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So far, so ordinary, we think as we take a walk across the playground with a pirate ship, hard court and shaded seating until we reach a little plot of land converted into an outdoor classroom where a tiered fire is burning well, and children are writing and exploring their responses to life as a Tudor – a good example of the school’s creative, cross-curricular approach in action. A group of eco warriors were on a high at the time of our visit, having recorded a song and appeared on Blue Peter to talk about it...

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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 September 2019, Victoria Goodson BA, MA from Durham in educational leadership and management. Previously head of pre-prep at Newton Prep, as a girl she attended Norwich High, another GDST school. Very warm and sincere, she wants parents to feel she is really approachable and will be on the school gate every morning. She has two primary school age children and enjoys family time, reading, baking and bike riding. Her focus will be on developing ‘fearless learners’ and her first initiative a regular lecture series with a STEM focus drawing on the talents of the school community.

Entrance

At 4+ there are now two reception classes with entrance assessed by girls take place in a playgroup session with teachers for an hour. Staff are considering numeracy skills, early phonics, hand-writing, conversation skills, plus interaction with staff and other pupils. School also requests a report from any nursery. Any SEN needs may be discussed with the school prior to the day. Demand has never been higher, with three applicants for every place. Main feeders are Dulwich Prep London, The Villa and DUCKS.

At 7+ things become more formal with assessments in maths, reading, writing, plus a team-building and collaboration exercise. Four applicants for every place at this point with Herne Hill, The Villa and state primaries the feeder schools.

Exit

On average 85 per cent of girls transfer to the senior school. Nearly all the leavers go to other London day schools such as JAGS, Alleyn’s, or City of London Girls’ School with some 20 per cent gaining scholarships, a few to local state schools.

There has been a gear shift in 11+ prep. As a mother told us: ‘the preparation for 11+ I know has improved immensely.’ Another said approvingly: ‘structured and effective without being overly pressurised or hothousey.’ The aim is the prep school girls will arrive at the High ‘top of the pile’ with skills on a level with external candidates without sacrificing well-being.

Our view

The school’s value-added is now the best in the GDST for maths and English. There has been a real drive for staff to evolve their teaching practice, engaging with the latest educational research, and an expectation that they will evaluate everything new for its likely impact on the girls. A parent approved: ‘We have consistently been impressed with the teaching staff, who seem to know our daughter really well. She has thrived since being there and is constantly being inspired by the breadth of topics taught.’ Pupils enthuse: ‘really friendly’; ‘always helpful, really easy to talk to. They go slowly through things.’

So far, so ordinary, we think as we take a walk across the playground with a pirate ship, hard court and shaded seating until we reach a little plot of land converted into an outdoor classroom where a tiered fire is burning well, and children are writing and exploring their responses to life as a Tudor – a good example of the school’s creative, cross-curricular approach in action.

The science lab is large, orderly and complete with stick insects. Girls have enjoyed watching chicks hatch via a live web link on Twitter. Year 6s have been learning about genetics and the school attends GDST events such as junior science conferences.

Times-tables competitions are a school-wide battle with classes, rather than individuals, competing against each other. The library is large and light, with racks of iPads as well as books. The girls have been recently encouraged to buy a book for the library on their birthdays rather than bringing in cupcakes. ‘I’m very fond of Greek myths,’ piped up our guide. Year 6s have a go at debating with boys from Dulwich College.

In one classroom a teacher describes how carefully year 1 manages the transition from reception’s focus on play to more formalised learning of year 2. In reception, one group of girls are cheerfully baking, whilst others play outside in their own walled playground, overlooked by the occasional lorry, but well stocked with activities from a cupboard full of zoo animals, water-play, a shaded area and track for wheelie toys.

Average class size is 22. Pupils with SEN are supported by one-to-one support where necessary. Some 20 per cent of pupils arrive with EAL needs, mostly supported by in-class strategies. Those who need stretching are sometimes offered additional lessons: ‘they really push you,’ said one.

There are two PE sessions a week. Everyone plays netball, hockey, football in the winter with athletics, cricket and swimming at Crystal Palace sports centre in the summer. Some 20 fixtures a term, plus inclusive GDST rallies; gymnastics and dance are popular. One year 5 pupil is hoping to make the GB diving team and various programmes link the school with professional athletes. There is limited outdoor space here, but from year 3 the girls use the senior school’s playing field.

There’s a new focus on the teaching of art and on cross-curricular creativity. A lovely large art and DT room displays meticulous projects: paper-engineered clothing inspired by 1960s fashion particularly caught our eye.

