BY HARRIET WARD
As you approach St Peter’s Prep School near Exmouth in Devon there is a sign planted beside its driveway urging drivers to stop and enjoy the view. And what a view! This gem of a prep school, perched on top of a hill overlooking the Exe Estuary, has views across to Powderham and Mamhead to die for. A place where, when you study Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Francis Drake, they come alive as you walk the same ground as they did, and puff the same fresh Devon air.
Set in 28 acres of beautiful countryside around a Georgian mansion, St Peter’s is a leading prep school not just in Devon but nationally. The St Peter’s school motto – ‘super hanc petram aedificabo’ (on this rock I shall build) – echoes St Peter himself and underlies over 125 years of a school successfully building strong foundations for its children; an impressive proportion of whom have gone on to great successes.
Serving boys and girls from nursery through to Year 8 (aged 13), all children have access to the latest Star Trek IT equipment using Google classroom and flipped learning in an innovative, forward thinking curriculum which, in a clever blend of hi-tech and traditional, focuses on the development of pupils’ academic learning as well as their personal skills and qualities. St. Peter’s children benefit from outstanding teaching in small class sizes where children of all abilities have the individual attention they need to enable exceptional achievement and challenge. Pupils gain 100% success rate of entry to their chosen Senior Schools and many leave the school with Scholarships in Academics, Art, Sport, Music or Drama.
St Peter’s is a stand-alone prep school. It is not a prep school for any specific major public school (its pupils go forth into a variety of senior schools), so it can focus solely on preparing its pupils for taking the leap when they reach senior school age. This prep school is not weighed down by the conveyor belt of some of the large schools in the South West and enjoys its freedom; making sure its lucky pupils appreciate their school time and the beautiful environment as well as working hard. Meanwhile, the school is large enough to churn out talented sports teams achieving impressive results across rugby, cricket, football, hockey, netball, tennis and other sports. As well as benefiting from a strong Music department replete with choirs and myriad ensembles.
Many of the St Peter’s pupils’ families have moved down to Devon from London or the Home Counties for a bit of peace and quiet and some beach time. St. Peter’s is extremely well-located – just half an hour from central Exeter and Exeter airport with new, fast rail and flights to central London, yet ten minutes from the beach and close to the beauty of Dartmoor. The school operates a boarding facility from aged seven, so if parents are caught up in meetings in town they can leave their children overnight at the school and fun boarding activities are put on for boarders – like swimming in the school pool, bowling in Exmouth and attending Exeter City matches. The school also operates a fleet of mini buses so parents need not get tied down to school runs; instead a crew of friendly bus drivers will make sure their children are picked up within a sizeable radius of the school.
St Peter’s pupils benefit from the freedom of growing up in this area of East Devon – an area of outstanding natural beauty. Horse-riding and learning to sail are part of the activity programme and children spend time adventuring on Woodbury Common, ringoing on the estuary and kayaking on local waters as well as attending the St Peter’s own Beach School and Forest School.
The school’s Headmistress, Charlotte Johnston, took over from Noel Neeson in 2016, whose outstanding achievements were recognised by the Independent Schools Inspectorate in its 2016 report where St Peter’s is described as “extremely successful in meeting its aims”. Charlotte is the sister of the TV Historian Dr Sam Willis and has ambitious plans for the school, so that it gets the national recognition it deserves for being a cutting-edge prep school right at the forefront of the technological revolution which will provide an array of jobs for current St Peter’s pupils one can hardly imagine as the world changes.
One of the aspects of St Peter’s that makes it stand out above local and national competitors is the adoption of its own nationally-endorsed Baccalaureate curriculum. In 2012, the Senior Management team at St Peter’s set out to create a new curriculum framework which would prepare children for a seamless transition to their next schools. Their brief was to find a new way of rewarding academic achievement, of weighting all subjects equally and of empowering and inspiring the teaching staff. They aimed to come up with a formula which would reflect and reward pupils’ efforts both inside and beyond the classroom. They wanted to encourage them more effectively to use their initiative and think outside the normal academic boxes.
Over a period of 18 months, they designed and built what is known now as the St Peter’s Baccalaureate, spear-headed by the inspiring Mrs Lucy Ball, Head of the St Peter’s Junior School.
Staff and children have been revitalised. The energy level and morale in the school is conspicuously higher. Parents are most supportive. Senior schools have declared themselves fully in favour of the St Peter’s Baccalaureate. St Peter’s – unlike other prep schools – are now able to send to senior schools highly detailed statements of what their prospective pupils have covered, and how assiduously they have covered it. Now that the St Peter’s Baccalaureate has proved so successful, St Peter’s is a school to which the epithet ‘holistic’ genuinely fits. Children are seeing school as a more exciting place to be.
This is a happy, proud school. Lucky to breathe in fresh air off the Devon coast every day. A delightful place; especially when bathed in summer sunshine.
Prospective pupils and parents are welcome to go and see the school in action at any time. Please call 01395 272148 to make an appointment for a tour and to meet the Head Charlotte Johnston. Scholarships at 7+ and 11+ and bursaries are available. The St Peter’s School website can be found here.
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