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  • Ibstock Place School
    Clarence Lane
    SW15 5PY
  • Head: Mrs A Sylvester-Johnson
  • T 020 8876 9991
  • F 020 8876 9915
  • E [email protected]
  • W
  • Ibstock Place School is an English independent day school for boys and girls aged 4 to 18, located in Roehampton, south-west London. The school educates over 950 boys and girls and was founded as the Froebel Demonstration School, with connections to the Froebel Institute.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Wandsworth
  • Pupils: 991; sixth formers: 140
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Fees: £16,290 - £20,880 pa
  • Open days: Throughout the year.
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

Quality of art is stunning at every age and relentlessly original, from prep school’s pen and ink re-imaginings of Rousseau's tiger that avoid listless copies seen elsewhere to sixth former’s Pre-U work, a menacingly beautiful street scene. Having witnessed a lunchtime house quiz (maths problems set in German and French requiring translation before being solved – native speakers or bilingual pupils banned from participating), we got the message loud and clear. If you want an easy academic option, this ain’t it...

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What the school says...

Ibstock Place School entrance criteria:

Prep School : Waiting lists for Kindergarten (Reception); Year 1 through individual assessment; Years 2-4 by assessments in English and Mathematics; Years 5-6 by assessments in English, Mathematics and Reasoning plus a written report from current Headteacher.

Entry into the Senior School at 11 + is by assessment in Mathematics, English, Reasoning and interview in January (detailed report is also required by previous Headteacher). Occasional places available at 13+. Sixth Form is by assessment/interview and GCSE results. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking French at an English Independent School (Cambridge Int Certificate Level 1/Level 2)


Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Other features

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.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2000, Anna Sylvester-Johnson BA PGCE. Previously three years as head at Arts Educational School. All a far cry from her first job at SW London comprehensive teaching disaffected pupils, there only because leaving age had just been raised. ‘For a 22-year-old, that was quite an eye-opener.’ Followed by a two stints at Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle, separated by spell at Green School in Hounslow, where she was head of English.

Married to local GP, with two grown up children (both Cambridge grads), Mrs S-J, a formidable, glamorous and charismatic presence with a ramrod straight posture, is the reason why school has shot from laissez-faire offshoot of a teacher training college when she joined to sought after, oversubscribed and highly successful all-through school today (with just-added kudos of HMC membership).

Though parents don’t see much of her, no complaints. With well-regarded management team mopping up most of the day-to-day concerns, Mrs S-J is seen as the necessary visionary who is busily seeing the school on its way to future glories.

Supportive and doesn’t miss a thing, say staff. ‘She trusts me to make the right judgement – am careful about not taking advantage’. Pupils are aware of what she’s done for the school and value her good opinion, though it’s sixth formers who have more to do with her. ‘If she congratulates you, it’s a big deal,’ felt one.

Parents, in the nicest possible way, know their place. Mrs S-J comes in for much praise – she’s ‘effective’, ‘astute’, ‘intelligent’ and with ‘incredible’ charm - but will not kowtow to the moaners. ‘Unlike a lot of heads, she has no glossy exterior towards people who she feels complain for the sake of complaining. She doesn’t have the time for it,’ said parent.

Absence of politicking has its benefits. ‘Children are judged on the basis of who they are as individuals, not what various competitive mothers may be trying to do,’ said a parent.

That said, parents stress that this is not a school for bolshy or disaffected families. Sensible to count your blessings. ‘We’re just really grateful that the school’s telling our child what they’re good at,’ said one.

Head of juniors since 2015 is Miss Marion MacDonald. Previously at Cottesmore School, Sussex where she helped set up the pre-prep department. Brought up as only girl in boys’ boarding prep (where father was a teacher) she headed, Dick Whittington fashion, for a career in the City only to embrace destiny two years later and enrol for teacher training. Started here in 2013 as a class teacher before promotion to current role. Still teaches (year 5 maths) – misses it if she doesn’t.

