Leehurst Swan School, Salisbury
Muddy says: Want a one-stop, pastoral education for your family? This friendly, co-ed, all through to 16 day school with a pre-school on site is small but perfectly formed.
WHAT? WHERE? Located in a quiet residential neighbourhood overlooking Salisbury, with eye-catching views of the cathedral, Leehurst Swan is an all-through, co-ed day school for Reception children to Year 11.
With its original Victorian family home main building plus fresh and modern new builds, combines a homely atmosphere with a shipshape sense of purposeful activity. The air feels clean up here and the space deceptively large with the 250 or so pupils (around 150 in the prep and 100 in the senior school) all roomily contained in the six-acre site.
FACILITIES: There’s a nice mix of traditional and modern at Leehurst Swan. The school’s history stretches back 100 years with a convent school and a boys’ prep in the mix. But while it keeps its historic patina, the school feels like a contemporary educational offering. The prep has been transformed in recent years with a substantial injection of new architecture in the shape of the Centenary Building, a space for Reception to Year 6 which has got to be the nicest smelling school building I’ve ever been in. There’s no whiff of institution here and the other senses are treated gently too. All the classrooms are light and airy, and despite being full of young kids, it’s quiet! It’s also the perfect temperature with a fancy heating system that keeps it just so at all times. There was a sense of calm which I’m sure the building in part engenders.
The senior school in the old building is more of a warren, but classrooms have been systematically refurbished so they all feel fresh and bright, and there’s a new library. The drama and music departments have a great space too, in the shape of Walker Hall. All the pupils come here for music lessons and everyone gets involved in performances. Year 11 also has a Common Room, just for them.
The school is big on getting pupils up on stage to grow their confidence and all the pupils in Year 3 and Year 7 have to be in the school choir (at Christmas they sing in Salisbury Cathedral, which must be a melt-your-heart occasion). The space transforms into the lunch hall at midday – and on the day I visited with sausage casserole and vanilla sponge and custard on the menu, it smelled damn fine too! It’s been designed with fire station-style doors so on warm days opens onto an al-fresco terrace.
There are lots of outdoor play areas too – the prep school pupils designed their own and the senior pupils have courts and a huge field to burn off energy in. There is also a lovely pavilion and playing fields in the Cathedral Close, an historical inheritance, which pupils are bused over to for school matches and sports day. There are plans to develop the outside play facilities, with a new wooden pirate ship, a music station and nature trails.
LITTLIES: The Swans reception class has a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Reception year was highlighted by Ofsted as having established a “good level of development”, including children with SEN.
The nursery isn’t run by the school anymore but it’s still there on site for the working parents’ dream one-stop drop. It’s in a lovely open-plan building and was recently shortlisted as a finalist in the 2021 Nursery World Awards.
ACADEMICS: With small class sizes (average 16) children receive focused attention. In Reception, every child has an interactive learning diary with photos, videos and examples of their work posted every day so parents can see what their little darlings are up to; and every single pupil is monitored by the learning support department which tracks their progress and swoops in with support if needed. From from Reception pupils receive specialist attention in French. Visiting the senior school science labs in years 5 & 6 is obviously quite a thrill. Being all-through, the jolt from primary to secondary is considerably lessened as prep school pupils experience tasters of the senior school and by Year 6 are pretty much being taught by subject teachers. There’s an entrance exam for all Year 6s, but the school is keen to stress to pupils that no one should go in to fail, and if there are academic concerns, these are flagged well in advance in Year 5.
2021 was a good year for GCSE results, with a 100% of pupils passing in 5 subjects including English and Maths. 63% of all grades were level 7 to 9, and 13% level 9.
The school has a GCSE options package called “Find Your Voice” which allows students to specialise to a greater degree than is often possible at this stage. With some schools insisting that pupils take two or three sciences, a language and a humanity at GCSE, they are often left with a choice of only two or three subjects which are not always guaranteed with inflexible blocking of subjects. At Leehurst Swan they have taken a different approach, maximising choice: alongside the compulsory core subjects of English and maths, students can select seven from seventeen GCSE subjects that are not limited by option blocks and allow them to choose any combination from four sciences (computer science, physics, biology and chemistry); four creatives (music, drama, photography and art); three modern foreign languages (German, French and Spanish); three humanities (history, geography and religious studies); alongside additional choices of business studies, design & technology and PE.
