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‘Still marked as being a school where they do a fabulous job with learning support but they’re brilliant with everybody else as well,’ said parent. Not everyone will get A*s and As but ‘what you will see is people who nobody ever expected it doing well.’ Strong sense of community. Boarders and day pupils ‘all mix and match,’ said a parent. ‘School is really lovely if you want to have a boarder for the weekend.’ Pain of staying in eased by dogs (owned by staff in three out of five boarding houses), hot chocolate and plenty of talking therapy...

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What the school says...

Clayesmore is a thriving, forward-looking boarding and day school where both prep and senior pupils share the same idyllic setting. Clayesmore's all through provision means that pupils can make a worry free step up to senior school accompanied by a sense of familiarity, but with a change in staff, timetable and buildings that marks a new stage in their education. It also means siblings can go to school together; an added advantage much appreciated by busy parents.

n. A wide range of activity, both in and out of the classroom, gives the school a real buzz and provides a wealth of opportunity. Academic results for a mixed ability school are impressive at all levels and the highly regarded learning support department offers individual attention, exam strategies and effective study skills.

When you add to the mix some welcoming boarding accommodation, nurturing pastoral care and boundless opportunities to shine, its clear that Clayesmore offers a winning combination. Clayesmore's range of A-level subjects is also expanding and it now offers Psychology and Photography as well as new BTECs in Hospitality, Sport and ICT. Along with these impressive improvements, the majority of students also get into the university of their choice.

Providing a seamless education from 2-18 years, Clayesmore is a flourishing school offering excitement, opportunity and a confidence boosting family atmosphere.
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What the parents say...

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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.

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2016, Joanne Thomson BA MBA 940s). First headship. Previously joint deputy head for eight years at Christ’s Hospital School, preceded by 13 years at Aiglon College. First post was at Repton Prep as English teacher, assistant houseparent and sports coach.

Model of modern marriage offers cheering example of give and take. Husband Frank, another senior teacher, is head of PSHE here, has worked at most of same schools and is happy to let Mrs T take the lead. ‘There’s never a power struggle,’ she stresses. Two children, both at young adult stage.

Parents at Christ’s praised her ‘industriousness and conviviality’. We were struck by her calm, understated kindness (the only head this reviewer has ever met who physically booked us a cab back to the station – though possibly to ensure we actually left …).

Never envisaged being a head and, ‘it’s not about the power but making a difference.’ She’s succeeding, said a parent, by effective delegation. ‘Doesn’t have a finger in every pie but lets the school get on with it which is better for the staff.’ Senior pupil praised her ‘interaction’ with pupils. ‘Clear to see philosophy,’ said year 10 guide. Particular strength is ‘thought for the day’ speeches. ‘I was like “How is she able to be so relatable?”’ How, indeed?

Spent first year desk-bound, sorting systems and structures that under pressure from rise in pupil numbers. Time-consuming but necessary which meant that some parents felt they didn’t see enough of her. That’s now being rectified. Also – somehow – completed an MBA over the school holidays. Sent out questionnaire and is implementing suggestions – including extending autumn half term to two weeks.

This school (like others she’s worked in) is notable for exceptional pastoral care – it’s a must-have, she says. Isn’t planning drastic change but sensible rethinking so school can do its best by all pupils throughout the ability spectrum. Inclusiveness will be helped along with greater focus on tailored learning and monitoring, supported by extensive, joined up digital technology. Small but beautifully designed booklet serves up changes with strong dose of reassurance.

Her younger (state educated) self woul balk at independent school career – hence desire to share resources as widely as possible. Community-related activity includes pupils working at local special school, local elderly regularly invited in for events, while pipe band – goes with school’s name, rather than location - ‘is out and about’ (not as threatening as it sounds).

Best part of the job? No surprises that it’s the pupils. ‘They keep you grounded, especially ours, they’re very open and tell it like it is, they’re great.’

Academic matters

Everyone – not just teachers and pupils but their parents and our taxi driver (a past parent, daughter now on the way to being something massive in the City) stress that families don’t need to divide and rule, sending most academically able child elsewhere. School will do wonders with them all. In 2018, 33 per cent A*/A at A level; 29 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE.

