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Non-selective at 2+ for entry into nursery – it’s first come first served and increasingly over-booked, almost reaching London frenzy levels. On the bright summer’s day we visited, there was more going on outside than in – testament to the school’s commitment to outdoor learning. Once a very traditional prep school, parents say teaching now involves debate, excitement around learning and plenty of cross-curricular (Tudors in history means Tudors in art). That said, academic focus seen as quite intense by ...

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What the school says...

A thriving, contemporary prep school providing outstanding academic development across a diverse curriculum. The ‘Excellent’ rating (ISI 2016) reflects an emphasis on each child reaching their potential and a Growth Mind-set ethos which ensures a determination to succeed through hard work and resilience.
Excellent pastoral care and impressive provision of sport, drama and IT ensures a stimulating and nurturing environment where children can gain confidence and develop potential. School life is further enhanced through a wide range of exciting extra-curricular activities. ...Read more

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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.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2005, Marcus Culverwell (40s). Previously deputy head (joined school in 2003). Before that, head of science, then director of studies, then deputy head at Lancing College Junior. A local boy, he was educated first at Caterham, then Archbishop Tenison’s sixth form after squeeze on family finances. Sporty, science-y and spiritual. ‘Very Christian,’ said a parent.

Teenage years dominated by dreams of joining Mission Aviation Fellowship – dashed when failed final stage of commercial pilot training. Studied aeronautical engineering at Hertford followed by MA at Brunel. With dearth of jobs in industry, teaching was originally intended as stopgap career but rapidly became something far more.

Personable and unassuming, he’s a hit with the kids, especially when he brings out his guitar on playground duties and sings (though ‘not a musician’), and even more so when he breaks out in the occasional assembly rap. ‘I’ve never seen him angry,’ said one. Doesn’t teach (‘I stopped eight years ago because I was called out so often for urgent meetings’) and one parent felt he’s ‘not as in touch with the day-to-day workings of the school as his deputies’ (perhaps not helped by his study being upstairs in a mainly non-teaching building), although school points out he knows the names of every child.

All praise his commitment to the growth mindset ethos that has ‘changed the whole culture of the school’, though many took serious persuading initially especially, according to head, around ‘the removal of the achievement assembly, which is alien to the growth mindset, because in real life you don’t get a certificate for everything and you’ve got to get the feel good factor from within.’ Praise, too, for his desire to make a difference, evidenced by his book on educating children for social responsibility and the fact that the school is a committed eco school with Green Flag status. Keeps staff on their toes but it’s two-way, said one – ‘a more supportive head, you could not find’.

‘A real family man’, according to parents, he has three children of his own – two grown-up and youngest at the senior school (just). Oversees youth work in his local church and enjoys walking the dog and repairing old motorbikes.

Entrance

Non-selective at 2+ for entry into nursery – it’s first come first served and increasingly over-booked, almost reaching London frenzy levels. Entry from year 3 involves taster day – verbal and non-verbal reasoning assessment, plus some maths and English. Choristers (now girls and boys), original reason for school’s foundation, have voice trials at 6 or 7 and, if successful, become probationers.

Exit

Most – 75-80 per cent - to senior school (12 with scholarships in 2019), but entry is increasingly competitive, with head warning parents not to see the school as a golden ticket; other common alternative destinations are Dunottar (increasingly popular), Ardingly, Epsom College and Worth. Some inevitable parental anxiety around the fact that school offers many firm places in year 5. ‘The school does all it can to get kids in line to join the grammar, but if they’re not on track, it’s tough luck – they don’t say you’re on your own but you kind of feel it,’ reckoned one parent, although school says there’s plenty of help with 11+ and entry into other schools. Other parents consider the system fair – ‘I think parents understand their child’s limitations and don’t want to put them in a school where they’d struggle to keep up,’ voiced one.

Our view

Founded in 1950 as choir school by Godfrey Searle, canny chartered stockbroker and musician who calculated (accurately) that selling off small area (between two fields at the back) to council for municipal bowls green would avert desire to run bypass through 15-acre grounds. Unusually, a cathedral choir without portfolio, though makes up for it with regular appearances at Chichester and occasional visits to St Paul’s, tradition starting in the Second World War when regular choir was evacuated – and they sing in local churches too. Acquisition by senior school in 2005 was a relative no-brainer, once established that decline in pupil numbers was reversible (same thing now happening with Chinthurst, which joined the RGS family of schools in 2017).

Main entrance is through the original 18th century building where you’re met with a sea of maroon – carpets, stairs, chairs and even the choristers’ robes lined up in corridor. But the atmospheric practice room and a couple of other teaching rooms aside, this is not the hub of the school, with most rooms now used for admin. At the rear lies the nucleus – a spacious playground surrounded by teaching blocks, including the impressive glass and brick main one for reception to year 3, partially concealed on far side by man-made hill, demanded by planners to avoid upsetting locals’ sensibilities and incorporating splendiferous downstairs sports hall. Years 4 to 5 are quartered in less plush (and in places, in need of a lick of paint) but still fit-for-purpose older-style block - bright kindergarten (corridor a cheerful clutter of wellies) taking up the ground floor. In addition, there’s portacabin for nursery, known as Green Shoots, which is aptly painted green and which also houses one of the two music rooms. And finally, on the periphery, there’s the rather disappointing art and science block (uninspired art room and no lab) which doubles up as year 6 classrooms (watch this space – updates are on the wish list). Terrific library – spacious, light and with books attractively laid out and reachable for all ages; we saw tiny tots loving every minute of book time.

