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On a leafy road in Cambridge opposite the college playing fields (which they share), the school occupies three adjacent buildings, all imaginatively extended and modernised. The role music plays in school life is evident. The purpose built music school is set around a courtyard with a fountain playing, one’s ears greeted with the sound of trumpet practice or piano lessons issuing from one of the many practice rooms. The art room opens off the garden and is an enticing space with facilities for every possible kind of creativity, textiles, pottery, weaving, papier mâché and oil painting and an emphasis on…

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


Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.



What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2016, Neil Chippington MA (Cantab) FRCO (late 40s), previously head of St Paul’s Cathedral school. After reading music at Gonville and Caius, where he was also organ scholar, he was briefly employed teaching and as organist at Cranleigh (a school he himself attended) and this led to him deciding on a career in teaching. First at Winchester, where he taught music and was housemaster for eight years, then moving to St Paul’s, a co-ed choir school, in 2009. As a gifted musician, he understands from experience what is expected of the choristers in his care, although his dedication is very much to the whole school and the education of every pupil. Un-stuffy and easy to talk to, with an engaging, almost boyish appearance and the lean greyhound build of the serious runner (which he is). He thinks education should be about giving children the necessary skills to navigate their way through learning, a life-long process and that St John’s offers more than the traditional academic focus by helping pupils to develop enquiring minds and attitudes: ‘We want our pupils to keep asking the question, “why?”’ he told us, adding, ‘We want pupils to be asking themselves, “Where do I go to get to the next bit?” They will become the problem solvers of the future.’

A former chorister himself (Winchester Cathedral) and currently chair of the Choir Schools’ Association, he is steeped in the cathedral/choral tradition and all it offers for the ‘naturally musical, bright child’. His wife, Leisle, also teaches at the school and they have two sons, both educated at St John’s. He is a keen cyclist and runner and regularly takes part in half marathons and triathlons for charity. He attends evensong at St John’s as often as possible - ‘it is always a great pleasure.’ He lives next door to the boarding house with his family.


Entry at 4+ is by registration and parental interview (40 places). There is no formal assessment of children at this stage other than to ensure the child is ready for the school environment and will be happy. The wellbeing of pupils is central to the culture of the school; academic achievements come as a result of this and parents must understand and support this view. At 7+ pupils spend half a day in school with informal assessments in English and maths but again, ‘we are asking the question, “will this child be happy here?”.’ So, not highly selective in the formal sense, but this is Cambridge and pupils are, as one would suppose, a bright, motivated bunch. Admission to the handful of boarders (aged 8+) is dependent upon a place being available in the day school. Admission to choristers (aged 8+ when they join the school; all board) is by a voice trial. Pupils are drawn from Cambridge and the environs, some from London, further afield for boarders. Parents mostly come from business, academic and professional backgrounds.


Apart from the odd pupil leaving at 11, usually for a local state school, the overwhelming majority leave at 13 - ‘Having those two years at the top is so valuable,’ says head. Occasionally parents are advised to move their child if it is felt they would be happier elsewhere, and help is always given to find the right place. Excellent support and advice about senior schools. ‘We sometimes ask, “have you considered so and so school?” Knowing the children, we can suggest schools that may be a better fit’.

Large numbers leave for the local independents or the boarding schools within easy reach. In 2023, Stephen Perse Foundation and The Leys scooped up the most pupils, followed by Uppingham, King's Ely, Oundle, Perse Upper, Winchester and Eton. Students sometimes head to Bedford, Comberton Village College, Culford, Harrow, Royal Hospital School, Sancton Wood and Stoke College. Eighteen scholarships in 2022. No linked senior school.

Our view

Founded in the 17th century to educate the choristers in the choir of St John’s College, this core purpose remains at the heart of a school, with music in its DNA. Though musically at the top of the tree, it is the school’s approach to learning that attracts parents. -‘We chose it over others because we loved the ethos, it’s all about how children can learn best.’ The refusal of the school to engage in constant assessment and testing of pupils is seen as a strength - ‘They are allowed to have a childhood’, ‘not a school that panders to parents wanting to see a lot of gold stars.’ There are no exams until the top two forms. Encouraging intellectual curiosity early on rather than stressing about tests, certainly seems to develop confidence. Pupils tend to go on to do really well at senior stage and ‘they look back and realise how much St John’s is part of their success,’ said a parent. Though the school is immensely proud of the choristers and does all it can to smooth their path, once in school, ‘no privileges or star status.’ Choristers rehearse from 7.30 to 9am and again after school until evensong at 6.30pm in the college chapel. There are weekend services in term time but St John’s does not require the boys at Christmas or Easter except for tours or recording. ‘As well as the music, being a chorister has taught me to concentrate and to look presentable,’ said one. ‘I like the atmosphere in chapel and passing the tradition on.’ A professional standard is expected from the boys – and received.

