Spring Grove, an independent school looking after children from 2- 11, positioned just outside the pretty village of Wye.
You will find Spring Grove, an independent school looking after children from 2- 11, positioned just outside the pretty village of Wye which is just over 4 miles from Ashford station. Coming up the driveaway, you could almost pretend that you are visiting a friend with a rather grand looking home as the distinctive and attractive Stuart house, adorned with beautiful wisteria, does not look like a typical school and was a family home before it transformed in 1967. This is also a place with a significant historical background, as the writer, Joseph Conrad, wrote his short novel, ‘The Rescue’ in 1919, whilst staying at Spring Grove and one of the school houses is named in his honour alongside other prominent authors with links to Kent – Dickens, Austen and Chaucer.
Set within 14 acres of beautiful Kent countryside and a recently opened off-site Forest School, that has won a heap of prizes since it was launched in 2016, this is a school that is very proud of its ‘family’ atmosphere (there is even a school dog called Acker who has been trained in psychology and helps with SEN pupils) with an emphasis on the importance of trying and a very inclusive nature when it comes to sport, music and drama. ‘Always Do Your Best’ is the school motto here so you very much feel that every pupil plays an important part in the matrix of the school – whatever their ability.
There are 151 pupils (from Class R to Year 6) and a total of 205, if you can count the Nursery, which contributes to the family feel of the place as it is a boutique school where the pupils are known by the staff. The Deputy Head teaches PSHCE across the whole school, from the pre-school Giraffes class (3-4-year olds) upwards, ensuring she has a good knowledge of everybody within the school which is a big selling-point.
Most form classes are held in the main school house which may seem quite old-school but lends itself to that homely atmosphere and might appeal to the Harry Potter fans out there. There are plenty of modern additions to proceedings, such as a new library centre, music department, changing rooms/match teas for sports and science block, to ensure that this is a school that is evolving too.
For sports fans, this is an idyllic place to hone your craft as you have acres (quite literally) to practise in as well as its own outdoor heated swimming pool. An award-winning off-site Forest School has also been recently introduced to the school which wins ours prize for the best location for Forest School in Kent, in our humble opinion, and was recently recognized as the first independent school in the UK, as well as the first setting of any type in Kent, to be approved by the Forest School Association (FSA) as a recognised Forest School Provider. A pond, close to the main school house, is also a pivotal part of the school and is the perfect environment for impromptu science lessons.
As you may expect from an independent school, the pupils here have access qualified and experienced coaches with a wide range of sports. Boys play rugby, football, hockey and cricket and the girls play hockey, netball, football, kwik cricket and rounders as well as swimming in aforementioned swimming pool plus athletics, tennis and they have a fierce reputation for its cross-country stars. Swimming starts in Reception class, when all children have a weekly lesson in the Summer term and they also offer private swimming lessons in the school pool during the holidays.
What I really liked about the approach to sport here (and this is coming from a Headmaster that has a son who plays Rugby for Scotland) that the focus on the fact that ‘losing is a big part of learning’ a and therefore it is (as cheesy as it may sound) the taking part that counts and the lessons that you learn from losing are far more important than the ones you learn from winning. Every pupil here (if they wish) will play a match for the school at some point in their career and there are also initiatives such the Bikeability project for Year 6 to get them fully proficient in this area.
The Art block is positioned in a quirky attic room above the Teddies and Giraffes area and is a very creative space, with harmonic (mostly!) sounds of children playing beneath you. From Key Stage 2, children are taught by a specialist art teacher and there is plenty of scope here to perfect your skills. The school makes a point about incorporating their artwork into other aspects of school life and recently, Year 6 made table centres which were pride of place at the Summer Ball.
They cover DT units in Art lessons (as well as the practical aspects of DT in Forest School) and an good example would be its recent Hat Walk Cat Walk which allowed the children to follow a design procedure: design, make, review, alter, finish with the children parading the finished creations!
ICT is embedded in all subjects as part of the curriculum and there is a dedicated ICT room where children have fortnightly dedicated ICT lessons to develop their computing skills, and a Chromebook Club where they learn skills such as music production, photo editing, and programming Bebots. From Year 3, the children have access to Google Classroom and there is a library of Chrome Books to enable the kids to become very efficient in this area.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Spring Grove has a strong reputation for music, which is helped by the Head, Bill Jones’, passion for it as he is a jazz musician, who plays the piano (there is even one in his office) and trombone and has been known to ‘jam’ with pupils on a regular basis and performs a gig every year with his band at the school. Bill Jones is moving on at the end of the Summer term 2020 (more of that in the Head notes below) but they were careful to choose a musically minded replacement to keep this musical spirit alive.
