for our child’.

Entrance

From 2022, co-ed nursery from six months (minimum three days a week) with automatic transition into reception. Otherwise, non-selective entry into reception – school committed to no formal assessment process at that stage, considering it an unreliable indicator of fit and potential, but holds various settling-in days to ensure children will thrive. Coed starting in reception from Sept 2023; class sizes will remain capped at 20. Parents feel valued and welcomed from the outset, describing admissions process as warm and personalised, ‘transparent and responsive’. Most families fairly local but minibuses run from neighbouring Sunbury, Richmond and Kingston, very popular with working parents.

Exit

At 11+ to leading London and Home Counties schools both state and independent, single-sex and coed, predominantly day. Head committed to building equally strong relationships with girls’ schools.

Popular recent destinations include Hampton, King’s College School Wimbledon, Kingston Grammar, Reed’s, St. George’s College, St James, St Paul’s, Tiffin. Decent number of scholarships to many of these schools too – nine academic and nine non-academic last year.

Our view

Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2022, school combines a keen sense of history with a thoroughly forward-looking ethos –‘much less staid’ than some competitors according to one parent who loved the pupils’ ‘open and effusive’ attitude at open day. Excellent links with alumni who regularly return to talk to current pupils – an ethos of respect and giving back that was clearly well-instilled in the pupils we met. Rationale for well-researched move to co-education (partly in response to parental demand) has been clearly articulated to parents and generally welcomed; anxieties carefully managed through parental input and phased introduction. Some slight concern (purely social) about smaller class sizes in early years but school is seeing increased interest in year 3 entry post-Covid (two form entry from Sept 23). Parents welcome the ‘really good ethnic mix’ and ‘very inclusive’ feel of the whole school community.

Main school is somewhat tardis-like, a well-kept site with low-key, modern brick buildings. Its two rather stark tarmac playgrounds were ripe for refurbishment at time of our visit but head shared ambitious plans underway for creative redesign including running track, chalk wall and nature zone, offering more varied outdoor spaces as part of move to co-ed. We navigated our way between zig-zagging tricycles in the junior playground and boys busy with football, basketball and construction games in the seniors’ space; a sense of fun prevails. Facilities generally praised by parents – notably the striking theatre and a lovely swimming pool (also used by local primaries) which has helped turn several water-phobes into confident members of the successful swim squad. Cheerful dining hall offers ‘yummy lunch’ with plenty of options for even the fussiest eater, gently encouraging pupils to expand their tastes. New year-round coed nursery (opened 2022) in the former pre-prep building has real wow factor – with a lovely atmosphere, it’s a beautiful and well-equipped space that makes best use of the elegant, high-ceilinged rooms; a stunningly generous and well-designed outdoor space sets it apart from other London nurseries. As with main school, individual interests are encouraged and developed, with plenty of outings; older children are prepared for transition to reception through regular activities on main site and opportunities to try out ‘big school’ lunch and uniform.

Academic standards are high but this is emphatically not a hot-house. School’s focus on ‘igniting the love of learning’ evident throughout, with colourful slogans encouraging ‘confident swimmers’, ‘confident actors’ etc and bright displays in every area of the school showcasing pupils’ creativity and curiosity. Homework starts in reception, light touch at first but aimed at building up the habit; parents generally feel the school gets the balance right. Teaching lauded as ‘really inspiring’ and throughout our visit we observed pacey, purposeful learning, with hands shooting up to answer questions. Surfaces everywhere covered in busy, colourful displays including a stunning model of the Globe Theatre by a year 5 student. Art in particular lived up to its billing by one mum as ‘mind-bogglingly good’ with exuberant caricatures on paintbrushes and quirky masks lining one stairwell. A lively year 6 science class was totally absorbed in an electricity experiment; posters on lab walls about climate change, Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions and Tintin’s take on nuclear physics provide additional stimulation. The bright, welcoming library adorned with inspirational quotes is popular at break and lunch. We were delighted to see so many pupils carrying library books and reading in the playground alongside football games – ‘I do love reading’ avowed our guide; reading for fun is greatly encouraged and in the accelerated reader scheme ‘reading millionaires’ abound. French is ‘extremely well taught’ from year 1, aiming for boys to be top set at secondary school; Latin introduced in year 4. From year 4, pupils move around school for lessons in specialist classrooms, an important step in learning independence and organisation – mildly chaotic when we visited but parents say boys ‘soon find their feet’ and former pupils report that it stands them in good stead at secondary school.