On a leafy road in Cambridge opposite the college playing fields (which they share), the school occupies three adjacent buildings, all imaginatively extended and modernised. No architectural gems, but everything well designed for occupation and purpose by the different year groups. Buildings are surrounded by interesting woodland areas (some started from scratch within the last five years) for play and learning in a forest school setting, plus, ‘it makes for a far better view from the window than a concrete playground.’ Very true.

Byron House, the base for the early years (up to aged 8) is a two-storey building with light classrooms, each with their own cloakroom. Many ground floor rooms lead out onto a veranda that runs around a courtyard full of enticing play and climbing equipment. Byron House has its own hall for assemblies, gym and lunch and a large well stocked library. The pupils’ natural interests are key to laying the foundation for successful learning and classrooms are planned for collaborative tasks (writing on desks is encouraged – the tops are made of whiteboard) with carpeted areas for group discussion. The wellbeing of pupils underlies the way they are taught from the outset - ‘we want them to give things a try without being worried about getting it wrong,’ said the head of learning. We saw a class of 5 year olds learning the rudiments of the shoulder massage (carefully asking permission from their partner first), another discussing their emotions (how to deal with being frozen with fright) to a teacher led class on long multiplication. Technology is widely used to support tailored learning strategies and Chrome books are on hand in every classroom for creative writing or research. There is a cheerful buzz in every room and not much notice taken of visitors – everyone too engrossed in what they are doing.

Senior House is centred on a 1950s era building and others with an attractive mix of architectural styles (some with clapboarding), mainly single storey and positioned to create interesting spaces with quadrangles, piazzas and the (so-called) quiet garden. The role music plays in school life is evident. The purpose built music school is set around a courtyard with a fountain playing, one’s ears greeted with the sound of trumpet practice or piano lessons issuing from one of the many practice rooms. The art room opens off the garden and is an enticing space with facilities for every possible kind of creativity, textiles, pottery, weaving, papier mâché and oil painting and an emphasis on recycling - chicken wire, hessian sacks and old mop heads turned (with great skill) into various animals. Older pupils can drop in and get cracking on projects at lunchtimes. Drama is taught throughout the school and the large multi-purpose Hinsley Hall includes a stage and a control room so there are opportunities for pupils more interested in direction or the technical side as well as for acting. Most thrilling of all perhaps is helping with costumes in the Aladdin’s cave ‘props’ room. This interesting space is crammed from floor to ceiling with such items as animal heads, outfits for characters in Alice in Wonderland, a full set of World War 1 uniforms, costumes for fairies, pirates and vicars – a dressing up fantasy world. The wardrobe mistress combines her role with that of librarian in Byron House. ‘It’s the coolest place,’ say the children and one can but agree. Costumes are loaned to other schools and organisations. Each year several, ‘set piece,’ performances take place including two nativity plays and a passion play together with at least seven other productions – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ among recent offerings. The library is large and beautiful with mullioned windows and attractive displays of books and seating – exactly the kind of place to encourage reading. Timetabled library lessons throughout the school with provision for independent study in break and lunchtimes. A book week is held each February and authors regularly visit.

Latin is taught enthusiastically from year 5 - ‘pupils all benefit from a grounding in the classics, whether they go on to study it or not and apart from it improving their spelling!’ Setting in English and maths from year 5 and these sets lead to groupings for other subjects which may be a mixed blessing though it means ‘ we really get to know each other,’ according to pupils. Class sizes are kept to well under 20, with three registration groups to a year. The individual is offered tailored support when it is needed – at no extra cost. ‘We try to pick up on any difficulties quickly.’ Those trying for scholarships are given extra tuition in particular subjects. The timetable is flexible; an enrichment programme operates each Thursday afternoon for 9-13 year olds which enables cross-curricular work in the arts and sciences, plus the My Mind programme which includes tai chi, yoga and relaxation techniques. Team sports are all played enthusiastically and include fives and squash in addition to rugby, cricket and hockey. Rowing on the river Cam is an option in years 5 and 6 and pupils take part in regattas against local schools. Athletics, both track and field are the main focus of summer PE .

A dazzling array of after school clubs from year 3 up includes rowing, motor skills, musical theatre club, art club, tennis, poetry and debating. As you would expect, a staggering range of musical groups, choirs, ensembles and orchestras that cover every possible interest, the Menuhin string quartet, Rubinstein piano ensemble, chamber choir (invitation) Bluenotes and Rednotes jazz groups and music theory. Clubs finish by 5.30pm.

