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‘We need creative, flexible minds,’ says the head. Engineering taught as a core subject to all pupils from year 3. The children work in teams and their progress is impressive. Older pupils were making paddle boats when we visited and we were astounded by their skills. Discipline and pastoral care spoken of very highly by all parents. ‘We often don’t hear about mild misdemeanors until well after the event, which is how it should be,’ said one parent. Children chatty and delighted to show you their work...

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What the school says...

At St Faiths our philosophy is to value every child as a unique individual, who enjoys learning and thinking for him or herself. We provide a supportive and secure environment in which children can flourish and learn at their own pace and in their own individual way. Our role is to stimulate and encourage their development and enjoyment of learning through a variety of different activities in secure indoor and outdoor situations, through play and through structured and creative activities. We encourage the growth of social skills and empathy amongst the children. The relationships which the children develop with each other and with our staff are central to their happiness and lay the best possible foundations for their future.

St Faiths was founded in 1884 and offers children a thoroughly contemporary education as well as all the benefits associated with a first-class independent school. The day at St Faiths does not start and end when a bell goes children and parents are welcomed for breakfast and our dining hall is often a buzz as many parents enjoy our breakfast offering. There is a popular late stay programme, as well as an impressively long list of activities after school.

Ms Anna Cornell, Registrar, will extend a warm welcome should you decide to visit us, and will be delighted to show you round our school, she will be pleased to answer any of your questions. We look forward to welcoming you to St Faiths.
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What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2011 Nigel Helliwell (mid 50s). Studied maths and PE at Staffordshire teacher training college followed by a masters in curriculum studies from London University, which has influenced several curricular decisions at St Faith’s. This is his third headship. A grammar school boy who first taught senior pupils. Planned to join the RAF as an officer but went to teacher training college on recommendation of his teachers. Held place in RAF for a year but loved teaching so much has never looked back. ‘No regrets’ for passing on a career in the Forces. Changed to teaching prep school aged children as ‘they are like sponges at this age. They learn more quickly and are more reactive.’

Softly spoken, quite intense, smartly turned out, kind and extremely focused. Parents and pupils like him. No, let’s be honest, parents love him. ‘I really like him,’ was said in many different ways by every parent we spoke to. ‘He’s not showy. He took over well and has shown great initiative.’ All parents said academic standards had risen since his arrival. His major changes have been curriculum based, introducing computing and engineering plus 50 minute lessons. He has also overseen one major development of new classrooms in the pre prep department and is now finalising development of the STEAM facilities, which will be completed in September 2018. Parents spoke about him ‘not being a yes man; he can handle pushy parents.’ ‘Not a people pleaser, but will listen.’ All parents said he was approachable and very visible around the school, ‘and the children love him, and he loves them.’ We saw this when accompanying him around the school. All pupils greeted him, wherever they were, and he knew all of them. One mother said, ‘he even joined in with my daughter and her friends when they were skipping around the playground, just because.’ He personally delivers birthday cards to each child on their big day.

Entrance

Oversubscribed; they take registrations from birth onwards. Parents expected to visit school as part of application process. Be aware they want parents who will fit in with the ethos of the school. Priority given to children of Old Fidelians (10 per cent of pupils have parents who attended, many are third and fourth generation), those of staff at St Faith’s and The Leys, and siblings. Head of pre-prep will visit nurseries to observe the child and discuss development. They are looking for potential but usually take 95 per cent of those on the list. Assessment for external entry from year 2. Around 40 sit exam for 15 year 3 places, with priority (but not automatic places) again given to siblings. Most pupils come from state system at this stage, and another six or seven start in year 7. The occasional place available in other year groups due to family relocations. Pupils come from a 25 mile radius of Cambridge. Parents made up of old Fidelians plus many more working at the universities and hospitals. Interesting to note that more than 40 per cent of parents are employed within the engineering/computing/technology and science industries, reflecting the school’s emphasis on STEAM subjects. This intake of families reflects Cambridge’s cosmopolitan, international background with many pupils speaking more than one language. Means-tested bursaries and scholarships available.

Exit

Around half of year 8 children go to The Leys where there are a guaranteed number of places on offer. These are not a shoe-in though, one or two children turned down each year as don’t make the grade. A further 20 per cent go off to board, Uppingham being a firm favourite. The occasional child goes to one of the excellent Cambridge state schools. The remainder to other Cambridge independents eg The Perse Upper. Some 15 per cent leave at the end of year 6, mainly due to parental anxiety about gaining a senior school place. Parents strongly advised to leave pupils at school until end of year 8, actively supported by most senior schools. Increasing numbers of scholarships: 30 out of 67 leavers achieved them in 2017 including academic, sports, drama and all rounders.

Our view

Founded in 1884 and housed ever since on a 12 acre site a stone’s throw from the centre of Cambridge, with a further 20 acres of sports grounds minutes away, St Faith’s offers a leafy, spacious oasis compared to many of the other prep schools in Cambridge. Plenty of space to park for parents, which is unheard of in the city. Pre-prep even has its own entrance gate so parents can easily pick up and drop off. Plenty of outside space for the children to play. We loved that the pre-prep children all had their wellies on at break time so were able to make the most of the grass even on a damp day. Please note the bands on trees marking how high they can climb; excellent to see tree climbing encouraged. The striking red, black and white striped blazers could be an acquired taste, but a perfect marketing tool. There’s no doubt where these children go to school, and they certainly stand out. Matching red doors - thankfully not striped - and they even have a striking red leafed maple holding pride of place in the playground. Whoever planted that had great vision. The school is very proud of its eco friendly credentials. New pre-prep classrooms built to ‘passivhaus’ standards, meaning low cost energy, solar panels et al, there’s even a green roof. Clouds suspended from the ceilings to lower noise and echo. And CO2 monitors that are kept a close eye on by the children. Pupils encouraged to cycle to school and bikes serviced for free if they do so. A car share scheme is being introduced, actively supported by parents.

