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Two happy side effects of the Bacc: first, it enables teachers to keep parents comprehensively informed and keep them real; second, it unshackles teachers from the narrow range of the common entrance curriculum, allowing them to range more widely and in a cross-curricular way. It also enables them to take their classes out of doors, investigate and use the landscape. Outdoor pursuits a major feature of the curriculum, the career achievement of one of the deputy heads. Opportunities start in year 5 and the programme kicks in big time in the last two years...

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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 for Years 7 and 8. 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

What the parents say...

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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. Schooled at St Albans High School for Girls and Uppingham, 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. Charlotte enjoys tennis, skiing and yoga, music in all its forms and walking the school dog Monty on the Devon cliffs.

Brims with energy and exudes capability. The latest in a line of excellent heads, she’s had no Augean stable to muck out, but Mrs Johnston is not here to hold steady and consolidate. No, she’s forward-looking, full of plans to make an already very good school even better. Her prescription is straightforward enough: ‘Put the opportunities and support in place and everyone will shine’. Well capable of audacity and not afraid of making waves. Excellent recent appointment of deputy head of teaching and learning. Has revamped the PTA. This is a school in very safe hands.

Entrance

Parents a mix of west country businesspeople and professionals plus an increasing number of lifestyle migrants from London. Academically non-selective, come one, come all from rising 3s upwards. No terrifying tests. All children do a taster day so that teachers can stand back, observe and evaluate. Academically painless, greatly appreciated by parents who want no winnowing ordeals for their child at this age. One parent of three children said, ‘It’s just such a relief to know they’ll take all of them’. Note: the appraisal process includes a behavioural audit. A child must be able to fit in socially. Developmentally delayed social skills (eg Asperger’s) taken into account but disruptiveness an adamant no-no. Join at any time of the year if there’s room. Because this is a popular school there is often a waiting list in one or more year groups. For tinies, childcare vouchers accepted and, if places oversubscribed, priority given to those who commit to moving on to the prep. Bursaries on discretionary basis; some scholarships awarded for years 7 and 8 up to 30 per cent of fees.

Exit

Year groups here number about 30. Around five pupils a year, some of them the brightest, leave at 11 for state grammars eg Colyton. Entrants for the highly selective independents in Exeter leave at the end of year 8. Expert advice given about which independent senior to go on to, sensitively handled. The head has visited and got to know every one of them. Although there's a dearth of decent stand-alone preps in Devon, there’s a senior school for everyone down here, all of them keen to recruit St Peter’s boys and girls, whom they rate. Lots to Exeter School and The Maynard, others to the Tauntons, Blundells, Sherborne, Wellington (popular just now). Some to Truro, some to Stover, some to Millfield. Lots get scholarships of all sorts, far more than you’d expect of a non-selective school, up to 70+ per cent of year 8 leavers. Credit the breadth of the curriculum for this. Starting to send further afield.

Our view

Founded in 1882. Centred on a modest stuccoed mansion house built on high ground in the 1820s in an architecturally indeterminate style with classical features. Could almost pass for 1920s, the more so since it is now painted a striking seaside cream. Prime location, lovely rural setting, ravishing view - it’ll stop you in your tracks - across the fields down to the estuary of the Exe and the high seas beyond.

Present owner is Jon Middleton, former bursar. Knows the workings of the school inside out, meets the head once a week in the role of strategic sounding board, financial guru and guardian of the ethos. Loves this place and is invested for the long term. Governance notably lean, agile and responsive, embodied in a ‘board of reference’ numbering around eight.

Ample grounds, 28 acres, timeless cricket pitch, generous playing fields, outside heated pool. Sports hall that’ll never win any beauty contests but fit for purpose and versatile: comprises a basketball court and squash court, is readily adaptable for assemblies and plays, and houses up-to-date science labs.

Early years classrooms fit the bill: purpose built, we liked the air of calm. Forest school and, highlight of the week, yay, beach school. Many classrooms for years 5+ are timber buildings of uncertain age and WW2 appearance. Characterful for sure - in the words of a parent, ‘They have their charm, a classroom is a classroom’. Indeed. Our view: eligible for updating. Some classrooms in the main house plus the library, handsomely accommodated.