The school’s distinctive cherry red (wool) blazers are worn in combination with kilted skirts or trousers and pupils seem to like them. ‘They are warm,’ ‘My mother doesn’t bother to clean mine except occasionally,’ (small wonder – dry clean only) ‘We like them, this is my sister’s!’ etc. There is a brisk market in hand-me-downs and lots of siblings share items of uniform that is pricey if you buy the lot brand new. Dress code does not include shoes - ‘anything black will do,’ say pupils and we saw lace ups, buckle fastenings, even patent leather. Pupils are friendly, clever and fun, happy to chat about a school they obviously enjoy being part of.


Choristers (aged 8 and up) all board full time with another 20 or so, mostly older, pupils. Weekly/flexi boarding available. Choir parents agree that though 8 ‘is young for full boarding, they are looked after so sensitively.’ Parents of choristers often attend evensong and drop by at the house afterwards for tea with their sons in the kitchen. At weekends, choristers are allowed to go out with their families on Saturdays after morning rehearsal.

The house has been adapted and decorated in a beach hut-chic style - lots of pale wood, dazzling white walls (painted each year), tip top bathrooms and spacious carpeted landings. Bedrooms are four or six bedded, boys and girls on separate floors though mixed downstairs. A recreation room with snooker, table football, squashy seating and a television for (rare) off duty moments. Lovely un-institutional kitchen with whopping table round which entire choir can squash for toast and hot drinks after evensong. Meals are eaten in the school dining room. Staff all very aware of helping pupils, especially choristers, pace themselves. ‘If one seems particularly tired towards the end of term, I may keep them off games and let them have a catch-up sleep.’ Only a few, but strictly kept, rules - no child to enter another dorm, no mobile phones in the boarding house at all and no tuck. This last deprivation is, ‘tough, but pupils take it in their stride. They understand the reason behind it.’ House parents are loved by their charges and parents alike - ‘they really care for the children and will always go the extra mile.’ There is a small, quiet room where a child can rest if ill and is waiting to be collected. No off-putting dirty kit or socks anywhere, everything spick and span, a haven to return to.

Money matters

Decisions about bursaries and awards are made by the Governors’ Bursaries committee, with guidance from the headmaster and bursar, and are subject to annual review. Choristers receive scholarships of 66 per cent of the boarding fee which can be supplemented by a bursary of up to100 per cent, depending on financial circumstances.

The last word

This is an unpretentious school where bright, talented pupils receive an exceptional education that encourages intellectual curiosity and artistic integrity, without any surrendering of childhood. Can wisdom be taught? St John’s is having a jolly good try.

