Good Schools Guide Report

What The Good Schools Guide says (June 2024)

Since 2021, Tom Gregory. He attended the school himself, vowing – as typical youngsters do – ‘never to return’! Teaching certainly wasn’t on the cards following his media studies degree from Plymouth Marjon University, when he ‘fell into’ finance in Australia, returning to spend a decade in investment banking in the City. But meeting his wife, Esther, a teacher, awakened his ‘wanting something more from life’, so he followed his heart and did a PGCE in 2007, followed by a year teaching at Culford School, seven years as a housemaster at Framlingham and deputy headships at Vinehall and Ashfold School before coming here.

His laidback and light-filled study looks out onto the field where ‘I can see everything, including my childhood home!’ he tells us, recalling that, despite his mother being able to hear him from their balcony, he was an ‘all-in’ boarder.

We found him cheery, hospitable and enthusiastic – easy to see why parents say, ‘He always looks like he’s having the best day ever!’ Dapper but not stiff (his striped tie mismatching his checked shirt and snazzy tweed blazer signals a maverick at heart).

Parents say he ‘gets the balance just right between being friendly and professional’ and ‘doesn’t get drawn into playground politics and is respected for that’. He is also liked for being proactive with OAs – ‘He embodies that “St Andrew’s is a life thing”,’ one parent said.

Pupils call him ‘a friendly face’ and say that ‘he gets involved’ and ‘is not scary’. His assemblies are popular, the latest including a mindfulness trick he taught pupils using his fingers.

His two children keep him busy, but he also enjoys ‘me-time’, walking their dog Wilf on the beach.

Academically non-selective, with main entry points at nursery (from 9 months) and reception, years 3, 5 and 7 via taster days and a meeting with the head. Spaces sometimes available at other points too. ‘If it’s the right fit, we’ll make it work,’ says school.

At 13+, around 90 per cent to Eastbourne College. Others to Prior Park College, Roedean, Shrewsbury, St Edmund’s Canterbury, Cranbrook, Bede’s, Durham School, Stowe, Battle Abbey and Bedford School. Twenty-five scholarships in 2024.

Our view
A school so cheerful that even the groundsmen are the chirpiest we’ve seen, apologising for the leaf blower as we arrive. They work very hard, judging from the meticulously kept estate. Founded on the current site (originally a farm) in 1877, the school now consists of a large field surrounded by pavilion, indoor pool, sports hall, theatre, ICT suites, science labs library and, of course, the classrooms. Inside too, everything is spic and span, with the distinctive St Andrew’s stripe of pink and green appearing in everything from chair upholstery to the school teddy bears.

Pre-prep has its own self-contained building where a sense of fun weaves through everything from the caterpillar themed tiles to a giant interactive wellbeing display featuring an octopus and whale. Nursery children were baking bread and we spotted wellies at the ready in most classrooms for the well-equipped outside play areas and weekly woodland school (over the road, complete with badger set night cam). Even the tiniest children seem to know their way around the well-resourced pre-prep library, and we loved seeing outdoor weighing scales and even bird watching used for learning maths. No wonder parents say the pupils make ‘excellent progress’ even at this young age.

Years 3-8 are based in the main building, moving around for all lessons, with specialist teaching in all subjects. ‘Light touch’ setting in maths from year 3, with English and languages (Latin, French and Spanish) and science from year 7, and a scholars’ set in year 8. Maximum of 18 per class means lots of attention on each child, as we saw for ourselves in a year 5 maths revision class. ‘We’re shown how to break it down which really helps,’ said one. Cross-curricular learning features heavily, as does entering competitions, eg a geometry and symmetry competition during maths week when we visited. English pulled out as a favourite subject – we’ve never come across so many aspiring authors (and in niche genres, such as history, too). Whatever the weather, weekly beach school blows away the cobwebs and uses the environment to their best advantage.

Years 7 and 8 (and 9 at Eastbourne College) follow the ‘Bridge Curriculum’ which, as the name suggests, aims to ease transition into senior school and prepare for later years. We liked the sound of the links being created between prep and local Black Robin Farm to introduce themes from the forthcoming natural history GCSE at Eastbourne College. There’s real depth in learning in these upper prep years – in a science lesson, pupils eloquently explained topics they’d chosen to research, including use of VR in the Royal Navy, pig heart transplants and quantum mechanics. Things are kept entertaining too – in a year 7 Latin class, pupils were split into teams for a fun quiz (shout out to ‘Dancing Slugs’ confident of their ‘brains and speed’!). Digital Latin exams get a resounding thumbs up – watch this space for the same in other subjects.

Eight per cent of pupils are on the SEN register (with one EHCP when we visited), supported in the new learning hub which parents say has ‘taken on its own life’ since moving from a more isolated spot. Dyslexia, autism, OCD, Tourette’s, dyscalculia, ADHD and speech and language are all catered for ‘expertly’ by the SENDCo, four TAs and specialist teacher, plus ‘wannabe therapy dog’ Percy. Parent suggestions are often actioned, most recently the introduction of Lipton Iced Tea, a trial for ADHD. ‘Why not?’ said SENCo approvingly, ‘working with parents is key.’ Lexia lessons, which focus on dyslexia, run before school, with parents saying they have ‘made a real impact’ (note they cost extra). A parent support group has gone down a storm, with practical sessions, such as Christmas present ideas for neurodiverse children.

