Arnold Lodge School, Leamington Spa
A small but perfectly formed cosmopolitan selective day school for boys and girls aged 4-18 in central Leamington Spa. It places happiness and confidence at the top of the agenda, with excellent results.
Set on a large site in the heart of Leamington Spa town centre, Arnold Lodge School or ‘ALS’ has 280 pupils – with 60 % boys and 40% girls. It’s easily accessible from Warwick, Stratford, Kenilworth, and Coventry with pupils also travelling from further afield including Solihull and Rugby.
A handy 20 minutes’ walk from the train station with bus stops right outside school, the school also has its own fleet of minibuses, which collect and drop pupils off daily.
Last year saw Arnold Lodge shortlisted for Senior School of the Year in the 2020 TES Independent School Awards for the exceptional academic value-added progress to students’ performance, as well as its ethos and culture.
Honesty, hard work and kindness are core values at the centre of the school ethos and day to day life. It has a multicultural make-up with 30% of international pupils from Germany, Scandinavia, South Korea, China, France, and Spain – many of their parents having relocated to the UK to work for Bosch, Siemens, or Jaguar Land Rover.
First founded in 1864 by Alfred Kirk, Arnold Lodge was a highly successful boys’ prep before becoming co-educational and moving to an all-through school in 2008. Since then it has gone from strength-to-strength catering for 4 to 18-year-olds.
Warwickshire entrepreneur Wynford Dore and his cousin Gareth Newman, a former headteacher and advisor to the DfE, acquired Arnold Lodge in 1999 and are directors of the school.
Classrooms are housed across a mix of beautiful Victorian and modern buildings which surround a lovely enclosed central walled garden and a separate artificial grass play areas for younger children, including a brand-new timber built climbing frame, wooden play equipment and outdoor classrooms.
The space had the feel of the typical school playgrounds you see in parts of North London – nestled in the rear of a tall Victorian listed building, where reception and early years classes are taught.
Headteacher David Preston gave me the school tour starting in the impressive old school where the senior school, school offices, reception area and music practice rooms are based.
You could sense the energy buzzing as we toured the school on its second day of the new academic year, with littlies gleefully running around enjoying some outside playtime. I couldn’t tell who’d just started school as they all seemed equally at home.
An outdoor PE lesson for older juniors was underway on the adjoining football pitch next to a brand-new netball pitch, completed over the summer. The school also has the use of excellent sports facilities off-site at the University of Warwick, Coventry- a 10-minute bus journey away – including AstroTurf and 3G pitches, full size athletics track, climbing wall, sports halls, and a 25-metre swimming pool. It also makes regular use of Leamington Cricket Club, The Warwickshire Golf and Country Club, the Local Tennis Club and Leamington Squash Club.
There’s been a significant refurbishment across the school site including updated science labs, spacious art studio and the food and nutrition classroom. Senior School classrooms in the older Victorian building have been given a modern makeover with new furniture and carpets, each fitted with touchscreen. Walls are painted light blue set with French blue desks, against high white Victorian coved ceilings and ornate cornices.
The school hall has also seen a face-lift with new decor including pristine white walls, blue velvet curtains, grey blinds, and wooden floor. New socially distant yoga classes have been running here as part of the post-lockdown sports curriculum and are proving extremely popular across the school.
Outside, there’s also an attractive courtyard patio and shaded area for pupils to sit under trees on wooden tables and benches. The junior school and library are in the more modern 1960s part of the school. Plans are currently well underway to transform the library into a creative learning lab with a pool of iPads for pupils to access.
On our tour a lively senior school drama lesson was underway, led by the animated drama and history teacher Mr Dobson, en route to the Sixth Form Centre which has its own kitchen, common room, quiet study space and seminar-style class rooms – imitating uni campus life.
The Sixth Form is next to be remodelled and the Reception classroom will be extended to make additional space.
A nutritionally focused menu designed by Arnold Lodge’s in-house school chef provides a hot vegetarian and meat option every day in the school’s dining hall with a salad bar, wraps and baguettes available and also catering for all diets from gluten-free to diabetic. Lunchtime is a family-style dining affair with teachers and pupils eating together every day. On the day I visited, it was posh hot dogs and chips with a vegan and vegetarian alternative.
Pastoral care is very highly rated. Particular emphasis is placed on the wellbeing and happiness of pupils, and providing a nurturing, individualised education. Form Mentors build excellent pastoral relationships with pupils in their form group and with their parents, too.
One of the school’s key strengths is its small classes throughout – a maximum of 16 children in Key Stage 1, 18 children in Key Stage 2 and 14 in Senior School. ALS believes through small teaching groups, the ethos and culture and lots of hard work, pupils can make significant academic and personal achievements.
