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A more positive, conscientious bunch of pupils you’ll be hard pushed to find. Best suited to independent learners, although have no fear if your offspring isn’t at that point quite yet – ‘they get them all self-reliant one way or another, they’re brilliant at it,’ said a parent. Those allergic to relentless testing will be pleased to hear the school has done some trimming back on this front, but you’ll want to be sure they can cope with the fast academic pace. ‘The music department is almost like a conservatoire,’ claimed a parent of a music scholar. ‘It has been transformative for my child – simply outstanding.’ The sheer…

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What the school says...

Academic results at all levels are impressive, but Chigwell places an emphasis on providing a rich and full education with opportunities in a whole variety of areas. There is widespread success in sport but drama, music and outdoor pursuits are also very strong with a very high degree of participation, not to mention the variety of clubs and societies. Chigwell has excellent facilities on an extensive site of 100 acres, dating back to 1629. The school provides a welcoming, friendly and caring community but despite the demand for places it retains its medium-sized feel so that pupils and their families are known well. ...Read more

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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

Headmaster

Since 2007, Michael Punt MA MSc PGCE (late 40s), a physicist. Previously deputy head (academic) at The Perse School, Cambridge. Grew up in nearby Brentwood, did his physics degree at Oxford and his masters at Imperial. ‘You know, Michael, there’s always teaching,’ his mother used to say, which of course meant he set out to do anything but and originally headed for the electronics materials industry. But the calling was too strong and when he finally did embark on a teaching career at St Dunstan’s College – later moving up to head of year and head of physics - he once again surprised himself ‘by falling for not just the teaching of my subject but the wider pastoral role.’

One of a rare breed of heads that made us a cuppa himself (the majority call on their minions), you feel this is a man who’ll take no persuading to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in whenever needed. ‘No airs and graces, no superiority,’ ‘Loads of gravitas but never in an “I’m better than you way,”’ ‘Tells you we’re all in it together and you believe him,’ say parents. ‘We loved him from the beginning,’ ‘He knows every family’ and ‘Our only worry is that he’ll ever leave,’ voiced others. Pupils agree that he’s a thoroughly decent, jolly nice chap that only the hard of heart could pick fault with – ‘In four years, I think I’ve only ever heard him properly tell one person off,’ ‘He knows all of us, not just our names but what makes us tick,’ they told us. Still teaches, as well as doing mock interviews, and clearly adores the school, practically skipping round the beautiful, sun-drenched grounds during our visit.

Lives on site with his wife Gill and their three sons, all of whom attend the school – a fact that many parents say ‘keeps him in tune with pupils.’ In his spare time, you’ll find him supporting school events, serving as a school governor elsewhere, being a school inspector, or cycling, walking or sailing with his family.

To be replaced by Damian King from September 2022.

Entrance

Half of the year 7 intake is made up of junior school pupils (the vast majority move up), with the other half from a wide variety of local prep and primaries. Around 400 apply for these 50-odd places (it used to be 40 but has slowly risen). Assessment by interview (separate ones for pupils and parents), along with tests in English and maths. Small number of vacancies at 13 (English, maths and a modern foreign language tests). At 16, those moving up within the school are joined by around 10 local entrants as well as around 14 overseas boarders. Entrants to the sixth form need 8s in the subjects they are studying at A level (occasionally 7s by discussion).

Exit

Up to 10 per cent leaves post GCSEs and vast majority of sixth formers head to university or music and other specialist colleges. UCL, Nottingham and Birmingham are currently top of the pops, with others heading off to eg LSE, King’s College London, Loughborough, York, Warwick, Manchester and Leeds. Popular degree subjects include economics, sciences, English and humanities. Odd ones into degree apprenticeships - we met a sixth former considering one who felt well supported in his choice. ‘While the majority will go to university, I want them all to consider the alternatives, which we don’t see as a soft option,’ says head. Usually a few to Oxbridge.

