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Lively and cheerful - buzzing with purposeful activity and happy little learners. Parents are buying into the whole Bolton School package and teachers have the freedom to develop children at their own pace, treating them as individuals and to enrich the curriculum without being bound by the rules of Ofsted or the rigmarole of Sats. The parents we met agreed that their children’s happiness and confidence is the priority at this age and that the school provides that in spades…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headteacher

Since 2015, Tracey Taylor (early 50s). Previously head of Adlington Primary School in Lancashire. Did a BEd at Edge Hill University and also has an NPQH. She always wanted to teach and has specialised in reception and year 1 teaching throughout her career. This is her first job working in the independent sector. She made the move to realise her ambition of leading an infant school.

Mrs Taylor is everything you’d expect an infant school head to be: passionate about the learning that goes on here, proud of her workforce and bursting with warmth and affection towards the 200-odd small children in her care (all of whose names she has learnt with no discernable effort). She says she’s a ‘happy wanderer’ - in and out of classrooms all day - and she’s at her most animated when talking about the children’s happy experiences here and their moments of glory.

She responds carefully to the question of why parents should stump up the money to send their children to Beech House. Parents are ‘buying into the whole Bolton School package,’ she says, (although gaining a place in the infants’ school, while providing automatic entry to the boys’ or girls’ junior schools, does not guarantee a place at the senior school). The real difference at this age, though, she says, is the freedom teachers have to develop children at their own pace, treating them as individuals and to enrich the curriculum without being bound by the rules of Ofsted or the rigmarole of Sats.

She’s married with two grown-up sons - ‘I’m an extremely proud mum,’ she says. In her free time, as well as gardening, baking and walking, she enjoys creative crafts. She says that she’s gradually brought more and more creativity into the curriculum here - getting the children into art and drama and hands-on crafts like willow weaving.

Entrance

The head assesses all children herself - through an informal one-to-one chat and a play in her office. The entry assessment takes place a full year before the child is due to start school, with places offered in December. Parents said the process treated their children as individuals and was not at all intimidating. ‘My son went in crying,’ said one mum, ‘and came out smiling, with a teddy and a sticker.’ Mrs Taylor says she’s not looking for any reading or writing skills - just for an ‘inquisitive and curious child who can follow instructions and is open to learning’. They do turn some children away if they don’t believe they’ll be happy here. One mum we met, whose two elder children have thrived at Beech House, told us she was very disappointed that her youngest child, who has very particular special educational needs, wasn’t accepted. The head says that the school can accommodate specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, but these are looked into on a case-by-case basis. If places become available in years 1 and 2, children are tested in reading, writing and numeracy.

Exit

At the end of year 2, almost all children go to Bolton School’s junior departments - Hesketh House for girls and Park Road for boys. The head says the transition is very smooth because the infants often visit the junior schools to see performances and concerts etc and the head teachers of both junior schools also visit Beech House. A couple of parents we met whose children had recently made that transition disagreed: ‘My son felt like he’d been dropped into a deep ocean at first,’ said one dad. ‘There is quite a big difference between the infants’ and junior schools,’ said another; but he added that he’d raised his concerns about transition with Mrs Taylor and she’d responded really proactively and he now feels confident that things will be much better in future.

Our view

The building was purpose-built a few years ago and still feels shiny and new. It’s light and spacious, with lots of room outside the classrooms for small groups to break away. There are three classes (of up to 25 children) per year and the three year groups each have their own distinct area. (‘They feel terribly grown-up when they go upstairs for year 2,’ says Mrs Taylor.) Each class has a qualified teacher and a full-time, qualified teaching assistant. Reception children take it in turns to use an outside space that’s well set up for independent learning. There isn’t the potential for complete free-flow between indoors and outdoors (the ideal in an EYFS provision) - although a recent ISI inspection report rated the EYFS provision as outstanding in all areas. There isn’t a great deal of opportunity for mud-loving types to get their hands dirty on a daily basis, but the school does its best with the outdoor space and it does have access - by arrangement - to the fantastic Bolton School grounds and facilities like the indoor swimming pool (swimming lessons begin in year 2).

The school covers the national curriculum ‘with extras’. Teachers have the flexibility to go beyond or to vary its pace to meet individual needs and pupils get to spend year 2 having an education rather than just preparing for Sats. Parents we met said they were happy with their children’s progress and didn’t need to worry about it - ‘the academic side is a given’. (The data backs this up: pupil progress and outcomes at the school are both excellent.) The parents we met agreed that their children’s happiness and confidence is the priority at this age and that the school provides that in spades. The dad who told us that ‘homework is a pain in the arse’ won a lot of support from the room, but everyone seemed to think the school gets it about right - in terms of the quantity and quality of what’s set.

Children are assessed regularly and informally throughout the school year and there are regular reports and parents’ evenings. The school operates an open door policy and parents feel confident that any concerns would be heard and acted on. ‘We feel like we do have some influence’, said one dad, ‘and there’s always someone you can talk to.’ Parents said they feel included in the life of the school. ‘The children get a lot of opportunities to perform in front of an audience of parents,’ said another dad. ‘They build the children’s confidence through nurture,’ said a mum.

There’s an active parents’ association, which raises money for extras and arranges a good number of events - including the ‘best day of the year’ when Father Christmas (one of the dads, disguised with a big beard and a dubious Irish brogue - ‘it’s the only accent I can do’) rides into school in a vintage bus. We got a strong sense of community from the parents we met. ‘The school attracts people with shared values,’ said one; ‘it’s a happy place and you feel you’re amongst friends’.

The only note of dissent from parents was about the wider school structure. Some felt it was a little ‘brutal’ to separate boys and girls at the age of 7 and one mum said she looked towards the move to junior school ‘with trepidation’.

There is a decent array of extra curricular activities on offer - although ‘not as much as some parents would probably like,’ says Mrs Taylor ‘because we do feel that the children are quite tired by the end of the school day.’ The choir (only open to year 2 children) rehearses at lunchtimes but most other clubs - including Beavers, dance, drama, jujitsu, science, craft and LAMDA - meet after school. But while the school deliberately limits the time spent in activities outside school hours, the range of timetabled activities is excellent. Every term pupils can expect to go on school trips and/or to be involved in talks or workshops from visiting groups or performers. Recent onsite visitors have included a menagerie of farm animals, two police horses and the Google Expeditions team, who took the children on a virtual reality journey to the Seven Wonders of the World, across the Milky Way and even back in time. Parents don’t pay extra for their children to take part in special events on site, although there is an additional cost for some school trips. All pupils in year 2 also learn cello or violin at no extra cost and pupils learn French right from the beginning - taught by a native speaker.

The pupils we met were well behaved, confident and deeply engaged in their learning. Mrs Taylor says behaviour is good because there are strong systems in place - stickers, traffic light systems, lots of opportunities to reinforce good behaviour, to encourage children to talk about feelings and think about others and also to warn and redirect those who may be heading in the wrong direction. Pastoral care rests primarily with the class teacher and classroom assistants, but there is also a full-time school nurse on site and everyone on the premises - from administrators to the kitchen staff - knows the children and looks out for them.

Beech House is lively and cheerful - buzzing with purposeful activity and happy little learners. The parents seem delighted with their choice and both staff and pupils give every sign that they too are delighted to be there.

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