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Teachers cajole and bolster rather than drill and it’s one of the things the parents like the most about the school, reporting that work is taken seriously and pupils strive for success but ‘thankfully without being results driven’. Music is a serious business, with annual house music reportedly louder than a football match – ‘it doesn’t finish until after 10pm, so loads of people stay over that night, it’s awesome,’ said a student. Décor-wise, we found the boarding houses more YHA than Premier Inn (disappointingly, not even a poster or any other evidence of personalisation in the dorms we saw) but school has plans to...

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What the school says...

We are a school that inspires Achievement with Values, Character and Community. Our vibrant learning community empowers each student to achieve excellent outcomes. Ours is an education for succeeding in life, as well as in academic assessments. Set in a delightful park in Reading, just outside London, our students have an enriching environment in which to learn, reflect and grow.

The success of our approach is demonstrated by UK Government 16-18 league tables, which place the school in the top 100 in England for the academic progress made by our students. Despite being among the top performing schools in the country we are no results factory. We believe a school must be judged by the full range and depth of achievements of its students, and at Leighton Park we develop young people who understand, cherish, and make a difference to the world which they inherit.

Leighton Park is particularly known for Creative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths), with a particular emphasis on creative problem solving and interdisciplinary approaches. The School is a Lead School for the National Centre of Computing Education. Our iSTEM+ programme has won several awards, including:
Winner for Secondary Schools - national Community STEM Awards
Winner - Business Education IT Facility Award
Winner - Ripple Effect Prize for use of innovative learning technology
Finalist - Education Business STEM Innovation Award
Finalist - Independent Schools Association, Innovation in STEM Award

Music is another particular strength of the School with a brand new Music and Media Centre opening early in 2019. Our Music department is accredited as a Flagship Music Education Partner, the only school in Europe to hold this prestigious status, with 50% of students studying an instrument and 27 music teachers on staff.

With Quaker values at the centre of all that we do, our emphasis is on our students loving their learning, encouraging them to try a huge range of new experiences and developing their greatest talents. You will be struck on visiting us by the warmth of relationships that characterise the school, the wealth of opportunities for personal development, and the sense of calm and purpose in which that development takes place.
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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Other features

Music and dance scheme - government funding and grants available to help with fees at selected independent music and dance schools.

Sports

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Rowing

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2018, Matthew Judd (40s). Cheerful and, judging from his almost scarily ordered office (even the pencils in the pot are equally spaced apart), ultra-organised. Grew up in Crawley and was the first person in his family to go to university (geography at University of Wales followed by teaching qualification from Cambridge), having attended the local comp in the shadow of Gatwick airport: ‘If you were a boy, you went into baggage handling; if you were a girl, you went into duty free.’ Started his career at Haberdashers' Aske's boys in 1993, moved in 2005 to be principal at MPW college in London before rejoining Habs five years later as second master and executive head of its prep. Also an ISI inspector and it was this role that brought him here: ‘Every school I inspect claims it’s unique but I could see this one really was – it was a compelling calling.’

Matthew’s (everyone is on first name terms at Leighton Park) office provides other clues about his philosophies. Interior designed down to every last inch, with a magnificent vista even on the bleak winter day we visited, he explains that it looked very different before his arrival – a nod to his firm belief (which he put in action back at Habs prep) that building design can add real value within schools. ‘I don’t just mean a lick of paint, but beautifully designed spaces where you can be creative and nooks that double up as opportunities for interaction.’ Latest examples for students range from a new Quaker (more of which later) room with comfy low stools and wellbeing-focused colouring books through to stunning new music and media building.

Describes Leighton as ‘a school with a soul’, although thus far nobody seems to have got much of a window into his. Pupils say he’s ‘nice’ and ‘friendly’, but none of them or the parents we spoke to seemed to have any real sense of him as a person (although this is not not unusual among students in senior schools): ‘I just don’t know him,’ ‘I haven’t had a lot to do with him’ etc. Reportedly clamped down on discipline (‘it’s stricter’), upped the ante academically (‘it had slipped a bit’) and transformed boarding (‘now all single-sex’). Majority of parents are on board, although a couple we spoke to fear it’s a ploy to attract more traditionalists, ‘which misses the point of the ethos of the school’. ‘Take the logo change,’ said one, ‘it used to be an oak leaf, simple and understated like Quakers themselves, but now he’s put a shield around it which really isn’t us at all.’ Almost universally unpopular are his structural changes to the day – ‘One of the best things about this school was the emphasis on social time and the new timetable takes most of it away,’ said a student.

