A small boys' school with a close-knit community and an innovative approach to learning that gets results. It's a hidden gem, for sure.
ELMHURST SCHOOL FOR BOYS, SOUTH CROYDON
Elmhurst School is an independent day school for boys aged 3 – 11. It’s a traditional prep school tucked away down a residential street in South Croydon set in three former Victorian homes which are connected with corridors and staircases. The school is in a town setting and the site is compact, but it makes the most of the space – both inside and out.
Each of the three school buildings is set over three floors, and the outside space has been cleverly designed so that the playground for the Little Elms (pre-reception) pupils connects neatly with the Reception children. Just beyond that there’s a small astro-turf area which leads to the music department (two charming timber lodges) and a wooden decked terrace. Students are taken off-site for sports lessons and sporting fixtures, as well as Forest School.
Inside, the school feels homely and inviting, so I imagine it’s not too daunting for little newbies. Plus, there are just 175 pupils, which helps. Families are willing to travel to Elmhurst – with kids coming in from Warlingham, Caterham, Sanderstead, Purley, and the wider Croydon area extending to Norbury. It’s situated quite near to South Croydon station, which makes it handy for parents who commute into London and want to do the school drop-off first.
The school has a long history – celebrating its 150th birthday this year – and has been privately owned by individual principals until just six years ago when it was taken over by Bellevue Education. The fact the school has been owned and run by families for most of its history, no doubt contributes to the strong sense of family and community that is still a strong feature today.
While there’s no immediate wow-factor to the setting, this is a school that has a lot to offer. There are strong ties with local senior schools such as Whitgift, Trinity and Royal Russell, all of which have dazzling facilities that Elmhurst is able to make use of. Boys are bused off-site for swimming lessons, and sports lessons and sports fixtures are at the nearby Old Whitgiftians’ Association grounds. Elmhurst has a strong sporting tradition particularly on the cricket and football pitches, and more recently also on the hockey field.
There’s a separate music department – housed in two timber lodges in the playground – and music is taught as a subject to all boys from pre-prep to Year 6. There’s also a Saturday morning music school where boys from the age of 7 have the opportunity to learn individual instruments including piano, drums, violin, flute, clarinet and cello taught by peripatetic staff. As well as three school choirs for the different year groups, there’s also a school choir which performs the Christmas Carol Concert in the concert hall at Whitgift School.
For such a small school, Elmhurst punches well above its weight academically – but while exam results are important, the happiness of the boys is also paramount. The headteacher Tony Padfield believes that if the boys are happy, they’ll be more productive and they’ll get the most of out their education – which creates a great environment for self-motivated learning.
The teaching here is innovative, both in its approach and delivery, and follows a Four Cs approach – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity. One of the strengths of the school is mathematics where they have adopted the Inspire Maths Program which has been used with great success to achieve excellent results in countries like Singapore. It uses a Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract approach which leads to a mastery of understanding and this is reflected in their successes in Maths Challenges and quizzes on a local and national level.
There curriculum is boy-centric – with a focus on things that will interest and excite the boys. Computer science is popular and the school is passionate about its outdoor education.
I went along to one of the Forest School sessions which is taught across every year group, throughout the whole year. Boys are bussed to the local Littleheath Woods and take part in activities like building fires, creating huts out of branches and playing with mud. It’s all about encouraging their natural curiosity. Head of Lower School and the teacher in charge of the Forest School Tanya Mawanda is passionate about outdoor play – and loves that their Forest School is in an actual wood. She says the kids act differently when they’re outside – and it was certainly easy to see how much fun they were having. Even the rain didn’t dampen spirits. And seeing a bunch of Reception-aged kids sitting on logs around a campfire sipping hot chocolate they’d made themselves was heart-warming. Mrs Mawanda is considered an expert when it comes to Forest School and is now consulting with other local schools one day a week under her aptly named business Wonder Wild.
The boys at Elmhurst do well in the 11+ with most going on to local independent schools like Whitgift, Trinity and The Cedars, Dulwich College, or grammar schools like Wallington Boys, Wilson’s School and Tunbridge Wells Grammar. The 2019 Year 6 cohort were offered a total of nine scholarships.
The choice of senior school is important at Elmhurst, and Mr Padfield will meet with parents personally to discuss the process, considering all aspects of potential schools from academic achievement to size, location and culture.
Tony Padfield has been head teacher at the school for two years, moving into the role after a year as deputy head and two years as the head of PE. He’s a warm and accessible, both to parents and children, with an open door policy for both. He’s passionate about getting the best out of each and every boy and makes time to get to know them all. It’s clear they all know (and love) him too – on our tour around the school he was greeted enthusiastically by many of the boys. Mr Padfield believes strongly in an ethos that revolves around nurture, inspiration and celebration: finding the talents in each boy, nurturing and inspiring them to develop the talents, and then celebrating their successes.
WRAP AROUND CARE
There’s a Breakfast Club at Elmhurst which runs from 7.30am and includes hot and cold breakfast options(cost is £3.50 per day). The after-school club is from 3pm-6.30pm for pupils in Reception to Year 6. The Club offers a range of activities including sport, games and arts and crafts, as well as assisted homework time.
Nursery costs £2,104 per term for three days, £2,653 for four days and £3,056 for five days. Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 is £3,366 per term and for Years 3 to 6 it’s £3,915. There’s a sibling discount of 10% for a second child and 19% for a third.
There’s also a fully-funded scholarship – the Dighton Memorial Scholarship – for a boy starting in Year 3 until he leaves in Year 6. The scholarship is decided via an entrance exam, interview and a financial application.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents love the family friendly vibe of Elmhurst and get involved. They also love the nurturing environment and the ethos of educating with creative and critical thinking embedded into lessons.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for a school with a warm home-from-home feel and a nurturing ethos. The small number of pupils means that staff get to know all the pupils well. The school has a strong sporting tradition – so boys who love sport will fare well – and is also known for its maths successes.
Not for: Parents and kids looking for a large school in a spacious green setting.
Dare to disagree? Elmhurst School has a virtual admissions process in place in which online meeting can be had with the head teacher. For more info click here.
Elmhurst School for Boys, 44-48 South Park Hill Road, South Croydon, Surrey, CR2 7DW. Tel: 020 8688 0661. elmhurstschool.net