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Traditional, yet progressive, it feeds off its history but is not hidebound by it. Teachers – all of whom are involved in pastoral care and who really get to know the children – are known for being a thoroughly committed bunch, with a positive and engaged staff common room. Overall impression of being a happy, happening place with parents content to be swept along for the ride. ‘I’d be amazed if you found a Felstedian that wakes up and think, “I don’t want to go to school today",’ said…

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What the school says...

Felsted School is an ideal size to ensure sensitive attention is paid to the needs of each individual child whilst still offering a broad curriculum and a fantastic range of facilities. Felstedians work hard to gain academic success and to become skilful in a wide range of extra-curricular pursuits. A Felsted education will also provide its pupils with the attributes needed for adult life. The virtues of tolerance and kindness and the ability to work hard and to contribute positively to society will be cultivated here as will self-confidence and intellectual curiosity. We want all pupils to achieve their individual best, both during their time at Felsted and in their adult lives. Felsted offers the International Baccalaureate in addition to A Levels and has recently opened a new state-of-the-art Music School.

Felsted has been a Global Member of the Round Square Organisation since 2010.

Felsted celebrated 450 years of outstanding education in 2014, one of only a handful of schools to reach this significant milestone. Indeed, so significant that Her Majesty The Queen and HRH Prince Phillip joined the School for lunch and a special Anniversary Assembly to celebrate. All pupils also attended a special service at St.Paul's Cathedral in May, via a specially chartered train called The Felsted Flyer and enjoyed an historical pageant and family day for all the community, past and present, in May.
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What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking History of Art at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)

Curricula

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

School associations

Round Square - a network of 40 schools worldwide that share ideals such as internationalism, adventure and service.

Sports

Polo

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

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Chris Townsend BA PGCE (40s), previously deputy head. Classics degree from Oxford, where he was an exhibitioner and won three cricket blues. First teaching post at alma mater Dean Close, then housemaster and head of boarding at Stowe, then to Felsted in 2010 as deputy head.

Students and parents alike revel in recounting the story of the moment his appointment as head was announced. ‘The whole school – including staff and pupils – erupted into applause, which lasted for about 10 minutes!’ we were told, with all parents, staff and pupils we spoke to enthusing about how ‘excellent,’ ‘inspirational’ and ‘nurturing’ he is. Teaches when he can (Greek and Latin), plays piano at school concerts, referees some of the rugby, as well as doing the corridor rounds and attending some school trips, including one to Uganda and Malawi in the summer holidays. But despite his larger-than-life reputation, he is not extrovert, loud, opinionated or loquacious; instead, he is mild-mannered, quiet and unassuming – just the kind of chap you’d feel safe leaving shy, petrified little Johnny with on first day of boarding school. Not that he’s afraid to discipline, as any student will confirm.

He couldn’t live closer if he tried, with a door behind his office desk leading straight to home, where he resides with his wife Melanie (assistant head at another local school), their two children (both at Felsted) and a red setter.

Academic matters

Not overly selective, but each year a solid cohort achieves top grades across the board in both GCSEs and A levels: 48 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE and 65 per cent A*-B at A level in 2018. The broad ability range is big pull to many parents, including one who told us, ‘My son got into a top grammar school, but I didn’t want him in a highly pressurised, “work-work-work” environment – Felsted still gets good results, but it’s more fun, offers a more holistic education and has a mix of people that better reflects real life.’

At GCSE, the strongest subjects are maths, English, sciences, RE and languages, with other popular options including geography and history. There’s also a good creative uptake, with decent numbers of students and grades in DT, music and drama. At A level, students do particularly well in psychology, geography, RE and history – and, increasingly, maths and science. Other popular options include business studies and economics. ‘This part of the world is known for its entrepreneurial buzz,’ points out the head. More generally, the school has a reputation of bringing out the best in all and IB is taking off even among quite conservative local families - currently about a third of the sixth form opts for it: 35 average point score in 2018.

