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This is a selective school that suits those at the higher academic end – ‘We look for similar potential as St Paul’s, Latymer, King’s and Westminster,’ says head. Big emphasis on tracking, though much of it takes place behind the scenes via discussion among colleagues so as not to excessively assess pupils. Subject list doesn’t bulge with the outré or unusual – French is only language taught, for example – but concentrates on core range done well, and given more time. Love of books reinforced all the way through – school will set reading as only holiday homework, for example. Exam pressure – which pupils agreed could be tough – similarly well handled, focus on…

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Since 2015, Tim Smith BA MBA. Previously deputy head academic at The Hall School Hampstead for five years, having joined in 1994 as games and French teacher, becoming head of learning support and then head of middle school. Also deputy chair of governors for Camden state primary, governor at a large Surrey prep, founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and runs the training for new heads and sits on the finance committee for IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools). (‘God, I sound like a ghastly show off!’)

Full of the joys of spring. Actually, make that all seasons. A linguist, he’s arty (a regular at the Barbican; partner is director of exhibitions at the Royal Academy) but has only ever wanted to teach (and still does, currently French to year 3s). ‘Always wanted to play schools,’ he says of childhood in New Zealand. Years of wrestling with nervy north Londoners haven’t dimmed enthusiasm for career he describes as ‘exciting, rewarding, engaging, motivating, joyful and hilarious’. There’s a real energy to the school and everyone we spoke to says it’s a top down ethos starting with Mr Smith.

Doesn't pull his punches, particularly when it comes to demanding parents who tell him they only ‘want the best’ for their child. Do they imagine teachers ‘munching on breakfast of baby seals and endangered penguins [and thinking] “I can’t wait to come into school and be mean to children?”’ he wonders. Short shrift also given to parental fears that, as one put it, ‘The assured places scheme for getting into senior school is a bit smoke and mirrors – it could be less opaque and better communicated.’ ‘We talk about it on the website, in newsletters and other written communications, and I will – and do – happily talk about it until I’m blue in the face!’ he counters. Seems to have no trouble winning parents over, with the ones we spoke to describing him as ‘impressive’, ‘very warm and charismatic’ and ‘always an excellent communicator’. ‘He engages with the children really well – I realised just how much when listening to his lockdown assemblies,’ said parent. ‘He finds ways to connect with the children, going to sit down with them informally at lunchtime just to have a chat,’ remarked another.

Packs in long hours, though loves job so much that he doesn’t seem to see a boundary where work ends and the rest of life begins – ‘it’s never a chore’. Gardening is his big love at home – ‘and although I’m not a musician, I love listening to live music.’


Main intake at age 3 into co-ed kindergarten (20-22 places) and into boys only prep in year 3, when between 14 and 17 places on offer depending on how many boys and girls leave at end of year 2. Screen for learning needs in kindergarten, then it’s assessments for reception, and years 1 and 2, plus reports. Entry to prep currently automatic for existing pre-prep pupils. Others have tests plus interview with head and report from previous school.


Most (around three-quarters) to Hampton School, others to Halliford School, Kew House, St James Senior Boys’, St John's Leatherhead, Westminster Under and Grey Court School most recently. Assured places scheme available from year 2 to year 5 based on combination of assessments, teacher reports, exam results and in-depth discussions by admissions committee unsurprisingly a huge parental incentive. Other boys welcome to sit 11+ on equal footing with external candidates. Girls at end of year 2 to local all-through schools such as Surbiton, LEH, preps (Newland House, Twickenham Prep). Four scholarships in 2024 (all Hampton).

Our view

Relationship with big brother Hampton School wasn’t exactly a secret even before change of name (from Denmead) in early 2016. The school was founded in 1924 by one of Hampton's English masters in his own dining room after his son’s left-handedness made him an educational pariah.

Pre-prep is just a hop, skip and jump away across pretty public park. ‘A solid, old-fashioned start – a bit more laid back than many of the central London preps and all the better for it,’ reckoned parent. ‘It’s got real heart and soul,’ said another. One told us how ‘the school we were at has a reputation for being nurturing and caring but coming to this pre-prep made me realise how Hampton takes that aspect to the next level.’ Housed in original school buildings with grassed front garden and miniature lychgate entrance, with home-like feel. All combines to make it a popular standalone option for daughters as well as sons.

Long-serving pre-prep head, Mrs Murphy, gets star ratings from all for ability to get the best from pupils, effortlessly wrapping up fun and learning together, with cross-curricular approach felt to be particularly successful (pirates covered by coordinates in maths, onboard rules in English and top marauding destinations in geography). ‘Mrs Murphy genuinely knows and cares about every single child – you get the feeling the school is her life,’ said one parent. Parents particularly appreciate the niggle book you can write in at drop-off – ‘Mrs M follows it up with each teacher,’ we heard. Lots of experienced and longstanding teachers who make connections but ensure pupils ‘make the vital links for themselves’.