The focus is on how much value the school can add to the attainment of each pupil, whether that be a pupil working towards top grades or one who aims to do their very best in Maths or English.
The Sixth Form’s wide flexible curriculum combines 20+ BTEC and A Level combined courses with a maximum class size of 10, allowing teachers to give significant teaching time, academic challenge and personal support to pupils
There’s a strict behaviour policy – bullying and challenging behaviour is unacceptable. But the head says staff will go out of their way to support students who may be struggling in any way – either academically, with their confidence or on an emotional level. Mrs Clarke is the school counsellor, on hand to offer emotional support whenever it is needed by a pupil.
The school also takes the lead on championing diversity, including LGBTQ positivity. There’s an inclusive and supportive LGBTQ+ group in senior school and up on the walls are posters reflecting the ethos, culture and values: reminding them to be their best self each day, honest, hardworking and kind.
The school has a Choir, a Chamber Choir, and a number of different bands, with top performers forming the ALS Band. A range of private vocal and musical instrument lessons are offered.
Recent trips for Juniors have included Cotswolds Wildlife Park, Ryton Pools, Compton Verney, a residential film-making experience at Folly Farm in Somerset, Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and Normandy.
Seniors trips include the Houses of Parliament, Kenilworth Castle and camping in Poole. Overseas trips have included hiking in Iceland and trips to the First World War Battlefields (Ypres & the Somme), Paris in winter, Berlin, and Rome.
Pre-Covid sporting outings have ranged from the All England Badminton Finals to British Basketball League Finals and Wimbledon with pupils also performing the guard of honour for Leicester Tigers Rugby Club.
The most recent ISI report (January 2016) found that pupils received ‘excellent teaching’, ‘excellent pastoral care’ and the quality of pupils’ achievements and learning was also excellent (the highest rating possible).
Last summer 49% of GCSE pupils gained 9 – 7 grades, 12% at Grade 9 and 37% Grades 7+ and 52% achieving 6s; with 100% of pupils achieving 5+ passes, including English and Maths.
In last year’s A-levels 10% of all grades were awarded at A* (3.3% above the national average), 32% at A* – A and 55% A*-B with a 100% pass rate.
And Arnold Lodge’s value added to these target grades is exceptional – for 2013/2014, on average, it added 7.5 grades to the expected attainment of each pupil and in 2014/2015, teaching staff added more than 5 grades per pupil. Value added per GCSE pupil in 2020 was 11 and at A level, 4.5.
The majority of Year 13 pupils in 2020 entered their first-choice university. High fliers include one pupil who achieved 3 A*s in Biology, Maths and Geography and is studying American Studies at Sussex; another attained an A*, two As and a B in Music, Politics, Sociology and English Literature and a third who passed two As and a B in Politics, Sociology and English Literature, is at Warwick.
When David or ‘Dai’ Preston was appointed headteacher in 2016 he already had a good understanding of the school having worked there as a teacher since 2010. Dai, who trained as an English and History teacher, is passionate about what Arnold Lodge stands for and incredibly proud of all the school’s pupils.
One of his first priorities as head was to introduce a new House system reflecting the school’s core values. There’s Veritas House (truth and honesty), Dedicas House (hard work and dedication) and Amicus House (friendship and kindness). A pupil’s entry into a house is decided by their answers to a questionnaire, and is reflective of their personality. In reality it sounds not too dissimilar to Hogwarts in Harry Potter – no Sorting Hat though.
This also gives pupils the opportunity for friendly competition with (Lockdown) House events including Sports, Music, Art and inter House Quizzes – although Dai readily admits Sports Day tends to be a bit of a write-off as all the best sports competitors tend to be in Dedicas!
Even the youngest and newest pupils know what House they’re in and what their house values stands for. Dai clearly has a good rapport with pupils and genially quizzes the younger ones what house they’re in. Usually he high fives them, but Covid has put a stop to that.
The head’s ethos is that children need to be happy in order to make outstanding progress; wellbeing and pastoral care is key to this. “We add significant value to the pupils in school and we’ve a very strong history of academic success across both our Junior and Senior Schools,” he said, ” but you can only challenge pupils to fulfill their potential if they’re happy first.”
Academically he believes a pupil needs to be challenged whether they whether they are chasing 10 A* grades or working hard to achieve C grades in English and Mathematics.
The school values the choices pupils make, not just their academic grades. Mr Preston illustrates his point when we bump into a talented runner at the school by sharing a story of a particular cross country race where she stopped part-way through to help an injured competitor from another school – the pair then ran the rest of the race together. For Mr Preston, talent in running is wonderful but it was a choice to be kind and to support another person in need.
