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What says..

The combination of grass, water and sky reminds any visitor at a stroke that, whatever else, there is nothing humdrum here. There are lots of small staircases and moderate sized rooms, rather than great ballrooms, all piled high with IT, children’s artwork and recent photographs of pupils in their various endeavours. This is a school which likes its pupils to be active – but, equally, aims to get them to buy into this by friendly example...

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What the school says...

Radnor House School is a co-educational, independent school on the banks of the River Thames in Twickenham. It opened its doors in September 2011, it now enjoys a roll of over 400 pupils from ages 9 to 18.

Life at Radnor House is shaped by our commitment to provide an active learning environment for limitless minds. We firmly believe that all pupils are capable of great things if effectively taught, motivated and inspired by their school environment. This vision is underpinned by four key values which are central to school life:

Excellence - Perseverance - Courage - Respect
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What the parents say...

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Sports

Rowing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

From January 2018, Darryl Wideman, currently head of Silcoates School in Yorkshire and with 25 years of experience in independent education, including nine years at Silcoates. He has an Oxford degree in ancient and modern history, and still teaches history to a range of age groups, including A level; he has also been deputy head at Ratcliffe College and taught at Millfield and Fettes.

Head since 2016 is Rosie Gill (30s), who was deputy here before taking on the hot seat - direct, warm, approachable, no side. She decided to step down from the headship for family reasons and will join the board, becoming a non-executive director and working closely with the senior leadership team. ‘She’s terrific,’ said parent, ‘and personifies exactly what we like about the school: she has clear values, a lovely manner and a sense of the real world about her.’

Academic matters

The school is taking its academic mission extremely seriously – but equally its commitment to the wider well-being of all its pupils and their families. Once you’re in, they want you to stay and to work hard – and that, in practice, is what happens. The results tell a good story: 57 per cent of A level grades in 2017 were A*-B and 30 per cent at A*/A. At GCSE, 40 per cent of grades were A* and A, and at least as important was that the grades were earned from success across a broad spread of mainly traditional subjects, with many GCSE pupils taking two modern languages and Latin. The school doesn’t want to be narrowly selective, but it emphatically wants pupils who may not believe themselves academically exceptional to achieve more highly than they (or their parents) might have believed possible.

‘I can’t praise the teaching too highly,’ said parent. ‘However clichéd it sounds, the teaching my children are receiving is directed towards them, and I really believe others feel the same.’ Another added: ‘We didn’t want my son tutored within an inch of his life, and that’s not necessary at Radnor. He’s working hard, he’s thoroughly stimulated. And the place feels personal.’ The slight gender imbalance among pupils is ironing out nicely now, although boys still in the majority 60-40. This imbalance does not extend to the senior management team which currently has slightly more women than men.

The head is emphatic that the effervescence and ambition of the pupils owes much to the calibre of the teaching staff. A lot of care goes into both recruitment and retention and the turnover is modest – ‘you need a bit of change,’ says the head, ‘but continuity is critical, especially if the quality is high’. There are strong suggestions everywhere that this is a happy ship into whose vision staff subscribe wholeheartedly. ‘It’s a career, not a job,’ says Ms Gill. ‘I always make that clear to applicants’. Despite the nationwide moans of a paucity of teachers in maths and sciences, she says she has always had a strong field from which to make a selection. All appointments are qualified teachers.

There are two SENCos – one, dealing with children up to year 8, works very much as a classroom support figure in order to ensure that those with special educational needs are being adequately supported. The other, working with older students, has a particular responsibility to ensure that such pupils are adequately prepared for public examinations, with consideration awarded in line with statutory allowances. The informal brief of both extends, of course, very much further – ‘like any other teacher, they have to win hearts and minds,’ says Ms Gill. There are a small number of children with special needs within the school, whose interests are strongly championed, says head, by all constituencies.

Games, options, the arts

This is a school which likes its pupils to be active – but, equally, aims to get them to buy into this by friendly example. Rugby, football and cricket dominate boys’ sport, and netball, hockey and rounders the girls’. But the school doesn’t welcome gender stereotyping. Over 100 boys and girls are now rowing, and mixed football and mixed hockey are not merely popular but being taken very seriously. It’s also part of the school credo that everybody represents the school in at least one sport once a year, come what may – an ambition made possible because there are always two teams for each major sport within a year group. There are no games fields on site, but the University of St Mary’s, Twickenham, with all those lush playing fields, is only five minutes away by minibus. So nobody is going short of green spaces.

At the time of our visit, the school was busily preparing for its forthcoming production of Oliver! - to be performed at the St Mary’s University theatre. It has good drama and music rehearsal spaces in house, each of which is much used for the biannual house music and drama concerts. The latter is a focal point in every Radnor House pupil’s life, since the democratising ethos embraces the arts vigorously and ensures these events are truly school-wide. There are some hints that the impact of the arts (and of after-school clubs) doesn’t hit home everywhere: ‘There’s still some way to go,’ said one parent, ‘before the great majority of pupils are really buying into what’s on offer’. The head is doughty: the annual exhibitions of pupils’ GCSE artwork and musical compositions are, she says, among her very best moments – ‘such a precious insight into the minds of individual children’.