Lives on site with his partner Ian and is often seen on his old-school (complete with basket) bicycle around the grounds. A keen musician, he also enjoys travel and fitness.

Academic matters

Push without the shove. Teachers cajole and bolster rather than drill and it’s one of the things the parents like the most about the school, reporting that work is taken seriously and pupils strive for success but ‘thankfully without being results driven’.

In 2019, 55 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE, with maths, science and creative subjects the current stars of the show. In sixth form, three-quarters of students take A levels (usually three plus EPQ), with 31 per cent A*/A and 56 per cent A*-B. The remainder do the IB, with overall average of 35. Despite relatively low take-up, there is an impressive commitment to the IB because ‘its values are so much those of the school’. Useful cross-fertilisation – IB and A level languages often taught together in year 12. Top three per cent in England for added-value.

Maximum class sizes 22 in the lower years (top set maths only) and by sixth form some have only one or two students. Setting in maths from year 7. Spanish and Mandarin from year 7, with the potential to swap the latter for French or German in year 8 and all take at least one language at GCSE, ‘except for those who will clearly struggle’. GCSE offerings include dance, engineering and food tech (lemon meringue pies in full swing when we visited). Plus, most recently, a compulsory GCSE in global perspectives – ‘these students are going to be the change makers, they need to know what the world will look like,’ says head. As at many schools, maths A level is having its moment in the sun; humanities also popular. Strongest results in science and maths. Latest A level offering is business studies – hasn’t cannibalised economics, reports school. BTec in creative digital media available in years 10/11, as is music tech in the sixth form.
EAL classes for small number of students who need them, with preparation for FCE and IELTS exams available. School has strong reputation for supporting additional educational needs at the mild to moderate end, with overwhelming acclaim for the individual learning centre (‘they’re so helpful,’ they always reply to emails straightaway,’ ‘they sort exam arrangements’ etc). Perhaps surprising then, to find only 15 per cent on the SEND register when we visited. No EHCPs.
Parents say the teaching is ‘excellent’ and ‘child focused’, but not without exception – ‘the languages department is on the weaker side,’ reckoned one. All hail the annual parents’ evening, ‘where you realise how well they know your child’. Pupils like calling teachers by first names (‘makes them far more approachable’). Lessons we observed were meticulously prepared and engaging – we sat with year 8s working out the best way to start a book (English), year 10s learning about the coffee trade in Ethiopia (geography) and sixth formers being quizzed on social influence (psychology), among others. Very much a school for joiners-in and those prepared to question.

Games, options, the arts

Music is a serious business, with annual house music reportedly louder than a football match – ‘it doesn’t finish until after 10pm, so loads of people stay over that night, it’s awesome,’ said a student. Head of music considered a ‘legend’. Around 180 learn an instrument in school, many beyond grade 8. ‘Concerts are astounding,’ said a parent. New all-singing, all-dancing music and media centre has led to increased connectivity with media – Pinewood and Disney, both with large local presence, taken full advantage of. OL David Lean was a huge champion of the school.

Rather less dazzling is the jaded-looking art block, but the three studios are spacious and well equipped, and most importantly it’s a real hub of talent, which more than one student told us is their favourite hang-out area. Students told us they develop a real sense of self through their art, and have a good time doing it. We noticed they took time to appreciate each other’s work – hard not to, particularly the installations (with our tour guides we lingered for some time around a piano, every inch imaginatively decorated with music, quotes and photos). DT provision enhanced by laser cutter, CNC router and 3D printer in one of the largest DT rooms we’ve seen. ‘The best year 7 project is when you get to make and design your own chocolate bar with branding,’ a student told us.
Musicals are the centrepiece of the drama department (they were practising for Chicago when we visited – ‘you have to see it, it will be amazing,’ enthused one student). But there’s serious acting too, now with the opportunity to perform in the round in the school hall.

Sport is about the taking part. Even those that enter the school feeling lukewarm about PE wind up wanting a slice of the action – who wouldn’t on this large and beautiful site, with fields, pitches, courts and tracks which positively set your muscles aquiver? Not to mention the indoor pool. The week before we visited, the rugby coach replaced a strong player with a weaker one to make it more even against the opposition – this pretty much sums up their inclusive approach that may, as one parent put it, ‘not appeal to traditional parents wanting their sons to play rugby with the best of the best’. That said, school recently joined ISA to get more competitive fixtures. At the elite end, one recent leaver got a professional rugby contract, others have rowed and kayaked for Team GB. Sports hall, a rather meagre old gym, considered something of an embarrassment by students.