Having worked hard to achieve his vision for the school over the last four years, with an energetic, talented, and dedicated staff team, Mr Preston is now looking at expanding the school in size.
LEARNING IN LOCKDOWN
During a year of lockdowns, many lovely compliments have been received from parents for the way the school has handled home-schooling during the Covid crisis – evident on their Facebook page. The head was in school every day, teachers delivered pre-recorded lessons allowing children to work in a bespoke way, they also received two weekly phone calls and video assemblies. The school has seen an increase in admissions during the pandemic as a result.
Famous former ‘Arnoldian’ Christian Horner OBE, the racing driver and Team Principal of the Red Bull Racing Formula One tea, was a recent guest at a prize-giving event. He was joined by his wife Geri Halliwell to the delight of staff and bewilderment of pupils who hadn’t heard of The Spice Girls – now doesn’t that make you feel old?
The traditional bright pink wool blazers worn by junior pupils are not only striking but look unbelievably cute on both boys and girls. The original blazer has been made at a British mill for many years where the colour is known as ‘Arnold Lodge Pink’ and the same wool is apparently used for the uniform worn by the queen’s Beefeaters at the Tower of London. The updated Senior School uniform changed from black to navy with a grey plaid skirt for girls, and coincidentally imitates the school’s original uniform.
In the Sixth Form the 20+ courses on offer combine traditional A levels with more practical BTECs and the EPQ. As Leamington has its own global gaming hub, it’s interesting to note one of the newest BTECs on offer is in Creative Media Digital Games Production.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Arnie’s teatime care has replaced Splodge. Run by FUN for KIDS holiday camps and Warwickshire Dance Academy, it’s available for Reception to Yr 11 students from 3.30pm – 6pm. All children are provided with a sandwich, cake/biscuit, and drink with a variety of activities and homework corner. Cost: £12.50 per session including tea.
An Extension and Enrichment programme, ExEn, runs for all ages up to Year 13 during lunchtime or after school with activities ranging from Project art, to junior/senior chefs, stage combat, karate, fencing, salsa dancing, sign language, music production, fencing and chess. Older pupils can also embark on Duke of Edinburgh Awards or join Arnold Lodge journalists as part of the BBC School Report.
As part of enrichment sixth formers will learn to cook, to budget, tackle their EPQ, given opportunities to visit universities, join the Pupil Parliament and develop leadership skills.
There’s a range of scholarships for pupils entering Year 7 and Year 12 (Sixth Form). These may be honorary or carry a fee reduction of up to 50% for excellence in particular areas.
Into Year 7, scholarships are available for academic excellence and for pupils who excel in Art, Drama or Music. The Douglas Hall Sixth Form Academic Scholarship carries a significant reduction in fees and is typically awarded to pupils who are set to achieve all A*s and As in their GCSEs (or 8s and 9s).
Arnold Lodge will consider means tested bursary applications from parents of children awarded a scholarship but may not be able to consider Arnold Lodge for financial reasons.
Reception-Year 2 fees work out at £900 per month, £10,800 annually. From Y3-6 the annual fee is £12,192 and for Y7 and above it is £13,116 per year, so the fees here are below average. There’s extra value for money in that school lunches and in-house extra-curricular clubs are also included, compared to many other independents where you pay additional costs.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents said they had great communication from the school about their children’s academic and social progress. They say pupils benefit from a large amount of of individual time from caring, empathetic staff and tailored teaching. The head is very popular with parents – they like his openness and honesty.
One mum told that her son’s small A level class sizes had helped him surpass expectations. She was so pleased with her eldest’s progress; she enrolled her younger son, who was in top sets at a high achieving state school in the county.
Another mum, who’d returned from abroad to live back in the UK, said she and her husband were looking for a school where they could send both their son and daughter. Although they live 30 minutes away, they were swayed by the school ethos and values, as well as their ‘not one size fits all’ educational approach. She says the school’s close community helped them settle as a family and her children have ‘blossomed’.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone wanting the ease of keeping their kids at the same school from 4-18. A clear set of values and ethos with a strong sense of community. It’s a warm, energetic and friendly school, and gets great academic results.
Children across a range of abilities do well here from high academic achievers to those less confident but motivated to work hard. The small class sizes are great for children who may feel ‘unseen’ in a big classroom setting and thrive on individual attention.
Not for: Less so for those less interested in rolling fields and endless facilities, than the pastoral care which is excellent. Children with a big ‘I am’ attitude won’t necessarily fit in here.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it! While visits to the school are on hold due to lockdown, ALS had created a virtual tour of the school in which you can explore the classrooms, buildings and outdoor spaces getting a snapshot of what they have to offer.