Talk Education Report
Talk Education’s dynamic schools guide provides the latest, highest-quality information on the independent schools system, giving parents an insider view of private schools across the globe. Talk Education visited St. Andrews Prep in January 2023. Please click here to be taken to the Talk Education website or read the St Andrews Prep report here:
It’s not just sunny Eastbourne’s fresh sea air that creates the happy atmosphere at St Andrew’s Prep. There’s also the school’s dynamic approach to academics, well-attuned listening culture and recognition that learning at the beach, forest school, on the stage and on the sports field are as important as learning in the classroom. As head Tom Gregory says, this is a place ‘full of opportunity, challenge and fun’.
One road away from the coast, St Andrew’s Prep sits in a residential neighbourhood of Eastbourne, and is made up of buildings housing different sections of the school: nursery, pre-prep and prep, all of which border the sports field, where pupils have games and play during break.
Six school minibuses offer morning pick-ups and evening drop-offs, which parents can opt in and out of as needed. Most children live locally but for those who are further away, sibling senior school Eastbourne College’s minibus routes are an option.
Mr Gregory took up the headship in 2021 and wasted no time in relocating the library to the heart of the main prep-school building. An empty space that once linked two sections of the school, it’s now carpeted and packed with shelves full of books. ‘Reading is fundamental to everything you do,’ says Mr Gregory, who wanted pupils to have constant access to physical books. Once a St Andrew’s Prep pupil himself, he had a career in investment banking before realising his vocation lay in teaching. His own children now attend the school, so he has a unique perspective as a head, parent and former pupil. His vision is for pupils to reach their academic potential, whilst encountering as many opportunities as possible, embracing them all and having the courage to have a go at something new.
Non-selective, St Andrew’s Prep accepts day children for all year groups and boarders from Year 3. Pupils can join at any stage of the academic year. The nursery takes babies from nine months, and there are currently 70 little ones. From Reception to Year 8, there are a total of 300 pupils.
Academics and senior school destinations
Classroom teaching, forest school and free-flow activities are the cornerstones for pre-prep pupils. Reception has a cooker in the classroom – on our visit they had just made apricot flapjacks – and on Friday mornings they take the classwork from the week into forest school, which is a huge adventure playground enjoyed by all the pre-prep pupils. It’s timetabled into the week for Years 1 and 2, alongside core subjects and D&T, computing, French, music, dance and drama, some of which are taught by specialist teachers.
In Year 3, children move to the ‘big’ building (but to the safety of the Junior Hub), and are taught in their classes for most subjects, but are in ability sets for maths. By Year 5, most subjects are taught by specialist teachers and they start Latin and drama. If a pupil’s first language isn’t English, they mght attend specialist EAL lessons instead of studying French and Latin. From Year 7, pupils are set by ability in maths, English, French, Latin and science.
The school shook things up in 2019 when it moved away from Common Entrance and adopted the innovative new Bridge Curriculum, which takes the best of CE and the national curriculum and combines them into a syllabus that is far more dynamic and effective in preparing for GCSEs and beyond, with lots of collaborative and individual project work, and presentation and research-skills practice. The curriculum is carefully coordinated with the subject heads at Eastbourne College, but it is also carefully benchmarked against the CE syllabus so as not to disadvantage pupils who don’t opt to go there. Pupils who intend to sit academic scholarships to senior school move into a scholarship group in Year 8.
The majority of pupils do go to Eastbourne College, but the 10 per cent who don’t head to a range of other destinations including: Ardingly; Bede’s The Dicker; Benenden; Brighton College; Hurst; King’s Canterbury; Roedean; Mayfield and Tonbridge.
Sport is part of the regular diet at St Andrew’s Prep – five to seven hours a week in Years 3 to 4, and a minimum of seven hours from Year 5. From rugby, netball, football and hockey to swimming, basketball and volleyball, lessons and fixtures are inclusive.
The facilities are fantastic: a sports hall for PE, netball and cricket nets, an indoor pool, netball and tennis courts, and even an indoor shooting range. Eastbourne College’s Astros and sports coaches are also part of the offering. Dance in the sprung-floor studio is taught by a specialist teacher from Year 2, with a boys-only dance club that is very popular. Exercise classes such as Zumba are also on offer – and the school is becoming known for its table tennis skills too.
Whatever the weather, Years 3 and 4 have beach school every Thursday (taking flasks of hot chocolate when it’s cold), where they do art, poetry, story-writing and maths. Back at school, the art room is impressive, with a pottery area complete with kiln.
There are plenty of performance spaces for music and drama, and there is usually something going on, from plays to teatime concerts. All the junior pupils sing in their own choir; there’s also a senior and audition-only choir, and middle and senior pupils get involved in staging a production. Recent music tours have seen pupils travel to Paris and Italy.
Endless extracurricular clubs include everything from archery, Lego clinic and Brownies to sailing, water polo and golf.
Full, weekly, flexi and occasional boarding are all on offer, with capacity for about 50; currently there are 25 to 30 boarders, with a number of overseas children from China and Spain, among others. The boarding house in the prep-school building is homely, with two- to six-bed boys’ and girls’ dorms in separate areas and three common rooms, one a shared space and the other two for each gender. After sports fixtures on Saturday afternoons, boarders tend to go for a beach stroll, with Sundays dedicated to something more adventurous like climbing or visiting a theme park. Sunday-lunch roast is a popular fixture.
There’s a wonderful listening culture at the school, with 15 trained listeners on the staff. ‘If children can share their worries, they can keep on an even keel,’ says Mr Gregory, who is rightly proud of the scheme. A medical centre staffed with three full-time nurses is next to the wellbeing centre (The Snug), where pupils can drop in for a chat or pre-book an appointment with the trained listeners.
The parent body is very supportive and the school embraces them as part of the family. There are coffee mornings, tea parties and even a beginning of term camping night involving pizza, an outdoor cinema and a barbecue breakfast cooked by the head before everyone heads off on an annual sponsored walk. The Friends organise lots of fundraisers including quiz nights, gala balls – and the most anticipated event of them all: the surprise-themed leavers’ ball for Year 8s.