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School describes teaching as ‘a mix of tradition alongside emerging technologies’. Parents praise ‘academic rigor’ and attention to ‘basics’ - grammar, pencil grip, handwriting, poetry recitations etc. Across all age groups, we observed fun, interactive and creative teaching. Drama ‘really strong’ - not surprising under this head. Head of drama values ‘communication, presentation, confidence and teamwork skills as vital skills for life’. Music less of a forte. Everyone learns the recorder - ‘It can be painful to hear,’ grimaced one boy. ‘But its lovely when we have learned it,’ chimed an optimistic sidekick. School does ‘really well at’ at sport ‘considering their size’, say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2018, Dominic Rhys Smith MA. Raised in Neath, Wales, attending St Joseph’s secondary in Port Talbot where he ‘plugged away’ at rugby, but his real penchant was for drama and history. Awarded an exhibition during his time at New College, Oxford where read history and wrote, directed and trod the boards in ‘countless plays’. Chose teaching over ‘pursuing academia’, becoming head of history at Hampton Court House, London, where during seven ‘happy’ years, he rose to head of upper school and met and married his wife. Short stint as deputy at Leaden Hall, Salisbury (due to merger) before deputising for two years at Westminster Under School. With three daughters nearing school age and keen to escape the ‘high pressures’ of London schooling, he spotted an ad for Ruckleigh headship: ‘The rest – pardon the pun - is history.’

Has a keen eye for the dramatic, wistfully comparing the view from his window (a small lawn with a few mature trees) to ‘stepping out of the wardrobe into Narnia’. Pupils revel in this kind of talk, not to mention the stories, that their theatrical pedagogue weaves – and they revel in the fact that he regularly summons them to re-enact historical battles or scenes in assembly or class. He still teaches: ‘I believe it’s good to lead by example - actually, it’s the bit of the week I enjoy the most.’ Pupils call him ‘very funny’ but have no misapprehensions - they treat him with utmost respect, suggesting he gets the balance right. Parents say he is ‘hands on’ and ‘always in the playground, happy to chat’.

Labels Ruckleigh ‘unashamedly academic’ but with robust pastoral and academic support structures, a well-balanced curriculum and plethora of enrichment. Keen to discuss the ‘mental health and wellbeing training’ they undertake for all staff and year 6.


The majority start in nursery (15 pupils, rising to 24 by end of year as they turn 3). A few join in kindergarten, when pupils attend a trial day, with assessments to check they can access the curriculum. ‘Healthy, not full’ with occasional spaces across year groups.


At 11+, between half and three-quarters to local grammar schools including King Edward VI Stratford, Stratford Girls, Alcester, King Edward VI Camp Hill (girls and boys). The rest to independents including King Edward’s School Birmingham, King Edward’s High School, Solihull School, Warwick Foundation. In 2023, 19 scholarships.

Our view

Founded in 1909 as co-ed and non-denominational, Ruckleigh has been owned by the Carr-Smith family since 1940 when it moved to its current location in central Solihull. The redbrick Edwardian building is fronted by a narrow car park adjacent to a busy A road, so pupils are literally ‘tipped out’ of the car and ‘poddle in’, as one parent quipped. But they feel it’s a small price to pay for the prime location, and we witnessed a slick operation on all sides. Early years park on a side road, so little ones can be escorted.

School describes teaching as ‘a mix of tradition alongside emerging technologies’. Parents praise ‘academic rigor’ and attention to ‘basics’ - grammar, pencil grip, handwriting, poetry recitations etc. Specialist teaching from year 1 in science, computing, music, Spanish (French and classics lunch clubs for linguists), speech and drama and library. Two classes per year capped at 18 pupils. No setting or streaming – school favours in-class tailored support (unless cohort ‘requires rethink’). Parents approve: ‘Seeing others ahead academically is viewed as a challenge not a threat,’ adding that pupils achieve ‘way beyond perceived potential’. School well versed in 11+ preparation, including VR timetabled from year 2 and NVR from year 3. A few parents told us they tutor on the side. ‘A bit like ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ bemoaned the head, ‘first one does it then many follow but it can have such a negative impact on the child if they end up in the wrong school.’ Pupils happy with homework during the week and delight in ‘fun’ general knowledge at weekends.

Early years is made up of two pre-fab buildings behind a picket fence – a delightful gaggle of smart, bottle green and grey pupils greet and chattily escort us here, where we are met by outdoor mud kitchen, shiny new climbing apparatus and jolly tarmac playground with painted games and bike ‘driving’ track. Inside, there’s an open plan layout, with impressive written and artwork on the walls. Teacher and TA support industrious independent workers and keep a whether eye on well-resourced creative play. Independence encouraged from get go - pupils hang coats, self-register name label on magnetic board and begin phonics journey. Over in kindergarten, a full-time teacher and two TAs support more structured learning for 26 pupils, with zones for arts and crafts, reading corner and computer stations.

Across all age groups, we observed fun, interactive and creative teaching. A year 1 math’s class were scattered across the playground to study anti clockwise vs clockwise through a trail of cones. Inspired, our year 6 tour guides immediately re-grouped to re-enact their recent playground lesson, standing in a circle to demonstrate a lung before moving in and out as others joined as deoxygenated, and left as oxygenated blood. In breaktimes, we saw the playground choc a bloc with ‘traditional’ games, football, skipping ropes, hoops and use of climbing apparatus.

Confidence boosting demonstrated time and again too. ‘Who helps us?’ a year 1 teacher asked. ‘Knights?’ a little voice piped up. ‘Yes, in the olden days, good answer.’ Nearly every arm shot up in year 2 English as pupils picked out personification in a haunted house poem. ‘Yes, I can see why you thought that,’ the teacher acquiesced, ‘but can anyone see what else it could mean here?’