The relatively new Music Room incorporates a large teaching and orchestral space as well as two smaller teaching rooms and informal concerts are regularly held to give all children, whatever their level of playing, an opportunity to perform. Music lessons are an additional fee but 80% children in Years 1 to 6 have instrumental music lessons and there are string, brass, wind, percussion and recorder ensembles, a prize-winning jazz band and an orchestra of over 25 musicians – plus ANYBODY can join the choir which is music (quite literally) to my ears as I am a hugely enthusiastic but unaccomplished singer.
Drama also plays a large part at Spring Grove and they produce two musicals a year for middle school (end of the Spring term) and for upper school (end of the Summer term) with an encouragement for everyone to participate in a bid to take the fear out of performing plus kids are welcomed to perform in School Assembly with parents invited to watch on a Friday.
There is a non-selective admissions policy at Spring Grove with a recommendation to do a taster day to ensure that the prospective pupils are happy with their parents’ choice before coming to the school. There is a two-form intake here with currently 10 pupils in one Reception class and 9 in the other and a staff to pupil ratio (including TAs) for Reception to Prep 6 is 1:8 so you are getting hands-on support throughout the school.
What makes Spring Grove a little different from some of the other schools in close vicinity is that there is not an affiliated senior school and therefore you feel that the Head and Staff will work closely with you to identify the best secondary school for your child rather than a ‘soft sell’ to the senior school. For its most recent (2019) Kent Test result – 75% of those who took the test passed, and many of its’ Year 6 children frequently win academic, sport and music scholarships to local independent schools, such as St Edmund’s, Kent College and Ashford School.
As you may imagine in the current educational environment, there is a growing emphasis on SEN support and they have recently expanded this department with a dedicated SEN co-ordinator, new facilities such as the cute Cubby learning space as well as lots of space around the school that offer safe places, such as a geodome outside and new library, where kids can head if they don’t feel like noisy play outside.
Scholarships are on offer (from Year 3) but these vary on a yearly basis and are centred on Drama, Sport, Music, Academic and All-Rounder.
As mentioned, this is the last year for Bill Jones as Head since his appointment 11 years ago. He’s retiring and heading to Scotland to continue his love of music and it is a sad moment for the school as he is a big character with a detailed knowledge and keen interest in each of his pupils but his successor also sounds like good news.
Mrs Therésa Jaggard will take up her new role at Spring Grove in the Autumn Term 2020 and has experience in both the state and independent education sectors and is currently Deputy Head Teacher at Leybourne Ss Peter and Paul CEP Academy. Bill’s musical legacy should also be hopefully retained as Jaggard is also an accomplished musician – a violinist, pianist and singer who is highly experienced at running orchestras and choirs, and organising musical events so watch this space.
A big plus point here is that your child can effortlessly move up the ranks from Teddies (2-year olds -where they help you with potty training – hurrah!), to Giraffes (3 year olds) until they reach Reception class (from 4 years old) plus you get access to 15 hours of funding so there is hopefully no bottom lip quivering on the official first day of their school, as it will all feel completely normal to them – and to you of course. There is an average of 16 children per class in Teddies and Giraffes and a new uniform is on its way with cute branding to reflect those teddies and giraffes to ensure that your children are looking smart but are also comfy.
The children at Pre-School and Nursery eat their food (home-cooked on site) with Key Stage 1 which is good for them to start to feel ‘grown-up’ and aware of the bigger school around them and beyond their dedicated block and garden space (a large walled garden with a sandpit, digging area, mud kitchen, vegetable garden and music area) plus its own parking space for parents which is always helpful to know so you can be sure you can walk your child in every day rather than going round and round a car park trying to find a space.
There is Forest school for Giraffes in the corner of the Nursery garden plus sport once a week as well as a mini sports day in the summer for the Teddies and Giraffes year groups. They also take part in music lessons once a week with an early years’ music specialist as well as learn French so a very solid and enjoyable foundation for the years to come.