Latest results

In 2021, 90 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 73 per cent A*/A at A level. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 80 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 47 per cent A*/A at A level (88 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

A more positive, conscientious bunch of pupils you’ll be hard pushed to find, as we learned when we watched some of them going into an exam (flicking through text books outside the hall for that one last revision boost) and coming out again afterwards (‘What did you put for question 3?’ ‘I really hope I got it right,’ etc). The hard-working group of skilful, collegiate, and caring teachers (all of whom are also involved in extracurricular activity) are also clearly ahead of their game and widely appreciated. ‘I have never come across any that you’d think, “I hope we don’t get that one,” and many are exceptional,’ said a parent. Both factors contribute to the excellent results, which have risen steadily.

Best suited to independent learners, although have no fear if your offspring isn’t at that point quite yet – ‘they get them all self-reliant one way or another, they’re brilliant at it,’ said a parent. Those allergic to relentless testing will be pleased to hear the school has done some trimming back on this front, but you’ll want to be sure they can cope with the fast academic pace. ‘It’s quite stressful at times, I won’t lie. They’re under constant scrutiny, so it’s not for the faint hearted, but most are fine with it,’ a parent told us. Teachers, too, are under the microscope, with a coaching system helping to keep teaching standards high (eg around developing their questioning techniques, stretching the most able or use of debating in class). Lessons are interactive and busy, and pupils looked reassuringly captivated during our tour (some sixth formers were so glued to live election results as part of a politics lesson that they didn’t even notice us at all). Huge drive on reading, with all pupils having daily time put aside to get stuck into their latest book.

On entry, five classes of 22 maximum, sometimes just a few in a class by A level. Latin and French from year 7, and all try German and Spanish at that stage too. French, plus one of the other three, from year 9, with at least one picked for GCSE. Some take Greek alongside Latin, and Mandarin is available as extracurricular. Gentle setting in maths from year 7, and a little bit in languages from year 7, then English and sciences from year 10. ‘But setting is all quite light touch and even in English, it is not by performance but dynamic in the group,’ says head. Homework manageable.

All take 10+ GCSEs, including triple science, and the lack of option blocks keeps choices nice and wide. Computing is the latest offering at GCSE and psychology has recently been added at A level, with economics, maths, sciences, geography and English among the strongest performers at this upper stage. Drama and DT popular at both GCSE and A level, enforcing Chigwell’s reputation as a place for the all-rounder. Around a third do EPQ – Will robots take our jobs? To what extent are changes in the cerebellum responsible for autism? etc. In fact, independent research is a biggie here at all levels, with HPQ pushed at GCSE and the school is piloting something similar for years 7 and 8 ‘where younger children can follow their nose and dig deep into a topic.’ Other enrichment opportunities include essay competitions and Olympiads and there’s umpteen academic societies eg law, social sciences, medics etc. University preparation good, but there’s room for improvement with wider careers advice, report pupils (although school points to new careers advisor and programmes including Unifrog and careers testing for all). A few parent grumbles about the growing private tutor culture (not exclusive to this school, of course).

Learning support and SEN

Some mild dyslexia and processing skills and occasional cases of mild ASD, ADHD, but that’s about it. All pupils screened in years 7 and 12. Learning support, if needed, generally happens outside the classroom (no extra charge). School bases its offering on three tiers of support – those who check in for study skills support; more regular support eg weekly or more; and having a TA (though only one EHCP when we visited). ‘SENCo is actively involved, knows the children, listens to parents and gives just the right input,’ remarked a parent.

The arts and extracurricular

Head seemed concerned during our tour that the theatre in the eye-catching drama centre was looking a bit tired but we were having none of it – this large, professional space is enough to make a thespian of anyone; even we were tempted to leap dramatically onto the stage. No wonder local drama groups jump at the chance of borrowing it and that drama GCSE and A level are both popular. The foyer is big enough for pre-theatre drinks receptions and – when we visited – an improvisation drama class was taking place. ‘People come and watch anything and everything we do – it’s a very supportive environment,’ said a pupil. Related subject areas, such as theatre make-up and costume design, are also taken seriously, and the centre is used for public speaking, debating and LAMDA. But some parents feel there could be more drama overall - ‘There’s usually only one big show a year and that means there’s not room for everyone,’ said one (school insists there’s at least one and everyone can be part of them), while others would like to see more linking up with the music department (school says it was on the case, then COVID struck, so results yet to be seen).