Academically, this is a school with a shining USP: it profiles children holistically and awards them the St Peter’s School Baccalaureate (SPB). So good they registered the trade mark, the SPB has influenced the way a number of other prep schools now assess their pupils. The brainchild of the deputy head of teaching and learning, a teacher of remarkable good sense and bottomless dedication, it both tracks and measures all of a child’s skills throughout their time here. Takes account not just of knowledge but also skills, citizenship, sporting prowess, effort and personal qualities - including things a child does out of school. Appropriate in itself for a mixed-ability school, it challenges children at their own level and is tailor-made for each pupil - what the school calls a ‘personalised learning journey’. Greatly appreciated by senior schools as a detailed cross-curricular gauge of abilities and disposition, where it’s usually preferred to common entrance, now increasingly rarely sat by St Peter’s pupils. Two happy side effects of the Bacc: first, it enables teachers to keep parents comprehensively informed and keep them real; second, it unshackles teachers from the narrow range of the common entrance curriculum, allowing them to range more widely and in a cross-curricular way. It also enables them to take their classes out of doors, investigate and use the landscape, a distinctive feature of the St Peter’s curriculum.

Many are the merits of the St P Bacc, but it’s the teachers here who are the stars of the show. We were astonished by the quality of those we met in this tucked-away corner of Devon, buried in greenery - fired up, very bright, very able. It is they, more than anything else, that make this school remarkable and explain why the children are working up to a year, some of them two years, above their level. They’re not slave-drivers, you can’t be one of those in a mixed-ability school; they’re just very good at bringing out the best in a broad spectrum of pupils. They monitor the progress of their pupils closely and, in the words of a parent, ‘step in quickly if there’s a blip’. Parents also praise frequent reporting and quick response to concerns. Streaming in maths and English from year 1. Subject specialists from year 5. Scholarship sets in year 8. Two modern languages, Latin club and Italian club. Centre of excellence status in science - ‘Children here do experiments, they don’t watch teachers do them’. Optional GCSE in critical thinking for 12 year-olds.

Special needs under the umbrella of ‘learning success’, so includes gifted and talented. Broad range of SpLDs here, individual needs expertly mapped. Yes to mild Asperger’s. No children with EHC plans.

Outdoor pursuits a major feature of the curriculum, the career achievement of one of the deputy heads. Opportunities start in year 5 and the programme kicks in big time in the last two years when all work towards their Cross Keys award. Think D of E. It’s all about initiative, self-reliance, team working and leadership and constitutes a persuasive argument in terms of personal development for going the distance to year 8. We wondered whether everyone is suited to this sort of thing. The head said, ‘We’re looking at addressing that by adding more performing arts and other areas of certification to validate different achievements.’

Customary seasonal fare of sports, impressive results, plenty of scholarships to senior schools and if your team is unbeaten you get to win a bacon butty. Head keen to promote sport for all and get more girls playing in mixed cricket and hockey teams. Rugby and squash especially strong, and sailing, of course. Selection for county and national teams routine. A highlight of the sporting year: the cricket match vs the Lympstone village team. A good neighbour, the school opens its facilities to the local community.

Art good, comprises also craft and textiles. Take your easel outside and paint away sur l’herbe. House competition. Full marks to the head for reviving the annual show where every pupil hangs their own masterpiece. After-school sketching club. Regular annual plays. Drama itself a relative newcomer to the classroom curriculum and coming on vigorously. Looks like being a legacy issue for the head, this; she’s already installed music tech kit in the music room and converted it into a performing arts room suitable also for dance. Music a longstanding strength, and boy is it good. Distinguished choral tradition with away fixtures at, eg, Exeter cathedral and Eton College. Lots of ensembles plus rock choir and community band for kids, staff and anyone local. A parent whose children had been at a cathedral choir school told us how pleasantly amazed she was that ‘there was no let-down at all, musically’ when she switched schools. Well chosen range of after-school activities from martial arts to Trinity College Arts Awards, maths clinics to mindfulness and tons of music. One parent said, ‘There are opportunities to do whatever you’re good at’. Heaps of trips home and abroad including annual immersion week for year 7s in a French château.

Pastoral care rated by parents. Most frequently used word to describe the social climate is ‘kind’, with ‘warm’ coming in a close second and ‘nurturing’ third. One parent observed, ‘There’s a fantastic energy here’. This is a small and diverse school where everyone knows everybody so there are just three rules: courtesy, consideration and common sense.

Boarding is weekdays only. There are regular stayers but no weekly boarders. Plenty of sleepover boarding, Friday night babysitter-boarding a speciality. Last minute boarding available if mum or dad gets held up. It’s all great fun, activities are fab and as a result more than three-quarters give it a go.

School day runs from 8am to 5pm but for super-busy parents there’s the option of drop off at 7.30am for breakfast, pick up early evening after supper. Supervised homework session after school. Lessons run from 8:30am to 3:30pm/4:15pm depending on the year with childcare from 8am - 6pm included in the fees. Minibuses driven by cheery ex-coppers gather children from as far as Newton Abbot, Exeter and Honiton. When term time is over there’s a holiday club here.

There’s nothing wacky about St Peter’s, it’s very trad. Good manners are prized, hard work rewarded. Seriously nice children. Some facilities less than ritzy. Amazing teachers. Exceeds expectations.

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