Town Close Prep School, Norwich
A city school with a country feel, Town Close is a charming small co-ed prep with a reputation for inclusivity, strong academics and a family atmosphere.
The co-ed Town Close Prep School offers a bucolic atmosphere just under a mile from Norwich city centre, set across a 15 acre wooded site. Featuring 450 pupils from three to 13 years old (55% boys to 45% girls), with 179 in the Pre-Prep and 271 in the Prep, it has a real family-style sense of community.
Town Close is mainly based in two photogenic old houses – one Georgian, and one Victorian. Various modern additions and stand-alone classrooms have expanded the school, to harmonious effect, and interiors feel modern and bright throughout.
There’s a huge emphasis on fresh air and freedom. Kids are invited to make the most of the school’s pretty woodland walk, open all year round and dotted with adventure play equipment. Plus, some lessons take place in outdoor classrooms or on the front lawn (though this is mostly for the little ones).
The Pre-Prep is housed in the Georgian building, and there’s a colourful and cheerful separate nursery for three and four year olds.
The Pre-Prep classrooms were remarkably neat and tidy, even with little people flying about everywhere – Town Close kids are taught the principles of tidying up after oneself and consideration for others young and it’s clearly working (and if they can pass on how I can get my kids to do it, I’d be grateful). The school doesn’t follow the Montessori ethos, but there are potentially some elements of overlap.
Plus, Year Twos have a specialist stand-alone multi-classroom space dubbed The Nest, a modern and welcoming spot.
Pretty punchy for a school in a busy part of inner Norwich. Children have access to a huge, high-spec sports hall with sprung timber floors (fabulous for back flipping and all that jazz). From the outside its curved roofline (above) looks almost Zaha Hadid-esque, and there’s plenty of gallery viewing inside so that parents can come and cheer kids along.
Town Close also has its own 16.6m pool, a real draw, which similarly features a seated gallery for spectators. We love that there’s an extra “baby” pool for total beginners, too.
The pool links through to Read Hall, a state-of-the-art performance hall with posh sound and lighting rigs as well as tiered seating for up to 220 (with the potential to fit in a further 100 in at floor level).
Kids are invited to play on the big school lawn, which is used for PE and athletics in summer. A short walk away off-site there are also two sports pitches, one of which features a picturesque thatched cricket pavilion, cricket nets and a 400m athletics track.
The school minibus takes kids to a nearby astroturf pitch (complete with floodlights) and netball courts.
In terms of academic facilities, there’s a large DT room, a science lab plus science teaching classroom, music rooms, a friendly library and a cosy attic art room where kids learn everything from batik silk painting to photography on iPads. Plus, there’s a thriving language department where pupils can learn French, Spanish, German or Mandarin.
While facilities are strong, the school recognises there are areas that could do with expansion – this is set to arrive in the form of a major development which will create a large new dining room (the current one, below, is snug), a much bigger art space, new science facilities and a high-tech new music room that will link to the existing ones in the main building.
The exact date for the building work is somewhat TBC – that’s the post-pandemic world for you! However, the plans are complete, and you can watch a rather snazzy CGI video here to give a flavour of what’s to come,
Strong, particularly when you consider that Town Close is a non-selective school. In 2021’s 40-strong Year 8 cohort, 13 pupils bagged academic scholarships or exhibitions to their next school, with a further 16 scholarships of various kinds awarded to that year group overall.
All pupils take the Common Entrance exam at the end of Year 8, and last year 58 per cent gained an A or a B, with the majority of pupils heading on to the excellent nearby schools Norwich School or Norwich High, both of which have friendly relationships with Town Close. A few children head to Norfolk schools a bit further afield- notably Gresham’s, near the North Coast, or Langley, just outside Norwich. Others still will venture to boarding schools beyond the county, such as Oundle and Uppingham.
It’s easy to see that most kids here really connect with (and just generally get on with) their passionate and dedicated teachers – super popular figures include Mr Kendrick the history teacher, Mrs Hale a Year 3 and girls games teacher, and head of D.T Mr Buck.
Boosting their extra-curricular offerings, the school currently offers around 30 clubs (the exact number varies from term to term), with inventive options including fencing, “fun dance”, and the bird feeding club.
Also worth noting is the school’s very own Adventure and Skills Academy (ASA), where pupils in Years 5, 6 and 7 are encouraged to run (sort-of) wild. They learn archery, fire building, trangia cooking and orienteering and all take part in two UK camping trips featuring the obligatory team-building exercises, as well as jolly outdoor pursuits such as sailing, canoeing and den building.
Town Close has its own on-site counsellor and has an “open door” classroom policy. You really do get the impression that kids here get on well with their teachers, and would feel able to confide in them. Children with worries can also visit the “talk and share” lunchtime group in the Learning Support department, or join the sweetly-named “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” club.
The school doesn’t implement AS (Affective Social) Tracking but it does teach the Paws B Programme in Year 5 to support pupils with mindfulness techniques, as an adjunct to the PHSE curriculum. Town Close also deploys CPOMS, the safeguarding tracking software system.
It also uses mixed-age “vertical” tutor groups, so that younger year groups can feel supported by the oldies. Pupils are really encouraged to make the most of a long lunch break to play and run in the grounds – Town Close wants to “let kids be kids” for as long as possible.
Christopher Wilson joined Town Close in Autumn last year from Lockers Park, a well-respected boys’ school in Hemel Hempsted, Hertordshire. He’d been headmaster there since 2012, so the allure of Norfolk must have been strong – and it turns out he grew up quite literally around the corner from Town Close (well, we all come back here in the end, don’t we!).
