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There’s much focus on learning values (which pupils and teachers, know by heart), year 4s pictured as caped crusaders, describing super strengths to work on (‘giddiness’ one of the more unlikely, but most fun). Buddy bench by entrance: many girls we spoke to had used it – successfully - if didn’t have break time pals. Pupils who are particularly good at caring, empathy, patience and respect are rewarded in assembly with leaf that’s added to values tree...

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What the school says...

Surbiton girls are happy, bright confident children who have space and freedom to explore the world around them. We encourage their curiosity, nurture their emerging talents, and promote their success in every endeavour. Surbiton High Girls' Preparatory School offers a broad and balanced curriculum that closely follows the National Curriculum. It is enhanced and enriched in order to provide every pupil the opportunity to reach her potential. There is specialist teaching for Music, French and PE and girls in Years 5 and 6 are also introduced to further subject-based teaching. The positive ethos and atmosphere within the school community is one of its many strengths. The pastoral care of the girls is considered vital in enabling them to succeed and be happy throughout their time at school. The good learning carried out in school is complemented by a wide variety of trips and visits to outside venues. ...Read more

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2015, Clemmie Stewart BA, 30s. Joined school in 2014 as director of teaching and learning. Before that, four exhilarating years first as a class teacher, then behavioural and inclusion lead at state school, part of new team recruited to bring it out of special measures after ‘one of worst Ofsteds ever’. A ‘huge learning curve,’ she says. Yes indeed, especially given contrast with previous NQT role as year 5 class teacher with added housemistress and games duties at lovely but not terribly gritty Farleigh Prep.

Why do it? ‘Confidence-boosting – challenging expectations and getting staff on board.’ Return to the independent sector down to lure of enjoyably challenging job coupling autonomy with breadth of responsibilities.

The drive she’s brought was definitely needed. In the past prep was known as nice but not especially demanding, making the jump to seniors quite a push (in marked contrast to top-quality outside candidates prepped to the eyeballs).

‘There was always the guarantee of a place in the senior school but not a sense of desire for girls to do brilliantly,’ says the head. Now, there’s a rigorous curriculum, and robust assessments designed to ‘understand the academic make up of the girls… how they think, what makes them tick and wobble – then we design the curriculum round that.’ Get it right and girls aren’t just prepped to get through the 11+ but ‘ready to spring out at the future and grab it’.

Could all have been so different had this former music scholar at Twyford not realised that only teaching would do and switched to English as degree subject. Now enjoys music vicariously - hard not to warm to a head so proud of pupils’ achievements that invited the chamber choir to sing at her wedding (photograph has pride of place in her office). ‘Was magic to have them there and meant all my friends and family could see how wonderful our girls are.’ School can cater for a wide range of characters, she says. ‘All have something special about them and it’s our job to find it.’

Wants pupils to feel they’ve ‘won’ at something at least once a day, academic or otherwise. Likes to get a regular teaching fix – currently achieved by providing cover for other staff as needed. Takes English and humanities in her stride - maths more of a challenge.

Not prescriptive. Felt to be a good listener – to staff as well as pupils. Has made social action projects more than a charity special but part of life of the school. Wanted, she says to ‘burst the Surrey bubble in a gentle, informational and educational way,’ though without making pupils ‘feel guilty for being here.’ Links with local homeless group have led to invitations to one former rough sleeper addressing the girls and staying in touch, to the benefit of all.

Pupils say she’s ‘kind’, ‘nice’, ‘encouraging.’ ‘Never strict – always happy with what you’re doing.’

Has a relaxed, kindly manner with them, even handing over her own watch to our guides when they weren’t too sure of the tour timings. Her own sound exhausting, involving a 6.00am start from home in Hampshire, home again (on a meetings-free day) for 8pm. But no, it’s all good. ‘Works for me because I do my best thinking [on the way],’ she says, also pointing out the lovely long holidays. In any case, ‘it’s such an energising school and the girls are such a joy that it doesn’t feel like coming to work.’

Sentiment presumably shared by everyone else - 100 per cent of staff feel ‘empowered to work’ according to survey by parent organisation United Learning (anon, we’re assuming, so no arm twisting behind the bike sheds).