High-quality, inclusive approach to full range of SEN both individually tailored and thoroughly integrated into classroom provision, with teachers well coached in useful techniques by SENCO. Specialist support is provided by visiting therapists who also help train teaching assistants in classroom strategies. Pupils make strong progress; parents praise the ‘incredibly supportive’ balance between discretion and openness, commending the proactive approach to putting support in place even before formal diagnosis. SEN team training staff on how additional needs present in girls to support coed offer.

Preparation for transition to secondary school starts in year 4, with one-to-one parent meetings to discuss possible options with head. Guidance very much tailored to schools where head reckons child will thrive, based on thorough assessment of their strengths, character and interests: ‘it’s all about the right fit, not prestige’ say parents, who ‘really respect Mr Price’s opinion’. VR and NVR introduced in year 4 as part of a continuing broad curriculum, ensuring pupils are thoroughly prepared but not overly stressed when it comes to 11+ assessments. Head very much opposed to 11+ tutoring, a view generally accepted by parents who can see school’s results speak for themselves, with most boys comfortably in the top half of their senior schools academically. The year 6 boys we met were calm and confident about their forthcoming exams, assuring us that ‘perseverance is really important’. They appreciated differentiation and stretch in maths and French and the importance of figuring things out themselves, explaining that ‘if you cheat, you’ll never get better’.

Inclusive yet stretching ethos typified by school’s approach to the arts, with great support for gifted artists and performers, yet everyone encouraged to have a go and experiment – ‘it’s all about helping each child find their passion’, enthused a happy parent who loved that ‘no boy gets left behind’. The same is true of games, with ‘tons of sports’ on offer both through the curriculum and clubs. School ‘takes sport seriously’, approved one parent, despite the limited space on site (it makes good use of Sunbury Cricket Club). All pupils encouraged to have a go through an inclusive range of teams and player of the match is not just reserved for the super-sporty; focus is on ‘breadth not trophies’ says director of sport firmly, although school does hold its own competitively. Additional sports to be introduced with co-ed intake. Music also excellent with a stimulating curriculum ranging from African drumming to Peer Gynt and a vibrant co-curricular offer. 80 per cent learn at least one instrument: dynamic music teacher leads by example (‘very, very talented’ say pupils) and aims to instil a lifelong love of music by finding the right instrument for each child – successfully so given reported high levels of continuation at secondary school and beyond. Good range of ensembles ensures everyone gets a chance to sing or play, with plenty of concerts including the annual Musicals at the Mall. Drama too is very popular; everyone gets a chance to shine in high-quality shows such as a much-lauded production of Bugsy Malone, be it onstage or doing the lighting.

Wrap-around care before and after school is extensive, caring and flexible, ‘a real game-changer’ according to one relieved working mum. Also a ‘seemingly unlimited’ range of clubs before, at lunch and after school including the very popular music tech, Kiddy Cook and judo. Everyone is helped to find what suits them – and parents love that if a child wants to try something not already on offer, teachers will do their best to ‘help figure it out’.

This caring and nurturing approach is at the heart of how staff engage with their charges. Pupils like and respect their teachers, commenting that they are ‘very nice’ and ‘very kind’, and feel well supported academically and pastorally. All the parents we spoke to commented on the excellent rapport among the highly dedicated staff, reflected in abundant cross-disciplinary collaboration. Staff echoed this: ‘it’s just a lovely place to work’ said one. Communication to parents is praised as ‘personal and on point’ and parental feedback is very much encouraged.

All this translates into pupils who are happy and confident all-rounders, ‘kind and well-rounded’ with no hint of arrogance, thoroughly proud of their school and their fellow pupils’ achievements – our guides pointed out a friend’s artwork that had justly earned a much-coveted head’s commendation. Our queries about behaviour issues were met with mild bemusement by pupils: they are extremely supportive of their peers and quick to let staff know if anyone is upset, knowing action will be taken swiftly to resolve any issues. Respect for others is deeply instilled – ‘they feel heard, valued and supported’, says one impressed mum.

Money matters

Bursary support available from 7+ on a case-by-case basis, including some hardship funds. Nursery participates in the Government funded childcare scheme.

The last word

Welcoming, thoroughly grounded local school delivering a broad and well-rounded curriculum that allows pupils to explore their own interests, providing an excellent foundation for later study and life as well as preparing them thoroughly but unobtrusively for competitive entry to secondary schools. Parents describe the school as ‘a happy place with happy children’. We would certainly concur.