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Largely made up of medics, university lecturers and business owners, parents are an aspirational bunch. But what they also told us they want out of the junior school – and indeed what they get – is a nurturing start. As in infants, junior activities are hands-on where possible – making volcanos, measuring shadows etc. And while the academic rigour (and homework) picks up pace in juniors, parents tell us that ‘the school is clever in how they do it – nobody feels it’s suddenly masses of work or pressurised.’ Reading is central to everything – helped by...

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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

Head

Since February 2024, Angharad Simpson, acting head. Educated at Christ College, Brecon, Bristol (modern languages), Aberystwyth (PGCE) and Nottingham (master’s in education). Joined Nottingham High School in 2018, having previously worked in two independent boarding schools in Surrey.

Since joining, she has reformed the school’s quality assurance and appraisal systems and been in charge of NQTs and their induction. She has also been involved in the school’s financial planning, including working to establish a Nottingham High School overseas.

She has two young daughters who keep her busy and she is a longstanding supporter of the performing arts.

Entrance

The school is selective all the way through, though focus is on spotting potential. Main entry points are reception and year 3, and there’s growing interest in years 5 and 6 (note, late arrival doesn’t necessarily translate into a place at the senior school). Infants spend a morning doing activities at the school; from year 3, it’s time at the school plus assessments in maths, English and reasoning. Some years have waiting lists.

Exit

Nearly everyone to the senior school, after taking the entrance tests in English, maths and reasoning. Do they all pass? Almost always – 100 per cent in 2024. Does it worry the children anyway? ‘Yes, but they are good at preparing us.’

Our view

Parents, for the most part, are strapping themselves in for the long haul, aiming for the the highly academic senior school. Largely made up of medics, university lecturers and business owners, they are an aspirational bunch. But what they also told us they want out of the junior school – and indeed what they get – is a nurturing start. ‘For me, the school is like an extended family – we never have an, “I don’t want to go to school” day in our house.’ Teachers are a mix of ‘young and dynamic’ and ‘older, stricter ones,’ we heard – but all have in common a ‘deep care for the children.’ And it’s fun - we arrived to an ‘Egg-straveganza’ display of decorated eggs by the children. ‘The winner,’ a pupil told us excitedly, ‘gets a golden egg-shaped trophy.’ (Our money was on the three eggs made to look like the senior leadership team.)

While the modern junior school takes up a generous corner of the senior school grounds (with three-zoned outside area including amphitheatre), the infant school is just across the road. The converted Victorian house and a more contemporary purpose-build are connected by a covered walkway and there’s a large (soon to be re-landscaped) outdoor space including adventure playground, outdoor classroom and little garden for growing things (flowers, veg, wormery etc). Offering a home-like start to reception and years 1 and 2, narrow corridors lead to surprisingly spacious classrooms where reception were doing topic work on Under the Water (we loved the decorated, sea-themed corner) while year 2 were immersed in drawing 3D shapes (no mean feat) and year 1 were learning about fire safety. Infants have their own hall, dining room (with on-site chef) and library. Maximum class size 20, with specialist teaching in music, sports (including swimming), outdoor ed and Spanish and French (both taught from year 1).

Parents talk of a ‘seamless’ move to juniors, when ICT and science starts to be taught by specialists from year 3, then philosophy, drama, art and DT from year 6. Some specialist maths and English teaching in years 5 and 6 too; rest is taught by form teachers. Class sizes remain around 20 but can reach 24; no setting. As in infants, activities are hands-on where possible – making volcanos, measuring shadows etc. And while the academic rigour (and homework) picks up pace, parents tell us that ‘the school is clever in how they do it – nobody feels it’s suddenly masses of work or pressurised.’ Reading is central to everything – helped by stunning, welcoming library with regular author talks (most recently Caroline Lawrence of the Time Travel Diaries) and a popular book buddies scheme (‘if you’ve read the same book as someone else, we get to chat about it’). Reading for pleasure champions are rewarded.

We saw young mathematicians learning from their ‘marvellous mistakes’ – ‘the best way to learn,’ said a teacher sagely – while in an older English class, pupils were redesigning book covers and writing new blurbs. Noticeboards display climate work, story openings and languages spoken in the school (30!), among other things. ‘Would you like to have a go?’ asked a teacher when we stumbled across her maths class where pupils were doing ‘magic dominoes’ sums – served as a stark reminder that this school’s year 6s are quicker at maths than us.

