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Humour and empathy pervade the classrooms, evident as much in the way staff speak to the boys as the quirky touches around the buildings – we’ve never seen fairy lights or a Ferrari flag in a biology lab in any other school. Dead Poets Society springs to mind more than once on our tour. ‘What makes a Merchant Taylors’ boy?’ we asked. ‘Well, we don’t really do posh,’ came the smiling reply. Our opinion: smart, charming, self-effacing and diverse. Not a hooray Henry in sight or any trace of…

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What the school says...

Merchant Taylors' School has provided an outstanding education for boys since 1561; academic excellence is achieved without undue pressure and the school's focus is always upon the individual child. The school enjoys superb facilities for sport, activities, music and IT; academic standards are high, but the school is committed to the development of all aspects of a boy's character. ...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking Music Performance: Group at an English Independent School (Grade 3 Music or Dance)

2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking Music Performance: Group at an English Independent School (Grade 7 Music or Dance)

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head master

Since 2013, Mr Simon Everson MA PGCE, born in Hertfordshire then educated at Solihull School and Cambridge (English) before completing a masters in philosophy at Nottingham. Has taught both in state maintained and independent schools as well as in Japan and was latterly head at Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells, where he also took over a local failing school, guiding its transformation to academy status. Was adamant that very few schools would tempt him away but couldn’t resist the lure back to Herts and MTS, where he took over ‘a school with wonderful tradition, but one that’s vibrant and relevant now.’ Still ‘loves the classroom’ and ‘borrows classes’ when time allows. Moved immediately upon appointment to reintroduce significant financial benefits to scholars, with scholarships for the brightest and most able across the board now worth at least 10 per cent of fees: ‘We are determined to seek out excellence and reward it.’ Enjoys walking, bird watching and Scotland and is a recently qualified apiarist (beekeeper). An electric guitar sits tucked in the corner of his office – ‘I wanted to put myself in the boys’ shoes and remember how it feels to struggle to learn something new,’ he says. Businesslike and sincere. Married to Ginny, a psychotherapist.

Academic matters

A school populated by an intellectually curious and highly motivated cohort. Academic rigour – and ultimately success – is par for the course here but head is clear that they do not want to create a monoculture: ‘We reject the philosophy of moulding children into specific types.’ Boys inspired by staff who, in head’s words, are ‘fiercely intelligent - no school is better than the quality of its staff’, and are striking to visitors either for their youth, energy and enthusiasm or wit, wisdom and worldliness. Humour and empathy pervade the classrooms, evident as much in the way staff speak to the boys as the quirky touches around the buildings – we’ve never seen fairy lights or a Ferrari flag in a biology lab in any other school. Dead Poets Society springs to mind more than once on our tour.

Traditional curriculum, not known for any single specialism – boys as likely to read medicine at university as English – and, although one parent said that academically ‘it’s not for the faint hearted,’ school adamant that it’s ‘not merely a conveyor belt to top results’. ‘Exam results are a given,’ says school; ‘it’s about what else they leave with.’ Boys take IGCSEs in majority of subjects with consistently outstanding results: 87 per cent A*/A in 2016, with 66 per cent of A levels graded A*/A and 87 per cent A*-B. Flexible setting in maths from year 9 and science from year 10, with some ‘banding’ in English literature from that point too. ‘We tend to separate out the boys who read; the ones who can handle Chaucer and Shakespeare with no problem’. Top half takes maths IGCSE in year 10, with one third also taking French a year early. It’s French and Latin in the languages department in years 7 and 8 with the addition of German, Spanish or Greek in year 9, all available at A level. Around 60 per cent take the EPQ. Maths, economics and the sciences top choices at A level with around half the number opting for humanities and English but with no less stellar results. Small numbers for languages – although school still timetables minority subjects such as Greek even for lone students.

Excellent standard of art and DT, which has ‘outstanding’ teaching, according to parents – MTS has a produced higher number of Arkwright Scholars than any other school since the scheme began in the 1990s. This strength likely to snowball since the 2015 opening of school’s cutting edge new DT building. Atmosphere surprisingly relaxed and no sign of the macho testosterone culture that’s endemic in so many boys’ schools. ‘We achieve results by inspiring boys,’ says head. Enrichment programme for most able scholars ‘turns seamlessly’ in Oxbridge preparation.

