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A parent remarked that her daughter was asked by her teacher, 'Do you ever learn your spelling words or do you just know them?' and on being told the latter was given an extra five, more challenging, words to learn every week. They seem to have found the secret recipe (maybe down to JB’s flirtation with food technology) to getting the maximum out of each child without taking the fun out of learning, and parents talk of their children being 'massively enthusiastic about going to school'...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2010, Jonathan Brough BEd (Cantab) NPQH (40s), married to Harry, a high powered city lawyer. There really was no way out for JB, born with a double dose of the teaching gene. His father made a slight push to suggest an unlikely career as an air traffic controller and his mother, a home economics teacher, might have liked him to be a food technologist but teaching won the battle early on. Now, he has occasional thoughts of what might have been, brought on by Bake Off, but he is clearly extremely happy about the choice he made. Before arriving in Putney, he ran a selective single sex school (the City of London Girls' Prep) and says that he 'was extremely fortunate that the vacancy at Hurlingham came up at just the right time'.

Admitting to being a 'stereotypical bookworm', with a preference for new hardback novels, he’s a bit of a theatrical groupie, having ventured onto the boards in his student days. However his first love is his school and this 'finger in every pie' head is totally involved in the nuts and bolts of his scholastic kingdom, either when rehanging a stray duffle coat on its peg or unconsciously revealing an in-depth understanding of a particular child and its parents. His declared wish to be at the cutting edge of all things educational and proving his point that 'a non-selective school can be just as good (if not better) for gifted and talented pupils than any selective institution' is a big hit with local parents.


Into three forms at reception from a range of nurseries but first priority goes to siblings and children from the newly acquired Lion House nursery and pre-prep, now officially under the Hurlingham banner, and then to those living within 1.2km of the school. Non-selective.


Most popular destinations currently Epsom College and Ibstock Place; followed by Kings College, Lady Eleanor Holles (LEH), Putney High, Whitgift and Woldingham.

Our view

Only a few strokes away from the start of the Boat Race under Putney Bridge, the busy road outside explains the slightly bossy instructions about delivering and collecting your children. TfL should take lessons from this military-style operation that takes place twice a day in the semi-underground car park. Child in back seat clutching belongings on lap is swooped on by teacher and bundled into school whilst parent, with eye firmly on rear mirror, waits for the signal to move swiftly on.

The proximity of the river also accounts for why the four school houses are called Herons, Kingfishers, Mallards and Swans. Apparently, the somewhat eccentric founder of the school was glancing from her waterside window (the school overlooked the river at that time) and spotted the ornithologically unlikely sight (particularly in the case of the kingfisher) of all four birds dancing in the water. As the myth goes, she immediately commanded that the children should, henceforth, be divided into colonies of birds but, in reality, the names were chosen by previous pupils.

Above the basement garage are stacked three floors of classrooms, a large multi-purpose hall and some rather skimpy offices; the deputy head’s quarters resembling an engine, rather than a ballroom. An out of scale ante-room with panoramic school photographs on the walls leads onto an L-shaped hall. Here, via another ruthless planning schedule, the space metamorphoses from assembly room to karate studio to food hall to theatre, all in one action-packed day. We were intrigued that the props to achieve this were kept in a miraculous cupboard, crammed with tables to eat off and even a stage to act on.

Across the marginally dreary passage, dividing the admin and school hall from the rest of the school, you enter another world: literally every inch of every surface is decorated in some form or other, transforming this potentially uninspiring building. We particularly enjoyed the doors, in years 1 and 2, turned into illustrated book covers. After a lengthy inspection, we decided that our favourites were Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers decorated with a plump, red scarf-wearing penguin and Whatever Next by Jill Murphy, represented by a teddy bear peering out of a box sporting a bright green colander as a hat. The doorways also fulfilled an additional function of making you feel that you were literally inside the book the children were studying.

In reception, three light, bright classrooms all open onto a playground, filled in the afternoon with small people engaged in a variety of outwardly jolly activities concealing a definite learning plan devised by the smiley, supervising teachers. Above this apparently relaxed operation are stacked three more floors topped with an Astroturf outside space. There is an orderly feel to this purpose-built place with extensive libraries on each floor, and the layout allows the school to divide easily into junior, middle and upper with a natural upward progression from year 1 to the more serious academic atmosphere of year 6 on the top floor.