Year 9s all learn Spanish (the core language here), plus French, German or Latin, then in year 10 they can take up to three languages, with other options including Italian. Other languages also on offer as part of the IB, where they can be self-taught, with past students having done just that with Japanese, Russian and Mandarin. Parents praise the ‘native speaking language teachers and high number of classroom assistants to make sure everyone stays on track.’

Setting (up to six sets per year) in maths, English, sciences and languages and class sizes are kept small, between 15-20 up to GCSE, and often considerably smaller in sixth form. Staff development encouraged, with both peers and pupils invited to provide feedback on selected lessons and suggest what constitutes good or outstanding teaching – all part of the collaborative ethos of the school. Projects with other schools also exist, with a view to sharing best practice. Teachers – all of whom are involved in pastoral care and who really get to know the children – are known for being a thoroughly committed bunch, with a positive and engaged staff common room.

Homework isn’t for the faint-hearted, although for the younger ones, homework sessions are built into the school day – a welcome relief, say parents, given that the school day lasts from 8.15am to 6pm and there’s also Saturday school. IT is embedded into learning, with pupils encouraged to use Chromebooks, Google Classroom and even smartphones in some lessons (more of which, later).

SEN pupils, of whom there are many (albeit at the mild to moderate end – mainly dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autistic spectrum), have personalised support from the learning department, which has no stigma attached, not least because it’s open to everyone, offering everything from intensive one-to-one tuition to drop-in sessions to help with prep. ‘Why wouldn’t you want extra support to help you do your best?’ one student asked, rhetorically. ‘My son has dyslexia and he wound up with As and A*s, thanks to the personalised support he got behind the scenes,’ said one parent. EAL teachers also on hand, also in a specialist department.

Games, options, the arts

Traditionally sporty, with the school producing some outstanding cricketers and Olympic athletes, and there were three boys signed to professional rugby teams when we visited. In fact, hockey, rugby, netball and cricket (including for girls, now that it’s replaced rounders) are all strong, with regular success at regional and national championships. Partnerships with professional clubs such as Saracens Rugby, Essex Cricket and Blue Hornets Hockey. But fear not if your child doesn’t make the teams as the emphasis is very much on participation. Lots of other alternatives to keep you fit and occupied, including swimming, badminton, squash, show jumping, water polo and tennis, to name a few. Games fields and facilities stretch as far as the eye can see across the school’s 80 acres and include 12 pitches, nine cricket squares, two floodlit AstroTurf fields, 10 hard courts, squash courts, gym, weight training – and the rather less impressive and tired-looking sports hall and indoor swimming pool, the latter of which was mentioned by almost every parent we spoke to as the ‘main downside of the school.’

Pupils are all expected to have a crack at music, in one form or another – and few complain, with lots of pride around the many choirs (including the elite chapel choir that sings at main services) and orchestras. The House Shout singing competition is a favourite event, and all students sing in chapel. Quite a few learn an instrument via a peripatetic teacher and there’s an emphasis on percussion, including marimba players (a marimba was donated to the school by Dame Evelyn Glennie, who performed here). Regular opportunities for overseas tours – the choir was going to Italy at Easter during the academic year we visited.

Everyone does drama in year 9, then it’s an option – but a popular one, with a few students going onto study it at university. Easily the best school play posters we’ve ever seen displayed on the walls – including Jesus Christ Superstar (which around 120 pupils took part in) and Joseph. Parents rave about the quality. Every two years, the school takes a production to America, including a past performance in a maximum security women’s prison.

The art school, which is based in the old school laundry, is fabulously quirky and practical, with plenty of great facilities (although no dark room, we noticed) and an authentic feel. Extracurricular possibilities are plentiful, including weekly life drawing sessions. Evidence of some serious talent.

Foreign exchanges to a wealth of countries and residentials to practically everywhere you can think of. Biologists and geographers go to Bali; tennis players to Portugal; business studies students to New York; other sports tours to Australia etc etc. Back in the UK, geography field trip to rather less glamorous Swanage and plenty of cultural trips to the likes of Cambridge and London. Charity volunteers to Uganda, their partner school in Ethiopia and a former pupil’s Magic Bus, which supports children in the slums of Mumbai – and there are links with Royal Docks Community School in the East End, which pupils regularly visit.

