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The Good Schools Guide

As published in The Good Schools Guide

Good Schools Guide LogoThis atmospheric school seems set for still better things to come in years ahead. As long as the kindness that really does emanate from delightful pupils remains, it’s a gem heading for disco ball sparkle.

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. She is married to Ed, head of lower school at Epsom College.

Entrance

Though no longer as non-selective as it used to be, exam success still ‘not the be all and end all,’ thought one mother. 

First come, first served nursery entry means, says the school, that ‘broad range of ability inevitably comes through.’ Parents well advised to be fleet of foot, successful bagging one of just 20 places achieved by registering at (or possibly during) birth. 

Competition for 35 external year 3 places less of an extreme sport, though popularity growing so fast that border controls in form of maths and English assessment plus interview ‘to search out character and enthusiasm for learning’ are now in place. (Own year 2 children aren’t tested.) No official feeders, though The Rowans, Wimbledon College Prep, Lion House, The Merlin, Weston Green and Glenesk all feature on suppliers’ list. 

Lots of behind the scenes liaison to ensure smooth transition to prep, extra support formalised in year 5 (English and maths), setting introduced for most subjects in year 7 - in class and one-to-one support for 11 EAL and 80 or so SEN pupils a fixture on the menu, head’s desire to ensure barriers posed by learning difficulties are surmounted tempered with realities of what can be achieved. While classroom disruption, if severe, is the point at which school says no, parents praise thoroughness of approach. ‘They did assessments and have been all over it – definitely worth it,’ said one whose child has mild difficulties. 

Occasional places also crop up, year 7 next biggest entry point following some post 11+ departures at end of year 6. 

Judging by children we met, school’s character-judging abilities are first rate, pupils to a boy or girl displaying a maturity, vivacity and sense of fun that made them outstanding tour guides (and some of the hottest - blazer-clad, through choice, on boiling June day).

Exit

Good guidance on future schools. Epsom currently most popular followed by Reed’s, St John's and Bradfield College. Also Charterhouse, Wellington College, Worth and Cranleigh. One or two to Box Hill, Sherborne, Bryanston, St Edward's, St George's and Tring.

School has right connections, reckon parents; 21 scholarships, mostly for sport, but also art, drama, DT, music, academic.

Some year 6 departures inevitable, says school, ‘mainly those who parents perceive would struggle with CE.' Makes equal boy/girl split in each year group commendable, though with year 7 places easily filled, virtue pays off.

Our view

‘Really lovely,’ say parents, who warn against being over-influenced by either location (side turn off fast road makes for ‘hairy’ arrivals and departures, says one mother) or building work (a performing arts centre was recently built and is now open). 

Occasional cement mixing aside, charm is order of day. Calvi, the separate building for nursery to year 2 pupils, winningly equipped, from own hall to shaded play areas (trees a feature everywhere) with big sandpit and marked out scooter track, library that doubles as ICT room (now re-christened Digital Learning Facility - good tinies’ tongue-twister, we’d have thought), double-banked computers forming orderly row down the middle. 

Sensible child and parent-friendly touches, from box packed with named bottles of sun cream by door on sunny days to big, smiley puppets adding comforting touch to office. Plentiful wildlife, too, some real (popular guinea pigs, available for cuddles, and tadpoles, who aren’t) others artistic creations (we liked jellyfish hung at optimum viewing height for the under-7s; adults compelled to peer through forest of dangling paper fronds, Sir David Attenborough-fashion). 

Homely domesticity extends to main prep building (mid-19th century Victorian gothic), which opens out into sweep of green, stretching away down gentle slope towards grass pitch, idyllically bounded by woods, dipping pond much used by all year groups, boarders given exclusive romping rights once day children have gone home. ‘Wouldn’t even guess space was there,’ said parent. ‘Like a little hidden pocket.’ Weekly and flexi plus day boarding options - latter can include a full boarding day without the sleepover.

Here, as elsewhere, essential to shut ears to competing clamour of A3 that borders one side of site, though pupils oblivious.

Head’s study, essay in dignified blues, gets best of panoramic views, where life ‘is all happening in front of you,’ said parent, from matches to pleasant end of day tradition of biscuit distribution, children flocking in from all over grounds in response to telepathic signal beamed out by biggest box of bourbons we’ve ever seen, like navy-clad pigeons. 

Plenty of idiosyncratic charm throughout, from recently revamped junior block (years 3 and 4) classrooms with winning cosiness, colour and light to seniors’ French classroom with miniature shop and restaurant, complete with groceries and chalk ‘specials’ board, much used for role play. 

We’d also recommend viewing astonishing Latin room, folders block-banked by colour like giant rubik cube, walls ringed with sturdy supermarket bags – one per child - for instant decluttering before tests, and even back-office, Perspex towers of meticulously labelled stationary boxes soaring to the ceiling, the whole like prayer to Roman god of organisation (if one existed). 

Teaching styles similarly varied, shock and awe a science speciality. Most staff are ‘lovely’, said pupil. ‘My son randomly said, “Mummy, I’ve got the best teacher in the whole world, because she’s really kind",’ confirmed pre-prep parent. 

Best, judging by quick-fire exchange with prep pupils in English lesson to tease out clues in short story, are also brilliant, though zeal not yet universal, thought parents. ‘Some are not as motivated as I think they should be,’ reckoned a mum. 

