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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 which, 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.  The nursery isn’t run by the school anymore but it is still there on site for the working parents’ dream one-stop drop. Leehurst Swan is all set up for the two working parent families and goes out of its way to make life easy for them with bus services and train station pick-ups. 

A nod must go to their remote schooling provision recently – by all accounts, the school delivered a stimulating full timetable of digital, live, interactive lessons throughout both periods of lockdown, meaning pupils at home enjoyed uninterrupted learning. Well done!

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 sisters, a boys’ prep and a Miss Swanton all in the mix. But while it keeps its historic patina, the school feels like a very 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 fabulous space for Reception to Year 6 which has got to be the nicest smelling school building I’ve ever been in. There’s not a whiff of institutional, er, whiff 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. I was really impressed by the sense of calm which I’m sure the building in part engenders.

centenary prep building
The all-singing, all-dancing Centenary Building

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 is a brand spanking 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, be it spring concerts, nativity plays or full-on, all-singing, all-dancing productions. 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.

Academic results: With small class sizes and a high teacher pupil ratio, children receive super-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 Year 3, pupils receive specialist teaching in French and science – and visiting the labs in the senior school is obviously quite a thrill if the Year 4s I saw slapping custard with the back of a spoon is anything to go by! 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.

This year was another excellent year for 11+ results, with an 81% pass rate. From September 2021 they will continue with their offering of 11+ preparation formalising time in the curriculum/timetable for pupils from Y3 upwards.

‘Find Your Voice’ is an ethos celebrating the fact that every child has something to offer – their strengths, talents and interests are identified, nurtured and given a voice.

The school has a new GCSE options package for the Seniors: with many schools insisting that their 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 fresh approach, maximising choice and creating GCSE pathways, alongside the compulsory core subjects of English language, English literature and mathematics. At Leehurst uniqueness matters and they believe that education is not about forcing pupils to fit a pre-determined mould, but as a school they encourage all pupils to explore their passions, develop their potential and ‘find their voice’ in an ever-changing world. Students can select seven from seventeen optional 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 bespoke ‘find your voice’ approach to GCSE empowers pupils to take ownership of their education and control of their future, increasing their chances of success and enabling them to realise their potential and fulfil their dreams.

Teachers pride themselves on preparing pupils for exams, but not cramming them, encouraging free thinking beyond the classroom. And this approach seems to yield results with many pupils going on to do A Levels at the Salisbury grammars, as well as gaining scholarships at independent schools such as Warminster and Godolphin.

Headteacher: Terence Ayres is the man at the helm. His teaching career has spanned over three decades, teaching 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. He is an enthusiastic sportsman and enjoys playing football (he is a passionate Arsenal supporter), tennis and cricket in his spare time; he also enjoys skiing, swimming and surfing when he gets the opportunity. Science fiction is his favourite movie genre and he confesses to being a huge fan of all things Star Wars related! Most importantly he has a simple philosophy, that fun and humour in the classroom promotes engagement and that when students enjoy what they are learning you get the very best out of them. He is passionate about ensuring that every child will ‘find their voice’ at Leehurst Swan.

What else? The school has a great 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 recently launched the Mini Duke and Junior Duke Awards, an exciting new scheme to encourage independence and self-motivation amongst their younger pupils. The Mini Duke Award is for Year 1 and 2 children, while the Junior Duke Award is for children in Years 3 – 6. There are four levels within the Junior Duke: bronze, silver, gold and platinum, and in each of these four levels are ten challenges, from which each child must complete seven successfully. These include skills such 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.                                                                 

On the completion of a level, well-earned merits, a certificate and badge are awarded, and it is hoped all children who want to participate will reach Platinum level by the end of the summer term in Year 6.

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 school’s ethos is very much to help every individual child feel good about themselves and it goes out of its way to foster this by tending to emotional as well as academic needs. To support this, the school has a new hang-out room, The Hub, providing support to a range of pupils with learning and emotional needs.

Quirks: Art, especially photography, is another 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 along with a further two pupils being 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!

Wraparound care: The school is all geared up for the working parent who needs to drop all ages, both sexes 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. 

Fees: Competitive! The fees stand by the inclusive principles of the school – Reception to Year 2 £2,995 per term; Year 3 to Year 4 £3,950 per term; Year 5 to Year 6 £3,995 per term; Senior school Years 7-8 £5,170 per term; Year 9 £5,200 per term; Years 10-11 £5275 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.

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.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Pupils who love sport, drama, music and art, and enjoy a smallish cohort where they can shine. 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.

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.

Dare to disagree? Let’s hear your views! Book now for their Open Evening on Thursday 29th April, 4.30-7pm, where they will be running socially-distanced tours. Go and have a look yourself and let me know what you think. Oh, and watch their fab video!

Leehurst Swan School, 19 Campbell Road, Salisbury, Wilts SP1 3BQ,  tel: 01722 333094, leehurstswan.org.uk

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