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Certainly a lively phonics lesson was in progress when we visited – year 1s having a blast with an enthusiastic male teacher – 40 per cent of the teaching staff are men and there’s a healthy range of ages. ‘The teachers show immense enthusiasm for the individual child,’ said a parent. Languages are a way of life – doors, windows, books and even the head’s office are labelled in Espagnol and the school is recognised by the Spanish embassy as being… 

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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 Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2011, Mr Nigel Helliwell BEd MA (London), previously head of Brentwood Prep for six years. Began his career teaching maths and PE at Ilkley Grammar School in Yorkshire, then moved to preps in East Anglia and south London. A qualified independent schools' inspector (sets a lot of store by ‘lockers and loos’ – St Faith’s are exemplary) and an accomplished sportsman, having played rugby and cricket at county level. Married to Jane, who used to be a senior manager in a housing association and now enjoys helping the pupils with their reading and cheering from the touchline. They have one son and an Irish jack russell.

Head eats with the children daily and personally hand-delivers birthday cards (there was one in his pocket on our tour). Has made a quiet impact - though, as he says, the challenge was only to lift the school further into the stratosphere. However, the ‘subtle improvements’ have not gone unappreciated by parents, who have noted that his communication with them is now more frequent and that there’s a useful parents’ handbook, improved website and a hard copy calendar as well as electronic to keep all in the loop. Higher standards of appearance and manners – ‘so important in the world of work today,’ he says – have also gone down well, as has his wise advice on potential next schools, born out of diligent personal research. ‘Mr Helliwell has suggested senior schools for my son that were not even on my radar, yet they have proved to be spot on,’ said one mother.

Head is complemented by a hands-on bursar who is keen to keep the campus shipshape and parents particularly praise his marshalling of the new ‘drop-off zone’, arranged in collaboration with school’s neighbours in the interest of good relations and less stressful mornings.

Entrance

Strong demand for places so names on the waiting list as soon as possible advised. Entry to pre-prep is offered by the head after a parental visit and a meeting with the child at their nursery. For all other years there are assessments in English and maths. Sibling policy gives priority on the waiting list.

Exit

About half to The Leys – otherwise to eg the Perse schools, Uppingham, King's Ely, St Mary's, Oakham, Sancton Wood, Felsted. Past pupils include Maynard Keynes, Christopher Cockerell (inventor of the Hovercraft), Sir John Tusa and England rugby player Alex Goode.

Our view

Head's aspiration is to develop St Faith’s national profile to be similar to that of Oxford’s Dragon School and – minus the boarding – it’s a dead cert, thanks to a child-centred educational philosophy that turns out sparky individuals with high all-round expectations and the skills to meet them.

The caps are gone but the ‘distinctive’ red, black and white striped blazers remain – rather Marmite. St Faith’s opened in 1884 as a boys' school (girls joined in 1995). It shares the same Methodist foundation as The Leys and lives in a mixture of buildings on the opposite side of Trumpington Road, from the comfortable traditional to the buzzy contemporary. On the deceptively spacious site, behind a quirky ironwork fence designed by a local artisan, pre-preppers are accommodated in superb new edifices whose child-friendly architecture won a national design award. Inside, curvy walls, brightly coloured floors and cartoon doors make it a fun learning environment for the children – and staff, we imagine. Certainly a lively phonics lesson was in progress when we visited – year 1s having a blast with an enthusiastic male teacher – 40 per cent of the teaching staff are men and there’s a healthy range of ages. ‘The teachers show immense enthusiasm for the individual child,’ said a parent. ‘They constantly strive to find out who your child is and what makes them tick.’

All three ‘Foundation’ (reception) classrooms open onto an outdoor decked area and tinies have their own adventure playground, secluded from the older pupils’ more traditional but no less well-equipped domain, which stretches across the site. Three classes of 14 children in pre-prep, with average of 16 children per class all through the school and a teaching assistant in every one; around 40 per cent girls. Classes are arranged in houses and there is a ‘strong family feel,’ say parents. Whole school assembly weekly, but every child has four assemblies in various permutations. All fit in the hall, which is complete with drop-down projector screens and professional stage lighting and sound for the many productions.

