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What says..

Tributes to the teaching staff, overall friendliness, care and attention given to individuals pour from everyone and are a delight to hear: ‘My teacher is amazing – he’s given me extra lessons every week’; ‘They’ll help with anyone – not just the Oxbridge candidates’; ‘The teacher gave my daughter as much time as she needed when she was struggling’.  Twisty, brick staircases and leaded lights which grab eager 10 year olds immediately – 'I chose it because it was like Hogwarts'...

 

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What the school says...

Bancroft's is a lively and exciting community, filled with talented pupils who want to do well. Pupils consistently achieve the highest academic standards within a vibrant cultural environment. The school's tradition of excellence extends beyond the classroom; the opportunities it offers are many and varied: CCF, DofE, Scouts, sport, drama, music. The result is a busy school full of equally busy pupils. One of our fundamental beliefs is that as every child only goes through school once, it is the duty of the school to ensure that each child's experience is as good as it can possibly be. ...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking French at an English Independent School (GCSE)

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2016, Simon Marshall (early 50s). Formerly headmaster of the English College in Prague and, before that, deputy head academic at UCS Hampstead and, in an earlier incarnation, head of English at KCS Wimbledon. A very calm and incisive communicator who has the underlying confidence to deal in nuance. He believes he has taken over a school which is already performing at a very high level, and his attention seems divided equally between maintaining all that is good, and trying to help all constituencies within the school think of themselves and their ambitions perhaps a little more laterally. No academic slouch himself, having read classics at Cambridge, where he was also a choral exhibitioner and did a PGCE. Thence to Oxford, where he took a degree in English literature and then a MPhil in 18th century studies. A keen mountaineer and runner, he enjoys gardening, music and theatre. Married to Eleanor.

One parent, steeped in the ancien régime, described him as ‘a great listener, sensitive to tradition, but definitely working in his ideas. He’s greatly liked, and the way he is celebrating arts and humanities is just what Bancroft’s needs.’

Head of prep since 2012 Joe Layburn MA, previously acting head. MA in German literature from University College London, followed by a 15-year career as an investigative journalist and TV reporter, primarily for Channel 4. Retrained as a teacher and joined Bancroft's Prep in 2004. A steady pair of hands, popular with staff, children and parents. Author of a trilogy of children's books. Married with three children; two were educated at Bancroft's from prep onwards and one at a special needs school. Keen on running, cycling and West Ham United.

Academic matters

Notable results across the board (in 2017, 68 per cent A*/A grades at A level). Many go onto study medicine or engineering at top universities. The head is emphatic about the hard work and deep commitment of staff, but places a big emphasis too on the work ethic of pupils. Maths and physics are stellar, and all the sciences excellent. Arts, languages and humanities results are, by any standard, very good. This slight asymmetry has less to do with teaching, about which all parties wax lyrical, than with the nature of the constituency: many families here are first generation users of independent schools, and there is an emphasis on traditional ‘respectable’ professions. One gets the sense the head may be keen gently to nudge pupils into believing there are more destinies for themselves than they might sometimes imagine. ‘Bancroft’s boys and girls have such heart and power,’ he says, ‘such creativity and imagination’.

The GCSE hit rate in 2017 was a whopping 89 per cent at A*-A/9-7. No obviously weak links but maths and science again at the heart of success. Perhaps rather fewer taking the more obviously creative subjects - art and music, for instance, or DT. Drama is now in the curriculum, but getting real momentum behind these is less about facilities (which are good) than about winning over sceptics. It all takes time. Modern languages have been the beneficiaries of this patient dedication. German, French and Spanish are all on offer from year 8; Russian becomes available in year 9 and Mandarin in the sixth form. A particular, enlightened feature is that subjects can be chosen not, as elsewhere, from 'blocks' but from the whole curriculum. Given that Bancroft’s is not a rich school, and that staff are required to teach an average 31 periods per week, this flexibility is all the more impressive.

A terrific learning environment. The library, revamped with a stylish mezzanine floor beautifully integrated into the whole, is a proper scholarly resource – a place where pupils actually sit quietly and read. Given that library is all too often a euphemism for 'IT suite' these days, this delving among books redounds greatly to the credit of both staff and pupils. The latter evidently appreciate the librarians– 'they are fantastic - they get in anything you need'. The sixth form has a quiet study area and the Great Hall is used, amongst much else, for societies, debates and visiting speakers. IT everywhere – lots of rooms with new PCs, including a tiptop language lab.

Learning support department screens all at 11+. School has a dedicated SENCo and there are two part-timers in assistance. All new staff get some training in spotting those with learning difficulties but the head is mindful that all staff need encouragement to stay alert to those with learning difficulties: these will mostly be mild dyslexics and all will be given some kind of individual support – the precise nature of which depends on need, but may well involve one-to-one time. Lower sixth get help to 'develop individual learning skills'. 'They are wonderfully flexible over special needs,' said a parent.

