Good Schools Guide Report
The Good Schools Guide visited St Andrew’s Prep in December 2018 when Gareth Jones was the Headmaster. The school hopes to be visited by the Good Schools Guide again in the coming months.
What The Good Schools Guide says
Since 2015, Gareth Jones, married to Jemma, with three children at the school; previously housemaster, director of sport and English/history teacher at the Dragon. ‘The head and his wife are an amazing team’, said a parent, another describing him as, ‘quiet and effective. Not a look at me head’; ‘[I] really like him…couldn’t be more welcoming…’.
The head was determined to ‘shake things up’ at St Andrew’s, and move from a more competitive culture to one of ‘give it a go’. He has appointed six new department heads and a deputy head; parents are delighted: ‘[he] has vision…[is] kind and forward thinking…’ ; ‘…brilliant…loads of energy and good ideas’, one of these was ending the uniform apartheid: girls can now wear trousers and shorts if they want to.
This head is devoted to his pupils; when the budget wouldn’t run to a common room for years 7 and 8, he did a sponsored sea swim every day of the summer term to pay for it; much appreciated by the children, who really like him – while we were talking, a small child knocked on the window to beam and wave at Mr Jones; others told us: ‘he’s really good at interaction…he doesn’t just sit in his study…he will talk to children’; ‘this head has made things more exciting’.
Non-selective, to any year group and in any term (where there is space); as many taster days as required.
Most to Eastbourne College. Others to Brighton College, Bede’s, Benenden, Canford, Christ’s Hospital, Hurst, Tonbridge, Ardingly and Millfield, with 37 scholarships across the range of schools in 2018.
St Andrew’s is about having a ‘wonderful childhood…[they] learn, play and make great friends…[are] not stressed out…’, said a parent. Another described the ethos as being about positivity and kindness, and happy smiling children seem to fill this school.
There is a cheerful noise as pupils move around and the children seem very confident, but the school ensures that there are quiet places for those who need them, and parents assure us that shy introverts also thrive at St Andrew’s: ‘…our youngest was not gregarious; what St Andrew’s do very well is give kids a voice. They will have a conversation in a room of people which they wouldn’t have done before…they have the confidence to get things wrong now…’; another described her children’s confidence as ‘sky high’ since moving here.
The school has an independent listener, and parents cannot praise the listening service too highly; one said her children just pop in to get things off their chests; another that her daughter has regular weekly sessions, which have helped her cope with all the worries of changing school.
St Andrew’s responds sensitively to circumstance: following a spate of parent deaths a few years ago, the school planted a memory garden, with commemorative benches: a place for pupils to sit quietly and listen to the running water and wind chimes. Teachers were trained to support the children, and on learning that death and grief are best talked about openly, death and bereavement have become part of the PHSE curriculum.
The disciplinary system is, ‘absolutely right…[we] don’t hear about it much’, said a parent. A sensible and humane flexibility: difficulties will be resolved by talking if possible, with teachers praising in public, discussing difficulties in private. There are some absolute rules: phones must be handed in to the office in the morning (‘if you get caught [with your phone] it’s not good’, said a pupil). Unresolvable bullying would result in exclusion; none in recent years. There’s a sensitive and active approach to handling differences amongst children: when there were communication problems amongst the girls in one year, the school arranged for the NSPCC to come in and run a course to help pupils understand how their actions impact on others.
A mish-mash of buildings reflect the school’s history: once a farm, now a school. Pupils play table tennis in an old wooden panelled hall with parquet floors softened by centuries of feet, learn music in a 1970s block, and play sport in a superb state of the art sports hall.
A house system, with annual competition, and points awarded for merit and industry; the winning house each term gets a cinema trip, although pupils don’t think house feeling runs particularly high at this school.
Sports here used to be just about being the best; although success of top teams is still significant, now it’s also about enjoying it, taking part, and recognition of each child. There are lots of teams, with members being regularly rotated; sports day is a house competition: pupils are healthier and happier.
Sport offerings include badminton, fives and shooting, as well as all the regular ones, and there’s increasingly equal provision: girls play cricket, football and tag rugby, and the hockey provision for the boys is increasing. The school has notable successes in girls’ hockey and table tennis, and boys’ rugby and cricket and a structured development programme helps the more able to excel. Eastbourne College, with whom the school shares a governing body, helps with training, and shares facilities.
Forest school up to year 2; small people in top to toe green wet weather gear had just finished a Christmas hunt though the woods and were settling down to toast marshmallows. The weekly session includes studying bugs and trees and pursuing the pond life. Teachers say pupils who are very shy ‘come alive’ in the forest.
Beach school for juniors, whatever the weather, who use whatever they find to create a mythical creature, and tell its story. ‘Children who struggle to write in the classroom, can find it easy to tell a story with their tongue,’ said a teacher. ‘Sometimes when it’s rough we just sit and look…’
Pupils say the best thing about St Andrew’s are the opportunities, ‘a fantastic thing’, and love the range of extracurricular activities, from sailing to Piglet’s pantry (cooking), and chess.