Drama is a real highlight with three major productions a year. ‘My youngest daughter’s production of The Iron Man – told through puppetry and the girls' creation of a giant Iron Man sculpture - and my eldest daughter’s year 6 play Suffragette were both incredibly powerful and emotional experiences, where the excellence and commitment of the teaching staff really shone.’ The latest performance was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There are opportunities on stage and behind the scenes; year 6 prepped by visiting The Globe and we heard lovely singing from smiling girls as they rehearsed.

‘I do think the music teaching has improved dramatically with the inclusion of another prep school music teacher,’ volunteered a parent. All pupils from year 3 up learn the recorder, with nearly half playing another instrument too. There is a large, not terribly inspiring hall for performances and assemblies, but the girls also have access to the senior school’s professional Westwood theatre and recital hall, where we saw them rehearsing.

A really tempting co-curricular programme of clubs and activities runs before and after school and at lunchtimes. Girls can choose from calligraphy, debating, ukulele, drumming, mini-coders, yoga bugs, fencing, ‘thunk club’ - which develops debating and analysis skills - and gardening. Year 6s participate in an enterprise project – coming up with product and service ideas to go on sale at the summer garden party. The school has a passion for eco projects and climate action, getting stuck into the current upturn in global focus. A group of eco warriors were on a high at the time of our visit, having recorded a song and appeared on Blue Peter to talk about it, gaining a commendation from Greta Thurnberg.

Trips make the most of London and the community: it might be Tate Modern, the National Maritime Museum or visiting a local care home. Year 5 have a PGL adventure. There’s skiing for years 5 and 6 to Austria, whilst year 6s have a more sombre end to the year, with a trip to the battlefields of the Somme.

One mother shared, ‘It’s ‘such a nurturing environment, my daughter is very sad to leave.’ Another told us: ‘Girls feel very comfortable about reaching out if they are not happy about something’ and this empowerment certainly rings true. The girls we met were very engaged with the SPIRE peer mentoring scheme, which encourages girls to help each other to take a reflective approach to difficulties.

Mentions of unkindness amongst girls at times did reach our ears from parents. One, whose daughter relocated, here needed to speak to the head before her daughter’s unhappiness was successfully resolved. Another told us: ‘on emailing the school re the matter, I was incredibly impressed at the way the form teacher and head of year dealt with the issue, with no detrimental impact on the friendship group.’ The girls we talked to were unfazed by the occasional ‘mean behaviour’, seeing it as part of school life, keen to find solutions themselves to ‘figure it out’ and respond empathically to what may be a difficulty at home. The school is clear that there is a robust approach to pastoral care: ‘There will always be bumps in the road. You might not feel happy every day in school. We address that and are very open’.

Still very much an all-through school, the name change from ‘junior’ to ‘prep’ reflects a GDST-wide switch recognising that the school’s curriculum and specialist teaching place it firmly in the independent rather than state sector.

Arriving at the school, a large Victorian brick villa set alongside the busy Westwood Hill, a pleasant residential road with mature trees, you are currently greeted by tall metal giraffe sculptures rising from the lawn – which girls tell us reminds them to ‘stick our necks out’. The giraffe theme continues inside with a new giraffe mural rising above the staircase. A few years ago, the school felt like Victorian villa without and within, but it now feels fresh and bright, with a glass-sided main staircase and ground floor classrooms with high-pitched ceilings. Everywhere art and meticulous classroom displays.

Younger girls will now wear navy cardigans with lilac trim, older ones graduate to navy pullovers. Our guides were some of the most delightfully enthusiastic and irrepressible we’ve encountered. Mothers told us: ‘It is a small school and everyone knows everyone. I have myself been witness to the support the girls give each other independent of what year they might be in,’ and ‘each girl is allowed to evolve and develop into a confident, spirited, creative individual.’

Special Education Needs

The school's special needs policy follows the recommendations of the Code of Practice (2001). At admission each pupil is looked at as an individual case to see whether the school can effectively meet her needs. A girl would only be refused entry if she was unable to attain the required academic standard or if the school was unable to cope with the child's difficulty once every effort had been made to accommodate her needs. The school has a Learning Support Department run by a qualified dyslexia teacher. Individual difficulties (eg mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, Aspergers) are handled as appropriate by the Learning Support Department. Pupils whose difficulties form a significant barrier to learning may have an Individual Education Plan and some targeted help from the Learning Support Department. Pupils with specific learning difficulties should be able to cope in mainstream classes but the school offers a supportive environment in which staff are made aware of the ways in which these students can be supported within the classroom. The Junior School also has access to well qualified perpatetic special needs teachers who can give long term individual support during school time and parents may wish to use this facility for which an extra charge is made.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
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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