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Open the door and the light, airy kingdom of the 4 to 7-year-olds is revealed. ‘It’s about being loved, nurtured, feeling secure and taking risks,’ says pre-prep head. Freeflow rules outside with communal areas for all while reception, year 1 and year 2 each have side-by-side plant-filled little gardens, with a secret leafy  nature trail at the back, venue for (low) risk activities like building dens. Sense of being looked after is palpable. One of our guides may have done 40 or so tours but insists that the 41st (ours) is a treat...

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What the school says...

'TPS seems to be blessed with an ambience second to none. I have been in most of the schools in the area at some time or another and I can assure you that none of them come close in terms of staff attitude and the general `feel` of the school' - ex Parent & local teacher. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2005, David Malam BA Southampton (history), PGCE King Alfred’s College, Winchester (50s). Clever, very comfortable in his own skin and refreshingly candid. Like every other London prep head offering both the 11+ and 13+, he’s reviewing the situation, though says there’s no danger of losing common entrance, as long as leading senior schools (notably Hampton) retain 13+ entry. With odds slightly better at 13+ than at 11+ and those extra two prep years to enjoy – far better than being bottom of the heap in a senior school – what’s not to like, he says.

Dreamed of pro career in either football or chess, taking both to a high level before studying history. Previous experience of running youth club at local church made teacher training a natural step. Initially worked in schools on the south coast, followed by a year in a Christian school in Cyprus. Started here in 1995 as history and games teacher, before becoming senior teacher and then deputy head in 1997.

Describes the job with welcome absence of corporate waffle. Though cites an impressive list of improvements, from mini amphitheatre to revamped grounds (including new sports surface) it’s all outweighed by getting the staffing right. Teachers must ‘genuinely enjoy working with children and see teaching as a vocation, not a day job,’ (they all run a club). Approach was clearly paying off, judging by feedback from parents and pupils. ‘[They] go the extra mile,’ said one, praising willingness to take children to events at weekends nationwide ‘and often abroad, too.’

Delights in pupil success (wears a tie in the school purple on Fridays for celebration assembly), particularly in areas that are close to his heart. Thinking skills and chess head the list (one pupil has won gold for Britain in the Mind Lab Olympics).

Though he’s done his time here, with last child (of five) now through the school, he still has a few years to go here and so far, at least, appetite for the role remains undiminished. Expect him to be here as long as it stays that way,

Entrance

Non selective at 4+. Otherwise, it’s occasional places only from reception onwards after assessments in English, maths and reasoning. If spaces permit, will take on a handful in year 6 to prepare for common entrance.

First dibs to staff children and siblings, followed by those deemed to be likely to benefit most from education here. Families who have registered are asked to sign acceptance form 18 months before start date. Deposit secures place - non-refundable if not taken up, deducted (with no interest) from final term’s fees if it is.

Some pupils arrive at the school with undiagnosed needs, supported with, says head, ‘best SEN in the area,’ who gets rave reviews from parents. Parents, however, praise school’s ability to identify barriers impeding progress – will work with speech and language therapists and implement social communication programmes. ‘Provision for children with dyslexia is outstanding,’ said one.

Focus, however, is on pupils who will do well academically. But while it’s not the right place for those who might struggle to access the curriculum, head stresses that will talk to parents in year 5 or thereabouts about common entrance, if a pupil wants to stay, ‘we would do our very best to keep them.’

Exit

Discussions about senior schools start in years 4 and 5. In 2017, eight scholarships offered. Hampton, with 17 places (11+ and 13+ entry) dominates the list of boys’ schools. Others include KCS, St Paul’s, Reed’s and St James Senior Boys.

LEH, Surbiton High, SWPS, St Catherine’s (Twickenham) and Notre Dame feature among the girls’ only destinations. Most popular co-ed in 2017 was St George’s College. Others to Kingston Grammar and Radnor House. One apiece to St John's Leatherhead and Cranleigh.

