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Prep life begins in Little Stream, where nurture – as well as exploration over rigidity – still reign, but there is a natural step up. Children are set into smaller groups for reading, maths and spelling, facilitating individualised approaches as far as possible. Specialist teaching for art, computing and science starts here – all in their own dedicated labs and studios; children rave about the hands-on, ‘mucky’ science. Humanities subjects are often cross-curricular – we see aqueduct models being tested rigorously in year 4, a combination of history and DT. The teachers are...

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Since September 2023, Sophie Bradshaw, previously deputy head of Croydon High School and before that, head of the junior school. Has also been head of years 3 and 4 at Ardingly College. Didn’t realise she was built for education until she was doing it – then everybody said, ‘We knew you’d be great at that!’ She had previously wanted to be a search-and-rescue pilot in the RAF but lacked the height – ‘Prince William stole my job!’ Experience across all age groups gives her ‘total appreciation for school structure, top to bottom’ – this, and redesigning the GCSE curriculum at Croydon High, equipped her for an expanded Dulwich Cranbrook.

Parents feel she is ‘a good fit’ - ‘kind’, ‘warm, yet determined’ and bringing ‘new, different values’. They say she ‘hit the ground running’ and prioritises strong bonds with parents, making ‘a real effort to introduce herself’. A visible head too, she is always out and about around school. ‘Just the other day I chucked the bursar out to meet with two year 9 pupils!’ Break times currently involve her being tutored in the complexities of Rubik’s cubes by club members who confided that she had some difficulty when showing off her skills at her first assembly: ‘She’s herself around us,’ they smiled.

Fond of the phrase, ‘Be deliberately different’, introducing ‘proud pegs’ so every child can choose something they feel pleased with to display. ‘There’s a place for external praise, but we want them to develop an intrinsic sense of pride, especially in this social media age.’ So what’s on her proud peg? Building a new school website, she says, and possibly her focus on improving trips – year 9s now visit F1’s broadcast studio to see how they stream to audiences worldwide. She wants children to have ‘real experiences’, not just in the Dulwich Cranbrook bubble – enabling broader life experience, showing pathways for future careers. Sees the role of the school as ‘the springboard, not the landing mat’ – the intention being to support three exit routes at the end of years 6, 8 and 11.


Children can join pre-nursery any time from the September after they turn 2. Most popular entry points are nursery or reception. Non-selective academically, so it’s first come, first served, with tours offered throughout term time. The school is currently expanding up to 16+, with first year 9s having started in September 2023.


Just over a third leave after year 6 – most to local grammar, Cranbrook School, the rest to other grammars and independents. Various destinations at 13+, with Cranbrook, Benenden and Sutton Valence prominent. Watch this space, with senior school spaces now offered. Fourteen scholarships in 2023.

Teaching and learning

Nash House, home to pre-nursery (fledglings) and nursery, greets tinies with an impressive rainbow tube installation hanging in its atrium and an emphasis on sensory play. We found children painting their hands and printing them, as well as finding and matching shapes in scented foam. All part of developing language through discovery. Kitted out with wet-weather suits and wellies, the children have lots of learning outside too. In reception, free-flow classrooms encourage social mixing across classes. Children learn to manage time through ‘token time’, with good learning choices earning tokens. Specialist teaching from nursery in music, PE and French – the latter using puppets, songs and – in reception – yoga (now, that’s a stretch). Later, they build miniature towns and landmarks to reinforce vocabulary. Class sizes no bigger than 20 – intimate but buzzing.

Prep life begins in Little Stream, where nurture – as well as exploration over rigidity – still reigns, but there is a natural step up. Children are set into smaller groups for reading, maths and spelling, facilitating individualised approaches as far as possible. Specialist teaching for art, computing and science starts here – all in their own dedicated labs and studios; children rave about the hands-on, ‘mucky’ science. Humanities subjects are often cross-curricular – we see aqueduct models being tested rigorously in year 4, a combination of history and DT. The teachers are revered by children and parents – ‘They have my full respect and trust,’ said a parent.

Smart blue shirts, and a different entrance, mark a change of status for senior pupils. By this stage, year 7, there is specialist subject teaching for all subjects. We see excited, lively year 9 re-enactments and discussions of Samson and Delilah in the redesigned Coursehorn building. Humour and engagement too - children smiling through their work, eager to contribute. A fizz of learning. Occasional ‘break out’ spaces facilitate social and collaborative environments. Snug yet spacious Henley Cafe, full of natural light, is perfect for refreshing and reflecting over hot chocolate with friends. From year 10, most students will do nine GCSEs, some 10. Tailored enrichment programmes, such as scientist, linguist, creative, classicist or all-rounder, aim to maximise individual talents. ‘Another great option,’ say parents.

Library duties covered by teaching staff. The space is well maintained, with eye-catching posters for classic children’s texts, old and new, interactive displays and a giant tissue paper Wonderland caterpillar hanging above a homely reading corner. Mysteries abound: a miniature door opens young imaginations.

Learning support and SEN

Learning support team (four SENCos, plus additional learning support staff) accommodates the quarter of pupils on the SEN register who have a full range of needs – mainly dyslexia, but also ADHD, autism etc. The school is non-selective, but ‘the measure is, will we be right for you?’ says head. Two cosy support rooms (one for younger children, one older) feel child oriented, with inclusive slogans (eg ‘In difficulty lies opportunity’) adorning the walls. Small groups nip in for one-to-ones and booster sessions. Accessible learning aids - cushions, flashcards, prompts etc – all well used in classrooms. School goes ‘above and beyond’, say parents, including those of children with physical disabilities (dialogue with parents has led to increased accessibility across the school - lifts, ramps, wide corridors etc). ‘The school was extremely diligent,’ said one.

