Town Close Prep School, Norwich
A stone's throw from Norwich city centre, Town Close Prep is a smart co-ed school that has wow-factor facilities, glorious outside space and a strong all-rounder offering.
Town Close Prep School is smart, non-selective day school close to Norwich city centre. You get the best of both worlds here – not only is it really accessible for commuting parents, but unlike a lot of city schools Town Close has the sort of facilities and outside space you’d expect to find at a much more rural school.
The school takes approximately 500 girls and boys from nursery (age 3) through to Year 8 (age 13) and is based around a couple of charming townhouses (one early Georgian and the other mid-Victorian) with 15 acres of gardens and conservation woodland. The townhouses have been extended and updated over the years and there are a number of modern buildings that have been seamlessly added to the site, housing the many impressive facilities. Class sizes are bijou, with a maximum of 20 pupils.
Excellent and ever evolving. The pupils here have everything they need to excel in every area of the curriculum and co-curriculum and then some. The school sits in a beautiful and good-sized plot, with an attractive wooded area, peppered with plenty of adventure play frames and winding paths where children can run free, with no clue they’re in the heart of a city. There’s a big emphasis on outdoor play and learning at Town Close with an al fresco classroom, sand pits, a play castle and even a hugging tree!
On site you’ll also find a brilliant 320-seater performance hall, a large DT lab, a lovely light library, a separate science lab, an ICT suite, a swish indoor heated swimming pool with tiered viewing area, a large state-of-the-art sports hall with sprung floor, three playing fields, a 400 metre athletics track, thatched sports pavilion, cricket nets, modern jump pit, all weather runway and a full-size floodlit astroturf pitch.
And, if you thought that was impressive, there’s even more to come. Future plans include an upgrade to the dining hall (which is currently a little bit disjointed across a couple of rooms) meaning the whole school can be seated in one area. There will also be a snazzy new building to house fantastic modern spaces for the music, art and science departments. See all the development plans here.
All the classrooms are large, bright and really well-equipped. Pre-Prep pupils (Year 2) are particularly spoiled with a brand new building (added in 2017) called The Nest. This area of the school now contains four fabulous, large classrooms with smart screens, as well as a lovely reception area.
Whichever building you’re in though, there’s a lot of colour and decoration wherever you look, including a dedicated Wonder Wall, which not only celebrates the children’s best art achievements, but also beautiful examples of writing (of which there are many) and even excellent maths skills.
Sport is a big deal at Town Close House thanks in part to the amazing facilities, but also because of the school’s strong ethos of sport being for all (there are teams from A-F for inter-school matches) and the daily encouragement for pupils to enjoy the great outdoors.
Children can take part in all the major sports including rugby, netball, hockey, cricket, athletics and rounders. There’s also the chance to enjoy many other sports, such as badminton, mini tennis, gymnastics and athletics. Many of the school’s coaches have competed at county or national level so are pretty inspirational for the kids.
With such a fabulous pool and dedicated swimming teacher on site, it’s no surprise that pupils have weekly swimming lessons from Pre-Prep up and all the children are water confident from an early age. The Pre-Prep children also have weekly dance classes with a specialist teacher and an hour of indoor PE and a games afternoon. Prep children have four hours of timetabled sport a week, and there are plenty of chances to shine in inter-house competitions and sports day.
Recent successes have included U13 boys coming 7th in the National Hockey Finals, U11 boys winning the National Hockey Plate, U11 girls winning the Norfolk mini Hockey Winners Shield, the Framlingham U11 Mini Hockey Championships Shield and the IAPS Hockey U11 East Region Plate. The school’s cross country team finished second in the East Anglian Prep Schools Cross Country Event, the boys’ Colts A cricket team won the Framlingham Cricket Festival and 16 Town Close girls and boys were selected to represent the county in cricket. The school also has a great track record for swimmers qualifying for the IAPS National Swimming Finals.
It’s safe to say the kids here are very fit and active.
Town Close is a true all-rounder school, so sport isn’t its only strong suit. The Performing Arts are also a real calling card for the school and all year groups including Nursery have specialist lessons in music, art and drama.