Games, options, the arts

Sports are 'big' and well-resourced. Large playing fields on site plus vast sports hall with 25m pool. Five minutes' drive away is school's own West Grove with pitches, courts, tracks etc. Strong in all major sports – hockey, rugby, netball, cricket and tennis. Achievement to match - triumphs in netball, rugby and cricket as well as tours in these and hockey to, eg, Canada, Singapore/Malaysia, South Africa and Barbados. Historic complaints that sport is too elitist have become less strident but not disappeared: ‘It’s too often the same brilliant sportsmen getting the limelight,’ said one parent. The school has taken these seriously and evolved B and C teams, along with soccer. There are practical constraints, not least finding the necessary facilities and fixtures with other schools. ‘I know they’re working on this,’ said one parent, ‘and not before time. It’s our one grouse about the school.’

There is a serious wish on the part of the head that sport should reflect the values the school is trying to impart. ‘We’re properly proud of all the sporting success,’ he says, ‘but we want to create ways in which the best kind of team experience is genuinely attainable to all who seek it. Sport should offer all our pupils a medium through which they can cultivate the kinds of strength and conditioning which will sustain them throughout their lives.’

CCF is huge, very popular and enthusiastically pursued by those who surprise themselves by how much they get out of it, girls as well as boys - 'It's taught me how to get on with people I'd never mix with normally'; 'It's good that the sixth form help with it - you can have a bit of a laugh with them'. Thriving D of E. Over 200 pupils are involved in it with 30 taking gold – ‘doing my gold was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ said one girl, ‘and the best’. Also a Sea Scout group with cubs and scouts.

Equally, steadily increased provision for arts across the school. Music and drama enthusiastic and popular - annual concert in Drapers' Hall the big annual event, with bands, solo performances and musical mix the main features. HM particularly enthused (moved, really) by the recent TAAL production – a pan-Asian body run by the Hindu, Muslim, Bhuddist and Sikh Society, but involving pupils of all ethnic groups - which embraced dance and music of all kinds. ‘It was an explosion of energy and creativity,’ he says, ‘and it tells a big story’. Vast range of instruments studied, with eight classical concerts each year. Jazz, rock and other genres all celebrated in addition to the main and chamber orchestras. A suite of Apple Macs to support composition. Two big drama spaces - the Great Hall and a fine performing arts centre. A recent triumphant production of Les Misérables but also Amadeus and Sweeney Todd. All year 7s and 8s do drama as part of the curriculum, and there is house drama production as well. Productions at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Art, electronics and DT departments are buzzy spaces. Art is well-displayed and the studios are wonderful oases of light and space, as well as excellently equipped. Excellent outcomes for the seriously committed – one recent leaver having secured a spot at Central St Martins. Pupils are given considerable latitude to be creative in design. After a period of staff turnover, DT is becoming more embedded and there are hopes that it will soon be on offer for A level. Like so many schools, the cultural leap to move away from the old woodwork/metalwork shop mentality hasn’t happened overnight, but the head sees an emerging synergy not merely between art, DT and electronics but extending to physics and the sciences, with big potential growth in product design.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1737 by the Drapers' Company on behalf of Francis Bancroft as a school for poor boys; moved to Woodford from Mile End in 1889 into the present large and imposing red-brick Victorian gothic revival building – clearly designed to impress, with serious scholarly credentials by architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield, also responsible for Selwyn College, Cambridge. This is one of his more benign and attractive buildings, with towers, crenellations and oriel windows, a splendid central quad and admirably generous corridors which, though originally intended for 200 boys, still feel spacious for today's quadrupled numbers. Twisty, brick staircases and leaded lights which grab eager 10 year olds immediately – 'I chose it because it was like Hogwarts'.

Large Great Hall – typical of date and type. Excellent Courtyard Building with colonnaded atrium and sitting area, dining room (all eat together, although the sixth form can exercise the option to eat in their common room). The food gets good press, too, in contrast to the dismal recollections of one old boy now a parent (‘I’m pretty jealous, actually’). Some 1960s add-ons but much better later additions (such as enormous multi-purpose sports hall) and adjoining buildings, eg vast head's house now used for admin and offices too, with head's garden open to everyone for quiet time and 'well-respected'. Nice new physics labs and modern language rooms and DT suite.

Integral chapel one of the best bits (complete with much-loved chaplain who is, says a parent, ‘just extraordinary – you should hear what my children say about him. They leave chapel filled with fresh understanding about the need for mutual respect.’) Each year group comes once weekly for an ecumenical service. Brass plaques to former heads and a vast stained glass east window set the tone for the services, which are inclusive in all ways, given the mix of pupils. Chapel also used for arts events - words and music etc, a classy extracurricular feature here.