Big range of clubs and activities and masses of space for them all. Young Enterprise, DofE, trips of all kinds but no CCF, of course.

Boarders

Boarders make up 30 per cent of the school community; of those, 70 per cent are full boarders, the rest weekly/flexi. As with many schools, biggest growth area is weekly boarders from London, but with two-thirds of boarders present at weekends, there is a lot going on – from abseiling to shopping visits to Bicester village.

It’s been all change (not altogether popular) when it comes to gender, with the school recently moving the three co-ed boarding houses to three single–sex – two for boys and one for girls. But with day boarders (as the day students are known here because they can stay until 7pm or even 9pm) each allocated to one of these three houses regardless of their gender, the school argues there is still an overall co-ed feel in the downstairs common areas (only upstairs, where boarders go, is single sex). For day students in the younger years (7 and 8), there remains a co-ed house.

Décor-wise, we found the houses more YHA than Premier Inn (disappointingly, not even a poster or any other evidence of personalisation in the dorms we saw) but school has plans to invest £2m into boarding in the next two years. Rooms are spacious enough, even the dorms of four, and all houses have ample facilities – sofas, tellies, table games etc. No singles except for sixth formers, and none with en-suites.
Many staff live on site and have boarding duties, the head's modest house is also on site – adds to the sense of community. ‘They are all extremely hands-on and so kind with the kids that my daughter very quickly felt totally at home,’ said one parent, ‘so although they’re not very new or amazing rooms, who cares? I’m just happy they’re so nurturing.’

Background and atmosphere

The spacious green site has generous planting and low-rise buildings; even better, most of it is pedestrianised, with no vehicles to interrupt the soothing sounds of nature. A sense of calm pervades the place – your shoulders drop as you step out of your car and breathe out. Hundreds of mature trees, several garden areas and a large reedy pond – all give the impression of being much more rural than it really is.

The campus is made up of buildings of all eras, little of astounding architectural merit though the aforementioned music and media building is a spectacular addition and cleverly designed to provide floor-to-ceiling views of the green spaces from the rehearsal and performance rooms. There’s also a fully equipped media suite, hi-tech recording studio and main hall. Oakview, though now a little dated, also provides glorious views – this time from the canteen, which serves fresh and varied food (turkey fricassee, followed by home-made granola and yoghurt for us – yum). Everything is so well ordered here – no mess, no peeling paint, no stained carpets and no litter. Someone must be a big fan of straight lines – display boards are hyper-neat, without a rounded edge or sloped piece of paper in sight. Science labs on the retro side but it doesn’t seem to put students off. Lovely library spread across the upper floor of the main house.

The main building, an elegant 1850s white house, was bought by an earlier incarnation of the school in the 1880s and more land was donated by the Reckitt family – the aim being to educate Quaker children for Oxbridge. Although only half the remaining governors are Quakers, and none of the staff or student body, the school continues to live by and exude its gentle, civilised and socially responsible values. No parent we spoke to claimed to choose the school on this basis – ‘I didn’t know anything about Quakers, really,’ was a common refrain – but few families leave taking nothing from it and many consider it a guide for a healthy life. ‘I really like it because it’s based around common decency and finding the good in other people,’ said one student; ‘Respect and equality are at the heart of it – it can be no coincidence that we hardly have any bullying here,’ said another (head claims, bravely, that there’s none). Many like the mindfulness aspect (‘I often say the Quakers invented mindfulness,’ claims the head), especially the silence (weekly assembly, called collect, ends with 10 minutes of silence and there’s a weekly meeting for worship). During lunch, anyone can ring a bell to bring about a silent moment of pause, reflection and gratitude; equally, anyone can ring it to break the silence. Students say Quakerism is never pushed and is more of a ‘calm wisdom that seeps into your consciousness’. The Peace Pole, a handsome carved wooden column visible from most parts of the school, enshrines these Quaker principles, as do the many examples of pupil creativity – benches etc carved from fallen trees on the site and a daily quote on the blackboard outside the canteen: ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted’ (Aesop), when we visited.

While Leighton Park is certainly a different kind of school, it is not 'alternative'. Head is keen to make the distinction: ‘It would be easy to confuse the free thinking for free behaviour. It’s actually a very disciplined school where we focus on achievement but with values, character and community.’