Our view

So good that last ISI inspection dates from 2012 (they might make it back in again before Brexit enacted, but don’t count on it). According to parents, however, all that was good (just about everything) remains just as true almost five years later. The only area with small question mark – IT – being sorted with help from ever generous Parents’ Committee.

Name is misleading – was in Twickenham but moved to Hampton in the early 1990s after outgrowing original site. Not that this will need much explaining to the mostly very local punters, many from Hampton and Teddington, elsewhere Richmond and Twickenham plus a few from Sunbury, Molesey, Walton and Thames Ditton.

Many maintained sector escapees who find the school reassuringly normal. ‘You don’t forget where you’ve come from,’ said one. School’s home is a pretty listed building with modern, planning department-friendly additions including new art and music block, complete with clock (also courtesy of parents) and railings, both in vibrant purple which also features in tasteful stripes down tracksuits, sensible exercise in restraint that stops assembly resembling a storm at a lavender farm.

Pre-prep has a semi secret location at the back of the attractive multi-purpose hall (eye-catching wavy roof, sprung floor, variable acoustics - older pupils would need keener hearing than ours to pick up more than the occasional word during otherwise delightfully inclusive whole-school assembly). Open the door and the light, airy kingdom of the 4 to 7-year-olds is revealed. ‘It’s about being loved, nurtured, feeling secure and taking risks,’ says pre-prep head Mrs Barnes, an English specialist who has been at the school for 15 years and exudes warmth.

Freeflow rules outside with communal areas for all while reception, year 1 and year 2 each have side-by-side plant-filled little gardens, with a secret leafy nature trail at the back, venue for (low) risk activities like building dens. Details-driven head of maintenance has even fitted nest boxes round the pre-prep building (RSPCA occasionally called in to rescue stranded fledglings) and prefers real grass over chilly perfection of artificial version (hurrah!), which is confined solely to reception garden after nature proved unable to compete with over-enthusiastic scootering.

Lessons are lively, from year 2, cutting out pyramids, sticking pinwheels in the top and then testing them courtesy of teacher’s hairdryer, to popular prep history teacher who performs own songs. Jokes are terrible, say pupils, but it means the dates stick.

If displays were little restrained in places (art room was a bit too neat and tidy for our liking though ‘20 minutes ago, it would have been at a peak of messiness,’ tour guide assures us), opinions aren’t. Pupils have minds of their own and views they’re keen to air, given half a chance, from reception upwards. (‘We always put a chatty child by the door to talk to visitors,’ says Mrs Barnes).

Ask one child what their favourite subject was and you won’t be allowed to leave until everyone else in the class has told you theirs, too. ‘Mine is ICT, because it stands for Ice Cream Tasting,’ we were told by one impish year 4 pupil.

Inevitable and considerable planning goes on behind the scenes. Pre-prep subject coordinators (specialists for music, sport, ICT) work with prep team on curriculum development to ensure seamless transition. Even the library is sensible organised, with fiction and factual books in different rooms, work and play carefully separated. There’s do-able homework which increases in upper years but so gradually you ‘don’t really notice,’ thought pupil.

School’s not very secret weapon throughout is emphasis on mind games (think fun rather than interrogation) with focus on problem solving, timetabled through the school and taught by specialists. Reception pupils might work out where to site farm animals (where do you put the pigs if they don’t like talking to the sheep?); older pupils have more overt problem solving and strategy. Don’t do things by halves – there’s even a week-long mind festival (think cerebral sports day - synapse and spoon race?).

Does wonders for exam technique - ‘Helps your brain,’ confirmed year 3 pupil –and boosts resilience. Just as well given the inevitable cloud on the horizon, those horribly stressful 11+ and 13+ entrance exams.

Generally, they’re managed with kindness and sensitivity by the school and with grace and good humour by pupils. We did pick up a few worries at the top end of the school. ‘How are you feeling about your exams?’ we asked one senior boy. ‘Fine… and that’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told.’

