St Aubyn’s School, Woodford Green
Prepare to be charmed by this lovely co-ed prep school on the outskirts of Epping Forest – an academic all-rounder with great results, impressive facilities and acres of green space.
St Aubyn’s School is a selective day prep school for kids aged 3-13 (Nursery to Year 8) in the beautiful Woodford Conservation Area in well-heeled and leafy Woodford Green. The school straddles the Essex/ Greater London border, and is perfectly positioned for those who want to commute into the city and still be back in time for the school run (a Central Line station is just 5 minutes away).
Co-educational – with a 50/50 boy/girl split – the 525 pupils have access to a pretty impressive 8 acres when you consider it’s on the fringes of London, including a lovely pond (complete with resident ducks) and playing fields. The school, which began life as a private house in the 1800s, is now made up of a collection of smart modern and historic buildings. Safe and secluded, it’s a little slice of the countryside in the city.
St Aubyn’s School has had a good all-round academic record for a while now, but in recent years the school has really upped its game when it comes to its creative and co-curricular offering and the number of productions it puts on each year. The school has some really decent facilities to support these areas of growth, including a large indoor sports hall, a large playing field, three all-weather pitches, a hardcourt area and two cricket nets. No swimming pool, but the children have lessons at a nearby pool off-site.
There’s also the requisite Performing Arts Centre, which was extended and finished to a brilliant standard in 2020. It has retractable seating and is used for productions, assemblies, conferences, visiting speakers, and drama groups. Drama and dance were added to the curriculum several years back and so the school has really benefitted from this modern, creative space. This building also houses a performance studio, a music classroom and individual music practice rooms. Other facilities worth a mention are the well-stocked (and super-cute) school library, two ICT suites, a spacious Art and Design Technology studio and Food Tech Room – the latter being a new subject and huge focus for the school this year. During my visit, I was treated to a tour of the lovely DT classroom and its wacky toothbrush (yes, toothbrush) wall.
The big headline all-lights-flashing development is the purpose-built Nursery, which was completed in 2017. It’s a particularly lovely, light space and prospective parents can’t fail to be impressed by it for their little darlings.
The Nursery has two open-plan classrooms, both of which also have a wet area. The light pours in from a large conservatory, which wraps around a courtyard for communal play, with an adjacent covered play area leading out to an extensive playground, ‘forest classroom’ and mud kitchen. Perfect for Muddy tykes!
Other recent updates to the facilities include an interior refurb of the Senior School and a new Dining Hall, which earned the title of the most energy-efficient new building in the London Borough of Redbridge.
What’s in the plans for 2022? A redesign of the existing Reception building (which will boast ultra-modern sky lights) and a spruce up of the Pre Prep spaces. Plus, a focus on the digital side of things with a migration to a new online sharing platform, which will be accessible to teachers, parents and pupils wherever they are. So, if Covid decides to rear its ugly head again, St Aubyn’s will be more than well equipped.
Sport is a big part of St Aubyn’s school life and there’s a strong sense of sport being for all, not just those with talent. The excellent facilities and two full time sports staff and a part-time coach show how much St Aubyn’s values sport within the school week.
There’s a lot of choice for the kids too, with everything from athletics, badminton, basketball and football to dance, cricket, hockey, tennis, table tennis and running. Good to see that sport is approached in a co-ed way with the girls earning the title of Runners-Up in the Independent Schools Football Association National Final in 2019. There are plenty of chances to shine throughout the year in inter-house competitions too.
Music is a well-established part of St Aubyn’s life and there are 15 regular peri teachers for individual instrumental and voice lessons. Like sport, music is a subject that is considered to be valuable for all and not just the elite. The music provision here also reflects the multicultural society of the school taking inspiration from lots of different cultures.
Little people can start at St Aubyn’s School in Nursery from age three and, as previously mentioned, it’s a seriously superior option to pretty much any other nursery I’ve ever visited. The building is only four years old and is spacious and bright with great outdoor space so there’s plenty of legroom for active little legs and minds to explore and learn. Good to know: there is one keyworker for every ten children with an additional two staff on-hand for more, well, hands-on activities.
There is no formal learning support, but pupils are monitored closely for potential learning difficulties and/or issues. Any relevant information is then forwarded onto the Head of Learning Support who has a dedicated room for supporting individual pupils or groups who may need additional help. From Year 1 onwards, support is delivered by subject teachers and qualified teaching assistants.
The majority of Year 6s move on to other schools (rather than continuing on to Years 7 and 8) with the most popular being Bancroft’s, Chigwell, City of London, Forest, St Edmund’s College, Haileybury, Normanhurst and Brentwood as well as local grammar schools.