Special Education Needs

‘‘Each child is special: each child has needs: each child has special needs. These are truths as old as time, carried in the heart of any parent and any good teacher.’ (K L Jones, Head) As set out in the school’s Ethos and Aims, we aim ‘to meet the individual needs, foster the aptitudes and nurture the growth of each child.’ In this sense, the school’s Individual Needs provision is part of a wider commitment to helping any child to discover his or her ability. The provisions of SENDA aside, we do not view learning difficulties as disabling but rather as obstacles to fulfilling potential which, with appropriate support, can in many cases be overcome. This difference of emphasis has significant consequences. It is by no means the case that learning difficulties are experienced only by the less able. Indeed, the problems encountered by the most gifted children can require considerable specialist attention. St John’s is therefore committed to meeting the needs of children who have an identified learning difficulty, whatever their innate ability. It is worthy of note, in this respect, that many children who gain academic awards to their senior schools have, at some point, been given Individual Needs support. While the Individual Needs department’s Procedure for Referral and Organisation of Provision (PROP) follows the approach recommended by the DfES Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 2001, the school far exceeds any statutory obligations in its approach to identifying and meeting a child’s needs. St John’s has specialist staff, trained and qualified to assess, recognise and deal with learning problems throughout the age and ability range. We do not have a separate Individual Needs ‘unit’ because the close relationship and constant communication between individual needs and mainstream teachers (many wear both hats) is an essential factor in the early identification and the continuing management of any difficulty. As a consequence, ‘internal’ assessment of children is commonplace when a difficulty has been observed and has been discussed with parents. In a similar vein, the ‘threshold’ of intervention is much lower than in most schools. The vast majority of children in receipt of support will have very mild or mild specific learning difficulties. For many of these, the provision will be relatively short term, addressing a particular concern at a particular time. For others, support may be needed throughout their time at the school and beyond. The level of awareness of all staff is very high. There is an ‘Action Plan’ for every child in the school which is constantly updated and formally reviewed and attention to the individual child is a part of the culture. For children with learning difficulties, through specific training and through involvement in framing each child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), the mainstream teachers are made fully aware of any child’s difficulties and can therefore plan their teaching accordingly. In this respect, all children benefit greatly from the teachers’ awareness of different learning styles, irrespective of whether they have a learning difficulty. The level of communication with home is, likewise, very high. Parents are informed of any concern, give their permission for any assessment, discuss the outcomes of such assessment in detail with the staff concerned and are fully involved thereafter in the creation and regular updating of a child’s IEP. They meet formally and informally with a child’s Individual Needs teacher to discuss progress and agree action. The school is able to refer children to a wide range of outside agencies (Educational Psychologists, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Optometrists, etc) all of whom work in close co-operation with the Individual Needs department. Any such referral is discussed with parents before it goes ahead and the outcome of any assessment is communicated to all mainstream teaching staff. The effect of a learning difficulty on a child’s self-esteem is of paramount concern. While the identification of a difficulty is naturally a cause for concern to parents, it is almost always a source of comfort to the child. To know that there is a difficulty and that you will be helped to overcome it is a reassuring process and, while children’s self-esteem is very closely monitored and carefully nurtured by the department and by the staff as a whole, being given Individual Needs support is felt as positive by the vast majority of children concerned. It is a matter of pride, in this respect, that our children will talk openly and without embarrassment to prospective parents about their difficulties. The range of Individual Needs teaching, as outlined below, is wide and will vary according to a child’s needs. • At Byron House, we offer small group Enrichment English and Mathematics support and Motor Skills Groups free of charge. The School may also provide, free of charge, one Individual Needs lesson in the Pre-Prep. • All Individual Needs tuition in Form 1 and above is charged to parents. • At Senior House, a range of provision is made, free of charge. Enrichment classes in English continue and Spelling and Listening Skills clubs are offered to children who would benefit from the small group support. Small groups of children are also invited to attend Touch Typing classes if their needs warrant this provision. Curriculum support is also available to those who do not study Latin in Forms 4-6. In Form 6, children who would benefit from extra help to develop study skills and examination technique attend short courses in small groups. The school has a library of laptops for those children who will benefit from their use in the classroom. In due course, some children will move on to home owned laptops. Provision for the use of laptops in examinations is negotiated by the school, as appropriate, with a child’s future school. EAL The school may admit children for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL) if it deems them able, with appropriate support, to benefit in due course from the mainstream curriculum. Until such a time, individual tuition in English is provided by a specialist teacher in place of mainstream lessons as appropriate. It is a condition of admission that the cost of such tuition and of any necessary assessment charges should be borne by the parents. Such charges will be communicated to parents with the offer of a place. Timetabling of Individual Needs Lessons The individual needs of each child are taken into account when timetabling lessons. Lessons take place before school, during part of lunchtime or in specified timetable slots which cause the least disruption to mainstream teaching. Assessment It is the policy of the School that a child requiring individual provision is assessed by one of our specialist assessors, the cost of which, as advised by the Head of Individual Needs, is borne by parents (although the school may be willing to provide financial support, if necessary). Many Senior Schools require an educational psychologist’s assessment prior to entry to confirm examination concessions. Where the School proposes a referral for assessment by an Educational Psychologist for this or other reasons, the cost of a referral is borne by the parents. The Head of Individual Needs makes arrangements for all forms of internal or external assessment of children. In the best interests of the children, parents are expected to share with the school any information arising from external assessments which they have themselves arranged. Where an Individual Needs assessment by the School’s staff or by an outside agency is deemed necessary prior to the offer of a place, parents of potential new entrants should expect to bear the cost of such assessment. Statutory Assessment As set out in the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 2001, 7.9: ‘In some cases, schools…. will conclude, after they have taken action to meet the learning difficulties of a child, that the child’s needs remain so substantial that they cannot be met effectively within the resources normally available to the school.’ In such a case, the school has ‘a statutory right to ask the LEA to conduct a statutory assessment ….. of a child’s educational needs’ (Education Act 1996, 329A) which may result in a Statement of Special Educational Needs, as documented in the Code of Practice. In such circumstances, the school undertakes to work in accordance with the Code of Practice and in co-operation with parents, the LEA and other agencies as appropriate, to reach an outcome that is in a child’s best interests. With regard to the admission to the school of a statemented child, the school operates in accordance with its Disability Policy. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
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

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