This year every child got into their first choice sixth form, with many going to the Salisbury grammars such as Bishop Wordsworth’s and Peter Symonds Sixth Form College in Winchester.
PASTORIAL CARE: A strength. The school does seem to go out of its way to tend to emotional as well as academic needs, and staff are proud of this aspect. There’s a special area for pupils who need a bit more TLC to drop in, store their belongings, have someone help them get organised, or just retreat for a bit of down time.
THE HEAD: Terence Ayres has been at the helm since 2019. His teaching career has spanned over three decades, in the state and independent sector, with Leehurst Swan his second Headship after completing 5 years as Headmaster of Thorpe House School in Gerrards Cross. An enthusiastic sportsman, he enjoys playing football (and is a passionate Arsenal supporter, hailing from that part of the country). He has a down-to-earth, accessible and charming manner, and I can see how his policy of humour in the classroom would warm the kids up for learning.
WHAT ELSE? The school has a good sporting reputation and has even harboured a couple of football pros. There has also been an Olympic sailing champion and the school picked up a clutch of medals at a recent national cross-country meet. So in terms of pupil numbers, it really punches above its weight on the sports field.
The Duke of Edinburgh Awards are popular for senior pupils, and the school has launched the Mini Duke and Junior Duke Awards to encourage independence and self-motivation amongst their younger pupils. Children must complete seven skills successfully such as First Aid, ICT, Languages, Art, Drama, Music, Sport and other life skills such as cookery and a tyre puncture repair. The children will be given many of the necessary skills in school, but most of the challenges will require some time and effort to master outside of school. It is hoped all children who want to participate will reach Platinum level by the end of the summer term in Year 6.
A new uniform has just been implemented, with (optional) trousers for girls, a tailored blazer for seniors and a new school tie.
New for September 2021 is Forest school within the timetable from Reception up to year four, including woodland management, den building, fire lighting & cooking, using tools, and loads more.
QUIRKS: Art, especially photography, is a strength – a Year 10 pupil has recently won the Salisbury Rotary Photographer of the Year competition and two pupils from the Senior school won their categories in the ISA South West Art Competition, with a further two pupils placed as runners up. The energetic art department takes over a gallery space in town every year where, with other local schools, they exhibit pupils’ work.
Leehurst has won one of the few coveted squares on Salisbury Monopoly Board!
WRAP AROUND CARE: The school is all geared up for the working parent who needs to drop and dash off to work. Breakfast club starts at 7am and after school continues until 6pm during which time pupils are offered all sorts of extra-curricular activities, as well as homework club.
ISI REPORT: The last full inspection was March 2017, with a follow-up compliance inspection in March 2020. Overall “excellent” with “outstanding” leadership.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY: Pupils do not use their phones during the day. All phones are handed into the form teachers first thing in the morning and then returned at the end of the school day.
TRANSPORT: Minibus services run from North Salisbury and from the train station.
FEES: Competitive. Reception to Year 2 £2,500 per term; Year 3 £2,995 per term; Year 4 £3,450; Year 5 to Year 6 £3,995 per term; Senior school Years 7-8 £5,170 per term; Years 9-11 £5,275 per term. Unusually, they offer a 5% discount for the second or subsequent child attending the school at the same time. They also offer NHS ‘Heroes’ – 10% discount for children of NHS parents or those of serving members of HM Forces. So, cheaper than Salisbury Cathedral School or Dauntsey’s, and not far off Warminster School.
WORD ON THE GROUND: Parents love the school for its family-friendly set-up and strong pastoral care, and also for taking the uncertainty out of senior school transition. Those working at Salisbury Hospital appreciate the fee discount and wraparound care. Everyone seems happy with the remote school learning provision during lockdown.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Pupils who love sport, drama, music and art, and enjoy a smallish cohort. Parents who want to send all their children to the same school and not have to worry about swapping schools at Year 7 or 9. Those who want to specialise at GCSE stage.
Not for: Parents who want a school that will see their child through Sixth Form. Über-bright kids who thrive on a sense of academic competition might do better at the Salisbury grammars.
Leehurst Swan School, 19 Campbell Road, Salisbury, Wilts SP1 3BQ, tel: 01722 333094, leehurstswan.org.uk