Wetherby-Pembridge is a small, nurturing English-curriculum school on the UES near Central Park, founded in 2017 (as part of Alpha Plus Group). Currently Nursery to Grade 4 but expanding annually.
- Wetherby-Pembridge School
7 East 96th Street,
New York, NY 10128
- T +1 646 213 3400
- E [email protected]…ypembridge.org
- W www.wetherbypembridge.org
- Lower School Ages: 2-11
- Lower School Sexes: Co-ed
- Lower School Numbers: 80 boys and girls
- Teaching Language: English
- SEN: SEN considered case by case
- Boarding: Not available
- Uniform: Yes
- School Year: September - June; 3 terms; Breaks: 1 week Thanksgiving; 2 weeks at Christmas; 2 weeks for spring break in March.
- School Hours: Nursery & Pre-K: 8.15 am - 3 pm (K-G2 - 3.30 pm, G3-G5 – 4 pm). Daily after-school clubs until 4.30 pm from Pre-Kindergarten.
- Fee Currency: US Dollars (USD)
- Fee Details: Nursery – $35,000 Pre-Kindergarten – $42,000 Kindergarten – $48,960 Grades 1-3 – $49,940 Grades 4 and above – $50,940 Tuition fees include all school supplies (textbooks, school stationery and IT equipment) day trips, hot lunch and snacks and some after school clubs.
- Fee Extras: Private music lessons
- Religion: Non-denominational
- Memberships: ISAAGNY (Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York); NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children); AISAP (Association of Independent Schools Admissions Professionals)
- State/Independent: Independent: privately owned (individual/corporation)
- National Curriculum for England
- None (school may be licensed, or may be "inspected" by its own owner, but it is not independently accredited or inspected by recognised agency or organisation)
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The Good Schools Guide International. Period.
What The Good Schools Guide International says
Ms Kate Bailey MA, PGCE
Since 2017; Kate Bailey is chatty, straight-forward and personable. It’s impossible not to warm to her, even over a Zoom call. The founding head of school, she arrived from the UK in 2016, a year before it opened, to oversee the refurbishment of the building and recruitment of staff and pupils. Youngish, in her 40s, she has impeccable credentials: Cheltenham Ladies College, MA in English Lit and History from Edinburgh University, PGCE from the University of London.
Previously Deputy Head of sister school Wetherby Prep in London for 5 years, Kate is “on brand” where it comes to the mission and ethos of the school’s parent Alpha Plus Group, but her passion for her job and her pride in her school eclipses any educational or corporate jargon. She will even teach English from 2021.
Parents praise her leadership: “The children like and respect her, but they are not afraid of her. She knows everyone by name and is very open and approachable.” Other parents say, “she worked her socks off through the pandemic and achieved amazing things,” and, “she’s been on top of everything.” One parent said Kate took the time to help her find the right NYC high school for her eldest child, who was too old for W-P. Indeed, Kate talks about forming “partnerships” with parents just as she does with pupils. There are “family assemblies” once a month. If you want to feel included in your child’s schooling, you won’t be disappointed here.
Kate is returning to the UK at the end of the current academic year to take up a headship there. Mr Brodie Bibby, BA, PGCE, MEd (50s) will be joining Wetherby-Pembridge as the new Head of School. Formerly head teacher of North Bridge House Prep School and deputy head of Westminster Under School in London.
It’s hard to judge the academic standard when the school is only in its fourth year and the pupils are so young, but parents are extremely happy with their children’s progress.
In nursery and pre-k, WPNY follows the well-respected Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, which means phonics is introduced as early as the nursery. From kindergarten, the school follows the National Curriculum of England plus the US social studies program.
Kate Bailey considers that after Pre-K all the WPNY pupils are “fully school ready” and if any new children join in Kindergarten and are less prepared, there is a programme to “scaffold kids in” before they join the rest. Helped by the fact that class sizes are small, both the Head and parents reckon that pupils are 1-2 years ahead of other private schools in NYC.