Particular strength is whole-school commitment to SEN. Around 130 pupils have needs such as SpLD, mild ASD and ADHD/ADD and school ensures that training and regular insets extend to all staff, including rugby coaches. Differentiation is ‘staggering,’ says head. ‘I’ve never been in a place where teacher are so united and committed to the cause.’

All pupils have CAT test in year 9 designed as ‘stress free screening’ to establish ‘range of possibilities.’ Those needing extra support can attend informal drop in maths sessions or may swap languages for extra classes in teaching and learning centre – (TLC, geddit?) which is located slap bang in middle of school - ‘no wooden hut in the grounds,’ says head - and universally rated as phenomenal. Separate classrooms for those needing EAL support.

Specialist staff, some full, some part time, many with teaching responsibilities, all with post-grad qualifications, are regularly consulted by other teachers wanting to know eg how to support the very able. Accreditation from NACE (gifted children) and CReSTeD (specific learning difficulties) reflects school’s strengths in both areas.

‘Still marked as being a school where they do a fabulous job with learning support but they’re brilliant with everybody else as well,’ said parent. Not everyone will get A*s and As but ‘what you will see is people who nobody ever expected it doing well.’ Even inspectors could only pick on the consistency of marking as needing improvement.

Teachers hold frequent meetings about pupils. ‘Try get beyond the label,’ agrees deputy head – and are equally good at winkling out hidden staff talent. One, outed as successful novelist, now runs creative writing workshops.

Class sizes drop steadily down the years, average 16 in year 9 (maximum 17), 11 in years 10 and 11 (max 19) and just eight in sixth form (13) with a pupil/teacher ratio of eight to one. Teachers ‘young and dynamic,’ says school – average age is 41, so perhaps young-ish, but definitely committed (16 at the school for more than a decade).

Does the range, from facilitating A levels plus others – economics to psychology, photography to textiles as well as (very unusually) six BTecs (IT – most popular - plus sport, music technology, hospitality, travel and tourism and performing and production arts). Were sniffed at by Russell Group unis but things are changing, says school – though pupils are encouraged to mix with A levels.

Mega A level subjects are business (most popular) followed by geography, maths and photography – an eclectic mix that reflects the diverse enthusiasms of pupils though a fair few D and E grades in tough subjects at GCSE and A level.

Not much that’s outré, unless offer of computer science and ICT IGCSE counts. Large take up for DT, no surprise given rave reviews from teacher and range of goodies produced – papaya chess board a highlight mentioned by parents. Surprisingly low numbers for drama – single figures, just ahead of Latin.

Teaching is fun and animated. We watched year 10 maths where teams worked on probability problems, chains of different coloured arrows climbing up the whiteboards. Maths teacher is ‘best I’ve ever had,’ testified pupil. ‘Understands how to have the class gripped as well as learning.’

Sensible use of technology, so joined up it must have created a virtuous circle, is now a feature of all subjects. Former head of drama, heavy Twitter user who’s ‘really into pedagogy,’ says head, is clearly loving new role as digital learning supremo – runs regular insets on the wonders of podcasting (many staff do their own).

Other fresh ideas include the new Clayesmore Courses, covering areas like history of art. No assessment pressure. Instead, ‘we’re starting to show kids that school can be quite fun.’

For those in need of reassurance, you’ll hear (lots) about school’s most successful pupils. The bottom line is that this is learning without tears - an exceptionally happy and successful school that does well by all its pupils.

Games, options, the arts

‘Don’t have to be good at activities to have fun,’ said pupil. ‘I’m not specially good - I just like to get involved.’

If the grounds and activities weren’t enticement enough (CCF so popular that one year 11 pupil joined them for major chunk of summer holidays), school also invites pupils to complete 100 activities in 10 categories including sport and arts – as well as academics. Must demonstrate leadership, participation and passive involvement (watching stuff – our favourite). (One year 10 winner of – external - debating competition even watched inauguration of President Trump).

Award for completion (including chunky cash prize ) currently being rethought. ‘I want pupils to participate for intrinsic reasons rather than monetary reward,’ says head.

Strongest sports tennis, athletics and, especially, cricket (school makes Wisden’s top 100), played three times a week, with year 10s upwards adding individual favourites including dressage (Jemima and Buttons the stars here). The head, sporty herself, is keen to boost excitement levels for girls with more staff and own cricket team (if worthy opponents can be found) – girls’ rugby and football already offered.

