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Classrooms and corridors are packed with project work and pictures – all evidence of the enthusiasm of teachers and pupils. ‘We like to be really creative, working across disciplines to make learning lively and interesting,’ one teacher told us. For a school challenged by physical space, the half an acre sprawling Forest School to the rear is a revelation. Drama department very committed to LAMDA programme. Every child from year 1-6 sits exams each year. A little daunting for some? Head of drama assures us that…

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What the school says...

Crackley Hall is one of the preparatory schools of the Princethorpe Foundation, the senior school of which is Princethorpe College. We share the same ethos, resources and love of learning and have our own on-site day nursery, Little Crackers which takes children from two years old.

Central to the school is its strong Christian ethos, high standards of care and a compelling feeling of community as both staff and parents work together for the good of all the children. Described as the next best place to home by our pupils, the school succeeds at making learning fun with a wide and varied curriculum, designed to help all pupils get the very best of starts on their individual educational journey.

In this warm, dynamic and engaging environment, we see children's self-esteem and confidence grow as they discover at an early age where their talents lie.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2011, Rob Duigan (50s). Attended boys’ catholic school in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. One of four brothers, his was a ‘happy, busy, outdoors childhood with lots of sport’ – first league cricket, amateur premier league football, athletics, fly half rugby, tennis and golf. Degree in commerce and education from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (where he met his wife, Wendy) and a master’s in educational leadership from the Australian Catholic University, New South Wales. While at university he did a stint as a volunteer coach back at his old school and it was then that one of the teachers, nun Sister Anne, told him that teaching was his vocation. ‘Accounting became a distant memory and here I am 30 years later.’

Following first teaching post in large state school, he became head of sport at St Dominic's Priory Catholic School, teaching cross curriculum, coaching cricket and football. Appointed principal in 1997, he served on committees of primary school football and cricket associations until 2002 when he and British wife Wendy emigrated because, ‘we love England and wanted to raise a family here.’

After five terms at St Columba’s, St Albans - where he is now a governor - he moved to St Teresa’s in Princes Risborough, subsequently spending eight ‘happy years’ as headmaster before taking up the Crackley Hall headship. Wife Wendy is a teaching assistant at Crackley, although her husband animatedly points out, ‘I didn’t hire her!’. They have two children at university, one studying teaching and the other sports physio.

Mr Duigan received us with a disarmingly warm, southern hemisphere welcome, regimentally immaculate in suit and tie and shoes you could see your face in (reflective of National Service). ‘Everyone absolutely adores him, coupled with really healthy respect,’ said a parent. In turn, Mr Duigan takes pride in being head of, ‘a school full of happy, engaged, confident - not arrogant - busy, involved children’. He celebrates the fact that they, ‘can take risks without ridicule’, ‘go on to the school of their choice’ and believe this school is the ‘next best thing to home’. This last phrase is clearly something of a school mantra as we heard it repeatedly from teachers, parents and pupils.

‘He’s everywhere around school with a smile’, said a parent. No kidding. Energetically bounding round school like Tigger, he left nothing to chance during our visit, overseeing lunch, marshalling traffic and popping up in rehearsals. Teaches a couple of year 6 classes a week and ‘sport wherever they need me’. Pupils told us he’s ‘jolly’, ‘takes time to get to know you’ and is ‘very kind.’

We imagine there is scant downtime for this headmaster, but he enjoys the gym, golf, his church, amateur photography and not surprisingly ‘bounces several books at once’: usually a sporting biography, history or historical fiction and ‘something light’.

Entrance

Many progress from onsite nursery ‘Little Crackers’. Older children take assessments in basic maths and English. Parents attend informal chat with headmaster. ‘We are selective, but only in so much as we want to be the right fit for the child and extend them to be the best they can be’.

