The Good Schools Guide Review of Cranmore School, West Horsley, KT24 6AT
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Since 2006, Mr Michael Connolly BSc BA MA MEd (50s). Scottish, quietly confident, straight bat, no nonsense. Years of experience as teacher, housemaster and head in a number of HMC senior and prep schools. He keeps active with squash, tennis and dog walking; reads something philosophical or theological most days (his arts subjects) and enjoys a broad musical taste. Mrs Connolly is a qualified teacher who supports the junior department, edits the school website and shows prospective parents around. They have three sons, all in their twenties.
Parents tell us he was initially single minded in developing Cranmore; subsequently he has consulted and communicated with pupils and parents, taking account of their opinions; ultimately he knows where he is taking the school. Thoughtful and considered, he tackles difficult topics upfront and head on. Parents describe him as 'reliable', 'straight talking', 'unassuming' and 'trustworthy'. Under his leadership, Cranmore is widely inclusive while maintaining high academic and social standards, with many opportunities for individual boys to succeed.
He has limited contact with junior pupils (this is left to Miss Margaret Kieran, the very experienced head of the junior department), increasing as children progress through the school. In their final two years he teaches weekly lessons and gets to know them really well.
Not selective and proud to be so. Prospective pupils spend a session in class and are assessed to ensure they would be happy and successful. Assessment definitely not competitive; head reassures that 'the average child will be fine', so long as they are prepared to 'get stuck in and have a go'. Places allocated first come first served, waiting list occasionally for some year groups.
From September 2014, the school will be fully co-educational, from Bright Stars nursery (2½+) through to 7+. Girls will be able to join at nursery and reception subject to places available. Academic, music and sports scholarships awarded for entry at 7. Also, means-tested financially assisted places potentially provide, at most, a free place.
Entry into Bright Stars nursery means you are coming to Cranmore; Mr Connolly explains, 'It's not a stand-alone nursery, it's an investment by the school'.
Boys move on to a wide variety of senior schools, reflecting the non-selective intake: Brighton College, Charterhouse, City of London Freemen's, Cranleigh, Epsom, King's College Wimbledon, Royal Grammar School Guildford, Reeds, Sherborne, St George's, St John's, Tonbridge, Wellington, Worth.
Around third to half leave at 11, mainly to avoid stressful pre-testing in year 6. Of those who leave at 13 around a quarter win scholarships, awards or exhibitions.
Cranmore is genuinely an all round school, maintaining academic standards, terrific sports and much-praised music. Parents feel 'it's very balanced between academics, sport and music' and 'ticks boxes in lots of different areas'.
Located deep in Surrey's green commuter belt, on a large site; the original Victorian building tucked away around the back is used as the nursery, plus a few classrooms upstairs. The rest of the buildings are modern, spacious and purpose built. Nursery, junior and senior share all facilities but at different times, so they are usually separate, and it is not overwhelming for the youngest.
The school has high expectations of its pupils, and for the most part the boys 'surprise themselves' with their achievements. Mr Connolly aims to limit the inevitable academic pressure; he is 'not a big fan of homework' and believes 'if boys come to school fresh and get engaged while at school that should be enough to realise their abilities'. A long-standing Cranmore mum explains, 'He tries to educate the Surrey parent not to get too worked up about academic success'.
Parents are confident of the academic standards, telling us Cranmore 'turns out boys who want to learn', that their sons have been 'well challenged and tutored' by 'talented teachers' who 'know what buttons to push' to teach boys. They feel 'the school sticks by all the boys throughout and has great belief in the mix of abilities', and their sons are 'monitored and assessed so there are no surprises'. Mr Connolly meets every parent during year 5 to discuss aspirations and manage expectations for suitable senior schools.
Broad range of subjects taught, although recently Latin has been dropped from the CE syllabus, a pragmatic decision by Mr Connolly which has stirred strong sentiments both for and against. He reassures that Latin is not compulsory for the majority of senior schools, and says those few parents for whom it matters will use a tutor. He teaches senior boys on a carousel of (non-examined) Latin, Greek and philosophy, two terms of each over the final two years. Boys are set in English and maths from year 4; for the final two years they are streamed into either a scholarship class or one of two CE classes. Teaching facilities are spacious and impressive, particularly the science labs and IT classrooms.
Post-CE programme is 'fantastic, every day is jam packed,' say parents who are pleased their boys stayed on to enjoy final two prep years with smaller teaching groups, prefect responsibility, exclusive blazers and a common room with PlayStation, pool table, air hockey and table football.
Sport is the 'wow' factor which attracts lively, active types to Cranmore. The facilities are 'amazing' and coaching is 'totally professional' with a 'squeaky clean, gentlemanly sporting ethos'. Exposure to variety is a big positive: by the time boys leave they will have had the opportunity to try over 20 sports, including climbing, rowing and skiing (with ski club lessons at Sandown Park for pupils and families). There are plenty of clean, flat pitches, including all weather pitches, sports hall with squash courts and fitness room, gym with climbing walls (laid out for lunchtime judo club when we visited), a 25 metre indoor swimming pool (in which all boys have timetabled lessons) and newly refurbished changing rooms. There's enough indoor sporting space to accommodate all, so rain never stops play. Huge number of teams are fielded for matches so all get some opportunity to play, however those less successful or uninterested in sport may not feel entirely comfortable in this super-active environment.
Outdoor areas include spacious equipped playground areas for nursery and, separately, for juniors and, a new addition, a 'forest school' tucked away beside the playing fields.
Music is strong, valued and highly praised by parents; 'incredible facilities' coupled with an 'exceptionally good head of music'. Music forms part of every day in assemblies, performances and curriculum, plus most senior boys learn an individual instrument, lots at the lower grades and a handful up to grade 6 or 7. Over 250 timetabled individual instrumental or singing lessons each week.
Catholic ethos runs through the school; head explains: 'It's a Catholic community and everyone does everything, it's fundamental to the school. If you want to come to Cranmore you accept this'. Having said that, the majority of families are not Catholic, and feel perfectly comfortable with daily prayer, half-termly mass and Catholic RE syllabus. Pupils are 'not indoctrinated' and parents recognise solid, Christian values that 'do pupils quite a bit of good'. They feel school focus is on 'confident, well-rounded boys, who care about each other and are allowed to be individuals'.
Pupils see their form teachers twice a day for registration plus five minutes at the end of each day to 'gather their thoughts'. On the whole, they work calmly within clear, tight boundaries and are well motivated to please, earning merit points for their house. Junior boys have weekly 'Top Boy' award based on 'Golden Rules' code of conduct, kindness, honesty etc. Much parental praise for the deputy head, Mrs Sue Walker, who deals with occasional episodes of bullying. Boys are helped with coping strategies and parents are involved. Discipline is about learning and moving on with 'no labels for bad boys'; the aim is to educate boys to make the right choices via drip feed over a long period.
Mr Connolly is onto the dangers of cyber bullying: his approach is zero tolerance to any cyber-messaging he deems inappropriate, and he has suspended boys. Not a fan of children having mobiles, he encourages parents to monitor their children's online and phone activities. Feels there have to be boundaries, clear guidelines and standards.
Cranmore families are hard working, busy, 'definitely Surrey people'. Most can comfortably afford fees, a few making financial sacrifices. Plenty of stay-at-home mums picking up or watching matches in muddy Hunter wellies. Active parents' association provides friendly socials and fundraising. Pupils' classes are changed around each year so boys, and parents, get to know all in their year group.
An all-round school maintaining high standards and impressive results from a non-selective intake, with so much on offer that every boy can find something in which to succeed.