One parent said her son entered the school with an advanced reading level, but the teacher manages him well and children are constantly challenged. “The school makes the children work hard, but also makes it fun”. Most teachers are considered excellent, while some are good. They are “young, enthusiastic and motivated.” Another parent commented, “There is no complacency at all. The teachers are very present. They work as a complete team, always thinking of what is best for the pupils.”
From grade two biology, chemistry and physics are all on the curriculum alongside world history and geography and world religions. Classics has just been introduced from grade three, and pupils join up virtually with the head of classics at Wetherby Prep.
Spanish is the only language offered, starting in Nursery with two 30-minute sessions a week. An annual Spanish day is held in March, complete with food and flamenco classes. Señora Alba encourages the older children to write to pen pals in a Catalonia school in the time-honoured tradition (even if it’s now done by email). It’s not quite the immersive approach that some NYC schools are offering, and although most parents seem happy, one commented that the language provision is “not amazing,” and that she would prefer a choice of languages for her children.
Class sizes range from 10-17, with a capacity of 20 from kindergarten up, though Kate Bailey maintains that 15-17 is the optimum, aiming for “quality over quantity.” Despite what the website suggests, the school currently only caters for children up to Grade 3 (Year 4 in England) but will expand upwards each year to Grade 8.
Considered on an individual basis, and teachers are, “empowered to cater for diverse needs.” The official policy is not to exclude anyone who can flourish in the school, with help from specialist teachers as required.
W-P offers support to children for whom English is not the first language, to gain fluency.
Games, Arts and Options
Director of music, Hassan Anderson (an oboist who has performed at Carnegie Hall and is on the faculty of Juilliard) wants all the children to “develop a lifelong passion for music”. Lessons are twice a week and parents say that the music provision is “amazing” while Kate Bailey says that the weekly music assemblies are the “true jewel in the crown” of school life. First and second grade students play the recorder and third graders learn the violin, with the school covering the costs. Individual lessons taught via the “Music to Your Home” programme (for an additional charge).
Before the pandemic, an innovative “Notable Neighbor” programme welcomed local musicians and other creative types, including a famous designer/shoemaker, into the school. The schools hopes to revive it as soon as protocols allow.
The head of sport advocates the “Three Ps” of sport: Passion (trying many different sports to develop a lifelong passion for at least one); Participation (respect, teamwork, resilience, fair play) and Performance, meaning pupils striving to beat their personal best and achieve their own goals. From grade one there are no fewer than ten half-hour sessions per week of PE/games/swimming on the timetable, roughly the same as English and maths. One parent said that the school has a “brilliant approach to sport and the children learn about participating, but also what it means to lose.”
The school is so close to Central Park that the children go every day, weather permitting, even if just for a walk or go on “science explorations”. In games sessions they blow off steam playing soccer, cricket, baseball and even rugby. Back at school or at the nearby YMCA (pre-pandemic) there are Zumba, fencing and swimming lessons, while the playground on the roof is perfect for the littlest ones to clear their heads and get some fresh air.
After school there are many activities from drama, cookery and arts and crafts to coding and STEAM via sports and debating, some at additional cost.
Background and Atmosphere
The Alpha Plus Group owns 19 nurseries, schools and sixth form colleges in the UK, mostly in London. New York is its first venture into overseas schools. The mission statement of the group is to “give every child in our care the best possible start in life,” and parents agree this is met, stressing the school’s holistic, child-centred approach.
Housed in a handsome, Beaux-Arts mansion on the Upper East Side, which is a popular location for native NY families and international arrivals alike, due to the proximity to the park, beautiful townhouses and range of family-friendly amenities.
Used as a school for over 40 years, it was extensively remodelled after purchase in 2016 and now provides the modern facilities you would expect, while thankfully keeping the period features. The classical reception area, with diamond-patterned stone floor and curving staircase with wrought-iron balustrade, may not particularly interest the pupils but it will certainly impress adult visitors. Ceilings are high throughout and the classrooms are welcoming, bright and spacious.
