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‘I didn’t realise it was quite so big,’ says practically every prospective parent. Located in an eight-and-a-half acre site tucked away in residential suburbia, Lochinver House won’t seduce you with its good looks, but in true ugly duckling style it could well win you over with its hidden beauty which manifests itself in a warren of practical facilities and decent outdoor space, all aimed at squeezing excellence out of its young charges. ‘Maths is amazing, science is out of this world and while English used to be the weakness, that’s shining bright now too,’ one parent told us, echoing others. Languages department...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2011, Ben Walker BA PGCE CELTA. Educated at Lochinver House (head boy in 1977 - tie, badges a photo ‘of when I had more hair,’ proudly displayed in his office), St Albans School and Reading University where he read English. Joined retail group C&A as a management trainee after university. Realised after a year that the commercial world was ‘not really for me’ and took a PGCE at the Institute of Education. Spent 13 years in inner city state secondary schools, rising through the ranks, before he and his wife sold up and moved the family to Kenya in 2002, where they spent three years starting a school, coordinating health care projects and working as Church Mission Society partners. Towards the end, took a post at St Andrews, Turi, a prep school for expats and wealthy nationals, which led him, on his return to the UK in 2005, to the role of deputy head at Swanbourne House in Buckinghamshire. Came full circle and joined Lochinver House as head six years later.

Imagine the kind of person you’d want around in a crisis and chances are this is it - naturally serene, unflustered, friendly, frank, jovial, a natural communicator and, perhaps most importantly, knows how to get things done. ‘He’s amazing,’ enthuse parents – ‘a perfect mix of all the qualities you want in a headteacher.’ ‘He knows exactly what he’s doing so even if you don’t agree with him, you just trust him.’ Pupils call him ‘kind,’ ‘wise,’ ‘enthusiastic,’ ‘fair’ and ‘not strict...well, maybe sometimes when he needs to be.’ If an invitation to his ‘headmaster’s hot chocolate’ (a Friday event for those with the most house credits that week) is considered a golden ticket, then his termly ‘head’s pub lunch’ (a treat for boys who get a ‘thumbs up’ award - given to those ‘who are golden in the less predictable ways’) is platinum. We hope the head’s PA gets to go along sometimes too – she got a special mention from practically every parent we spoke to – ‘she’s the school’s secret weapon,’ summed up one.

Married to Jill, head of St Nicholas Prep, Kensington, with whom he has three grown-up children. Cycles to work every day (‘2,000 miles a year’), swims a mile on Saturday (‘with my wife’) and plays badminton every Tuesday (‘events permitting’).

Entrance

Currently oversubscribed and ‘gently’ selective. Candidates at 3 and 4 assessed informally in small groups (‘a fun day,’ say parents) to check suitability and potential. Boys entering higher up the school, some from state primaries and some new to area, spend a day at the school with a ‘buddy’ and are tested in numeracy and literacy, with competition often stiff for these occasional places. School retains two form entry format (maximum class sizes 21) to the end of year 6, with years 7 and 8 splitting into three smaller classes of 12, including an accelerated group.

Exit

Around 80 per cent stay to year 8, with the usually less academic remainder taking different 11+ paths to avoid the common entrance hurdle (‘we are happy to prepare for 11+ and don’t get uptight about it,’ says head) or leaving for financial reasons. A few to selective state schools. Others join in year 7 (‘the transition for my son couldn’t have been smoother – they really take these boys under their wing,’ said one such parent). Leavers go on to a variety of independent schools, including Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, St Albans School, Merchant Taylors, City of London, UCS, Haileybury, Aldenham, St Christopher, St Columba’s, Mill Hill, Oundle, Stonyhurst, Charterhouse. ‘Historically, guidance around senior school choice hasn’t been great, but it’s vastly improved,’ one parent told us.

Our view

‘I didn’t realise it was quite so big,’ says practically every prospective parent. Located in an eight-and-a-half acre site tucked away in residential suburbia, Lochinver House won’t seduce you with its good looks, but in true ugly duckling style it could well win you over with its hidden beauty which manifests itself in a warren of practical facilities and decent outdoor space, all aimed at squeezing excellence out of its young charges.

Pre-prep block unlikely to win any beauty contests but has its own small library and the walls are cheered with art and written work, as well as a ‘giving tree’, which gives a clue to the supportive nature of the school, with kind deeds posted as leaves on a daily basis. Also has its own garden – a haven in the north London urban jungle – where the youngest pupils grow vegetables, build, dig and have story time when weather permits. Playtimes are spent in the enclosed adventure playground (made less alluring by proximity to car park) or, for older boys, it’s a choice between tarmacked area in the middle of the school (complete with basketball nets, skipping ropes and other good old-fashioned toys ‘for the boys who don’t like football,’ whispers the head) or the huge Astroturf, which doubles up as sports field and cricket pitch (although not for A and B teams for fear of nearby windows). Sports fields are split between the main site and additional space across the road, offering plenty of options for matches and games practice. And for older boys, there’s a lovely eco garden, complete with bug hotel and swamp-like pond.

