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One needs a certain amount of determination to reach the school amidst flyovers, terraces, ring-roads and tram-lines it’s an urban mash up that makes stepping inside the school walls a huge relief. Once inside the grade I listed old palace, offers wonderful spaces such as a beautiful chapel and a great hall with the finest hammered ceiling in southern England. We had to admit to some disappointment on finding... 

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What the school says...

First and foremost Old Palace is a place of learning, but for each girl who comes here, Old Palace will also be a key contributor in her development as a compassionate, capable and confident individual, prepared to address the challenges presented to her as she makes her own contribution to society.

In addition to a first class academic education we also promote leadership, independence, integrity and an ambition to achieve. Old Palace has something to inspire every young woman ranging from football to astronomy.

Old Palace is a unique school in an exceptional and inspiring setting steeped in history as recorded from 896AD. It is this which enables us to identify, encourage and nurture the special qualities of each and every individual entrusted to us. Our surroundings stimulate girls to develop and flourish in ways beyond the reach of a conventional education. For example, not every girls school in the country can boast the opportunity to sing cathedral repertoire every week in Croydon Minster, our next door neighbour at Old Palace.

Old Palace is blessed with magnificent buildings, enthusiastic, highly motivated staff and a sound ethos of social awareness. For all who embrace the many opportunities presented, Old Palace will reward them with a happy, memorable and empowering education.
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2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Italian at an English Independent School (GCSE Full 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 2011, Carol Jewell (60s), MA PGCE Dip Ed NPQH CSMB. Proceeded by a brief spell as acting head and a longish one as deputy, a role she took on in 2005 having originally joined the school as director of music in 1997. Before that, assorted teaching roles in a London sixth form college, a Banbury comprehensive and then (after a spell in Wales) at top-rated St George’s School in Edinburgh.

Every inch the perfect head for this school imbued with its rich history, she says: ‘I’m a traditionalist, all about good manners and courtesy’. But left behind by the times she is not. Having considered every educational philosophy or buzz word one might care to mention, she has her own take on it and how it might be relevant to the girls of this very particular community: ‘We’re about more than resilience here – if girls can be confident and enthusiastic, then they will be employable, people will want to work with them. As they walk out of the gate after their A levels I want to know they have a distinguished sense of social responsibility, of who they are and what they stand for’.

She interviews each and every prospective pupil to make sure in part that parents understand what is on offer here. Charmingly frank, she will also tell them what will and won’t work for the school and if there’s anything ‘we’re going to fall out about.’ ‘We don’t do divas, we roll up our sleeves’ – none more so than Mrs Jewell, who has personally introduced container gardens and benches – to break up spaces which were little more than thoroughfares or forgotten corners. Thoughtful, original, experimental, she’s found that little touches such as a table with china and plants in an entrance hall will steady girls who might otherwise ricochet around.

The impression we get is that Mrs Jewell is up to some alchemy here. Meeting very many parents focused on grades and a career in the professions for their offspring, she is delighted with the school's excellent across the board ISI report but stresses, ‘we’re not just about excellent academic credentials but a broader values based education.’ Her wish is to ensure ‘girls have a quiet sense of self-belief and adaptability’ – this is what will help them to succeed in a future we cannot yet envisage.

She welcomes us into her traditionally furnished office overlooking the medieval garden on a bitterly cold day before Christmas – she has cleverly taken to wearing not one but two tweedy jackets on top of each other to survive. Edinburgh is her home town, but she doesn’t have a trace of her accent. Long-time resident of Croydon, which she says has been ‘very kind to us’ and where she has been ‘blissfully happy’. She has two children, a boy and girl, both now grown up and working.

Parents say she’s ‘an inspiration, fiercely protective of her girls. A big reason we all chose the school.’ ‘A graceful, smart, elegant, educated, inspirational lady!’ said one and we very much concur. ‘Very caring, values each child for their own merits, approachable, kind, strong role model, good leader,’ said another. She currently teaches year 7 Latin and is greeted with fondness wherever she treads – a computer science class, thinking she has dropped in to be their supply teacher on our visit, cheer.

Head retiring summer 2019.

