The Good Schools Guide Review of Chigwell School, Chigwell, IG7 6QF
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Since 2007, Mr Michael Punt MA MSc PGCE (40s), a physicist who lives on site with his wife Gill and their three sons, all of whom attend the school. His calm and positive influence is palpable throughout the school, although he modestly describes his many successful initiatives as 'just tinkering'. Parents know better, saying he's 'approachable, liked and respected'. One even tells the tale of a parent who was torn between three schools for her child but plumped for Chigwell on the basis of meeting Mr Punt.
Excellent results – in 2014, 67 per cent A*/A at GCSE; 84 per cent A*-B and 55 per cent A*/A at A level. ISI inspectors praised ‘pupils’ positive and conscientious attitude to learning and their excellent relationship with the teachers’. Experienced, dedicated staff and a free choice of options outside of the core subjects are major factors, says the head, who is keen to offer a wide range at A levels, including those required for a broad choice of university courses, to pique the interest of his academically inquisitive students. Economics, maths and sciences are strong at A level but drama and DT are on the rise too, enforcing Chigwell’s reputation as a place for the all-rounder.
IGCSE in several subjects including maths - pupils are setted ‘loosely’ in year 7 in preparation for the latter. Three-quarters take separate sciences at GCSE - sets for these start in year 9. English is set in year 10 and languages are now more popular choices for GCSE and A level, thanks to the early introduction of Spanish and German in the junior school.
One of Mr Punt’s most successful recent innovations has been the change of lesson length from 35 to 50 minutes, which has increased teaching time for sixth formers and given teachers the scope to introduce more pupil-centred activities.
Dedicated SENCo - junior school pupils screened on entry, further testing in the senior school. Learning support used mostly in the junior school. High ability students developed beyond the classroom with extension activities.
Games, Options, the Arts
Parents are pleased with the balance of academic work and life experiences – ‘Valuable pursuits such as art, drama, music and sport enhance the atmosphere of positive competition,’ says one.
A hundred acres of playing fields surround this small school but indoor facilities are relatively modest in comparison to many of its peers - unfancy sports centre and small outdoor swimming pool. Hockey strong for both boys and girls, set to build with recent Astro. Competes well on the football pitch and numbers several county players in netball and cricket – own all-weather nets. PE pursuits are rotated half-termly, eg basketball and badminton. Golf is played at the nearby club and sixth formers can visit the local gym or use the on-site fitness equipment.
The drama centre is an eye-catching red-brick building with impressively professional facilities - foyer big enough for pre-theatre drinks receptions; rehearsal and teaching rooms, 200 moveable seats; two productions a year and sixth form play. A dozen students each year take drama A level with great success. Music very inclusive - every other pupil learns an instrument, annual Prom concert open to all, house music competition, Young Musician of the Year event, performances by many ensembles.
Huge choice of extracurricular activities, from D of E and scouts to art exhibitions and the inspiring and thought-provoking talks run as part of the Williams Project, named after philosopher and Chigwell alumnus, Bernard Williams.
Background and Atmosphere
Set on the approach road to the historic high street, founded in 1629 by the Reverend Samuel Harsnett, the local vicar, who became Archbishop of York and Chancellor of Cambridge University. Today the original red-brick schoolhouse forms the centrepiece to this pretty village of neat buildings, punctuated by gardens and quads planted with blooms and trees. The surrounding playing fields stretch as far as Epping Forest and give a rural aspect to the school and some lovely views from the windows of the attractive, low-rise teaching blocks. None of the facilities are more than an easy and pleasant stroll apart. The music block is positioned centrally, so the odd note and phrase float across the greenery, and the drama centre is a well-designed modern addition. When we visited, the new dining hall, sixth form coffee shop and kitchens were under construction and the pupils were excited to be taking their meals in the Harry Potter-esque main hall. The new food facilities were later declared open by Michel Roux. Plans for a sixth form study centre.
The 1920s chapel was built in tribute to fallen alumni and is a mainstay of life here. Twice weekly services embrace all the beliefs represented at this multicultural school and speech day includes a passage from each of the six major world faiths - integral respect and sense of community. ‘This is a happy school,’ says the head - does seem to be a sense of harmony at work. No need for intrusive bells to mark the change of lessons - pupils make their way around the school in an ordered fashion and newbies of any age wear a plain tie so they can be spotted and helped when in need, in typical caring Chigwellian fashion.
Has own nomenclature for year groups, from removes (year 9), through lower fifth, upper fifth and lower sixth to middle sixth (year 13). Intranet - Chigwell’s Gateway - heavily relied on for submission of homework and essential admin such as notices and timetables. An electronic noticeboard system is also well used - life seems to flow in a stress-free fashion.
Pastoral Care and Discipline
‘Excellent’ from ISI for pastoral care - easy to see why. A strong four-house system, and staff who ‘really know their pupils’, according to the head, mean students are comfortable in the knowledge that they are being ‘looked out for’. Promotes a society in which everyone takes responsibility for each other and the wider environment.
Sixth form students from abroad valued for the insights they provide into other cultures and ways of life. Mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and China, encouraged to give talks on the issues affecting their homelands, the only ones to board in four homely houses on site - their constant presence gives the school a lived-in feel. Boarders are also attached to a day house and take a full part in activities there.
Food is said to be plentiful and good, with healthy options and popular themed days - children spoke enthusiastically of tasting lobster on seafood day, and sausages were dished up all round to celebrate St George’s Day. The uniform is smart and sober – kilts or plain trousers with a navy blazer, though the sixth formers wear office attire.
Pupils and Parents
This leafy, middle-class suburb is spoilt for choice education-wise, with several good fee-paying schools on the doorstep and some of the best grammars in the country a short hop on the train away. Even Old Chigwellians admit to investigating the competition before signing up their offspring, but one was pleased to note, ‘The school has retained one of its key attributes - to ensure that pupils attain their potential’. Equally, though, appeals to first-time buyers, notably British Asian families who are attracted by the excellence in maths and sciences, and those who see Chigwell’s strength in ‘creating confident, well-rounded people’. Although this is undoubtedly an affluent area, and children are drawn mainly from a four or five mile radius, the head is aware that families often make sacrifices to send them.
Slightly more boys than girls in the seniors, but as the juniors are now 50-50, set to change in the future. The pupils we met fell over themselves with helpfulness and had a relaxed, confident air. Parents have many opportunities to speak informally with staff about their children’s progress and well-being at breakfast get-togethers and afternoon teas, and the Friends of Chigwell put on a programme of social events.
School minibus service covers eg Epping, South Woodford, Loughton, Ilford - hopes to expand routes in the future.
The list of distinguished alumni includes William Penn, Sir Arthur Grimble, Austin Bradford Hill, Edward Vulliamy and Sir Bernard Williams. Sir Alan Sugar lives virtually next door and his grandsons are pupils here, as were their fathers.
Most come across from the junior department; very few vacancies at 13. At 16 no advertised places - those moving up to the sixth form are expected to have achieved at least four As and two Bs or in six GCSE subjects and A/A* in their A level choices.
‘Students here have high aspirations,’ says the head. Very few post-16 leavers. In 2014, three to Oxbridge; rest to a range from Durham to Nottingham to Loughborough.
Academic scholarships available at 11 and 13 years; scholarships for art, drama and music offered at 16. Means-tested bursaries available.
A happy school with a real family feel; a very civilised place nurturing confident, caring all-rounders.