Years 1 and 2 stick broadly to national curriculum (as was) with specialist teaching for French, PE, swimming and music and get shot at DT, too – as well as input from grand-sounding and popular director of digital learning who sweeps in to ‘enhance use of computer’ - visits nursery and reception, too. Options grow with age, array of tempting additions bulked up in prep, judo to trampolining all good, food tech so sought after that canniest book up in winter, the longest term. 

Surprise subject addition all way through from year 1 is positive living, new(ish) big hitter on PSHE timetable, stopping in year 7 (when perhaps pupils are so positive expectations need to be hoicked down slightly). ‘Love it,’ said pupil. ‘It’s about living a happy and good life.’ Useful antidote to emphasis on emotional resilience made much of elsewhere. 

Maximum class sizes of 18, optimum size for lively classroom atmosphere, reckons school, and overall teacher ratio is around half that (one to just over nine) ensuring help for any waifs and strays (almost universally true, save for one child whiling away whole class reading session by reconfiguring contents of pencil case, apparently unobserved). 

Parents generally delighted with academic running, bar desire for a little more in the way of help both with exam preparation - ‘Child didn’t even know how to revise,’ thought one – and additional feedback outside formal parent teacher meetings. ‘Have to assume no news is good news,’ said prep parent. The school is on the case with ‘eye on the reporting structure,’ also stressing staff responsiveness to parental concerns whenever and however expressed. 

A few will relate to sport. Strong range on offer (netball, hockey, rounders and lacrosse basic range for girls, football, rugby, hockey and cricket for boys, swimming, cross-country and athletics for both). Fab facilities, too, indoor swimming pool, Astroturf and ‘suite’ of cricket nets most recent to be added to 25-acre site which already accommodates yodelling-quality sports hall, hard surface tennis courts and two rifle ranges (air and .22) on top of scenic sports fields. All tucked in neatly, consistency of design making additions easy on the eye. 

School recognises not just talent but wholesome attitudes by awarding internal sports scholarships to year 7 pupils (does same with drama and music). Strategy is to seek out challenge, everyone representing the school regardless of talent, plenty of tolerance for the rugby-averse – not the case elsewhere. ‘Often the nicest boys who do hockey,’ said year 7 pupil. 

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. Success not always replicated elsewhere, felt parent. Enviably good sportsmanship comes at a price - teams losing when ‘I know that if they had wanted it a bit more, they could have done it.’ Delicate balancing act, thinks parent, who reckons top layer of loveliness needs to be scraped away and long-buried competitive instincts excavated so sport can take off. ‘Winning matters, that’s how life is, you get the job or you don’t get the job. School needs to teach pupils that should love to win but that it’s OK to lose.’ 

Performing arts popular and wide-ranging, one year 3 boy renowned for tap dancing, budding actor in year 6 making West End début. Drama high in pupil approval ratings for raising serious issues (bullying, gender wars) but not neglecting humour. ‘Emotional but funny – what you’d find in everyday life,’ said year 7 pupil of recent production. 

Music draws in many, courtesy of good peripatetics (‘nicest school I work in,’ said one) almost half learning instruments, talented hitting grade 5 and up, occasional prodigy whistling through to diploma stage, orchestra supplemented by different single-instrument ensembles (flute and wind) as well as choirs (junior and senior), rotating timetables made easy with yellow badge reminders distributed daily. ‘You’re not going to forget with this hanging off you,’ said pupil.

Something of a sanctuary for with those arriving from nearby little prince (and princess) establishments, often breathing big sigh of relief at low tiara factor (or gender neutral equivalent). That said, parental attitudes, though NFS (Normal For Surrey) can prove unwelcoming for incomers. Fine for those in at the start - ‘joined in nursery and our friends will be friends for life,’ said one mother - but can translate to ‘cliques and queen bees,’ according to parent who joined further up the school and felt the school might usefully beam ‘be kind’ message into minds of some adults, too. 'Am hoping influence will trickle down.'

Ditto consideration. Some irritation over parking habits of minority who cope with what one parent described as ‘wholly inadequate’ spaces by routinely usurping slots reserved for minibus. ‘Seem to feel that so special or busy those normal rules don’t apply,’ said another parent. Other (minor) niggles include lost property black hole which can suck in objects for months, then mysteriously spit them out again - whereabouts in the meantime a mystery. Recruitment of year 8 prefects to scan changing rooms reducing the problem, reckoned pupils, though excessive spoon-feeding should be curbed, thought mother. ‘Kids have to learn the responsibility for keeping their own things in check.’ 

Amongst all parents we spoke to, biggest gripe was reserved for uniform. Tons of it, some sensible or suitably traditional (woolly blazers, nice looking and sufficiently robust to stand repeated use as ad hoc goalposts, a case in point), others tending towards overkill/slightly bonkers, headed by summer only fleece. And don’t get parents started on the ankle socks, dark blue with - go faster? - stripes. Justifiable in summer, with khaki shorts, less so in winter with long trousers ‘when can’t see them anyway.’ ‘Needs a cull, or at least a rethink,’ thought parent. Good news, it’s getting one. Watch this space.

This atmospheric school seems set for still better things to come in years ahead. As long as the kindness that really does emanate from delightful pupils remains, it’s a gem heading for disco ball sparkle (but without corresponding tackiness). Expect more bullseyes - and not just in shooting.