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Teachers – including, reassuringly, plenty of male ones – have one priority above all else: to get to know these children and what makes them special (cue first of head’s straplines, ‘more than just a school’). They seem to have found the secret recipe to getting the maximum out of each child without taking the fun out of learning, and parents talk of their children being 'massively enthusiastic about going to school'. These youngsters feel right at home with the interactive learning and feel safe enough to take risks, ask and answer questions and seek out help if they need it. Young, specialist sports team runs an…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2020, Simon Gould, previously deputy head of Ravenscourt Park Prep. State educated in Dorset, where his PE teachers were his heroes. ‘I’d see them running around in their T-shirts and shorts, teaching sport, and thought, “That’s the career for me.”’ Got head start doing football coaching in the US during the summers and this – along with his primary education and PE training at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham - landed him his first job as PE teacher at Thomas’s. Left four years later ‘to seek out head of PE role, but none were available,’ so moved into teacher recruitment, which turned out to be ‘best decision ever’ because he got to know London schools and heads so well. Another unexpected dream career move followed – this time, sports marketing (must account for straplines slipping off the tongue so readily - ‘more than just a school’, ‘learn together, play together’, ‘challenge for all’ etc) – before realising what he really missed was teaching, so returned to Thomas’s where he rose through the ranks to head of PE before moving to Ravenscourt Park in 2013.

Though now more likely to be found adorning a suit and tie than that once-cherished active-wear, he still squeezes in some PE teaching (‘I managed two games afternoons this week – a result!’), while out of school his two great loves are skiing in the winter and water sports in the summer. Must be in the blood as he admits to also being ‘a sports taxi for my own children’ – son is still at Thomas’s, with both daughters having moved on to a local state school. His partner is headteacher at Wimbledon High Junior School.

Entrance

Non-selective. Pupils attending nursery - just under a mile away, off Upper Richmond Road - are now guaranteed an offer of a place at the main school. (Sharing of staff and regular visits to the main school makes for a ‘very smooth transition,’ according to parents.) They, along with others from a range of nurseries, go into three forms (with maximum of 20 in each) at reception. First come, first served, but siblings prioritised, as well as those living within 1.2km of the school, (though in reality, most families are so local that they scoot, cycle or walk to school). One or two places usually available in upper years, when school does informal assessment ‘just to make sure we can cater for their needs’.

Exit

Pupils head off to at least 20 schools every year. Godolphin & Latymer, Hampton, Ibstock, KCS Wimbledon and Kingston Grammar have recently featured. This wide spread is no accident – the school is big on getting the right school for the child and isn’t afraid to tell parents if they think a child won’t thrive in a certain environment even if they might get in (though many do head off to highly academic schools). The 11+ team, which includes the head, meets with every parent in year 5. Secondary schools see Hurlingham pupils as rounded, grounded and engaged with learning.

Our view

Only a few strokes away from the start of the Boat Race under Putney Bridge, the busy road outside explains the no-nonsense instructions about delivering and collecting your children. TfL should take lessons from this military-style operation that takes place twice a day in the semi-underground car park. Child in back seat clutching belongings on lap is swooped on by teacher and bundled into school whilst parent, with eye firmly on rear mirror, waits for the signal to move swiftly on.

Founded in 1947, this is not the school’s first home. Originally based on the other side of the river on – you guessed it – Hurlingham Road, it started life as a little boarding school, then moved down the road before eventually settling here in 2004, initially just at ground level but now – in addition to the basement garage – with three floors of classrooms, some rather skimpy offices, a library and large multi-purpose hall. Here - via another ruthless planning schedule - the space metamorphoses from assembly room to karate studio to food hall to theatre, all in one action-packed day. We were intrigued that the props to achieve this were kept in a miraculous cupboard, crammed with tables to eat off and even a stage to act on.

In reception, three light, bright classrooms all open onto an adventure playground, filled in the afternoon with littluns engaged in a variety of outwardly jolly activities concealing a specific learning plan devised by the smiley, supervising teachers. Children literally move upwards towards the more serious academic atmosphere of year 6 on the top floor. Unusually for a London prep, there’s a rooftop Astroturf, which never fails to elicit ‘wow’s from first-time visitors – us included. Also impressive is that literally every inch of every surface in the classroom areas is decorated in some form or other, transforming this potentially uninspiring building. We particularly enjoyed the doors, in years 1 and 2, turned into illustrated book covers. After a lengthy inspection, we decided that our favourites were Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers decorated with a plump, red scarf-wearing penguin and Whatever Next by Jill Murphy, represented by a teddy bear peering out of a box sporting a bright green colander as a hat. The doorways also fulfilled an additional function of making you feel that you were literally inside the book the children were studying.

