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The ‘play room’, used for assemblies, doubles up as boarders’ common room in the evenings and provides an excellent space for them to play pool, table football or relax – when they’re not bounding around outside that is; ‘we worry that parents see so many photos of their sons building dens, cooking or toasting marshmallows in the woods, they’ll think they...

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What the school says...

St John’s Beaumont is a Roman Catholic, Jesuit boarding and day preparatory school for boys aged 3-13.
St John’s is the oldest purpose built preparatory school in the country, founded in 1888 and combining the rich tradition of Jesuit education with the very best that modern teaching techniques and technology can offer. Our boys leave St John’s aged 13 and move to some of the country’s finest schools, but more importantly do so as confident, aspirational and resilient young men, aware of their own potential and their ability to leave a positive impression on the lives of others. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2006, Giles Delaney (40s). Educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Cardiff University (music – his instruments are French horn and organ – and psychology). After a PGCE at Cambridge he responded to an ad for post of music teacher at St John’s Beaumont (apparently with the caveat: ‘not for the faint of heart’). Clearly lion-hearted, he lasted the course and was appointed deputy head three years later before being catapulted to headship upon the sudden death of his predecessor. After so long in post, we wondered whether he had any plans to move on. ‘As long as I get out of bed with a spring in my step,’ he says, ‘I will stay.’ We were delighted to hear this and so, no doubt, will be the parent body who describe him as ‘the heart and soul of the school’. Far from sitting back and enjoying the status quo, he recently undertook a postgraduate research project at Oxford to help him – and the school – understand boys in the broadest sense; ‘it’s easy to create a bunker mentality,’ he says; refreshingly, he acknowledges the need to move with the times and respond to the extraneous challenges that face independent schools.

Like many RC schools, SJB has a reputation for being very disciplined, although Mr Delaney is anything but a martinet. If the ethos and personality of a school flows downwards from the its head, then the disarmingly kind and civilised vibe that permeates the very fabric of the school is testament to his character and leadership. Sharply dressed, quietly but precisely spoken and absolutely clear that it’s the ‘sense of relationship’ that’s important to boys, and that he always encourages them to ask ‘what else can I offer in life?’ In the same vein, he ‘can’t abide boys being judged by what secondary school they go to,’ but instead asks ‘what will our 13 year olds be doing when they’re 28?’ Aims to visit boys at senior school in their first year to check on progress and ask whether they were well prepared for their new environment. Our guess is that they almost always answer in the affirmative. Certainly, when it comes to the importance of context, relating academic subjects to the real world and building a humane, outward-looking stance into the very core of education, it seems that Jesuit schools were there long before the educationalists.

Lives on site and shares a keen interest in medieval history with his wife, Katie, who teaches in a school in north London. They have four daughters – must be something of an antidote to life at SJB.

Entrance

Intakes into nursery at 3+ and reception at 4+ with boys entering after attending a taster session. Parents also interviewed by head and although not selective, school will turn away families who ‘appear disengaged in our values’. Further small intake into year 3, when boys take school’s own assessment (English and maths) to establish their level and they also consider previous school records. Some spaces available in other years. Boarding applicants complete a taster stay of one or two nights in boarding. Priority given to practising RC families, siblings and applicants with connections either to St John’s or a Jesuit education.

Exit

Only a handful leave at 11+ to eg Hampton, Reading Blue Coat. The remainder head far and wide at 13 in ones, twos and threes rather than in huge groups to any one destination school – a fact of which the head is proud. Mainly to boarding at this point, with big names such as Eton, Harrow and Wellington taking two or three boys each most years, plus Bradfield, Charterhouse, Cranleigh, The Oratory, Oundle, Stonyhurst amongst others. Respectable clutch of scholarships most years, which impressively span the entire spectrum from academic to sport, music, drama and art.

Our view

There’s nothing a Good Schools Guide writer loves more than a school that surprises them. As a parent on the same fixture list as SJB, this writer had shivered in all weathers on the school’s ‘flats’ (pitches) on numerous match days over the years but apart from lingering in the foyer to the sports complex sampling the undistinctive match tea (albeit in the shadow of a fabulous climbing wall), had never ventured further and, in honesty, had always thought the red-brick gothic buildings somewhat austere, bordering on intimidating. Coupled with the school’s Jesuit foundation and reputation for strong discipline, our expectations were duly set when we arrived on the day of our visit. Happily, we left with them blown out of the water, having spent the day at one of the most contented and civilised boys’ preps we have ever had the privilege of visiting. Serenity and respect pervade the grand corridors (which, true to first impressions, could never be described as cosy) and the staff we met oozed empathy and enthusiasm.

St John’s Beaumont sits atop 70 acres (complete with outdoor theatre in the woods) of playing fields and woodland on a hill overlooking Old Windsor. Designed by John Francis Bentley (also responsible for Westminster Cathedral) and opened in 1888, it was the first purpose-built prep school in England, built for 60 boys (the lovely chapel still has 60 seats, each with individually embroidered hassock, plus just four seats for masters). The huge reception hall, hung with portraits of old boys and next-door neighbour Her Majesty the Queen, does set a rather formal tone, but tucked behind the Victorian edifice are recent additions: a fine sports centre with aforementioned vertigo-inducing climbing wall, music, science and art departments, a theatre and the Nicholas Owen pre-prep block complete not only with STEM room for practical science experiments and baking room but – and arguably more importantly – a menagerie of guinea pigs, hamsters, a bearded dragon and occasionally chicks, which ‘keep the big boys coming back to visit,’ according to pre-prep head. Smart new science labs have given boys the space and facilities they were lacking to experiment to their hearts’ content. Like the chapel, boarding accommodation is in its original format: two long and regimented dorms with well laid-out, comfortable curtained cubicles down either side to sleep exactly 60 boys, all with jolly matching planet duvet sets and ceilings festooned with flags representing all boys’ nationalities. Smart, recently renovated bathrooms. The ‘play room’, used for assemblies, doubles up as boarders’ common room in the evenings and provides an excellent space for them to play pool, table football or relax – when they’re not bounding around outside, that is; ‘we worry that parents see so many photos of their sons building dens, cooking or toasting marshmallows in the woods, they’ll think they live there,’ laughed one staff member.

