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Children move about with purposeful expressions and an obvious certainty about their next destination, so this is definitely a well-orchestrated operation, although rather charmingly relaxed on the surface. Despite this cool rather than hothouse atmosphere, Redcliffe children leave with the full academic package: they may not have been offered the exotic curriculum options available in the larger local preps but they have no trouble in passing 8+ and 11+ and succeeding in the ferocious competition for places at demanding senior schools...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since September 2017, Sarah Lemmon (40s). SL is so happy in her work that she leaves her husband and son (an ex-Redcliffe pupil) outside Bath and commutes to London every week. Raised in Co Wicklow until she was 17, she has spent all her post-school life in London, not because it is the dull filling in a green sandwich but because she genuinely loves the city. Once graduated from Froebel College, she tested her natural instinct to become a teacher by doing a stint in the outside world but is clearly delighted that she made the choice to switch to education. She started teaching here 12 years ago and has climbed the ladder to the top, via the headship of the pre-prep, a cv that makes parents comfortable that she knows the school from the bottom up and, judging by their comments, certain that she is doing a great job.

Entrance

Approximately three children put down per nursery place but there is a lot of natural attrition due to some London parents' habit of applying piecemeal to keep their options open. It’s a first come, first served, non-selective school with a front of the queue policy for siblings and the registrar says that she 'can’t think of a time when there has been a problem with this'. All children are assessed for entry to the main school via a gently selective process and for the occasional places available further up. The vast majority of children in the nursery move up to reception, although a few go abroad or to the local Ofsted ‘outstanding’ primary.

Exit

Redcliffe is becoming co-ed throughout but boys have tended to transfer at 7+ or 8+ to conventional preps - Sussex House, Wetherby Prep or St Philip’s - with the occasional parent choosing the country boarding option. The trend for senior London schools to take boys at 11+ is increasing but, just in case, the head is already sounding out schools like Thomas’s Battersea and Eaton House, who will take in boys aiming at 13+ schools. She also brings in senior heads at an annual event for parents. Girls at 11+ mainly join the old favourite London day schools but the excellent results allow them to aim at the schools for high achievers such as Godolphin & Latymer, JAGS, City of London Girls and Putney High. An impressive proportion of academic scholarships, considering the size of the school, with the odd one for sport or music.

Our view

The pre-prep hides in what was once an undercroft, below an uninspiring example of ecclesiastical architecture. It is now a surprisingly light and airy space, with a multi-purpose hall on one side and a cheerful passage leading to the nursery and classrooms for reception and year 1. The nursery is much praised by parents, one knowledgeable mother commenting that not only had they managed to persuade her son to sit on the carpet quietly for 'a decent length of time' but also that he came home burbling about the fun projects and activities that had filled his day. Meals, quite often a trying time at this stage for both small and large people, are no problem here as apparently the food is 'brilliant', and a parent told us that her candidate for the 'world’s fussiest eater' wolfed it all down.

The pre-prep is not just about play, judging from some extremely neat writing and maths displayed on the walls, with an obvious emphasis on building confidence as well as academic skills. The most quoted example is how they successfully encourage every child (from reception onwards) to take turns at presenting work in assembly. We were told by parents that in some cases 'this was a minor miracle', persuading an acutely shy child to happily stand up in front of 150 people and start talking. SL, who believes in making sure that you never ask children to do what you would not do yourself, makes sure that the teachers lead the way by all taking assembly themselves.

The main school lives behind the modest facade of a late Victorian building on a London artery. This was originally the home of the school’s founder, Lady Daphne Edwards, about whom little is known except that she left her house plus enough cash for a charitable trust, enabling the school to flourish and reach its 70th birthday. The trust funds have been well looked after and SL says that they have the wherewithal for expanding their space to match their co-ed ambitions, aiming to grow the school gradually from one to two forms.

With only 100 children, the common hustle and bustle of most junior schools feels muted and the housekeeping, despite the challenge of a cageful of fluffy chicks, is well on top of the dust bunnies. The sense of calm is apparent all the way up from the semi-basement, with its hall, tiny Maurice Sendak kitchen squeezed into the corner and classroom at the back, to the attic with its new, purpose-built music rooms and cosy staff room under the eaves. Children move about with purposeful expressions and an obvious certainty about their next destination, so this is definitely a well-orchestrated operation, although rather charmingly relaxed on the surface.

Despite this cool, rather than hothouse, atmosphere Redcliffe children leave with the full academic package: they may not have been offered the exotic curriculum options available in the larger local preps but they have no trouble in passing the 7+, 8+ and 11+ and succeeding in the ferocious competition for places at demanding senior schools. Naturally, there is some concern that the different requirements for boys (online pre-tests) will mean some additions to the current curriculum, but as English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning are already on the timetable, SL believes that she is on top of this. They will certainly all be well-taught at maths as the teacher of years 5 and 6 is apparently 'amazing'.

Unable to take children with anything beyond mild dyslexia; there used to be murmurings that the SEN provision was possibly a little stretched and problems were not picked up fast enough, but the evidence is that this has changed. SL and her new SENCo are much more aware of where help may be needed, and the genuine family atmosphere of the school is a huge advantage.

Knowing that she is going to have older boys in her charge, one of SL’s new initiatives is to increase the opportunity for the children to enjoy sport. Friday afternoons are for games in the form of optional clubs, rather than lessons, and an extended school day on Friday will allow them to ramp up the sporting provision. The new sports facility is only a few hops, skips and jumps away and there are beaming faces at the mention of the summer sports day. Redcliffe might not be the perfect spot for a football fiend looking for the rough and tumble of team games but, having said this, they have a potential international swimmer in their ranks, so an awareness of sporting potential is certainly there.

London parents are looking beyond academics, even in a tiny school, and pupils can join clubs for budding artists or chefs, practise for a parliamentary career in debating or aim at LAMDA exams. Trying to ensure that her charges do not lead too cloistered a life, the head casts a termly fly into the parental talent pool and lands a willing soul to talk to them about the world outside, as well as posting a weekly blog herself.

Enthusiastic comments on the standard of pastoral care from parents - 'it’s like leaving your child with a relation rather than a babysitter' - and from older girls, who appreciate the new flowery summer frocks - 'I might even wear it after I’ve left' - show that the new head is sensitive about making changes. She is well aware that finding the correct balance between remaining a small traditional London prep school and being a forward thinking modern co-ed establishment is no easy task. We left feeling confident that she would crack it.

Special Education Needs

We provide onsite specialist learning support for children with specific learning difficulties including dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia. Individual Education Plans are written for pupils identified as having special needs, including those who are gifted and talented. These are accessible to all teaching staff and updated regularly.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
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 Y

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