Other stand out facilities include a theatre (we saw a delightful rehearsal of a harvest festival assembly from year 4s), light and bright dining room (with superb artwork on the walls), even lighter and brighter art studio (plus DT lab upstairs), modern well-equipped science labs (where boys were acting out the relationship between the voltage, current, and resistance in one lab and pouring and examining liquids in another – ‘there’s loads of practicals,’ say boys) and sports hall. Mundane-looking library surely misses a trick, but recent cash injection has boosted and expanded main classroom block and there’s a new reception and admin building (‘a good welcome is so important,’ says head). Coach house recently remodelled for provision of extra support.

‘Maths is amazing, science is out of this world and while English used to be the weakness, that’s shining bright now too,’ one parent told us, echoing others. Languages department another star player, with French from year 3, Latin from year 5 and two year courses in Spanish and Russian from year 5. ‘My son joined in year 7, with no French, and was in top set soon afterwards,’ said one parent. St Albans school reportedly considers Lochinver boys amongst its best linguists. Setting from year 3 for maths, year 5 for French and from year 7 for sciences. IT, music and games taught by specialists from reception up and drama from year 1. Majority of classes held in form rooms until year 3, when boys graduate towards moving around school for specialist teaching in all subjects – great preparation for next school. Verbal and non verbal reasoning embedded in the senior curriculum – ‘preparation for tests is a key focus.’ Good scholarship output with around a dozen most years to a variety of next schools (25 the year we visited). IT embedded into lessons, with all boys getting own iPads with ‘army-grade cover’ from year 6. Excellent CPD for teachers, who we saw engaging pupils in a multitude of ways. Notable lack of pupils being tutored outside school, compared to other local preps, say parents – ‘hurrah for that!’ says head.

No statemented children but a number with learning difficulties and these, along with gifted children, are supported in various ways, with a combination of booster sessions, guidance for families and involvement of external agencies where necessary. ‘My son was completely left behind at his state school, but within four weeks of being here, they identified his exact strengths and weaknesses and developed a support programme – he’s since had the right diagnosis and is starting to fly,’ said one parent.

Musical pursuits so absorbing that your son will probably leave with more strings to his bow than you’d thought possible. Two-thirds learn an instrument and half of those learn two. Bassoon, oboe, harp – you name it, there’s probably a peripatetic teacher for it. Compulsory recorder in year 3 and between six and eight musical recitals every year. All the usual choirs, orchestra, ensembles (‘and rock band,’ added one pupil, excitedly) you could shake a stick at, but it’s the musical composition that really sets this school apart, with the musical score for one recent school play written and performed by boys (another time, a professional quartet came in to perform boys’ compositions). Opportunities for the thespian community to shine too, with performances for all, with almost everyone getting involved either on stage or behind the scenes. Art projects so enticing, it was all we could do from sitting down and getting stuck in too.

Core sports are rugby, football and cricket. First ever prep school finalists at U13s ISFA cup, with repeated success at U11. Biannual football tour to Portugal and rugby tour to South Africa. Basketball on the up – ‘we beat Milfield last year – a real David and Goliath job,’ says head. Less competitive boys able to sample the likes of sailing, golf and taekwondo. A-C teams in all sports and A-F in football, but, said one parent, ‘More credit for lower teams, though, please - even if an E team wins 12-nil, it doesn’t get celebrated.’ Shame there’s no swimming pool, say others, but school utilises nearby pool for lessons.

Clubs aplenty from year 1, including chess, Lego, animation, Roman mythology and creative arts. Plus wrap-around care (costs extra) from 7.45am to 6pm (including tea for those that want it) and homework club for older boys. School minibuses ferry children from Finchley, Southgate, Totteridge, Hadley Wood and Barnet directions for a small daily charge, mornings only. All valued by ‘very grounded’ families – majority professional, many dual income. Large catchment area, some as far as Crouch End and Welwyn. Intake reflects the north London multi-cultural mix.

Relaxed, happy vibe. Lots of vertical relationships, largely thanks to houses, buddy schemes and pupil-run ABC (Anti-Bullying Council) and school council with reps from reception up. Immense leadership opportunities on offer and impressive charitable works. New ‘been there, done it’ project – a kind of mini DofE. One permanent exclusion in living memory; most years, no temporary ones. Fees considered excellent value – low for the area and includes almost all trips and excursions, moderate learning support requirements and many clubs. Very active PTA. Food excellent; ‘cook’s biscuits are to die for,’ said one parent – we can vouch for that.

This is a friendly prep that really ‘gets’ boys. They get them moving around in lessons, give them bursts of fresh air between lessons, as well as lots of wellie time. And while it’s no picnic academically, it’s no pressure cooker either - ‘boys get a long way without realising it,’ as head puts it, with challenging open-ended tasks given from the off ‘so they become critical thinkers’.

Special Education Needs

Lochinver House School has a Learning Support Unit that provides assistance to boys that require extra support in the school. This unit works closely with all members of staff to provide the necessary support required. The SENCO can provide screening/ assessment to assist with any difficulty the child might have. The Learning Support Unit works closely with parents and outside agencies should this be necessary.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
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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