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A few parents feel the school may not be right for the super-bright, ‘but that’s not to say the boys don’t do really well,’ said one. Boys have a lot to fit in their day, with a pacey 10 lessons a day timetable – each lesson a short sharp 35 minutes to keep boys focused and ensure the school day is not too long. We usually ask the pupils we talk to what they would change if they were headteacher for the day and we got the best answer ever from this school – ‘We do get to be headteacher for the day!’ Indeed, one… 

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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 master

Since September 2014, Mark Beach (50s), previously head of the junior school at City of London Freemen's School. He has also been head of Longacre Prep in Shamley Green. History degree from the University College of Wales and MA in education, management and leadership from the Open University.

Easy-going, cheerful and good-humoured, but as efficient as they come, with parents and staff enthusing about how he’s turned the school around with his ‘businesslike approach’ – staff now have their own budgets; there are more action plans; staff are regularly appraised etc. Teaches PSHE and boys say ‘he shakes every single boy’s hand on the way into assembly.’ Embraces the traditions of the school, but is also forward-looking. ‘This generation will have to jump through more hoops than we did for the careers they want and I see it as my role to provide a foundation that sets these boys up for that.’ Described as ‘a breath of fresh air’ by pupils and parents alike.

Lives half-an-hour an hour down the road with his wife, Louise, an English teacher, and their three children. Avid moor walker and skier; recently gave up rugby.

Entrance

Boys in the co-ed nursery get an automatic place in the pre-prep reception; likewise, boys in pre-prep seamlessly move into the school proper, aged 7. Entrance at pre-prep and 7+ for external applicants is dependent on an assessment day held in November, which includes being tested in English and maths. Any SEN issues will be taken up then too. ‘We are looking for whether a boy can access the curriculum, cope with common entrance and fit into the Parkside ethos, which is basically being able to throw yourself into the wider aspects of school life,’ says head. Perhaps less choosy than some of its rivals, but if boys are rude and disrespectful on assessment day – ‘some are,’ admits the head – then they will be turned away.

Boys join from a wide local radius including Wimbledon, Kinsgston, Esher, Claygate, Weybridge, Oxshott, Byfleet, Cobham, Stoke d’Abernon, Fetcham and Leatherhead. Mainly English, some Korean, Russian, American, South African and Australian. Most year groups full, but there are sometimes gaps higher up the school – always worth a phone call – and if there is a place, it is dependent on maths and English tests, plus spending time with the head to check ‘fitablity’. Limited number of means-tested bursaries available, covering up to 80 per cent of fees.

Exit

From nursery, 70 per cent of boys move on to pre-prep – others to the state system (Royal Kent, St Matthews) or co-ed preps such as Danes Hill and Feltonfleet. School not geared towards pupils leaving at 11 and very few do. At 13+ boys depart to an increasingly wide range of senior schools – 17 different ones in 2016 including Reeds, St John's Leatherhead, Millfield, Sherborne, Stowe, Charterhouse, Epsom College and Lancing. Occasionally to Eton and Harrow. School well practised at matching each boy to the right school – it’s all handled gently and kindly and the school works hard to provide firm links with schools across the south east and south west, as well as providing an annual senior school exhibition, boarding school evening etc. Twelve scholarships in 2017.

Our view

This is a happy school, set in stunning grounds, which is strong academically, but without the pressure-cooker ethos of some other schools in this moneyed area of Surrey. ‘There’s no doubt my sons are challenged in the classroom and reach their full potential, but it’s no hothouse,’ one parent told us. Head keen to point out that some boys ‘do need that extra push’ – and as such, he has made the top set (of which there are three from age 9 in maths and English) exclusive to scholarship applicants from year 7. Setting in lower years is reasonably fluid, and as one boy pointed out, ‘We do the same stuff, just at different speeds.’ French from nursery and Latin from year 5. Two classes of 20 per year, but with the setted subjects, the average teaching group is nearer 12.

Teaching staff (a good proportion, male) are a healthy mix of NQTs (‘they bring fantastic ideas straight from college,’ says head); those with two or three years teaching experience (‘they bring new ideas, plus a bit of experience); those from industry (‘they bring great experience’) and longstanding staff (‘they bring continuity’). Big push on professional development being more targeted and the head is refreshingly focused on succession planning. There’s clear target setting for each boy and, according to pupils, ‘Teachers always offer extra support if you don’t understand something – nothing is ever too much trouble.’ A few parents feel the school may not be right for the super-bright, ‘but that’s not to say the boys don’t do really well,’ said one.

Boys have a lot to fit in their day, with a pacey 10 lessons a day timetable – each lesson a short sharp 35 minutes to keep boys focused and ensure the school day is not too long. It’s not quite as frenetic as it sounds, though, with some double periods (and even triple for art and sports). Homework kept to just one or two 35-minute assignments a week (term time only) and there’s no Saturday school. General subject teachers in pre-prep, then subject specialists in French and music from year 3, after which they pick up more and more so that by the time they’re in year 5, they are taught entirely by subject specialists.

Good provision from quite a large SEN department – 19 per cent of boys SEN when we visited, albeit at the mild to moderate end. These boys receive varying levels of support, including up to two one-to-one support lessons a week if they need it, plus extra support from a classroom assistant – and any necessary classroom adaptations eg wobble seats for pupils with dyspraxia. Learning support centre accessible to other pupils too eg to improve handwriting or deal with anxiety issues.

IT embedded into learning and two IT suites regularly used – we particularly liked the main one, where groups of four computers set around single pods are favoured over the usual rows of desks – so much more appealing. Coding, programming, touch-typing all part of everyday life here.

