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Once primarily a local school, today the school’s minibus service has extended its catchment considerably, attracting pupils from as far as Stanmore, Wembley and Ealing. Parents here put education front and centre, and many sacrifice a good deal to give their children the best they can afford. Music strong, with ‘fun’ and chapel choir, orchestra, bands, concerts and two musicals annually, plus individual lessons. Reasonable amount of outdoor space on site for sport. But a…

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Since 2014, Simon Ford BEd. An ‘army child’, he spent his early years in Germany and Jamaica before landing back in England where he attended Sandle Manor School and King’s Bruton. Trained as a science teacher at the University of the West of England, he then taught for many years at all-boys preps (Copthorne School, Kingswood House and, latterly, at Shrewsbury House in Epsom for 14 years, where he was deputy head). The birth of his daughter prompted him to look for a headship at a co-ed school. Genial and astute, he has transformed Quainton Hall from a local offering to a highly polished junior member of John Lyon’s Foundation, which consists of John Lyon School, Harrow School and John Lyon’s Charity. Continues to teach maths to year 6 and to monitor every aspect of school life (we were impressed on our visit that he spotted a loose stair tile and addressed the cleaner by name - not something all heads manage). Married to a teacher at the school, he lives in a house on site. Once a keen golfer and traveller, nowadays his limited spare moments are spent with his own young children, who attend the school. His upbeat, efficient and straightforward approach is undoubtedly of appeal to parents. ‘We looked at a number of schools, but the clincher was sitting down with Mr Ford,’ said one. ‘He’s open and honest. Everyone else was selling us prestige, his priority was that the school sees every child as an individual – which it does.’
Retiring in 2023.
His replacement will be Mrs Sonal Chatrath, currently deputy head academic at Danes Hill School and before that, head of prep at Manor House School.


Between 15 and 20 children admitted to nursery from 2, but most enter in reception, when about 70 apply for 30 places. Offers made on the basis of maturity – ‘Can they hold a pencil and colour in, communicate with adults and understand instructions?’ – and whether parents want what the school has to offer. ‘We prioritise those who’ve made it their first choice,’ says the head. ‘We’re looking for families who buy into the ethos.’ Occasional places further up are awarded via ‘cognitive assessment’ to ensure ‘the applicant is not weaker than the weakest pupil in the class; if they decelerate learning, that’s not a fair deal.’ If, however, someone doesn’t reach the benchmark, the head meets them personally. ‘Not every child tests well.’


All now leave at 11+ (not 13+ as was the case previously) with automatic entry into John Lyon at year 7; 50 per cent went in 2023. Top of the wish list for alternative schools are Habs (boys and girls), Northwood College, St Helen’s, Avanti House, Aldenham, QE Boys, University College School and Westminster. Some, too, looking for selective state schools in Buckinghamshire (Chesham Grammar), Hertfordshire (Watford Grammar) and north London. Head is firmly against parental push (‘It’s no good unless they can get in comfortably’). In 2023, 21 scholarships, half of them academic.

Our view

Quainton Hall is something of a Tardis and behind its compact Victorian frontage is an extensive site with a large garden and independent buildings for nursery, pre-prep and prep. Updating and extending has been one of the head’s primary achievements, a necessary and desirable accompaniment to the large increase in numbers seen since his arrival - most recently an updated dining hall and new outdoor play area. ‘It was a sleeping giant,’ he says.

Nothing could be further from sleepy in today’s atmosphere. The impressive, newly renovated early-years building (sheltering nursery and reception) is run as an orderly, cossetting ship, with 2-year-olds spending a significant portion of their day in the well-equipped open air, while older children are gently introduced to literacy and numeracy with a ‘visual timetable’ supported by a raft of teaching assistants.

Founded in 1897 in the building that remains at its core, Quainton Hall was until very recently under the umbrella of Anglican charity the Walsingham Trust. In 2020, however, it was taken into the fold of the John Lyon’s Foundation. ‘Ours is a multi-faith, multi-ethnic community,’ says the head, ‘and the Foundation provided the attraction of resources.’ Chief amongst which was a closer association with John Lyon School itself, the now co-ed secondary, whose prep school Quainton Hall has effectively become. This realignment should ease the fraught secondary-school path for most.

