Russell House School
A Co-ed prep sitting pretty in Otford village. If you like your schools to have a strong family-feel and the focus on individual learning you’re in the right place.
Co-educational prep with a pretty much exact 50/50 boy/girl split – there are currently about 200 pupils at the school – so it’s just about at capacity.
Russell House School is in Otford village, approximately three miles north of Sevenoaks, and eight miles south of Orpington. The school sits, very conveniently, right opposite Otford Station (only 40 mins into London).
From the front, the building looks much like a large home, see above, but opens up, Tardis-like, at the back to reveal more buildings, well-equipped play areas and sports fields aplenty.
If you like your schools to have a strong family-feel and the focus on individual learning you’re in the right place.
Some of the classrooms, and the school hall are in the homely looking building, below, and the pre-prep and main teaching classrooms sit just metres away in purpose-built blocks.
It’s a 5-and-a-half-acre site, which is admittedly smaller than some of the sweeping prep school grounds you come across but easily big enough to provide all the facilities children up to the age of 11 need.
And with the most wonderful atmosphere, strong, inclusive sports, genuinely tailored learning and a handy location, Russell House Prep has plenty of its own appeal.
With up to 216 pupils on roll, but one class per year through-out all year groups, Russell House is a medium-sized prep school with a small school feel.
Sitting at the back of the site are green playing fields and the children make good use of these facilities.
The school is rightfully very proud of its sporting achievements, and is particularly strong in tennis, gymnastics and cross country where its pupils compete and win at both regional and national level.
The school promotes enjoyment and participation in a wide range of games whilst encouraging individuals and teams to achieve at the highest level within school and at county and national events.
Swimming takes place for Main School pupils every other week at Sevenoaks School and the younger children go to the Sevenoaks Leisure Centre pool every week which is shallower and warmer.
Tennis is offered on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons all year round from reception upwards. Not surprisingly then, the school boasts high levels of tennis and its pupils play at both regional and national level.
Music is strong here, with 80% of pupils signing up to individual instrumental or singing lessons. Orchestra is offered from Y2, there’s Choir for everyone or, for those that pass the audition, Chamber Choir.
One really nice touch, that speaks volumes about the school, is that every morning starts with songs in ‘Choristers’ for children in Y3 upwards.
As the children are dropped off by their parents, instead of just chatting in form rooms, they congregate in the dining hall and sing.
They then head off to lessons on the natural high that singing brings, with lungs full of oxygen.
The school uses the Kodály approach, which involves teaching children to learn music, subconsciously at first, through playing games.
Forget rote learning of music notes or slogging through theory workbooks. Children learn rhythm, hand signs and movement, for example, in a way that will also help their reading, writing and maths.
This method allows all children to access music and has been widely credited for having a hugely positive knock-on effect on children’s learning in every subject.
Through regular assemblies and drama productions, performed by individual Forms, children get to build up their confidence and performance skills.
Last year, the bigger scale, end of year production, was Pocahontas, performed by Y5 & Y6 together (pictured above). Below is Form 4 (so what’s generally called Y3) performing Flames, Fiasco and Fake News – telling the real story of the Great Fire of London.
Pleasingly, the creative subjects are given the full weight they deserve at this prep. From Y1 each pupil benefits from two full hours of DT and two full hours of Art every week.
Russell House Prep makes no bones about the fact that it prepares its pupils for the next stage of their academic life, whatever route that might be.
This region of Kent is rich-pickings for grammar school options and excellent independent schools. But Russell House is very much free from the grammar school hot-housing that you see in a lot of preps.
That said, the 11+ is certainly recognised as a reality and the aim for some families – this school finishes at Y6 so there’s no pressure on the school to keep hold of your little darlings for Y7 & Y8.
The focus here is genuinely on each pupil as an individual. Regular meetings take place at which class teachers and subject specialists share their view of every child.
Academic lessons are planned for the whole range of abilities and there are always at least two qualified adults in subject lessons – class sizes never exceed 24 pupils. And with only one class per year, that’s ratio of 1:12 so teachers can really get to know the pupils.
There are specialist teachers in Art, Music, French and Games until Y4 and then for Y5 upwards specialist teachers across all subjects.
Headmaster, Craig McCarthy, is very relaxed and happy to talk about his schools’ approach to 11+ which is refreshing.
‘Almost all of the pupils that passed the 11+ got their first choice Grammar school. Of course, we do not prepare children, but a good prep will weave the necessary knowledge and skills into a broad-based curriculum. Our pupils are not fearful of the test.
‘This approach means that we give parents the broadest choice at Year 6, grammar or independent. If you want grammar, we make no promises but our record speaks for itself,’ says Mr McCarthy with an easy authority that has you totally convinced.
