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Wycliffe College is an independent school based in Stonehouse, just outside Stroud, and set in 52 acres of beautiful countryside. Its Prep School welcomes children from three years old up to Year 8, and its Senior School from Year 9 to Year 13.

Helena Grant, head of the Prep School,  discover more about Wycliffe Prep and how it could be perfect for your child.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into teaching?

I was born into a family who are fascinated by the world, fascinated by people, by cultures, by organisations, by nature, by music, by dance — they are interested in everything. My parents met in Zimbabwe, then moved to Hong Kong, where I was born. I was there for 18 years and had the most extraordinary childhood, including some time at boarding school in the UK.

When I was 18, we moved back to the UK and I took four years off to travel the world and do lots of different jobs. And because I wanted to travel, I decided to do a TEFL course. In those days, TEFL courses were really intensive three-month courses. And on the first day, they put you straight in front of a class — I was teaching a group of Italian students. I did my first lesson and I walked out and thought, ‘now I know what my purpose is; now I know what I want to do’ — suddenly everything made sense. So I went off and did my four-year degree and then started teaching in a state school in Tiverton — I had 44 children in my first class!

I later moved to Tanzania, where I worked for an international schools group for several years; ran education programs for NGOs; and ran my own pre-school; before moving on to Kenya, where I took up an English teaching role. We decided as a family to return to the UK in 2016, where I took up a deputy academic role at Monkton Prep School in Bath; and then three years ago I took up the headship here at Wycliffe Prep.

What was it about Wycliffe Prep that appealed to you?

My values as a teacher have always been about the whole person; and about what we add to society and to our community; and about how we consider the bigger picture. And when I read Wycliffe’s vision statement, I said ‘that’s it; that’s my school’. There’s three key words in our vision statement — one is about the individual; one is about global citizenship; and one is about a pioneering spirit. And that feeds into everything in a child’s life and development.

Can you tell us a bit more about the school’s Global Citizenship value and what it means?

Often in assemblies I will put on a live webcam showing different things going on around the world — at the moment it’s a bird theme, so this morning we watched a live webcam of puffins in Canada. I started doing this when I joined the school and I showed the children a live webcam of a waterhole in Kenya — they saw the animals and we discussed things like the water levels going down because they were in drought. So one part of Global Citizenship is all of these little connections we bring in to open the children’s minds. It’s always about opening minds.

Global Citizenship is also about our place in the world and asking questions like ‘what do we want to bring to the world’? And what impact are we going to have on society, community, within our businesses, within our careers, within our professional and our personal lives?

For example, if we were looking at food on the school’s menu, we’re thinking about things like, is everything from Gloucestershire or somewhere else? Where did we buy that from? What gets imported? How does a purchase here reflect somebody who might be in South America, the USA or Vietnam? How does it work?

We often do ethical debates in assembly, where one group are entrepreneurs; the other group are environmentalists; and the final group are the social equity. And we would have a whole discussion on how we balance all these things. It’s about opening minds and understanding that things which are very normal to us here affect the world and, in turn, the world affects us.

What does a day in the life of the head of Wycliffe Prep look like?

I start off by putting the cones out in the carpark and then greeting the children! I lead several assemblies a week and a lot of my day is ultimately about developing the people around me. Those people are the children; my teachers; and my support team. Leadership is about is about giving people the autonomy and the ability to step up.

I also meet with members of my senior management team; I nip in and out of classes; I report into the trustees about all the different things that we’re doing; and I spend as much time as I can with parents — I’ve got a very open door to parents.

And then there’s the nuts and bolts — which chair needs fixing or which light bulb has blown! Ultimately, it’s about creating a really safe environment for the children on every level, from physical to emotional. I also spend lots of time in the boarding house as it’s really important boarders know the head comes and sees them. And I can often be found in my garden with my two cats, Tanga and Duma!

Can you tell readers more about Wycliffe Prep and what it offers pupils?

We are a school that goes from age three to 13; we’re co-educational and we have day pupils and boarders. At the moment have 67 children in boarding and the rest are day pupils. And our nursery class is right in the heart of the school, which is amazing for transition as it means the younger children are on the same site and they get to see the older ones.

There’s something different every day — we’ve got an amazing team of staff, many of them are new to the team and so committed to making children’s engagement high — we place a lot of importance on finding ways to engage pupils to love their learning. We offer a curriculum that’s taught slightly differently — we go beyond national curriculum objectives; and children from as young as three get specialist teachers in subjects like French, art, drama, swimming and computing. Our creative subjects are as important as our academic subjects.

We have an amazing games program and the provision goes from age three to age 18 — we have coaches coming in and our staff get to see the whole development of each child, all the way up to Senior School.

