Good Schools Guide Review

Whole School Review

 

Head - Since 2014, Richard Notman BSc. Studied finance and stats at Birmingham University but soon discovered he was not made to be an auditor. After taking his PGCE in Manchester, he spent the next eight years in inner-city comps before teaching maths at Withington Girls School and then becoming head of maths at Alderley Edge School for Girls. From there he went to Longridge Towers, Northumberland as deputy head, and finally Cundall Manor School, Yorkshire as head teacher before he swapped the moors for the Devon hills.


‘A breath of fresh air’, said one parent. He is more than up for the challenge and is excited to be at Stover. He says he ‘can cherry pick the best of state and independent practice’ and feels he now has the experience, knowledge and confidence to take the school forward. Plus it’s rural, small, non-selective, 3 to 18, and co-ed; everything he wants in a school. It’s not just a new life for him though; his wife and young family have moved to live in the school grounds, and his two children are settled in the prep school. He’s keen to make this a family venture, and one parent told us, ‘Both Mr Notman and his wife Helen have done everything they can to integrate their family into the school and make themselves known and accessible to all. They are a tremendously friendly family, and have placed emphasis on getting to the root of what the parents and children of Stover want changed and improved.’

Some major changes (or ‘tweaking’ as he calls it) are already under way and parents have been impressed so far. ‘Communication from the school has been excellent in this matter,’ they say. Research-based learning has been introduced and teachers have all taken it on board enthusiastically. Parents said, ‘He has focused the staff on the bigger picture and has given a renewed energy across the school.’ Pupils are ‘very inspired by his assemblies and messages he is getting across.’ His to-do list includes major makeovers for the sixth form and boarding; getting parents more involved; and making as much use as possible of the extensive grounds. One parent told us, ‘The new head has been fantastic at attracting new children, as Stover was good but too small.’ In his first four months numbers through the whole school rose from 285 to 315. Not a bad start at all.

 

Academic Matters - At GCSE in 2014, 26 per cent A*/A grades and 54 per cent A*- B grades. At A level, 15 per cent A*/A and 58 per cent A*-C. Newly introduced vocational qualifications: BTecs in home economics, sport, ICT and performing arts. Maths is a strong subject with top grades at both levels. Stover won the Regional Maths Challenge in 2012 and came third in 2015. Chemistry another strong subject with three students recently winning places at the prestigious Salters Chemistry camps. Photography very popular at A level.

Stover welcomes pupils of all abilities. One parent said, ‘It’s a non-selective school and does very well in terms of exam results given its mixed ability (and after the grammar schools cream the top academics off).’ A boarding school with 15 per cent of overseas students, English is not everyone’s first language and this is sometimes reflected in the grades. Parents speak highly of the learning support department, and a whole range of learning difficulties are well looked after here. One said, ‘When extra help is required they have the staff to support your child and our daughter was given her own 'adult' in maths to sit with her and help her on a one-to-one basis, which helped hugely.’

Along with the introduction of research-based learning, Stover is setting up ‘bring-your-own-device’. It is planning to invest heavily in a new (and safe) server instead of upgrading equipment. This will give teachers a new teaching aid, encouraging pupils to research online and become more tech savvy on their own computers. The ISI inspectors reported that ‘teaching was excellent,’ but we heard some concerns from parents about its quality. One said, ‘I think there should be a review of the current teaching staff to ensure any weaker members of the team receive up-to-date training to help them improve their methods.’

Games, Options and Arts - Extensive grounds and good sports facilities. Pupils ‘relish the 60+ acres at Stover.’ Thereare six all-weather floodlit tennis courts, netball courts, a gym, plus football, rugby, hockey and cricket pitches. The only drawback is that Stover is a small school and there aren't always enough players of the same standard to make the winning teams. One parent said, ‘They seem to punch above their weight and have won hockey and netball leagues recently against much bigger schools.’ However, other parents agreed that there’s room for improvement: they would like to see ‘a bit more sport and a few more fixtures in the senior school,’ as well as ‘investment in a school swimming pool.’ Extracurricular activities include table tennis (big here), judo, fencing, clay shooting and more recently a Stover riding team. With the school on the edge of the moors, D of E and Ten Tors are very popular and are a part of life here. The head has linked up with Devon Schools Sports Partnership so that other local schools can make use of the grounds too. They hosted the Devon Schools' Area Athletics Cross-Country Championships 2015 with over 350 competing athletes. 

