Skip to main content

What says..

WCCS is as close to being a school inside a church as is physically possible: only a Westminster version of the Bridge of Sighs (thankfully, a happier outcome for its occupants) separates the school building from the cathedral’s interior. The top two floors are home to the chorister boarders and it’s a pretty good sanctuary for such incredibly hard-working boys, who have to combine their full-on musical life (singing in the cathedral on a daily basis and honing their skills) with a packed academic timetable. The head says that their welfare is his ‘biggest single headache’ and that sometimes he has to tell them to take time out...

Read review »

What the parents say...

No comments received for Westminster Cathedral Choir School

Please login to post a comment.

Other features

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

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2007, Neil McLaughlan (40s). For a man with a truly Catholic background (large C), a Catholic boarding school and posts in all the obvious schools, including Stonyhurst, Worth and Downside (only Ampleforth missing), he is engagingly undoctrinaire and also extremely good company. On our last visit he told us that he hopes to be here ‘for the duration’ and there’s no change here, in fact it would be hard to imagine the school without him, he does literally appear to be part of the fabric. Parents are equally convinced: ‘he picks up on everything’; ‘totally approachable’; ‘understands my son’; in fact it’s lucky that he loves living in London and is definitely not heading out the door any time soon. Prodded over any further ambitions for his hugely successful school, he admitted that only a lack of cash was stopping his dream of a senior branch of WCCS turning into a reality and we hope that help from above may solve this problem for him.

Entrance

A ‘guinea pig set’ started at the pre-prep last year and they will be able to take 30 boys at reception from September 2019. An assessment, described as ‘very relaxed’ by a parent, in groups for an hour to find out how they interact and respond. Entry at 7+ (16 places) and 8+ (12 places) is heavily oversubscribed with three to five boys trying for each place. Tests in maths, comprehension and composition, punctuation and spelling in the January before September entry.

Satisfying the Master of Music’s accurate ear is only the first step for choristers who also have to make the same academic grades as the day boys.

Exit

Today’s parents (almost all major players in the financial and legal world) set their sights on the internationally famous English public schools, with Eton firmly at the head of the boarding wish list and St Paul’s, Westminster, Dulwich and City of London the main choices in London. All going to plan, 2019 will see five boys going to Eton, Winchester and Westminster and in 2020 up to eight headed for ‘Etonia’. The choristers also tend to head in the same directions, nearly always with music scholarships.

Our view

WCCS is as close to being a school inside a church as is physically possible: only a Westminster version of the Bridge of Sighs (thankfully, a happier outcome for its occupants) separates the school building from the cathedral’s interior. In contrast to the solemnity of the surroundings, there is a wondrous space outside with an Astro pitch and running tracks as well as room for all the off-letting of steam that boys require.

Luckily, they found a building for the pre-prep just across the playground. Deeply suitable, having been home to Franciscans amongst its various incarnations, it is an architecturally surprising building, reminiscent of a galleon, with a rather sad St Francis serving as an off-centre figurehead. This unusual, one room deep, layout has been sensitively turned into a great teaching space, with light classrooms, a playground and a tempting covered porch for rainy days. The teaching is ‘pacey’ even at this level and the competition (using numbering fans) was fierce to be number one fan of tables. Music is already part of school life and one tiny violinist was spotted concentrating hard on his individual lesson.

The prep itself is unflamboyant inside (in contrast to the stripey brick exterior), the colour provided almost entirely by the cherry red of the boys’ blazers and the occasional sparkly shoes of a female teacher. The corridors are lined with red and blue lockers, more than usual due to the number of instruments, and music stands replace works of art on the walls. Darth Vader appears, in poster form, offering an unlikely exhortation to earn points towards stars, described by our extremely articulate guide as ‘an unlikely paradox’. These stars are serious stuff: they don’t just stop at gold as in most other schools but also have an exalted platinum and diamond level – ‘everyone gets gold but the others are quite hard’.

The top two floors are home to the chorister boarders and it’s a pretty good sanctuary for such incredibly hard-working boys, who have to combine their full-on musical life (singing in the cathedral on a daily basis and honing their skills) with a packed academic timetable. The head says that their welfare is his ‘biggest single headache’ and that sometimes he has to tell them to take time out ‘when they are bushed’. Anyway, the dorms, whilst not exciting and amazingly tidy, have a cosy feel and apparently the matrons and cleaning staff make sure that ‘Teddy is on the right bed’. A big common room is equipped with pool and football tables and a chorister assured us that there was plenty to do at weekends – the most popular pastime being ‘ripstiking’ (a form of skateboarding) which looked extremely difficult when demonstrated and that was minus cassock...

The curriculum, ‘begged, scraped and borrowed from every possible source’, according to the head is ‘not fogeyish in any way’ despite its structured feel. There is obviously an extremely successful attempt to marry the ‘grammar – logic – rhetoric’ classical approach to a more modern, integrated way of learning. This is proper joined-up teaching and the combination of art/RE teacher who starts each RE lesson with a religious painting is typical of their modus operandi. Very little streaming is necessary because, as they explain, there is a narrow range of ability here, but there is a SENCo available to offer one-to-one or group sessions to anyone struggling, and also the odd boy with educational needs. However, it is made very clear that it is essential for everyone to be able to handle the speed of the teaching.

The art teacher explains that her life is made far easier by the fact that she has a large number of the most exciting galleries in the world on her doorstep, which eases the task of embedding art into the school’s curriculum, and there is a kiln and a printing press to extend her creative options. Naturally, music is part of life here but not just for the choristers: one day boy told us that if you can hold a tune you can sing in non-chorister choirs and even perform outside the school. The choristers all play the piano and one other instrument, but the majority of boys also have individual music lessons and there are several orchestras of differing abilities (if all rather better than average).

The number of names signed up for football on the tidy notice board says it all and they have been winners of the Thomas’s five-a-side tournament at both U10 and U13, but the size of the school makes it less sporty than some of its competitors (one boy wrinkled his nose when questioned on their cricketing prowess) – still, two sports scholarships last year (one to Winchester) is pretty impressive. Lots of alternatives to football on the clubs list with the boys responsible for suggesting magic, mad science and even British military fitness, all of which have takers.

WCCS families have changed over recent years and there is now a much higher percentage of Catholics amongst the day boys (up from 50 per cent to over 80) but there are Anglicans and several non-Christian families. We felt convinced by both parents and head that the spiritual element was an addition rather than a handicap and was not forced down the boys’ throats: instead they got a buzz out of their connection to the cathedral and its faith.

Last time we wrote a review, we concluded by saying ‘this is just about as near perfect as it gets’ and we would endorse that sentiment today with only one caveat; this is now a school for seriously bright boys and it would be wrong for any parent to overestimate their son’s academic ability when considering putting him up for the entrance exam.

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 Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
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
VI - Visual Impairment

  Zoopla sale properties   Zoopla rent properties   Hide Zoopla markers

Powered by Zoopla

Leavers' destinations

Who came from where


Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
 Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
 Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >    In the news >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

Tired of London schools? There’s plenty of life elsewhere…

 
 

For a limited time get one month's Good Schools Guide subscription free with any purchase of The Good Schools Guide London North and London South