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In prep, we found year 4s deconstructing owl pellets and identifying prey in a lab. Another class was listening to the story of Alan Turing, while pupils in the computer room were decoding Julius Caesar’s secret messages. The curriculum is described as ‘National Curriculum Plus.’ Head is open about the fact that it is an academic school and pushes children to fulfil their potential. But enrichment is high on the agenda too. On Wednesday afternoons...

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What the school says...

Yarm School is a leading independent coeducational day school for children aged 3-18 situated in the attractive and historic town of Yarm on a beautiful stretch of the River Tees. A Yarm School education starts in the School's Nursery and continues through the Pre-Prep and Prep School to the Senior School and Sixth Form.

Children thrive in the Nursery's warm and nurturing environment, benefiting from small class sizes, a rich curriculum and dedicated teachers. The Nursery is superbly resourced and provides a safe, secure and stimulating environment for children to play and interact, promoting decision making and independence from an early age. Recognised as being at the forefront of best practice and building a 'can do' attitude in pupils by Early Excellence, Yarm School Nursery meets the needs of every child and ensures a smooth transition into Nursery and beyond.

Life in the Pre-Prep (4-7) is excellent preparation for Year 3 and beyond and every pupil is primed to make the most of the exciting opportunities that lie ahead in the Preparatory School. Pupils are taught to be ambitious, curious and confident as they adopt a lifelong love of learning.

The Preparatory School continues to support and nurture pupils in an environment in which they can thrive. Excellent teacher:pupil ratios and an outstanding pastoral care programme ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of every child whilst instilling a strong sense of community throughout the School. Active partnerships are built and maintained with all families who are involved in ensuring every child has a happy, safe and fulfilled school experience through regular formal and informal communication, weekly newsletters, parent curriculum sessions and fun community events.

Children throughout the School benefit from a diverse education with expert teachers in French, music, computing, art, design and technology, PE and Games, dance, and chess. The broad and diverse curriculum is supplemented with an extensive extra-curricular programme, regular performance opportunities in music, dance and drama, a comprehensive outdoor learning programme, regular school trips as well as a wide range of visiting speakers and specialist workshops that all enhance early learning and development. Pupils also benefit from access to specialist facilities, including a 750-seat auditorium, music studio, computing suite, science lab, woodland school, floodlit astro and many sporting and recreational amenities.
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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


Since 2013, William (Bill) Sawyer. Hails from Tonbridge, Kent. Business studies degree from Leeds Beckett; PGCE from Sussex. Arrived at Yarm via spells in a state primary in Bermondsey and two schools in Kenya, including three years as headmaster in Mombasa. Returned to these shores to be ‘charmed by the warmth of the community’ at Yarm. Never one to stand on the touchlines, this very active head had just spent the weekend completing his level 2 rugby coaching when we met him. His motto: ‘Take up opportunities and get stuck in!’ and he lives up to this with gusto.

Warm and engaging, he laughs easily, a smile never far from his face. Children tell us he is ‘so fun’ and his juggling in assembly has to be seen to be believed. During our visit, we spotted him running around the school, popping up in different guises like a jack-in-the-box – in a remembrance assembly, a games lessons, as well as supervising poppy collections. Generally highly visible. Describes himself as a ‘passionate educator - sportsman, juggler, chef and family man.’

Parents rate him highly, telling us he ‘knows all the children’s names’, ‘always stands at the gate’, and ‘professional, an excellent communicator, a people person.’ ‘We need to chain him to the gate so he doesn’t leave!’ said one. Wife, Sarah, teaches here and their two children attend. So no need for the padlock just yet.

An advocate of the growth mindset, he encourages children to see mistakes and failure as important learning opportunities. Children are on board with this, not just in the classroom but in the extensive sporting and extracurricular programme. While unashamedly competitive in sports and the house system, he is keen that children ‘learn to win with grace, learn from losses and not to win at all costs.’

Ambition for the future of the school is evident, his eyes lighting up as he talked us through large glossy displays of the new facilities currently being built, to include new performance area, flexible learning space and library. He also speaks engagingly about the school’s tree metaphor which conveys its values - children adopt this arboreal symbolism from reception and refer to the ‘happy tree’ and the value ‘roots’ in conversations, unprompted. Parents also state that the school values are ‘intrinsic’.


Entry into pre-prep via taster days, at any time, with tours always possible. School says these allow parents and staff to get a sense of a match for the child. For prep entry – when, again, entry is possible at any age - there are entrance tests based on ‘national curriculum expectations at the relevant age.’ No exemplar materials available. Two form entry in reception to year 2, expanded to three forms for years 3 – 6.


Most progress to the senior school across the road (97 per cent in 2023). As with external applicants, they all take the school’s 11+. One parent expressed concern about what they’d do if the senior school was not the best fit for their less academic child, but head insists ‘the child is always at the centre of the process.'

Our view

No excuses for parking wars in this school. There is a shiny new car park with plenty of space for drop-off and pick up, spaces clearly demarcated by year group. School buildings comprise a mix of early to mid-20th century and more modern, purpose-built additions – the last was completed in 2012 and a new development is currently underway. Blend works well to provide spacious and airy learning and assembly spaces where children’s work adorns walls and hangs from ceilings. Also cosy nooks for one-to-one intervention. Every reception child has their own personalised display space. We were also taken with the ‘mood pots’ for every child in all classrooms - they drop in their name tag on arrival to indicate their feelings, allowing staff to have a quiet word when required. The arboreal metaphor in action. Children do the same for their peers, with a buddy system in place.