Teachers – including, reassuringly, plenty of male ones – have one priority above all else: to get to know these children and what makes them special (cue first of head’s straplines, ‘more than just a school’). ‘Good at maths’ or ‘Great at English’ aren’t the only terms you’ll hear, with teachers on a far more nuanced journey of finding out how each child learns, what makes them enjoy certain aspects of subjects more than others, what kind of personalities they are and ultimately what makes them tick. ‘They come here to grow, to be an individual,’ says head. We saw it in action inside the classrooms, with the same syllabus taught to all the pupils but adapted to each child’s needs. There are no specific scholarship sets and even setting (in maths from year 1 and English in the run up to 11+) only happens if there’s a need for it. That teachers rely on their knowledge of each individual to decide how much work they can handle is not lost on parents – one told us that her daughter was asked by her teacher, 'Do you ever learn your spelling words or do you just know them?' and on being told the latter was given an extra five, more challenging, words to learn every week. Another parent praised the bespoke nature of the homework handed out and the fact that the teachers know the children 'very, very well'.

They seem to have found the secret recipe to getting the maximum out of each child without taking the fun out of learning, and parents talk of their children being 'massively enthusiastic about going to school'. These youngsters feel right at home with the interactive learning and feel safe enough to take risks, ask and answer questions and seek out help if they need it. As pupils move up the school, they are given increasing responsibility over organising their days, a popular move among parents who feel that they start senior school ahead of some floundering contemporaries. They find their own way from lesson to lesson, more steps towards the increasingly independent life ahead.

Specialist teaching starts in reception with music, sport and MFL (pupils choose from French or Spanish in reception, says school, though surely it’s the parents who decide). Science and art teachers are brought in from year 1 upwards, then others are added incrementally until year 6 when children are taught almost exclusively by specialists. School is meticulous over preparing pupils for the 11+ and exams for their next school. A surprised mother even told us that her son was so well prepared that he 'loved the exams'. School is not massively techy, but all year 5s and 6s have a Chromebook and use it more than they did pre-COVID. Head of computing has been given a year to engage children more when it comes to technology.

Comprehensive special needs provision – school claims they can ‘go further than mild’, though no EHCPS when we visited. ‘As long as we can deal with the child in a mainstream setting, we’ll have conversations with parents to try to make it happen.’ Lots of TAs – more than one a class in the lower school – and plenty of visiting specialists in eg speech and language. Most learning support, though, is in the classroom or for short bursts of one-to-one additional support at no extra cost.

When we visited, a teacher was busily cutting out glittery stars, the results of a competition to design Christmas decorations. The entries ranged from the wildly wacky and somewhat impractical to the more traditional, but the winner came from reception, proving that in festive design, imagination can trump technique. The walls featured large paintings of animals, one a particularly convincing horse, clearly the work of a pupil who had really 'got it' when it came to equines. Art squeezes into and onto every nook and cranny, including the ankle level window to the parking lot featuring, literally, hundreds of small, brightly painted pottery people.

Music is also built into the life of the school with an 'inspiring' head of music who, despite his professional musical theatre background, makes a determined effort to include everyone in regular concerts, even if their finger work produces the odd rather squeaky note. At least half the pupils have peripatetic music teaching, with exam gradings common. Chamber choir, year group choirs, orchestra and various ensembles mean you’re never far from a jingle or harmony of one sort or another.

Class assemblies are a big deal here and everyone gets involved in the Christmas production. Pupils love their drama lessons and all get the chance to perform, with the end of year 4 review and end of year 6 productions both well rehearsed and resourced.

Young, specialist sports team runs an energy-infused smorgasbord of sporting opportunities. And unlike in other schools, there’s no boys’ sport and girls’ sport – just sport for all. Football and netball are the main winter sports, then it’s rugby and hockey in the spring term, followed by cricket and athletics in the summer. From years 3 to 6, there are two afternoons of games a week – twice as much as most London preps, with pupils frequently marched off to Wandsworth Park next door and Rocks Lane in Barnes to cover any onsite facility shortfalls. Full fixtures programme, with school fielding A-D teams – ‘I want them all to have a competitive match,’ says head, with school also keen for children to have experience of both winning and losing ‘so it’s all about playing schools that are similar to us in ability to give them the full experience’. Specialist sports teachers run clubs, including karate and gymnastics, with other options include chess. But none are as popular as the music, art, drama and dance (MADD) club run after school.

Astonishingly, head says no pupil has had to be sent to him with behavioural issues – high expectations around attitude to learning, along with celebrating the positive, seems to do the trick in most cases. We sadly just missed the assembly in which the golden wings stickers were launched – the children were buzzing about this latest initiative whereby they get one for good work or good deeds, with three earning them a visit to the head to get a golden wings pin to go on their blazer. Counsellor now available to improve overall wellbeing. Pupils overwhelmingly white British, as – sadly - is the case at most preps local to here. Latest celebration of Black History Month was used as springboard to make curriculum more inclusive and promote equality, eg all subject leaders are now required to identify opportunities throughout the year to promote black history and celebrate black role models.

‘I think the best in the country,’ says head of the uniform, and it is indeed pleasing with its greys and light blues; traditionalists will love the blazer and hat. Food is ‘amazing’, we heard – all cooked onsite.

Money matters

A limited number of bursaries and scholarships are offered, but in the main these are used to support existing families.

The last word

‘No two days are the same and they are never bored,’ we heard from a parent. Admirable in itself, but it is the dedication to help all children scale their particular peak, both academically and socially, that really makes this school shine. This is a kaleidoscope of a school where the whirling patterns are constantly formed into happy, successful children.

Special Education Needs


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