St James Senior Boys’ School, Ashford
This senior boys school teaches mindfulness and meditation alongside the traditional academic subjects and also shows impressive form in the sporting arena.
This senior boys school is tucked away in Ashford Surrey, near Staines-upon-Thames, on a stunning 32-acre site. It’s in a very handy position about 10 mins drive from the M25 London Orbital, and just a few minutes walk from Ashford Station which connects the school nicely to areas like Richmond and Twickenham, Kingston and Teddington, Weybridge, Chertsey and Hampton, as well as Egham, Virginia Water, Staines and Windsor.
The school was founded in 1975, initially in Queen’s Gate South Kensington, before moving to Twickenham, and then 10 years ago to this stunning site in Surrey. Its sibling schools, St James Prep School and St James Girls’ Senior School are in Kensington Olympia.
The St James schools’ founding principles were closely aligned to those of the School of Economic Science, an organisation influenced by the study of meditation and philosophy and the teachings of orthodox Hinduism, although St James Boys’ has distanced itself from the organisation in recent years, particularly since Headmaster David Brazier, who is not an SES member, took the reins eight years ago.
St James’ Boys describes itself as an enlightened school offering an holistic education with a focus on spiritual principles as well as academic. Meditation and mindfulness is a big part of the programme, with boys taking a moment of quiet time at the start and end of each lesson.
Whilst the school is selective, it’s not highly selective, with greater emphasis placed on the interview with Headmaster than the entrance exam results in English and Maths. There are around 400 pupils in total, and no plans to radically expand that number. About 60 places are offered in Year 7, with an additional 20 in Year 9.
In a word? Impressive. And getting better all the time. The school moved to the Ashford site only 10 years ago, and in that time a programme of development and improvement that’s seen the addition of new Design Technology studios, an extension on the Dining Room, new playing fields and the opening this summer (June 2021) of a brand new £3.3 million all-singing-all-dancing sports hall.
The school’s main centrepiece, though, is a grand Gothic Victorian building built in 1856 which is where most of the school is based. Later additions have been added at the back.
Most of the classrooms are in the main building – which is set over three floors – including a lovely library on the top floor. There are also six science labs, as well as art studios, music rooms and well-equipped drama spaces.
The grounds (and gardens) are quite magnificent – with four full size sports pitches, tennis courts, a five-a-side football pitch and even a lake on which the boys take part in kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding as well as open water swimming. This site has always been a school – originally the Welsh Girls’ School, a boarding school for the daughters of Welsh miners, which changed its name in the 1960s to St David’s School for Girls. It closed down 2009 due to falling numbers during the economic recession.
Whilst the academics are indisputably strong, they’re by no means the full story here – the development of the boys’ growth physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is just as important. A pupil development programme – called Stepping into Manhood – is in place to support students throughout their years at St James Boys’ School. Mindfulness is taught from Year 7, and philosophy is also part of the curriculum for each boy from Year 7 upwards, with the aim of nurturing emotional intelligence and spirituality.
Academically, the STEM subjects are strong – maths, and the sciences which are taught as individual subjects from Year 7 rather than as double or triple science. Importance is also given to the classical languages – Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. The latter, the school says, is particularly unique as it’s no longer taught in any other school in England.
The GCSE course is taught over three years, rather than the traditional two. The school believes that boys need more time with their chosen subjects to gain a greater depth and breadth of knowledge.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
St James boys sings – a lot! All boys have a class singing lesson each week as well as a music lesson, and there are several choirs, ensembles, orchestras and bands, and many extra curricular music clubs as well. I’m told that to hear the boys singing in the school’s chapel is very likely to bring a tear to your eye – in a good way. Drama productions are staged throughout the year, too, often in conjunction with the St James Girls’ School.
Big. Big. Big. As well as being known for its mindfulness, pastoral care and fully vegetarian school dinner menu (more on this later!), the school is known for its sporting prowess. The usual array of sports are played – cricket, rugby, football, tennis, hockey, cross country and athletics – but there’s also an opportunity to take part in sports like judo, kayaking, basketball, mountain biking, fencing, golf, badminton, squash and, thanks to the school’s proximity to local lakes, sailing.
CCF (Combined Cadet Forces) is offered from Year 9, and the Duke of Edinburgh awards programme is also an option. The school also values school trips, and every year (in non-Covid times) whole year groups set off for a different destination which has been chosen to benefit the boys’ learning. Destinations include The Lakes District; Greece; the Camino de Santiago, a 135km trail in northern Spain; and Lucca and Florence in Italy. As well as annual ski trips in France and Alpine Mountaineering in the Swiss Alps.
The results here are impressive, especially when you consider this is not a school that’s highly selective academically. And also the fact that 25% of pupils have learning support needs – mostly mild dyslexia, mild dyscalculia, mild dyspraxia or mild autism. The 2020 results saw a 100% pass rate and 98% achieving A*-A-B-C. Exactly 50% were awarded A*-A; and 75% achieved A*-C. At GCSE, there was a 100% pass rate with a total of 59 grade 9s (that’s A* in old money) from the 81 candidates.
Where do they go on from here? Most (if not all) go on to Russell Group universities to study. This is definitely a school that strives to bring out the best in your child.
David Brazier has been the Headmaster for eight years, coming from a seven-year stint as Headmaster at Long Close School in Slough, and before that Davenies Prep in Beaconsfield where he was Assistant Head. He has a genuine interest in philosophy and spirituality, in a very practical sense, and has long been an advocate and regular adherent of meditation and mindfulness.
Impressively, he still finds time to get in front of the pupils in the classroom, teaching philosophy to the Year 7 and 9 boys. Unsurprisingly for such a hand-on Headteacher, he also knows every single boy by name.
Progressive and forward thinking, he’s keen to help guide boys on their journey from boyhood to manhood and turn out boys with open hearts, enlightened attitudes, self-awareness and a well-developed emotional intelligence.
These days vegetarianism isn’t really so much a quirk – but in a school environment, the choice to serve only veggie dishes probably is a bit quirky. I’m told the food is very good, with plenty of choice on offer.
Fees are £6,780 per term. Bursaries and scholarships in sport, music and academic all-rounders are available.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents like the fact it’s an inclusive school and that the boys who go there are happy and confident. One parent we spoke to said it the school worked wonders for her dyslexic son. Others, too, have said the support for boys is excellent.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s a friendly and inclusive school with excellent facilities and pristine playing fields – so it’s hard to imagine who wouldn’t love it here and do well. It’s particularly suited to families looking for a school where mindfulness and meditation is highly regarded.
Not for: Boys who prefer a fully co-ed school experience, and the lack of boarding may not suit everyone.
Dare to disagree? The school’s annual open day is on Sat 9 Oct, but individual school tours can be arranged. Booking information here.
St James Boys’, Church Road, Ashford, TW15 3DZ. Tel: 01784 266 930. stjamesschools.co.uk/seniorboys