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The emphasis is on old-fashioned, wholesome fun, making every use of this natural playground. ‘It’s idyllic, they get to dam streams and play with pigs and chickens,’ said one parent. Parents love the reportedly eccentric ways of school admin. They talk of things being done in a Saint Ronan’s way, one of ‘happy chaos’, which ‘wouldn’t suit parents who want everything done in a completely perfect planned-out way’. Much is made by the head and parents about…

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What the school says...

Saint Ronans was founded in 1883 and is set in the 250 acre Tongswood estate. Children, teachers and parents are attracted to the school for its endearing family ethos, its old fashioned charm as well as its modern outlook. We aim to blend the best of 'ancient and modern'. Investment in the last five years has seen the opening of a new Nursery, Pre Prep, Music School, Art studio, Sports Hall, DT Department and School Farm. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2003, Mr William Trelawny-Vernon (40s). Very much a joint enterprise with wife Emma (she's the Trelawny, he’s the Vernon) – who is both registrar and head of history. Known as Mr and Mrs TV to pupils and parents alike. The couple met at Exeter, where Mr TV read biology. Previously at Stowe School for 12 years, including posts as a biology teacher and seven years as housemaster of Chatham House. ‘Universally loved’, according to parents.

The business is in the blood – his father was head of Hordle House (now Walhampton) in Hampshire. Four children – the youngest at the prep, the other three have moved on to King’s Canterbury. The family left the head’s accommodation to move off site in 2005 and they eschew the parental dinner party circuit, believing it’s important to maintain a distance. Parents think they get it right, as one commented: ‘One of the areas in which the school excels is in managing very successfully the line between parental involvement and keeping parents distanced when necessary.’

Both grew up in a four-child family, and with their own gang of four have that deep respect for fairness and equality of treatment which comes from big families. ‘Neither of us likes the concept of the alpha child,’ says Mr TV.

School and family is everything to Mr TV – time off finds him socialising with the wider family, and stress relief comes by sitting on his tractor and mowing the grass, or researching the history of the two families. Both are content with home and hearth, or as Emma puts it, ‘We’re like labradors sitting in front of the fire’. Holidays take them to the West Country, home of Emma’s ancestral seat (her brother John inherited the Salusbury-Trelawny Baronetcy).

Entrance

All children attend a taster day, and children seeking places in year 3 and above are assessed by the class teacher and take verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests. Intake covers wide-ranging abilities, but all are expected to pass common entrance or the Cranbrook grammar tests, so ‘There will be a couple of children where we will have an honest dialogue with the parents and tell them that their child’s needs are not going to be met here,’ says Mr TV.

Scholarships are available for academic, music, art and sporting talents, and there are strictly monitored means-tested bursaries. Minibuses bring children in from Staplehurst, High Halden, Burwash, Wittersham, and the villages en route.

Exit

It’s not the place to come if you have your sights on the West Kent grammars – despite these being within travelling distance, the school doesn’t encourage exit at 11. Only one or two children per year sit the Kent 11+, so it’ll be a lonely experience and you’ll have to find a tutor.

The majority of parents are buying into private education for the duration, although around 30-40 per cent of pupils have previously gone on to Cranbrook grammar at 13 (Cranbrook's new 11+ entry will no doubt affect this). Key destinations include Benenden, King’s Canterbury, Battle Abbey and Sutton Valence. Others go further afield – recently to Stowe. ‘Since I’ve been head we have fed into 52 different schools,’ says Mr TV. Parents say they are very good at helping you choose the next school - the TVs visit a clutch of senior schools together each term so they are well informed, and were freshly back from visits to Sherborne, Bryanston and Milton Abbey when we visited.

Generally a good number of scholarships, and one or two parents admit to feeling some playground one-upmanship from other parents about places and scholarships secured. ‘There is competition from some of the parents, which can make you feel uncomfortable if you let it, though not between the children,’ said one.

Its quirkiness ensures there is no Saint Ronan’s product – and the roll of past pupils is stuffed with the great and good. ‘Just look at the alumni to see how successful it is in producing movers and shakers and Boy's Own heroes,’ said one parent. Indeed the list reads like a fantasy dinner party guest list: BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, spy Donald Maclean, MP Airey Neave, Olympic rower Matthew Parrish, and the late Mark Shand, travel writer (and brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall) are just a small selection.

Our view

It’s a what’s-not-to-love campus. Gorgeous grounds with ancient, spreading trees, inspiring views, a fishing lake, and its own 100 acre wood. And there’s even a farm with pigs, alpacas, and chickens - newborn piglets greeted our visit. The emphasis is on old-fashioned, wholesome fun, making every use of this natural playground. ‘It’s idyllic, they get to dam streams and play with pigs and chickens,’ said one parent. Everything is named for Boy’s Own adventures – there’s the Gulch, an area around a stream ideal for making mud pies, the Saltmines, an overgrown area with secret pathways, and even the pitches have names, such as Timbuktoo (because it’s a long journey to reach it). A classroom on the edge of the woods is the Hobbit House. As one parent put it, ‘If Enid Blyton was still around, Saint Ronan’s would be exactly the sort of school she would be writing about. We are buying a truly magical childhood experience, not just a superb all-round education.’

All this romping is made easier by probably the most relaxed and colourful uniform we’ve seen – corduroy trousers, skirts or pinafores in sensible colours, topped with school sweatshirts in a choice of colours – pink, green, red, purple, light blue and navy. There’s a formal uniform which is worn on Fridays, key days and for trips out.

