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What says..

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. Boys have a lot to fit in their day, with a pacey 10 35-minute lessons a day timetable. It’s not quite as frenetic as it sounds, though, with some double periods (and even triple for art and sports). When asked what they would change if they were headteacher for the day, we got the best answer ever ...

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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

What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Acting head

Nicole Janssen is holding the reins during the 2018/19 school year.

Entrance

Boys in the co-ed nursery can move seamlessly to the pre-prep and prep. External entrance to pre-prep and 7+ dependent on an assessment day held in November, which includes tests in English and maths. Any SEN issues will be taken up then too. Perhaps less choosy than some of its rivals, but if boys are rude and disrespectful on assessment day – ‘some are,’ admits the school – 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 occasional gaps appear – 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 including Reeds, St John's Leatherhead, Millfield, Sherborne, Stowe, Charterhouse, Epsom College and Lancing. Occasionally to Eton or 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.

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.

Teaching staff (a good proportion male) are a healthy mix of NQTs (‘they bring fantastic ideas straight from college'); 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’). 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. School keen to point out that the top sets (of which there are three from age 9 in maths and English) are now exclusively for scholarship applicants from year 7; other sets reasonably fluid. 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.

Boys have a lot to fit in their day, with a pacey 10 35-minute lessons a day timetable. It’s not quite as frenetic as it sounds, though, with some double periods (and even triple for art and sports). Homework kept to 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. IT embedded into learning - coding, programming, touch-typing all part of everyday life here.

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.

Music strong, with weekly classes described by boys as ‘really exciting,’ and plenty of extracurricular on offer, including choir, big band, rock group and ensembles. A third of pupils learn an instrument with a peripatetic teacher. Current push on strings to be taken up by more boys. Pupils regularly perform at music festivals.

Art and DT are outstanding – studios are jam packed with talented paintings, textiles, pottery etc and 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. Lots of clubs and activities on offer (eg fencing, cooking, chess, golf, skiing and supervised prep) with everything finished by 5pm.

Famously sporty and 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 school insistent that ‘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 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?’ The current winner managed a whopping two million. Separate languages block. The nursery building, a converted barn, is appealing, colourful and brimming with activity – all safely cordoned off from the bigger boys. Parents 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. Staff are approachable and boys in the top year wear white shirts so that the younger boys (in grey) know who to ask for help and advice. 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 occurs, they tackle 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 no naming and shaming. When asked what they would change if they were headteacher for the day, we got the best answer ever – ‘We do get to be headteacher for the day!’ ‘Everyone loves it,’ say boys.

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,’ said one. Parents a sociable bunch, with thriving PA.

A good traditional prep school, described by parents as ‘friendly’ and ‘warm,’ where boys enjoy an all-round education and are friendly, polite and confident.

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