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Discipline historically light touch, but a growing undercurrent of low-level disruption and sometimes worse (there were a number of exclusions for drugs the year before our visit) has led head to take a firmer line. But while ‘no student will tell you they want their school to be more strict’ (as one pointed out), this student body is surprisingly on board: ‘To be honest, sanctions weren’t very consistent before with some students getting multiple warnings and others getting only one or two, so it’s a lot fairer now,’ explained one. If your offspring have had mishaps elsewhere, fear not, the school still seems to be able to turn most into model citizens and welcomes deserving second-chancers. More rules than you might expect – no eating while walking around, no use of mobiles during the school day – but all designed to consider others and to maintain the peace.

Pupils and parents

Not a school where you’ll be fighting off the Land Rovers and Q8s. Of course, some families are minted, but most work hard to send their children here – more dual-income than ever. Internationally eclectic – some 72 per cent are UK nationals (most local or local-ish), the rest encompassing 36 nationalities at the time of our visit – largest number from China, then Germany; school’s current push is for more Latin American students. ‘Lovely for my daughter to have friends from so many corners of the world,’ raved a parent. The first groups of students we met seemed solemn and untalkative – where is their zest for life and sense of fun, we wondered. But a later bunch cracked more smiles, and we even got them chuckling at our jokes (not everyone does). Some parents think school communications could be improved, ‘you get a lot of half-baked messages,’ said one; school says it's introducing a new comms tool soon.
Old Leightonians include Sir David Lean, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Jim Broadbent, Laura Marling, Eliza Bennett, Michael Foot, Lord Caradon, Lord Frederick Seebohm and a fair clutch of MPs plus Rowntrees, Cadburys, Clarks, Reckitts, Morlands and Frys.

Entrance

Online entrance tests in English comprehension and maths, plus creative writing exercise and interview in the January preceding entry for years 7-10. At 11+, 130 apply for 48 places; at 13+, 35 apply for 15-20 places (although remember this is not first choice for all these families). At sixth form, around 20-30 places become available, with around four applicants for each. Entry criterion is five GCSEs at grade 6 or above, although some subjects require higher grades eg for maths, you’ll need grade 7. Plus interview. Year 11 is a 'pre-sixth' year for overseas students. Second-language speakers sit an EAL test. ‘Parents often want to come back several times – on their own, with the child, then a taster day etc, and we’re fine with that,’ says school.

Exit

A diminishing number leave after GCSEs (currently around a quarter), many lured by vocational courses at local colleges. Russell group accounts for just under half of university destinations. UCL, Manchester, Southampton, Warwick and Bristol all popular. A whopping eighty per cent off to study STEAM related degrees. One medic and one off overseas (Maastricht University for biotechnology) in 2019. School told us it’s appointed a head of careers but bizarrely, we were met with confused looks, even from sixth formers, when we asked about careers advice – turning to each other blankly, one eventually voiced, ‘I guess we must have a careers advisor, but I’ve no idea who it is.’

Money matters

Decent amount of money available for bursaries. Emphasis on enabling those who otherwise couldn’t afford the fees, with most recipients on awards of 50 per cent or more and robust mean-testing and assessment of income/commitments/assets etc. Usually around six on 100 per cent bursaries at any one time, plus a few on 80 per cent. Scholarships mostly worth 10 per cent. Head has brought in new exhibition scholarships with £500 awards.

Our view

Uniquely straddles free thinking with more conventional parameters. Not for hustlers, bustlers and takers but great for thinkers, makers, givers, be-ers.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Leighton Park School currently offers specialist support for a number of students in the Individual Learning Centre. This is provided by six well-qualified teachers, who give one-to-one help on a regular basis. Students receive support from the Centre for a range of learning challenges and difficulties, individually arranged, and in close co-operation with their subject teachers. All students are screened on entry to the school, to determine whether additional support is appropriate. Study skills, including identifying the individual learning style, revision, organisation and mind-mapping are examples of different strategies used to help with students’ learning. At Leighton Park, everyone understands that students will have distinctive learning styles: the community recognises how important it is that all students should feel fully part of school life, with their needs openly understood and supported. Students often drop in to the Centre for a chat, or for additional pastoral or academic support. ILC pupils regularly achieve outstandingly successful results in public examinations, and of course play a full part in the rich variety of school life outside the classroom.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic Y
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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