Academic matters

The curriculum in year 7 begins with standard fare with the inclusion of Latin and French or Spanish. By year 10 keen scientists and stargazers may also take up GCSE astronomy, whilst if Latin is going well, why not add in a GCSE in classical Greek? Mandarin is offered as part of a club after school.

In 2018, 73 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE/IGCSE with the strongest performances in maths, English language and biology. Ten subjects is the most common, some may opt for fewer if it makes sense for them. French is by far the most popular language taken to GCSE with native speakers able to notch up another.

At A level in the same year, 52 per cent of grades were A*/A, with the mathematicians outstripping all comers in terms of top grades and something new – psychology – proving both popular and engaging with plenty of As. A healthy list of choices including classical Greek, drama and theatre studies and government and politics.

Eighty or so teaching staff. Has recently appointed a new assistant head with responsibility for maths and numeracy across the school. Teachers ‘very dedicated, always go the extra mile – they’re all running clinics in the lunch hour if a girl wants extra help…but, girls have to do the running and come and ask for that help,’ says the head.

A year 7 father observed of the teaching he has encountered: ‘high standards across all subjects but also accessible introductions to new topics.’ Another parent: ‘Teaching is of a very high standard. It is clear from the marking by staff that they are diligent and alive to a pupil’s abilities. Homework reflects that the pupils are expected to think laterally and expand their knowledge themselves.’

There are exams twice a year, which girls mostly take in their stride in preparation for GCSEs to come. A year 7 mother sent this message to prospective parents: ‘not as intensive as I had been led to believe from the school’s reputation.’ The ‘palace group’ is for gifted and talented – offering individual mentoring and encouragement to undertake projects outside of the curriculum. There is a series of lunchtime lectures – recent topics on the art of conducting, what we owe to the Athenians and the ethics of Shakespeare.

Sixth formers are ably prepped for law and medical school applications as well as UCAS, and enrichment offers the university friendly experience of an EPQ, current affairs, financial awareness, science and ethics, food and nutrition and community service.

Pupils with SEND and EAL needs achieve success in line with their peers when it comes to exams. A parent with a hearing impaired daughter described gratefully how ‘every teacher has made accommodations for her to maximise her learning and yet in such a discreet way that she has never felt singled out.’

Games, options, the arts

With the site the very anathema of green space or lush sporting facilities, this is something for prospective parents to take on the chin. The school does have its own 25m swimming pool, the use of Trinity’s Astroturf for hockey and girls travel to playing fields by minibuses, a great recent addition to the school. The sporting ethos is inclusive, with the head looking to ‘beef it up so that we can play more fixtures’. To that end a new director of sport has been appointed. Currently girls play rounders, hockey and football and take part in cross-country, athletics and dance. Fencing and trampolining have just been introduced. A parent commented: ‘My daughter has taken part in lots of swimming competitions and I feel the standard of instruction she has received has been great.’ Plenty of excellent sportswomen amongst the pupils – some participants in the London Youth Games, the water polo team took part in the English Schools’ championships and contains a national player. Sporting clubs at lunch and after school include tennis, rounders, water-polo, fencing, indoor athletics and swim squad.

‘Music is both high quality and inclusive – a real stand out,‘ a delighted mother enthused, with highly accomplished staff, no doubt hand-picked by the musical head. As one might expect, the choir regularly performs evensong at Croydon Minster as well as the country’s finest cathedrals – St Paul’s, Winchester and Salisbury and St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Take your seats (and bring warm coats or sneaky hot water bottles for some spaces) to hear regular recitals and concerts from choirs, orchestra, chamber groups, polyphonic choir, brass group, wind and piano chamber music, recorders and a school speciality – the steel pans. Pupils perform at local Beckenham music festival and are involved in productions such as a recent ambitious Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Over 120 clubs. Parents talk of girls struggling to fit in all of the clubs, activities, performances and shows they want to be involved with. Hip-hop dance, critical thinking, anatomy club, mindfulness, Italian film, ceramics and more jostle for attention – good to see both an embroidery club and feminist society sharing a timetable.