The really special thing about Wycliffe is it offers the opportunity to be part of a community. And I’m a huge advocate of Years 7 and 8 being in a prep school — I think it helps to make them really ready for Year 9.

And as a prep school we have access to the Senior School too, so our Year 7s and 8s might go over to the DT labs, or for sport. And our heads of department connect with the heads of department at the Senior School.

We’ve got a shared ethos and philosophy, and children finish their time at Wycliffe as amazing young people.

How does Wycliffe differ to other schools in the county?

We run an incredible program on a Saturday morning called the Discovery Program, which is for Years 6 to 8. It’s a complete enrichment program on top of our curriculum and it encompasses what I call ‘real world skills’. So, collaboration, communication, presentation skills, problem solving and learning in a slightly different way.

For example, the Year 7s have just started a three-week unit on model United Nations, where they practise being a United Nations debating team and parents come in to watch the final debate. The Year 8s are doing a unit on Kintsugi, the Japanese philosophy of broken pottery where it’s put it back together with gold and is made better than before, and there’ll be a showcase at the end for parents. Our Saturday mornings offer a lot of opportunities.

We are also members of Round Square, which is an international organisation of like-minded schools around the world. And through it, we make connections with other schools, with a shared philosophy. We all promote democracy, leadership in children, effective business development goals, and sustainability and the future of the planet. Children as young as the nursery class will get to meet other children from around the world online; they join in conferences and debates; and it’s all pupil-led — the pupils themselves are facilitating everything, not the teacher.

And we’re a really inclusive school — every child plays sport and takes part in a team; every child takes part in drama productions; we’ve got a swimming pool on-site which is amazing; and we have so much space in the school grounds.

We also have expedition days as part of our pioneering spirit value, where every year group goes out for a day each term. We do things like a courtroom drama where the children have worked through a crime novel and we take them over to the law courts in Gloucester. They get to re-enact the entire legal process, with the author of the book there, but they don’t know the outcome of the novel and have to come up with their own ending. The author will reveal the ending after the re-enactment to show how things can turn out differently. To offer that kind of amazing experience is really powerful.

What changes have you implemented since you took over three years ago?

In the last three years we have worked hard to bring to life our vision through our academic curriculum as well as build our extra-curricular provision.

We started offering polo as a sport two years ago — it started off as a boarding activity but now we’ve expanded it to day children and we’ve got loads of children who play every week. But the real switch has been the number of children that have taken up polo who have never seen a horse before, never mind ridden one. Some of our pupils who have really low self-esteem have been transformed — they get on a pony and you just see a complete change. One little boy had never seen or touched a horse before, and by the end of the lesson he had his arms wrapped round it — it was very moving.

At the moment, I’m discussing with the boarding house about children being able to bring their guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits from home. We’re also looking at bringing chickens on to the school grounds, too.

We also now run something called the Encompass Program, which is a curriculum for Years 6 to 8 that has a variety of themes which run through each half term. At the moment it’s leadership and next half term is conflict. Different subjects feed into those themes so that it becomes an overarching focus for the half term and gives meaning to a huge chunk of learning.

What would you say to parents who are considering the pros and cons of state school versus independent school?

Everything is about being personalised. The depth to which we know our pupils is exponentially greater than in a large state school. And that has benefits in every way — academically, pastorally and for mental health. And it means that parents are investing in a school community who are invested in their child and looking after their child.

As well as that there were so many opportunities within the school day. That can reduce a lot of the pressures on families to be driving around everywhere to external clubs and teams. For example, children can do their swimming activity here, they can play their sports fixtures on a Wednesday afternoon as part of our games team — children are getting everything within the day at school.

The really little ones can come into school from breakfast club all the way through to 6pm and there’s no additional fees — everything is included. So the value for the younger children is huge, because once you start paying for childcare, you’ll be paying more than the fees we charge here.

But it’s also about knowing your child and about thinking, are they going to thrive? Are they going to really thrive in every part of their environment? With some children there’s a lack of confidence and those children might sit in a large class and not get recognised or acknowledged enough. Teachers in state secondary schools will have up to 350 children coming through classrooms every week and it’s impossible to give personalised attention to all those students.

But that is what you get here — a relationship — and the fact that, as a parent, you can pick up the phone and ask, ‘Can I please just come in and see a teacher?’ And the answer is always ‘yes’ — usually within 24 hours. I would really encourage anybody who’s even just thinking about it to come and see us. Come, have a look, have a walk around the site — it’s actually about feeling it more than anything.

If you would like to book a visit to Wycliffe Pre-Prep, email mike.mcdonnell@wycliffe.co.uk to arrange a date.

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