Enthusiastic and approachable, he also teaches maths – and the kids I spoke to raved about how well he brings it to life. Yes, maths unbelievers, apparently this is possible! He was interviewed by 22 members of the School Council as part of his application process, which reflects Town Close’s practical commitment to democracy and student voice.
He seems genuine, down-to-earth and friendly- although he did ban Pokémon cards, so he’s clearly not a soft touch! His own children attend the school, which is always a good sign, and he sees the fact that Town Close is a stand-alone Prep School as a major plus point which stops kids feeling they need to grown up too fast.
He feels like a good fit for Town Close, and seems keen to keep steering an already-excelling school on its happy course – rather than having any huge plans to revolutionise the place. He does, however, hope to expand the school’s co-curricular offerings even further.
He talks a lot about instilling kids with resilience and the ability to think for themselves, rather than just the ability to ace exams. Sustainability, and the unpredictable job market of the future, are also major touch points, and he is looking into how quickly he can get Town Close to carbon zero and enlisting the support of governors and parents to do so.
Town Close seems to relish the opportunity for fun, kooky or special celebrations. The school enjoyed a whole week of Mr Men celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Roger Hargreaves’ books, for example, and there’s an annual welly-wangling competition on the school lawn.
The school also makes imaginative use of its woods, which last year played host to a sweet Christmas trail with real reindeer and a Father Christmas grotto.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day runs from 8am to 4pm, but all pupils can stay as late as 6pm for hobbies and after school care. While the clubs themselves are usually included in termly fees, the after school care costs starts from £4.50. There’s also the Activate Holiday Programme, a handy multi-activity programme that runs for three weeks during the summer holidays and is open to all Norfolk children.
Town Close has a dedicated Learning Support Department which provides for the 15 per cent of pupils with SEND. Children here have a range of needs, including specific learning difficulties and other social and communication issues.
The school employs a committed Head of Learning Support, as well as a Speech and Language Therapist who visits from outside. Pupils receive support in class, within small groups or during one-on-one sessions (depending on their individual needs).
The school’s biggest star is Bella the therapy dog, a super cute and docile Labradoodle who comes into various lessons. All the kids seem to love her but she’s particularly useful for pupils who need some emotional reassurance, or a supportive cuddle if they’re struggling with reading.
Town Close has just received the highest possible grading (Excellent) in an inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). You can read the full report here.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Any mobile phones brought into school must be left in the Prep Office during school hours.
Town Close is a half hour walk from Norwich Station, which has services from Sheringham and Great Yarmouth (as well as London).
There’s no school bus, given the sprawling locations in which pupils from outside of Norwich tend to live, but there are public bus stops just outside the grounds and many parents from further away go for the car share option.
Sport is centre stage at Town Close, with all Prep pupils doing four hours of organised exercise a week and further encouraged to get moving as much as possible. Hockey and cricket are taken most seriously here, for both sexes, but kids also do netball, rugby and athletics. They also have access to plenty of more unusual sports, from water polo to fencing, via the wide range of clubs.
With teams ranging from A-F, everyone gets the opportunity to represent their school, but the truly sporty types benefit from quality tuition by highly-qualified teachers – one of the cricket coaches is a former professional, while a hockey coach has an Olympic gold medal.
Pre Prep pupils swim every week and Prep kids have a double lesson every other week – such a relief for parents who have experienced sweltering in leisure centres while their kids learn to swim. The little ones also have weekly dance classes.
While Town Close is strong on music and visual arts, the school’s calling card for arts is drama. All children, from Nursery upwards, have the opportunity to take part in a variety of shows – as well as learning to use the modern sound and lighting rigs in the performance hall. The Year 4 production, a musical, is a compulsory event designed to foster cooperation and self-confidence, while anyone who wants to can take part in the Year 6 “straight” play (often Shakespeare).
The real razzle dazzle, however, comes with the auditioned-for Senior Production by Years 7 and 8, which alternates between a straight play and a musical. This year it was Treasure Island, with fabulous sets designed by an external professional.
All Town Close children, from Nursery to Year 8, enjoy group music lessons with specialist teachers. Private music tuition is also on offer from Year 1 onwards, and just over half of pupils play an instrument.
Instrumentalists from all across the Prep school are invited to play in the full school orchestra. In addition to this there are Prep and Pre Prep choirs, plus numerous other smaller musical groups for guitars, flutes, wind players et al. Budding maestros are encouraged to try everything from film themes to classical stalwarts, and they get the chance to perform (both solo and together) at various concerts throughout the year.
FEES AND SCHOLARSHIPS
Termly fees are comfortably competitive, currently standing at £4,883 for Years 3-8, £4176 for reception and Years 1-2 and £3,220 for the nursery. This is slightly cheaper than Norwich School (probably the closest competitor) and includes all food, books and the majority of after-school activities and trips (excluding residential holidays).
A 20 per cent sibling discount applies for third (and subsequent) children if you have at least a trio of kids at the school. The school also offers means-tested bursaries, extending to up to a full fee remission in certain cases.
THE WORD ON THE GROUND
Norfolk parents rate Town Close because its relatively small size and family-style atmosphere means all kids feel known, listened-to and supported and the pupils I spoke to were clearly proud of their school and felt that the school supports them to find their own talents without putting them under academic pressure. Both the boys and girls would like a football team please, Mr Wilson!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: living or working in Norwich who want a fun, friendly and supportive all-rounder with strong pastoral care and academic inclusivity – all kids are encouraged to find the things they enjoy and excel at.
Probably not best for: If you want a sweeping rural idyll or you think your child would benefit from being a small fish in a big pond, this might not be for you.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself! Town Close is holding its next Open Day on Friday 13th May 2022.
Town Close Preparatory School, 14 Ipswich Rd, Norwich NR2 2LR; 01603 620180
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