Good music department. One parent said her daughter ‘has been inspired by the head of music….they have nurtured her talent; she was very disengaged with it when she first joined.’ Most pupils learn an instrument, there’s plenty of concerts and groups to join: the orchestra, brass and jazz bands and choirs. Another parent said, ‘Stover has several choirs and is very good at singing and music. They win almost everything in local and regional competitions. My son's year even went to Bruges Cathedral after winning one competition.’ Productions, assemblies and concerts all take place in the dome-shaped Jubilee Hall which also houses a recording studio and practice rooms. 

As well as music, performing arts and public speaking are strong themes throughout the prep and senior school. Regular productions and plays. ‘The ones I have seen are very well produced. I went to Bugsy Malone the other year and the Match Girls last year. So, very different ones.’ said one parent. Stover also offers LAMDA speech and drama lessons with Stagecentre plus performance exams.

The art department has a building to itself. It’s well set out with art downstairs, a separate sixth form area at the back, and photography upstairs. Pupils ‘love being able to go outdoors to learn - in science and art they will often make use of the natural world around them.’ Great displays and some impressive work including a John Lennon mural, and large fish sculptures inspired by a recent trip to the aquarium. We were particularly impressed by the photography upstairs, including some portraits taken on a trip to Brick Lane. More than 10 students taking A level, a high number for such a small school. 

The Millennium building is modern and bright with science labs downstairs, and maths upstairs. Floor to ceiling windows, new equipment and colourful murals by a teacher make the labs cheerful and inviting. Small class sizes also mean that there is always enough equipment. Fish, gerbils and even an adopted stray ginger cat add to the happy vibe here. Recent trips include The Big Bang and the Eden Project. Upstairs are two bright and sunny (when we were there) maths rooms, linked by a large balcony, also used as form rooms. 

Separate wooden buildings or cabins are used for English, humanities and modern languages. All freshly painted - we could still smell the paint - something else the new head has done to freshen up the school. French is compulsory, then pupils can choose to take either Spanish or German too. There have been group language trips abroad but no home stays due to safety concerns, a teacher told us. 

The last wooden building in this cluster is for sixth formers. It has a pool table, the obligatory tatty sofas and a small outside area to sit, chat and play cards. Sixth formers complained to the head that they didn’t feel private here and that they felt they ‘hadn’t moved on’. So, this summer, they will be rehoused in the art building and a new art space will be created. Lucky sixth formers. 

Clubs or daily activity sessions take place at lunchtime, with a late-ish school finishing time of 4.30pm. Mixed messages from parents on this. It suits some, but not all. When we were there we saw the Ukulele Club doing karaoke, and the Ready Steady Fry club had just finished making dough in the well-designed home economics room. Other activities, apart from the usual offerings, include bush-craft, astronomy, Dragons Den, the Raving Reporters, Knitting Club and Man Choir. There’s also plans to make more use of the grounds and set up horticultural and farming activity clubs.

As well as language trips abroad, there are regular theatre trips, art trips to galleries locally and in London, field trips to Dartmoor, history trips to Flanders, and a recent sixth form expedition to Tanzania.

 

Boarders - Boarders are 60/40 split, girls/boys, and make up around 20 per cent of the school (60 pupils). Boys were admitted just three years ago and to date have been predominantly from the Far East, China in particular. This is another area of the school undergoing a major change. The head sees Stover as different, not as ‘regimented’ as other boarding schools; he says it’s ultimately ‘a school, that has boarding provision.’ Admissions criteria has been changed and there is now much more focus on language with interviews by Skype. There is also a more varied mix of nationalities, with pupils coming from Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia as well as Vietnam, Spain, Germany and Cuba. The plan is to recruit mainly full boarders and offer the flexi-boarder option in a very limited and controlled fashion – they don’t want it to ‘feel like a motel.’ Short stays will still be offered during the summer as these serve as good tasters, and day pupils will still be able to take advantage of the wrap-around care.

