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Parents from this north London/south Herts bubble are notoriously demanding in their academic expectations, but those we spoke to were drawn to Manor Lodge because, as one put it, ‘it lacks the hothouse feel of local competitors, yet gets the same results’. That said, we were firmly warned by parents that ‘If you don’t have a bright child, you will probably struggle a bit’ and ‘If you’re the kind of parent to bite your nails upon hearing that your child wasn’t sat at a desk all day, other local preps might be better – we achieve the same, just in a different way.’ Expect things to ramp up a notch in ...

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Since 2018, Alyson Lobo, previously deputy head and at the school since 2005. Prior to that she taught and was deputy head at a local infant school. BEd from Leicester – an easy degree decision, having had her eye firmly on teaching since 14-years-old. Partly in the blood (her father was a teacher), she also recalls being ‘completely shy when I was younger, yet I seemed to come alive in front of the class’. Still grabs opportunities to teach now – both reception and year 6 when we visited.

‘Confident but not gregarious,’ as one parent puts it, Mrs Lobo’s mantra is to ‘give children their childhood back’ and anyone who suspects it’s mere marketing spiel should try quizzing her on the subject (just make sure you have a spare couple of hours). ‘Adults have stripped childhood from children – so while of course I want the children here to work hard, I also want them to have loads of fun and seize the moment,’ is the short version (the longer one involves examples of recreating her own childhood, ‘in which I was allowed to imagine, play, have freedom….’). Bottom line is these kids get outside come rain or shine (and in snow too – the pupils raved about how they got hot chocolate and biscuits last time), whether that’s cycling through the track in the woods, playing in the treehouse or chilling out in the Japanese garden (to name but a few). Opening up the grounds, including during lesson times (‘Why learn about autumn poems in a classroom or study Macbeth away from the elements?’), has earned Mrs Lobo serious brownie points from the pupil and parent community – ‘she’s literally been a breath of fresh air’, a parent told us, with another one adding, ‘the push on reminding parents that this is primary school is brilliant – bring on the fun, I say’. Moving information meetings to evenings and introducing yoga and Pilates for parents have only added to her popularity.

Married to Dominic, they have two daughters – one (who attended Manor Lodge) is in her late teens, the other in her 20s. Cake decorating, theatre, art and travel are all passions – but make no mistake, this is a modern head (whose Dr Martens look ace, by the way).


Selective ‘to a certain extent’ at four, with around three applicants for every place. Assessment takes about an hour: ‘We’re looking for happy, vibrant children and parents that want to be part of what we’re doing – whether or not you work, we want you involved,’ says head. No automatic entry for siblings, they are encouraged to apply. Waiting lists for every year group, with those entering post-reception, mainly from state sector or due to relocations, invited to spend a morning in school and tested in maths and English.


Strong record of feeding to the south Herts/north London plethora of academic powerhouses including St Albans Boys and Girls, Habs Boys and Girls and Merchant Taylors'. Those not reaching such dizzy academic heights well catered for too, with movement to St Columba’s, Aldenham, Haileybury, Queenswood and St Margaret’s. Hardly any to boarding and an average of five per cent to state schools, including Dame Alice Owen's. Outstanding scholarship record: 40 in 2019.

Our view

Nestled at the end of a country lane among fields housing the local pony population, the only clues to less rural environs are the M25 sign just visible on the horizon and the faint but incessant hum of motorway traffic. Never before has such excellent use been made of the grounds surrounding the 300 year old former country house, which has a colourful history as health spa, film set (notably A Clockwork Orange) and the private home of double agent Eddie Chapman. This includes two adventure playgrounds (one exclusively for reception and year 1 children), two sports field, woodland garden, meadow garden, pond house, wildlife garden, reading garden, forest garden and (our personal favourite) exotic Japanese garden. Attention to detail is startling – an audible water feature and neat Oriental vegetation keep the Japanese garden zen; a well-populated swamp and observation hut makes the wildlife garden a favourite among science teachers; and wooden painted books and different seating sections has earned the reading garden popularity among bookworms and English teachers alike. This is the stuff of dreams for outdoorsy types and those itching to learn in nature’s classroom, with grinding down bark, making coins out of mud and using acorns for maths puzzles all in a day’s work here. No wonder these kids are so rosy cheeked.

The main building provides an impressive façade for the school but the rabbit warren corridors and cramped classrooms don’t quite live up to the grandeur of the exterior. We dread to think what the annual lighting bill must be with some classroom windows barely bigger than portholes. Good news is that from September 2020, the attached ‘new block’ (2003) - with its brightly coloured corridors bedecked with fruits of the children’s labour and large airy form rooms - will become the educational heart of the school. We were shown glossy plans revealing a new entrance area leading to a sunlit STEAM-focused atrium with library, specialist science room (already in use) and break out areas, plus café for parents. The Grand Designs style dining room added in 2008 already plays a starring architectural role and multi-tasks as dance and gymnastics studio – as does newish sports hall/theatre (2015) with rooms for music and drama, plus three contemporary year 6 classrooms upstairs.

