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The curriculum is engaging, rigorous and broad ranging. Pretty much unanimous praise for the teachers. ‘The teaching is really fantastic, the staff are so dedicated,' said one parent. Despite limited outdoor space (a meagre courtyard and terrace with popular table-tennis tables), sport is big with an excellent range of facilities in Marylebone (boxercise studio, a strength and conditioning suite, a state-of-the-art gym and spin studio), and an impressive go-fight-win head of department (ex Saracens and elite RFU referee). Younger boys at Wetherby have a…

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What the school says...

An independent day school for boys aged 11-18 in central London. Our vision at Wetherby Senior is to provide an outstanding, progressive, all-round education. Each of our boys is valued and encouraged and our aim is to fully prepare them to meet the challenges of being a young man in the 21st Century and contribute fully to the communities in which they live. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2021, Josiah (Joe) Silvester BA PGCE MA (40s), previously deputy head (academic) of co-educational Bancroft’s in Woodford Green. From an educational family – his father was a headmaster, his mother director of education. Attended The Ecclesbourne School near Derby before proceeding to Bristol University to study theology and RS, later taking an MA in educational leadership at King’s College London. First taught in the maintained sector in Birmingham before moving to Ipswich School in Suffolk, then to high-flying, all-boys City of London where he became head of department, housemaster and, latterly, assistant head. ‘I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life in London independent day schools, so Wetherby felt like a good fit,’ he says.

The third head since the school’s launch in 2015, he’s taken over a thriving institution where numbers have grown from just 67 boys to over 400, and he has been tasked with growing it further. Not, however, to the 700 permitted by the ISI. ‘For me, 525 is a Goldilocks size. In a year group of 90, you can run rugby and football teams and it’s large enough for inter-house competitions and to find a kindred spirit who shares your enthusiasm for Warhammer. We’re conscious parents actively choose us because they feel their son will thrive in a school our size.’ Might start teaching philosophy next year – for the moment he’s concentrating on familiarising himself with the lie of the land.

Married to a former teacher, he has two young children (‘delightful little beasts’). In his spare time he is a keen touring cyclist, enjoys golf and has a ‘dreadful weakness for restaurants’.

Entrance

About a quarter come up from Wetherby Prep, the rest from a wide range of schools (prep and primary) across London. All applicants (for 11+ and 13+) must be registered by year 6 and sit the ISEB common pre-test. Selection is based on the results of the test, school reference and interview (for selected candidates). ‘We now get about 160 applicants for 60 year 7 places, and some boys who might have been interviewed in the past, are not being interviewed,’ says the head. A reflection of the shift in parental perception from ‘fall back’ to first choice. A further 5-12 slots in the sixth form, ideally for those with at least 7-9 in intended A-level subjects. ‘I find blanket diktats unhelpful,’ says the head. ‘I’d much rather meet the boy and talk to him and his parents to understand his strengths and weaknesses. If there are a few lower grades in there, that shouldn’t disbar you.’ Families here are very international, and there’s some toing and froing, so occasional vacancies do occur.

Exit

A few leave post GCSE, generally to board or to study options not taught at Wetherby (one to English National Ballet, for example). Those who remain benefit from excellent university guidance, with all boys assigned their own advisor. Majority proceed to London university colleges, the rest sprinkled far and wide in the UK and abroad. Business courses popular, as are STEM subjects - from engineering and maths to computer science and medicine (two in 2021). Occasional few to Oxbridge - school has recently appointed a ‘head of scholarship’ to develop an Oxbridge programme, which should up the ante. The school also offers unusually strong preparation for the US, with two dedicated advisors, and recent places at NYU, Penn, Northeastern, Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.

Latest results

In 2021, 79 per cent 7-9 at GCSE; 70 per cent A*/A at A level (92 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 61 per cent 7-9 at GCSE.

Teaching and learning

The curriculum is engaging, rigorous and broad ranging. Class sizes are small – about 18 - with setting in maths from year 7 and in English and science from year 9, accompanied by considerable focus on literacy and numeracy. Apart from the traditional academic core, all in years 7-11 study philosophy and ‘learning skills’. These, however, do not appear to lead to an enthusiastic use of the school library, which on our visit was completely empty and seemed somewhat skimpily stocked (for example, though newspapers or periodicals are available on line, none were on display). Standard languages are Latin, German, French and Spanish (with the option for native speakers to take GCSE early), aided by a language lab and assistance from native speakers. Keen linguists can also attend the modern foreign language culture club.

Seventeen A levels on offer including philosophy, drama and business studies. Most do an EPQ and have the option to take the A level + course which covers psychology, sociology, anthropology and ancient history. Results in science and ICT notably strong, served by an abundance of well-resourced labs and encouragement to compete in external science competitions (eg biology Olympiad) and school-based clubs (for future medics, coding, robotics etc). Maths and economics the most popular A levels by far, though English lit and history get a fair showing.