Pyramid educational philosophy here – school does well for all but can really extend those at the top, encouraging them to achieve at a national level. One of the head’s major changes so far has been to extend lesson times from 30 to 50 minutes with a five-minute changeover – allows pupils to engage more deeply with their work. Reporting to parents has also been tightened – now grades for attainment as well as effort every half term for 7+. Parents’ evenings are formal in the first term of the year and followed by ‘tutor surgeries’ in the other two. Academic achievement is generally well above the national average, although a minority of children, including learners with difficulties and/or disabilities (LDD) and any with special educational needs (SEN), are aided by the friendly learning support unit.

Very inclusive ethos – ‘responsibility is given to all, not just the select few,’ says head. All top year pupils are prefects and there is a ladder of leadership skills from a young age. So much so that this year all four heads of school at The Leys, Perse and Stephen Perse Foundation are Old Fidelians. Regularly two dozen scholarships a year to good senior schools – half academic and the rest a mixture of art, drama, music and sport – reflecting the high level of attainment across the board.

Languages are a way of life – doors, windows, books and even the head’s office are labelled in Espagnol and the school is recognised by the Spanish embassy as being in the top 10 in the country for teaching of the language. Year 4 drama production is all in Spanish – ‘the language is totally integrated,’ says head. Latin from age 9, French from 11, Greek for high-flyers in year 8 and Cambridge University students teach ancient Greek. Trip to Pompeii is popular. School really on the button with computer science – out with the ICT and in with a new head of digital learning, who brings programming to children aged 9 plus, with general keyboard and communications skills for those younger. Everyone from year 3 up has an hour of engineering each week. New STEM building under construction to link science, engineering, computing, art and design departments with night sky viewing platform and rooftop greenhouse.

‘It’s easy to judge the quality of sport by the scoreline,’ says head. ‘Music, art and drama are less easy to rate but we have a lot of success.’ Professional artist works full-time alongside the teacher, advising, inspiring and also working on his own commissions. Pupil artwork on display could be mistaken for GCSE. All over the age of 7 are treated to DT in the best-equipped workshops we’ve ever seen in a prep – vast doors allow huge pieces of professional machinery to be wheeled in and out. Results are impressive and scholarships are won. School hosts the IAPS national DT conference. Eco-garden at the front of the school, designed by pupils in a fellow’s memory, is a well-considered place for quiet contemplation. Director of music is ex-King’s College and although all levels of talent are appreciated, the most gifted do well and include members of the National Youth Orchestra and regional choirs. Superb music rooms double as a performance space and there are banks of Apple Macs equipped with music tech software, used by everyone over the age of 4.

Indeed, sport is a real strength, with seemingly invincible teams and individuals in most disciplines, but all have a chance to represent the school in teams A-D. Good acreage of playing fields a minute’s walk across the road, including the usual pitches and two Astros, used by all over the age of 9 twice a week, plus clubs. ‘Main sporting competition is now national,’ says head. New £3m – from school’s own funds – sports hall hosts regional and national competitions.

All aged over 7 are welcome in the library any time and it stays open after school for prep and reading. School day finishes at 3.40pm but optional (and mostly free) activities until 5pm. All-roundedness is encouraged and a surprising amount can be shoehorned into the school day – ‘our sports mad boys have also been able to learn to play musical instruments to a high level, with minimal conflict,’ reported a parent; ‘my children are never bored,’ said another. Family breakfast from 7.15am is a very popular option – a chance for parents to catch up with the kids, eat a hearty full English and avoid the worst of the city traffic. Lunch is three hot options as well as sandwiches, a salad bar and choice of puddings and fruit – all you can eat.

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