Spring Grove School, Wye
Read our updated review of this nurturing, independent school looking after children from 2- 11, positioned just outside the pretty village of Wye.
Coming up the driveway, 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, was a family home before it was 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 an 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) 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 around 150 pupils (from Class R to Year 6) and a total of over 200, if you can count the Nursery, which contributes to the family feel of the place. The Deputy Head teaches PSHE across the whole school, from the Teddies class (2-3-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 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, 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 wins ours prize for the best location for Forest School in Kent, in our humble opinion, and was 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 to qualified and experienced coaches with a wide range of sports. Boys play rugby, football, hockey and cricket and the girls play hockey, netball, football and cricket as well as swimming in aforementioned swimming pool. It probably helps that the Head, Therésa Jaggard, has experience in competitive sports as she has swim squad background and used to swim for her county. Whilst everyone has an opportunity to play sports, they are quick to point out that if talent is spotted – they do have the capacity to nurture it.
Both boys and girls enjoy athletics, tennis and the school has 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 is the focus on the fact that ‘losing is a big part of learning’ and therefore it is (as cheesy as it may sound) the taking part that counts. 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.
You will also find that they invest time looking at the strategy of sport as there are important academic, as well as physical, life-skills to be taught. There is a former Kent cricket coach on site with a sport psychology background which is of real mental benefit to the pupils – plus good for tactics too!
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, for example, Year 6 make table centres to take 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 a good example would be the annual Hat Walk Cat Walk which allows 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 all children, from Reception class upwards, have their own Chrome Book. All the children have access to Google Classroom which was used to deliver the Spring Grove Home-Learning programme during lockdown in 2020.
When group assemblies are not allowed due to Covid-19 regulations, the technical team have merged into a full-on production team too with a morning assembly from the Head’s Sofa every morning in her study which makes for a fun and inter-active experience for everyone involved.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Spring Grove has a strong reputation for music and this is enhanced by the Head’s proficiency in this area. Mrs Jaggard is 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.
The 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% of children, from 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. There is also talk of a choral-led choir so talent can be enhanced in this area too if you child is more talented than me…
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. The 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 the 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 (2020) Kent Test result – over 90% 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 good SEN support with a dedicated SEN co-ordinator, 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 the library, where kids can head if they don’t feel like noisy play outside.
All-Rounder Scholarships are on offer (from Year 3) but these vary on a yearly basis.
Mrs Therésa Jaggard took up her new role at Spring Grove in the Autumn Term 2020 following on from Bill Jones who retired in July 2020 after twelve years at the school. Therésa is a great candidate for the school as she has experience in both the state and independent education sectors as she was the Deputy Head Teacher at Leybourne Ss Peter and Paul CEP Academy. There is also the winning combo of carrying on Bill’s musical legacy as well as bringing fresh ambition and drive into the school.
There are lots of exciting ideas and initiatives in the pipeline including plans to develop the swimming facilities in the long-term (unsurprising given Mrs Jaggard’s background) but her focus is also on providing more of a ‘consistency of excellence’ throughout ALL aspects of the school and to make the school more nationally recognized and outward facing – yet still retain that nurturing element for which it is so well-known.
As Mrs Jaggard herself says, her mission is to find ‘the sparkle in every child’ with the capacity and ability at Spring Grove to grow that talent. We say Hear Hear to that!
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, introduced recently, to ensure that your children are looking smart but are also comfy.
The children in Nursery and Reception 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. The Nursery has it own walled garden, with a large walled garden with a sandpit, digging area, mud kitchen, vegetable garden and music area, plus its own parking area for parents which is always helpful to know.
There has been recent improvement within the EYFS areas – Reception and Giraffes gardens – which allows for free flow learning all year round and as a strategic cleanliness decision due to the astroturf grass- no mud!
In the pre-School Giraffes, the children have sport once a week as well as a mini sports day in the summer for both 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 learning 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’s 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 separate Spring Grove from the others. 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 the study fireplace. The children 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 in French and selling French goods 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. The children then put on a production in French for the whole school when they return – so an immersive culture when it comes to learning languages.
Lastly Jelly the Giraffe is a big character at Spring Grove, and 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, which 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 a huge array of child-led activites (balance beams/chopping wood/archery/scavenging/knot tying to name but a few) as well as the obligatory s’mores and doughnuts over the campfire.
Forest School is run by Paul Curnow, who was in the RAF for 22 years and is now Year 3 teacher at Spring Grove, and so is therefore the ideal candidate to lead the charge here. And it’s not just us who 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. Plus, they have a strong reputation for Kent Test results and helping obtain scholarships to independent schools.
NOT FOR: As it is not attached to a senior school, it might not suit those who want to side step entrance exams by placing the children into the Junior School. The facilities are good here but could do with some improvement which is already well under-way.
Spring Grove School, Harville Road, Wye, TN25 5EZ, Tel: 01233 812337, springgroveschool.co.uk