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The huge reception hall, hung with portraits of old boys and next door neighbour Her Majesty the Queen, sets a rather formal tone. We asked what one thing would improve their school. The answer was unanimous: girls! Apparently girls would ‘make the place tidier’ and ‘help with questions’. Dream on, chaps. Day boys come in from a 10 mile radius (bus service operates from Chiswick and Maidenhead). Parents a mix of trad Windsor and glossy…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2006, Mr Giles Delaney (40s). Educated at Hereford Cathedral School, studied music and psychology at Cardiff (instruments are the not-at-all-easy French horn and organ). PGCE at Cambridge and thence to St John’s Beaumont. Became deputy head three years later before being catapulted at a very young age to headship on sudden death of his predecessor. He seems so at one with the school, staff and boys that we wonder if it was always his plan to stay at the old place for so long; his answer is a wry smile.

St John’s Beaumont, like other RC schools, has a reputation for being pretty disciplined, although Mr Delaney is anything but a martinet. He sees no reason why boys can’t be expected to give their very best in a caring and nurturing environment. He’s extremely interested in research on how boys learn, especially the importance of pupils’ relations with staff: ‘boys don’t learn subjects, they learn teachers.’ In a boys’ school ‘everyone will have a go at orchestra, choir, dance. They will give everything a shot and smile if it doesn’t work.’ Certainly when it comes to the importance of context, relating academic subjects to the real world, it seems that Jesuit schools were there long before the educationalists.

Mr Delaney, who looks a bit like a young Colin Firth, is modest and charming. He told us that he had taught ‘most stuff’, still teaches year 5 (‘getting them ready for pre-tests surreptitiously’) and is looking forward to a new challenge: introducing the pre-prep boys to music. We weren’t taken in by his self-deprecating answers. Boys and parents say his teaching is ‘absolutely brilliant’, ‘fantastic’, ‘the best’. Loves preparing assemblies and shares a keen interest in medieval history with his wife, Katie, who teaches in a school in north London. He is currently studying for an MSc in education at Oxford. They have four daughters – must be something of an antidote to life at SJB. And if he hadn’t gone into teaching? A conductor, he thinks, or a graphic designer, ‘something not in an office.’ Favourite book? Solzhenitsyn’s One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich: ‘It’s about endurance, valuing the smallest things.’

Entrance

There’s a waiting list so plan ahead. Most boys enter at age 4 after attending a taster session to assess suitability. Parents and children interviewed. Further small intake at year 3 (dependent on performance in school’s own assessment and reference from current head). Priority given to practising Roman Catholic families, siblings and applicants with connections to St John’s or a Jesuit education

Exit

To all the big beasts and all the more impressive given non-selective intake: Eton, Harrow, Tonbridge, Winchester, Wellington, Charterhouse, Ampleforth, Downside, Stonyhurst, Hampton. Notable record of academic, sport and all-rounder scholarships.

Our view

St John’s Beaumont sits in red-brick gothic grandeur on a hill overlooking Old Windsor, surrounded by 70 acres of grounds and playing fields next door to Windsor Great Park. Designed by John Francis Bentley (also responsible for Westminster Cathedral) and opened in 1888, it was the first purpose-built prep school in England. Tucked behind the Victorian edifice are recent additions: a fine sports centre with vertigo-inducing climbing wall, music, science and art departments, a theatre and the pre-prep block, all on a rather more human scale. The huge reception hall, hung with portraits of old boys and next door neighbour Her Majesty the Queen, sets a rather formal tone. Classical music playing discreetly in the background only just takes the edge off what could be an intimidating first impression for some prospective parents and their boys.

Our visit started in one of the original high ceilinged classrooms with a year 8 maths lesson. Considering it was nearly the end of term and these boys had done CE (many had won scholarships), their quiet concentration was remarkable. Working in pairs, they applied themselves to bisecting a line so that they would ‘impress maths teachers at their next schools’. In accordance with the principles of Jesuit education, they then discussed context, suggesting where this technique could be applied in real life. Maths is a particular strength of SJB and the best take part in national competitions and maths challenges, winning medals at all levels. Three finalists recently gained distinctions in Junior Maths Olympiad. Science very hands-on; boys told us that a highlight was ‘setting custard powder on fire’ and went on to explain the theory behind the conflagration. Latin from year 6, Greek for scholars.

Having learnt (and swiftly forgotten) how to bisect a line it was off to year 6 history in a slightly less lofty Portakabin. After the maturity of the mathematicians we were relieved to find a sparky class tackling the causes of the First World War. Their presentation skills may have been a work in progress but there was no doubting their enthusiasm and depth of knowledge. Here, context was relating 1914 alliances to the current situation in Afghanistan. Distracting them from the task in hand, we asked what one thing would improve their school. The answer was unanimous: girls! Apparently girls would ‘make the place tidier’ and ‘help with questions’. Dream on, chaps.