‘Even on a quiet morning, there is music all over the department’, said the head of music, who maintains links with West End. There are large scale productions every year, and the children remember High School Musical with great enthusiasm. School orchestra, rock bands and choirs perform regularly in public, in their own high beamed hall, in local churches and in EC’s ample facilities; this year the choir will perform in Venice and Lake Garda. A parent described the music as ‘brilliant…blown away by quality of productions and quality of the choir’.
Children produce some beautiful artwork, and enjoy trips out to paint the sea and downs; the head hopes to see even more trips out as they invest more in this department.
Pupils say, ‘teachers are good, they know what they’re talking about’, and parents feel St Andrew’s provide for all: ‘the middle are not ignored’; another saying that they ‘got my child through the CE, and she’s only average in terms of brightness’. A bit of tutoring does go on in maths, as it does in most preps, and the head is keen to recruit more staff with innovative and fresh ideas. Parents emphasise ‘the academic child is well catered for…’ with extension tasks and a scholarship set; although all parents were clear that this is not a pushy school and they do not want it to be so.
A parent commented on the difference in teaching style compared to her children’s last school – ‘everything comes alive…’; in history, children studying Henry VIII play the ‘take me out’ game – (whether that concerns dating or loping off heads was not clear); in a lively year 3 maths class, enthusiastic mathematicians stretched elastic bands around toy cars and measured their distance of travel across the classroom floor. Years 5 and 6 learn thinking skills with the help of the debater-in-residence. Mind matters also runs for years 5 to 8, teaching pupils how to form opinions and listen to their peers. ‘The children talk all the way home’, said a mum.
A parent who moved his children from a high pressure school said, ‘performance wise, my kids are now living up to their potential’. Industry awards place great emphasis on effort, which is ‘really important and hugely encouraging’, he added.
The day ends at 5.30pm, with all homework done at school, to the great relief of parents (apart from weekend tasks for years 7 and 8, to get them used to doing work at home). If you’re working parents, St Andrew’s is great, said a parent. You can drop off from 7.30am and pick up at 6.45pm after clubs; early morning sports are possible too.
St Andrew’s is working with Eastbourne College, the senior school destination for 75 per cent of its pupils, to construct a bridge curriculum for years 7, 8 and 9. This will mean reduced anxiety for year 8s. For those headed elsewhere, the school has successfully prepared pupils for pre-tests; one parent felt her child could have usefully had more practise at school, but the thinking skills course means that all pupils now practise verbal reasoning skills.
This popular nursery takes babies from 9 months, and has nearly 80 children on its role. Learning is entirely child lead, and children can happily make a mess. An art sensory room for little ones and big – anyone who could benefit from it, said the head of nursery cheerfully, including parents. Little ones leave nursery able to swim and ride a bike, and ready for the pre prep.
Early years up to year 2 have their own building, complete with hall, ICT suite and a lovely large library. Magical classrooms, with every bit of the ceiling hung with Christmas. Letters to Father Christmas were not just wish lists, but carefully asked after him, and the well-being of the elves.
The SEND unit is staffed by two full-timers and one part-timer, with one-to-one charged as extra. ‘Fantastic support’, said a parent, whose son was very unsure of his ability when he arrived at St Andrew’s – now ‘he’s really flying’. Other support, such as the LEXIA programme for those who are mildly dyslexic, is popular with parents, one saying it has transformed her son’s learning. A pre-learning programme helps children who struggle by introducing them to difficult words and concepts before lessons, to help them keep up.
The boarding house, Colstocks, is mid-renovation; the done bits are lovely, bathrooms, elderly but clean, await their turn during summer 2019. Full and flexi boarders (ad hoc nights accommodated where possible) from 14 nations, with numbers rising in the summer time with international short stays. Pupils say it’s a very friendly community, one describing it as ‘a break from my parents…’
Rooms for two to six, with full-timers getting beds and flexis bunks, all of which were very tidy – children are keen to win the tidiness competition. A comfy common room, and a kitchen for making snacks, complete with seating and TV – although the catering here is excellent.
Pupils are allowed mobile phones for half an hour in the evening to call parents, and a little more time at the weekend, but phones spend most of the time locked away, and pupils do other things.
Most day pupils join boarders for optional activities on Saturday. The ‘early morning march’ has a utilitarian ring to it, but plenty of kids take part in this yomp across the downs. A busy programme of trips for Sundays, from museums to skiing and go-karting.
Most parents at St Andrew’s are local, and this is a strong supportive community; very different, parents say, to London-type schools, where the parents are vying for position. Lots of parents are involved in the school and the parent body, Friends of St Andrew’s, raises funds, runs socials and helps new parents settle in.