Once inside the classrooms, three to a year throughout, the relatively young staff teach the same syllabus to all the pupils but adapted to each child’s needs. There are no specific scholarship sets, only maths is setted from year 1 and English in the run up to 11+. Instead, the teachers rely on their knowledge of each individual to decide how much work they can handle. A parent remarked that her daughter was asked by her teacher, 'Do you ever learn your spelling words or do you just know them?' and on being told the latter was given an extra five, more challenging, words to learn every week. This attitude was echoed by another parent who praised the bespoke nature of the homework handed out and the fact that the teachers know the children 'very, very well'.

They seem to have found the secret recipe (maybe down to JB’s flirtation with food technology) to getting the maximum out of each child without taking the fun out of learning, and parents talk of their children being 'massively enthusiastic about going to school'. JB teaches mainly extension classes, often in his own space, evoking the comment: 'it was really good, we went and had our lesson in his office'. As pupils move up the school they are given increasing responsibility over organising their days, a popular move amongst parents who feel that they start senior school ahead of some floundering contemporaries. Homework diaries have to be filled in and they find their own way from lesson to lesson, more steps towards the increasingly independent life ahead.

JB is meticulous over preparing pupils for the 11+ and exams for their next school, giving them computer tests as well as maths and English and then advising on three sets of choices, optimistic, realistic and back-up. A surprised mother even told us that her son was so well prepared that he 'loved the exams'. Once 11+ is out of the way additional time is given to Latin and computing, which led to one ex-pupil at her next, high-flying school being charged with explaining technical skills to her new classmates. No child has failed the OCR qualifications that everyone takes in both subjects, fairly amazing as these are often used to test 16-year-olds and Hurlingham is a school of totally mixed abilities.

When we visited, an art teacher was busily cutting out glittery stars, the results of a competition to design Christmas decorations. The entries ranged from the wildly wacky and somewhat impractical to the more traditional, but the winner came from reception, proving that in festive design, imagination can trump technique. The walls featured large paintings of animals, one a particularly convincing horse, clearly the work of a pupil who had really 'got it' when it came to equines. Art squeezes into and onto every nook and cranny, including the ankle level window to the parking lot featuring, literally, hundreds of small, brightly painted pottery people. Music is also built into the life of the school with an 'inspiring' head of music who, despite his professional musical theatre background, makes a determined effort to include everyone in regular concerts, even if their finger work produces the odd rather squeaky note.

Music, art, drama and dance also feature in an after-school club (MADD) and we were secretly pleased to be told by JB that the ukulele was passe in Putney and that 'DooDs' (junior clarinet) and 'TooTs' (junior flute) were becoming all the rage. Unsurprisingly, the Christmas play from reception runs along the angels and animals route, but the rest take a hand in writing their own scripts. Books, presumably partly due to JB’s addiction ('book club is a real treat for me'), play a huge part in the school with the head of English handing out free copies of books suggested by the pupils, and a discussion society that decided, with a bit of prodding, that it would be incorrect to read Finding Black Beauty without reading its inspiration first, however distressing you might find the fate of Ginger.

Very slightly divided parental opinions on sport, with one mother telling us that she thought that it was a pity that there were not more specialist sports available whilst another said they did a great job, particularly in being flexible over boys who are not keen on rugby being allowed to play hockey with the girls and fielding mixed cricket teams in the summer. All commented that a real effort was made to make it enjoyable even if sport was not one of your major talents, and the head remarked that you could feel a frisson of excitement through the whole school when year 2 marched out for their first match.

Special needs provision is comprehensive, ranging from sending children home with reading games to making life easier for a severely disabled child. The dos and don’ts of school life are made very clear at Hurlingham with six golden rules, deliberately written to show both sides of the coin, an example being 'We are kind, helpful and polite. We do not hurt the feelings of others'. To back up this philosophy, various tools are used from traffic lights in the lower school to Excellence and Order books further up. Postcards and giant golden stars announce good deeds as well as hard work and we are very pleased to report that the Excellence book was nearly full and the Order book barely started.

The organisational skills of JB and the rest of the staff in shifting over 300 different children in an endless pattern of activity - 'no two days are the same and they are never bored' - is admirable in itself, but the dedication to helping all children scale their particular peak, both academically and socially, is truly impressive. This is a kaleidoscope of a school where the whirling patterns are constantly formed into happy, successful children.

Special Education Needs

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