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We caught the youngest members of the Clifton community seated at tiny tables eating healthy snacks of fruit with the utmost decorum and apparent enjoyment. A thematic and values-based curriculum with classrooms decked out in ever more imaginative ways (space, dinosaur habitat) make learning truly fun: even the so-called ‘grammar hammer’ work sheet was engaging the kids. We were much taken by the incitement to rebellion encouraged by the study of Animal Farm, even if the head looked somewhat uneasy. Masses of opportunities to take part, perform and compete if that’s your thing: a talented young pianist wowed everyone at the celebration assembly the day we visited...

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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.

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Since 2018, Jim Walton BA PGCE (late 40s). Brought up in Warwickshire and an old boy of Warwick school, Mr Walton went north for his university studies, with a first degree (business studies) from Sheffield and a PGCE from Manchester Met. A couple of years as education officer at the Lost Gardens of Heligan on graduation lit his path into primary teaching, then he spent several years at Cheltenham College Junior School, latterly as a housemaster, thence to Elizabeth College Guernsey as deputy head before his first appointment to headship there. ‘I wasn’t really looking for a change,’ he said of the Clifton job, ‘but I liked the fact that it was properly co-ed and had a mix of boarding and day.’ Integration (of the prep, pre-prep and nursery) and streamlining (of staff and management roles) could sum up his achievements since he arrived, but those dry words do not do justice to the fizz and bubble Mr Walton brings to the job. ‘Maybe the staff think I’m too informal,’ he conceded with a knowing grin, before telling us how he demonstrated a perfect headstand at a recent gym showcase.

Our first encounter was through the car window at the busy pedestrian crossing outside the prep, where Mr Walton was on lollipop duty in a hi-viz jacket, greeting everyone by name at the start of the day. Once inside in his modest office, Mr Walton expanded on his priorities for Clifton Prep, namely to enable the children to gain the most from their co-education: the girls to learn greater resilience, the boys greater emotional intelligence. ‘Kindness and empathy are our watchwords,’ he told us, and it was indeed heartening to hear the many achievements picked out for awards at the celebration assembly we were invited to. Pupils find him likeable and funny, enjoying his cheesy jokes and willingness to receive a full face custard pie, yet value his involvement in their school lives and his visibility. And parents? Ditto, really – they like the fact that the children like him (and that it is mutual), and that they can get hold of him when they want to. In the words of one mum: ‘a great guy’.

Mr Walton is married to Melanie, whom he met in the role of his mentor when he was an NQT at Clifton High. They have two sons, one in the upper school and one in the prep. Family holidays - of the more active variety; they all surf - tend to happen on islands: Anglesey, the Isles of Scilly (roughing it on the uninhabited ones a particular favourite) and Sri Lanka. ‘Must be a legacy of our time in Guernsey,’ muses Mr Walton.

Jo Newman (40s) heads the pre-prep and nursery. A masters in geography and sports science from Brunel University (impressively while raising two children) and a PGCE from UEA preceded a teaching career, latterly as head of the pre-prep of Yateley Manor School before her move to Clifton in 2015. ‘I’m a caver, so I was delighted to move nearer the Mendips,’ she told us. This love of the outdoors has led to the development of and passion for the forest school (complete with mud kitchen and fire pit), all beautifully sited in a comparative wilderness next to the extensive pitches at Beggars Bush across the suspension bridge; Mrs Newman takes the reception class there herself on Fridays, and it would be hard to say who loves it more. Warm and energetic, Mrs Newman knows all her charges by name, even the tiniest tots. Parents reckon she is ‘great with the kids’. ‘I want excited staff and children,’ she told us, going on to explain her plans for the pre-prep, such as a new library and revamped cookery room.


First come, first served to the nursery (from age 2) and reception plus informal assessment during a half day visit, but from years 1- 3, literacy and maths are assessed against the ‘average standard level of attainment for the age group’. From year 4 onwards, children are assessed in English, maths and general ability and expected to reach the average national Sats level for the age group, plus a decent reference from the previous school.


The vast majority (95 per cent) to the upper school by means of ‘transfer exams’ and scholarship papers for the brightest sparks. Very few leave for anything other than relocation reasons, such as returning to Europe after a parental stint at British Aerospace, Airbus or similar. Doubtful runners for the upper school are given the nod in year 5 or 6.

Our view

Founded in 1908 and still fondly known as Butcombe (pre-prep) and the Pre (prep), the school occupies some fine Victorian buildings in the fine Victorian roads surrounding the college proper; not that easy to find your way about, but the blue tennis court at the centre of it all is a useful constant. The nursery and pre-prep are separate from the prep with age-appropriate play areas and dining facilities. We caught the youngest members of the Clifton community seated at tiny tables eating healthy snacks of fruit with the utmost decorum and apparent enjoyment.

