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Unique blend of progressive philosophy and traditional standards in a beautiful setting. Produces ‘aspirational pupils’ of all abilities; hugely committed staff are encouraged to ‘go with their own ideas.’  Discrete early years’ section located in somewhat dated timber-clad classrooms: ‘we’re more interested in what goes on inside,’ a mother told us. Forest school and outside learning an important element: we saw tinies enjoying hot chocolate by a camp fire. Pupils get the Swallows and Amazons treatment and...

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What the school says...

St Peter's School is an independent preparatory school set in 28 beautiful acres overlooking the Exe Estuary, we offer a full and broad curriculum right from the start. We offer scholarships at Year 6 and we achieve excellent SATS results. Our pupils gain places to top independent senior schools when they leave us. The Independent Schools Inspectorate declared 'The educational experience at St Peter's is outstanding', 'Leadership and management are highly successful and give effective and clear educational direction, reflected in the good standards achieved, the pupil's outstanding personal development and the fulfillment of the school's ethos and aims'. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2016, Charlotte Johnston, previously deputy head (academic) at Edge Grove School in Herts. Studied English and history of art at Birmingham; PGCE primary from University of Herts; MEd from Buckingham. Worked as a change management consultant for PwC; after starting a family she retrained as a teacher and joined Edge Grove in 2002. She and Oliver (a police officer) have two children.

Entrance

Non-selective: ‘not saturated with tests on taster days,’ we were told. Takes rising 3s upwards; staff will decide on admission either into KG or nursery class (voucher system operates but those not aiming at pre-prep go to back of the queue).

Exit

Most remain to 13 and proceed to south west independent day and boarding schools (Exeter most popular, then Blundells, Wellington, Taunton). Up to two-thirds obtain scholarships (23 offered in 2017); net is being cast wider to include eg Millfield, Truro, Stover. Small number leaves at end of year 6, mainly to Colyton and Torquay grammars.

Our view

Founded in 1882, St Peter’s enjoys a stunning position (a sign near the main entrance invites visitors to ‘please enjoy the view’) overlooking the Exe estuary. Built for a local notable in late 1820s, Harefield House was in the hands of the Peters family (a portrait of late Admiral Sir Arthur Peters can be seen on the main staircase) for a century until 1949 when the then head, Mr Theophilus Rhys Jones (grandfather of HRH Sophie), moved the school here from Exmouth. Current bursar and a former head are co-proprietors; school is run by an executive management team, assisted by a broad-based committee of reference; estate trustees have considerable say on development issues.

Produces ‘aspirational pupils’ of all abilities; hugely committed staff are encouraged to ‘go with their own ideas.’ Home-grown baccalaureate encompasses three key learning skills: curiosity, finding and presenting. Core academic areas are balanced by creative and performing arts, plus sport and personal qualities. All children are marked throughout school for effort. Emphasis on personalised learning: children present their understanding using any medium which suits them (which may well not be essay writing). Senior schools have shown considerable interest in this approach. Experienced academic team track children’s achievement with emphasis on early intervention.

Co-educational since 1974, balance between sexes fluctuates from year to year; overall numbers close to capacity. Small (14 bed) flexi boarding facility with houseparents in charge; separate dormitories and combined games and common room areas. ‘School makes a fuss of the boarders,’ said one boarding mum whose son ‘simply loves it.’ Friday night provision entails sprog collection by 10am on Saturday.

Site includes three main outside areas. Lovely cricket pitch with own pavilion (highlight is annual game against Lympstone village team); adventure playground, separate 10-acre field nearby (used for athletics and rugby) is reached via safe path which snakes its way through much-used forest school woodland area; adjacent smaller field used for pre-prep sports as well as daily activities. Newish Astroturf for mini hockey and tennis; outside heated swimming pool in use between May and September. Re-floored sports hall (squash court also in complex) provides a full size basketball court; doubles up as a venue for assemblies and smaller scale productions.

Discrete early years’ section located in somewhat dated timber-clad classrooms: ‘we’re more interested in what goes on inside,’ a mother told us. Carefully zoned outside play areas; new outside performance facility has sound system provided through parental fundraising. Cosy KG classroom boasts highest staff:pupil ratio. Easy transfer to nursery (shell 3) and 90 per cent proceed to reception (shell 4) classes. Forest school and outside learning an important element: we saw tinies enjoying hot chocolate by a camp fire.