She’s a wow with parents. ‘Children adore here, she’s so welcoming, knows everyone’s name when going into the playground, pretty much there every day,’ said one. ‘She’s just really nurturing, young, very successful, that’s really important to the girl. Feel she’s a lovely role model for the girls.’

Entrance

Up to 32 pupils in reception via informal assessment mornings, with occasional places in other year groups. As with the boys’ prep, most pupils come from within a three-mile radius. Lots of attention paid to outreach – team visits every nursery school sending a pupil here, Easter egg hunts and singalongs for prospective pupils helping ensure that school is familiar and favourite place to be well before they start here.

Exit

No girl in theory denied a place at senior school. ‘There are 48 girls in year 6 and 48 seats at the High School,’ says the head. In the event, around 85 per cent of pupils now go on to senior school, taking the entrance exam but for setting purposes only. Other destination schools include Claremont, Kingston Grammar School, Putney High School and Hollyfield School. In 2020 awarded seven scholarships. Inevitably there’s some tutoring. Head not delighted. If parents must do it, keep it to mastering a specific challenge but can end up being ‘self perpetuating’, she says.

Our view

Girls’ prep is housed in pleasantly undemanding red-brick building on a compact site a minute’s walk from the senior school buildings. It’s had a sizeable makeover – and it shows. Rooms, from science labs to classrooms, are large and well equipped, reception a colourful, happy home for pupils, quietly engaged in end of day activities like adding glitter to glued letters, and creating smartboard pictures of fireworks.

Unsurprising that what captivates parents (on top of growing academics) is the quality of the visual and performing arts. ‘Looked round the art department and thought, “This is unbelievable",' said a mother.

As in the boys’ prep, all pupils learn violin or cello in year 3, a brass instrument year 4 and put on an annual musical Mary Poppins for the girls while the boys got Lion King. (We’d love to see a swap next time round.)

Main outside space is at magnificent Hinchley Wood, 10 minutes away, with elegant sufficiency of spaces and facilities for sport – and there’s plenty on offer: netball and hockey in autumn (down to D teams but no worries - ‘just means the people… need a bit more support,’ explains kindly year 6 website author), athletics, rounders and tennis in spring and summer, cricket and football recently added. Recent successes include top spot for U12 skiers at English Schools’ National Finals (also strong at gymnastics) and in hockey and football - website notable for celebratory rather than triumphalist style. Have also won TES award for Sporting Choice for All – with 80 clubs offering sessions in a range of sports to 3,500 pupils aged 4-18.

On the premises, there’s a main playground, grassy (artificial) and with trees (one recently removed –‘we kept tripping over the roots,’ said pupil) and mature hedge (real) while the tinies have their own, secure home, with notices on sheds spelling out what’s on offer (though ‘lots of spiders’, apparently the chief feature of retired reading hut, didn’t achieve official recognition).

Girl tour guides – two in year 6, one in year 2 - were delightful. Year 2 pupil tended to wander slightly off message, lingering by the playdough in reception (‘I want to touch it’) and making the most of the empty, colourful library (funded by parents, designed by teachers, in-your-face decor something the head is gradually coming to terms with) by trying out the cosy reading nook in a cushioned hollow between the stands of books.

If environment has had a makeover, academics have been enhanced even more. Parents praise teachers. Went into the job loving it and it shows. English and maths are reckoned to be particularly strong, with senior staff coming over to strengthen links. ‘Teachers really stand out… willing to take on parents’ concerns and do a little bit extra to ensure that they are confident and understand what they need to understand,’ said mother.

Probably quite a lot extra required given that standards have shot up since Ms Stewart’s appointment, with add-ons including extra homework and one-to-one help. So successful that we heard from staff that senior school science has now had to up the content – juniors so far ahead that close to year 9 work when start in year 7.

Supported by excellent TAs: ‘Always personable, smiling and engaged with parents – so you have lots of friendly faces to approach if you’ve got a problem,’ said parent. ‘Brilliant.’ Work imaginative with lots of forays into new vocab – like year 6’s description of Frankenstein’s ‘glint of evil and demise’.

Where efforts can be inspired by connected curriculum, they are (though only where it slots in naturally) – though our admiration of year 2 African landscape pictures (acacia trees silhouetted against purple and red sunsets) and sand poems by older pupils turned out to be serendipitous rather than synchronised. There’s much focus on learning values (which pupils and teachers know by heart), year 4s pictured as caped crusaders, describing super strengths to work on (‘giddiness’ one of the more unlikely, but most fun).