Parents positive but realistic. ‘We go to win but it’s a numbers game. It’s a very different culture.’ Consolation provided by exceptional match teas, renowned in the area – scones, cheese straws, sandwiches and ‘massive cakes,’ said pupil.

School’s small size leads to variable results (not necessarily ideal for families fixated on winning at all cost) – but has benefits, too, when younger and older pupils work in same space in art and drama, for example. ‘Gives positive role models,’ says art teacher.

Bar school-wide desire for bigger and better performance space (delightful but bijou chapel with electric – though not, sadly, solar-powered - organ is currently a major venue for whole school), music and drama both highly praised and on everyone’s radar, including parents whose children aren’t performers. Dedicated head of music felt to be upping standards across the board – particularly for choral music, though range of opportunities for instrumentalists (to grade 8, a few at diploma level) - concert band, jazz and brass ensembles, for example - also highly rated.

‘Might not have the sportiest or the most academic reputation but it does all of them to a very good level and includes everyone in that,’ said parent.

Boarders

Five boarding houses – three for boys, two for girls, each housing up to 50 pupils and strictly segregated (sight of boy boarder briefly wandering, shirtless, down corridor, reduces female tour guide to helpless giggles).

Appearance ranges from the grand (Wolverton – girls – approached up impressive staircase in the main house) to the homely (Gate – boys - prettily set around former stable yard). Devine, the most distant, village-based house, has been revamped and pupils given day room at school.

Varying dorm sizes, some sleeping of six or more in junior years, though a couple of spares kept unoccupied for emergencies. Otherwise boarding full with waiting lists in most year groups. Nicest (girls’ rooms) are elevated with wardrobes at the end. ‘We lean up on the wardrobes and chat,’ said girl. Single rooms for some lower and all upper sixth, who also get more advanced cooking privileges and own meeting areas. Only downside can be lack of space for day pupils.

No official weekly boarding but locals are allowed to go home after Saturday school. Some overseas Brits – FO, MoD, expats – though fewer than you might think (currently less than 20) given substantial presence of army bases in the area. Others from all over including Germany, China and Russia, with a few others from USA, Italy, Japan and Sweden.

Strong sense of community. Boarders and day pupils ‘all mix and match,’ said a parent. ‘School is really lovely if you want to have a boarder for the weekend.’ Pain of staying in eased by dogs (owned by staff in three out of five boarding houses), hot chocolate and plenty of talking therapy for homesickness, plus luxurious lie in to 10.45am on Sunday morning with potato cubes (baby chips) and bacon and egg sandwiches the star attractions on the brunch menu.

‘Suits people who like to be busy,’ said pupil. ‘You’ll be joining in without realising it.’ What with regular off-site outings – shopping bus, cinema, spectacular coastline – and onside delights of, among others, squash, archery and kayaking, pupils reckon 'there’s just not enough time to fit everything in’ (no doubt the reason for untouched copy of The Times in boarding house reception).

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1896 in Enfield, school led peripatetic existence, settling in Pangbourne, then Winchester, before final landing here in 1933. House, Iwerne Manor, was rebuilt in peak Victorian perpendicular gothic style by local squires (whose goodness to villagers extended to equipping each house with red blinds).

Main house floats like an island in a sea of grass in the centre of 62 acres, commanding splendid views of land and sky, represented in the blue and green crescents on girls’ blazer crests. (Traditionalists may prefer double headed dragon – still sported by boys - over corporate minimalism.)

Many attractive original buildings survive, though with substantial additions and rebuilds, ranging from striking new DT extension to three classroom blocks. Large sports hall, swimming pool, multi-surface pitch don’t detract from lake, fountain and scenery and with exception of grimly functional 70s prep block, new builds generally fit into place rather than attempting to dominate it, a tribute to good architect ego management.

Doing bit for the environment, too, with biomass boiler plus big solar panels on three of the roofs (now produce almost 10 per cent of energy – as well as pepping up temperature and pressure to delightful levels in boarding house showers).

Pupils - some here with considerable sacrifice from parents – do count their blessings. ‘Everyone feels very lucky to be here – it says something that you realise it now,’ said thoughtful guide.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Fabulous and A-Z. Starting point is (relatively) small size of school – ‘can spot quickly if things aren’t quite right and get in early,’ says head.