Learning support (mild dyslexia, dyscalculia some ASD) viewed in the same way as educating the most able children: ‘they just need a slightly different educational experience to everyone else,’ although school also quick to point out that even those with individual needs ‘must be able to keep up with the pace here.’ New SENCo ‘with a wealth of experience’ recently appointed to monitor and work with specific learning difficulties – but strictly no withdrawal from class. ESL students must be instantly able to access curriculum as are fully immersed from day one. Can accommodate pupils with mobility problems, including wheelchairs.

School really shows its mettle in university application process and careers advice, an area which head says has reached ‘Rolls Royce quality.’ Parents describe the UCAS application process as ‘incredibly well organised’, with each sixth former assigned to the head of department of their chosen subject who acts as advisor and referee. Personal references from tutors are the cherry on top of the holistic application process. Boys encouraged to begin thinking about future careers early with a World of Work day in year 11, plus a joint careers conference with the girls of nearby St Helen’s School. OMTs highly visible as mentors to current pupils, who are encouraged to use active database of over 600 old boys willing to offer work experience, and allowed time out of school to pursue such opportunities. A unique ‘entrepreneur in residence’ runs a start-up business from the DT building to give boys an insight into a world beyond the corporate giants who will doubtless be clamouring for their affections come milk round time.

Games, options, the arts

Sport seen as a hugely important part of the universal education at the heart of the MTS ethos, with sportsmanship and camaraderie as high on the agenda as winning. Part of the strong community feel comes from the whole school, including 80 per cent of the teaching staff, heading out to the (spectacular) sports fields together twice a week. Rugby, hockey and cricket are major sports and although there are varying degrees of success in the former (there was almost a hint of pride in the boy who self-effacingly told us he was in the ‘least successful rugby A team on school record’), hockey and cricket are flying increasingly high with victories aplenty, and the fixture list growing annually to encompass more top schools. School boasts over 60 county and five national sportsmen and the U15 cricket team is county champion. This in no small part due to dedicated directors for each major sport (hockey coach is ex-England international), as well as regular visiting coaches; recently the Australian cricket team, who requested that their pre-Ashes tour training take place at MTS. Sport for all – every boy competes for the school as often as is feasible with as much celebration when the ‘Super E’ rugby team (unbeaten) brings home a victory as the more elite squads.

With over 20 minor sports from riding to kayaking, sailing and golf boys have no excuse not to find something they love. One of our guides was not overly keen on main team sports but was on the first team for fives. Two others were keener on playing electric guitar in their band – but that was seen as valuable too. One or two grumbles about lack of footie until sixth form, but that doesn’t stop boys having a good kick around the quad at break times, and school provides goalposts for the purpose. World class facilities include all the usual suspects plus all weather hockey pitches (‘better than the Olympic ones,’ one keen player assured us), heated indoor pool, athletics track, lakes for sailing and kayaking, squash and fives courts, an assault course and fencing salle.

Endless opportunities to get stuck in outside of the classroom and sports field at lunch times and after school. Every sport imaginable, from sub aqua to cycling, has a society and there’s chess, bridge and stamp club for those more inclined towards brain sports. Boys can flex their journalistic muscles by contributing to one of six school magazines or try their hand at societies ranging from the possibly unique dissection society to debating, most of these included in fees. Music and drama ‘amazingly active,’ says head, with ensembles and choirs galore, including Dixieland, Merchants of Groove and swing band in addition to a host of more traditional offerings. Two major theatrical productions take place each year in the Great Hall, in addition to smaller endeavours and a fiercely fought house drama competition. Parents rave about quality of productions, with recent extravaganzas including Grease. Active CCF (one of the largest in the UK) in conjunction with St Helen’s, and D of E schemes offer super opportunities to follow outdoor pursuits and take part in trips to eg Morocco, Canada or Nepal. Huge sense of collective pride in relation to outstanding work with Phab, with funds raised throughout the year and an annual residential care week staffed by senior pupils, who consider it a great honour to be selected to take part.

