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In the specialist laboratory, small scientists dressed in white coats test, measure and record their observations of the world, watched impassively from various glass tanks by a pair of tortoises, Buzz and Tim the gerbils and Aristotle the axolotl. Tucked away in a converted attic, the library feels warm and inviting - a cosy nook where pupils can retreat for a bit of escapism…

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What the school says...

Lady Barn House School has a reputation for excellence in terms of teaching, learning, facilities and 11+ examination results to the best senior schools. We place a strong emphasis on the academic and social development of every individual child towards their potential, supported by a wide range of extra-curricular activities and trips. We would be pleased to meet you on our next Open Morning or at your convenience.

To register an interest in Lady Barn please feel free to contact us. Come and meet us on Open Morning and experience our wonderful school, or arrange to visit us on another occasion convenient to you.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2016, Mark Turner BA PGCE NPQH (early 50s). He has a first class classics degree from Exeter University and did his teacher training at Cambridge University. Before coming to Lady Barn House, he spent seven years as head of Warwick Prep and before that he worked in the state sector in Gloucestershire.

He says he was attracted to the caring ethos and tradition at Lady Barn House. He also particularly wanted to lead a school that sends children to a variety of secondaries rather than heading the junior division of an all-through 3-18 school; a child’s future, he says, shouldn’t be set at the age of 3 or 4.

Pupils told us he’s ‘really amazing’ and has ‘made good changes’. They love the school mascot he’s brought in - a school uniform-clad barn owl called Barney, who was based on a year 5 pupil’s design. Parents find him ‘supportive and responsive’ and ‘proactive’. ‘Mr Turner is very much one to put children at the centre,’ said one mum. Another told us how much the school’s offering to children with special educational needs has improved since his arrival. ‘He really listens,’ added another mum; ‘we told him the summer dresses were too expensive - £40 a dress, which really adds up - and he spoke to lots of suppliers and he’s got the price down.’

We found Mr Turner relaxed, friendly and open-minded. While he clearly does things properly and takes his responsibilities seriously (we noticed shiny new gates outside the school, brought in to improve the children’s security), he also relishes the freedom that the independent sector gives him to downplay those aspects of the national curriculum that he finds wrongheaded - like drilling 7-year-olds in reams of grammar. So yes, parents can expect their children to have homework most evenings, but at least they should be spared the pleasure of desperately Googling ‘what is a fronted adverbial?’

Entrance

Roughly two-thirds of the children at Lady Barn House have not been selected by ability. There are 44 places for the nursery (for entry at 3+). ‘It's difficult to select at that age,’ says Mr Turner. These places are currently allocated first to siblings of children already at the school and then on a first come, first served basis. A year later, for entry to reception at 4+, a further 22 places are made available. Applicants for these places are invited in and informally assessed - mainly on their social and communication skills. For entry to later years children are invited in for an assessment day, to experience a typical working day at the school.

From years 3 to 6 a few means-tested bursary places are available. ‘We aim to have 10 to 12 children with bursaries in the school at any one time,’ says the head. These are given to children judged as most likely to ‘gain the most’ from being at the school - whether that’s because of their academic strength or because of their potential in another area such as music or sport.

Fees are fairly low, compared to the local competition. They come in at just under £9,000 a year when you add in the cost of compulsory school dinners. There’s a five per cent discount for a first sibling, 20 per cent for a second sibling and additional discounts for subsequent siblings in school.

Exit

The most popular destinations in 2018 were two of the region’s most selective schools: Manchester Grammar School and Withington Girls’ School. Other independent secondaries popular with Lady Barn House leavers are Manchester High School for Girls, Stockport Grammar and Cheadle Hulme School. A good number of children also secure places at local state grammar schools - especially Altrincham Grammar.

Most children sit between three and five entrance exams to ensure they have a back-up and staff try to guide families towards the most suitable school for their child. Not all will get into MGS or Withington but, given the largely non-selective intake, an impressive number do.

Our view

Lady Barn House is quite a big school - its numbers edging towards 500 pupils - but staff and parents say it doesn’t feel big and class sizes never go above 22. One of its strengths is the number of specialist teachers. With expert subject leaders in science, art and technology, music, languages, computing and PE, classroom teachers have a generous amount of time to plan excellent lessons in the core subjects, to manage their pastoral responsibilities and to put their energies into the thriving extracurricular life of the school (all teachers run at least one club). The fact that scientists deliver science lessons and linguists teach languages (French, Spanish and Mandarin) means that the curriculum is relatively traditional; pupils learn subject by subject rather than through the cross-curricular, project-based approach that some schools take.

Academic standards are very high and the pupils make excellent progress from their starting points - with average standardised progress scores of 117 to 118 in maths, English and reading (on a scale where 100 shows the expected level). But Mr Turner says the school’s reputation in some quarters as a hothouse is undeserved. Pupils’ progress is measured and monitored on an individual basis - so teachers are watching how each child matches up to their own potential rather than how well they keep up with their classmates. However, the school concedes that the ‘pacy’ lessons at Lady Barn House wouldn’t be right for all children.