Highly rated by all we spoke to. ‘Always looks on the positive side and lets us off if about to get a conduct mark,’ said a pupil (this Panglossian view wasn’t shared by parents or Miss MacDonald herself…) ‘Peppy and energetic’, ‘has finger on the pulse’, ‘warm,’ say parents.

Has been swift to make changes, including ban on unhealthy snacks in the playground. Operates better than open door policy – ‘If you have a question you can grab her as and when, which I do appreciate, though you can have a more formal meeting,’ said parent.

Best bit of the job ‘without a doubt’ is the children, she says. ‘They make me laugh every day.’ Proud of atmosphere built on relaxed friendliness. ‘I don’t believe in respect based on fear. It’s earned.’

Academic matters

Reputation for alternative education has been well and truly laid to rest. Results these days are as mainstream as they come. In 2018, 84 per cent of GCSEs were graded A*-A/9-7; 46 per cent A*/A and 73 A*/B at A level.

Having witnessed a lunchtime house quiz (maths problems set in German and French requiring translation before being solved – native speakers or bilingual pupils banned from participating), we got the message loud and clear. If you want an easy academic option, this ain’t it. Bring the right attitude and school will add the value - school is in top five per cent for progress made. It’s assisted by low pupil to teacher ratios (head reckoned one to nine in seniors and one to 10 in prep), coupled with a zest to find out where pupils’ strengths lie. ‘My child has transformed into a completely different creature,’ said parent.

In the pre-prep, EYFS curriculum blends social and academic aspirations and homework starts gently, though expectation is an hour or so in year 5, when pace becomes noticeably brisker.

Biggest change is introduction of regular timetabled tests - ‘cycle’, in school parlance, but nothing to do with road safety – in maths, English and reasoning. Parents are asked not to communicate results, which give pupils’ class places, to their children (impressively, they don’t). Ensures no nasty shocks – will be clear who’s likely to make the cut to senior school and who needs to start looking elsewhere – school felt to tackle this often tricky topic with timeliness and honesty. ‘Handle it very sensitively,’ said parent. Ditto the anxious or the keen but disorganised. ‘My child is a worrier – they spotted that quite early and spent time reassuring her,’ said prep parent.

From year 7, mixed ability groups to begin with, with subsequent setting for science, maths and English – though there’s plenty of movement. Subject-related clubs sensibly cover all different aspects – for science there’s Make (takes things apart and rebuilds), Greenhouse (grows veg and fruit), a debating society and Why? (answers the questions nobody else has).

While inspectors are besotted with school’s liberal and humane approach (several mentions in the latest report), school itself stresses its ‘fundamentally conservative’ approach. Yes, there are plenty of mind-expanding activities including weekly challenge for prep pupils, while debating forms a big part of lessons. Year 8 geographers were impressively at home with a UN style committee meeting attempting to solve famine in Somalia (English Speaking Board qualifications offered from prep school upwards). ‘Experience in constructing arguments and holding the floor are ingrained here,’ says teacher.

Underpinning everything is focus on traditional academic subjects that are ‘essential devices through which our pupils can build an understanding of the world,’ says the school. Pupils, who normally take 10 GCSEs (occasional mother language as an extra), are expected to put the work in to get to grips with them.

Homework starts at just under two hours in year 7, rising to three hours or so by sixth form. ‘Might seem a lot but teachers explain,’ said sixth former. Subject support and free homework club till 6pm (supervised by academic staff) provide further opportunities to colour in the gaps.

Firefly – online system that tracks homework from distribution to completion - has been a boon, said parent. ‘Brilliant for disorganised children or parents with multiple offspring.’ That said, universally high expectations means school is no longer a natural roost for more than mild needs. About 100 have some learning needs, though only 40 or so get formal support – a few touch-type, for example - and nobody has an EHCP. Similarly, while there are plenty of EAL pupils (some multilingual), only 10 have additional help with English.

All this requires – and gets - quality teaching. Old cynics have gone, say parents. In their place, younger enthusiasts (many in 20s) raved about by parents, inspectors, and pupils. ‘Almost exclusively exceptional,’ said one prep parent. ‘Have to be strict but they help, they’re open,’ thought senior pupil.