Copious amount of trips. Rugby and hockey tours to South Africa and Australia and cricket to Barbados. Years 7 and 8 classics trip to Naples, geography to Iceland and history to Istanbul. Eleven language trips each year and six language exchange programmes across year groups.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in the City of London in 1561 by the Worshipful Company of Merchants, then the largest school in the country. Relocated in 1933 to its current location – a 250 acre site comprising a core of listed art deco buildings plus a host of sympathetically incorporated modern additions set before endless playing fields leading down to a lake that homes countless wildlife species. Visitors greeted by exquisite formal gardens and a handsome fascia. School lacks dreaming spires and turrets but gives an immediate sense of purposefulness and solid endeavour. Some areas (entrance hall, library, politics and economics centre, sixth form common room, new history building) more pristine than others but a sense of calm and mutual respect prevails.

‘Civilised’ a word that comes up again and again, along with a sense of a truly cohesive community spirit. Older boys mentor the younger, the whole school eats together (no exceptions, no packed lunches) and assembles together – ‘invaluable’, says head. ‘We are a corporate body not a disparate group’. There’s also a great sense of the traditional juxtaposed with gleaming new facilities – a feeling that a boy who has walked the corridors of MTS would not be remotely overwhelmed walking into an Oxford or Cambridge college for the first time.

Merged with ex-Northwood Prep, which has changed its name to Merchant Taylors' Prep.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Discipline ‘almost always low profile due to our hugely positive culture,’ says school. Boys are not ‘spiky’ or ‘entitled’, transgressions rare and bullying almost non-existent (‘I couldn’t believe how much friendlier it was than my prep school’, said one happy boy). Vertical tutor system praised almost unanimously by parents and boys with only a few grumbles relating to tutors moving on to pastures new mentally checking out in advance. For the most part, parents described them as ‘almost part of the family’, and many keep in contact with former tutees way beyond the A level years. Thriving house system facilitates yet more cross-fertilisation for friendships and opportunities for boys to shine in competitions, with pupils praising weekly house assemblies covering topics from ‘the art of small talk’ and ‘how to tie a bow tie’ to rocket building in teams. Plenty of chances for responsibility at the top of the school. Head boy voted in by 50 per cent student vote, supported by 10 elected monitors and a JCR of a further 30 boys. School run on Christian ethos, with services held in chapel and all faiths welcome, but there’s also a Muslim prayer room and societies for all main faiths.

Pupils and parents

‘What makes a Merchant Taylors’ boy?’ we asked. ‘Well, we don’t really do posh,’ came the smiling reply. Our opinion: smart, charming, self-effacing and diverse. Not a hooray Henry in sight or any trace of plums in mouths, but a group of boys wearing their school tie with humility and an awareness of privilege rather than entitlement. Fun to sit with (yes, even year 10s) in the dining room and totally at ease with adult company. Minds of staff and pupils alike on higher things than the tedious minutiae of shiny shoes and tidy haircuts obsessed over at so many schools. Head says school is ‘always hanging on the coat tails of the pupils’ enthusiasm’, and keenly supports pupil-led initiatives, most recently a drone club, instigated by one young scientist. Perhaps because around a quarter of boys receive some level of financial assistance, social awareness is a key factor in their all-round pleasantness – ‘It just wouldn’t be the done thing to crow about wealth or status,’ said one parent. ‘Many families make huge sacrifices to send their sons here.’ School concurs: ‘Those from affluent backgrounds wear their wealth lightly’.

A school where three worlds don’t so much collide as mesh. A hybrid London/country school with appeal to local, north and west London and Herts/Bucks families. The London crowd loves the spacious campus, laid back feel and multitude of sporting options on offer, especially in comparison to nearby competitors, and those from the shires enjoy the slightly edgier, more worldly feel than they find in schools closer to home. Reflective of local area, around 40 per cent British-Asian, a large Jewish contingent and all other main faiths represented. Wonderfully inclusive – ‘there’s zero tolerance of racism or homophobia,’ boys told us – and although firm friendships are formed on the tube trains and coaches that transport boys in from eg Highgate, St John’s Wood and Ealing, plus suburbs from St Albans and Harpenden to Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross, all reported that new friends are constantly made through tutor groups, form groups which are mixed up each year, subject choices (from year 12 forms are grouped according to A level choices) and activities.

