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Very ordered, bright and inviting classrooms with tortoises in the science room. Children seem smiley and chatty and teachers are thrilled with the new building they had input into designing. ‘The kids at Dulwich are so fit,’ enthused a parent and the first thing one notices about the school are the extensive, manicured acres. Every child plays sport and everyone in year 3 and above plays in a match against other schools. The pool is outdoor and the children tell us it’s warm...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2010, Paul David (50s) with a BEd in maths and PE from St Luke’s, University of Exeter (he grew up in Cornwall). He taught at the City of London Freemen’s School in Surrey, where he was housemaster, prior to becoming deputy head of St Paul's Juniors. He also taught maths at St Paul’s. He was appointed headmaster of Eaton Square School in 2002. We meet in his comfortable panelled office in The Manor and find him to be very well turned out and easy to talk to but are most impressed with his ease with the younger children.

He is a keen sportsman, and whilst his rugby playing days are behind him, he’s now a keen skier and tennis player. He is married to Nicky, a prep school teacher, and they have two children. Parents describe him as an excellent leader, appreciating his dedication: ‘he’s very visible – gets involved with school life – playing in charity hockey matches, school panto, coffee mornings, and I think I’ve even seen him playing the trumpet…’ Yes indeed, Mr David is a trumpet player.

Perhaps his biggest challenge is the changing nature of exits with pre-testing and more 11+ leavers (especially to the now 11+ Cranbrook School) meaning the final years will need to be restructured. Mr David sees this as an opportunity and is already planning to introduce the Dulwich Diploma to augment common entrance and scholarship preparation. The school’s shape may change ultimately so that it will have a ‘slimmer top and fatter middle’.

Entrance

Unconditional offers for children joining nursery to year 2. Main entry points 4+ and 7+. Not oversubscribed. In years 3 to 8, children sit an assessment and spend a day at school. Most live within 15 miles but families come from all over the Weald of Kent and as far away as Maidstone and Ashford.

Exit

Around a quarter of pupils exit at 11+, but this will inevitably rise now that local state grammar Cranbrook School has a year 7, and 11+ entrance is on the rise everywhere. A couple to Sevenoaks most years, a handful to Sutton Valence and Tonbridge and others to a wide spread across Kent and Sussex: Benenden, Bethany, King’s Canterbury, Eastbourne College, Roedean and others of the Kent grammars. Some 34 scholarships gained in 2017, with the top academic scholarships in three of the last four years to Tonbridge and Benenden.

Our view

Nash House is for 3 to 5 year olds, Little Stream for those aged 5 to 9 years and the Upper School for pupils in their final years of the school.

The only aspect of the school which did not garner ‘excellent’ from the latest ISI report was the teaching, graded as ‘good’, much to Mr David’s disappointment, but he has wasted no time making the minor adjustments needed to the staff room and points to the scholarships indicating that ‘it’s clear there is differentiation and stretching going on’. One father felt: ‘Maths has a reputation amongst some parents for being less strong, particularly at the lower end.’ Otherwise, we hear nothing but praise. One long-standing parent told us: ‘The quality of teaching has been excellent across the curriculum and in many areas exceptional.’ Recent migrators say: ‘outstanding’ and ‘the standard is high’.

Nineteen teachers have been at the school for longer than 10 years. Standard curriculum. There is a new head of modern languages. Latin commences in year 6 and is led by a passionate new recruit. French is taught from Little Stream with Spanish added in years 7 and 8. Late joiners may play catch up with languages not encountered before. Personal tutors monitor progress of children in years 7 and 8 as well as acting as mentors.

IT is well integrated within the school. Each pupil in years 7 and 8 has personal ownership of an iPad which just become part of their pencil case – the head describes a textiles project which students used their iPads to record from start to finish with time-lapse photography. The library is large with a full-time librarian and boasts some 7,000 titles.

Plenty of dressing up days in Little Stream and Nash House: on Egyptian day they mummified a member of staff. As well as form teachers, subject specialists for maths and science. Very ordered, bright and inviting classrooms with tortoises in the science room. Children seem smiley and chatty and teachers are thrilled with the new building they had input into designing. Plenty of individual attention. A mother having observed her children learning through play in the initial years: ‘It is obvious great care has been given by the teaching staff to establish a curriculum which suits the children both academically and emotionally.’

This is a school which places an emphasis on ‘oracy’ – standing up and speaking well is all part of the school’s effort in developing socially confident individuals. Several parents credit their children’s flourishing independence to the school. Some testing lower down the school, then more of an emphasis on twice yearly exams from year 5 – the children we met about to sit them said they were used to testing and it was no big deal.

‘The kids at Dulwich are so fit,’ enthused a parent and the first thing one notices about the school are the extensive, manicured acres. Every child plays sport and everyone in year 3 and above plays in a match against other schools. From year 4 children must be available to play in Saturday matches. A mother whose daughter is a talented sportswoman said: ‘the opportunity given to her to excel at any of the sports really is hugely impressive.’ There are also Tribe (house) fixtures for each age group. Girls play netball, hockey, lacrosse, rounders and tennis, also taking part in cross-country, track and field events, triathlon and swimming. Boys take part in these too and play football, rugby, hockey and cricket. The pool is outdoor and the children tell us it’s warm, but we witnessed boys clutching towels and shivering. There are additional options such as badminton and orienteering for the non-rugby devotees.

