Muddy Best Schools Guide #3: Cumnor House School for Girls, Purley

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What? Where? Cumnor House School for Girls is an independent prep school on Woodcote Lane, within Purley’s gated Webb Estate. As independent schools go, first impressions are pretty impressive. Woodcote Lane is wide and tree-lined, and there’s a driveway into the school that curves around in front of the main school building. There have been later buildings added, but they blend well with the original building. There’s a country feel to this school, despite its suburban location.

The school is fairly young, having been bought by Cognita schools group in 2010. It’s a small school, with just 180 girls in total, in classes from Reception up to Year 6. There are two classes in each year from Reception to Year 4, with just one class each in Years 5 and 6. Within two years, each year will have two classes.  The school is growing, with many girls moving up from Cumnor Houses’ Treetops Nurseries in Purley and South Croydon. And of course, Cumnor House School for Boys is not far away in South Croydon.

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Facilities: The grounds are impressive at Cumnor Girls, with fields for hockey and tarmaced netball and tennis courts. There is no swimming pool in the site, but the girls are bussed to the boys’ school for swimming lessons.

The children were on their lunchtime break when I visited, and there was a quiet buzz in the playground. A group of girls were playing with a photo booth they’d made from a huge cardboard box. I get the feeling that traditional values are important here, and at the end of lunch a traditional hand bell was sounded to signal that it was time to go back to class. I liked that.

In addition to the outdoor facilities, the usual array of ICT suite, music rooms and food technology rooms, are also to be found. Nearby the food tech room is an outdoor kitchen garden, admittedly a little overgrown, but considering the children have not long been back from their summer break, it’s probably not surprising. There’s also a big indoor sports hall, that was wonderfully light and airy, and a drama hall that doubles as the school lunch room.

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What else? Perphaps it’s the size, but Cumnor Girls’ has homey feel, with a sense of community and family. Lunch is a social event, for the girls and the teachers, who often eat together. In Reception, and Years 1 and 2, the class teacher always eats with the girls.

There is a heavily-involved parents’ association, and families are encouraged to be involved in school life via music soiree evenings for parents, and other events. The parents association has raised a considerable amount for the school, buying a gazebo, outdoor play equipment, climbing walls, games and cameras.

As you’d expect there is a house system, which was this year re-named by a student after a competition by the head teacher. Now instead of Red, Green, Yellow and Blue the houses are called Nightingale, Parks, Seacole and Keller, after influential women who have been successful despite facing challenges. These are characteristics the school is keen to promote in its girls.

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The academic results: Year 6 is small at Cumnor Girls’ School, so there’s no doubting your child will get the attention she needs. This year there were just 17 girls, of which 78 per cent achieved grammar school offers, and 88 per cent got their first choice of school. Most of the grammar school offers were to Nonsuch High School in Cheam and Wallington Grammar School for Girls. There were 18 scholarship offers in total with most offers from Caterham School, Croydon High School, and Greenacre School for Girls in Banstead. Some girls were offered more than one scholarship.

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Other boasty bits: Like the boys’ school, sport is an important part of Cumnor Girls, with swimming and netball being the main sports. The netball team is strong, winning most of its fixtures in the past year, which seems pretty impressive given the size of the school. Cumnor Girls is part of the Independent Schools Association, and this year won gold in the 80 metre sprint, gold and bronze in the 50 metre swim at the national championships, and came first in the Croydon Schools Swimming finals.

Drama, music and art is also important. Each year group does a production, which they show the school and their parents. Each class has two music lessons each week. Tuition is also offered for piano, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, guitar and drums. In Year 3, a music scheme offers free lessons in flute, clarinet, violin and cello. There is also a school choir, chamber choir and a school orchestra who meet weekly.

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Scholarships: A small number of scholarships are offered each year to talented girls for academic, sport, music, and art & drama.

The headmistress: Dina Mallett is new to the school this year, arriving in January from City of London School for Girls where she had been Deputy Head of the Preparatory School since 2007. Before that she was at Dulwich College Prep School for nine years. Dina has been shaking things up since her arrival. She’s appointed two Deputy Heads, one who oversees the curriculum and one responsible for pastoral care. She’s also introducing Latin as a subject in Year 5.

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Littlies: There are two nurseries, both called Treetops, which are open to boys and girls from the age of 2 up. They offer two levels of provision – term-time from 8am to 3pm with an optional Teatime Club until 6pm, and new from this September parents also have the option of year-round care from 8am to 6pm.

Quirks: The school’s bus drivers are also lunch monitors, which is a pretty efficient use of resources, but also adds to the ‘one-big-family’ feel of the school.

Wrap around care: There is a before and after school programme. The After School Club runs from 3.15pm until 6pm. The cost for this is £3.65 per hour, up to a maximum of £10 a session. A shuttle bus runs between the girls’ and boys’ school, and children can attend the after-school care at either school. I liked this thoughtful approach.

A wide range of clubs are also offered including tennis, hockey and netball, chess, computers, ballet, science, media studies, a gardening club and a Bollywood club.

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Fees: The fees match those of Cumnor House School of Boys. They’re average and on an increasing scale as you go up the school. Reception, Years 1 and 2 is £3,350 per term, and years 3-6 is £4,030 a term. Fees at Treetops nursery depend on how many days your child is there, starting at £1,480 a term for two days a week, rising to £3,165 a term for five days. Lunch is included in the fees.

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Word on the ground: Cumnor Girls has been growing quickly since it opened in 2010. It’s one of few prep schools for girls in the area – with its main competition in the single-sex stakes being Old Palace of John Whitgift School in central Croydon, and Croydon High School in Selsdon, both of which go all the way through to senior school. Parents I spoke to like the location, and also that it gave them options for senior school.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Well-rounded kids. The vibe is informal and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. The sport, drama and music facilities are impressive and all children get to participate fully. Good flexible after-school care in mind is particularly helpful for busy working parents.

Not for: Those looking for a large school, or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ approach to schooling.

Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the next Open Day is on Sat 8 October. You can register your interest here.

Cumnor House School for Girls, 1 Woodcote Lane, Purley, Surrey CR8 3HB. Tel: 020 8668 0050cumnorhouse.com

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