Prep is based in an attractive two-storey building housing eight airy classrooms, brace of IT suites, art and music rooms and efficient-looking library, all under nature- and neighbour-friendly living roof, angled to blend in with residential surroundings. New STEM and art/DT room. Plenty of greenery courtesy of allotment with raised beds and that horticultural essential, a potting shed, part of an outside space that also includes playing fields and all-weather area. Back gate on to Carlisle Park provides extra overspill games space, senior school’s 27 acres and theatre also coming in handy for large-scale events. When parents (especially from central west London) stand on either of the two staircases and look out, they’re quickly arrested by the view – that moment is often the clincher, we heard.

This is a selective school that suits those at the higher academic end – ‘We look for similar potential as St Paul’s, Latymer, King’s and Westminster,’ says head. Big emphasis on tracking, though much of it takes place behind the scenes via discussion among colleagues so as not to excessively assess pupils, with formal exams limited to maths and English, with verbal reasoning added to English and NVR to maths from year 4. Curriculum ‘shouldn’t be a mile wide but only inch deep,’ says head, who also comes up with own three Rs – ‘richness, relevance and rigour’. Subject specialists from year 5. Setting for maths and English from year 4, three in years 5 and 6. French on curriculum, with Latin added in year 6. Bespoke philosophy and engineering curriculums from years 3 to 6. Love of books reinforced all the way through – school will set reading as only holiday homework, for example. Exam pressure – which pupils agreed could be tough – similarly well handled: focus on preparation without panic. Boys able to rattle off practical techniques that help. ‘Make the point, use a quote and explain,’ said one.

Team of 20 academic staff in the prep (around equal numbers of men and women), 12 in the pre-prep (all female) and just under 30 non-teaching staff, including four gap year students. A more interesting bunch you’d be hard pushed to find, with the majority having real-life backgrounds including a former royal marine, former semi-professional sportsman and even (has to be a first for us) a former roadie in a Nordic rock band. ‘The teachers are brilliant – they get the balance just right between having absolute respect for the children and having a laugh and joke with them,’ felt one parent. Encouraging too – ‘Our son has taken a shine to maths and they’re getting him to progress really well but without pressure,’ said another.

For SEN, there’s a three-strong learning support team (same again for pre-prep) helping small numbers with mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD etc. Support, either classroom based or one-to-ones, decided on case-by-case basis. Individual support for EAL pupils (but again small numbers – usually fewer than six) in pre-prep and in class in prep.

Trips range from creative writing workshops to suitably bloodthirsty Saxons vs Viking experience – firmly linked to curriculum, while clubs span debating to gardening, changing by season. Otherwise, sport’s the big thing, with three sessions a week and easily the highlight for majority of pupils – and, for many parents, ‘the reason we chose the school’. Football, rugby and cricket take centre stage – a term for each – with school doing well in fixtures for all three, but especially football (recent prep national finalists); school handicapped only by size (some larger Richmond-based opponents can choose from bigger pool of talent). ‘Very inclusive but if your child hates sport, it might not be the best place for them as there’s a lot of it,’ said parent.

Art back on track following previous fears that the talented weren’t getting enough time to hone work to scholarship standard. Now taught by subject specialist that teaches a mix of traditional skills – drawing techniques, colour palettes etc – to high standard.

With around 95 prep and pre-prep pupils learning instruments (many learn two; beginners to grade 5), a choir, orchestra and wind band and several scholarships in recent years, performing arts are good, think parents. Drama was ‘big and very pleasant surprise’ to one parent we spoke to – ‘I didn’t even know my son liked drama until he came here, especially as he takes quite a bit of warming up generally.’ Joint annual productions for years 3 and 4, then again for years 5 and 6. At least one themed assembly per year group per academic year; LAMDA a big part of school life.

Ad hoc prizes (including sweets and – from one teacher – even more popular tennis balls) are welcome incentives, though one parent felt they ‘could do a bit more rotating of the awards like star of the week’, while another told us, ‘They have great ideas for awards but the implementation could sometimes do with a bit of finessing.’ Easily understood golden rules for younger pupils; clear expectations for older ones. ‘Not too heavy handed on the sanctions because they just don’t need to be,’ a parent told us.

‘A bit slow to start’ was the general consensus around the early days of the pandemic – ‘but they came good, with fun assemblies, lots of challenges and awards the children could work towards at home and exceptional pastoral care which made all the difference,’ said one parent. One parent said she wanted to ‘write and say thank you every single week in the second lockdown because I work during the day and could hear my son laughing and loving school even on a computer.’ Daily stories, breakout rooms for socialising and lots of show-and-tell were among the more innovative offerings.

Parents very sociable, newcomers quickly brought into the fold. The many working parents are helped by before and after-school care – 7.45am start (8.00am in the pre-prep), 5.30pm finish. Families range from the wealthy to the ‘just about afford it’s and everything in between. WhatsApp traffic kept to a minimum – ‘not a grumbling culture,’ said one gratefully, which we heard is ‘helped by very clear communications from school’.

The last word

Pastorally, it’s carrot, not stick. Academically, it’s stimulating, not chalk and talk. For the big exams, it’s preparation without panic. Don’t expect a testosterone-fuelled, all guns blazing, brazenly competitive boys’ prep; do expect a happy, caring school that brings out the best in each child.

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