Homework manageable – extensions given as long as valid reasons given. Just as well given other commitments – four or five clubs a week in school (and several others out of it) common, cookery one of the most popular, some with prep boys as well. One pupil felt more joint activities would be useful. ‘We have to meet boys so if we did more we would get to know them as people.’

Favourite subjects include maths, computing, science, art and sport. Lots of exciting lessons going on - year 2s enjoying Skype conversation with wildlife conservationist. Teachers are ‘funny’. Few quibbles, though one pupil did feel that as so many lessons were about following instructions ‘one by one by one’, would ‘like to do more brainstorming’.

Average class size is 17 (max 24) – small at the start, slightly larger by year 6. Teacher to pupil ratio ranges between one to eight (reception) and one to 16 by year 6 (though lots of smaller group work with specialist teachers in maths and English). Familiarisation with the senior school (sensible given its potentially daunting size) starts with a week in year 5 combining lessons and basic navigation. ‘It’s not just the academics, it’s the transition and allowing the girls to feel safe,’ said parent.

Support is gladly given to the 20+ pupils with EAL requirements (one-to-one and differentiated curriculum on offer). Similarly willing to accommodate the 50 or so with SEN. Most disabilities are dyslexia based but can also accommodate ASD, ADHD/ADD, visual and hearing impairment and physical disability. We liked thoughtful touches which included coloured - not white - walls next to smartboards, to reduce the glare for dyslexic pupils.

Pastoral care clearly done very well, described by one parent as ‘outstanding’. Some pupils had experienced those tricky friend to frenemy issues. One, initially reluctant for parents to talk to school, in case it made things worse, agreed it had helped. ‘Teachers sorted it out very well.’ Year 6s are paired with a reception buddy and new pupils in other years get a friend to who looks out for them ‘if anyone’s being mean’.

Buddy bench by entrance: many girls we spoke to had used it – successfully - if didn’t have break time pals. Pupils who are particularly good at caring, empathy, patience and respect are rewarded in assembly with leaf that’s added to values tree – from bare branched to mass of greenery by the end of the year, and there are more formal sessions touching on mental health issues in top two years.

Though most will progress to the senior school, will be rare occasions where things don’t work out. Inevitably, says head, ‘things will emerge that make us wonder if [it’s] the right place.’ Could include severe anxiety, needs requiring substantial one-to-one support. If family wishes girl to stay on, will do their best to support. Otherwise, will help parents find places elsewhere.

Rising standards coupled with automatic entrance to senior school are big selling points for prospective parents, who tend to be vocal locals, often working full time to pay the fees, with some high net worth families from the leafy uplands of ultra-salubrious areas like Kingston Hill. Diversity of families is, says head, greater here than at many other independents in the area. ‘Children are mixed in every sense, some parents are fine, others have sacrificed everything for them to come here. It feels very normal.’

‘We’d drive through, see all the girls and think "that’s a proper school",' said a father. ‘Couldn’t quite believe it when she was accepted. It’s been really good fun for us as well. I’m quite jealous of my daughter.’

Money matters

No scholarships or mean-tested bursaries though it’s an area that might just be revisited – head is keen.

The last word

‘Wasn’t the most academic school… so went into reception as figured that if school was going to pull its socks up, it had time to do it before my child was in the firing line,’ said parent. Worth waiting for, with school now producing smart, successful and vocal pupils. ‘Once, my daughter wouldn’t say boo to a goose but now you can’t shut her up – she’ll stand in front of the class and talk,’ said another.

Special Education Needs

A baseline assessment is undertaken when the girls join the school in Reception. This is followed by an end of Reception assessment. Children are also screened in Year 1 and Year 2 for dyslexic type problems. If a child is causing concern at any point, then individual assessments are also carried out. When necessary, a child might also be referred to an Educational Psychologist. If Learning Support is given to a pupil, as a result of assessments, then this is usually in the form of weekly 1:1 lessons or sometimes small group lessons. The School ethos is one of embracing a pupil's individuality, helping her to grow in self-confidence and self-worth. Those pupils with specific learning difficulties are no exception and are supported in a caring and practical way.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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