Golf, cycling, climbing, sailing, skiing – SJB boys pursue and excel at all kinds of sport, but rugby rules. They regularly field 16 teams and successfully play David to some much bigger Goliaths. Most recently the 1st XV was undefeated in all but one match. Usual parental grumbles that it’s not much fun in the lesser teams who don’t get any of the specialist coaching. Football gets a proper look in, too. There’s an impressive swimming pool and a climbing wall in addition to all the usual facilities. Proximity to the Thames doesn’t always guarantee a commitment to rowing but in this case it does and there are 50 boys in the squad netting a haul of medals in regional and national championships. For years 6, 7 and 8 it’s sport every day plus matches on Saturday. It’s a long day too: years 4 and 5 finish at 5pm, for older boys it’s 6pm or later if they’re doing extra activities. One of our guides said he thought parents should know that ‘it’s quite tiring’. Music, art and drama don’t seem to be overshadowed by the sports behemoth; that long day means there’s time for both.

Sixty or so boys board (one junior and one senior dorm) and according to one parent, it’s ‘proper boarding, not flexi.’ Full weekend programme of activities, many chosen by boys on the boarding committee, includes paintballing, tank driving and trips to Windsor Castle and the Science Museum. Weekly boarding also an option. Interesting animal themed house system engenders keen rivalry for ‘TYE’ points (Tiger, Yak and Emu). Junior uniform (navy blue Bermudas until year 6) looks smart but several parents still reeling from eye-watering cost of anything crested, including jumpers and shirts.

Approximately 60 per cent of boys come from RC families but don’t imagine this leads to monoculture – a peek into any classroom will dispel doubts on that score. Parents unanimously praised the pastoral care and the way the school welcomed diversity. One who was not Catholic said that religion was ‘not an issue’ but described the RE curriculum as ‘very truly Catholic, up to and including creationism’, so SJB unlikely to be destination of choice for Dawkins minor. School’s view is that they welcome boys of any faith or none but those who join, ‘join a community’, and must play their part, including attendance at mass. Admissions process wise to parents who are only interested in the school for its CE results. The scholarship boards provide a record of the school’s evolution. Thirty years ago practically all went on to Catholic schools such as Stonyhurst, The Oratory, Ampleforth; today’s scholars are just as likely to be bound for Eton, Winchester and Wellington.

Mr Bentley the architect obviously believed in giving boys lots of space and air, hence the wide corridors and high ceilinged classrooms, and the generosity of his design, while unmistakably Victorian, stands up pretty well to the demands of the 21st century. His intimate and beautifully decorated chapel, bearing the scars of wartime bombs, only seats 60, and at Christmas there are several services so that all parents can enjoy the special atmosphere and ‘magical music’. Whole school events take place in the somewhat less atmospheric sports hall. Part of the Jesuit educational ethos is that a child should be ‘well rounded and worldly wise’ and to that end SJB boys go far and wide; not only history and sports trips to France and Italy but also swimming the Midmar Mile in South Africa to raise money for charity. They’re also stretched by the school’s impressive Magis programme; senior boys have weekly lectures from visiting speakers, parents and members of staff and are also encouraged to present talks themselves. Recent subjects include deafness and language acquisition, Battersea Dogs’ Home and space exploration. Lots of fundraising to support a sister school, St Rupert’s, in Zimbawe.

Day boys come in from a 10 mile radius (bus service operates from Chiswick and Maidenhead). Parents a mix of trad Windsor and glossy Middletonshire (or as someone put it, those who have Wentworth membership and those who don’t). Their sons are commendably oblivious to such pigeonholing and there’s a great sense of camaraderie; boys are proud of their school and its traditions. Mr Delaney describes St John’s Beaumont as a community that asks its members, ‘What can you give?’ It expects the very best but also give boys the confidence to try new things and learn from mistakes. As a parent remarked, ‘It can appear prescriptive but the boys don’t see it like that, they thrive on structure and clear rules. My son loves going to school.’

Special Education Needs

The school has its own SEN unit, the Campion Unit, which assesses the needs of pupils in the school and assists them as appropriate. The school can help pupils with mild dyslexia or dyspraxia. Differentiation is a necessary part of the teachers' work in the school which is designed to help pupils with a difficulty or those who are particularly gifted. Academically gifted children are also placed in a small class for Years 7 and 8. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
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
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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