Pupils are set in all academic subjects from year 5. Parents very impressed with academic standards; ‘It’s an academic school where pupils are stretched,’ was said more than once. All parents spoke about ‘getting the best out of the children, but with no pressure – encouraged, not pushed.’ ‘Children are taught good study skills, a great start to their education.’ Parents spoke about pressure being ‘ramped up’ in year 7 but again with no stress. One parent said, ‘They know when to use the carrot or the stick, and know the pupils well.’ Extra lessons for older pupils aiming for scholarships. Parents spoke about ‘lots of homework and comments from teachers.’ All happy with way they communicate. Interesting to note that head has banned teachers from responding to emails, or emailing each other, in the evenings and at weekends; parents quite happy with this. No children with a formal SEN statement/EHC plan, but those with learning difficulties including dyslexia, dyspraxia and mild autism and ADHD offered lots of extra help by the Discovery Zone, made up of five teachers, 50 children within this. All children’s records computerised with even the most trivial things being noted. Subsequently school keeps a very close eye on them and picks problems up quickly. Many pupils take pre-test exams in year 6 to join senior schools in year 9.

Curriculum very much based on the future, a very forward-looking school. ‘We need creative, flexible minds,’ says the head. Engineering taught as a core subject to all pupils from year 3. The children work in teams and their progress is impressive. Older pupils were making paddle boats when we visited and we were astounded by their skills. Younger children were learning how to cut and draw accurately using lasers. School very cleverly combines maths, sciences, DT and art skills for engineering. Computing also avant garde here. Head has made some very clever appointments in these departments. Heads of department have come from industry backgrounds, retraining as teachers, and this shows in attitude and knowledge. Also delighted to see that both engineering teachers are female. Please note the electric cars on display, built by the pupils during after-school clubs and a hovercraft is next – apt, as Sir Christopher Cockerell was an old boy. New block offers lots of indoor space for experiments and large building projects. They even have an observatory and weather station. Despite excellent computing teaching and skills the pupils don’t have iPads – with full parental support. Lots of computer desks throughout the school but head very keen that children do not spend all day in front of a computer screen. One day a term is spent completely IT free in all teaching, including no LED screens at front of classroom. All lessons we visited were upbeat and cheerful with pupils enthusiastic and engaged – staff too.

Spanish has been the main language for the last 15 years, taught from day one. Latin introduced in year 5, French in year 7, Mandarin and German in year 8. Music and drama popular subjects. More than 30 ensembles on offer and drama productions for each year group. We enjoyed seeing two younger year groups rehearsing, every child with a part to play. ‘There are some super productions,’ was said by all parents.

Wide range of sports, including rowing. Head very keen on sport (as he would be) and wants all abilities taught properly by qualified staff, ‘then they will improve.’ Teams for all, ‘everyone gets a chance'; 20 acres of playing fields just across the road and a five minute walk from the main school. Cricket for all, touch rugby for the less keen boys. Very successful teams, lots of silverware in the cupboard. Mention must go to the gymnasts, boys and girls, who have recently won the IAPS national finals. One parent spoke about how ‘it’s difficult to break into the first team as there are firm favourites, but, to be fair, they are very successful.’ Another commented on ‘pushy parents demanding places, but happy that staff withstand this.’

Discipline and pastoral care spoken of very highly by all parents. ‘We often don’t hear about mild misdemeanors until well after the event, which is how it should be,’ said one parent. Another spoke of their child saying, ‘we don’t do that at St Faith’s!’ Parents spoke about spats being dealt with quickly and kindly and coping methods for those struggling with friendship issues put in place. The odd suspension, one a year. ‘We are a school based on Christian values,’ says the head. ‘Mistakes are made, punishments served and then we move on.’ Interesting to note that all year 8 pupils are made prefects. ‘The slate is wiped clean and virtually all step up to the mark,’ says the head. Plenty of buddy systems and close monitoring. Lots of after-school clubs and late pick ups on offer for busy parents. Popular breakfast club on offer every day, with parents and pupils eating breakfast together.

A joyous school: that is apparent as soon as you walk through the door. ‘It’s the pupils that make the place,’ said one parent; ‘we walked in and felt immediately welcomed by all the children. I wanted that for my children.’ Children chatty and delighted to show you their work. Teachers equally welcoming. Good to see a high number of young male teachers, particularly in the prep. ‘The school chose us,’ said one parent and, ‘they let my child be themselves.’

We enjoyed our chatty lunch with year 8s. Food was excellent so we have to disagree with one, and only one, parent’s gripe about it. Chatty year 8s were happy but had one complaint: ‘Tuck, which is a year 8 privilege, has been made healthy. We no longer get cookies and cakes but have healthy smoothies and fruit instead.’ They were distinctly unimpressed, having looked forward to this throughout their time at the school. We sympathise, but if that is all they have to complain about they are very lucky.

Overall, a very impressive school. Plenty of space, an excellent innovative education but, most importantly, a joyous place to be. As one parent said, ‘I’d like to go myself. What more can you ask?’

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