Attention to detail extends to dog ends of the academic year. After 11+ exams, prep pupils get a fiver to start a mini business – home knitted pom poms a recent highlight, while year 11s (known here as PVIs – pre-sixth formers) return to school after GCSEs for a summer school choosing from more left field options (one group was about to create balsamic vinegar capsules as part of a molecular gastronomy session) to the more conventional (making a clay bust in a day).

End result of school’s approach is converting pupils to subjects they’d previously not envisaged. Maths is a big favourite but pupils also raved about Mandarin, sports and art. ‘Didn’t know I would take further maths,’ said sixth former whose idea of bliss was work experience on an oil rig.

Games, options, the arts

Just contemplating the range of activities – let alone doing them – is exhausting. Activities - pitches, concert halls, running tracks-worth of them, are so numerous (around 70 clubs each for prep and seniors) that they stretch out of the week and into Saturdays. Why go anywhere else? 'I'm cancelling family's gym membership,' said mother. Aim is that everyone does at least one club a week and most do (one prep pupil we talked to was up to five, and counting).

Helps that everything is close at hand. Campus isn't just a pretty face but compact enough to ensure getting from A to B doesn't involve a trawl through the rest of the alphabet en route, though one parent felt slightly stronger communications – particularly for new bods – about where to collect children would be helpful.

Arts historically the school’s big thing. No change, bar addition of new, better facilities to do them in. Dance - immensely strong and the real thing (ballet, street etc – nothing wrong with musical theatre but needs good foundations first, says head). Timetabled in prep, clubs at all ages and though tends to shed senior boys along the way, some do hang in there - several currently good enough to turn pro.

Same richness of choice - on the curriculum and out of it - applies to drama. Budding thesps have fabulous quick change performance space (second, smaller back up in prep school) which can go from auditorium to fully dressed scenery in minutes. Even the green room - all glass, light and views - is stunning.

Around 400 learn at least one instrument (recruits helped by string scheme for all prep pupils), and boys have own ensembles (and a bit of positive discrimination to ensure sufficient year 7 recruits to selective IPS singers). Lots of joint collaboration with drama - Cinderella a recent glitzy production - as well as glamour of own ensemble in residence (top notch performance as well as a splendid solo moustache) to perform pupils' GCSE compositions live (beats headphone and computer rendition any time).

Quality of art is stunning at every age and relentlessly original, from prep school’s pen and ink reimaginings of Rousseau's tiger that avoid listless copies seen elsewhere to sixth former’s Pre-U work, a menacingly beautiful street scene with hurrying people interspersed by stitched outlines of ghostly others – a thought-provoking tribute to the ‘disappeared’.

As to sport – it’s ‘out of this world, run very fairly and with great good humour,’ said parent. Though affected by fluctuating interest and talent levels between cohorts, it’s often very successful, helped by continuity – sports teachers work with both junior and senior pupils.

Traditional division of girl and boy sports is now mutating into something far more equal and interesting - girls' football already here; boys' hockey mooted (but surprisingly few takers so on the back burner for now), co-ed cricket and water polo highly successful.

School keeps a careful eye on anyone in danger of over-commitment to avoid being in mired in what school describes as ‘choice anxiety’, as well as offering tea (a bargain £2 for the full cake and sandwich experience). No wonder parents describe the choice as ‘overwhelming,’ but in a good way, they were keen to explain.

Background and atmosphere

Site of two halves, bisected by a road (instant Saturday detention for failure to cross by footbridge). To the left (facing Roehampton) there’s the art ‘hut’, showing age, DT, sports hall and large sports field, all bordered by Roehampton university accommodation (pupil access strictly controlled as it’s a semi-public area). Countering it would need something stiffer than white hydrangeas, so school wisely doesn’t attempt it.

On the other side, it’s beauty all the way. ‘I don’t remember my school being this nice,’ said another visitor, staring up at the curved balustrade at the top of the winding, intricately carved staircase. Nor us.