The arts and extracurricular

Inside the busy art rooms, children work hard to earn the much acclaimed ‘artist of the week award’. They take pride in telling us about different artists whose skills and approaches spark their own projects - but not at the expense of individual creativity. We see variety and richness: abstract landscapes on rusted metal disks inspired by Sam Peacock, and eye-catching installation pieces by year 8s using shoes and socks.

Music block is a prized nest for creative types – rock school at lunch has six bands plugging away, each making their own room rock. Among the menu of musical groups (choirs from year 1; string groups from year 3; jazz, brass, flute, orchestra from year 5; senior strings and chamber choirs from year 7) is ‘jigs and reels’, where bands play toe-tapping folk music, encapsulating a spirit of joy and confidence. Sixty per cent of pupils from year 2 upwards learn instruments. Termly informal concerts from year 3. Older ones go to the O2 with Young Voices, and get to play in the summer and winter concerts. Whole school, including all staff, come together annually for the Big Sing community choir.

Year 6s were rehearsing Scrooge’s Green Christmas in the impressive theatre when we visited – confident, no fear of failure, understudies stepping up. Dance and drama department on par with top departments in Kent preps, say some parents. LAMDA for years 5-8, optional from year 9.

Club list includes climbing, fencing, tennis and ballet, using peripatetic specialist teachers, alongside niche club offers such as justice society (mock trials), eco club and even top trumps club for younger ones. Plenty of trips, eg Lordship Wood for year 7s to work together setting up camp and shelter, seniors trekking up Snowdon, as well as opportunities with DofE and CCF.


Sport needed ‘a serious freshen up – not competitive enough’, according to parents - but there’s been ‘definite change’, we heard (while still remaining inclusive). New school sports kit means children look and feel the part. Greater breadth now played all year round (newly resurfaced Astro) – so the main sports of football, rugby (boys), netball (girls), cricket and hockey (both) are complemented by cross-country, tennis, athletics and swimming. This greater breadth is appreciated by children, who also praise Dulwich Inspires (water polo, biking, windsurfing). Means no child fears games. Outdoor swimming pool, but no swimming November to March: ‘Why not invest in an indoor pool?’ parents say. The school is looking at funding options for this logical next investment. No in-house gymnastics and cheerleading teams, despite ‘plenty of talent in the ranks’, but cheerleading in the planning at request of pupils.


Flexi boarding for cosy fun, run by two kindly staff members - 26 beds in total. Popular through word of mouth, and fills up quickly. ‘Everything you'd want,’ says one parent. Two girls’ dorms (long with sloped ceilings), two boys rooms (high ceilings), named after local fields and with creaky floorboards (no sneaking out of bed after lights out, then). Pictures of seasonal events cover walls. Recent festival of light celebration included toasted marshmallows and a firepit; gingerbread houses made at Christmas. I’m A Boarder Get Me Out Of Here started small but grew into a popular, occasional event - challengers prove their mettle to their friends: spoonful of Marmite, anyone? Positive messages on the notice boards – ‘proud of you’, ‘cool to be kind’ etc. Enticing carousel of snacks like fresh Victoria sponge.

Ethos and heritage

In 1938, with war on the horizon, the headmaster of Dulwich Prep London decided to set up a school in a safer setting, using his parents-in-law’s house in Coursehorn. Apart from a brief wartime relocation to Wales, it has remained there ever since. The original building is its soul, home of flexi boarding, while the long path to the main school buildings is lined with trees and snakes through a yawning green canvas. Everything else is purpose built, the school feeling, at turns, quaint, grand and state-of-the-art. The patchwork quilt works.

Smiling catering staff have friendly exchanges with children at lunch, and teachers eat with children. Enthusiastic food reviews: ‘extra marks for carrots and greens not being overcooked and soggy,’ say children. The spreads put on for match days are apparently legendary, creating ‘a special atmosphere’ for team events.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Head says pastoral care can be gauged by looking at ‘how accepting children are of each other’, returning to those words, ‘be deliberately different’. Parents tell us it’s a ‘happy’ and ‘nurturing’ school where their children ‘thrive’. Throughout the school, staff model discreet pastoral conversations – ‘teachers care,’ children say. Mental health support embedded, rather than a sticking plaster: Place2Be offers counsellors four days a week, and year 9 upwards have access to an ‘i-space’ wellbeing programme. ‘We know we can talk to someone if we need to, and that it helps,’ they say. Half-term ‘walk and talk’ activity is popular, and residential trips focus on character building.

Pupils and parents

New parents are drawn to ever-improving facilities and vast open green spaces, telling us their child’s face ‘lit up’ on their tour and that the school ‘welcomed us with open arms’. Many local families - ‘like a school reunion’ on the school playground, we heard. All sorts, though, ‘no stuffiness or elitism’ – mix of old and new money. ‘Always things in the calendar,’ say parents, eg mum nights and dad nights, ‘ideal if you’re new to the area’. Individual year group meet-ups, plus eg Christmas Fair, which is open to all (and involves local businesses). Minor grumble from some parents is that drop-off and collection times can be ‘bedlam’, despite a one-way system and large car parks. Wraparound care helps (8am-5.30pm in Nash House, gradually extending to 7.15am-8pm for seniors). Working parents find half days (for younger ones) tricky, though option to book full days from pre-nursery. Efficient communication with parents (letters twice a week and easy to find digitally) pays dividends: ‘It makes you relax as a parent’.

The last word

A handsome, traditional rural prep + new senior school = ‘best of both worlds’, say parents. Happy children thrive and are valued as individuals in this nurturing, fun and inclusive community, where parents say ‘you’re all part of the team’ (them included).

Special Education Needs

Whilst we do not have a specific SEN unit or class, pupils in each year group who require additional support work together in small groups.

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

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