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No wallflowers: the whole class is in the year 6 choir. And as if this isn’t enough, there are 15 different musical and ensemble clubs. In Roald Dahl’s centenary year, the year 6 play was a version of James and the Giant Peach with a 1960s spin. The year 6 children we meet from are eager, polite and full of beans, quite delightful and terrifically proud of their school. There seems to be little about the school they don’t know...

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What the school says...

At the heart of our school community are the children, from Reception to Year 6, who flourish within an avowedly co-educational and academically selective setting. Through the hard work and inspiration of the staff, the children are given the opportunity to enjoy a broad academic curriculum that is complemented by a rich co-curricular programme and supported by our excellent pastoral care, which places the class teacher at the heart of each child’s education and welfare. The children are encouraged to show ambition, be creative and intellectually curious. Performing and having fun on a variety of stages, be it sport, drama and music, are actively encouraged and promoted. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Simon Severino (40s) MA (Oxon) PGCE. His degree subject was in geography and his first teaching job was at Culford Prep School, from there to Dulwich Prep London where he rose to deputy head, and then headmaster of St Andrew’s Prep in Eastbourne.

When he arrived, although appreciative of the quality of the school, he was determined that there would be no resting on laurels and has instigated greater rigour in the classrooms appropriate for the ‘bright cookies’ the school attracts, and stimulated the co-curricular. There are now more clubs on offer, right down to the infants, more performance opportunities and more ways in which to express themselves. Friday mini lectures for children and parents have proved popular – guest journalists, authors and musicians so far. He has also worked hard to integrate with his parent body, introducing headmaster’s coffee mornings. He likes the ‘human scale’ of this school, where no-one will get lost, and the fact that with the infants and juniors under one roof there is a community feel and ‘Infants have their heroes and role models’.

Parents described him to us as ‘a good listener, which enhances his leadership skills’ and ‘approachable, thoughtful, calm, gentle, yet authoritative.’ We found him friendly and confident in his vision for the school, which he seems to have implemented at high speed, and open to anything that is fed back to him: ‘we’re happy to admit when we get things wrong’. He lives within a stone’s throw of the school and his wife teaches at Dulwich Prep London. He has two children, a boy and a girl. Out of school he enjoys family time, being in the garden and his Arsenal football club season ticket.

He describes this as a school where children will be ‘pushed and challenged, yes, but not a hothouse’ and an aim is for children to leave ‘comfortable on all stages’, whether that be musical, sporting or academic. A fan of co-educational schooling, he feels it gives ‘a greater spectrum of ways of being and a greater number of niches’ in which to fit.

Entrance

There is one class with 18 or 20 places (half girls and half boys) at 4+. Parents become aware of their child competing for one of just nine or 10 places, with about 10 applicants for every place; many choose also apply elsewhere too with these odds. At 7+ there are 24 or 25 places, and a six-to-one chance of getting in. Nine plus is a more unusual entry point and competition for these four or so places is stiffest of all.

The school is quite clear that selection is for academic potential. Four plus assessments are based on EYFS curriculum, 7+ and 9+ are based around the requirements of the national curriculum. Pupils identified with SEN will be assessed by a member of the learning support department.

In 2017, 50 new children came from 21 different schools and nurseries. There is a particular concentration from the wider local Dulwich area but children come from all over south London – Blackheath to Beckenham to Clapham to just north of the Thames.

Exit

Year 6 pupils sit the same 11+ assessment as external candidates for Alleyn’s Senior School, but it is simply used for benchmarking, the opportunity to gain academic scholarships and as a target to work towards as they have guaranteed places. Less than a handful exit to other senior schools, seemingly tempted by single sex schools such as JAGS, Dulwich College or the City of London schools. Six academic scholarships to junior school children in each of the past two years and a large number of sporting awards, along with music and art awards.

Our view

The big news is that year 6 pupils will no longer sit Sats. No more need to take so much time out of the timetable for any preparation, and with a guaranteed place at the senior school to progress to, the greatest pressure the children would seem to face here is on their initial entry. This frees up time for a year 6 diploma instead, which includes the teaching of citizenship and life skills.

Class sizes rise gradually from 18-20 in reception to 22 in years 3 and 4 and 24 in years 5 and 6. As we tour the classrooms everything seems utterly spick and span, beautiful displays, activities set out on every table for forthcoming lessons; even the courtyard playground is laid out ready for break-time with dressing up clothes, crates for imaginative play, a box of hats, in addition to the pirate ship play equipment.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in classrooms is fun and relaxed; all of the teachers take the time to talk to us, seeming to have an excellent rapport with their classes. Parents observe: ‘small groups where children work at a similar pace work well’ and a mother said of her daughter, ‘Her confidence in maths has been nurtured in a way that has been a joy to see.’

