Yarrells Prep School & Nursery, Upton, nr Poole
Muddy says: A happy, family-orientated school providing the ideal foundation for moving onto state grammars or the independent sector. So the best of both worlds, really.
This independent, co-ed day prep and nursery school for children aged 2 – 13 is tucked away in a 6-acre, leafy woodland site in Upton, a suburb of Poole in south east Dorset. As you come up the drive, you leave the bustle of the main road behind to find the school in a little oasis of green, with the coast and the Purbeck Hills lying just beyond. Hard to believe the centre of Poole is just 10 minutes’ drive away.
The school started life in 1927 as a girls’ school called St Monica’s based in Kent, which moved to Dorset at the beginning of WWII. When the Covell family bought the school in 1992, they re-named it Yarrells after the Victorian zoologist William Yarrell, and for the first time, opened the doors to boys.
There are currently around 260 pupils on the roll.
A Georgian country house sits at the centre, and houses admin and the Head’s office, main hall, a recently re-furbed library, Junior classrooms and dining room, with modern Art and DT studios (specialist teachers from Year 2), science labs (lessons in labs from Year 4) – and a little pet area – clustered around.
The state-of-the-art Greenwood Nursery and Early Years Centre is impressive. Seemingly floating amongst the surrounding trees, the wood-clad eco-build has a butterfly roof, six large and airy classrooms with inter-connecting doors to allow for complete flexibility, set around a spacious central hall. Raised platforms and walkways all around lead out onto spacious outdoor spaces filled with play frames and activities. Forget the kids, I want to move in!
The school buildings are surrounded by 6 acres of gardens (which the pupils help tend) and woodland areas with activity frames and wooden seating where pupils can play and where Forest School takes place., playing field, netball/tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool.
A little veg garden supplies produce for the school kitchen (all meals and snacks are made on the premises).
Non-selective, but the classes are small, teachers use a range of teaching approaches within a broad curriculum and the academic standards are high. Specialist teachers in some subjects for even the youngest pupils and in all subjects from Year 5. Unlike most prep schools, the school offers the opportunity for pupils to move onto both top state and independent senior schools, with about 75% of pupils winning a place at one of the local grammars. There’s no grammar stream as such but there are grammar prep lessons, club and holiday school.
The school’s also part of the Prep School Baccalaureate, a skills-based curriculum. Pupils can take the Common Entrance and go onto independent schools like Canford, Bryanston, Clayesmore and Milton Abbey, many with scholarships.
Support within the curriculum is included in the fees (not always the case). ‘Value added’ (the amount of progress pupils make beyond expected grades) is high. There are speech and language specialists.
THE HEAD TEACHER
Inspirational yet down-to-earth Head Sally Weber-Spokes, in post since 2018, comes to the school with extensive experience encompassing a south London state secondary, teaching English and sport in Kenya, Deputy Head (Academic) at Clayesmore in Iwerne Minster and, most recently, Head of the Junior School at Talbot Heath in Bournemouth. She’s pretty much ticked every box: state, independent, single sex, day, boarding, which gives her a broad perspective (and lots of contacts).
She strives for all children to have the best possible education in every sense. Set within a context of academic excellence and solid, holistic, pastoral care, pupils have the freedom to be curious, grow in confidence and believe that they can do things, have a go, get dirty (even the older boys still like to climb the trees). The aim is to maximise opportunities for pupils at key times without compromising the breadth of the curriculum (they don’t do the extra stuff at the expense of the essentials).
Sally knows every child and their family. In Year 4, parents meet with her to discuss the right path forward for their child and put together a tailor-made package, including help and advice on scholarships and bursaries.
Communication is key and two-way, within the school, with parents, through collaborations with local infant, junior and senior schools.
She describes the staff as experienced, young and dynamic, and all committed to the growth of each and every pupil in the school.
Sport for all is the order of the day, with the usual range of games and activities plus swimming, dance and tennis lessons with specialist coaches, included as part of the curriculum, from Reception onwards. They’re super close to the coast, so sailing’s big, with links to the Parkstone Yacht club.
Well equipped with technology, with around 70 devices in school including two banks of laptops and desktops, coding on the curriculum but it’s a mobile-free area in school (phew).
