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There was a touch of Arcadia about this campus on the sunny day when we visited. One parent described the school as a ‘hidden gem – there’s something magic about it.’ Facilities cannot be faulted. We wandered through spacious classrooms with boys clustered around experiments, DT projects, singing, drawing or running over to one of the (many) football pitches past tennis courts, the swimming pool building and playgrounds. The academic side of the school is tailored to the pupils’…

 

 

 

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What the school says...

Parkside is a thriving preparatory school for boys aged from four to 13, with an onsite co-educational nursery. Set in over 45 acres of beautiful grounds on the outskirts of Cobham, and just a few minutes from the A3, the School provides a stimulating environment in which boys can learn, grow and develop. We focus on providing an education that allows the boys to make the most of their abilities, interests and talents so that they will progress to senior schools as confident and independent individuals, with a joy of learning. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since January 2019, Nicole Janssen (50s). Music degree (plus piano grade 8, oboe grade 8, clarinet grade 5, choral singing) and PGCE, both from Kingston. The school’s first female head and the third head of Parkside in 10 years. Originally joined school as a specialist maths and English teacher in 2016 (she still teaches maths to years 5 and 6), after six years as deputy head at Longacre, Bramley. Also spent five years in school improvement teams in Newham, where she was deputy head under Dame Sharon Hollows at Calverton School when it was voted most improved in the country, and also worked with former Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. ‘I aimed to bring what I learned in Newham to Parkside,’ she says, with beguiling lack of irony. She made the move for her daughter, and has since worked in private schools.

Gently spoken, unassuming and with an appealing laugh, she is liked by the staff who genuinely ‘want to do a good job for her’. Under her leadership, the staff seem to work as a coherent team - sharing information about the boys, developing systems to track boys’ progress and emotional wellbeing and using other subject areas as learning opportunities (eg speaking French while showing boys how to how to cook crêpes in the new food technology lab).

Parents are positive, describing her as ‘amazing’, a ‘bundle of energy’ and a ‘brilliant teacher, the kids love her’. Another comments that she strikes a balance of ‘achieving good results but doing it in a way that is good for the boys – she knows how boys work.’

Her approach is child-centred and her mantra is ‘make it happen’. She says the ethos of the school as a ‘family school with a heart’ hasn’t changed. What has changed under her watch, though, is an emphasis on uniting the school so children in prep, pre-prep and nursery are taught by specialist teachers. Teachers are encouraged to target lessons to the needs of the individual boy as much as possible, which lends itself well to the SEN offering.

She took over Parkside at a troubled time, describing it as ‘ossified’ and ‘more for the teachers than the pupils.’ A radical overhaul of the school included 18 staff leaving in the first year (‘some really long timers’) and an energetic programme of recruitment and review of the school’s offer. Sixty per cent of teaching staff has changed in the last two years. The school has won big during lockdown, where she and her team embraced the challenge with enviable bravado. ‘It wasn’t home learning, it was learning from home,’ said a parent.

She has one daughter and her hobbies include sailing, reading and skiing.

Entrance

Non-selective. Mixed nursery from 2 years old, then boys from reception. Boys mainly local from Weybridge, Esher, Wimbledon, Claygate, Oxshott and Cobham. There is currently a waiting list for girls in nursery and boys in years 5 and 6.

Exit

Some at 11 but mainly at 13 to a selection of day and boarding schools including Charterhouse, Cranleigh, RGS Guildford, King Edward’s Witley, Reeds, St John’s, Downsend, Box Hill, ACS, Epsom College, Bradfield, Bryanston, Halliford, Kings College School Wimbledon, Lancing and Wellington. Relationship with boys continues after they leave, with teachers visiting them at their new school. Head works hard on ‘getting the right school’ say parents.

Our view

There was a touch of Arcadia about this campus on the sunny day when we visited. One parent described the school as a ‘hidden gem – there’s something magic about it.’ Set on the banks of the River Mole and originally gifted by Richard de Tonbridge to Roger Dawbernon the Normand in 1086, at the time of the Domesday Book, Parkside has been housed in the Georgian Stoke d’Abernon Manor since 1978. It has since been transformed into a generously equipped school with purpose built classrooms, a swimming pool and playing fields galore. Once a boarding school (now some staff, including the head, live on site), there is a rumour that Parkside has ambitions to return to boarding but we don’t have any further details yet.

Facilities cannot be faulted. We wandered through spacious classrooms with boys clustered around experiments, DT projects, singing, drawing or running over to one of the (many) football pitches past tennis courts, the swimming pool building and playgrounds. The two libraries (one for the prep, one the pre-prep) are stocked with a range of enjoyable books – the senior library categorising tantalisingly under themes like ‘horror stories’ or ‘mystery’. As much emphasis is put on space and facilities for the nursery (which is co-ed, and part of the Early Learning offer) and pre-prep, as is for the prep school.