Music strong, with weekly classes praised by boys as being ‘really exciting.’ Plenty of extracurricular opportunities too, including choir, big band, rock group and ensembles. A third of pupils learn an instrument with a peripatetic teacher. Facilities for music particularly impressive, including an appealing and well-equipped main music studio, some practice areas and a hall dedicated to music performance (but which also doubles up for assembly and sports). Drums, guitar, brass and piano have traditionally dominated in terms of instruments, but there’s a push on strings to be taken up by more boys. Pupils regularly perform at music festivals.

Art is outstanding – a fact that is immediately apparent when you enter the delightful studio, packed with talented paintings, textiles, pottery etc. DT also impressive, with facilities including a 3D printer. Boys were busy making scaled-down bedrooms, complete with furniture, when we visited – enchanting.

Historically, drama has not been a strong point. Not so now, with a new teacher – ‘she used to be an actress,’ we were told in awe by one boy – brought in to shake things up. So far so good – many boys now do LAMDA, and annual productions will now be performed by most year groups with a review show from year 8.

It’s a famously sporty school, well used to picking up county and national trophies in U11 and U13 competitions. Core sports are football, cricket and hockey, the latter being extremely popular and successful. Rugby an option in years 7 and 8, with other key sports on offer including athletics and swimming. Super sports facilities set in school’s 45 acres of parkland include a 20m swimming pool, a splendid cricket academy, tennis courts and even a river (the Mole runs through school grounds) used for kayaking. ‘There are some really good coaches,’ pupils told us. More than one parent we spoke to felt sport here could be more inclusive, but head insistent that, ‘as a school one of the things we have put a lot of effort into in the past two years is to achieve a fair chance for all levels.’

At the centre of the striking grounds is the historic manor house, with decorative ceilings, pillars and panelling, which houses the head, staff rooms, boys’ dining room and a magnificent salon, complete with Rococo fireplace, used for school assemblies and functions. The classroom block, the Crescent, is a newish well-designed and airy space. A 100 seat performing arts hall, lecture room and art block have been added since, plus a superb library for the prep school (pre-prep and nursery have their own libraries). This has become rather the hub of the school, hosting talks by visiting authors and there are fun competitions held here too, including the ‘Who can read the most words in a term?’ We spoke to the current winner, who managed a whopping two million. Separate languages block, which houses two classrooms. The nursery building, a converted barn, is really appealing, colourful and brimming with activity – all safely cordoned off from the bigger boys. Parents really appreciate the after-school care available at the nursery and pre-prep. Picturesque church (and hall) on site, which the boys attend for a service every half term.

As you would hope in a smallish operation like this, pastoral care is first class. There’s a head of pastoral care and staff are friendly and approachable. Boys in the top year wear white shirts so that the younger boys (in grey) know who to ask for help and advice, and teachers know the boys well so they can often spot any problems before they escalate. Plus, there’s a worry box. ‘My son has had a few rocky terms on and off and when he’s struggled, they’ve noticed and really supported him,’ one parent told us. Boys seem proud of their school and loyal and kind to each other and there’s lots of cross-year friendships. If a bullying ever occurs, staff will immediately talk to the bully and his parents, tackling it quickly and firmly – there was one temporary exclusion for it the year we visited. Strong student council.

There’s a well understood framework of discipline, but not masses of rules, and parents approve of the way any bad behaviour is dealt with. ‘There’s no naming or shaming,’ says one. Good and bad marks awarded as carrots and sticks, nothing heavier than that really necessary (six strikes during a half term equals a detention, but they’re rare – the system is really for the school to monitor any patterns of poor behaviour before they become a real problem).

We usually ask the pupils we talk to what they would change if they were headteacher for the day and we got the best answer ever from this school – ‘We do get to be headteacher for the day!’ Indeed, one boy gets picked every term to spend the day doing some of the things the head would do – sitting at his desk, inviting people to lunch in his office, reading out awards in assembly etc. ‘It’s amazing – everyone loves it,’ one boy told us. Other fun regulars include a class rota for hot chocolate break.
En route to the school, we passed flash cars galore, yummy mummies and houses belonging to Chelsea footballers (the school backs on to the club’s training grounds). But Parkside aims to play down this aspect of the area and some families choose the school precisely for this reason. ‘People are surprised by the range of backgrounds, with lawyers and bankers, electricians and plumbers,’ says one. There’s a good sense of community among the parents, with ‘Friends of Parkside’ (the PA) holding regular socials.

School fees include books and lunch and most of the after-school clubs. The only additional charges are for extracurricular activities provided by outside companies, such as judo and music. Lots of clubs and activities on offer (eg fencing, cooking, chess, golf, skiing and Sandown and supervised prep) with everything finished by 5pm. Nursery outings include farm, Santa’s grotto, park and reptile centre; pre-prep outings include fire station, zoo, museum and Pizza Express; prep boys get day trips to the likes of the farm and theatre, plus residentials to Guernsey (hockey tour), Jersey (football and hockey tour), Caribbean (sports tour) etc.

Several parents told us there’s something very special about this school that you can’t quite put your finger on. ‘Bigger schools – and some other smaller ones – just don’t get the friendliness and warmth of this one,’ summed up one. Parents also praise the single-sex aspect. ‘When I went to look round the school, I sat at the back of the classroom and the teacher suddenly got all the boys up exercising round the classroom for a fun few minutes. I asked her afterwards if that was a formal break. “No,” she told me. “Didn’t you notice their energy was starting to dip? I wanted to get them re-focused.” And that’s the thing about this school - they understand boys because their speciality is boys.’

A good traditional prep school, where boys enjoy an all-round education and are friendly, polite and confident.

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