The school has a good track record of sending kids off to excellent, highly-selective schools with a clutch of scholarships and awards. This year, 49 out of the 55 pupils taking entry tests to independent schools received firm offers of places at one or more of these schools. Seven of these pupils were offered a total of nine awards. Over the last five years, 88% of pupils have been awarded places at independent or grammar schools.
It might be well-known as a strong all-round academic school, however, do not choose St Aubyn’s expecting the school to drill your children to exam success in military style. Although the school is selective (not in Nursery) it really sets great store by its motto “bravely, faithfully, happily” and there is the sense that the happiness of the children is one of, if not the most important parts of an education at St Aubyn’s.
This is an area in which St Aubyn’s really excels. From ‘worry boxes’ and gratitude walls to pastoral awards and ‘wellbeing warriors’ (seniors who sit with littlies at selected lunchtimes), mental health is at the heart of everything the school does. In addition to two school counsellors, there is a Deputy Head of Pastoral who oversees safeguarding procedures, and several senior staff members have also completed mental health and wellbeing courses.
There are regular PASS (Pupils Attitudes to School and Self) assessments, the expected PSHE lessons, as well as ‘Calm Me’ mindful sessions to help pupils manage stress and maintain a positive mental attitude.
Leonard Blom has been in charge since Sept 2013, having previously been head at two UK schools including St Edmund’s Prep School in Hertfordshire as well as head at two schools in South Africa, so he’s certainly an experienced man for the role.
Warm and personable, Blom’s approachability ties in perfectly with the school’s focus on happiness and pastoral care. He’s vocal about offering his pupils an all-round education and opportunities outside of the classroom, so really values sport and the creative sides of the school. Where will you find him when he’s not in his office? Outside challenging his pupils to a game of table tennis, he’s quite the talent at ping pong.
Over the last eight years, he’s achieved a lot both in terms of new facilities and also more abstract changes to the feeling of the school. He has really enhanced the creative side of things, improving the standard across the board and introducing a lot more shows and productions in the music department to make it feel more in line with other independent schools in the area. On the sports side of things, he introduced rugby and hockey and put a lot of effort into making sure the girls’ sporting provision was just as strong as the boys.
Under his leadership there’s a lot more joined up teaching and collaboration between teachers across the year groups as well as a greater focus on SEN provisions.
St Aubyn’s is a pretty traditional Prep School aside from the fact that it has the option for children to stay until the end of Year 8 and prepare for the 13+ Common Entrance Exam. As the majority of pupils choose to leave at the end of Year 6, Year 7s and 8s benefit from small class sizes for their age group and really targeted teaching from specialist teachers.
So, if your son or daughter isn’t quite ready to make the leap to a big senior school at the age of 11 or didn’t get into the school/ gain the scholarship they wanted, they can stay in a nurturing and familiar environment for two more years before taking the plunge.
The class sizes are kept fairly small throughout the school. In Nursery there are two classes of 30 pupils each, Reception to Year 6 have three classes of 21 each and Years 7 and 8 have one class each with up to 21 pupils. So every child is known individually and benefits from a lot of attention.
As you’d expect at a school of this calibre, there are a huge number of co-curricular clubs and activities, around 40 in total. There are all the usual sports and music clubs as well as some quirkier offerings like chess, sewing, mindfulness, coding, cooking, craft, board games, cadets, Mathletics, and movie making.
During the Covid-19 pandemic the school performed admirably, delivering a full timetable of online lessons from day one of the first lockdown.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Standard practice for private schools these days that often have two working parents, although the morning provision starts a little later than a lot of schools in the commuter belt. There’s a Breakfast Club for ages 3 – 7 from 8am, and after school club until 6pm.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Sorry kids, but no selfies or Snapchat allowed. Mobile phones are only permitted (with a parent’s consent) if senior pupils travel to and from school on their own.
Pretty reasonable for the area and more accessible than some of the larger local all-through schools. Nursery from £3,535 per term; Reception – Year 5 £3,630; Year 6 £4,380 and Years 7 & 8 £4,470.
View the latest inspection and compliance reports here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Parents who value a really strong all-rounder education and the results that go with it, but don’t want their kids to feel lots of pressure to succeed at such a tender age. St Aubyn’s gives you options when it comes to moving on too – 11+ or 13+, you can decide depending on your child.
Not for: St Aubyn’s is a small school on a small site (although 8 acres isn’t to be sniffed at so close to London), so strongly competitive kids or parents who like heritage buildings with long sweeping drives and countryside all around might find the site a bit constrained.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the next Open Morning on Saturday 1st October. A booking form is available on the school website.
St Aubyn’s School, Bunces Lane, Woodford Green, Essex, IG8 9DU. Tel: 020 8504 1577