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Open the magnificent door to this charming primary school in the university area of Reading and the tone is immediately set by the welcoming, down-to-earth staff and the seemingly endless displays of photographs, artwork, booklets, written work and more that decorates every single room and corridor. ‘That’s my work!’ come the squeals of delight from the girls. One downstairs classroom we visited had a straw-based area that looked so much like a mini-farm that we half expected a live animal to appear. We saw spirited girls having a whale of a time with…

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What the school says...

The Abbey Junior School offers a broad curriculum enriched by many workshops and trips (residential from Year 3). The atmosphere is friendly, lively, purposeful and fun.
Girls aged 3-5 join the Early Years Centre which was classed as Outstanding in every category by Ofsted who praised the stimulating, inspiring and fascinating environment.' Junior School girls have specialist teaching in Science, Music, Sport, ICT and Languages and take part in many clubs.There is before and after school care and a holiday club.

Most girls continue to The Abbey Senior School which is consistently a top academic performer at GCSE, A level and IB as well as offering many extra-curricular opportunities to pupils.
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What the parents say...

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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since February 2015, Mrs Nicola Dick-Cleland MA Oxon QTS (50s), previously deputy and then acting head. She joined the school in 2011 and was rapidly promoted to deputy. Has a degree in experimental psychology from Oxford and a teaching qualification from Reading. Was a senior manager at BT (the second most senior woman in BT at the time) before turning to a career in psychotherapy and, later, music teaching before embarking on formal teacher training. ‘For me, being a head brings together everything I know – leadership, psychology and education - perfect,’ she says.

Refreshing to hear a head talk enthusiastically about working with adults (many primary heads complain that they miss working with children), she nevertheless has a wonderful rapport with the kids here, whose faces light up when she bounces informally into classrooms. This is a warm and cuddly head, but with an underlying authority. We were surprised, then, that our pupil guides had absolutely no clue at all where her office was; she later explained she purposefully keeps her office a largely child free zone: ‘I go out to them – an office isn’t really an environment for children.’ Parents also keen on her.

Lives locally with her husband, with whom she has two grown up children. Her daughter was a pupil at The Abbey. An outdoorsy type, she loves walking.

Entrance

Nursery, reception and year 3 are the main points of entry, with some spaces elsewhere. A short morning of informal play and assessment for youngest; tests plus interview for older girls. ‘We’re not looking for rocket scientists, but a good average,’ says the head, who adds that conversations with prospective parents are taken into consideration. ‘In the end, it’s all about whether the family has a fit with a school that has quite an academic pace and depth.’ Some parents apply from their child’s birth; others call mid-academic year when their partner has been relocated to the area; increasingly, girls move from state primaries. Class sizes generally 22 maximum, with many much smaller.

Exit

Around two thirds move up to the senior school. Big feeder for nearby Kendrick Grammar, although girls who gain places at both often choose to stay on. Others to the good local comprehensives, such as Maiden Erlegh. A handful to other independent day schools. Those who leave before the end of year 6 generally do so for relocation reasons.

Our view

Open the magnificent door to this charming primary school in the university area of Reading and the tone is immediately set by the welcoming, down to earth staff and the seemingly endless displays of photographs, artwork, booklets, written work and more that decorates every single room and corridor. ‘That’s my work!’ come the squeals of delight from the girls, making it immediately obvious how much pride they take in their work, and the boards are colourful, bold and tasteful too – a joy to see.

Nursery is based in Knell House, a converted Alfred Waterhouse villa, which boasts light and airy classrooms for these 20 children (plus those displays again). One downstairs classroom we visited had a straw based area that looked so much like a mini farm that we half expected a live animal to appear. In fact, teachers had set it up to prepare the children for a school trip to a local farm. Good outdoor space, with astroturf and adventure climbing equipment, overlooked by the church (with which the school is closely linked). Emphasis on learning through play – no writing until reception.

Things get slightly confusing when it comes to reception and year 1 as these classes have been relocated just down the road to Abbey Gardens, which was opened in 2014. Originally a judge’s lodgings, the school bought it for its large garden, which has been converted into an impressive all-weather sports pitch surrounded by a ‘Willow walkway,’ utilised by the whole junior school. But the house itself, built in the late 1800s, also makes for a delightful learning space, with a purpose-built gym added on. Specialist teachers for PE, music, drama and languages (then sciences and computing from year 3); remaining subjects taught by form teachers. We saw spirited girls having a whale of a time with paper, glue and plenty of glitter, as well as engaging in more advanced activities.