Unlike many secondaries, parents maintain close contact with school, attending events and committees in droves. Head reported around 200 attendees at one of his recent termly parent forums. In turn, school has unique relationship with many OMTs well beyond the A level years, with tutors speaking with deep fondness of past tutees’ achievements. Actor and alumnus Riz Ahmed chose MT as the backdrop for one his first movies and Grammy Award winning OMT band Nero (the lead singer read philosophy at Oxford, incidentally) recently returned as the surprise act at leavers’ ball. Other famous alumni include Nobel prize-winning medic Sir John Sulston, Lord Coggan (former Archbishop of Canterbury), Sir Alan Duncan and Boris Karloff, as well as a host of others from the worlds of politics, business, sport, the military and the arts.

Entrance

Selective with two main intakes at 11+ and 13+. At 11+ around 380 boys (roughly two-thirds from state primaries) apply for 60 places. At this point, applicants tested in maths, English and a general paper with those delivering the goods on paper invited back for a one-to-one interview (‘not as intimidating as it sounds – they always leave with a smile on their face,’ says school). Worth remembering that many will be applying for several schools, so not as competitive as it first appears. A further 100 places available at 13+ with fewer applicants (about two to one, though many places taken by boys from Merchant Taylors' Prep) for each place but larger hurdles to clear: boys are interviewed first in May/June of year 7 (registration by end of February) on strength of prep head’s report with high fliers offered ‘unconditional’ places at that point in the expectation that the exam will present no problems. Those offered a ‘conditional’ place after interview will need to pass every paper in the CE-style exam in January (English, maths, science, humanities, MFL and optional Latin). School clear that parents tutoring boys heavily for the exam ‘are not doing them any favours – we’re looking for intellectual curiosity, a passion for something, reasoning skills and ways in which boys can make a wider contribution to the school.’ At 16+ exams in four A level subjects; offer confirmations depend on GCSE results.

Up to 40 or 50 feeders at 11+, with preps including Radlett Prep, Manor Lodge, Buckingham College, Reddiford and Gayhurst. At 13+ large numbers from Merchant Taylors' Prep, St John's, Durston House and St Martin’s, plus a few each from The Beacon, Davenies, Orley Farm, York House and St Anthony’s, amongst others.

Exit

Very little fall out after GCSE. Twenty-one to Oxbridge in 2016 with vast majority of remainder to top universities. London colleges feature highly (particularly Imperial, LSE and UCL) as do Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Nottingham and Warwick. Very strong numbers to read medicine (three in 2016), economics and engineering but diversity across the board from sports science to English, humanities, law and the occasional one choosing film or drama school over university offers, or heading to university overseas.

Money matters

The old school tie doesn’t come into the selection process and school prides itself on staying true to the ethos on which it was founded – to offer an excellent all-round education to boys from all walks of life and offer financial aid to those who would most benefit – these days, around 200 boys at any one time. Academic scholarships awarded to boys who perform particularly well in the entrance papers, with scholars benefiting from an enrichment programme. Up to five major academic scholarships at both 11+ and 13+ worth at least 10 per cent of fees. Also sport, art, drama, DT, music and all-rounder scholarships.

Our view

A rare breed – a London school with a country feel, offering the best of both worlds to boys from the city and the shires. Sitting coolly around the top of the league tables, seemingly without trying too hard, a testament to teachers who inspire without applying undue pressure. Wonderful breadth of sporting opportunities for both the elite and the enthusiastic. Not the most obvious choice for macho rugby types, or for the parent hoping for their son to leave school with a public school swagger, but for those looking for an environment that actively encourages boys to ‘lean in to difficult questions’, get involved in enriching activities outside of the classroom, and that values the quirky and erudite, look no further.

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Special Education Needs

Merchant Taylors' is one of the top dozen academic boys' schools in the UK. All boys participate fully in all aspects of the curriculum and the wider life of the school. Every boy’s strengths are valued and his areas for development supported. The school makes provision for a large number of gifted and talented pupils and has a learning support department staffed by specialist teachers. All boys are screened on entry to the school and progress is tracked. Where it becomes apparent that further investigation or intervention is needed, this is arranged by the learning support department in consultation with the boy’s parents and teachers. Learning support operates as a whole school model, with specialist support available to all teachers to ensure boys’ learning needs are met.

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)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability Y
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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