You won’t find many schools with a longer list of extracurricular options – we felt exhausted just looking at the 50+ options including academic society, charity projects, amateur radio club, astronomy club, beekeeping, bridge, Greek club, life skills, Model United Nations, science film club. Huge take up of D of E – at the last count no fewer than 12 gold awards in the upper sixth – and 237 enrolled in CCF. Very much accords with Round Square school promoting IDEALS – internationalism, democracy, care for the environment, adventurous pursuits, leadership and service. Felsted has been a global member since 2010.

Boarders

Some 80 per cent board - full-time (mostly international and expat families, with a sprinkling in the UK), weekly (usually, when both parents work) or three-nights-a-week (mainly local families). ‘We live in the village, but I asked my mum and dad if I could board as you get the best of both worlds,’ one student told us. ‘There’s always a waiting list - the boarders are really happy,’ said a parent.

Two day and eight boarding houses, five for boys and five for girls - plus co-ed boarding in the prep school from 9 years upwards. Separate upper sixth form boarding houses. Here, students get their own room and more freedoms - seen as good preparation for university. Each house has its own unique feel and ranges from being in the main building of the old school (traditional rooms – almost an Oxbridge feel) to the brand new, open-plan girls’ boarding house. Ongoing investment means that a seven-figure sum was also about to be spent on upgrading one of the boys’ houses when we visited. Dorms range from singles up to eight beds. ‘They’re pretty strict on tidiness, but it’s more a case of matron having a quiet word, rather than draconian room inspections,’ a student told us.

While the boarding timetable is highly structured (in evenings, it’s supper in main school, back to your house for prep, then quiet time, while weekends have a full activity programme, with chapel on Sundays), there’s also ‘lots of chances to catch your breath,’ as the head puts it. Boarders particularly like the independence – for example, being able to walk to the local shop or getting a Chinese take-away from the village – which is well balanced by the feeling that this is a really supportive environment, with many of the houseparents having young families. There are no restrictions on parental visits and robust measures in place to help new and international students settle in.

Background and atmosphere

Traditional, yet progressive, it feeds off its history but is not hidebound by it. Founded in 1564 by Richard, Lord Riche, Lord Chancellor of England, the school's original Guild Hall is still in use with other, later, attractive grade I and II listed buildings scattered throughout the village, interspersed with well-tended lawns and sports fields and cut through by the quiet Dunmow to Braintree road. Most recent additions include the music school, the Bathurst gardens for socialising and outdoor performances and the sixth form centre - a great space to hang out, play pool or enjoy regular social events where the odd glass of wine is permitted. Pupils particularly like the coffee shop – open to all in recreational times, although only sixth formers are allowed to work in there.

Some areas could do with an upgrade, notably the swimming pool and sports hall – and we’d hoped for more of a wow factor in the library. ‘My husband went to Felsted and much of it doesn’t feel look like it’s changed from 30 years ago – but then again, it’s not the facilities that make a great school,’ said one parent. Food is good, with unlimited helpings. As a C of E school, the chapel is at its heart and Felsted is one of only two remaining independent schools to have its own mission church in the East End of London, with links to the church and the young people in the surrounding area.

Overall impression of being a happy, happening place with parents content to be swept along for the ride. ‘I’d be amazed if you found a Felstedian that wakes up and think, “I don’t want to go to school today",’ said one student.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

This is a school with big expectations around behaviour and uniform, which seem to be unanimously welcomed by parents and local businesses – and even the children agree it’s ‘all pretty fair.’ ‘You’re as likely to get rewarded for good behaviour as you are punished for misdemeanours,’ one told us, explaining the school’s card system, which involves each pupil carrying two small cards in their pocket – one for good deeds to be instantly recorded by teachers (‘If we carry books for a teacher, for example’) and one for transgressions (‘If our uniform is really scruffy or we talk in class, for instance’). A full ‘good’ card gets you housepoints, while a full ‘bad’ one lands you in detention. Around a dozen temporary exclusions in the year we visited, mainly for serious bad language, bullying and alcohol abuse.