Each child has the opportunity to learn the ukulele , recorder, piano, flute and clarinet, and around 100 play an instrument regularly. With no auditions for any of the music groups, everyone has the chance to make music together. The annual Christmas concert in the medieval Wimborne Minster sounds awesome.
Prepare to be entertained: lots of drama productions put on in the main hall throughout the year, with each part of the school – Early Years, Pre-Prep, Juniors and Seniors – putting on two shows a year, and two whole-school productions where everyone is involved, on stage and behind the scenes. On our visit, rehearsals for Peter Pan were in full swing. The annual Spring Fair and Christmas Fayre with music, stalls and games, an arts festival and fireworks evening will keep everyone busy.
As for pastoral care, tutors are the first port of call (though children are encouraged to talk to any trusted member of staff) and an extensive network of members of staff – heads of Pre-Prep, Junior, Senior, department heads, SEN co-ordinators – to ensure no issue slips through the net. New pupils are buddied up with an older pupil for a whole year. A core team of parents, who are part of Friends of Yarrells (FOYS), gives feedback to the Head.
Pupils are involved in all sorts of decision-making in the school (from school uniform to charities) with lots of opportunities to develop leadership skills, including membership of the Eco-action Team, School Council, mentors, sports, music and drama captains.
Being close to the beach, they’re into environmental conservation, with regular beach cleans.
Residential school trips from Year 3 (sleepover in a Viking longhouse anyone?) to Year 8 (Shakespeare), trips to the Purbeck Hills and overseas.
Did I mention the school pooch? A cockapoo, called Winnie.
NURSERY & PRE-PREP
Children aged from 2 to 4 are housed in the gorgeous Greenwood building: Little Nutkins (2 years), Nutkins (2 1/2 years+), Squirrels (3 years+) and Reception (4 years+).
Specialist teaching from the youngest up: in art, cookery, gym and outdoor sport from age 2 1/2 and in dance, French and sport/swimming from Pre-school onwards. Pupils are fully integrated with the rest of the school, sharing facilities and Squirrels and Reception are buddied up with senior pupils.
Free toddler and parent groups for all run term time – and not just for those who have children enrolled in the school.
Links with the acclaimed Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, with many of the music teachers coming from the BSO.
The Head sends birthday and Christmas cards to every single pupil.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Prep school day runs from 7.30 to a staggered end of the day, from 3.30 to 4.30 and then after school clubs until around 5.45. Lots on offer, from knitting to martial arts, Mandarin and Russian to triathlon (phew).
School bus: daily minibus services from locations around Poole, Bournemouth, Dorchester, Wareham, Blandford and Wimborne.
Fees are deliberately kept at the lower end of the prep school range. For the academic year 2020/21 fees per term are : Reception, Years 1 & 2 £2,500; Year 3 £3,300; Year 4 £3,700; Years 5 & 6 £4,100; Years 7 & 8 £4,370. Some 2 year olds and all 3 and 4 year olds can get a certain number of free hours through Dept of Education funding. The school also accepts employer childcare vouchers and tax-free childcare.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents describe the school as warm, nurturing, holistic, confidence-building. Children feel safe, cared for, happy; the school feels like an extension of the family. Parents like the varied topic-based learning, which is individualised when required, and the chance to experience advanced learning (bunsen burners in the science labs at 9), the friendly, approachable staff (‘the door is always open’) and good pupil-staff ratio. Lots of opportunities and encouragement, in sport and music as well as academic, where pupils are given the chance to bloom (a previously quiet boy became the showstopping solo performer on prize day!). The grounds are described as ‘sylvan” and fantastic for play, exploring, running around and providing a calming environment. The variety of sports, tennis courts, IT and music facilities, bright, well-sized classrooms – and the lunches – all come in for special praise.
Good for: A small and happy, family-oriented school with a wide range of opportunities, where each child’s education can be tailor-made to his or her own needs. Ideal for entry into the state grammar system as well as the independent sector.
Not for: It’s not your regular feeder Prep school into the independent system, though it will take your kids there if that’s where you want to go.
Yarrells Preparatory School & Nursery, Yarrells House, Upton, Dorset BH16 5EU. Tel 01202 622229. yarrells.co.uk