If leavers lack heightened aesthetic sensibilities, it won’t be for want of trying. Mrs SJ’s combines an eye for beauty with another for a bargain (binocular vision worth having) and is a regular at auctions (finds include the ancient font masking the hole where grab rail, demanded by health and safety, was briefly planted).

Main building features a pitch perfect recreation of a de luxe Edwardian country house lifestyle (the Duchess of Sutherland, house’s original owner, would feel she’d never been away) to the best of contemporary design (all clean lines, light and air).

Cleaners regularly wash the light walls (impressively fingerprint free) and there’s even talk of ‘low level dusting.’ Library bookshelves have ironwork frames built to the head’s design, shelves made of American white oak (doesn’t bend under weight of books). Even reception pupils’ sandpit is actually plastic beads – tens of thousands of them, which flow authentically through the hands (but are rubbish for sand castles).

Outside, even the smallest of spare spaces is densely planted (with occasional tactical use of artificial grass), ensuring a constant feast for the eye. Statement vases as well as statement wheelbarrows pep up paths and enhance armadillos (the curved music practice huts) with signature plants - white hydrangeas – everywhere.

Though slap bang in the centre of the site, prep school feels like a school in its own right, think parents. Pre-prep, which runs reception to year 1 (gentler transition through EYFS) and prep (years 2 to 6) have school within a school – smart, well-equipped classroom blocks, library, art and ICT space and playground (lots of soft surfaces – prep school still retains a bit of asphalt; pupils keen for an upgrade). A few traces of the old Froebel school remain (cabinet showcases earnest looking toys of circa 1960s vintage) but quantities are homeopathic and don’t impinge.

Prep uniform (navy cords for boys, Liberty print dresses for girls) is both sweet and practical (if a bit wanting in a heatwave, said pupils). Youngest wear emerald green jackets – deliberately eye-catching for maximum visibility during school visits – with a navy duffle coat for older years. And don’t forget the wellies, say parents. Children will spend plenty of time outside.

Teachers, too, have their uniform – males, anyway. They’re all in shades of grey (required, apparently). Well, it wouldn’t do to have anyone clashing with those lovely cream walls…

Next big thing – a new refectory that will replace current cramped conservatory and double as additional performance space (due spring 2019). We’re guessing it’s unlikely to be a riot of primary colours…

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘We’re quite relaxed,’ say sixth formers firmly, looking, well, quite relaxed. ‘If you have a worry they will show you it’s not the end of the world.’ Parents agree. ‘When I went around … I saw incredibly happy confident pupils, at ease with themselves and each other who looked like they believed that the world was a good and exciting place,’ said one.

It’s a tribute to effective pastoral care headed by class teachers (for juniors), with vertical houses, each with academic and pastoral tutor, in senior school. No mollycoddling but ‘they do look after us,’ said one. Daily document Pupil Notes records staff concerns. ‘Means we all know what’s happening,’ says head. Effective, agree parents, who rarely feel the need to escalate issues to top level.

Little fazes staff. Transgender pupils are accepted without drama or fuss, uniform policy is flexible (skirts and trousers could be worn by either girls or boys) and there’s plenty of give and take (‘teachers will always give your child a fair hearing if they think they’ve been unfairly treated,’ said one mother). However, this isn’t a place for boat rockers.

The school is very clear about expectations and codes of conduct and parents stress the importance of complying and advisability of paying close attention to home-school contract. Only two or three days a year when blazers aren’t worn, for example (for sustained scorchio levels only) and detentions are the rule for missing homework, with a few perks as you go up the school - seniors can arrive early for breakfast, for example (don’t get common room till sixth form). Zero tolerance for mobile phones, which don’t in any case work anywhere pupils might be tempted to use them (loos and library, for example).

While one parent thought there was a little latitude for ‘charming’ naughtiness – if countered by unimpeachable work ethic and creative talent - there’s low to zero tolerance for the merely disruptive, thought a parent. ‘It’s an environment where you fall into line and work hard.’ Parents of those who don’t (though admittedly we didn’t encounter any) would almost certainly have a very different experience. ‘It’s not that kind of school,’ said mother. ‘To me this is a smart school that wants to keep itself smart and you have to abide by the rules.’