Boys from pre-prep upwards can avail themselves of one of the three 3D printers, or professional looking drills in the DT room, or sit on the moulded bean bags while programming computers in the STEM centre. We saw boys building fires at the forest school where raft building and foraging are also on the syllabus. Forest school even carried on during lockdown, ‘which put a few Surrey gardens under stress,’ noted a parent.

The academic side of the school is tailored to the pupils’ individual abilities and requirements. Boys are setted, classes small (‘we will not go above 16 in the prep school and 14 in the pre prep school’), with a staff pupil ratio of 1:6. There’s a good mix of both male and female teachers, and it is a young and enthusiastic team. Parents say teaching is ‘not overly pushy academically, children find their level and can fulfill their potential.’ There are specialist staff in music, art, IT, science, maths, English, French and Latin, sport and drama who teach boys from pre-prep. All three sciences are taught with the aim for boys to be ‘in a lab from year 3 upwards.’ A 50-minute prep club ensures boys do homework on site, except one day a week when the boys have games and no homework is given.

Both the head and deputy head have personal experience of children with special needs, and the school’s commitment to recognising and supporting the boys - including the gifted and talented - is core to its offer. Around 14 percent of boys have mild to moderate SEN and every effort is made to keep them in the class. The SEN support is based on four ‘waves’ and external support enlisted only after the first three ‘waves’ of intervention have been undertaken. The staff is alert to the different needs of each boy, and adapts teaching approaches accordingly. One parent remarked on being ‘blown away’ by the ‘nurturing aspect of the school’ on her first visit.

A specialist music teacher works with all children from nursery and throughout pre-prep and prep, and all boys sing in choirs (there are three choirs, junior, senior and chamber choir). Each year group from year 1 to year 8 learns a different instrument in weekly music lessons.

When we visited the art rooms, the deputy head spoke about art being an opportunity to quietly focus, and the artwork on the wall was expressive, coherent and individual.

‘Everybody does a sport here,’ the boys tell us, and the sports offer is exceptional and sophisticated with emphasis on psychology (there’s pro support from coaches from both Chelsea FC - who train their juniors in a bubble on site - and London Irish rugby) and a focus on ‘inclusivity’ without being ‘overly pushy’ says a parent. Choices throughout the year include football, rugby, cricket, swimming (and, unusually, water polo), tennis, hockey, basketball, athletics and orienteering. Emphasis here isn’t so much on national medals, rather that ‘they learn to grow as sportsmen’ said a parent. ‘I drop the kids with a degree of envy as it’s a bit of a ginormous holiday camp and they really enjoy learning and the great sport.’ On Saturdays, boys can play sport matches and there’s an A to Z of after school activities which includes fencing, kayaking and popular yoga sessions, as well as dance. Here again there’s cross-departmental work, with boys creating TikTok style dances in ICT sessions. ICT, incidentally, is a huge strength of the school.

The Parkside ethos is enthusiastic and ‘can do’. The boys are lively, funny and engaged - keen to demonstrate their French accents (there were a few budding Inspector Clouseaus among them) and extol the virtues of the school dinners which have apparently improved - and every classroom was full of attention and activity. Classes are mainly double periods – 60 minutes, with some 30 minute singles, and boys move around the campus unescorted.

We like to imagine parents choking slightly when the new Young Gentleman’s Club for boys was proposed (thoughts of young blades puffing cigars…). It is, in fact, a bit of a polish up for boys in years 7 and 8. Members of the club (all the class) are given a white shirt, and a crash course in good manners, public speaking and leadership, which stands them in good stead at their next school, as well as after, we are told.

Parents are reportedly convivial and ‘incredibly supportive’. There’s a mix of bankers, lawyers, and keen golfers, and parents remark on the strong collegiate sense, and a welcoming and active PTA. A couple of parents observed there were ‘more working mothers than there used to be,’ and certainly there is very good wraparound care available from 7.30am to 6 pm. ‘Fewer celebs than other local schools,’ says one parent. Another described how a visit to Parkside convinced her to move the family from London so her son could attend the pre-prep.

Money matters

Means tested bursaries are offered on application.

The last word

The nearest thing to Swallows and Amazons within throwing distance of the M25, Parkside has a generosity of spirit and an enjoyment of all that can be done which is uplifting. Boys are given lots of oxygen and opportunities to flourish, so the quiet pressure on academic improvement is not as noticeable as it might be. Definitely one to watch.

Special Education Needs

We have a Learning Support Department which caters for the specific needs of our pupils. Currently we cater for pupils with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia seeing them on a one to one basis or in small groups when appropriate. The focus of the department is to give them the confidence to achieve their full potential and to develop strategies to deal with their difficulties. We also offer help with organisational skills and study skills. 10-09

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