Muddy Best Schools
SUTTON VALENCE PREP SCHOOL, NR MAIDSTONE
Sutton Valence Prep School is a co-educational day prep school in Chart Sutton, just south of Maidstone, in a wonderful countryside setting, not far from the Senior School of the same name. The original building, above, is a grand red brick mansion and the rest of the school is housed in sympathetic modern buildings. There’s around 320 boys and girls (split pretty evenly around half of each) aged 3-11 years roaming in rural playing fields and woodland. The school welcomes children of all abilities into small classes, so there’s plenty of attention lavished.
As well as the usual top notch facilities you expect at a high-end prep (full-size astro turf, tennis and netball courts, extensive sports fields, a heated swimming pool for the younger children, a sports hall, permanent cricket nets and a grass athletics track…) children here have the added advantage of access to the Senior School facilities. Just ‘over the road’ – or in fact a short 1mile minibus trip away – they can enjoy the benefits of Sutton Valence Senior School’s 25m indoor heated pool and other added extras, such as a top chorister who had been working with the Senior School children but who also offered a workshop to those in the Prep School. There are clear plus points about having a big brother school near by looking out for you.
The school talks a lot about ‘enrichment’ and bringing out the ‘thing’ that each child enjoys. Walking around I definitely get the sense that the co-curricular stuff – from cross-country to choir – is a very valued side of the school.
Children are encouraged to enjoy music from pre-prep age onwards and during Years 3 and 4 all children are taught to play the ocarina (yeah go on, look it up, I had to) and by Years 5 and 6, they all learn the ukulele. Singing is a great strength of the school and there’s four choirs – three of these are open to all (Pre-Prep Choir, Junior Choir and Senior Choir). Members of the Senior Choir are invited to audition for the Chamber Choir, a small ensemble performing a more challenging repertoire. There’s even a Mum’s Choir that meets on a Friday, called Mumma Mia.
Lots of talented art work decorates the walls, as you walk around. Another nice touch are the large canvas prints of photos of the pupils that are on display throughout the school, like the hall in the main Reception area, below.
There’s a real sense of community at this school (the parents’ clubs are testament to this). And I was particularly impressed with the respectful but relaxed way the children and teachers interact with one another. This is definitely a forward thinking school.
There are lots of thoughtful, fun touches around the school, like this cute little grassy terrace that leads outside from the Library where children can relax and read on sunny days.
The classrooms were all big and bright – and I took a couple of photos to show the great effort of creativity going into decorating each room – they were almost like stage sets. From Tudor/Great Fire of London to The Snow Queen – these were the kind of themes the teachers were carefully crafting with real enthusiasm – lucky kids this lot.
Houses are split into Hever, Rochester, Bodium and Leeds – and inter-house competition is fierce and fun as it should be. My guide was proud to show me the cups won so far this year by his house, Hever, pictured below.
I was taken around the school by the new Head Boy and Girl who willingly gave up their break time to extend my tour when the time ran over. They weren’t the super high-achieving, overly drilled kids that made the role in my day – they were just down-to-earth, wonderful, charming children and a credit to the school. Seriously, there was nothing these kids did not know!
Also worth a mention is manners which were really excellent. I stuck my nose into loads of classes (which are small as you’d expect – between 16-18 kids in each). All the kids were very relaxed, friendly and happy.
As a Prep School that finishes at age 11, Sutton Valence is well aware, and welcomes, the fact that quite a few children will aim to go on to the local grammars. The prep has a strong record in preparing children for whatever secondary school they decide upon, whether state or independent and many sit the 11+ entrance exam every year. On average, 58% of children go on to the Senior School, 39% to local grammars and the other 3% to other independent schools. Also worth a mention is the fact that Sutton Valence (Senior) School offers around 12 scholarships to pupils from SVPS every year.
Newly appointed Headteacher, Miss Claire Corkran (she already knows the school well, having been Deputy Head for 6 years). She’s very approachable and friendly and encourages an open door policy. To demonstrate this she makes a point of standing outside the school for half an hour every morning greeting the children and their parents as they arrive for the day. (She proudly shows me some hand-warmers one pupil gave her as a Christmas present!) Prefects meet with Miss Corkran on a weekly basis to discuss leadership issues and make suggestions.
I’m not sure I’d describe Sutton Valence as quirky really unless you count the fabulous Pets Corner, where you’ll find school guinea pigs (the children share in the responsibility of caring for them).
It’s not a ‘quirk’ but more a ‘style’ of the school – inclusiveness. All of Y6 Prefect for a term. The thinking behind this is that sometimes it’s only when children are given the position of responsibility that they grow in self-esteem and rise to the occasion. This way, the Headteacher tells me, they’ve discovered sometimes those kids you least expect really step up to the challenge. I agree with this theory 100 per cent – when I worked at a huge secondary comp I made my noisiest Y11 a Library Prefect (he did a great job and thrived on the responsibility).
Wrap around care:
Children may be dropped off at School from 7.30am, in time for breakfast (cereals, toast, fruit etc) at 7.50am. This, combined with Little Suttons for Pre-Prep and tea for them and Prep children, offers parents extended care from 7.30am until 6pm, every day during term time.
Nursery full-time is £2, 830, Reception: £2, 960, rising to £4,345 per term for Y5 & Y6, so I’d say the fees are quite competitive for a prep school of this calibre.
Word on the ground:
The mums I spoke to are extremely pro Sutton Valence and are really pleased that Miss Claire Corkran (who was acting Headteacher while the position was being filled) has been formally appointed to the role. Sport and music get a big thumbs up, as does setting and nurturing side. Everyone said the school fosters a real sense of community and that they felt there was something special about the school.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: This is definitely not a traditional, stuffy prep school. Every effort is made to make sure that learning is fun for the children and there’s a great rapport between the children and those teaching them. There’s a genuine warmth and friendliness about this school. This school is big on added value without being super competitive. Big enough to be exciting but small enough for nurture and pastoral care.
Not for: Those who require boarding options, a town location or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ approach to schooling.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning on Friday 3rd March 2017, to find out more or book a place click here, or book an individual tours with the Headteacher during term-time throughout the year.
Sutton Valence Preparatory School, Church Road, Chart Sutton, Maidstone, Kent, ME17 3RF, Tel: 01622 842117, svs.org.uk/preparatory-school