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What struck us most about this lovely little school was how considerate, well-mannered and sanguine about life its pupils seemed to be. They are achieving great things, while remaining likeable and happy boys. As one mother wrote, ‘My son is neither Catholic nor musical, but has been recognised for other things he has to contribute to the school. They’re grounded children with good values. It’s a perfect place for my son to grow into a confident young man.’ We agree with her. For boys fortunate enough to come here, this is as near perfect as it gets...

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Other features

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2007, Mr Neil McLaughlan (40s). Married with a young son and daughter, and a man who radiates humour, decency and charm in equal measure. Read philosophy and politics at Durham and spent a few years with Andersen Consulting in London before embarking on a teaching career in 1997. After spells at Stonyhurst and Worth, he took up a post as head of English and director of development at Downside School, before joining WCCS as headmaster. He hopes to be there 'for the duration.' Parents hope so too. 'Lovely guy!' said one. 'So easy to approach!' said another. 'An extremely dedicated head and a great promoter of the school,' said a third. Typically modest, he hopes to do 'lots and lots of small things right.' We think he's doing lots of big things right too. Under his visionary yet kindly leadership, this has become an inspiring school that is going from strength to strength.

Entrance

New pre-prep takes boys at 4+. Entry by assessment, but the school is looking for potential rather than attainment. Most are expected to continue on to the prep school after English and maths tests. Thirty places available; priority to siblings. Other main entry points are at 7+, where 16 places are available, and 8+ (a further 10 places for day boys and six places for choristers). Applicants sit tests in English, maths and non-verbal reasoning in January of the year before entry. Occasional places in other year groups, notably at 11+. The school is always oversubscribed and, once boys have met the required academic standard, will give preference where possible to practising Roman Catholics and to boys with a brother at the school.

Choristers, who must be Catholic and boarders, join at 8+. Would-be probationers have to pass informal and formal tests with the cathedral's master of music, as well as succeeding at the academic assessment; and if they manage all that, they spend two nights at the school to see whether chorister life will suit them. Only then will they be offered one of the six available places. As the school's popularity grows, so inevitably does the competition; there are now half a dozen serious candidates for each choristership, and for the first time in over a decade, the school has not had to go recruiting for them.

Up to full fees assistance for choristers; none for day pupils, whose families just have to fork out. As a result, there is more cultural than social diversity here. Boys come from a wide range of nationalities, among them France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Ghana and Korea, making this a truly international school. With some 80 per cent of the boys now from Catholic families, the school is less religiously diverse than it was, but remains open to day boys of all faiths provided their families are happy to support the school's Catholic ethos.

Exit

The head has worked tirelessly to raise the school's profile, and WCCS's exit record is superb. Boys regularly leave for boarding schools like Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Radley, Downside, Charterhouse and King's Canterbury, and for a raft of top London schools, including Westminster, St Paul's, UCS, City of London, KCS Wimbledon, Latymer Upper, Dulwich College and Wetherby senior school, often with music scholarships. Others to Cardinal Vaughan and the London Oratory. 'The school is much more linked into the senior schools than it was a few years ago,' reported one satisfied parent. 'Oh yes, the head's always going on about schools,' confirmed one of the boys, equably.

Our view

The school was endearingly shabby once, but not any more. A five-year programme of refurbishment has just finished, and everything is now bang up to date. Visitors are welcomed in the beautiful glass-fronted foyer, where handwritten Music for Mass schedules from 1905 are hung beside huge photos of current pupils radiating health and cheeriness. Throughout the building, ceilings, floors and lighting are all new, and all the classrooms are gleaming and well-resourced, with interactive whiteboards in each one. Large and much-loved playground, covered with Astroturf, where boys play ‘crazy games’ on the climbing apparatus. ‘That was a real selling point for me,’ said one parent. ‘The boys have a chance to be boys.’ ‘The way to the heart of little boys is good food and football at playtime, and WCCS excels in both,’ confirmed another. We didn’t try the football, but we can confirm that the food is splendid, a delicious combination of tasty and healthy.

Boarding facilities have also been upgraded. We can’t comment on the refurbished boarders’ common room, because a curmudgeonly old trumpet teacher therein told us we were interrupting his lesson and to get out, but we did manage to see the sleeping accommodation, which was cheerful, light and airy. The rigours of chorister life notwithstanding, feedback on the boarding experience from both parents and boys was uniformly positive. ‘The key thing,’ says head, ‘is to have good, kind people around the boys, good accommodation and excellent food. An army marches on its stomach.’

Years ago, parents had disquiets about aspects of WCCS. Nowadays, they cannot find enough superlatives with which to express their delight. ‘We have been thrilled by both the teaching and pastoral care provided by the school.’ ‘The staff generate a wonderfully positive energy.’ ‘It’s an amazing school, the teachers are so kind!’ ‘You couldn’t choose a better school, I recommend it to everyone.’ ‘A wonderful warmth and care is present everywhere.’

