Pattison College, Coventry
Pattison has a small family feel, strong academics, and a lot of character. It was a dedicated dance school until 1949, so the creative arts are still a driving force.
You’ll find Pattison on a residential street close to Coventry city centre. Originally a dance school (the Pattison family had taught dance in the area since the 1920s), it expanded into academics in 1949 to offer full-time education to children who wanted to make a career in the theatre. These days, the dance provision is still its compelling USP in the area (its nearest competitor is all the way over in Birmingham or Buckinghamshire) , but it now also welcomes non-dancers into its homely, non-selective, co-ed environment.
The school, which has a Christian ethos, is small, with 125 boys and girls (roughly a 40/60 split) from 2-16 years, taught in classes of no bigger than 16. Children can join here at any time in their school journey, giving an unusual yet welcome flexibility to parents and pupils. There’s EYFS funding here for 3–4-year-olds, and for those 16+ there’s a well-respected Musical Theatre course that gives training and professional qualifications to those who want to make lights, music and action their careers. From Sept 2023, the school will also be introducing the A Level syllabus.
There’s a family feel to Pattison, partly due to its bijou pupil numbers and confined site as well as its history, having been run by Miss Pattison and then her daughter, Elizabeth, for 70 years. Two years ago, the school was bought by the Chatsworth Schools group. The warmth remains, but there’s now a more dynamic vibe, led by the appointment of the high-flying Head (the husband of the CEO no less!) to further boost the academic offering.
There’s a small playground area (about to be resurfaced) at Pattison but the majority of sport takes place off site. On Monday afternoons the Juniors head to the sports centre, and the Seniors have a personalised programme where they have to choose three activities, one of which can be dance (though it’s not compulsory). Football, basketball, swimming, cricket, netball, badminton, gym fitness and squash are all possible here, and there’s a lunchtime sports club three times a week. A first for the school will the appointment of a part-time sports teacher in Sept 22.
No surprise that dance is the creative driving force at Pattison. The children practise in one of the three dedicated onsite dance studios, and lessons, run by specialist teachers at all levels, are extensive, including ballet, tap, modern jazz, gymnastics, commercial, street dance, production. It’s the only school in the West Midlands that offers a Level 4 NVQ course for post-16 students who want to pursue a career in teaching dance. This is now to expand to the Performing Arts.
Drama, musical theatre and choir are available with performance space in the school hall. LAMDA exams are encouraged at the school from Year 1, with a take up of around 15%.
Music is taught by specialist staff right through from Early Years upwards. Choir is the big thing here, with Junior and Senior choirs. From 7+ years the kids can learn the piano, singing and guitar in school, though there are plans to expand this offering to more instruments, and introduce chamber ensembles.
The school offers 8 traditional GSCES (Eng Lang, Eng Lit, Maths, Combined Science, French, History, Geography) as well as a BTEC in IT, though non-exam subjects such as Art and Music are firmly on the curriculum until Year 10. It’s a steady pair of hands academically – in 2021 40% of pupils achieved Level 9-7 (A*-A), and 98% achieved 9-4 (A*-C). There was a 100% pass rate, with all pupils passing in English and Maths.
Specialist teaching kicks in from Year 3 for PE, Music, Computing and Art, with specialist French, German and Spanish added from Year 5.
The school engages its parents to monitor homework which seems like a smart move – carers are required to sign their child’s homework diary once a week. In terms of the IDTA Theatre exams, the results are impressive – 79% distinction and 21% merit, and all passing.
In a school this small, strong pastoral care is its bread and butter, and Pattison has been judged Outstanding in its safeguarding and welfare of pupils as well as in their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development in its most recent Ofsted report (2018). A poke around the school’s recently revamped website reflects how central wellbeing is at Pattison’s, with downloadable literature on everything from ‘How to Sleep Better’, ‘The Truth about Self Harm’, ‘How to Exercise’, and one explicitly for parents, ‘How to Talk to my Child’.