Parental tributes to general efficiency of school and its communications. Sense of order, purposeful activity and common sense all-pervasive.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Unstinting and uniform praise for pastoral care is very rare, and yet this is what our enquiries to a range of parents and pupils revealed. Tributes to the teaching staff, overall friendliness, care and attention given to individuals pour from everyone and are a delight to hear: ‘My teacher is amazing – he’s given me extra lessons every week’; ‘They’ll help with anyone – not just the Oxbridge candidates’; ‘The teacher gave my daughter as much time as she needed when she was struggling’.

Staff respond especially to the wholehearted and aspirational nature of their pupils, who are so laudably devoid of a sense of entitlement. The system which facilitates such praise is based around form tutors – usually of between 13 and 17 pupils. There are also houses for competitive purposes. With 200 plus pupils in each, the heads of house and their deputies have a formidable challenge in knowing their charges.

The teachers seem also to believe pupils are overwhelmingly biddable and friendly. ‘Of course,’ says the Head, ‘teenagers can make mistakes’. Like every other school, helping youngsters to make sensible use of IT is a preoccupation for teachers and parents, but as HM says, ‘adults don’t always find it easy either.’ He is trying to encourage a pastoral style which can be more generally proactive and – it follows on – pupils find it easy and unthreatening to volunteer fears and anxieties.

Pupils and parents

From as far away as Potter's Bar, Winchmore Hill and Cheshunt, though most from between 10 and 20 minutes' drive away. Transport from local tube station to encourage pupils to look out of town towards green space for schooling. Vast ethnic and social intake - 'very well-handled by school,' say parents. Most parents first-time buyers who 'work very hard to pay fees'.

OB notables include Dennis Quilley, Sir Frederick Warner, Sir Neil McFarlane, Hari Kunzru, Adam Foulds, Yolanda Browne, Andrew Saul, Anita Anand, Lord Pannick QC, Samantha Spiro and Mike Lynch.

Entrance

At 7+ into the prep - oversubscribed by about three to one. Testing in English - reading and writing - and maths takes place on beanbags. Children seen (and offered doughnuts) in small groups with head and deputy - it's 'as informal and low key as possible'.

Some 60 pupils come up from the prep school to the senior school at 11. Around 500 apply for 65 additional places. ‘It’s nice to be wanted,’ says the head, ‘but we want to stay well away from complacency’. There are entrance tests in maths and English plus interviews – ‘we need to fashion something more imaginative.’ he says. ‘We’re working on it.’ In practice around a third of those whose first choice is Bancroft's will get in. Umpteen feeders, though several from St Aubyn's, Loyola and Woodford Green Prep. Around a half from state primaries.

Candidates for the sixth form sit the school's own entrance exam in two proposed A level subjects, need six As at GCSE (or numerical equivalents) plus the usual references. Around 20 places at this level - very few (around 10 per cent) leave.

Exit

Around 10 per cent leave after GCSEs. Twenty-three Oxbridge places in 2017, which places it high in the academic echelon. Fourteen off to study medicine, and one dentist. Other popular choices include Nottingham, King's College London, Warwick, Durham and Exeter.

Money matters

Bancroft’s has always sought to keep its fees low. There’s been a hike recently which has led to some mutterings, but the HM says ruefully, ‘It’s always a dilemma. We don’t want to change our identity, but we must be able to plan for the long term.’ He feels some of the building projects of earlier times could have been better conceived had there been less of the short-termism which customarily happens when budgets are too tight.

Fifteen Drapers' scholarships offered annually at 11+ worth a quarter to a half of fees. No means-testing - based solely on performance at entrance exams. Also music scholarships worth half or quarter fees plus free tuition in one instrument. Several Francis Bancroft scholarship awards - means-tested but with a generous financial threshold, worth up to full fees, based on a sliding scale dependent on family income. Bancroft’s Foundation set up in 2012 to mark 275th anniversary has already raised significant amounts to increase means-tested provision – enough to fund six Foundation scholars.

Our view

An outstanding school – bright children, dedicated staff, and one of the most remarkable heads we’ve met. Given all its strengths, it deserves to be much more widely celebrated, although a deep part of its charm (and virtue) is that boastfulness and self-advertisement is off-limits. ‘We can never repay what this school has done for our children,’ said one parent. We wanted to shout it out from the rafters – this place is superb.

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Special Education Needs

Bancroft's is a highly selective academic school, and those who wish to join the school need to pass the entrance exam. However those who have passed the exam may have special needs, and the school will do all it can to help those who have had specialist diagnoses. The school does not offer diagnosis itself, but all 1st years are screened on entry. Parents are advised if there seems to be cause for concern. The Head of Learning Support collates all advice that pupils have received, and ensures that all other members of staff are aware of individuals' requirements. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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