Parkside School, Cobham
PARKSIDE SCHOOL, COBHAM
This is a small school on a big site, with an even bigger community spirit. Yes, it’s true that most schools have a strong focus on community and family. A school is, after all, a community. But at Parkside Prep in Cobham the community spirit is unlike anything I’ve seen before – from the school mums taking part in a tennis clinic to the constant chat between staff members, school parents and students. During my tour with the school’s deputy head, Madeline McMurdo, we passed by several parents – and it was clear that Mrs McMurdo had a genuine and close relationship with every one of them.
Parkside sits on 45 acres, just out of Cobham at Stoke D’Abernon, down a private road off the A245. The school’s address is The Manor – which tells you something about the main school building – a former Elizabethan manor house with roots that go back to before the Norman conquest and rich history that includes kings, queens and noblemen. The location is undeniably idyllic, siting as it does on the Mole River with the gorgeous St Mary’s Church within the same grounds. (Interesting fact, St Mary’s is thought to be built in the late 7th century which makes it one of the oldest churches in Surrey). There are aces of playing fields which melt into a pretty woodland.
Parkside is an independent prep school for boys aged 4 to 13 years with a co-ed nursery for children aged 2-4. It’s a two-form entry throughout most of the school, with about 285 boys in total, and entry is selective. Boys come here from the local area as well as further afield – the school runs a bus from Wimbledon and south-west London. Many of the boys have started their Parkside journey in the nursery, and their progress and development is monitored so an assessment is not necessary. Boys coming into the pre-prep (reception to yr 2) or prep school (yr 3-8), will be invited to a ‘taster’ day where they’ll be assessed.
The school’s tagline Built on Tradition – Embracing the Future feels pretty spot on. The school has an undoubtedly strong history, but alongside that there’s a charming but subtle tendency towards classic good manners. All very traditional – but not in a fusty or outdated way.
There’s everything you’d expect of an independent school for boys – and perhaps more, when you consider the size of the school’s population. Sports wise, there are pitches galore – up to eight outdoor grass pitches – as well as tennis courts, there’s a 22.5 metre indoor heated swimming pool and an indoor sports hall. The Mole River lends itself to kayaking and fishing.
There’s an Art Block, Design and Technology and IT Block (with a swanky new STEM suite that’s ‘boy heaven’), a Science and Music Block.
The Salon – a big manor room – is used for sport, lunch, and school plays (the small balcony lends itself quite nicely to Shakespearean plays!).
Most of the boys carry on through the school up to Year 8 – and from here they move into a wide range of schools, from the nearby Reeds, to Epsom College, St John’s, RGS in Guildford, Kings College in Wimbledon, Charterhouse in Godalming, Cranleigh School, Hampton and Tonbridge.
Academically, the school does well – with more than one-third of this year’s Year 8 cohort winning scholarships in drama, art, music, sport and academics. The school – and the head mistress Nicole Janssen in particular – has a huge involvement in helping parents find the right school for their son, a process that starts when the boys are in Year 4 and includes supporting parents as well as preparing the boys supporting them through the process. Finding the right senior school is something Ms Janssen feels very strongly about – and she’ll encourage families to think about schools they may not have considered.
Head mistress Nicole Janssen is new to the role having only recently been officially appointed – she was acting head for six months before that, and Director of Training and Development for a year before that. Before coming to Parkside, Ms Janssen was deputy head at Longacre School in Bramley, and there are echoes of Longacre in the spirit of Parkside.
Ms Janssen is genuine, warm and approachable – I liked her a lot. She has a genuine passion for the school, the school community and the boys – which she demonstrates in many ways. She has an open-door policy, with both students and parents – and feels proud for her role in turning out well-mannered, respectful and compassionate boys. She believes strongly that every boy has their own talent, and wants to make sure the school taps in to that and celebrates the boys’ individual strengths. Her motto is ‘Make it happen’ – a line she uses often, and which the boys have started to repeat. She also believes the boys shouldn’t be frightened of failure – it’s real life, after all. I was impressed to find out that she still teaches.
The nursery is housed in the original barn block, but still feels very much a part of the main school. It’s co-ed, with three separate spaces – one for the Hedgehogs (2-year-olds), one for the Squirrels (2-3 years) and a third room for the Owls (3-4 years). There’s also a library and a dance/drama room. Just over 50 children are on the nursery register – attending either morning or afternoon sessions.
The school is situated right next door to Chelsea Football Club’s training ground – so fans of the Blues may be able to cop a peek of their favourite players sweating it out on the pitch.
WRAP AROUND CARE
School is from 8.20am, but there’s a breakfast club for earlier drop-offs from 7.30am for children in the prep school and up. The school day ends at 3.15pm for children in the pre-prep and 4pm in the prep, with after-school clubs running until 4pm for the pre-prep children and 5pm for prep school. There’s a good choice of clubs, from art and chess to yoga, forest club, mindfulness, gardening and golf.
£4,055 per term in the Pre-prep (Reception to Year 2), rising to £5,564 in the Prep (Year 3 – Year 8). The Nursery fees depend on the age of the child and which sessions they attend but start at £770 a term for one day, rising to £3,410 for five days.
For a school of this size, it punches well above its weight on both the sporting pitch and academically.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents love the school’s community spirit, and they’re impressed with the site – the facilities and buildings – but it’s the school’s general essence that really draws them. They also love that the school achieves excellent academic results, without being a hothouse. One parent I spoke to said the school turned out boys who were well-mannered and who respected traditional values. She said she met some of the boys when she first toured the school and quickly decided they were exactly how she wanted her own boys to grow up. “It sounds cheesy, but it really is a special place.”
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families looking for a school with traditional values and a strong community spirit. The academic standard is high, and there’s a good all-rounder offering of sport, drama, art and music
Not for: While academic standards are high, Parkside is no hothouse. The school is pastorally strong, and this underpins everything they do.
Dare to disagree? Don’t just take my word for it. The school’s next open day is on Fri 17 May. The school also conducts private tours.
Parkside School, The Manor, Stoke D’Abernon, Cobham, Surrey, KT11 3PX. Tel: 01932 862749. parkside-school.co.uk