Leehurst Swan School, Salisbury
Muddy says: Want a one-stop, pastoral education for your family? This friendly, co-ed, all through to 16 day school with a pre-school on site is small but perfectly formed.
What? Where? Located in a quiet residential neighbourhood overlooking Salisbury with eye-catching views of the cathedral, Leehurst Swan is an all-through, co-ed day school for Reception children to Year 11 which, with its original Victorian family home main building plus fresh and modern new builds, combines a homely atmosphere with a shipshape sense of purposeful activity. The air feels clean up here and the space deceptively large with the 250 or so pupils (around 150 in the prep and 100 in the senior school) all roomily contained in the six-acre site. Come April the nursery won’t be run by the school anymore but it’ll still be there on site for the working parents’ dream, one-stop drop. Leehurst Swan is all set up for the two working parent families and goes out of its way to make life easy for them with bus services and train station pick-ups.
Facilities: There’s a nice mix of traditional and modern at Leehurst Swan. The school’s history stretches back 100 years with a convent school and sisters, a boys’ prep and a Miss Swanton all in the mix. But while it keeps its historic patina, the school feels like a very contemporary educational offering. The prep has been transformed in recent years with a substantial injection of new architecture in the shape of the Centenary Building, a fabulous space for Reception to Year 6 which has got to be the nicest smelling school building I’ve ever been in. There’s not a whiff of institutional, er, whiff here and the other senses are treated gently too. All the classrooms are light and airy, and despite being full of young kids, it’s quiet! It’s also the perfect temperature with a fancy heating system that keeps it just so at all times. I was really impressed by the sense of calm which I’m sure the building in part engenders.
The senior school in the old building is more of a warren, but classrooms have been systematically refurbished with only the library to go (though its current location in a drawing room-style space is rather charming if a bit small), so they all feel fresh and bright. The drama and music departments have a shiny newish (2010) space, though, in the shape of Walker Hall. All the pupils come here for music lessons and everyone gets involved in performances, be it spring concerts, nativity plays or full-on, all-singing, all-dancing productions.
The school is big on getting pupils up on stage to grow their confidence and all the pupils in Year 3 and Year 7 have to be in the school choir (at Christmas they sing in Salisbury Cathedral, which must be a melt-your-heart occasion). The space transforms into the lunch hall at midday – and on the day I visited with sausage casserole and vanilla sponge and custard on the menu, it smelled damn fine too! It’s been designed with fire station-style doors so on warm days opens onto an al-fresco terrace.
There are lots of outdoor play areas too – the prep school pupils designed their own and the senior pupils have courts and a huge field to burn off energy in. There is also a lovely pavilion and playing fields in the Cathedral Close, an historical inheritance, which pupils are bused over to for school matches and sports day.
Academic results: With small class sizes and a high teacher pupil ratio, children receive super-focused attention. In Reception, every child has an interactive learning diary with photos, videos and examples of their work posted every day so parents can see what their little darlings are up to. These are started in The Nest, so are a real treasure trove of memories. And every single pupil is monitored by the learning support department which tracks their progress and swoops in with support if needed. From Year 3, pupils receive specialist teaching in French and science – and visiting the labs in the senior school is obviously quite a thrill if the Year 4s I saw slapping custard with the back of a spoon is anything to go by! Being all-through, the jolt from primary to secondary is considerably lessened as prep school pupils experience tasters of the senior school and by Year 6 are pretty much being taught by subject teachers. There’s an entrance exam for all Year 6s, but the school is keen to stress to pupils that no one should go in to fail, and if there are academic concerns, these are flagged well in advance in Year 5.
The school offers GCSEs in all three sciences, but IGCSEs in the other subjects which allows pupils to still submit coursework and enables a bespoke approach to the exams depending on the cohort. Teachers pride themselves on preparing pupils for exams, but not cramming them, encouraging free thinking beyond the classroom. And this approach seems to yield results with many pupils going on to do A Levels at the Salisbury grammars, as well as gaining scholarships at independent schools such as Warminster and Godolphin.
Headteacher: Roger Leake has been at the school for 12 years and in that time has overseen a programme of modernisation which has seen a massive improvement in facilities and, correspondingly, results. He’s very keen on being inclusive and reassures parents who are new to the independent sector that there’s nothing exclusive about the school. He’s passionate about not letting anyone slip through the net and if he thinks a child who hasn’t done well on the entrance exam has potential, he’ll speak to their school, ask for their work and meet the pupil. He’s very proud of former 11+ ‘failures’ who have been through the school and ended up gaining places at Oxbridge. He has close relationships with local schools and apprenticeship programmes, and has put in place a very well developed careers system to help pupils with all post-16 options. He’s retiring at the end of the year, but with a successor already announced – Stuart Morgan-Nash, the current head at St Edward’s Prep School in Reading – the transition is being managed smoothly.
What else? The school has a great sporting reputation – unbeaten this year as I write – and has even harboured a couple of football pros – one boy signed to Chelsea recently. There has also been an Olympic sailing champion and the school picked up a clutch of medals at a recent national cross-country meet. So in terms of pupil numbers, it really punches above its weight on the sports field.
There’s a special area for pupils who need a bit more TLC to drop in, store their belongings, have someone help them get organised, or just retreat for a bit of down time. The school’s ethos is very much to help every individual child feel good about themselves and it goes out of its way to foster this by tending to emotional as well as academic needs.
Quirks: Art, especially photography, is another strength – for four years running, a Leehurst Swan pupil has won the Salisbury Young Photographer of the Year award. The energetic art department takes over a gallery space in town every year where, with other local schools, they exhibit pupils’ work. There’s also an artist in residence, a smiley ceramicist tucked away in a cosy space with a pottery wheel who welcomes in small groups and passes on master throwing tips rather successfully judging by the looks of the impressive pots drying on the shelves.
Wraparound care: The school is all geared up for the working parent who needs to drop all ages, both sexes and dash off to work. Breakfast club starts at 7am and after school continues until 6pm during which time pupils are offered all sorts of extra-curricular activities, as well as homework club.
Fees: Competitive! The fees stand by the inclusive principles of the school – Reception to Year 2: £2,800 per term; Year 3 to Year 6: £3,600 per term; Senior school: £4,650 per term.
Word on the ground: Parents seem to love the school for its family-friendly set-up and strong pastoral care, and also for taking the uncertainty out of senior school transition.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Pupils who love sport, drama, music and art, and enjoy a smallish cohort where they can shine. Parents who want to send all their children to the same school and not have to worry about swapping schools at Year 7 or 9.
Not for: Parents who want a school that will see their child through Sixth Form. Über-bright kids who thrive on a sense of academic competition might do better at the Salisbury grammars.
Dare to disagree? Let’s hear your views! There’s an Open Morning on Tue 27 Feb from 8.45am, so go and have a look yourself and let me know what you think!
Leehurst Swan School, 19 Campbell Road, Salisbury, Wilts SP1 3BQ, tel: 01722 333094, leehurstswan.org.uk