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  • Ibstock Place School
    Clarence Lane
    London
    SW15 5PY
  • Head: Mrs A Sylvester-Johnson
  • T 020 8876 9991
  • F 020 8876 9915
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.ibstockplaceschool.co.uk
  • 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 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. Lunchtime house maths quiz (questions in German and French – no native speakers or bilingual pupils allowed) - reinforced the message. 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)

Curricula

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

Headmistress

Since 2000, Anna Sylvester-Johnson BA PGCE. Previously three years as head at Arts Educational School. A far cry from her first job, aged 22, at SW London comprehensive teaching disaffected pupils, there only because of rise in leaving age. ‘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, charismatic presence with ramrod straight posture, is the reason why school has shot from laissez-faire offshoot of a teacher training college to 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 day-to-day concerns, Mrs S-J is seen as the visionary seeing the school on 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 value her good opinion. ‘If she congratulates you, it’s a big deal,’ felt a sixth former.

Parents know their place. Mrs S-J is ‘effective’ with ‘incredible’ charm - but will not kowtow. ‘Unlike a lot of heads, she has no glossy exterior towards people who she feels complain for the sake of complaining,’ said parent.

Approach 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 families. ‘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 taught) she headed 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).

Highly rated. ‘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 banned 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,’ said parent.

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

Academic matters

Forget ‘alternative’ reputation. Results now 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.

While inspectors are besotted with school’s liberal and humane approach (several mentions in the latest report), school stresses its ‘fundamentally conservative’ approach with focus on traditional academic subjects, 10 GCSEs the norm with mother language an occasional extra.

Lunchtime house maths quiz (questions in German and French – no native speakers or bilingual pupils allowed) - reinforced the message. If you want an easy academic option, this ain’t it. Mixed ability groups in year 7 with subsequent setting for science, maths and English. Two hours of homework in year 7 rising to three-ish in sixth form. Subject support and free supervised homework club till 6pm help to colour in the gaps.

Firefly – online homework tracking from distribution to completion – is ‘brilliant for disorganised children or parents with multiple offspring,’ says parent. Not the place for more than mild SEN. About 100 have some learning needs, 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.

Mind-expanding activities include senior school subject-related clubs (‘Make’ - takes things apart and rebuilds – and ‘Why?’ – your questions answered) and lots of debate, with Year 8 geographers attempting to solve famine in Somalia in UN-style committee meeting (English Speaking Board qualifications offered from prep school upwards).

School is in top five per cent for progress, assisted by low pupil to teacher ratios (one to nine in seniors and one to 10 in prep), plus zest to uncover pupils’ strengths. ‘My child has transformed into a completely different creature,’ said parent.

After gentle start in the pre-prep, pace becomes brisker in year 5 with introduction of timetabled tests - ‘cycle’, in school parlance - in maths, English and reasoning, which give class places and clarify the likelihood of making the cut to senior school. (Parents are asked not to - and don’t - share results). School felt to tackle this tricky topic with honesty. ‘Handle it very sensitively,’ said parent. Ditto support for the anxious or disorganised. ‘My child is a worrier – they spotted that quite early and spent time reassuring her,’ said prep parent. All achieved with quality teaching. Old cynics have been replaced by younger enthusiasts (many in 20s). ‘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 after GCSEs for a summer school with left field options (creating balsamic vinegar capsules in s molecular gastronomy session) and conventional ones (making a clay bust in a day). Can convert pupils to formerly unenvisaged subjects. ‘Didn’t know I would take further maths,’ said sixth former whose idea of bliss was work experience on an oil rig. Others raved about Mandarin, sport and art.

Games, options, the arts

Just contemplating the range of activities is exhausting, 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. At least one club a week the minimum - one prep pupil was up to five, and counting.

Helped by compact campus – getting from A to B doesn't involve a trawl through the alphabet - though one parent felt stronger communications – particularly for new bods – about where to collect children would be helpful.

Arts remains the school’s big thing, with addition of new, better facilities to do them in. Dance (ballet, street etc – nothing wrong with musical theatre but needs good foundations first, says head) is timetabled in prep with clubs for all ages. Though sheds senior boys along the way, some hang in there - several at pro standard.

Same richness applies to drama. Budding thesps have quick change performance space (smaller back up in prep school) which transforms from seating to scenery in minutes. Even the green room - all glass, light and views - is stunning.

Around 400 learn at least one instrument (string scheme for all prep pupils), with boys-only ensembles (and positive discrimination to ensure gender balance in selective IPS singers).
Glitzy productions such as Cinderella. Also have ensemble in residence which performs pupils' GCSE compositions live - beats headphone and computer rendition any time).

Quality of art is stunning 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. Despite fluctuating interest and talent levels 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 mutating into something 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 what it 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 semi-public Roehampton university accommodation (pupil access strictly controlled). Needs something stiffer than white hydrangeas to transform, 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 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 an auction regular (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. 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 extra-strong American white oak. Even reception pupils’ sandpit is actually plastic beads – tens of thousands of them. Flow authentically but rubbish for sand castles.

Outside, even the smallest of spare spaces is densely planted (with occasional tactical use of artificial grass). Statement vases as well as statement wheelbarrows pep up paths and enhance armadillos (the curved music practice huts) with those signature white hydrangeas everywhere. Though slap bang in the centre of the site, pre prep (reception to year 1 - gentler transition through EYFS) and prep (years 2-6) have a school within a school, think parents. Smart, well-equipped classroom blocks, library, art and ICT space and mostly soft surface play areas (pupils keen for upgrade to remaining asphalt). Remaining homeopathic quantities of the old Froebel school (display of earnest looking 1960s toys) 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 – ensures maximum visibility during school visits - navy duffle coat for older pupils. Wellies essential, say parents. Children will spend plenty of time outside. Teachers, too, have their uniform – males, anyway, all in shades of grey (required, apparently). Well, you can’t have anyone clashing with those lovely cream walls.
New refectory/backup performance space (due spring 2019) will replace current cramped conservatory. 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 Pupil Notes record staff concerns. Effective, say parents, who rarely escalate issues to top level.

Little fazes staff. Transgender pupils are accepted without 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. Parents stress the importance of complying with school expectations, and advisability of paying close attention to home-school contract. Only two or three days a year when blazers aren’t worn, for example (sustained scorchio levels only) and detentions are the rule for missing homework. Perks for seniors include arriving early for breakfast, though no 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 - tolerance for the merely disruptive felt to be low to zero. ‘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 question mark 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 helped by dynamic PTA selling secondhand uniform and running 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 location - 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, though drop off parking logistics are eased by pleasant staff member who deals with the hard of understanding with smiling determination.

Entrance

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 and growth in selectivity. Two-stage exam process (look for national curriculum level 5 or scores of 105/110). Everyone interviewed (50 staff involved), so anyone with exceptional qualities to offer but an iffy exam performance 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.

Exit

Once accepted, senior pupils are supported through to 16+. Minimum of a year’s warning for those who may not make the cut to sixth form. ‘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.’ 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 to Oxbridge, one medic and one to Royal Veterinary College in 2017. Languages popular, usually 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 has led to regular appearances 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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