The pre-prep is in a separate bright and modern building (where a corridor poster advises on 20 things to do before leaving pre-prep, such as dam a stream, make a mud pie, and hold an animal). There’s also a cosy kindergarten in the former headmaster’s house.

Moving up to prep brings the grandeur of Tongswood House, a Victorian mansion built by an Oxo magnate. The original features are well-maintained – including a sprung floor ballroom, now used for performances and gatherings, where frescoes of semi-naked nymphs on the ceiling liven up assembly for the older boys.

There’s wood panelling and grand staircases aplenty, and classrooms are eccentrically named, such as Old Bailey, 10 Downing Street, Lombard Street (because that’s where the safe was), and Windsor Castle (once a lavatory). Children scrape to their feet as you enter – standing up for grown-ups is something the teachers are strictest about, say the pupils, along with manners, being kind, and being honest.

Kindness is the rule for staff too. ‘If we heard a teacher shouting at a child, they would have to come into the office and explain why,’ says Mrs TV. ‘We like to treat them in the same way as our own children. I don’t want to be head monster,’ says Mr TV. Prefects are elected by the children in a secret ballot ‘which means they go for someone who is kind and gentle, not necessarily just one of the first XV,’ says Mr TV.

In reception you’re greeted by a wood fire burning in the hearth – where parents come to warm up for post-match teas - and a basket of free range eggs for sale. You can also pick up school produced pork and apple juice. The head’s secretary is Mrs TV’s sister, known as Aunty Amanda. Parents love the reportedly eccentric ways of school admin. They talk of things being done in a Saint Ronan’s way, one of ‘happy chaos’, which ‘wouldn’t suit parents who want everything done in a completely perfect planned-out way’. It looks disorganised, but it works, they say. ‘We do slightly chaotic and quirky with great aplomb,’ said one mother proudly.

Whilst it delivers on results (100 per cent success rate in the Cranbrook Grammar and the common entrance exam many years) it does so in a thoroughly gentle way. Prizes are given for contribution as well as achievement, and one parent said, ‘although they are encouraged to achieve, this is not done in an over-competitive manner’. And pupils say that the teachers discourage any jostling for position. ‘When we get exam results the teachers encourage us not to ask each other what we got, but if you get a bad mark people still always say you’ve done really well, or tell you what to do to improve. I once got 27 per cent but the others just said I was unlucky,’ said one boy. Setting for subjects begins in year 4, with streaming in year 8. Latin is taught from year 6.

Parents praise the efforts made to find and develop talents, which may not be academic. There are 16 peripatetic music teachers, and a DT building which develops practical skills – it’s equipped with laser cutters and scroll saws, and children take woodwork from year 3, making everything from working pens to cars for drag racing. ‘We are so impressed that every child has something they will achieve in. For my kids it has been music for my daughter and sport for my boys,’ said a mother.

Sport has developed as the school has doubled in size in the last 10 years, ‘so we can now play decent schools,’ says Mr TV. There’s an impressive new sports hall, an Astroturf and an outdoor pool, and a great range of sports on offer - an extras programme one afternoon per week offers archery, fencing, golf, sailing and lacrosse. The school’s sailing team has been prep school champions, and one girl has made the GB under-15 team for fencing. There’s other options on extras afternoon for the non-sporty, such as farming, funky dance, fishing, beekeeping and touch typing.

Much is made by the head and parents about keeping the pupils children as long as possible, and they are clearly successful at cocooning them. The year 8s seem younger than their peers we meet in secondary schools – no less articulate, but definitely less worldly. Parents report no divide between age groups, saying: ‘You constantly see older children encouraging and playing with the younger ones, and children in year 3 aren’t scared of the year 8s.’

Parents predominantly work in the City of London; others are doctors at the nearby hospital, or farmers. ‘It is very inclusive and friendly with no social divides, and parents are always ready to help one another out,’ said a mother. There are fitness groups for parents to join including zumba, Nordic walking and joggy-doggy.

The only gripe you’ll hear from parents – and that’s a mild one – is that they find it a long day for the prep school children (8.30am to 5.15pm, with prep afterwards at home or at school from year 5 until 6.30pm). A lot of children take up the flexible boarding option - ‘really fun,’ the pupils agree; around one-third of children stay for up to four nights per week. Rooms are up in the eaves, and again you wouldn’t be surprised to find the Famous Five up there having lashings of hot chocolate. Boarders do supervised prep for one hour, then after supper, the options include swimming, singing, and playing outside. Matron Julie is reportedly ‘nice to cuddle with’.

Special Education Needs

Saint Ronan's is justly proud of its academic record. We believe that we should, and do, cater for the educational needs and aspirations of the brightest children; but we believe also that those who have any academic problems and weaknesses should be enabled to deal with the challenges of the mainstream academic programme. To the latter end, we have a team of three specialist SEN teachers, who assess any children who are encountering difficulties within their class and, if necessary, refer them to an Educational Psychologist for a formal diagnosis of any specific learning difficulty. Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD, and dyscalculia are well-catered for. The school SENCO liaises with parents on a regular basis and, if it is felt necessary, and in agreement with the parents, individual tuition can be arranged with one of the specialist SEN teachers. All Pre-prep classes have their own learning support assistant, to assist with those children who are less able, and group work is carried out on a weekly basis, under the supervision of the SENCO for such children.

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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