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While there’s still the impressive Grade II listed façade of the original school, the rabbit warren corridors and cramped classrooms of the attached teaching block are now consigned to the history books, replaced instead with a large, contemporary teaching area that’s so bright and airy you might want to take your sunglasses if you book a tour. The new entrance leads to a sun drenched STEAM-focused atrium with library, specialist science room and break out areas, plus café for parents. None of this is lost on parents who – while a discerning bunch (this is the north London bubble after all) – choose the school because…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

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 lecturer), 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, currently to year 6.

Warm and friendly, but runs a tight ship and very much has her eye on the end game. ‘She’s kept the academics robust but since she’s taken over, I feel the school is as much about wellbeing, kindness and empathy,’ said one. ‘More creative and outdoorsy too,’ said another. Her mantra is to ‘give children their childhood back’ and anyone who suspects this is mere marketing spiel should try quizzing her on the subject (just make sure you have a spare couple of hours). ‘As adults we are always looking ahead but we need to slow down and allow children to have their childhood,’ 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 and if you want to teach measurements, why not do it with sticks?’ etc), has earned Mrs Lobo serious brownie points from the pupil and parent community – ‘I love her, she’s a breath of fresh air,’ said one, with another one adding, ‘her outlook for the school is so progressive.’ ‘Very visible’ and ‘inspirational’ during Covid, we heard – ‘Watching her online assemblies, you realise just what a good role model she is,’ lauded one.

Married to Dominic, they have two daughters – one (who attended Manor Lodge) has recently started university, the other in her 20s, recently landed a job with a leading fashion brand (both, understandably, cause for a proud mum moment in our interview). 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).

Entrance

Selective ‘to a certain extent’ at ager 4, with around three applicants for every place. Assessment takes about an hour: ‘We’re looking for happy, vibrant children and parents who 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.

Exit

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 leavers off 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. 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 impressive – 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; 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 pupils are so rosy cheeked.

Inside has star quality too. While there’s still the impressive Grade II listed façade of the original school, the rabbit warren corridors and cramped classrooms of the attached teaching block are now consigned to the history books, replaced instead with a large, contemporary teaching area that’s so bright and airy you might want to take your sunglasses if you book a tour. The new entrance area leads to a sun drenched STEAM-focused atrium with library, specialist science room and break out areas, plus café for parents. Also included in the new building is an art space (including exhibition space), engineering classroom and IT areas. The fluidity is no accident – almost every space is big and able to be made even bigger, so if children are building a model that they want to double the size of or if these young artists want to put all their individual pieces of art together to make a collage, it can be done in a heartbeat. There’s also the Grand Designs style dining room which multi-tasks as dance and gymnastics studio – as does the sports hall/theatre with rooms for music and drama, plus three contemporary year 6 classrooms upstairs. Even the original Victorian building is having a facelift, with stud walls soon to be removed and smaller areas to be used for break-out spaces eg if a child needs individual help.

Parents, who are a discerning bunch (this is the north London bubble after all), choose the school because they want the results but without the hothouse feel of local competitors (though most agree it is better suited to brighter children, especially in year 6 when things ramp up a notch). Monitoring, including big tests every autumn and spring, ensure pupils are on target and (we like this) there’s pastoral tracking too – a particular boon during lockdown, according to parents. ‘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 and retired head and deputy head of two top-notch local schools.

Three forms per year group, with pupils mixed mainly according to geographical location in reception and shuffled from year 3. Less setting than in the past – now only 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 say teachers reward effort as much as results and that ‘they are very good and easy to access.’ Tutoring not uncommon – most parents we spoke to reckon around a quarter do it.

Not much in the way of heavy duty SEN but then there seems to be 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’. ‘My child has recently been diagnosed with a few conditions and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how supportive they’ve been – my child gets one-to-one support, a scribe and they don’t label the meltdowns that come from distress as naughty,’ said one parent.

IT flying high – ‘had to be for the pandemic, which they responded to very well,’ said parent. Every lesson continued – including outdoors and sport. The community feel of the school – another pull for parents – was particularly felt during this time too, with eg pizza making getting whole families stuck in. Barely a single (age appropriate) themed day, from geologists' day to badgers' day, passed without celebration.

The bulging trophy cabinet in reception tells visitors all they need to know about the sporting culture of the school. Football, rugby, netball, athletics, cricket and hockey all feature. Plenty of partnerships with the likes of Saracens, Watford FC and Radlett Cricket Club, all of which 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. ‘Neither of my kids is very sporty, but they still feel included – there’s not just focus at the elite end,’ said a parent. ‘Football could possibly be pushed a bit more,’ reckoned one parent, while another grumbled that ‘the fixtures tend to be for the upper years only.’ Some mixed gender sports lessons are being introduced, but fixtures will remain separate, says head.

Music described by parents as ‘incredible’ – ‘probably better than the sport,’ thought one. Lessons take place in a room with spectacular views across the countryside, with a host of bands and choirs on offer for budding performers to display their talents. Instruments taught from years 3 to 6, when around 70 children learn one, though one parent felt ‘the price point for some of the instrument teaching did not reflect the time they actually get as much of it seems to be spent getting to and from the lesson.’ Musical theatre is a source of pride, with a slick photographic display of the young talent in action. LAMDA gains fistfuls of distinctions every year and for youngsters who 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. Plenty of performances during the pandemic, including a live streamed Christmas concert.

The mere mention of art invites toothy grins and a reeling off of favourite projects from pupils (making flip flops, 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. Again, youngsters get outdoors whenever possible to eg paint snowdrops.

Hugely popular (and competitive) house system includes house families within, each with its own teacher. School council vociferous in its views (currently around uniform – head agrees it could be more suitable for outdoors and sport). Eco and sustainability issues high on the agenda for all, with eco team, recycling club and bird watching club all popular (along with usual offerings of sport and music clubs, plus other interesting ones such as podcast club, gardening club and cooking club). Badges galore for these and other school team members – many pupils proudly weighed down with awards. Plenty of trips, including the much anticipated year 6 France residential. Pupils – unpretentious, candid and polite – tend to come from hard-working middle class families, including dual income and first time buyers.

Pastorally nurturing – ‘the children feel safe and cared for and the teachers really know them,’ said one parent, with others appreciating the growing emphasis on mindfulness. Not a school with umpteen rules (only seven, in fact), but parents say it’s ‘fairly strict,’ with discipline points ensuring pupils 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.

Strong community feel among the parents – very much missed during Covid - though we were warned it can be ‘cliquey.’ ‘Perhaps because the catchment is so local,’ felt one. ‘Lots of stay-at-home yummy mummies and the very wealthy, but equally there are plenty of more normal people,’ said one mother. Ethnically diverse – ‘one of the reasons we chose the school,’ said one parent.

The last word

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.

Special Education Needs


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