The Muddy Stilettos Report
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This friendly seaside school works hard to equip children with free thinking skills and makes good use of its natural surrounds.
St Andrews is a co-ed, non-selective nursery, pre-prep and prep for ages 9 months to 13 years in Meads village on the edge of the large seaside town of Eastbourne. It shares some facilities, including astroturf pitches and access to the 160 seater Birley Auditorium, with nearby Eastbourne College and has the same board of governors. A Victorian sports day was part of the fun when it celebrated its 140th birthday last year.
Feeling rather tardis-like, the school is made up of a series of interlinked buildings (one part accessed by a secret antique spiral staircase behind a door that is fondly remembered by former pupils!)
It makes the most of its location – in town, yet sandwiched between the Downs and the nearby beach, with plenty of outdoor classroom activities.
Set across 12 acres, the school’s facilities include a new sports hall and dance studio – opened last year by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a fabulous new pavilion for match teas and competitions, which also serves as a Year 8 common room, an indoor heated pool, ICT suites, a forest school and adventure playground.
Sport is an emphasis at St Andrews and the pupils play over 600 fixtures a year as well as inter-house tournaments. Shooting, rugby fives and golf are among the less typical options on offer. Five pupils made the National Athletics Finals this year.
In 2018/19, the school’s 1st XI Boys cricket team came 3rd in the IAPS National finals and are County Cup winnners. The school boasted seven representatives at the National athletics finals and 10 at the IAPS Swimming National finals and the Colts football team qualified for the ISFA National finals. The U13 boys hockey team were placed 14th in the country. The school’s U13 and U11 table tennis teams were both crowned county champions.
Varied clubs include archery, ballet, batik, fencing, Lego, Pi programming, sewing, water polo, squash, Rainbows and Brownies and the wonderfully named Piglet’s Pantry – for budding cooks. Table tennis is a particular favourite at the school, with several tables indoors and out.
From year 4 upwards day pupils as well as borders can join Saturday morning activities.
Boarding and wrap-around care
The boarding facilities have been totally refurbished in 2019.
Besides weekly and full-time boarding for years 3 – 8, pre-booked flexi-boarding is offered for one, two or three nights a week. Ad-hoc boarding is also available at £40 a night.
New for 2020 will be supervised exeat weekends when pupils will visit famous cities and landmarks.
Wrap-around care for day pupils is generally available 8am to 6pm. A baby room caters for children 9 – 24 months for 50 weeks a year.
A mini-bus service takes in as far as Bexhill, Rottingdean, Cross in Hand and more.
From year five, the majority of lessons are taught by subject specialist teachers. There’s a provision for English as an Additional Language as an alternative to French and Latin. The most recent ISI report said pupils had ‘particularly well-developed skills in science, English and mathematics.’
Pupils move on to a variety of senior schools, many to Eastbourne College with which St Andrew’s has an affiliation. Other schools have included Ardingly; Battle Abbey; Bede’s The Dicker; Benenden; Brighton College; Canford; Claremont; Gordonstoun; Harrow; Hurst; Lancing; Lewes Old Grammar School, Millfield; Moira House; Roedean; St Leonards-Mayfield; Tonbridge and Wellington College.
Head and ethos
Gareth Jones has been working in prep schools for 19 years. A former housemaster and head of sport, he’s keen also keen on music. He grew up the youngest of ten, so knows a thing or two about family dynamics. His wife, Jemma, who also teaches at the school is on the England Masters Hockey Team. Their cute dachshund Dexter sometimes also makes a lively appearance in the corridors.
In the 2018 summer term – very much before the heatwave properly hit – the head completed a brave 64 day challenge to swim in the sea every morning before school. The sponsorship money he raised has helped to fund the school’s fantastic new pavilion.
He stresses St Andrews is ‘not a school for rigid rules’ and the aim is to encourage children to think ‘in the right way’ and to think for themselves. There’s a lot of emphasis on collaboration, empathy and problem solving. With an eye on future careers, as well as creating good citizens, he believes this mindset will equip children with the soft skills important in the modern workplace, like the ability to adapt. It can also work as an antidote to the pressures of social media.
The school has an eco committee which secured the eco-schools silver award in 2018. There’s also a pupil-lead school council, which discusses a theme once a term. Past topics have included the role of prefects, behaviour in lessons and recycling. The council was also behind the recent rule change that means girls are now allowed to wear trousers as part of their uniform.
In line with the school’s emphasis on independent thought, the head introduced a new thinking skills programme for years five and six covering subjects like philosophy and problem solving. There’s also an emphasis on public speaking, and, as part of its affiliation with Eastbourne College, St Andrew’s currently has access to a Debater in Residence – who is among the top Ivy League debaters in the States. The school is also focusing on Growth Mindset to encourage strong moral and intellectual character.
Touch typing is on the school curriculum – a super useful skill that has somewhat fallen by the wayside since the olden days of the typing pool.
I love the idea of the head’s annual entrepreneurship scheme, which sees him give £10 each to year seven pupils for them to invest and increase in original ways. This year the return from an initial investment of £420 was £5,735! Shoe cleaning, cake sales, car washing and selling crafts were among the pupil’s initiatives. A couple of enterprising boys even put on a dinner party and sold tickets to teachers!
Err, no, the head doesn’t pocket the profits from the scheme – pupils give presentations in order to bid for donations on behalf of their favourite charities.
Not only does St Andrews have the more typical forest school, it also has a beach school. It makes use of part of the long public stretch of beach in Eastbourne for numerous lessons, from geography to art.
I loved the little Memory Garden, a quiet space with a waterfall that was established when several pupils lost family members in the same year.
Word on the ground
ISI inspectors received ‘extremely positive’ responses to parents’ questionnaires. ‘Happy, friendly and welcoming’ and ’rounded’ are words that come up often from parents discussing the school. ‘Religious but not overly so’ is also mentioned.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good For: St Andrew’s feels like a school that builds independence and confidence while keeping a community feel. Parents with an eye on the future and how children will hold their own in a bigger school, and ultimately the workplace, should like its emphasis on public speaking and verbal reasoning. The beach nearby is a bonus.
Not so good for: Though the feel of the school is not formal, some may prefer a more casual uniform for this age group. Though the school has larger grounds than any other prep in Eastbourne, it hasn’t the vast acres of some schools. It’s a town site, so won’t suit parents with a country manor in rolling hills in mind. An emphasis on thinking skills rather than hot housing is the educational style, something to consider if you veer towards the latter.