55% of the pupils play an instrument (that’s on the higher side compared to many schools I visit) and the school has been inventive at keeping the arts going during the pandemic – there’s a child having an individual violin lesson with a peri teacher via zoom during my tour.
There are plenty of chances to shine musically here too, with many productions throughout the year including House Christmas Music, Christmas Ensembles Concert, Spring Variety Concert, Yearly Soloist’s Concerts, Summer Ensembles Concerts, Prize Day and a special Carol Service in Norwich’s St. Peter Mancroft Church. The school also enters pupils into the Norfolk County Music Festival.
Music-loving pupils have access to a whole host of extra-curricular groups too, from wind ensemble and school rock group to orchestra, guitar groups and choirs.
There’s a thriving drama department and plenty of chances to perform for children who love to tread the boards. And those boards are seriously smart ones – The Read Hall is a fabulous facility with professional stage lighting, sounds and effects (giving less performance-inclined kids the chance to learn backstage craft instead). Again, everyone from Nursery upwards gets the chance to rehearse and perform in a huge array of performances, helping them to gain confidence in front of peers and parents.
The major productions each year involve Years 4, 6, 7 and 8. There’s a compulsory Year 4 musical play put together by specialist producers, dance and music teachers. The Year 6 play is normally Shakespeare or something more traditional, while the Year 7s and 8s put on the final performance of the year – alternating each year between a musical or play, with professional standard sets and lighting. Like sport and music, drama is extremely inclusive and for all students, with opportunities to be in the spotlight as well as making props, assisting with costumes or doing hair and make up. Outside of the curriculum there’s a popular after school club, DramActive.
There’s already a good-sized art room, but this is only set to get even more impressive once the future building plans are complete. Every pupil has an hour of timetabled art each week and there are three extra-curricular clubs for budding Picassos to get involved in. The school regularly invites professional artists to lead specific workshops, takes children on artistic trips and there are many exhibitions throughout the year, with every child having the chance to showcase at least one of their works of art.
Children can get competitive when it comes to art both within the school and externally – with internal comps and the chance to submit work to the IAPS Art Exhibition and the Royal Academy Young Artists Summer Show.
Throughout lockdown and for the year groups remaining at home, Town Close House has been providing remote learning, alongside regular, face to face contact with teachers and classmates. I was seriously impressed by the seamless way that lessons were being conducted, with some key worker children in the classroom and others at home. The school has invested in top-notch wifi and digital resources and it is really paying off.
There’s a huge programme of lunchtime and after-school clubs – 31 in total – offering kids the chance to try plenty of exciting activities outside the traditional timetable. There’s everything from dance and chess to fencing and sailing run by a mixture of school staff and external pros. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the schools strong focus on outdoor pursuits, the most popular club is the school’s own Adventure and Skills Academy (ASA) for pupils in Years 5, 6 and 7, where pupils learn archery, fire building, trangia cooking and orienteering as well as taking part in two camping trips with team building exercises and outdoor pursuits such as sailing, canoeing and den building.
Little people start here at 3 years old, and come across as very happy, secure and content. And so they should be with the wonderful self-contained space they get to call their own. The Nursery was refurbished in 2017 and consists of a peaceful, quiet room and two large, light and colourful classrooms with their own large fenced garden with the usual accoutrements of a sandpit, climbing frame, and plenty of different craft and sensory tables set up.
In a word, excellent. Town Close Prep might be academically non-selective, but still manages an impressive haul of scholarships every year. Of last year’s Year 8s, 24 out of the 37 pupils were offered an amazing 34 scholarships from top senior schools, while 97% of their Common Entrance grades were A-C.
Town Close has been judged as “Excellent”, the ISI’s highest grade in all areas and so academically and pastorally the children couldn’t be in better hands. And, if that hasn’t convinced you, how about the fact that the school won the prestigious Pre-Prep/ Prep School of the Year in the Tes Independent School Awards 2020?