Back in the main junior school, a mix of Victorian and later additions are home to years 2 to 6. Impressive facilities include a great science lab, where year 6 were busy purifying salt, a large dedicated dining room (no packed lunches here and nobody minds) and computer suite.

Good facilities for drama (which is timetabled across many of the year groups) and dance (which is taught as part of the PE curriculum and via clubs); every year group does some kind of annual production, with girls enthusing about how they get involved in everything from choreography to set design. ‘By year 5, we are allowed a microphone,’ one girl told us, practically jumping with excitement.

Music outstanding and very much part of the life blood of the school. We met the head of music – a delightful woman who teaches, oversees 15 peripatetic teachers and heads up the orchestra and four school choirs. Lots of public performances, some award winning (finalists in Barnardo’s Choir of the Year was the most recent when we visited). Plenty of visiting workshops from the likes of composers specialising in children’s songs to those teaching world music. Art, although mainly done in classrooms, also notable, with a particularly impressive series of charcoal drawings from year 6s on display.

Sport almost daily. ‘We want it to become part of who they are,’ says the head, and although it’s more about inclusivity than competition, there are fixtures for those who want them. Netball, hockey, athletics, biathlon, swimming (at the senior school), football, frisbee, gym and dance all on offer, among others. ‘My daughter’s not naturally sporty, but they get her having a go and she enjoys that,’ said one parent.

Conversational French in reception and year 1; conversational Spanish in year 2; conversational German in year 3; then back to French, which is taught more formally, in years 4, 5 and 6. No setting – ‘We don’t need to as all the girls are relatively able and whilst they might need help in fractions one week, they might be a whizzy-whiz at 2D shapes the next week,’ says head. Homework only if seen to be genuinely aiding learning.

Lively and engaging teaching was palpable in every classroom we visited. Teachers given plenty autonomy, plus lots of complementary visiting workshops – Roman workshops; maths puzzle; zoo lab, to name a few. A lively house science quiz was in full swing in the main hall when we visited.

Specialist small group and individual support for mild SEN available, although most extra help is in the classroom via teaching assistants, many highly qualified. ‘We don’t want children to become dependent or resentful of having set extra help every week. We want a learning support model that anyone can use anytime – for instance if they’re struggling with a particular maths concept,’ says head.

No school rules here (none needed, says head) - only values and a class contract, written by the girls and teacher at the beginning of each academic year. Lots of praise for good behaviour, with special merits in assembly, particularly for effort (more likely for ‘Jemima really persisted in her fractions’ than ‘Jemima got an excellent maths score’).

When we asked the girls about bullying, we got a blank look. ‘We know what it is,’ explained one, ‘but we haven’t come across it.’ Head believes this is down to keeping conversations alive about what bullying is and how you are just as culpable if you stand by and watch it – and this, together with a form tutor-led pastoral system, seems to keep them on the straight and narrow. The head’s psychotherapy background must surely come in useful pastorally. ‘Children don’t come to school to behave badly – and if they do, you need to look at the root of the issue,’ she says, as if reading our minds. Happy relationships aided by the classes being regularly muddled to promote group bonding, and year 5 girls are trained to be ‘playground buddies.’

Residential trips build up from one night away in year 3 up to 6 nights in year 5 (then back down to 5 in year 6). Day trips start from nursery (remember that farm) to the likes of Windsor Castle, Legoland etc.

School day from 8.30am to 3.45pm, with an optional breakfast club from 7.30am and after school care until 6pm (costs extra). Full club programme, mainly at lunchtimes, including Lego club, nature detectives, archaeology club, chess and judo, among others.

Parents range from the very wealthy to the struggling-but-determined to afford the fees and everything in between. Lots of dual income families. Not a school to consider unless you’re prepared to get involved, say parents. Catchment area quite wide, generally within a 15-mile radius. School bus and kiss-and-drop service seen as godsend by parents. Healthy ethnic mix, with around half traditional white British and the rest as mixed as you can imagine - so for every yummy family from Henley, there’s a Russian, Indian, Chinese etc family. Active PA and lots of socialising among parents.

Girls are cheery, jovial and excitable, although parents assured us there’s room for quiet ones too, ‘but the academically challenged might struggle here,’ said one.

A confident and well-run school that knows exactly where it’s going, with happy girls who are stretched and challenged but not pressurised. While many girls will attend The Abbey from 3 to 18, the junior school provides opportunities to help the girls reinvent themselves at different stages along the way. In fact, a word you’ll hear a lot here is ‘refresh,’ which neatly sums up the school’s attitude to constantly keeping things fresh and ahead of the game.

Special Education Needs

See senior school questionnaire. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
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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