Girls board on the opposite side of the main school building to the boys. There are some obvious differences. The boys’ area has been recently refurbished (we were told the girls’ area will be completed by September 2015). The boys are lucky to be in the original part of the building with high ceilings, ornate cornices, huge bay windows with shutters, original fireplaces, domed ceilings, arched hallways and great views. It’s very tidy; the military background of their houseparent keeps them in check, apparently. He’s also well known for getting the boys together for regular evening chats round the dining table. Cheerful rules boards dotted around – live, laugh, love etc - make it feel homely. The large dorms feel light and spacious. This is in contrast to the girls’ side, which feels dark and, without the original features, not nearly so impressive. The common room felt stuffy, and although it was equipped with PCs, a Wii, a drinks area and dining table, it didn’t have the same inviting feel as the boys' room. On the plus side, the girls do have single, double and treble rooms available as well as dorms. When we were there the girls were obviously getting ready for the prom, dresses proudly displayed on most wardrobes. Good-sized showers and bath facilities. In fact all the facilities are good - kitchen areas, drinks area and laundry facilities all promote independent living as much as possible. There are the usual rules for mobile phones and such, but all seemed pretty relaxed. The boarders here really get to know each other, and the staff, well. Parents say it has a ‘friendly, family atmosphere.’ Some students even come back for more. Gap year students help out with admin duties, evening activities like football or tennis, and weekend trips to the cinema, the beach, shopping and just recently Stonehenge and Thorpe Park.

 

Background and Atmosphere - Stover School is set in beautiful grounds, 64 acres of parkland located between Dartmoor and the sea. Founded in 1932 by two sisters on the Stover Estate, the object was to help pupils lead independent lives. Boys and girls have been in the prep school since it started in 1996, and boys in the senior school since 2005. The main house, built of granite ashlar, is an impressive sight as you drive in. With its double flight of portico steps it wouldn’t look out of place on a film set. Inside, the grand entrance hall continues to impress with high ceilings, beautiful plasterwork and ornate fireplaces. The school is proud of its heritage and cups, plaques and photos adorn the corridors. The rest of the school is housed in various well-designed buildings and wooden outbuildings in the perfectly manicured grounds. 

All pupils agree full-heartedly on two things at Stover. Firstly, it’s friendly. And secondly, the food is excellent. We saw long queues of hungry pupils looking forward to the curry of the day. One said, ‘I love Roastie Wednesday and Fishy Friday!’ and apparently lots of pupils happily get dropped off early in time for the boarders' breakfast.

 

Pastoral Care and Discipline - Well-behaved, well spoken and polite. Good behaviour is part of life here and is instilled at a young age – walk into any prep class and they will all stand. The pupils we spoke to seemed happy and proud of their school. Due to its small size, problems are spotted quickly and dealt with swiftly. Everybody knows everybody, but there is a solid support network of house parents, tutors, the school nurse, the school counsellor and the school chaplain if needed. The chaplain takes an active role in school life as well as regular collective worship and running the Christian Union Group.

The house system runs all the way through the prep and senior school and helps to give the pupils a sense of belonging. It’s also great to bring out the competitive streaks. There are three houses, but strangely they are then split into boys and girls, making it six houses in all. The pupils we spoke to had no idea why it was like this as the only aspect they are separated for is sport. Presumably this is just a hangover from days gone by when boys and girls didn’t mix. Strange that it hasn’t changed with the times.

 

Pupils and Parents - Day pupils from Newton Abbot, Exeter, South Hams, Torbay, Bovey Tracey, Plymouth. Boarders mainly from overseas. Parents mostly in professional occupations. Good bus service, or parents can take advantage of the wrap-around service from 7.30am to 6.30pm. 