PASTORAL CARE AND SEN PROVISIONS
Pastoral care is high on the agenda at Town Close with a dedicated Head of Learning Support and School Counsellor in place as well as a visiting Speech and Language Therapist. All the children I meet are bombing around in a happy and confident way, but any children who are experiencing difficulties can access a daily drop-in service at lunch times called Talk and Share. The school also has a strong PSHE curriculum and Paws B Programme, which teaches mindfulness and mediation to Year 5s.
The most recent appointment to the Learning Support Team is a slightly quirky one… Bella, the Australian Labradoodle. Town Close have done their research though – Reading and Therapy dogs have huge benefits within schools helping kids who aren’t confident reading in front of teachers, and enhancing the children’s educational, social and emotional development. She’s obviously just really cute to have around too!
Town Close is super flexible about kids staying late, with the chance to book your child in the very same day. After school care for Pre-Prep starts at 3:45pm and runs until 6pm with sandwiches, hot snacks and fruit provided. The Prep pupils’ day ends at 4pm and they can also join after school care until 6pm. The day can start as early as 8am and there’s a summer club that runs for three weeks during the summer holidays.
I really enjoyed meeting Nick Bevington, Town Close’s Head since 2013 (previously Head Master at St Bede’s in Eastbourne for 6 years). He’s extremely smily, happy and approachable, and clearly very proud of all that has been achieved during his tenure (the modernisation of facilities and a lot of investment in the digital side of the school to name just a couple). He is commercially savvy too, understanding what the paying parents need from the school and adjusting the service to the families where he can to ensure they’re happy and well catered for.
He appears to know the names of every one of his 461 pupils right down to the smallest students in nursery and has a great camaraderie with them. He whizzes round the school with as much energy as the school’s charming, down to earth kids and is very hands on, still teaching French lessons.
Nick is a great advocate for what Town Close is all about. He’s passionate about it being an all-rounder school because the ethos here is that at this young age, everything should still be possible and the children should have access to every opportunity available, so you won’t find any academic hothousing going on or a focus on specialising early on particular subjects.
Nick is due to step down as Head at the end of the Summer Term for a new appointment in Singapore, so watch this space for updates on the new Head.
The school has a thriving Formula 24 electric go-kart team, with kids designing and building their own eco-friendly goblin kit cars under the watchful eye of the personable, and I imagine extremely popular, DT teacher. The team was the first ever from Norfolk to qualify for the Greenpower International Final and so far a total of 40 pupils have attended national races.
Other than this rather unique sport and early exposure to engineering, you wouldn’t describe Town Close as particularly quirky. I imagine parents probably choose Town Close because it’s a quintessential English prep school – big on sport, academics, the arts, manners and the great outdoors. Kids here enjoy balance in every area – a city location surrounded by woodland, traditional values alongside innovation and a healthy mix of time to play as well as learn.
The children here are some of the politest and most confident (but not at all precocious) kids I’ve come across. They open doors without thinking for their teachers and head master, stand up when adults walk in the room, and speak eloquently and enthusiastically to me over FaceTime. There’s a happy and creative buzz about the school which is obvious over a Covid-friendly virtual tour even with only key worker children on site, so I can only imagine how vibrant it is under normal circumstances.
A bit like Norfolk property, you get an awful lot for your money from a school in this county. Fees are £2,991 per term in Nursery and £3,880 for Reception – Year 2 through to £4,537 in Years 3 – 8 (2021/22).
The school also has a bursary programme, with some children on full as well as partial bursaries.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for a superior all-round option, where kids are nurtured, their brains engaged, and where they have the opportunity to get involved in loads of different activities in a caring environment that has been judged Excellent in every possible area. If you want your child to be very active and spend a lot of time in the great outdoors even in the middle of a city then this is the school for you. Kids here need to be willing to embrace all the opportunities and broad curriculum and have a level of responsibility.
Not for: Anyone looking for sweeping drives and acre upon acre of grounds. While the woodland around the school is brilliant for where it is, this is not a rural idyll of a school, so parents looking for that need to head further out the city.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! Tours are currently taking place virtually and there’s a video tour you can watch below. To make an appointment for a private tour, please email Mrs Amy Jones.
Town Close Preparatory School, 14 Ipswich Rd, Norwich NR2 2LR; 01603 620180