Throughout the main school building, every inch of the walls in the corridors and classrooms (high ceilinged with traditional wooden sloped desks, large bay windows, stripped floorboards) is packed to the gunnels and strung aloft with displays of neat, predominantly academic work in a kaleidoscope of colours. Small science room basically furnished with large tables, biology and physics taught each week with a chemistry module in year 5. ICT offers enough stations for each class - coding, touch typing, graphics. Library well stocked – librarian rewards avid readers with house credits.

Eleven per cent on SEND register – just under the national average. The support they receive is ‘outstanding’, say parents, with open door policy for both pupils and parents ‘even if our children do not receive extra help’– and parents are regularly updated. Part time SENDCo - experienced in dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia, autism - trains teachers and TAs. School considers early identification key, working closely with early years. A grateful parent told us that a teacher spotter her son was ‘struggling a little’ in kindergarten and quickly ironed out the problem, so he is now ‘well and truly back on track’. Two part time support staff (one English, one maths specialist) run regular intervention break-out groups in dedicated workspaces, as well as ad hoc sessions and one-to-ones (included in fees). Emotional coaching available. Occupational, speech and other external therapists welcome within school via parent request. EAL mainly by immersion but tracked by SENDCo until they reach national average. School not particularly wheelchair friendly but rooms can be ‘juggled’ to keep classes together. Extension work for most able, currently 14 per cent of pupils.

Facilities have not kept pace with other local preps. No sports hall, onsite changing facilities, dedicated space for music, art or drama, for instance – most of which take place in the attic level ‘school hall’.

Drama ‘really strong’ - not surprising under this head. Head of drama values ‘communication, presentation, confidence and teamwork skills as vital skills for life’. Rehearsals were underway for year 6 musical, Robin Hood, when we visited - ‘pretty comical’, pupils report. Performing at a local theatre ‘gives the whole thing a professional feel’. Significant LAMDA uptake.

Music less of a forte. Everyone learns the recorder - ‘It can be painful to hear,’ grimaced one boy. ‘But its lovely when we have learned it,’ chimed an optimistic sidekick. Peripatetic teachers offer individual lessons (recipients perform in assemblies). No orchestra or instrument ensembles but enthusiastic cohort of 70-ish for Young Voices. Senior choir (‘anyone can join’) enjoys performing ‘select’ venues: Waitrose, home for the elderly and carol service, for example. Art taught in classrooms and resulting work interspersed with academic displays. A talented TA assists teachers in creative pursuits.

School does ‘really well at’ at sport ‘considering their size’, say parents. Head of sport assures they play to win, ‘but lose gracefully’. Fixtures mainly against smaller, local preps with school putting forward one competitive team from mix of two year groups. Cricket, football and netball all accrue commendable results. Elite football and netball players receive extra coaching. One year of swimming for year 3s only, at nearby St George’s Swimming Academy. Recent addition of female specialist has enhanced girls’ options – parents report a burgeoning girls’ football team. Pupils praise the breadth - ‘There’s lots of sport to play’, they told us, adding that teachers ‘encourage and help you improve, whatever your level’. Annual highlight: teacher’s vs year 6 rounders. Facilities include courts, fields and pitches but no sports hall. Lack of changing rooms means pupils come to school in PE kit on games days.

Masses of enrichment via competitions and challenges so everyone gets involved and can represent school houses (Oak and Ash). Poetry slam, Ruckleigh’s Got Talent, spelling bee, handwriting competitions, primary maths challenge, science week, eco day, African dance workshops etc. Usual array of clubs – particularly impressive Monday Mile before school (round the tennis courts), and fitness club spearheaded by head of sport. External company runs onsite after school care until 6pm.

‘Lots of amazing’ trips, say parents - cultural, academic, fun - including year 6 PGL residential. We love that, where possible, they ‘jump on the train’ rather than being bussed.

‘Finding the positive in all situations’ is the ethos here, according to the head of pastoral. Assemblies full of wow moments and star pupils, with special mentions in headmaster’s newsletters. PSHE includes ‘lots of discussion and debate’, say parents. Zone boards, behaviour trackers and frogs on lilypads monitor mood and reward positive behaviours. Parents report ‘ample opportunity to redeem misdemeanors’. We saw at least three worry boxes. Year 6 have ‘quiet area’ in playground and plans are afoot for a sensory garden.

Head girl, boy and house captains voted in by peers, with other leadership opportunities via class, line, library and eco prefects. Pupil voice and school council garner change – recently responsible for installing new caterers when food considered substandard. It must have worked - our butternut squash and chicken curries were both delicious – yes, we had two helpings! Special mention to incredibly friendly and chatty kitchen staff.

Pupils - smart, respectful, chatty and relaxed - move around school at a sensible level of hustle and bustle. ‘Your shirt seems to be escaping,’ said the head gently to boy we passed in the corridor, who smiled and tucked it back in. Parents say Ruckleigh instills ‘mutual respect between pupils’ who are ‘confident, not overconfident’, ‘switched on’ and ‘really, really happy’.

Parents – mostly local – include lots of medics, engineers and professionals. Active PA, with an emphasis on events and fundraising. The school recently raised enough funds to provide 1,200 lunches per day for their chosen charity, a school in Malawi. ‘It feels good to be helping children on the other side of the world who don’t have much,’ pupils tell us. Plans for further charitable links.

Money matters

Fees notably lower than other local preps.

The last word

A traditional, academic little prep with an inclusive and nurturing ethos. Perhaps not the school for the uber sporty or musical, but drama is clearly thriving. Some parents might be put off by the compact site with ‘few bells and whistles’ but, say parents, they ‘bring out the best in your child’, producing happy, well rounded high achievers ready to move confidently onto the next stage of their education.

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