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The Good Schools Guide

As published in The Good Schools Guide January 2019

Good Schools Guide LogoFrom an already strong base, this is a school that feels on the up and for a prep, it takes an impressively long-term look, preparing children not just for their next school but for life. All this in a happy, positive – not to mention immaculate – environment.

Headmistress

Since January 2018, Shelley Lance, previously Deputy Head.  Theology degree from King's College London; began her teaching career at Alleyn’s, then taught at Whitgift, where she was Head of Lower School and responsible for the school’s pastoral care provision.  She joined Feltonfleet in 2010.

A self-confessed ‘reluctant head’ - ‘I love the frontline coalface interaction, which can very easily be squeezed out when you’re leading a school,’ she explains.  So she teaches RS and Mindfulness, as well as sitting in on other classes, including in Pre-Prep, and doing gate duty every morning.  ‘It can mean long days and be exhausting, but it pays dividends because I know all the teachers, children and parents, which facilitates easy communications and means I sense frustrations and know when changes are needed’.  Charismatic, grounded, gutsy and highly articulate, she has certainly not shied away from making changes, including a major rebrand, replacing compartmentalised learning with a more thematic approach and moving away from Common Entrance towards ‘the equally rigorous model’ of the Prep School Baccalaureate. Plus – and this is the real biggie – a major expansion of Pre-Prep. Parents call her a ‘natural leader’, ‘responsive’, ‘phenomenal’ and ‘everything you could want in a head’, while pupils say she’s ‘fun’ and ‘very involved’. 

Married to Ed, Head of Lower School at Epsom College, they have a young son, Henry.  Enjoys family time, the great outdoors, skiing and reading.

Entrance

Largely non-selective, the Pre-Prep works on a first-come-first-served entry basis which means, says the school, that ‘broad range of ability inevitably comes through.’  A phased Pre-Prep expansion from 86 to 160 places will make competition less of an extreme sport than it was, although parents are well advised to bag one of the places by registering at birth. Further external places available for Year 3 entry, when you can expect border controls in form of Maths and English assessment plus interview ‘to search out character and enthusiasm for learning’.  (Own Year 2 children aren’t tested.)  Occasional places also crop up, including in Year 7 following a few post 11+ departures at end of Year 6.

Exit

Epsom currently most popular followed by St John's and Wellington.  Other destinations include Eton, Harrow, Brighton, Charterhouse, King’s College, Hampton, Cranleigh and Reed’s.  Good guidance on future schools, and school has right connections, reckon parents; scholarships across the board for Art, Drama, DT, Music, Sport and Academic usually in the early 20s.

Our view

The swish, modern and airy reception area makes for a grand entrance. We could almost have imagined ourselves in an upmarket corporate establishment until we spotted a pile of pencil cases on the floor and a procession of boys and girls in their smart blue blazers. On the left is a stunning performing arts centre and dance studio (a joy to see the little ones tap dancing); on the right, the vast glass walls frame a striking view of the main prep building (mid-19th century gothic), which you loop round the corridor to get to. Here you are met with yet more stunning interiors, this time more traditional, including the Head’s designer office – think interior magazine-worthy grey armchairs, orchids, scented candles, beautiful art (one by an Upper School pupil, the rest by the school’s Art teacher) and – reflecting her approachability and transparency – a new glass-fronted door. From this sun-drenched room (even on the January day we visited), you get a panoramic view of the sweep of green stretching away down a gentle slope towards the grass pitch, idyllically bounded by woods and dipping pond much used by all year groups, plus the very popular treehouse now complete with slide (‘the children begged for one for three whole years!’ says Head).

On both sides are the learning blocks for Year 3s upwards – soon to be joined by new labs, teacher rooms and a whole new teaching block, which have now passed planning stage. Plenty of idiosyncratic charm throughout, from revamped Lower School block classrooms with winning cosiness, colour and light to seniors’ French classroom with miniature shop and restaurant, much used for role play. Calvi, the separate Pre-Prep building across the road, is also winningly equipped, from own hall to shaded play areas (trees a feature everywhere) with big sandpit and marked out scooter track. Plentiful wildlife, too, some guinea pigs, available for cuddles, and tadpoles, who aren’t. 

