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  • Ashford Preparatory School
    Great Chart
    Ashford
    Kent
    TN23 3DJ
  • Head: Rosie Clifford and Chris Neesham (Acting Headteach
  • T 01233 620493
  • F 01233 636579
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.ashfordschool.co.uk
  • A mainstream independent school for pupils aged from 3 to 11 with a linked senior school
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Kent
  • Pupils: 392
  • Religion: Christian
  • Fees: Day: £10,500 - £15,000; Boarding £24,900 - £36,900 pa
  • Open days: Every day is open day.
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Linked schools: Ashford School

What says..

We’d already been prepped by parents about the two ‘lovely ladies on the front desk’ before our visit. ‘They know everyone’s name and couldn’t be more welcoming,’ one had gushed. They didn’t disappoint, and then – as if they’d had the nod to jump out from behind a curtain – a cluster of beautifully behaved children appeared in the large, modern reception area, with several instantly diving to the floor to help their classmate pick up some books and water bottle that she dropped. Academically, parents describe the school as ‘supportive’ and ‘encouraging’ – ‘you learn at your own pace’, though several felt...

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What the school says...

Our aim is to promote self-reliance, responsibility, compassion and boldness and also to foster a sense of teamwork, the intellectual freedom to be creative, the confidence and enterprise to initiate and the resilience to cope with adversity. We achieve this and much more by being adventurous.

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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

Acting Head

Acting joint headteacher since September 2019 is Chris Neesham BA QTS (40s). Deputy head (pastoral) since September 2016. Previously head of IT at Caldicott. Studied business studies with Spanish (‘because that’s useful for teaching,’ he jokes). Very visible, we caught sight of him at least three times in different areas of the school on our tour. Teaches English and is upbeat and witty. Lives locally with his wife and their two young children who attend village schools. Enjoys golf, guitar and travel when time permits.

Acting joint headteacher since September 2019 is Rosie Clifford BSc PGCE (40s). Deputy head (teaching and learning) since September 2013 and head of English. Previously head of PE at Wilbury Junior, having studied sport, exercise and outdoor education for her degree. Came to teaching late, having previously worked for an expedition and gap year company for youngsters aged 15-18. Still teaches maths and English. One of the most down to earth heads we’ve met, she lives in Wye with her husband and their two children, both at the school.

Entrance

Increasingly selective – can afford to be with growing interest in the school, partly due to the 7,000 new houses being built in the area, although still welcomes relatively wide ability levels. Majority join in nursery (or even sooner in The Stables day care nursery on site or over at Bridge House day care on the senior school site) and reception but children can join at any time if there are spaces (no specific entry point in Y3). At nursery stage children (and parents) meet heads and have a taster session. Older children have a taster day and literacy and numeracy tests.

Exit

Depending on the year group, between 50 to 70 per cent go on to the senior school, many with scholarships, others mainly to local grammars including Cranbrook, Highworth and Norton Knatchbull (boys). Occasional ones or twos to grammars further afield including Judd and Skinners. No coaching for Kent Test – ‘we’re not allowed,’ insists school. The odd few to Wellesley House and other preps for last two years before CE. Children’s progress is carefully tracked so school aware of any weaknesses and can advise on appropriate next step. School is expert at managing expectations.

Our view

We’d already been prepped by parents about the two ‘lovely ladies on the front desk’ before our visit. ‘They know everyone’s name and couldn’t be more welcoming,’ one had gushed. They didn’t disappoint, and then – as if they’d had the nod to jump out from behind a curtain – a cluster of beautifully behaved children appeared in the large, modern reception area, with several instantly diving to the floor to help their classmate pick up some books and water bottle that she dropped. Kindness conquers all here, we were to learn over the course of our day – no staging necessary.

The original Georgian house with arts and crafts additions remains a key part of the school, but it is now a double set of glass doors to the left of this that welcomes you into a huge glass atrium, which in turn leads to a sun drenched main hall and a playground beyond, with wide bright corridors in both directions leading to roomy colourful classrooms - including for pre-prep - every inch decorated with children’s work. A sensitive blend of old and new, there’s a particularly stimulating and well-filled library and some super work areas for the likes of art, DT and science. At break times, pre-preps play in the ‘quad’ – an enclosed outdoor area in the middle of the school, full of toys – while older ones make a beeline for the adventure playground on the hill, stopping on route to bung their wellies on if needs be. ‘And if you don’t feel like playing, there’s always the peace garden,’ our guide explained. There’s a fabulous growing garden too, including polytunnel, and school is currently looking into Forest School, although wondering if it’s really worth the bother as ‘we are doing most of it anyway’.

Academically, parents describe the school as ‘supportive’ and ‘encouraging’ – ‘you learn at your own pace’, though several felt their children ‘could do with a bit more pushing’. Teachers are praised for ‘the good relationships they build with the kids’ and for ‘dealing with things quickly – not like at other schools where they just tell you want you want to hear’. Children told us they are ‘smiley’, ‘friendly’ and ‘help you understand stuff, except for one who uses really complicated words’. We sat in on an English lesson where year 4s wrote imaginatively about the twists and turns of myths and legends and we loved the fact that the year 6 teacher had got her brood outside in the sunshine to learn about the science behind shadows. The year 5 news reports deserve a special mention - hot off the press, these beautifully penned accounts were being pinned onto a corridor display.