Background and atmosphere

Who would have thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury summered in Croydon? But for centuries, he did just that when journeying from Lambeth, and occasionally hosted the royal court here in the oldest part of the school, adjacent to ancient Croydon Minster. Later, when the commoners drew too close, the archbishops removed themselves and the building suffered the indignity of becoming a linen printers, bleachers and laundry. By 1899 the Sisters of the Church were given the building by the Duke of Newcastle and founded the school. Archbishop John Whitgift, with the approval of Queen Elizabeth I, built almshouses and a school for the poor here in 1596, which became the charitable Whitgift Foundation now funding the Whitgift and Trinity schools.

One needs a certain amount of determination to reach the school amidst flyovers, terraces, ring-roads and tramlines: it’s an urban mash up that makes stepping inside the school walls a huge relief. Once inside the grade I listed old palace offers wonderful spaces such as a beautiful chapel and a great hall with the finest hammered ceiling in southern England. We had to admit to some disappointment on finding little trace of majesty in Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom - now a classroom - but the head feels that for the girls ‘she takes her place in history.’ A beautifully crafted modern building in red brick with stone mullions and cloisters provides ample teaching space and labs. Then, over the road there is the technology annexe housing art studio, DT, music rehearsal spaces in a light and bright environment and a large modern dining room where everyone eats together. On the top floors there's a professional dance studio, theatre rehearsal room and a sixth form common room where girls relax.

A mother described the school’s atmosphere as ‘caring, and whilst wanting to maximise achievement in every girl, does not do so in a strict competitive environment but a nurturing one that works to each girl’s strengths.’

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

There is a Church of England framework to the school: all Christian festivals are celebrated with no opt out. Lots of praise for the pastoral care: ‘excellent pastoral care – both processes and, more importantly, people who genuinely care’ being typical. Few seem to have had any encounters with the anti-bullying measures, but one mother told us: ‘I have had one occasion to speak to the school about low level bullying and they handled this brilliantly.’

The four pillars or central beliefs of the school – service, courage, emotional intelligence, learning – are delivered through the house system. Girls in sixth form take assemblies – 'it works best when girls hear from their own age group,’ says the head. The ability of pupils across year groups to work together as a whole is singled out for praise by the ISI. Lots of charity work in evidence in the community and further afield - playing with children in a local hospice and befriending the elderly in a local care home.

Pupils and parents

‘Mixed: an ethnic, racial and faith mix,’ says Mrs Jewell, ‘open-hearted, not angels!’ Very definitely a helicopter-free, unpushy parental set.

Entrance

Somewhat awkwardly, the prep school finishes at year 5 with pupils completing year 6 within the senior school (together with some new entrants from outside) and sitting the 11+ alongside external candidates; and although 90 per cent of girls are offered places, they are not guaranteed. It’s also a chance to gain scholarships and the head’s award, which recognises high performance in either English or maths. A few peel off to grammar schools. External candidates arrive from a wide slew of primaries. Good transport links, motivated parents and an extensive network of school minibuses bring the school within reach of, for instance, Sutton, Wandsworth, Bromley and Herne Hill.

Despite the lengthy list of assessment topics – English, maths, reasoning, social interaction, parental support, general knowledge and creativity (assessed through maybe looking at a piece of art or talking about their work) – the competition for places is only very mild compared with more fashionable London boroughs.

Any child with an ed psych's report is allocated extra time. This is one of the few schools to state openly that they are looking for ‘parental support’. We presume exceptions made for self-starters succeeding so far without it.

Exit

An impressive list of university destinations. Over 60 per cent to Russell Group, three medics and one to Oxbridge in 2018. Rather than straightforwardly academic subjects, as is something of an understandable trend these days and also perhaps reflective of a hard-working parental community, choices seem mindful of career directions, with a predominance of –ologies – criminology, psychology, marine biology - or, for instance, modern languages together with business.

Money matters

Around 45 per cent of pupils are assisted by some kind of bursary from the extraordinarily wealthy £5m Whitgift foundation – one of the largest in the UK – providing up to 95 per cent fee remittance. As a guide household income would need to be below £70k to apply. There is also a long list of scholarships and exhibitions (for year 12) which are not means-tested and are offered depending on performance in the entrance tests.

Our view

A sense of history and her place in it awaits girls at Old Palace. The passionate head is one of kind and knows whom the school will suit. Step inside for a transformative academic education.

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.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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