In this Tardis-like building there is an art & design room, language arts resource room, music classroom, art studio, IT room and, of course, a cheerful library. The beautiful dark-wood-panelled Founder’s Hall is used for whole-school assemblies, speaker events and other small gatherings. For parents, the social highlight of the year is the “Carols by Candlelight Dinner” complete with crackers (of the pulling variety) and a sparkling Christmas tree. “Parent holiday fairies” come in voluntarily one evening to decorate the school for the holiday season, which the head is rightly proud of.
Typical of Manhattan schools there is little outdoor space, but a small early years garden with artificial turf and an outdoor learning centre with huge table and benches (surrounded by lovely planted tubs and vines) to truly take the classroom outside. The attractive outside covered carriageway has storage facilities but is also used for a Holiday Bazaar and to host regular “Coffee in the Carriageway” get-togethers at morning drop-off, instigated by a sociable parent.
It will be interesting to see how the school copes and perhaps changes as it expands up into middle school, where there is stiff local competition. At the moment there is enough room in the current building, but it has to acquire new premises at some point to achieve its ambitions.
Pupils and Parents
Around 30% of pupils are from the UK or elsewhere outside the USA. Rest are New Yorkers, many of whom have international connections. Most families live in the neighbourhood, but a handful live on the Upper West Side and walk to school across Central Park, which is a lovely way to start the day.
Parents insist that everyone is “normal, friendly and down to earth” and that there is a great community, which is always very welcome, but especially if you arrive in the city knowing no one.
Pastoral Care and Discipline
In a small school it’s almost impossible for a child to be overlooked, but here apparently not only the head but also the chef, the facilities manager and the security officer know all the children’s names.
Everyone loves the unique family-style lunch, prepared in-house using all local, organic ingredients. It’s eaten in mixed year groups with a teacher on each table to serve the food and ensure good manners, something pretty much unheard-of since the 1970s. Parents rave about the lunchtime routine, as well as the quality of the food. Chef Nancy encourages pupils to try new food by taking tasters round to classrooms and sneaks fresh vegetables in to dishes at every opportunity.
The school welcomes expats, whether moving to the city for a couple of years or long-term. Where there is space, as at the moment, they can join at any time during the year.
All prospective pupils have a “child play session” with a teacher and the leadership team, and parents have a private meeting with the Head. From grade two formal assessments in maths, English and verbal reasoning plus a short interview.
If families are overseas and cannot visit, Miss Bailey meets them on her annual trip to London, or at last resort on Zoom. The purpose of the process is to, “ensure that the family’s goals and values are aligned with those of the school, and that the child can cope and flourish in our setting and with the curriculum.”
The school currently goes through grade 3 at the moment, but they are taking applications for grade 4 starting Sept 2021.
It’s too soon to say where pupils go on to as the school is still expanding up the grades into middle school. For those moving back to England there’s an easy route to one of its sister schools if desired.
W-P is part of the Alpha Plus Group but there’s no sense that the “for profit” bit causes a problem, as it sometimes does elsewhere. Money seems to be spent where it’s needed. There is some financial aid available to families.
You may love the quintessential Englishness of what is basically a small London prep school transplanted to Manhattan, complete with straw boaters (albeit made co-educational and with all mod cons). Or you may prefer something bigger or less traditional. While the individual attention is wonderful for younger children, older children may find the small grades somewhat restrictive for making friends and playing team sports. Wetherby Pembridge may well be the UES’s best kept secret, though perhaps not for long as word spreads.
NB In normal times, all GSGI reviews start with multiple conversations with parents, followed by an in-depth, in-person visit to the school. But in the time of Covid, our parent interviews are often followed by a virtual visit, as was the case here: we are grateful to the unflappable Wetherby-Pembridge staff for giving us a thorough virtual tour (poking the camera into all corners) and forthright answers to our many questions. We feel we've captured the essence of the school, but look forward to a human-to-human visit as soon as it's safe to do so, and we will update our review accordingly.
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