Exit

Approximately two-thirds to foundation school Princethorpe. Others to Warwick, Kings High, Kingsley, Bablake, King Henry's, Solihull, Arnold Lodge. Some to local grammars and one or two to other local state schools. Some to local grammars and one or two to other local state schools. Around a third of children are awarded scholarships, most recently to Princethorpe, Warwick Foundation and Kingsley.

Our view

Tucked away on the outskirts of leafy Kenilworth, school is hemmed in by a residential development precipitating a military style operation for the challenges of drop off and pick up from its restricted car park. The original Victorian building is a little tired in places but flanked by two more modern wings housing classrooms, an impressive science lab, art room and well stocked IT suite on one side and a spacious assembly hall and music rooms on the other.

Originally St Joseph’s Convent, a school for girls from the silk mills of Coventry. WW2 air raid damage evacuated them to Stoneleigh Abbey, then Offchurch House, Leamington before settling in Kenilworth in 1945. Now part of a foundation with Princethorpe College.

Classrooms and corridors are packed with project work and pictures – all evidence of the enthusiasm of teachers and pupils. ‘We like to be really creative, working across disciplines to make learning lively and interesting,’ one teacher told us. Pupils and parents praise their ‘lovely’ teachers for ‘listening’, ‘really fun lessons’, and ‘taking every opportunity to find what they are good at and encouraging them’. ‘We hire top quality staff, experts in their field, because to be a good teacher you’ve got to love what you do,’ asserts headmaster. Mandarin for all alongside the more usual French, seen as necessary futureproofing skill given China’s impact on the world economy. Setting in English and maths from year 3, although parents say the children, ‘wouldn’t know’.

Parents say teachers manage work levels so that at any one time, ‘there may be three different levels taught in the same classroom, giving individual attention, focusing on each end of the spectrum’ without, as one noted, ‘losing sight of the middle of the road’. Children who need stretching are given extension work within classroom, in small tutor groups and access a regional gifted and talented programme. Where more support is needed, parents and teachers assess appropriate options from timetable. Group or individual sessions help children keep pace with social, spelling, handwriting or gross motor skills. An enchanting Peter Rabbit mural accompanies the visitor down the narrow, earth painted ‘burrow’ staircase to the learning support room (nicknamed the ‘rabbit hole’), where murals of mother rabbit, Flopsy and Mopsy and Cottontail sitting by the fireside add to the charm. Department has two staff plus a part time speech and language therapist. Experienced in assisting with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, CAPD disorder. School site not entirely suitable for wheelchair access, however.

For a school challenged by physical space, the half an acre sprawling Forest School to the rear is a revelation. Branches, sticks, ropes and tarpaulin are hastily erected to create makeshift dens, a circle of tyres used for group discussion, rope swings, a really muddy mud kitchen, climbing trees, hammocks all create a playground for managing risk and honing motor skills.

Core sports are rounders, netball, football, cricket, rugby, hockey, athletics and swimming. ‘Many parents send children here because of our sport. We punch above our weight but we also engender a passion in sport for everyone at some level’, remarked head of sport who trained with England hockey squad. The rugby coach was previously with England U18 and U21’s. ‘Everyone gets a chance to play against other schools,’ confirmed a pupil, with B and sometimes C teams fielded. The A team is selected to compete, ‘and we win’. One confident pupil added, ‘Our B team can beat other school’s A teams’. School enters regional, national ISA (Independent Schools Association) and IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) tournaments. Most recently two gold medals achieved in national athletics finals, nine pupils in national cross country contest with U9 boys claiming first to fourth places. Regularly represented in swimming nationals. New Astro has improved facilities for netball, five a side football and hockey drills. Extensive pitches situated just across the road offer no changing or viewing facilities, ‘not even a loo’, grumbled many parents. School says improvements to these are not imminent but in pipeline for future. Over 50 cocurricular clubs from ultimate frisbee to sewing. Recent additions include girls’ rugby and football. ‘There’s so much going on, my son doesn’t want to come home!’ quipped a parent.