A parent said, ‘Sports coaching, particularly for those not in the first team, needs to be improved’, but Mr David seems particularly hot on inclusivity and says that every child in years 5 ,6, 7 and 8 plays a match, they do ‘bottom up’ house sports tournaments and the specialist coaches and gap students are shared around teams of all abilities. As if anticipating our question, the school plans to start a girls’ cricket tournament and aims to find more matches across the board. The school has hosted IAPS and national cross-country competitions, the under-13 lacrosse team were the only one from a prep school to reach the last 16 of the national championships and the schools boasts handy table tennis players too.

Sixty per cent take instrumental lessons.Taster music lessons are available to children in year 3 on a wide range of instruments from the kinderhorn to the ukulele. Some attend the Junior Royal College of Music on Saturdays. Children play at regional festivals such as the Hastings Music Festival and musical ensembles have toured Prague and Italy. The Tribe music competition, performed in front of the whole school is a highlight: last year pupils chose to perform One Direction songs. There is a string orchestra in Little Stream and a senior orchestra, percussion groups, woodwind ensemble, Stringcredibles, jazz band and choirs.

Drama is timetabled. Each year group performs annually, whether straight plays or musicals such as Grease or The Sound of Music. Performances, musical and dramatic, are spectacular according to parent,s who if they appear windswept it’s because they all report being so frequently ‘blown away’.

We’re pretty sure that every school we now visit will have its art compared to the benchmark of Dulwich Prep Cranbrook: truly stunning from the earliest beginnings in Little Stream to the beautiful scholarship work that to our eyes easily compared to GCSE projects elsewhere. Leavers were working on a sculpture project making a flock of porcelain Matisse inspired doves (there are two kilns) holding bundles. The head of art conceives of new projects every year, so year 4 does not always do X and year 5 Y but says much is child-led.

There are trips relating to every subject, ranging from visiting Lullingstone Roman villa, to trips to the West End for drama and a residential geography trip to Felixstowe. In Nash House all classrooms have an outdoor learning area (under a retractable roof) leading onto the playground. Little Stream enjoy forest school activities and from year 5 start there camping in the grounds progressing to a full week in Snowdonia by year 8. Teachers with a passion run clubs, most included in the fees. New this year is on-trend coding and Mandarin. Clubs that caught our eye: rock club, mah-jong club, water polo and DT jewellery.

An hour from London by train, rather more by car, the school resides in 50 beautiful acres of Kent countryside. The school has a charming history – Dulwich Prep London (DPL) evacuated its 300 boys by train to Cranbrook at the start of World War II, setting up in huts in the headmaster's orchard, and after the war remained as a separate school. The two schools are still linked and are run by The Dulwich Preparatory Schools Trust. It became fully co-educational in 1975.

The school buildings are so nondescript we barely noticed them. However, the pre-prep resides in a stylish new-build, with the same architect as DPL – a wooden exterior, fabulous in and out spaces and a large soft surface playground. Classrooms are vast by metropolitan standards and every inch looks fun. Little Stream also has use of a heated swimming pool.

Parents praised the pastoral care as ‘excellent’, ‘impressive’ and ‘thoughtful’ and there has been a move towards developing the softer, pastoral side. The head places an emphasis on nurturing self–confidence but says ‘you don’t need to be “robust” to do well here’. All new children have buddies. Children have been given more responsibility. The Head attends all of the pastoral meetings and says he’s never before worked with ‘staff who are so attuned to children’. Everyone is delighted with the recent partnership with Place2Be for one-to-one counselling and group sessions.

In addition, the school provides learning support for approximately 170 pupils, including children with dyslexia and dyspraxia. A wide range of other needs such as maths, sensory processing, or speech and language difficulties; hearing or visual impairment and complex medical conditions are also catered for. The school has its own medical centre. SEN provision in small groups and occasionally one-to-one. Some withdrawal, some in class. All learning support is included, not always the case elsewhere.

New: more extended day care options – a choice of breakfast and after-school clubs. Day boarding is available until 8.00 pm for year 5 and above and year 4 siblings: includes tea, supervised prep and an activity. Then there is flexi-boarding from one night to full weekly boarding. The girls’ boarding house is The Manor with beams aplenty, fresh new carpet in the common room, flags and fairy lights in the lovely high ceilinged bedrooms and standard issue pine bunk beds. Everything very ship-shape. The boys’ boarding is housed at Lodge, a modern building set in the grounds. Recently refurbished with a red, white and blue theme. Dorms of six sleep in year groups and all bring their teddies. Lobby full of tennis racquets and cricket bats, overflowing bike shed, boarders' fire pit.

British, no overseas pupils. No EAL. One mother: ‘It is a real mix from the creative industries, doctors, finance, and farming.’ Not all bankers, lots of business owners,' said another. Lots of events, a real community, friendly to newcomers and highly caffeinated (plenty of coffee mornings). ‘There’s a real sense of goodwill and warmth,’ said a new mother. One parent concluded: ‘it definitely feels like great value for money’.

Special Education Needs

09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
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
Not Applicable
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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