Generally works a treat. ‘The most well-behaved children I’ve ever taught,’ says a smart young gent who’s off to induct prep pupils into the mysteries of coding.

Parents agreed, and were surprised to hear of the small number of pupils we encountered who failed to hold doors for their headmistress. Agreed that uncharacteristic. ‘Low blood sugar,’ felt Mrs S-J. Only other questionmark was over quality of school lunches, particularly for prep pupils. ‘Not always appetising and it can sometimes be cold,’ thought parent. (School stresses that ‘catering team at IPS work extremely hard to get it right and most pupils are positively glowing about the quality of our lunches.’) Otherwise, ‘I don’t believe there’s anything that hasn’t been handled well.’

Pupils and parents

Catchment typical for area with a blend of well to do with sprinkling of self-effacing celebrities – not an oxymoron as ‘don’t make a big deal but you know who they are,’ said parent. More local than most and friendly, too - ‘Pretty nice people,’ said mother.

Bonding opportunities helped along by dynamic PTA that sells secondhand uniform and runs Christmas fair so successful that upmarket commercial organisations (multi ply cashmere variety) compete to pay for a stand.

Thinking (and living) local definitely a good bet given limited transport options - it’s 30 minutes’ walk from Barnes Station or a five minute trip on the (free) shuttle bus fleet that runs from 7.30am before school and until 6.10pm afterwards.

Otherwise, ‘a really challenging place to drive to,’ said parent, particularly in winter when Richmond Park closes at dusk and alternative is an unscenic crawl round the South Circular, though drop off parking logistics are eased by pleasant staff member who deals with the hard of understanding with smiling determination – queues melt away within minutes.


Non-selective in reception (not fair to assess this young, says school), pupils accepted on date of registration. Occasional places in other prep years.

At senior level, substantial competition for places and inevitable growth in selectivity. School has a two-stage exam process and everyone is interviewed (staff team of 50 involved), ensuring that anyone with exceptional qualities to offer but an iffy exam performance (school asks for national curriculum level 5 or scores of 105/110) doesn’t lose out.

About 60 per cent of junior pupils go on to senior school but ‘no safe passage,’ says school - compete on equal basis with external candidates. Informally, parents reckon that school will try to admit pupils, especially siblings, if parents keen – but worth considering how much they’ll enjoy the experience. ‘Unless they’re the child that’s happy to bump along at the bottom, they’re not going to have a fun time,’ said one.


Once accepted, senior pupils will be supported through to 16+. Points system determines likelihood of entry to sixth form – minimum of a year’s warning for those who may not make the cut. ‘You’ve got to be academically minded and it’s silly to be in an environment where you’re not going to feel happy,’ says the head. Post 16, some leavers into sixth form colleges (Esher and Richmond) for less ‘crunchy’ subjects, others to eg Hurtwood House to specialise in drama.

Very occasional unscheduled exits. Just one for drugs in past decade, says school (making it unique in SW London), though head stresses that ‘no one is marched through the door. A mistake has been made and therefore we must assist.’ School will help with rehoming as well as taking in the casualties from other schools. ‘We have to understand that we were all children once,’ says Mrs S-J.

Bristol a popular university destination, followed by Bath and Oxford Brookes. Several to universities in the USA and Europe; three medics, no Oxbridge in 2018. Lots off to study languages, others to a range including Royal Veterinary College. Generally several to art foundation courses.

Money matters

Music award available at 11+. Music, drama and sports scholarships at 13+ (no longer at 11+). Academic, creative arts and sports scholarships at 16+. Bursaries means-tested here as everywhere.

Our view

Striking combination of space, style and success makes this a contender for ‘most transformed school’ award (if it existed). Makes a regular appearance on more SW London parents’ long lists than ever before. To flourish here, reckoned sixth former, ‘you need to be hardworking, ambitious, have to want to do well, be positive, extrovert and not afraid to have fun.’ A yen to commune with the odd white hydrangea won’t come amiss either.

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.

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