Class sizes 15 max in pre-prep; 18 max in prep. French is taught from reception. Some setting in English and maths from year 4. Accelerated reading programme known as the Millionaire Club has been a great success for keen and reluctant readers alike – and staff get stuck in too, with pupils choosing books for them to read, though spare a thought for the poor adults who get stuck with the Rainbow Magic series for months on end. Every book culminates in a quiz and anyone who reads a million words gets a star badge – one pupil we met had four, which he patted repeatedly with well-deserved pride. No homework, although don’t jump too high for joy because you still get spellings, reading and time tables. Instead – and for some parents, this was a major pull of the school - youngsters pick one activity after school a day from 75 on offer, part of the so-called enrichment programme: building and engineering (the most oversubscribed), touch typing, animation, debating, creative maths and mindfulness among them. So instead of slogging away in prep lessons at the end of each day, the idea is that children here do something more exhilarating and which quite possibly gets them out of their comfort zone along the way (good practice for the senior school, if they go, where this is a key goal). Some do further activities afterwards – fencing, judo, swimming etc, while for working parents there is wrap around care available from 7.30am to 6.30pm. The idea is that when your progeny get home they can have genuine downtime rather than angst over some French worksheet they’ve got to fill in or pleading with you to go to B&Q because they’ve got to make a Roman city.

About 20 per cent of children have a learning difficulty, mainly mild but some bordering on moderate. Support from full-time SENCo is so well regarded that school is becoming something of a victim of its own success, with more SEN numbers now applying than they can accommodate – although they do pledge to try their best to cater for all. The learning support room was full to packed when we visited – cheerful children working in groups or in one-to-ones, both of which also happen in the classroom or, for very mild cases, the SENCo simply supports the teacher to provide eg overlay or laptop. ‘I think the parents could perhaps do with a bit more guidance from this department, but the help the children get is second to none,’ said a parent.

School sits in 52 acres of grounds and playing fields – a sea of green on the edge of this pretty village, including new pavilion and floodlit Astros. Seniors are mini-bused over to get a slice of the cake too. Strong cricketing tradition – England cricketer Richard Ellison is an old boy and school is now moving from Kwik cricket into hardball for girls. Good results in biathlon, cross-country and swimming and for the last two years the year 6 hockey teams (girls and boys) have got into the nationals. ‘We are the ones to beat,’ says school, with children regularly getting selected for county cricket and boys into academy football. But we think it’s the inclusivity they should be shouting about – it is certainly a crowd pleaser among parents. ‘Sure, the school likes its trophies, but everyone gets a go here and that’s what really counts.’ ‘It’s very much about team playing, not just coming first.’ ‘Even the E teams have matches – this isn’t just a school for the really sporty.’ We were particularly touched by a parent’s account of how the coaches adapt the cohort if they see the other team isn’t playing so well – they’d rather (literally) create a level playing field than win for the sake of it.

Head of music has breathed new life into the department, we heard – one pupil treated us to an endearing impression, hitting the deepest single note he could muster. Specialist music teaching from reception upwards and (top tip: pre-order your earplugs now) all year 2s get the chance to learn recorder and/or violin. ‘For every instrument you want your child to play, they’ll source a visiting teacher,’ lauded a parent, with around 65 per cent learning one. Plenty of concerts, teatime tootles and ensembles for brass, strings and wood - all feeds through to strong orchestra in senior school. Singing is a biggie here too, with a pre-prep choir, year 3 choir, a compulsory year 4 choir and a select chamber choir.

The annual year 6 play gets a verbal equivalent of a drum roll from all and we saw year 3s practising hard for their We’re Going On A Bear Hunt class assembly (‘I bet you the theme is perseverance,’ said our guide excitedly), as well as hearing about a year 6 self-written production of Cinderella 10 years on, which they were performing in French as part of a national competition. School is sensitive to the shy ones, we heard, with one parent recounting how her son was ‘carefully nurtured so that he slowly built up enough confidence to stand near the front’.

Our guides reeled off names and fun facts about artists ranging from Van Gogh to Monet and Frida Kahlo to Georgia O’Keeffe – the emphasis on art history and ideas behind artists’ works all makes for a sophisticated and engaging approach to the subject. And it pays off, we saw some inspired works adorning the walls. Much is cross curricular too – children were learning The Highwayman poem in English when we visited, following through with ink work based on the illustrations. DT popular and children often put in extra time on their projects in the lunch break.

Half colours and colours for not just sport but drama, music and art. Lots of healthy inter-house competition with weekly house points keenly contested – academic, sporting and fundraising events, plus points also awarded for effort and progress. Cooking offered from nursery upwards – our guides had recently rustled up gingerbread houses and Christmas cakes and there’s great excitement about the year 6 biscuit bake off, which includes designing and making packaging. Numerous trips and visits all covered by fees, including the residential adventure training camps for year 4 (soon to include year 3) upwards.

Parents love the ‘down to earth’ nature of the school and its community - many work all hours to get their offspring in - but they seem to find time to socialise, although the current PTA is a bit thin on the ground. Be prepared to splash out at the school ball if you want to enter the auction for your child to be headteacher for the day – the last ones (siblings) played Mr Bean all day on the TV screens and ordered endless tea and biscuits. An emphasis on praise has shifted behaviour further in the right direction – ‘I mean, they’re not all angels, but they’re a pretty confident, generally well behaved and kind bunch who are prepared to talk to anyone,’ says school; we concur. No boarding on the Ashford Prep site although year 6s can board on the main school campus and come over on the shuttle bus (very rare, though). Food is fine – nothing to write home about, we felt, though one parent told us, ‘my children say the school’s shepherd’s pie is much nicer than mine!’

This is a happy, caring school where an enthusiastic appetite for learning is much in evidence. ‘My daughter absolutely loves it – she’s buzzing about it every day,’ said a parent.


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