Pupils go onto a wide range of schools – out of 24 pupils last year there were 13 destinations – from grammars, including Judd, Tonbridge Newstead Wood and St Olave’s to independent schools including Sevenoaks School, Caterham, King’s Rochester, Wally Hall, and Lingfield, often on scholarships.
Craig McCarthy is an experienced skipper who taught at prep schools in both Scotland and England before he joined the school as Headmaster in 2012.
Full of enthusiasm for his job, he’s refreshingly straight-talking and welcomes parents coming in to talk and offer feedback.
‘We’re all about each pupil finding their own fit,’ Mr McCarthy explains. ‘Learning here is truly bespoke – no two sets of holiday work look the same for example – everything is designed to fit your child’s individual gaps in their knowledge and skills.’ That seems like an excellent approach to me. But if sport, or singing – rather than academics – is your child’s thing then that will be equally celebrated here, he reassures me.
Little people can start at 2 years in the Pre-Prep in Robins class. All children attend for two morning sessions per week with the option of additional afternoon sessions including lunch from Monday to Friday.
After Robins, and once they have turned three, they move into the Nursery Class and then – a few terms before they start Reception (Form 1) – onto Transition class.
One excellent feature of the Pre-Prep is this Transition class which is the class for the “Rising 4s”. The default position for children with a summer birthday is to join Reception after Christmas, in the January, rather than in the September following their fourth birthday.
As a parent with two children who were each born at opposite ends of the school year birth spectrum, I can see the huge benefits of this. My summer-born could have done with the extra term before starting Reception and my autumn-born child would have loved the Transition class for the end of his Nursery life as he got so bored by the end of the year, being considerably older than many other children.
If Robins children need to stay for a longer day (ie working parents) they can spend the afternoon session with afternoon Nursery and Transition children.
All the rooms are spacious, bright and have excellent facilities including lots of role play and building equipment. Outside is a secure, sunny play area and the children can move freely between indoors and out.
In partnership with United World Schools, Russell House has funded a new school in Nepal. It is a project that has grown from the foundations up and involves the whole school community pulling together to help provide the greatest of gifts: a good education, where children are encouraged to think for themselves.
So this involves lots of fund-raising events and, of course, participation in a project like this is a good reminder to Russell House children just how lucky they are and builds global consciousness and connections through collaborative classroom activities between the two schools.
At the time of visiting, the school was close to completing its sustainability area called The Farm, complete with chickens, a pond and vegetable beds.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Before and after-school care is available at Russell House to everyone who needs it, from 7.45am to 6pm, five days a week.
Children can be dropped off daily from 7.45am. And, of course, there’s that singing to start the day, mentioned earlier – called Choristers – for Forms 4-7 (Y3-Y6) which starts at 8.10am. Registration followed by lessons is at 8.40am for most parts of the school.
Russell Rainbows after-school care is available to everyone who needs it up to 6.00pm (there is a charge for this).
WORD ON THE GROUND
The mums I’ve talked to really rate the school, and it definitely has a very upbeat, ‘can-do’ aura. The location of the prep school right opposite the train station and the fact that drop off occurs conveniently before the 07.56 train into London, makes it a popular choice with commuting parents.
Feedback is that the children are unpretentious and friendly. I had the pleasure of talking to a whole class of Y6 during my visit and they were all very likeable, well-behaved and polite. As well as being relaxed and natural. The parents, like the children, are said to be equally down-to-earth and hard working.
Fees are very comparable to other local preps in the area. Termly fees are:
Russell Robins (2 mornings per week): £790; Nursery (5 mornings per week): £2,100; Transition (5 mornings per week): £2,175; Form 1: £3, 755; Forms 2 & 3: £4,150; Form 4: £4,350; Form 5 £4,630 and Forms 6 & 7: £4,775.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Well-rounded and grounded kids. The vibe is informal and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. If you’re looking to move down from London (but don’t want a long commute) and want to enable your child to go on to either excellent independent schools or local grammar schools, this could be a great choice.
There is an authenticity about this school and it attracts grounded families – think bespoke learning without pretension. Will bring out the best in your child, whether their talents lie in the classroom, the music room or on the games pitch. Has the feel of a small school, without actually being too tiny – there’s a decent-sized cohort of kids here.
Not for: Those who require boarding, a town location, or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ or edgy approach to schooling. No sweeping grounds and mansion-like buildings to slap on the front of a prospectus but there’s space and opportunity aplenty here.
Dare to disagree?! Come and visit the school for its next Open Morning on Wed 23 Sept 2020 at 9.15am or make an appointment for an individual tour of the school, followed by a meeting with the Headmaster by contacting the registrar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Russell House School, Station Road, Otford, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 5QU, Tel: 01959 522352, russellhouseschool.co.uk