Support for dyslexia, ADHD, autism etc is provided by intervention in class, booster groups or one-to-ones as required (at no extra cost). Reading booster groups common in years 5 and 6. One mother told us how the SENCo spotted her child’s dyslexia, as well as another related issue – ‘and they’ve been amazing at working out how to give her coping strategies.’

Over half the pupils have peripatetic music lessons. We delighted in seeing a tiny tot playing a harp about twice as big as her. Singing popular, with one of the four choirs having recently returned from a music competition in Mansfield armed with two awards. Young Voices gets everyone involved. No orchestra, but lots of ensembles and some get to play with the seniors. Highbrow? ‘Absolutely not!’ says school, ‘we’re all about appreciating different musical genres.’ True to their word, house music was having its day in the sun when we visited, with country and K-pop recently featured (‘Plus classical, of course.’). Not the school’s fault, said one parent, but her child comes home saying, 'What’s the point in trying at music? Some of my class are on grade 9 or 10!'

Weekly drama from year 3. ‘And they get them writing and delivering speeches!’ said one impressed parent. Year 6 production, with year 5 as the backing singers, considered a rite of passage. Aladdin up next, following the success of last year’s Beauty and the Beast – a far cry from the Shakespearean junior plays that the school used to put on (‘Who really wants to watch their 10-year-old in The Tempest?’ says school). Smaller plays, showcases, nativity etc for younger years.

Super art, as in the senior school. Where the timetable allows, year 6s go off to the senior school for specialist teaching – the lucky things were doing just that during our visit, making garden scenes with giant sunflowers, sketched mice and collages of leaves. ‘Juniors also go over to senior school for some DT (‘we recently made LED lights’) and to cook (‘pancakes!’ ‘hedgehog bread!’) and sew (‘you can even add writing on the pillows we sew’).

Daily lunchtime and after school clubs, the only problem being ‘what to choose,’ said a pupil. They buy in experts for eg spaghetti maths and speech and drama, but most are run by staff who are open to pupil requests eg Harry Potter club, LEGO club, archaeology club and even fluffy unicorn club (‘crafty things’). Sports clubs popular, as are chess, cartoons, jewellery making and dance-fit. Trips every half term, often related to learning but also cultural eg theatre. Year 4s were down a mine on the day of our visit. Residentials from year 3 (one night), building up to a week in the likes of Whitby or the Peak District in year 6.

There are sportier schools in the area, but juniors love how they have say over this department, so there are junior girls’ football and rugby teams and mixed and girls’ hockey teams (although school may change this ‘as we look to become more competitive’). School was one of the pioneers of dropping rounders for girls’ cricket. Main sports are rugby, netball, hockey and cricket but there’s everything from curling to korfball. Everyone gets the opportunity to compete in inter-house sport or in fixtures against other schools – ‘It’s not a case of picking the First XV on September the 1st, then closing the door to everyone else,’ says school.

Lunches are served in the senior dining hall – and what a dining hall it is! It’s so tall that they’ve managed to fit a brasserie into a mezzanine above and a sixth form common room overhanging that. The food choice is stupendous – street food, salad, trad dinners and more. Uniform is gender neutral and purposefully affordable – you can buy an Asda blazer and stick on a school badge.

Pupils expected to be ‘silent, smart and sensible’ as they move around the school. Is it hard not to talk in the corridors between lessons? ‘Sometimes,’ they admitted. But behaving well seems to come naturally enough - we noticed, for instance, how pupils didn’t interrupt each other. These things, says school, come not from being fearful of sanctions - more a case of knowing it’s what decent people do. Still, yellow cards are used in infants and cautions in juniors, with children called in for a ‘what went wrong?’ chat when necessary. Worst behaviours seen by pupils? Lying to the teacher, reckoned one; some unkindness, voiced another sadly. Two mental health first aiders on staff and two counsellors (male and female, based in senior school) are tapped into where necessary. Worry monsters do their bit by gobbling up young worries, which staff can then discuss with the pupils, and there’s mindfulness at the end of every assembly. Plus those lovely headteacher quotes. Reward system won’t win you any prizes for smashing the latest test, but those who put in effort and display ‘behaviours we want to see’ are celebrated. Tokens are piled up in plastic jars in reception for each house, and there are postcards home and achievement assemblies too.

Some parents would like to see ‘a PTA to squash any problems parents have’ and there were some grumbles about lack of comms around some staff leaving (which school denies). But these are relatively minor issues in what they otherwise see as a school that ‘delivers exactly what it promises.’

The last word

A happy school that stands out for championing individual talents and gets these boys and girls good and ready for the more academic senior school.

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