Exclusive interview on the opening of Falkner House pre-prep for boys

Eleanor Dixon, appointed Head of the new Falkner House School
Eleanor Dixon, appointed Head of the new Falkner House School

There is a shortage of boys’ pre-preps in London, which is why competition for places at Wetherby or the popular co-educational prep schools is so intense. It is great news then that Falkner House is starting a pre-prep school for boys aged four to eight with an attached co-educational nursery, following their recent acquisition of 20 Penywern Road, SW5.

Falkner House has always been a family business and the new school will be no exception with Mrs Anita Griggs as principal and her daughter, Mrs Eleanor Dixon as headteacher. Mrs Dixon was educated at Falkner House, St Paul’s Girls’ School and Cambridge. She worked as a lawyer at a City firm before joining Falkner House in 2011 following the birth of her oldest son Barnaby. At Falkner House Mrs Dixon works in all areas of the school with particular focus on lower school maths and preparing children for the 11+ process. Mrs Griggs remains as headteacher at Brechin Place where she will continue to work closely with and alongside her daughter Mrs Flavia Rogers.

I recently enjoyed the opportunity to interview Mrs Griggs and her daughters about the new Falkner House School, which will not be called Falkner House Boys’ School “to avoid awkward apostrophes”.

When and in what form will the new Falkner House School open?

The school will open in September 2017 with a co-educational nursery (Lower and Upper Nursery) and its first Reception class of around 20 boys. After this first intake, the pre-prep will have a two-form entry of 36 boys in two classes of 18. Eventually, the school will educate 120 children from Nursery to Year 3. (Editorial update: due to huge demand, the school will now open as a two-form entry school already with two classes of 16-18 boys each. There will also be a small Year 1 class). 

Will the boys’ school be selective at 4+?

Yes. The 4+ process will be run along the lines of the girls’ school, but the assessment will take place in October (3 months earlier than the girls’ assessments) to align the process with other boys’ schools in the area that require parents to make earlier decisions. We would be more than happy to delay these assessments until January if other boys’ schools align their process accordingly.

Do you believe boys can be assessed reliably at such a young age?

Yes, we do feel we can do it. We have built up lots of expertise by running the co-educational nursery for many years and our Head of Nursery is very involved in running the 4+ assessment process. Of course, with any child (boy, girl, or indeed a puppy!), the later you assess the better, but we feel, based on our experience with nursery aged children, that we can assess reliably.

Did you consider opening a prep school till 11+ instead of a pre-prep at all?

We are open to the idea and certainly have the expertise to prepare children for the 11+. But, unfortunately, there are currently not enough places at 11+ and it would not be fair on the children. You cannot put all your eggs in the Latymer Upper basket for 11+. If schools like St Paul’s Junior or Westminster Under increased their intakes at 11+, we would certainly be open to the idea (editorial update: Falkner House has now announced it will indeed provide boys the option to stay till 11+, if they so wish. However, they will be prepared for 7+ and 8+ exams if they are ready).

How is the school going to be different from the girls’ school?

The curriculum and approach will be very much the same. We will adapt the teaching methods and the pace of classes a bit as boys can have shorter attention spans and need more change. They also benefit even more from small groups and one-on-one teaching. There will be lots of sports, including Swimming from Reception and games at Holland Park and Barns Elms.

What is your view on tutoring for the 7+/8+?

We try and tell the parents that they are the most important person for their child.  They need to take an active interest in their children’s learning. And we as a school work hard to get parents to trust us that we are already doing what is best for the child. We can provide everything at the school. If they need extension, we do that here, if they need extra Maths help, we can do that here. But when we say “less is more”, we really mean less is more. If we felt more Maths or more worksheets were going to lead to better results we would do it, but they don’t. Children need to have a childhood and they need to be able to go home and play in the sand and get messy after a full day at school.

Another problem with tutoring is that it takes away a child’s ability to work independently. When they enter the exam room, there will be no tutor sitting next to them telling them what to do. We will take our boys to the girls’ school for a mock exam in the autumn term of Year 2 to experience what it is like to go into an unfamiliar building to sit an exam. We also work on building up their confidence and resilience which are so important in this process.

What will be special about the new boys’ school?

The new Falkner House will have the strengths of the original: small, family run and personal, with exceptional teachers, a broad curriculum and the best fundamental educational principles at the heart of the school. There will be the same emphasis placed on camaraderie, good manners and kindness. Every child should have the right both to a happy childhood and the very best education, with the importance of the academics balanced by sport, music and art. Boys will develop their strengths without being hot-housed; they will be prepared for the best possible schools for them at 7+ or 8+ in a sympathetic and supportive fashion. We welcome open dialogue with parents and always have an open door policy.

Should you be interested please call the office at Brechin Place on 020 7373 4501 for more information. The school will be organising group meetings to take place at Falkner House Brechin Place. This is to give people the opportunity to talk to Mrs Dixon and Mrs Griggs about the new school and to ask any questions.

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