You will also find plenty of cute moments throughout the year to applaud your child with a Nativity play (Giraffe and Reception) and an Easter bonnet parade, plus there are school trips throughout the year for this age group with the Rare Breeds Centre being a recent big hit.
Tradition plays a large part in school life here, and that brings with it, individual quirks that separates Spring Groves from the others. Here, pupils stand up to greet you when you walk into their classroom with a ‘good morning’ in unison (which I know is a big plus for some parents and not so much for others) plus a very popular tradition with the Nursery children is taking letters to Santa to the Head, who owns a direct hotline to the Christmas visitor via his fireplace. There, they sing some songs with the Head, then individually send their letters up the chimney to the waiting sleigh.
An outdoor themed French breakfast is hosted twice a year with children speaking only in French and bringing in French themed goods to eat such as croissants and pain au chocolat which gets the big thumbs up as you can well imagine. Years 3 and 4 also head to Bologne for the day (beauty of being so close to the Channel Tunnel) and visit the markets to improve their French and in Year 5, the big treat is to visit a chateau in France for the week, which is a tradition that has been going on for the past 25 years, and putting on a production in French for the whole school when they return so an immersive culture when it comes to learning languages.
Quirkier clubs include Environmental Club, Film Club and Board Games and lastly Jelly the giraffe is a big character at Spring Grove, and he is awarded to the House that earns the greatest number of stars week by week, and at the end of term in Final Assembly.
A special shout-out needs to go to the introduction of a dedicated Forest School space located in a private woodland area with six acres of land at their disposal, five minutes’ drive from the school, and is available for all children from Reception through to Year 6. The class usually runs for four hours allowing the kids proper time to engage with huge array of child-led activity (balance beams/chopping wood/archery/scavenging/knot tying to name but a few) available plus enjoy lunch out there with its outdoor kitchen as well as obligatory s’mores and doughnuts over the campfire.
Forest School is run by Paul Curnow, who was in the RAF for 22 years and was then a Year 3 teacher at Spring Grove, and so is therefore the ideal candidate to lead the charge here. And it’s not just us that think that as he was recently awarded Inspiring Outdoor Educator of the Year by the Council for Learning Outside.
The caring and family-orientated aspect of the school comes through here as many of the parents have donated various objects to contribute to Forest School as well as the Wye fire station bell is on site to signify dinner time! As Paul says, it gives the children another opportunity to empower themselves, and has also been used as a site for staff training so they are put through their paces too.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Wrap around care is good here which helps many of the parents, who are heading to London on the high speed train to work, with the option to drop off kids at 7.30 for Breakfast Club and option to stay at the school for Clubs and after-school care until 6pm – and this is from Teddies right through to Year 6.
Reception (4-5 years) £3,000 per term
Year 1 (5-6 years) £3,250 per term
Year 2 (6-7 years) £3,450 per term
Prep 3 (7-8 years) £4,000 per term
Prep 4 (8-9 years) £4,300 per term
Prep 5 (9-10 years) £4,300 per term
Prep 6 (10-11 years) £4,300 per term
WORD ON THE GROUND
You could take our word for it or you could also listen to what a couple of Year 6 pupils had to say where their favourite parts of the school. One said that the Kent test practice had been hugely helpful to their learning whereas another said that it was the debating club and LAMDA teaching that they enjoyed as well as the matching scrunchies for their uniform – obvs. Chinese food and banoffee pie are also popular dishes at lunch and the trip to the French chateau was talked about in much revered terms with canoeing on a mud course (yikes) being a big hit.
Plus, one local mum told me that, ‘SG has a lovely family atmosphere where the children are encouraged to develop their own strengths. My children have grown in confidence thanks to the nurturing and encouragement in all aspects of school life’ so that Always Do Your Best school motto really does shine through.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those looking for a family-orientated and nurturing environment where it’s truly the taking part that counts and not always the winning that matters. Plus, it’s a rural setting, yet within easy reach of Ashford station, so your children can benefit from a true country setting even if you work in town.
NOT FOR: It is a lovely and intimate setting where the facilities are good but not mind-blowing. As it is not attached to a senior school, it might also not suit those who want to side step entrance exams by placing the children into the Junior School.
Spring Grove School, Harville Road, Wye, TN25 5EZ, Tel: 01233 812337, springgroveschool.co.uk