Pretty much unanimous praise for the teachers. ‘The teaching is really fantastic, the staff are so dedicated,' said one parent. ‘My son has an excellent relationship with the teachers, which makes him feel free to explore new things,' voiced another. Most importantly, however, praise comes from the boys themselves. ‘I never used to like physics and maths, now I love them,’ said one. ‘We get a lot of attention,’ confided another. ‘I was struggling in a chemistry lesson because I didn’t understand what to do, and the chemistry teacher spent a lot of time with me until I understood, but still managed to keep track of everyone else.’

Learning support and SEN

SEN support overseen by a dedicated SENCO with screening on arrival for dyslexia etc - and school works closely with an educational psychologist. Problems are generally mild, however, and virtually all manage by being set different work in class rather than withdrawal from lessons. Fluent written and spoken English an entry requirement but additional language tuition can be arranged (at an extra cost). The split site would not be ideal for those with serious mobility issues.

The arts and extracurricular

Drama (offered at GCSE and A level) is supported by outsize drama studios with professional lighting and sound systems, LAMDA exams and visits from industry professionals (such as Frantic Assembly and Les Enfants Terribles). Three large-scale productions a year - upper school, lower school and house – include specially commissioned work and input from professional set, costume and lighting designers. ‘My son was always in the chorus before he got to Wetherby, but in his first term he wrote a play that was performed at RADA,’ said one mother. ‘They discovered a side he didn’t know he had in him.’ Regular outings to the west end and prior to the pandemic, abroad (eg Broadway and Hollywood).

Music – with facilities that include a music-tech suite and acoustically treated drum room - receives high praise. ‘The music is amazing,’ said one parent. ‘When my son arrived we were immediately contacted by the head of the department.’ All year 7s provided with brass instruments. ‘Brass is great fun,’ says the enthusiastic head of music. ‘It’s a very physical instrument, a stimulating introduction.’ And one that clearly helps keep interest going longer term. (A group of GSCE musicians were rapt when we interrupted a discussion on whether the harpsichord had a retainer pedal.) Opportunities to play abound in the school orchestra, string ensemble, funk band, wind ensemble, three brass bands, guitar ensemble, two rock bands, choirs and a DJ Club (led by a professional DJ).

Art and graphic design taught by subject specialists in light, well-equipped studios, furnished with banks of computers, a laser cutter, printing presses and kiln. Regular art exhibitions – younger boys show at the Saatchi gallery - and work prominently displayed throughout the school. But the take up at A level is slim (just one last year).

An abbreviated lunch hour on Fridays allows co-curricular activities to be given ‘a proper bit of space.’ Options range from the purely leisure (bridge, cinema) to practical (Young Enterprise, scientific illustration) and academic (maths challenge and maths support). ‘Every person can find something for themselves,’ said one boy.’ After-school clubs further the range, as does the school magazine, Barometer. ‘It’s a brilliant vector for anything you want to write,’ said its hyper articulate editor. ‘It’s a great way to develop your interests and make your mark.’ Parents praise the extent and variety. ‘They offer a lot of different things, so my son does tennis and cricket, but he also joined the reading club.’ A multitude of trips, both local and further afield – Bletchley Park (for year 8 mathematicians), Barcelona (for linguists and footballers) – are now being resumed.

Sport

Despite limited outdoor space (a meagre courtyard and terrace with popular table-tennis tables), sport is big with an excellent range of facilities in Marylebone (boxercise studio, a strength and conditioning suite, a state-of-the-art gym and spin studio), and an impressive go-fight-win head of department (ex Saracens and elite RFU referee). Sport - compulsory for all and timetabled twice - is viewed as invaluable for developing character, building friendships, and ensuring physical and mental health. ‘We really want to push on health and wellbeing and lifetime participation.’ Swimming at nearby Marshall Street spa and leisure centre, while a sports home-away-from-home at Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club – grounds to two professional rugby clubs - gives the school access to Astroturf, grass pitches, tennis courts and cricket pitches (but does involves a one-hour-plus round trip).

Weekly fixtures throughout the year against London secondaries large and small (Westminster, Latymer, Ibstock Place etc) as well as against the prep, means the school fields teams that accommodate all. ‘I really like the fact that you still get to play even if you are quite low down and not in the A/B/C,’ said one year 7. Year 10 boys are provided with a personalised development ‘pathway’ ‘to improve their physical literacy’. And, if mainstream games are not your thing, there are plenty of alternatives, from climbing to yoga. The school also boasts several elite athletes in swimming, football (soccer and American) and skiing, who are well supported in their ambitions.

Ethos and heritage

Wetherby Senior School is a member of the Wetherby family of schools (four in London, one in New York) run by Alpha Plus, a private-equity owned group. As a newly founded all-boys school, the senior school is something of an outlier in the secondary-school landscape, working against the widespread trend in the opposite direction. ’Different schools offer the right fit for different boys,’ says head. ‘Choice is what we’re big on.’

Set in the heart of central London, the school sits on two sites in fashionable Marylebone. The original building – red brick Queen Anne - benefits from abundant light, and spacious rooms. The second, more recently purchased, which houses the library and cafeteria, has a more office-like feel. All boys use both buildings, with timetables designed to minimise the five-minute trek between them. Sixth formers have their own common room and cafe, but are also allowed out, making good use of local eateries.