Pre-prep is adjacent to the prep buildings, the proximity facilitating healthy interaction and a smooth transition. Learning through play is central at this stage. We observed an obstacle course being tackled by year 1 in the large indoor assembly space, and nursery children busy outside building with blocks and exploring the creative play areas with concentration and enthusiasm. Reception were engaged in a range of activities from painting and model making to woodwork, all developing fine motor skills. Older children were investigating the absorption qualities of various materials. There was lots of cooperation and independent exploration, with plenty of guidance and support available. Pupils can make use of ‘floor books’ which enable them to share their learning. These are then put on display - ideal summary for parents to peruse. Specialist teachers for music, PE and French from the off, and years 1 and 2 also have specialist-taught lessons in computing and art. Children were quick to convey their enthusiasm for learning. Lessons are ‘not just understandable, they make it fun,’ they told us.

In prep, we found year 4s deconstructing owl pellets and identifying prey in a lab. Another class was listening to the story of Alan Turing, while pupils in the computer room were decoding Julius Caesar’s secret messages. In history, pupils were learning about mummification, carrying out a mock burial with appropriate reverence and solemnity. The prep school has a full complement of facilities – with classrooms all well-resourced - although one parent did bemoan the lack of a pool on site. One quirk is a red telephone box acting as a book exchange resource, which our guides loved. All children from year 3 to 6 have a Chromebook, with years 4 and above able to take theirs home. The library doubles as an ICT suite and boasts plenty of bean bags and even a wigwam for added quiet and comfort. Children act as library assistants and there is a book buddy scheme where older pupils help their younger peers. Outside facilities include a large play area and access to a woodland resource, including a yurt for all.

Approximately 19 pupils per class, max 22, with the curriculum described as ‘National Curriculum Plus.’ Head is open about the fact that it is an academic school and pushes children to fulfil their potential. Termly ‘light touch’ testing is used to monitor them against expected outcomes and as preparation for progression to the senior school. But enrichment is high on the agenda too. On Wednesday afternoons children pick from activities ranging from parkour to photography. And Monday’s final lesson is an enrichment carousel when children experience activities from mindfulness to Italian. Mindfulness is a big thing here, as is wellbeing more generally. One parent commented on his child feeling worried prior to a performance in a concert, but doing ‘some mindfulness’ meant they were able to participate happily.

In the learning skills department, SEN leaders support individual needs, including a small number of children with English as an additional language. Aim is to support initially through differentiation within classrooms. The most able get extension and challenge tasks, such as the Phoenix Challenge, a project-based opportunity to produce an extended piece on a topic of their own choice.

Sporting fixtures within houses and against other schools abound, with swimming and gymnastics both on offer in addition to all the usual team sports. All children get the chance to be part of a team and to represent the school. ‘Participation is the priority’.

Music, dance and drama also follow this ethos. All pre-prep and year 3 children participate in nativity productions and the whole prep school throws shapes in the Dance Showcase. Musicians are inspired by tuning in with senior school ensembles. Pupils were quick to tell us about all the musical instruments they learn. The school’s art rooms were also popular with our guides. Displays include ceramic poppies, images to celebrate the Jubilee and walls with ‘work from home’ and ‘practically anything’.

The school day starts at 8.40am and is split into six lessons of 50 minutes, with daily assembly for all and an extra-long lunchbreak to facilitate the 80+ clubs which also run before and after school. Snacks, including fruit, are provided during breaks. Wraparound care available from 7.45am to 6pm.

Children organise regular charity days, recently for Age UK, and they embrace diversity, telling us all about Diwali and Chinese New Year activities they have experienced. From reception, trips and residential experiences are on the menu, ranging from RSPB Saltholme to Edinburgh for pre-prep to London and the Lakes for older years.

Children speak about the kindness of staff. The older ones also support younger peers – ‘Teachers deserve a break sometimes too,’ explained one earnestly. The school takes student voice seriously with regular meetings with senior staff, including the head. The food council recently managed to increase the number of times katsu curry was on offer. Lots of enthusiastic discussion with pupils at lunch about the great food while we enjoyed tasty tacos.

The allure of Yarm is felt from far and wide. Coaches run from year 3 upwards on 10 dedicated routes including Saltburn, Darlington, Sedgefield and Thirsk. Some parents travel from even further afield, very occasionally up to an hour each way. They are generally from professional backgrounds, typically dual income - notably medics, entrepreneurs and those working in North East industries. There are some overseas families and a good mix of ethnicities. Parents new to Yarm, like their children, have buddies and are invited to numerous social events – and it’s not just for the mums, there’s also a dads’ curry night. Parents describe Yarm as ‘unpretentious, smart and forward-thinking.’ ‘The kids are at the heart of all they do,’ said one; another that the school ‘has shaped their future’. Conversations with pupils hurtle through a bewildering array of topics – they wanted to tell us about everything from STEAM activity week to peer mentoring, building Zen gardens for mindfulness, sporting achievements and aspiring to emulate the values tree. Yet, thanks to ‘kind staff,’ Yarm is ‘a very settled place to be’.

The last word

The school's USPs, according to the head, are that it's a place where every child is known well, where ‘getting better never stops’ and it is ‘cool to move forward’. Parents concur, with one summing up the school as ‘the complete package’. Pupils are articulate, cooperative and confident, as well as happy and proud to attend.

Special Education Needs

Pupils are offered assessment and support (usually on a paired or one to one basis) should this be required. Specialist staff work within the school to achieve this. Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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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