A father of a new chorister told us, ‘My son absolutely loves it. He’s thrilled to pieces. The first weekend they were eligible to go home, he didn’t want to come.’ (Poor mum!) And a mother of two day pupils wrote, ‘Happiness is guaranteed at this school; it is such a nurturing, caring and stimulating environment. I can honestly say that the only problem I have ever had is to find a way to drag my boys out of the playground and back home at the end of the day.’ What’s behind this remarkable success? ‘The one ingredient a Catholic school should have is joy,’ said the head, simply and without any side, when we asked him, .

There is joy in the teaching here, that’s for sure. A quiet revolution is taking place in the WCCS curriculum that made this reviewer go all excited and wobbly at the knees. Schemes of work have been painstakingly redesigned, with scholarship and a genuine love of learning at their heart. ‘The idea is to present knowledge as a unified whole,’ explained the head, ‘so for instance, whilst they’re studying Adam and Eve in RS, they’ll be doing CS Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew in English. Likewise, we use geometry and graph-plotting in maths to support map skills in geography, and they’ll draw antique maps in art at the same time. If the boys are doing the human body in science, they’ll look at what the Greeks and Romans discovered about it in history.’ The boys we spoke to praised the lessons as ‘really good fun,’ adding, ‘The work’s challenging, but in a good way’.

Much emphasis on poetry, with poems studied every week, as well as learnt by heart and declaimed. ‘We want them to know the great poets of the English language,’ said the deputy head, and to further this, the school has produced its own wonderful anthologies, where the selection is ‘unashamedly classic.’ In addition to regular English lessons, boys receive two lessons a week on formal grammar and punctuation, and Latin is compulsory from the off - ‘Latin is crucial for grammar, it’s not an academic luxury,’ insisted the deputy head. ‘As an international school, the story of the world’s great civilisations interests us. But children of this age also need connections, and they need the basics.’ All those who have wrung their hands at the disjointed, shallow content of so many modern lessons, lift up your hearts and hope.

This is clearly a scholarly yet joyful environment, and the quality of student work we saw reflected that. We read, misty-eyed, a set of poems by the year 7s about Westminster Bridge (inspired by Wordsworth’s sonnet) that were outstandingly creative and well-written; likewise, a history essay on Thomas Becket was not only mature and insightful, but skilful and lucid in its use of language. But mightn’t this approach favour only the brightest? WCCS’s SENCo emphatically denied it, asserting that boys at the school with SEN benefited from understanding how language works. We were impressed with the support the school gives to those with dyslexia and dyspraxia, as well as to ESL students, such as the two grave and courteous Russian boys we saw having extra English tutorials. And all the staff we met were purposeful, well-bred (curmudgeon excepted), cultivated, devoted to what they do and, according to parents, ‘incredibly dedicated.’

As you’d expect, the standard of music here is outstanding. The choristers are completely immersed in music-making at the highest level (listen to the downloads on the website, and marvel), and the day boys, swimming in the same element, also achieve great things. We saw year 8 boys composing their entries for the school’s Christmas carol competition, and heard much excellent instrumental playing as we went round the school. ‘The music programme is amazing,’ enthused one parent. ‘My son’s piano playing has come on by leaps and bounds in just a few weeks.’ Many pupils achieve grades 7 or 8 in their chosen instrument(s) by the time they leave.

Football, rugby and cricket are the main sports here, played at local pitches, and swimming and PE are held at the nearby Queen Mother Sports Centre. Lots of extracurricular activities, including debating, philosophy, chess, scrabble, code-breaking, the Airfix model club, current affairs, and cross-country running. ‘But where do you run?’ we asked, glancing with some surprise at the surrounding streets. ‘Oh!’ said our tour guide, ‘Green Park, Hyde Park, St James’s ...’

Lucky lads, you might think. And they are, of course. But what struck us most about this lovely little school was how considerate, well-mannered and sanguine about life its pupils seemed to be. They are achieving great things, while remaining likeable and happy boys. As one mother wrote, ‘My son is neither Catholic nor musical, but has been recognised for other things he has to contribute to the school. They’re grounded children with good values. It’s a perfect place for my son to grow into a confident young man.’ We agree with her. For boys fortunate enough to come here, this is as near perfect as it gets.

Special Education Needs

The school's SEN policy gives staff guidelines to help them identify children with possible specific learning difficulties. These individuals are screened by the SENCO and a further educational psychologist assessment suggested to parents if necessary. Limited remedial help can be offered within the school, by withdrawing children with recognised learning difficulties from classes. Otherwise remedial tuition is recommended at a centre outside school. Staff are made familiar with any new SEN diagnosis, and Individual Educational Plans issued with specific recommendations.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
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
Not Applicable
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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