Lenient with mobiles phones. ‘They are part of modern living. So there seems nothing to be gained by denying their existence, and much more to be gained by embracing them and it’s for this reason that we sometimes ask students who have one to produce them during a lesson and use them to assist with learning,’ one teacher told us.

Pastoral care highly praised and attributed to a range of factors, including an atmosphere of openness and purpose; the house system that ‘means everyone is close – and not just with people in their year,’ said a student; peer counselling; and prefects being trained in child protection. Bullying minimal, doubtless for all the same reasons – and when it happens, it’s dealt with swiftly on both sides. A life coach and a counsellor are on hand, and there's a new well-being centre 'at the heart of the school'.

Pupils and parents

Felsted produces self-starting, entrepreneurial and independent spirits – characteristics that are immediately evident among the ambitious, self-motivated and self-aware pupils, who have some of the healthiest can-do attitudes we’ve seen. The mix of students – who range from the highly-driven and academically-oriented to the more fun-loving and easy-going – is a breath of fresh air. And they are all pretty down to earth. Ditto for the parents, who are expected to get stuck into school life. ‘We’re only into the second week of term and already we’ve had harvest festival and a charity event – and that’s not including Saturdays spent watching sport,’ laughed one parent, but with no irritation. ‘I love it – we all do.’

While most families live within a couple of hours of the school, it is increasingly attracting London-based families. Taking advantage of its proximity to Stansted Airport, international students make up some 18 per cent of pupils. Long list of notable OFs includes English test cricketer John Stephenson and General Sir Richard Dannatt, until recently chief of the general staff.

Entrance

A hundred pupils – split across three classes - come in at year 9: around 70 come up from the prep (having passed a transfer exam), with the remaining 30 from feeder schools including Holmwood House, Heathmount, Orwell Park and Edge Grove. Those taking CE are required to obtain 50 per cent in each paper. Others take a verbal reasoning test, interview and submit a confidential report from their current school. They may also take tests in maths, French and English for setting purposes. The same is true at 14+ entry. At 16+ (when the year group increases from 100 to 125), there is a similar entry procedure and pupils are required to obtain five GCSEs at grade B/6 or better including B grades in the subjects being pursued. Pupils who do not have English as their first language will be assessed by the head of EAL.

Exit

Around 80-90 per cent stay on to the sixth form. After A level, most to good universities such as Exeter, Brighton, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham and the top London universities. Two to Oxbridge and one medic in 2018, plus one off to Amsterdam. Business-related subjects, humanities, law and the sciences popular.

Money matters

Academic, music, sport, art, design and technology or drama and all-rounder scholarships offering up to 20 per cent off the fees are available at 13+ and 16+. There are some assisted places up to 100 per cent on a means-tested basis or via open bursaries.

Our view

At one time, the focus on catering for a wide ability range meant this school’s reputation in the academic stakes wasn’t as high as it could have been. Not so now, with a renewed focus on academic performance striking just the right balance with valuing individualism and quirkiness. No wonder there’s such a sense of excitement as this school becomes increasingly recognised as a leading independent boarding and day school.

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

The ambition of the Learning Support Department is to support and to develop pupils' learning so that they can achieve their full potential within the curriculum. This will be achieved mainly through one to one and small group work with some assistance in individual lessons. Pupils' difficulties will vary and so the level and nature of support given will reflect this. Pupils who are dyslexic or have a specific learning difficulty will follow specially devised courses in order to meet their particular needs. Pupils are screened for learning difficulties and a register is kept up to date to ensure that teaching staff are aware of the needs of the pupils they are teaching. Individual Education Plans are produced to assist pupils. When appropriate, assessment occurs so that pupils can qualify for extra time in public exams if deemed necessary. It is hoped that pupils will increasingly take responsibility for their learning and make use of the support this department offers as and when they require it.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
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
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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