At one time, the school was known locally as one of the less academic; no longer, with a strong and dedicated staff cohort and ever-enhanced strategies to ensure the curriculum and its delivery are top notch.  Parents generally delighted with academic running - ‘there were some weaker teachers, but they’ve been weeded out – I’d say they are all good to very good now,’ said one.  Maximum class sizes of 20 (occasionally 22), optimum size for lively classroom atmosphere, reckons school. We saw pupils crawling around a lab in the dark with torches (studying how shadows work), younger ones gleefully playing in a recorder group and the DT lab ready for pupils to make the likes of mood lights and rulers; this is a bustling, engaging environment.  Specialist teaching for French, PE, Swimming and Music from Year 1, when they get shot at DT and Digital Learning too.  Options grow with age and by Year 5, all subjects are taught by specialists.  Setting for English and Maths from Year 3 and in Science and French from Year 7.  SEN and gifted and talented provision overseen by the four-strong Learning Enrichment department who use an integration model as much as possible; one parent told us, ‘It’s fine and certainly better than it was.’ 

Strong range of sport on offer (netball, hockey and cricket basic range for girls, football, rugby, hockey and cricket for boys, swimming, cross-country and athletics for both).  Fab facilities too in the 25-acre estate, including indoor swimming pool, Astroturf, yodelling-quality sports hall, hard surface tennis courts and two rifle ranges (air and .22) on top of scenic sports fields.  Strategy is to seek out challenge, everyone representing the school regardless of talent, although some parents feel ‘girls' sport isn’t taken quite as seriously’ – a view not lost on the Head, whose prep school district meetings often involve fighting for sporting equality via a more varied fixtures model. ‘Bottom line is we’re on it and we’ve added two more sports coaches to add to our own depth of expertise.’  Plenty of tolerance for the rugby-averse – not the case elsewhere.  Mega results in shooting - teams beat everyone everywhere, including older siblings in senior schools (Wellington and Epsom College).  Coach, who travels here from Wales ‘because he likes us’, secret weapon. 

Drama popular – it would be hard not to be enthusiastic about performing in the swanky theatre.  Parents describe the performances as ‘outstanding’ and impressively, drama is also used for raising serious issues such as bullying and gender wars.  Good collaboration with Music department, the head of whom has an exceptional reputation – 84 per cent of pupils learn an instrument here and well over half are in one of the five school choirs (junior and senior), with the 15 single-instrument ensembles also popular.  Year 2s went off to sing in an old folks’ home when we visited.  A welcoming and well-equipped art room is a haven for the creative, with iPads used to photograph all work – ‘it gives me an opportunity to give feedback actually on their work,’ explained teacher.

Weekly and flexi plus day boarding options from Year 3 - latter can include a full boarding day without the sleepover.  In reality, it’s only a handful that weekly board; much more popular are the one, two or three times a week flexi options which parents use for helping prepare their offspring for senior school, encouraging greater independence or simply because their children ‘want nothing more than to stay over at school with their friends, despite us living 10 minutes away,’ as one parent put it.  Homely dorms (though pink for girls’ dorms and blue for boys’ seems outdated) with 46 beds in total.  ‘Trial nights’ are popular, say pupils - themed nights encouraging pupils who haven’t stayed overnight before to have a go.  A good programme of activities, the opportunity to mix with pupils across the years and a much-loved matron are all part of the pull.  ‘I wondered how much homework my son would actually get done, but it’s tightly monitored, followed by the fun stuff in the sports hall,’ one parent said.  Here, as elsewhere, essential to shut ears to competing clamour of A3 that borders one side of site, though pupils oblivious. 

Rigorous pastoral system subject to routine interrogation, with frequent dedicated meetings and an emphasis on staff accountability.  Pupils told us, ‘We all have a favourite teacher so that’s the first port of call for most of us’.  Impressive focus on mental health, including from outside speakers.  ‘Every child knows every child, so the younger ones grow up knowing it will be their job to take care of the newer ones later on,’ said one parent.  ‘They take their leadership responsibilities, like being Prefect, very seriously,’ said another.  Unusually, pupils told us there’s ‘no bullying’; Head wise not to make such bold claims, but all can list a whole bunch of prevention policies that, as one pupil put it, ‘stops friendship fallouts turning into anything worse’. 

Behaviour good, with pupils reporting that strictness increases as you get older – ‘it’s always fair and good preparation for your next school,’ said one.  Pupils we met (there’s a pretty equal gender split) were lively, happy and comfortable in their own skin.  And although we arrived at drop-off time to a sea of black Range Rovers, school says (and parents agree) that families range from the very wealthy to those who ‘really work hard to get their children here.’  Most hail from Weybridge, Cobham and Esher, although there are some groans about growing numbers from London – ‘I think the school should set their cap as to whether they’re a local school or not. The big increase has changed the dynamic for the school, especially for playdates,’ said one.  Food good – that hasn’t always been the case, say parents.  Ditto with affordability of uniform – this was a major gripe in the past. 

From an already strong base, this is a school that feels on the up and for a prep, it takes an impressively long-term look, preparing children not just for their next school but for life.  All this in a happy, positive – not to mention immaculate – environment.

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