Strong tutor system, supplemented with pupil mentoring and low levels of cynicism - house loyalty, we were told, stays at fever pitch levels even at the top of the school. Lots of house competitions – organised by upper sixth who ‘choreograph dances, pick song, arrange music, lower key if pitch too high.’

Occasional departure for drugs but more humane than most: instant expulsion for dealing and hard drugs, potential for discussion at least for cannabis, though ‘only if it’s a first offence and then followed up with regular testing to ensure no repeat,’ says school.

Fully aware of how issues (such as eating disorders) can escalate and potentially shattering consequences if not spotted in time. ‘So far, no transgender pupils but would go all out to make sure needs met,’ says school. Approach geared to individual needs – haven created for one pupil, for example, who found classroom environment overwhelming and went on to achieve top exam grades.

Currently developing digital journal where pupils record, in images or writing, their emotional journey through school. ‘Will help them think about times in their lives where they’ve made real leaps forward or had setbacks….could be so powerful when they look back,’ says Mrs Thomson. Aim is to help them see social media as tool for future reflection – no just for mass transmission of selfies.

Pupils and parents

When it comes to socialising, spirit is willing but, with both parents working in many families, flesh and timetables are weak and coffee morning slots often elusive. When they do meet up, mood is correspondingly jolly. ‘Gifted chaps' and ‘all-round splendid fellows’ pop up at intervals in annals of Clayesmore Society (open to all), and retiring nurse is a ‘vision in waterproofs and wellies.’ Translates into mixed bag of alumni from artist Edward Ardizzone to Beatles manager Brian Epstein and top surgeon Sir Rodney Sweetnam.

Locals and neighbouring counties (Dorset, Hants and Wiltshire) dominate – inevitable army contingent - though London is also on its patch (have had some families fleeing terrorism as well as its hothouse atmosphere). Low sterling value has upped interest from overseas, though long term Brexit impact yet to be seen.

Though a fair few parents arrive from state sector, there’s plenty of dosh about, with school events ranging from clay shoot (a tenner a head) to a reunion with lavish canapés and fizz (free, but you have to get yourself to Guernsey).

Entrance

The normal battle over semantics. School says ‘non-selective’ when what it means is ‘as non-selective as you can be,’ says head. Bottom line is that all prospective pupils must be able to access the curriculum and be capable of achieving ‘some’ GCSEs (numbers will vary fairly widely but will include core subjects).

Around half of senior entry comes from junior school plus local preps (Forres Sandle Manor, Castle Court, Dumpton, Walhampton, Durlston Court, Salisbury Cathedral). Increasingly fed by families from London and the south east. Boy heavy – 100 or so more than girls. Evenly split day and boarding.

Take around 90 in year 9; handful in year 10 and around 20 into the sixth form (with at least five grade 4 passes at GCSE).

Exit

The 20 per cent fall out after GCSEs includes several short stay Germans returning home. Others relocate or move to state sector. Others leave (after extensive discussion) if demands of curriculum would simply be too much. Most to uni or apprenticeships – vast range of courses and destinations: arts and acting foundation to business studies and engineering everywhere from Loughborough to Southampton. A few on gap years. One to Cambridge in 2018 and one medic, with another to RADA and one to Bristol Old Vic (stage management).

Money matters

Generous sibling discounts – ask as not easily discoverable online. About a quarter of senior school pupils receive means-tested bursaries (some substantial) and though generous, head would like to extend ‘for talented but needy.’

Scholarship are available (10 per cent off fees) but head isn’t a big fan. Feels labelling the talented can impose unnecessary pressure at an early age and ignores late developers, who very often go on to scoop the glittering prizes. Children ‘should just be enjoying time at school for the right reasons.’

Our view

Lovely location; warm, inclusive ethos. Ignore dinner party chit chat about SEN focus and do all your children a favour by seeing it for yourself.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

The Learning Support Centre is an integral part of the school's academic provision. We work sensitively to develop academic abilities, enabling pupils to grow in self-esteem and achieve optimum results in exams. All pupils who receive learning support follow a mainstream academic programme, taking both GCSE and A level examinations in due course. Therefore, individual learning plans are tailored to developed the unique gifts of every girl and boy, enabling them to be proud of their talents and achievements. We are a CReSTeD school, category DU, that is we have a dyslexia unit that provides specialist tuition on a small group or individual basis, according to need. Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia Y
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
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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