‘The music department is almost like a conservatoire,’ claimed a parent of a music scholar. ‘It has been transformative for my child – simply outstanding.’ The sheer number of music groups meant we couldn’t scribble them down fast enough in our notebooks, with all musical tastes catered for, from swing bands to string bands, as well as rock and pop. The chapel choir, an elite choir for 40-odd students, performs regularly at the likes of St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral. But it’s inclusive too - ‘It doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re encouraged to have a go,’ grinned a pupil, with a particularly big push on years 7 and 8 ‘who don’t think they’re any good at music’ to get involved. A joy for us was seeing the practice rooms in full use during break time.

Spacious art, DT and graphics (which is also available as a standalone subject at GCSE) studios. We watched year 12s in their German expressionism class, while younger pupils were itching to show us their colourful 3D pencil holders. The roomy central exhibition space housed everything from junior robots project to A level fine art pieces during our visit. Political views, mental health, physics concepts – you name it, you’ll find it all spilling over into art. Good to see some risk taking, not just polished pieces - ‘Art is such a great way to embrace uncertainty and find a new way through, an alternative kind of problem solving,’ as the art teacher himself pointed out.

School rarely closes before 6pm, thanks to a full programme of extracurricular activities, from DofE (including gold, carried out in the wilds of Scotland) and scouts to the inspiring and thought-provoking talks on everything from evolution to restorative justice for schools. A seemingly infinite amount of trips, including French and Spanish homestays, hockey tour to South Africa, scout trip to Switzerland, annual ski trip to France, along with smaller-scale trips including activity weekends in the likes of Wales and the Lake District, as well as to their partner school in India.

Sport

Is it a sporty school? We were met with a pregnant pause when we posed this question to pupils. There’s no shortage of it, they all agreed, and school punches above its weight in competitions, regularly getting through to regional and even national finals especially for football and hockey – but it’s more about mass participation than fighting tooth and nail to be seen as the best of the best in everything. Core boys' sports include football (first term), hockey (second term) and cricket (third term). For girls, it’s hockey (first term), netball (second term) and football (third term). Athletics is big and there’s also golf (played at nearby club), swimming, basketball and badminton, among others. Outdoor facilities are vast, with 100 acres of playing fields, including Astroturf, plus new sports hall but parents have been hankering after an indoor pool for years (to be addressed, says school). Pupils are also coached out to Redbridge and Nuffield sports centres. A couple of parents felt girls’ sport takes second fiddle, but school says senior girls’ teams are growing year on year.

Boarders

Sixth form only boarders live across four boarding houses, two on the school site and two just over the road. Inviting and homely, though fairly no-frills. All adds to the family feel of the school. Mostly international students, from around 16 countries, mainly central and Eastern Europe and China (no two boarders who share a language share a room). House parents reported by boarders to be ‘lovely’ – they tend to stay years and their children, if they have them, get involved. Curfews are 10.30pm on weekdays; 11.30pm at weekends. Evenings and weekends are spent doing all the usual – cinema trips, London shopping etc, although you’ll just as often find these pupils studying. ‘Quite a self motivated bunch,’ reports head. A boarder told us, ‘There’s no them and us culture – everyone is really welcoming.’

Ethos and heritage

This leafy 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 (common practice), but the school still wins people over with its ability to develop not just academic success, but confident, well-rounded people, as well as having a ‘more local, family feel’.

The school started life 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, which is located on the approach road to the historic high street, forms the centrepiece to this pretty village of neat buildings, punctuated by gardens, blooms and trees. The surrounding playing fields stretch towards Epping Forest and give a rural aspect to the school and some lovely views from the windows of the attractive, low-rise teaching blocks. Buildings all kept up to date, with sixth form centre, floodlit 3G football pitch and dining hall extension the latest additions. The 1920s chapel was built in tribute to fallen alumni and is a mainstay of life here. Beautiful library, the original school, was full of silent readers when we visited – and we love the old school tradition of leaving prefects being able to carve their initials in the wall next door.