The year 6 children we meet from are eager, polite and full of beans, quite delightful and terrifically proud of their school. There seems to be little about the school they don’t know: even the fact that the school has a ‘qualified nurse, not just a first-aider’. We particularly like the modesty of the school mascot, an elderly ceramic cat named Edward after the founder, who wears a tiny coloured ribbon around his neck according to which house has the most points.

French from from the start. The English coordinator has introduced a new, rigorous approach to grammar along with weekly DEAR sessions (Drop Everything and Read ), which have gone down well with parents. There is now setting in maths from year 4. There’s a refurbished ICT suite with a high pitched roof. The school appears particularly ambitious for science with a dedicated lab and a specialist teacher. Various years experience food tech at the senior school.

More than 20 out of a total of 59 staff have been at the school for more than 10 years. One parent said: ‘They encourage the children to step outside their comfort zone and create a safe place to take a chance, experiment or to fail without fear of embarrassment or humiliation.’ Another told us: ‘The teachers are extremely approachable, down to earth, and there is a high level of communication with parents.’ We met an enthusiastic full-time librarian, building displays around the curriculum. There are over 7,000 books in the library and of course dressing up for Book Week.

As if anticipating our disbelief, a parent stressed: ‘There really is no exam pressure.’ Holiday homework is occasionally given but it is usually optional. Parents are urged not to pressure children if they are too tired for homework at the end of the day – music to our ears. A parent who had just gone through the junior to senior step up felt that the school works hard to ensure a smooth transition.

There is a forest school in reception and around 50 school trips a year. Year 6 and the chamber choir visited a professional recording studio; citizenship was brought to life at Commonwealth Day celebrations at Westminster Abbey, where one pupil talked to Prince Harry and another received a wave from Theresa May. This year was the school’s first ski trip for a while. Year 5s go wild with a bushcraft trip and Isle of Wight watersports trip, and year 6 have long enjoyed a Normandy residential. What do our guides like the most about their school? ‘Lots of responsibility’ and ‘all of the trips and going away’.

The school makes the most of the on-site sporting facilities shared with the senior school including the recently refurbished swimming pool, a sports hall, Astro and acres of playing fields. Sport is compulsory and a significant part of the co-curriculum. All children can play in teams from year 3 and there are sports tournaments for all in years 1 and 2. School has offered girls’ cricket and football in the co-curriculum for many years, and these two sports are now in the formal curriculum.

There is a large, busy playground between the music block and the playing fields where the older children let off steam, plus some picnic benches in the shade for quieter moments and a small, wooden adventure playground.

The music school is housed in a block dating from 1899, with all children having at least two class music lessons a week and many having individual lessons too. This is an exceptionally musical school, due in no small part to the fact that all children in years 2, 3 and 4 are part of the 'strings scheme', learning the violin or cello, and all year 5 follow the 'brass and woodwind scheme' in curriculum time. No wallflowers: the whole class is in the year 6 choir. And as if this isn’t enough, there are 15 different musical and ensemble clubs. In Roald Dahl’s centenary year, the year 6 play was a version of James and the Giant Peach with a 1960s spin.

There are over 60 clubs each term taking place before school, at lunch time and after school until 4:30pm. Virtually all are without charge. Great for working parents: after-school care is provided for children up until 6.00pm for a reasonable price.

Red-brick and purpose built with its entrance towards the rear of the main school, the building was opened in 1992 by Terry Waite, CBE. Classrooms are bright and spacious on two floors. Parents describe the atmosphere as ‘relaxed, informal’, perhaps particularly in the infants, where the children wear sweatshirts rather than blazers and striped shirts or dresses, but we observed this throughout the school. The head feels the school is ‘tolerant and accepting, understanding of differences’ which means that children can ‘feel comfortable being themselves.

Teaching focuses around thoughtful ‘learning dispositions’: empathy, courage and self-belief, thoroughness and focus, responsibility, resilience, imagination and reflectiveness. One mother told us her daughter 'particularly enjoys engaging with the older children through the house system’; another said her child ‘feels incredibly safe and nurtured at school’; another, ‘the school celebrates that every individual is special and different. They are being taught to be kind to each other in the school as well as to the people outside of the school.’

Around 10 per cent of children with SEND including dyslexia, dyspraxia and processing difficulties. The head of learning support works with a learning support assistant and a speech and language therapist – support is included within the fees.

Children reflect a diverse London population - 20 per cent are bilingual. Parents describe each other as ‘friendly, laid-back and unpretentious’ and feel children who will get the most from the school are ‘those who enjoy busy schedules’. Another described parents, like their children, wanting to get stuck in and involved in the community.

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