Enthusiastic head of music ensures everyone gets involved. All learn recorder which often ‘ignites an interest in pursuing another instrument’ (over two thirds take individual lessons in The Gallery practice rooms). Indoor sports hall multitasks as assembly room, drama studio and choir and orchestra rehearsal space. Orchestra boasts 25 members from year 3, grade one entry requirement. Head of music praises children’s dedication – ‘Most work hard and achieve distinction in music exams’. Teatime concerts, drum ensemble, ‘mini brass’ lunchtime club, instrument taster sessions and musical theatre performances.

Drama department very committed to LAMDA programme. Every child from year 1-6 sits exams each year. A little daunting for some? Head of drama assures us that ‘lots of help and support’ normalises the process and provides ‘enormous sense of pride and achievement on completion’. Popular speaking club enters local festivals. Annual whole school production performed at Leamington’s Spa Centre, complete with orchestra of teachers and friends plus professional stage crew. Everyone performs, older pupils lead. Always a musical, bringing the departments together for grand finale to school year. Art room is fresh basement studio with large tables and plenty of colourful creations on display.

School trips include year 6 to WW1 battlefields, residential outward bounds, London musicals. Local visits to places of worship, shopping in Leamington or Stratford Upon Avon. One child told us their best trip was to the 'school kitchen to make soup'.

‘Our numbers shot up during Covid’, reports headmaster – ‘Word got out about our pandemic response’. One parent confirmed, ‘They really listened to what worked and what didn’t work, adapting and changing quickly’. Teachers highlight engagement with parents as key to success. Children loved ‘30 minutes of madness’ scavenger hunts - retrieving household objects, morning ‘wake up dance’ or sports master who competed challenges alongside pupils on Teams. Fridays became either ‘wear your pyjamas’ or ‘mad hairstyles’ day. One parent reflected, ‘They were quick to offer a reduction in fees – a nice gesture with so many families struggling’.

Head considers faith as ‘a framework and belief system around which to live. It gives us an anchor.’ Children work in groups to lead collective worship, nominate causes to support, organise fundraising. Religious statues dotted around this catholic school prompt a ‘pause for reflection’. Pupils are encouraged to celebrate difference and embrace other cultures and overall school has an ‘inclusive family feel,’ say parents.

Children told us there is a bit of teasing and mild bullying but that teachers tell them to stop or talk to friends and teachers. Pupils value the worry box, where they can post concerns, confident that having done so, ‘a teacher will sort it out’. Head girl and boy, deputies and team captains in year 6 are supported by stewards who are in charge of a range of services throughout the school, giving everyone a change to ‘experience leadership and responsibility’. Houses intriguingly named after the planets mainly compete for sporting accolades.

Diminutive basement dining room again demonstrated the need for military precision, timing bodies in and out. Friendly and helpful kitchen staff serve tempting dishes, given a thumbs up by pupils we met, though some bring packed lunch. One delighted that they were allowed seconds, causing consternation amongst friends who had not realised. ‘What even pudding?’ said one. ‘No, not pudding’ she mourned. Popular tuck shop.

Families mainly local, a mix of professions, often both working. PA more for fundraising than socials, though WhatsApp parent groups keep connectivity. Pupils are endearing and confident, smiling and waving throughout our visit. When asked what they like about Crackley Hall, they told us ‘sports’, ‘people,’, ‘just everything’. Parents like the fact that children are totally free to ‘be themselves, not conform’, ‘friendly’ and 'don’t worry about getting things wrong’.

The last word

In his address to pupils the headmaster tells them, ‘You are valued, try your best at all times, stay involved, be kind to others and the world. Smile!’ That pretty much sums what we saw at Crackley Hall.

Special Education Needs

Crackley Hall supports pupils with a variety of mild learning difficulties. We screen in Years 2 and 4 for dyslexia and we have both a Learning Support teacher and assistant who work in English and Maths, both one to one and in classrooms offering support.


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