No need for intrusive bells to mark the change of lessons, with pupils making their way around the school in an ordered fashion. Uniform is smart and sober – kilts (none rolled up, we noticed) or plain trousers with a navy blazer (soon to show off new school crest), though sixth formers wear office attire. Food is plentiful and, agree all, excellent – our roast beef lunch was pub standard. Whole families are invited to have breakfast whenever they want – a nice touch. Communications from school to parents could be improved, say parents – ‘too much reliance on parent WhatsApp groups,’ remarked one.

Distinguished alumni include William Penn, Sir Arthur Grimble, Sir Austin Bradford Hill, Sir Richard Dales, Col Bob Stewart and Sir Bernard Williams.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

All praise to the transition from junior to senior school, according to parents – ‘couldn’t be more seamless,’ said one. No doubt helped by years 7 and 8 almost acting as a middle school/halfway house, still falling pastorally under the junior staff that know them so well. Pastorally strong for older years too, with one pupil pulling us aside to tell us about a personal tragedy that ‘the school could not have been more brilliant about’ – we were almost moved to tears. Not a school to bury its head in the sand around mental health issues, with head chatting openly about self-harm and eating disorders - discussions with students around drugs could be more nuanced, thought student.

Little poor behaviour to speak of but head reassuringly unfazed by any youngsters that do push boundaries – all par for the course, as far as he’s concerned. As such, school plays the long game with regards to discipline, with a highly structured but light touch approach that gets vast majority through unscarred. Where there are more serious sanctions (Saturday detentions and internal exclusions), it’s usually because of repeat low level stuff eg homework failure, persistent talking in class etc rather than one major scandal. No permanent exclusions in recent years. School on the ball when it comes to bullying – tries hard to track it, ensures pupils are good at coming forward etc.

All the diversity groups you’d hope for – Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ etc, with pupils reporting that it would be ‘a non-issue if someone came out as gay’ and parents of children from ethnic diversities telling us their kids have ‘never felt uncomfortable in any way’.

Pupils and parents

Around a third are British Asian – the younger classes the most ethnically diverse. Expect to see your fair share of Porsches and Range Rovers in the car park as parents are mostly an affluent bunch, although change is afoot here too and we were impressed with the school’s commitment to less well-off families – there’s a broader intake than you might think, with some families who would be on pupil premium in the state sector, including many single parent families. Most live within a five-mile radius, although there’s a growth in the number coming in from East London, with six school bus routes. Lots of socialising – breakfast get-togethers and afternoon teas etc, as well as the programme of social events put on by the Friends of Chigwell PA – one parent warned that you have to ‘get past the cliques.’

So what’s a Chigwell child? School claims it’s a youngster who works hard, is a decent individual and takes advantage of all the opportunities on offer. And to be fair, that’s exactly what we encountered. If your child is the type to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll have a go at that, why not?’ they’ll probably fit right in. We weren’t in the least surprised to hear a local GP report that, ‘You always know a Chigwell child because they’re polite, pleasant and have a certain quiet confidence.’

Money matters

We’ve lost count of the number of heads that wax lyrical about wanting to create more bursaries to level the playing field, only for us to revisit a few years later and find nothing has really changed. Not so here, with almost one in 10 children now on a means-tested bursary and half of those on full bursaries and best of all, you’d never know – everyone mingles, everyone is seen as equal. Academic scholarships available at 11 and 13 years; scholarships for art, drama and music offered at 16.

The last word

Anyone who spends time in this school couldn’t fail to pick up on the academic rigour, family feel and have-a-go ethos. Possibly wasted on bookworms who rarely look up from the page or tunnel-visioned sporty types (although they do have both), but for those who want to take advantage of the widest possible education, it’s a clear winner.

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

Despite being a selective setting, at Chigwell, we aim to support pupils with various Special Educational Needs or Disabilities through an inclusive approach that is individualised to each pupil. We have a strong Learning Support Department whose aim is to assist pupils who need additional support and ensure they are able to reach their full potential. All pupils are assessed on entry to the school as a means of identifying any specific learning difficulties. This process continues throughout a pupils time at Chigwell with regular internal screening tests. We offer a range of supports to pupils both within the classroom and on a one to one basis that are regularly reviewed with staff, parents and the pupil.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
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 Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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