Art is popular, with high-quality art displays throughout the school, including in the foyer where ceramic goodies on a cake stand looked good enough to eat. Year 1s were busy making nature brushes during our visit. Pupils say the ‘art teacher’s passion rubs off on us’. Good facilities include large bright studio (with kiln room) where a parent was helping make set scenery (parent involvement is encouraged throughout). DT also stands out, with some projects of senior school standard. We saw pupils using smart materials and conductive threads and they told us about a recent triangulation challenge. Online civil engineering CAD software utilised.

Music is earmarked for a revamp but parents feel it’s ‘absolutely fab as it is’. Pupils of all ages whooshed in and out for their lessons during our visit, with the 18 peris who teach everything from harp to drums (around 60 per cent of pupils learn an instrument). Singing is huge, with seven choirs, and there’s also an orchestra, rock group and wind band. On curriculum too – we enjoyed Mr Noah’s Rap lesson for year 3s, a fusion of Makaton, dance, sounds, rhythm and notation. Music tours to, eg Venice where the highlight was ‘swanning along the canals in a gondola convoy’. 

Parents praise the ‘poise and professionalism’ of the drama department. ‘They get everyone involved and rehearse hard.’ One pupil told us, ‘I’ll never forget performing here.’ Madagascar is the next hot ticket, with school bussing in professional musicians to provide live music – ‘It really ups the game,’ reckon parents. Drama holiday courses also popular, with around 60 pupils signing up to perform a whole show, such as Aladdin, in five days. Head of performing arts says the biggest challenge is ‘managing kids who want to do it all’.

Daily sport is loved by all. ‘You name it, they’ve got it,’ said a parent, with the core sports of rugby, netball, football (boys and girls), hockey, athletics, tennis and cricket supported by the likes of pickleball, shooting (in the shooting range), cross-country, archery, Eton fives (own court) and orienteering. Dance has two specialist teachers and table tennis has really taken off, evident by the number of tables (there’s even one in the chapel foyer) – pupils recently reached national finals(ditto for athletics and cricket). Swimming (in the 20m pool) on curriculum from reception to year 6, then year 7 for lifesaving and year 8 for water polo and swim squads.

Plenty of clubs – robotics, gardening, cooking etc. ‘Spot on,’ reckon parents, who are also appreciative of the optional Saturday morning activities for years 4-8 (absolutely ‘not’ Saturday school, though). Mini DofE in the pipeline. A calendar highlight is the annual, fun-packed St Andrew’s Day celebration, organised by year 8s, with everything from sumo wrestling to drink pong (‘alcohol free,’ a pupil reassured us).

During the week, prep pupils stay till 5.30pm (and there’s wraparound care from 7.30am to 6.45pm). ‘Too long,’ some pupils feel, though parents disagree, especially grateful that ‘prep gets done at school with support – no battles at the dinner table’.

Pastoral care ‘well thought through’, say parents – includes a ‘listening ear’ staff member, visiting counsellor and supervised wellbeing drop-in room and playground worry bench. Pupils are supportive of each other too and jump at the opportunity to be trained as a wellbeing ambassador or year 7 playground buddy (easily spotted by orange jackets). Yes, there are friendship fallouts, acknowledge parents, but they are dealt with sensitively and it’s rare for anything bigger to blow up. School recently addressed social media use outside of school.

Pupils praise the student voice, especially the food committee which recently requested tacos – ‘and, as if by magic, they appeared!’ All the usual classics served up, plus some more adventurous options like curry. We enjoyed fish and chips and the salad bar (delicious).

Parents mainly professionals and entrepreneurs, and the school has seen a marked increase in dual-income families. Some make significant sacrifices but confident that ‘no question, it’s worth it’. Mainly white British, reflective of the area. Most are local, all within a 25-minute drive. School busses run as far afield as Tunbridge Wells and Lewe and weekly boarders can use a school minibus from Clapham. PTA organises all the usual events – fireworks night, summer ball (tickets less that £50), quiz night etc, but there’s no pressure.

Capacity for 50 full, weekly and flexi boarders in the two upper floors of the main building. About two-thirds are full-time, mostly international pupils from Spain, Hong Kong, South Korea, China and France – so no mass exodus at the weekends. Spacious dorms (two to six beds), with separate wings for boys and girls, separated by a locked door. Overseen by head of boarding and their family, live-in gappies, popular nurse and everyone’s favourite dog, Emi.

Pupils praise the ‘sense of community’ and the ‘really kind staff who help with the ups and downs of being away from home’. They love their refurbed common rooms, having consulted on the designs which include fairy lights, furry rugs and fluffy cushions for the girls – then giant world map, large TV screen and table football for the boys. After school, it’s activities, prep, supper then the likes of sports tournaments, talent contest or karaoke. All done and dusted by 7.15pm so there’s still an opportunity for downtime, say pupils, including access to phones at set times (all use school WIFI, no SIM cards allowed; phones locked away the rest of the time). ‘Weekend fun’, as pupils call it, includes Saturday morning clubs (also open to day pupils – and plenty come along), then baking, the beach or playing sardines. Trips include go-karting, Harry Potter tour and Urban Jump Trampolining Park.

Money matters
Means tested bursaries available. Academic, music, art, drama and sport scholarships awarded, offering fee remittance between five and 20 per cent.

The last word
A school that values kindness and nurtures loyalty, pride and character. Where children grow up at their own pace in a safe inspiring environment by the sea.

Read the report on the Good Schools Guide website