We liked the way that planning, monitoring progress and regular information sharing with parents all figure prominently as part of a whole school approach. Goals for youngest broken down into ‘stepping stones’. Wide range of reading resources; some nursery children are ‘reading ready’, we were told. Obvious focus on language development: separate ‘time to talk’ area promotes confidence; home/school diaries used daily; plenty of imaginative numeracy work: we saw youngest children measuring paper worms and making numbers with them. Lively classroom displays are linked to changing themes. Rôle play areas mutate from fairy castles to butterfly gardens. Regular pre-prep assemblies: classes take turns to present items. Music and French from the start.

Junior years in separate red-brick building. Streaming in English and maths from year 1, and from year 5 upwards teaching is subject-based. Top set all sit CE 11+ exams. Separate scholarship and CE sets in years 7 and 8. German and Spanish introduced in addition to French from year 7 plus Latin for scholars. High proportion of all-round scholarships obtained attributed to breadth of school’s curriculum.

Seniors shuttle for lessons between outside classrooms, the main house and modernised science laboratory in wing of the sports hall. Refurbished library on ground floor of main house is focus for research including computers, book related activities throughout year eg for World Book Day. Large music room is used for classroom teaching and rehearsals. New ICT suite on first floor provides for class-based work and is carefully monitored. Large art and DT area in separate hut buzzes with creativity: scholars have own carrels and produce work which impressed us by its range and quality. Every pupil had picture in last art exhibition.

Two formal parents’ evenings during year; staff often meet parents after school in flagpole area to sort out small concerns. Email access to all staff and regular newsletters.

Sixty-nine children currently on learning support register; two children are statemented. Strong, switched on remedial help with ‘open doors’ policy: ‘nothing should ever be a shock to parents,’ said SENCo, who came to St Peter’s with 11 years’ experience at Belmont Primary, Chiswick. Range of difficulties includes SpLD and mild Asperger's; to date no child has failed to get a place at a mainstream senior school.

Exceptionally strong sports record maintained over long period with more than a handful making at least county level representative teams. Usual major games for boys and girls; school has really shone at rugby (undefeated 1st XV), netball and squash recently; two boys recently represented English prep school U13 rugby team on tour to France and school also has current England prep schools’ U13 squash champions. All children participate at some level; good fixture lists with south west schools, matches on Wednesday afternoons.

Sixty per cent of pupils have individual music tuition; director is supported by 14 peripatetic staff. School hosts Devon Youth Choir, Orchestra and Brass Band. Regular music assemblies, concerts and performances for soloists and groups throughout year. Activities include chamber choir, woodwind groups, brass ensemble and pop cantata. External festivals, competitions and evensong at Wellington School. Most recent tour to Edinburgh. Large scale dramatic productions staged in Exeter’s Barnfield theatre.

Jolly lot of pupils with lots to do. No mobile phones allowed during school day. Staff will ‘all go the extra mile,’ we were told. ‘The way everyone joins in to help with school productions speaks volumes,’ said deputy head who runs Cross Keys (outdoor adventure) programme. Pupils get the Swallows and Amazons treatment and leave knowing they are achievers. Plenty of after-school activity with full range on Friday afternoons. Options start in year 1 and include drama, yoga and horse riding, not to mention cooking and sailing. Visits start early on and full blown tours feature at upper end and include year 7 stay at Château de la Baudonnière, artists staying in St Ives and ski trip to Andorra.

Pupils come from wide catchment area; many use fleet of liveried minibuses. School day for seniors ends at 5pm. Year 8 pupils take on responsibilities and have own social area. Children meet in tutor groups at start and end of each day. Holiday programme (site closes for only one week in summer) is heavily oversubscribed. Supportive Friends of St Peters runs fundraisers and social events such as annual ball and more recently Burns Night celebration. Notable alumni include Olympic yachtsman Ben Rhodes, journalist Anna Tyzack and children’s TV entertainer, Dominic Wood.

Bursaries granted on individual basis; substantial number of internal scholarships awarded for years 7 and 8 at head’s discretion.

A school with a ‘real heart’ that may be short on some mod cons but compensates by giving value for money. Unique blend of progressive philosophy and traditional standards in a beautiful setting. Obviously happy children who achieve beyond expectations. A breath of fresh air in every sense.

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