The form teacher is the person responsible for individual pupil welfare, with other avenues to concern the Deputy Heads or the Head. The school has introduced wellbeing training for three members of staff (one prep, two senior), with a view to supporting either pupils or staff who are experiencing mental health issues.
The school makes use of occasional visits by therapy dogs and also gardening (the pupils are involved in the RHS School Gardening Awards). There’s a little pond for the Seniors that is currently swilling with frogspawn and is used for outdoor education and the littlies spend a lot of time in their Mud Kitchens. There is no on-site counsellor here, though provision is made when necessary.
A character! I really liked Graeme Delaney – full of charm, bonhommie and warmth, like a twinkly great-uncle, but with a highly impressive track record at some of the top academic schools in the UK, including Senior Master at prestigious Oxford High School. I walked around some classes with him and he’s clearly popular with the kids, and passionate about sparking ideas and expanding knowledge rather than just plodding through the syllabus. His mantra to his staff is “teach your subject, not the exam”. All staff now teach with their doors open, sit in on each other’s lessons to learn from each other, and Delaney has moved his own study next to the front door with his own door open to encourage parents and children to engage with him.
A French and German linguist himself (he has ‘French breakfast’ with pupils in his study where they all have to speak French as they wolf their croissants), he’s also taught Spanish, Dutch, Sport and Drama to all ages at Secondary level and has a passion for the performing arts – he’s keen to expand the school’s fame beyond dance to the theatre.
Delaney is currently overseeing some investment in the school, upping the IT provision with interactive TVs, putting in a new lighting and sound system in the hall, as well as a 50ft projector for the hall for film nights and back projections for shows. There’s also a renewed dedication to workshops with famous ex pupils – Rupert Grint and Richard Armitage are a work in progress for a return to Pattison (how cool would that be?) but two ex-pupils who have gone on to become head choreographers for Phantom and Crazy for You have both held recent workshops here.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Flexible. Drop off starts at 8am, supervised after-school activities are available until 5pm for under 8s or 6pm for older pupils.
As a non-selective school from nursery, there are a few children here with SEND needs, and these are met within the classroom. The school has appointed a SENDCO and is also training up a member of staff for the Junior School.
There are no dedicated science rooms so experiments are undertaken (safely!) in the classroom. Undoubtedly Pattison’s lack of on-site facilities and somewhat dated decor is its weakness, but on the flip side, its small size allows it to inject a sense of fun and creativity. It was quite cool, for example, to have Kevin Rankin, drummer with A Flock of Seagulls, coming in to chat to the Prep School pupils this year! The surprise donkey in festive collar arriving at the school after the Christmas performance was a nice touch too. I like the uniform – the striking green and yellow blazers made Pattison’s kids unmissable.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
The children are not allowed their mobile phones during the school day.
There are no school buses, children make their way via car or public transport.
The fees at Pattison are lower than many of its local competitors, starting at £2345 per term for full time nursery and moving to £3150 per term by Y11. There’s no extra charge for drama and music lessons taken in class, all dance and sports classes, stationery and textbooks up to G.C.S.E. Level. However, the fees don’t include school dinners, wrap-around care (£8 per hour) and exam fees, including GSCEs.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Very positive. Parents here love Pattison’s family atmosphere and the feeling of inclusion that lasts right through the Senior school (any of us who feel set adrift from our kids at secondary school will know how unusual that is). The children I talked to raved about Graeme Delaney and like the fact he listens to them – the school council is given some teeth here. More subject breadth would be welcome, but with the size of the school not expected!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Any child who loves to dance and perform will be in raptures here. Parents who are looking for an independent school with small class sizes and strong academics without paying through the nose. The location means that 2021’s City of Culture is right on the doorstep and the introduction of A levels for 2023 will make it a true ‘through school’ – useful for parents who don’t want to chop and change their children’s schools several times.
Not for: Pattison is not an aesthetic beauty so if Georgian colonnades are important to you, you’re in the wrong place. The size of the school is either its strength or weakness depending where you sit on big fish in little ponds.