Parents from this north London/south Herts bubble are notoriously demanding in their academic expectations, but those we spoke to were drawn to Manor Lodge because, as one put it, ‘it lacks the hothouse feel of local competitors, yet gets the same results’. That said, we were firmly warned by parents that ‘If you don’t have a bright child, you will probably struggle a bit’ and ‘If you’re the kind of parent to bite your nails upon hearing that your child wasn’t sat at a desk all day, other local preps might be better – we achieve the same, just in a different way.’ Expect things to ramp up a notch in year 6 – ‘a tough year,’ voiced one pupil, ‘although nothing we can’t handle’ – probably helped by teachers being tasked with spending as much time on marking homework and feedback as teaching. Monitoring, including big tests every autumn and spring, ensure pupils are on target and (we like this) pupils’ wellbeing is also regularly tracked. ‘Thorough preparation’ for 11+ is the name of the Manor Lodge game, with all year 6 pupils receiving interview technique coaching from a former top senior school admissions tutor.

Three forms per year group, with pupils mixed mainly according to geographical location in reception and shuffled from year 3. Notable parental relief at new ‘less stigmatised’ setting system in maths from year 3 and English from year 5, when children start to move around the school for individual subjects. French from reception and Spanish from year 5. No Latin or classics but specialist teaching for music, art, CDT, IT, PE, drama and languages from the word go. Independent thinking embedded into lessons, with all pupils focusing on creativity, curiosity, reasoning, collaboration and persistence. Parents report ‘a wonderful rapport between staff and children’. Not much in the way of heavy duty SEN but, that said, there is very little call for it – just a handful of pupils per year group (dyslexia, mild ADHD etc) receive extra help from the part-time ‘teacher of individual learning’ in the cosy ‘rainbow room’.

The mere mention of art invites toothy grins and a reeling off of favourite projects from pupils (making flipflops, clay fish and hand puppets among them) and there’s regular partnership with science (STEAM is a focus here) because, believes head, ‘the jobs of the future will be more creative than ever’. We heard how year 1 children learn to chop fruit, then put them in a dryer to make popcorn and then design the packaging.

Music lessons take place in a room with spectacular views across the countryside, with many junior pupils taking peripatetic lessons and a host of bands and choirs on offer for budding performers to display their wares. Musical theatre is a source of pride, most recently Mary Poppins, with a slick photographic display of the young talent in action. LAMDA gains fistfuls of distinctions every year and for youngsters that wince at the thought of taking centre stage, there are opportunities to make scenery and props, get involved in lighting, creating programmes etc. Year 6s bow out of the school each year with a major production in their own purpose built theatre.

The bulging trophy cabinet in reception tells visitors all they need to know about the sporting culture of the school, although some parents would ‘still like more tournaments’. Two dedicated sports staff (one male, one female) run the show and, together with partnerships with the likes of Saracens, Watford FC and Radlett Cricket Club providing coaching - have helped school inch its way up league tables and earn its place in a competitive local fixtures list. A-D teams are put out wherever possible. Football, rugby, netball, athletics, cricket and hockey all feature. As for those whose offspring don’t shine on the sports field, well, you’ll need to learn to suck it up. ‘You can’t be good at everything – I’m not good at maths, but can appreciate someone else getting an A*. You just have to learn to be gracious and congratulate others,’ believes head. In any case, she adds, trophies and accolades are up for grabs in other areas, with annual awards for everything from maths and handwriting to reading – and even one for ‘good egg.’

Hugely popular (and competitive) house system and pupil body vociferous in school matters via the school council – most recently, banning single use plastic (pupils proud of school’s Green Flag status and school boasts an eco team, recycling club and bird watching amongst its enrichment programme). Badges galore for these and other school team members – many pupils now proudly weighed down with these. Pupils – unpretentious, candid and polite – tend to come from hard working middle class families, including dual income and first time buyers. Diverse ethnic and religious mix representative of the local area.

Not a school with umpteen rules (only seven, in fact), but there’s a discipline points system for those who don’t toe the line – ‘running in the corridor or talking in class don’t go down well and if you’re really bad, you get sent to the head,’ a pupil told us – ‘doesn’t happen often,’ we were assured. Any unpleasantness swiftly dealt with, say pupils.

The last word

This is a relaxed, friendly and family-oriented school that puts outdoor learning in the spotlight. It’s no place for shirkers, evidenced by the robust academic results, but certainly in the younger years the chances are your offspring will probably be having so much fun they won’t even realise they’re learning.

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