But that’s down to the system, not the school. Parents and pupils stressed (and re-stressed) the quality of staff. ‘Kind and nice,’ said a pupil (and umpteen mums and dads, often adding ‘nurturing’ by way of ringing the changes). While there is pressure to do well, it often comes from within. ‘I wanted to repay my parents for the investment they’ve made in me,’ said a scholarship winner, and clearly meant it.

Emphasis throughout is on knowing pupils inside out (can verge on over-cossetting for the occasional senior pupil) with teaching and support tailored accordingly. Setting (maths the biggy, though also small groups for English and French) is broad brushstroke rather than fiddly to avoid anyone feeling either singled out or sidelined.

Small details matter – one teacher writes end of week ‘good news’ note for each pupil - while rewards are all about doing better: credits and escalating precious metal merit certificates to year 6; recent switch to £5 Amazon vouchers for top years. ‘Bet the teachers have never seen such good behaviour…’ said year 6 girl of older boys. Demerits (for repeated transgressions - eg.not handing in homework) are tactically used: ‘Year 6s letting off steam after pre-tests is time to monitor everyone carefully,’ says member of staff. Can, but usually don’t, result in ‘sensible’ detentions used, for example, to catch up with work.

Sense of being looked after is palpable. One of our guides may have done 40 or so tours but insists that the 41st (ours) is a treat (and we got bonus points for asking some different questions). Even the fish in two tanks by the entrance – tiddlers when they arrived, now approaching catch of the day size – seemed to exude contentment.

Rivalry does exist but is sensibly channelled. Would-be prep prefects nominate themselves, run hustings and incentivise the plebiscite with speeches and the odd song (sweets are banned). ‘Odd maverick does get elected - and often surprisingly good,’ says school. Otherwise, there’s competition between the four houses, named for local notables. Each gets an assertive website write up, headed by surprising claim that David Garrick ‘would be proud of some of our theatrical renditions of Boom–Chig–a–Boom in house assemblies.’

Presumably he’d also be impressed by the productions, mainly combining two year groups, younger as choir, older taking the main acting and singing parts, year 7 solo effort featuring cameo parts for staff. Sport has been seen as less of a focus, reinforced by trophy cabinet. ‘Three-quarters … are for chess,’ pointed out tour guide. Perceptions are outdated, says Mr Malam, who reckons that sport is now on a par with other local schools and points to victories (winners of three football tournament in one term) as well as investment in good coaches and upping of fixtures.

Bar the normal anomaly of girls’ vs boys’ sports (several girls we spoke to wouldn’t mind a crack at football and cricket, though we couldn’t find any boys feeling the love for netball…) there’s masses of choice. Curriculum also supplemented by numerous after-school clubs (one athletics/chess enthusiast – clearly a born multi-tasker – solves timetable clash by sprinting between the two) and extensive charity work (pupils involved in selecting deserving causes), with long term support for Street Child African and school in Malawi.

Mind games almost essential to winkle out wish list items from these happy parents. For girls entering the school at out of the ordinary times, it can be hard to break into well-established friendship groups. ‘Not the same for boys – they have football,’ said one, gloomily – perhaps another argument for shoehorning a girls’ team on to the list?

Bar a few mild gripes about slightly variable lunches (hunger damped down by break time snacks, ‘some the size of a three-course meal,’ said a pupil) we’d rate this a must visit prep, which manages anxieties and aspirations of pupils (and parents) with aplomb and warmth.

Special Education Needs

Twickenham Preparatory School caters for pupils with a specific learning difficulty within the average range of ability. As the School is academic and feeds many highly selective senior schools we do not take pupils with above average learning difficulties. Pupils are screened for literacy related problems from Year 2. Where a specific learning difficulty of a minor nature is identified the appropriate course of action is made in close consultation with parents.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
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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