Parents we met seemed happy with the amount and type of homework their children are given, but it is set every night - and expected to be handed in the next day; so disorganised children - or parents - beware. ‘There’s the odd bit of homework when you think: “what are they actually getting from this?”’ said a parent, ‘but in general I approve and I don’t have trouble getting my children to do it.’

Parents told us the provision for children with special educational needs is much improved. ‘If you’d asked me what the school could do better a couple of years ago, I’d have said special needs support,’ said one mum, ‘but under Mr Turner and with a new SENCo it’s so much better and my dyslexic child is making really good progress.’ She told us there’s now more small group work for children who need extra support in maths or English and communication between staff about children’s individual needs has improved.

Class teachers are at the centre of the pastoral care system, with help from support staff as well as the heads of the four departments (EYFS, infants, lower juniors and upper juniors) and a deputy head for pastoral care. The anti-bullying policy is regularly reviewed and children are encouraged to speak up if they are either a victim of or a witness to bullying. Older children are taught assertive strategies to deal with unpleasant behaviour before they go to a teacher. Parents told us the school deals with friendship problems really effectively, although none we met had experience of anything more serious than that.

Large numbers of pupils learn instruments (at an extra cost) and they have opportunities to perform in all sorts of settings. In the past, membership of the school choir was by audition only but the school is moving in a more inclusive direction and now, while only the most talented singers can join the chamber choir, anyone who wants to sing can join the main school choir. We were pretty awed during our visit when we popped in to watch all 60-odd year 6 children rehearsing for their forthcoming production of Oliver! (Once the year 6 children have got through their entrance exams, the last couple of terms are fun, fun, fun.)

The school has fantastic facilities and spaces to rehearse music, drama and dance but, the head admits, opportunities for dramatic performance have in the past tended to dry up in the years between the infants’ nativity plays and the year 6 leavers’ play. This is set to change with the appointment of a new head of drama. Many pupils also receive private speech and drama tuition at the school in preparation for LAMDA exams.

We loved looking at the students’ artwork during our visit, in the beautifully equipped and specialist-teacher-led art room; and we were even more impressed by the science room - where small scientists dressed in white lab coats test, measure and record their observations of the world, watched impassively from various glass tanks by a pair of tortoises, Buzz and Tim the gerbils and Aristotle the axolotl.

We were also impressed with the school library - which had a wide and inspiring range of children’s fiction. Tucked away in a converted attic, it feels warm and inviting - a cosy nook where pupils can retreat for a bit of escapism.

Pupils do a lot of sport with great success. Children from Lady Barn House perform at a high level in the main sports of football, cricket, netball and hockey, but also achieve high standards in cross-country and swimming, and excel in gymnastics. ‘It’s not a pink and fluffy sort of school,’ said one mum; ‘they’re out in the rain, running around. It’s all about creating a robust child.’ There are countless opportunities for children to take part in all sorts of physical activities, from judo to ballet - and generally everything is open equally to boys and girls. From year 3 pupils walk in convoy down the road to Cheadle pool for swimming lessons.

There are lots of school trips on offer - typically educational and/or outdoorsy. Year 6 pupils we met had just come back from France. ‘At the market we split into three groups and had to go and ask for bread - in French: I was the one in my group who got to order for everyone!’ There’s also an annual year 5 and 6 trip to the south coast - which is currently included in the school fees. While many of the residential visits encourage the children’s independence, there’s also a strong family focus to what’s on offer: the school runs family outdoor activity weekends in the Lake District and even a family skiing holiday, where parents can go away with their children but hand them over to teachers from time to time. Sounds magnificent…

Pupils we met were charming. The older children were affectionate and protective towards the younger ones and keen to set a good example. They told us they love the school, the teachers, the lessons… We had to prod to uncover any complaints. ‘Our classroom’s really hot,’ said one girl. We did notice that in one or two rooms that once formed part of a rather grand old house, there appear to be two heating settings: tropical or arctic. A couple of children also grumbled about school dinners: ‘They’re definitely not terrible. It’s just that some are nicer than others.’ But their objections were hardly damning: ‘So there’s always a meat option and a vegetarian option. And if you don’t like either of them you can have a jacket potato. Oh and there’s a salad bar. But, if you don’t like any of those, you don’t really have anything to eat. Except pudding. Puddings are really nice.’ Furthermore, we ate the same food as the children on our visit and thought it was great.

Almost all children at the school are involved in some sort of extracurricular activity - either at lunchtimes or before or after school. Clubs run by school staff are free, but parents pay extra if their child attends a club led by an external teacher. At the end of our chat, the pupils we met spelled out ‘good bye’ to us in British sign language. ‘We go to sign language club. It’s really fun.’

Special Education Needs

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