Background and atmosphere

Radnor House is a very recent addition to the tough and competitive environment of senior independent schools. It was the brainchild of David Paton (a former head of sixth form at the Harrodian) who was head between 2011 when it opened and 2016. He retains the post of executive principal. In theory, it sounds a fraught arrangement; in practice, it seems to work excellently with Mr Paton spending a day a week here ‘really to exchange news and share thinking,’ head says. There is also a heavy-duty advisory panel of governors including the former heads of Alleyns and Hampton.

The school is housed in a handsome mid-19th century neo-Tudor fantasy, which was once the site of the home of the poet Alexander Pope – hence its name (Pope’s Villa). There’s a delicate and thoughtful balance which has been struck in its redevelopment: the reception areas (with a splendid glass atrium in reception) are of graceful proportions, and the back of the mansion overlooks the river. The combination of grass, water and sky reminds any visitor at a stroke that, whatever else, there is nothing humdrum here. There are lots of small staircases and moderate sized rooms, rather than great ballrooms, all piled high with IT, children’s artwork and recent photographs of pupils in their various endeavours. The uniform is worn easily, comfortably – and the atmosphere is the opposite of starchy. Children (of all ages) meet adults’ eyes and engage willingly and warmly, but there’s no sense of their being ingratiating. A visit to the sixth form common room lunch break gave us a snapshot into something completely authentic and reassuring: low-buzz comfortable chat, interspersed by bits of work and people plugged into their phones. There is a sense of children who know they are enjoying many advantages in life, but who don’t want to put on side. They are busy, capable and unpretentious – and draw much inspiration from their teachers who clearly are cut from the same cloth.

The head is rightly proud that ‘our community engagement goes a lot further than fundraising’. All projects wherever possible focus on ‘personal engagement in the cause of social transformation’. She cites the annual Make a Difference Day in which every member of the school, staff and pupils, takes a full working day out to make some kind of civic contribution.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pastoral care is based around form groups – of 20 pupils – with a form tutor, and year groups of 60 under a year head. These are the proactive pastoral figures, and two members of the senior leadership team are there ‘to guide, enthuse and, where necessary, to be reactive’. The house system has also been relaunched recently, mainly for sport and social purposes, but with sixth form pupils acting as heads of houses in an effort to lend kudos and foment useful initiatives. The deputy head (pastoral) fronts most of the bigger pastoral issues, but there is an underlying commitment to transparency and accessibility which the head believes embraces all the staff. ‘We see parents a great deal,’ she says, ‘because it’s critical. We enjoy it, we value it, and we hope they do as well.’ There have been no recent exclusions – the usual challenges of children aged 10-18, especially those associated with IT, are ones the school recognises, but it finds that a gentle guide on the tiller is usually all that is required.

Pupils and parents

Half termly ‘assessment’ reports give all parents a terse overview of recent progress and levels of effort. In addition to these there is a full written report for all years and an annual meeting between individual parents and teachers. Other meetings are arranged as and when the need arises.

Three school buses help draw in children from the school’s impressively wide catchment – one goes to Chelsea, one to Ealing and the third to Wimbledon. Socially and ethnically, there is a real mix here and many parents are first-time consumers of independent schools. The pupils radiate enthusiasm rather than entitlement.

Entrance

The main point of entry for juniors is year 5 (or at least it will be from 2018, as the classes for years 3 and 4 are gradually phased out – a sign of the school’s growing popularity). Children sit an English and a maths test and, if admitted, will be part of a cohort of 20 when they arrive. A further 40 places become available at the start of year 7, selection for which is decided via the 11 plus. There’s also a sixth form intake: you need to put in an application in the autumn of year 11, and get ready to sit a range of interviews as well as taking the Yellis computer adaptive test. The underlying rationale is clear - its entry policy is sensible and humane. It becomes more obviously organised around academic testing the further up the school you go, but never to the exclusion of everything else. Siblings are prioritised, but only to the extent that they can fit in comfortably.

Exit

Second cohort of leavers off to study eg engineering at UCL, medicine at Southampton and physics and philosophy at King' College London. No Oxbridge yet - ‘but that’s only a matter of time,’ says the head, ‘and also only one of many ambitions we have for our wonderful pupils’. Some interest is being shown by pupils and parents in European and American universities, applications for which are being finessed by a dedicated member of staff. ‘There is a trade-off, I suppose,’ said one parent, ‘between results and values. At Radnor House, I am confident they can achieve the first, and I’m certain they are achieving the second.’

Money matters

Lunch is charged separately, as are school trips, though a big effort is made to keep costs down. The fees aren’t out of line with competitor schools, and the ethos of the school has the low-key quality which accompanies an underlying confidence. Some bursary help is available ‘in exceptional circumstances’ but this is part of the school’s development has perhaps some way yet to go. Uniform is smart but not showy or expensive.

Our view

Radnor House works hugely hard but has a sense of its underlying values and of the direction it wishes to follow – and these both mark it out as a credible and confident player in the independent school world. The atmosphere is calm as well as energetic, and the head and her colleagues communicate values which are humane and imaginative. It is now poised to become a school of first choice and thoroughly deserving of all the good fortune which comes its way.

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