On the bright summer’s day we visited, there was more going on outside than in – testament to the school’s commitment to outdoor learning and proof that you don’t need a formal forest school to make the most of nature’s classrooms (whole inset days are dedicated to outdoor learning). We saw an art class doing architectural drawings, with children dotted in pairs around the hard-surfaced games play area; a group of year 2s engrossed in story-telling by the gazebo (handy for shelter for inclement weather) and others on a mission collecting sticks. And who can blame them with these well-cared for grounds that include undulating grounds beyond, partially wooded (lots of den building in warmer months). There’s a pond area and vegetable growing too. In addition, there are assorted pitches (four football, two multi-surface) plus athletics track and cricket pavilion attractively set in the greenery, all well used and supplemented with use of senior school grounds and facilities (including swimming pool) and trips to playing fields a short coach ride away.

Current head appointed all bar two of the current teachers – ‘mainly for the relationships they build with the children – they know what makes them tick and spot it instantly if one of them is out of sorts,’ he says. All helped by the high staff to pupil ratio - ‘our biggest investment and a huge cost but absolutely worth it’. Once a very traditional prep school, parents say teaching now involves debate, excitement around learning and plenty of cross-curricular (Tudors in history means Tudors in art). Planning of lessons also stands out – nothing left to chance. And as if that’s not enough, these hard-working staff are all expected to run a popular club two terms in three (free unless run by outside experts). By year 3, there are waiting lists ‘for everything’, with clubs impressively wide ranging, from a thriving Lego League team who compete at national level, to a popular Outside Club making good use of the school grounds. Good range of popular trips, too, all building up to the big year 6 residential to rugged Snowdonia.

Academic focus seen as quite intense by parents, ‘but not pushy and certainly nothing they can’t handle’ and word on the Reigate streets is that the children are six months to a year ahead of other local kids - a source of huge pride among parents (one told us excitedly that her child ‘is already talking about Oxbridge’). Spanish from year rising year 3s. Big on purposeful technology and integration of IT - deliberate mix of Macs and PCs ‘so children bilingual’. Class sizes rise from maximum 15 in reception and below to maximum 22 in years 1-6.

A new SENCo works with the small percentage of children with SEN, bringing in speech and language therapists and occupational therapists as required. Covers the works, including EBSD, ASD, ADHD, severe dyslexia and those with physical disabilities, and SENCo also works with the handful or so EAL pupils that struggle with English, with the assistant heads heading up well-being, including running self-esteem groups. ‘They are progressive, giving them everything they need and more, including sensory aids, but never making them feel different,’ said one parent.

Parents praise the ‘level of interaction with other schools – there’s at least one sporting activity against another school every week from year 3, and not just in hockey and netball, but judo, karate and debating, and nor is it just for the best as sport is very much about the taking part here,’ said one parent. The term we visited, there were 87 fixtures alone (not including swimming galas – also popular), with A-F teams in some sports, all taught by professional coaches. Particular success in hockey. No outdated gendering of sports, with girls playing rugby and some boys involved in dance (a growth area and a year 6 performance we saw showing some real talent).

Music (as you’d expect with those choristers) is strong – ‘every instrument you can think of and lots of links with senior school,’ said a parent. Drama also commended – ‘They don’t pick the obvious kids for the lead roles and you wind up getting this amazing delivery from the most shy kids that you didn’t even know could speak,’ said another. And while children are clearly stretched artistically, we were disappointed to see a child who said, ‘I’m not very good, but I enjoy it’ about her drawing ignored (especially given the growth mindset), with the art teacher marching us straight over to one of the best in the class instead.

Behaviour top-notch in the main, with five stages of warning, plus restorative approach where necessary. Putting down a child in front of others is a no-no here – ‘as a teacher, you save it for later or risk destroying their day’.

Families, who are increasingly dual income and mostly very local, are grateful for the wrap-round care from 7.30am-6pm plus holiday clubs that mean provision for 48 weeks of the year. Parking considered ‘a nightmare’, however, and some feel the uniform (straw hats for girls, caps for boys) needs to ‘move with the times’. Grumbles, too, from some that school is a bit risk averse – ‘no charity cake sales in case a child has an allergy,’ said one.

A caring school that doesn’t sit still, particularly in terms of pedagogy, and with masses of opportunities – ‘it’s like having a super-duper nanny on top of a great school,’ said parent. But while majority go on to the senior school, it’s not a given – ‘you have to know what you’re buying into’.

Special Education Needs

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