Lessons take place in high-ceilinged classrooms (apparently kept deliberately chilly to allow for boys’ high body temperatures) with quiet concentration the order of the day. Head passionate about difference between ‘teaching the curriculum and learning the curriculum – we don’t teach the Battle of Hastings from a textbook, that’s for sure’. Pupils class-taught until year 6, with specialists for just art, music and sport and teachers sharing their subject expertise between classes to create an effective balance between a primary and prep school model. Parents of very able pupils speak highly of the academic rigour of the school, particularly for the teaching of maths. Reasoning on curriculum from year 5 to help get boys ready for that increasingly important pre-test. Although, thankfully - given the long days which stretch from 8.00am to either 5.00 or 6.00pm depending on the age of the boys - there’s very little homework given, parents we spoke to felt that thrice-yearly examinations were overkill: ‘the boys are literally on their knees.’ That said, when we asked boys whether they thought lots were tutored outside of school, there were nods all round. ‘Yes, too many,’ sighed head, and school has increased timetabled English and maths in years 4 and 5 to try to curb the trend. A small but strong SEN department, all of whom are ex-class teachers (‘crucial,’ says head), with school able to support mild to moderate SpLD plus high functioning ASD, of which there are a small number, all diagnosed here.

Badminton, basketball, hockey, cycling, climbing, sailing, skiing and tennis – SJB boys pursue and excel at all kinds of sport, but rugby still rules. Football only recently became a major sport – school gradually moved from two full terms of rugby via a six-week break for football, to the beautiful game now having its very own term of fixtures, and it’s cricket in the summer term. The best tennis courts we’ve seen at any prep school greet visitors on arrival. The usual parental grumbles about lower teams not benefiting from the same quality of coaching as their A team counterparts but boys just seemed delighted that they all get to play so much (every day plus Saturday matches for year 6 up) and told us that it wasn’t unheard of – or especially unusual – for a boy to make his way from the D team to the As. Swimming now a major sport following the appointment of a dedicated coach who has transformed reluctant water babies to accomplished swimmers, elite swimmers to IAPS medallists, and also takes a squad on tour to South Africa. Indoor rowing also quite a thing, with boys winning silverware at regional and national finals most years, and now school makes good use of its proximity to actual water by getting out on the Thames too. Noticeably, though, sport is viewed as a mere part of the SJB journey – equal but not superior to the arts or academia. And definitely not a vehicle for machismo.

The fantastically airy art studio is now used by the whole school rather than just the senior pupils and presided over by an inspiring figure who acts as artist in residence and has taken a formerly solid but traditional offering totally boy-centric. The studio is stuffed with everything from miniature hot air balloons and gargoyles to self-portraits in clay. Art tied closely to literature and art history – a recent project was papier-mâché bird skulls wrapped in the text of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. Music too has recently been overhauled. Previously seen as somewhat elitist, the appointment of a new choirmaster (himself a coach with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain) with the brief to ‘open up’ choral music has changed all that. Hymn practice now starts with fun, physical warm-up exercises that get the boys firing on all cylinders. The chapel choir is now fast becoming a ‘choir of leaders’ rather than one with a couple of stars, and there’s also a ‘cambiata choir’ for boys at the top of the school whose voices are ‘changing’ (definitely not ‘breaking’, we were told). Two ‘jubilatae’ choirs for junior and senior pupils use games and actions whilst singing modern music to enthuse boys and help them learn about the physicality of singing. And if that’s not enough, there are orchestras and bands for all levels of musicianship. A recent concert (‘breathtaking,’ said parents) saw school’s top musicians conducting the orchestra; ‘we want our high performers to inspire the next generation, rather than take all the limelight,’ says head. Drama seemed to have a lower profile, although LAMDA is on curriculum in years 4 and 5 and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Treasure Island have been recently performed in the outdoor theatre. Perhaps upping the theatrical ante is next on head’s to-do list.

Fifty or so boarders – around half from overseas – enjoy a full weekend programme of activities, including paintballing, tank driving and trips to Windsor Castle and the Science Museum. Weekly and ‘tailor’ boarding (two or three nights a week) also offered. Animal-themed house system engenders keen rivalry for ‘TYE’ points (Tiger, Yak and Emu) and all things competitive are ‘inter-animal’ rather than ‘inter-house’. Around half of boys come from RC families but school has a light touch from a religion perspective, although saintly effigies and crucifixes are present in most rooms. Parents unanimously praised the pastoral care and the way the school welcomes diversity. Innovative AS tracking system, a computer-generated survey aimed to detect early signs of psychological or mental health problems, provides early warnings to help school identify boys who might be struggling. 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 weekly mass. Boys felt that the Jesuit Pupil Profile, effectively their code of conduct, ‘makes us better’. We agree.

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. 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. Lots of fundraising to support a sister school, St Rupert’s, in Zimbawe; all funds raised by both boys and the active Friends of SJB parent committee donated to charity rather than the school.

Day boys come in from a 10-mile radius (bus service operates from Chiswick and Maidenhead); about 40 per cent of boarders from overseas. Parent body is ‘like a battenberg cake,' says head: 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. One recent former parent told us: ‘Once a St John’s boy, always a St John’s boy.’ In our book that can only be a good thing.

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
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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