The curriculum, delivered by knowledgeable and experienced staff, runs roughly along national curriculum lines, but one step ahead. ‘Otherwise they’re not ready for the type of tests they’ll need to sit at 11+.’ French from reception, with other specialist teaching introduced gradually from year 3, alongside setting in maths and English. Science delivered in its own well-equipped room – with white coats for all – from year 5. Well-used electronic boards in every classroom, but the school has recently taken a new approach to ICT, moving from a dedicated suite to the addition of 60 easy-to-relocate Chromebooks that can be integrated into classroom teaching as required. Study skills now taught as an independent subject alongside dedicated 11+ preparation. Regular, but not gruelling, levels of homework. ‘We know some parents tutor, and we try not to overburden them,’ says the head. Parents feel they get the balance right. ‘They target work to the individual child and don’t push them beyond what they can do,’ said one. ‘It’s challenging but at a pace every single child can cope with,’ confirmed another. Well-stocked library is dedicated to wellbeing – ‘chilling and chatting to friends’ - as well as literary endeavour.

SEND clearly a strength. ‘Because we take pupils from two-and-a-half, we don’t know what their academic ability is and we support everyone who needs help, resolving as many difficulties as possible by the end of year 2, so they can proceed with confidence to the rigours of years 4, 5 and 6.’ All pupils carefully monitored, and school contacts parents of those on the ‘watch list’, introducing them to an educational psychologist if appropriate. Most of the 20 or so on the SEND register have mild issues with dyslexia and dyspraxia, but the school also successfully supports physical difficulties. ‘They’ve been amazing,’ said the mother of a child suffering from a chronic illness. ‘Not just about medical safety, but about communicating mental-health issues, and training multiple members of staff to understand and meet her needs.’ The school is also fortunate to have its own (award-winning) nurse. The most able equally well tended, with extra maths clubs, writing workshops, and chemistry competitions strengthening the core for those targeting scholarship glory. ‘They give them more challenging things to do, not more volume,’ says a father of one such aspirant. ‘I like the way there is no isolationism.’

Music strong, with ‘fun’ and choir, orchestra, bands, concerts and two musicals annually, plus individual lessons. (‘They come out of lessons, but never miss an entire lesson.’) Plenty of ‘Strictly’ energy in evidence in the gym, guided by new head of drama (an expert in Bollywood). Art, too - taught by a professional artist in large, light, rooftop studio - delivers notable success (regular art scholarships and winners in the RCA schools competitions).

Reasonable amount of outdoor space on site for sport, with a range of Astroturfed pitches, large gym and covetable pool - and most recently a new MUGA. But a stream of minibuses transports pupils to larger sports grounds 10 minutes away once a week.

Good range of clubs from reception, and working parents welcome the wraparound care – as well as the overall family atmosphere. ‘They really look after the kids; it’s academic, but nurturing,’ said one. Discipline not an issue – ‘I can’t remember when I had to punish someone,’ says the head, who is considered by parents to be ‘firm but compassionate’. Pupils polite (year 5 immediately leapt to their feet on our entrance) and attentive. Parents note approvingly that praise and honours are not just for the few, with the wooden honours boards lining the dining hall lauding effort as well as academic achievement and sporting prowess.

Once primarily a local school, today the school’s minibus service has extended its catchment considerably, attracting pupils from as far as Stanmore, Wembley and Ealing. Parents here put education front and centre, and many sacrifice a good deal to give their children the best they can afford. This means expectations are high - occasionally, perhaps, too much so - and the school does its best to ease the pressure. Equally, parents’ views are taken very seriously, with encouragement to be involved - which many enthusiastically are.

Money matters

A small number of means-tested bursaries, with priority given to armed forces, emergency services and teachers.

The last word

A positive, upbeat school with high academic standards and a warm family atmosphere, producing well-balanced, confident all-rounders.

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