EYFS and an emphasis on the development through play of physical and social skills alongside language, rather than structured formal learning, goes on for the first four years. A thematic and values-based curriculum with classrooms decked out in ever more imaginative ways (space, dinosaur habitat) make learning truly fun: even the so-called ‘grammar hammer’ work sheet was engaging the kids. At the end of year 3, children move up to the prep. Here, the learning is more formal and they are set for maths and English. We were much taken by the incitement to rebellion encouraged by the study of Animal Farm, even if the head looked somewhat uneasy. IT is considered an aid to teaching, rather than an end in itself, though IT skills are taught discretely. One science class was doing an online test when we visited; a maths class was being shown different ways of calculating ratios. The younger prep pupils start French, with Mandarin as an option; later on German and Spanish are added, along with Latin. Foreign language trips run every other year. Both the pre-prep and the prep have a library; the prep school librarian is a Carnegie Medal judge. Academic life seems stimulating and enjoyable but not unduly pressured.

Pupils are not routinely screened on entry, only if baseline assessments flag up any concerns. The new academic deputy is tightening up the criteria for extra help for SEN, placing the responsibility for allocating resources with teaching staff, rather than granting parental requests for extra maths etc; instead, they are given strategies for use at home in cases where a little extra help is needed. SEN happens in a dedicated unit – the coach house – and sessions take place within normal lesson times so that children do not miss out on break or other activities. Dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia are the main areas addressed in the coach house, along with EAL for children from overseas, but mild ASD also accommodated in emergent cases. We were heartened by the sensitive treatment of one such boy who proudly showed us his work in the pre-prep, but ‘It’s not necessarily the school for everyone,’ we were told.

Fabulous facilities and activities are the reason many families choose the school, plus the length of the day, designed to suit the boarders (and working parents) and giving time to fit it all in. And fabulous they are: from the sports pitches - both onsite and at Beggars Bush - to the 25m swimming pool, the gorgeous chapel and proper theatre, the Redgrave (named for OC Sir Michael), quite young children benefit from first class amenities and the staff to use them effectively. Masses of opportunities to take part, perform and compete if that’s your thing: a talented young pianist wowed everyone at the celebration assembly the day we visited, and that evening the senior netball players were off to Epsom College to play in the national finals the next day – the head was to be up at 6am to go and support them in person. Younger pupils were fresh from and flushed with success after a production of Jack and the Giant, given no fewer than five stars in the Bristol Post. Pupils love the range of things on offer, particularly the sport and team games. Sensibly, school lays on a parents’ evening for non-examined subjects ie the arts. We especially liked the art showcased, with visiting abstract artist Feona Ness live in the studio, and the racing kit car being built in DT, complete with cradle for an iphone to which real time information from the engine could be transmitted to the cab via Bluetooth. Equally impressive was a rendition Pachelbel’s Canon, given a garage overlay… (a musical genre, not a mechanical one, note).

House spirit, even among the day pupils, is one of the best things about Clifton Prep, according to pupils: rivalry, rather than tribalism, expressed n house sports and the ubiquitous house song. In year 3, pupils are given their first taste of the house system, by being given their own common room; house allocation and boarding start at year 4, as does compulsory Saturday school which, it is fair to say, enjoys a mixed press. Four single sex houses accommodate younger prep pupils, four more for older ones; six day and two boarding in total. We greatly liked the combined kitchen and living rooms, with a table large enough for all the boarders to sit round of an evening. The girls’ dorms (bright, cheery and not preternaturally tidy) overlook the penguin and seals at Bristol zoo; the boys can hear the lions roar from theirs, eye-catchingly themed with huge stencils of extreme sports, superheroes etc. The sole bone of contention we picked up was the limited use of mobile phones, which boarders think should be available to them in their free time. Other than that, pupils struck us as exceedingly happy with their lot. ‘Busy’ was the word they used to describe school life, but we were assured there were plenty of people to go to if it all got too much, or with other troubles: resident gap students lend a listening ear. The balance between reward and sanction also good, with the former promoted over the latter. Parents (mostly) happy with the way their offspring’s transgressions are handled.

Despite being Bristol’s smartest prep school, there is diversity among Clifton families in terms of nationalities: it tends to attract overseas families working in the city’s aerospace industry, plus armed forces families needing boarding and those elsewhere in the UK for whom the school is a tradition. Parents really like the global feel of the school, and though one overseas mother felt the intricacies of the British education system could be have been better explained, another gave the support her children received in mastering English top marks; they are now bilingual.

Once children are signed up to the nursery, it is hard to see any reason, barring financial or academic disaster, not to leave them at Clifton until the age of 18 – a truly fulfilling, seductive offering for almost every child.

Special Education Needs

Learning development at Clifton College Preparatory School is provided through in-class support, learning support group lessons, and one-to-one or shared tuition in our specially equipped department. Our dedicated and friendly staff are trained to help children with mild/moderate learning difficulties, including dyslexia and dyscalculia. We also have a school counsellor and a visiting speech and language therapist as part of our team. Learning support is charged as an extra.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dyslexia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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