The Wetherby brand was established with the original pre-prep in Notting Hill, and the retro red-piped, grey uniform blazers are largely unchanged since Princes William and Harry started their school days there in the 1980s. The education at the senior school, however, successfully blends modern with trad. ‘Some schools think they know everything,’ said one sixth former, ‘but Wetherby is more open-minded. They really listen and interact.’ Another, amongst the first intake, felt it made the most of its tabula rasa. ‘The fact it was a new school really attracted me. Other schools have a command-and-control model. Wetherby is a lot more flexible. For example, though you have to do sport, they let you play ping pong.’

The ethos is holistic and forward looking, with a focus on life beyond school. ‘We’re developing whole people,’ says the head. ‘It’s not just how well they do academically, but how well they function in society.’ Something reflected in the student experience. ‘They’re very open to helping you find out what you’re passionate about,’ said one. ‘I said I wanted to play the tuba, and though there was no time in Iessons for one niche instrument, the teacher taught me in the lunch hour.’ Pupils also enthuse about the fact that they ‘don’t need to be a particular sort of person’, and about the school’s friendliness. ‘There’s a lot of interaction between year groups and a real community feel.’ Huge thumbs up – literally – for the food, so much so that the school council is now policing the consumption of cheese!

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Younger boys at Wetherby have a form tutor who monitors academic progress, behaviour and wellbeing. Sixth formers are supported by a team of specialist tutors who advise on options, university applications and careers. The tutor is the first point of contact for students, parents and staff, and parents praise the excellent communication they have with their sons’ tutors.

Boys also split into horizontal groups within their year group known as ‘tribs’ (short for tributaries, and named for London’s hidden rivers), competing with rival tribs in sport, debating etc. ‘We’re not in a particularly successful house,’ said one, ‘but even if we come last, we have a sense of belonging and want to see the others motivated.’ Plenty of leadership roles throughout (prefects, head boy, trib captain, form prefect), while year 12 peer mentors are trained as big brothers, and year 10s become anti-bullying ambassadors. Parents find teachers also very much on the case. ‘My son went to a party with some other new boys who gave him a really hard time,’ said one mother. ‘He was very upset so I wrote to his tutor even though I didn’t know the names of the boys involved, and the following week, the teachers were watching out for him. It never happened again. It really spelt out how it should be done.’

All aspects of wellbeing taken seriously, with a dedicated team offering one-to-one counselling and/or coaching to address anything from planning for the future to conflict resolution. ‘They really care. My son has gone from being a very unhappy boy with tears before school to wanting to get to school every day. Before he wasn’t achieving because he was so sad; now he’s a top student.’ In this single-sex environment, the relationship between the sexes is particularly relevant. ‘We had a genuine structured commitment in place before Me Too,’ says the head. ‘It’s not tokenistic, it’s woven in.’ The in-house provision (weekly PSHE with tutors receiving training beforehand) is supplemented with visits from Beyond Equality, a team of men who discuss topics such as sex, sexism and consent, and the ‘great men’ lecture series, in which visiting speakers share their life stories to inspire boys ‘to lead with integrity and sound judgement’ and be ‘empathetic and non-judgemental’. On a less theoretical plain, the school has regular contact with nearby all-girls’ schools Queen’s College and Francis Holland, sharing lectures, debating, drama, music, DofE etc. Boys seem happy with the balance. ‘I have friends from the girls’ schools, but the advantage is that you’re not distracted while you’re at school,’ commented one sixth former.

The head has introduced a programme of service and outreach, appointing a head of service. ‘Boys here are very fortunate and privileged, and it’s incumbent they have an awareness of their common course with other human beings and understand what you can learn from helping others.’ Recent activities to raise this consciousness include entertaining pensioners to afternoon tea, and energetic fund raising through activities like the spin challenge. The school is non-denominational, but the head gets the chance ‘to ascend to the pulpit’ and deliver messages such as these at the church around the corner, where whole school assemblies are held.

Pupils and parents

Families very much a reflection of the school’s Zone 1 location, and while most are in London for the long haul, they’re multi-cultural (often Anglo-European or Anglo-American), multi-lingual and cosmopolitan. Boys are unusually poised and articulate. The school has traditionally taken those who’ve not necessarily found it easy to leap the highest academic hurdles, but here they’re given the confidence and focussed attention to surpass expectations. ‘My son didn’t get into his chosen school at 11+ and was quite disheartened, now he’s off to a leading university,’ said one happy father. ‘Wetherby has done very well by him.’ Boys are cheerful and polite – ‘I hope you have a nice rest of your day,’ said one 11-year-old - and they are respectful to each other too, listening attentively while their friends speak.

Money matters

Fees relatively high compared to other London independent day schools, reflective not only of the bespoke education and outstanding facilities, but also the lack of historic endowment. Some means-tested bursaries on offer, administered through the Gold Standard Charitable Trust, which oversees assistance at all Alpha Plus schools. At least one boy in each year receives a fully-funded place, with others issued on a sliding scale.

The last word

An energetic, forward-looking school with a traditional core but thoroughly modern approach to caring for boys and helping them succeed academically – and in life.

Please note: 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.

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