Communication is good, there’s even an iTunes Parents App for news, events and photos. Plus Soundcloud to access all the latest music. Friends of Stover are always busy fundraising, and the upcoming Summer Ball was causing a bit of a buzz. ‘There is also a monthly Friend's of Stover coffee morning where parents meet with the headmaster, Mr Notman, and his wife Helen, and can exchange information, chat and generally catch up, which is lovely,’ said one mother.

 

Entrance - Interview with the head, school reports, and a compulsory taster day where they are assessed on academic ability and attitude. One parent told us, ‘We all found the entrance process very good. The older two started half way through the year but, they didn't seem to have any problems fitting in and finding their feet. The staff were welcoming, helpful and informative and communication with us was good. Since starting we have not had one single morning that they haven't wanted to go to school.’ The school also has a system of parent class reps to help the new parents settle in – ‘one parent per class keeps a database of details so that round-emails can be distributed with details of coffee mornings, birthday parties and play-dates - you soon feel like part of the furniture even when you've only been at the school for a matter of months!’


Exit - Around 75 per cent stay on for sixth form, the others move on to non fee-paying alternatives. Popular university choices are Plymouth, Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff and Falmouth. One famous leaver worth a mention is Debra Newbury, awarded the MBE for her services to transatlantic rowing.


Money Matters - Academic, music, art and sport scholarships available at most ages up to 20 per cent of day fees. Two means-tested scholarships at year 10 and sixth form, the Maurice Key and Laurus scholarships offering up to 100 per cent of day fees. There’s a maths scholarship available to international sixth form students covering 25 per cent of fees at Stover and 10 per cent of fees at Plymouth University. Armed forces and the police force are offered a 10 per cent discount.

Our View - Stover is a small, friendly school. It’s for mixed abilities, and for those that wouldn’t suit a larger mainstream setting. It’s undergoing some major changes. For the better. Everyone agrees there are ‘exciting times ahead’. As one parent put it, ‘It was a good school in many ways, but now I think it has the chance to be really outstanding.’ And having met the head, we think this is just the beginning. One to watch.

 

Stover Preparatory School

 

Snapshot - Parents like ‘the friendly, family atmosphere.’ One told us, ‘We chose Stover for a number of reasons - yes, the grounds are lovely and the buildings beautiful but a school needs to give more than that. Mainly we were inspired by the prep head, Mrs Coyle, and the ethos of the school as a whole. You don't have to get the highest scores in maths and they aren't going to force your child into a shape they don't naturally fit.

Head - Since 2006, Mrs Caroline Coyle BEd MA. Studied at Kingston University before taking her masters in Michigan. Well travelled, she taught in Budapest, Jakarta and finally Cairo for eight years before settling here in the south west as Head of Preparatory School. Caroline loves her job, still teaches maths, and is obviously very happy at Stover. Approachable and friendly; parents say ‘Mrs Coyle has a great deal of experience in her field,’ and is ‘liked by all.’

Head’s Title – Head of Preparatory School

Entrance - By interview, school reports, and a taster day where academic ability and attitude to learning are assessed in an informal manner. One parent told us, ‘They focus a lot on getting big friendship groups and not allowing cliques in prep school; new pupils are embraced.’

Exit - About 60 per cent of nursery pupils move up to prep school. Most prep school pupils enter senior school, some gain places at local grammars.

Remarks - A traditional, co-ed, small country prep school. Set in 64 acres of beautiful grounds with use of all the senior school facilities, this rural school is cheerful and friendly. Built in 1843, the Clock House was originally stables and is set around a charming cobbled courtyard. Several of the classrooms have interconnecting doors and are linked by very narrow hallways and stairs. It’s small, some would say it feels cramped; others would say it’s full of character. Pupils are well-behaved and well-spoken.

Strong focus on performing arts and public speaking. There are separate drama, singing and music lessons every week. In music, the ukulele is popular and there’s lots of groups to join, including orchestra, chamber choir and choir. The prep annual performance involves everyone from year 3 to year 6. This year it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s also a pre-prep performance every December. Plenty of public speaking opportunities, including house competitions, exams in year 5 and debates in year 6.  The boys and girls are split for sport and the head says it’s all about participation at this age (although the boys did well to come runners up in the Rugby VIIs in Plymouth this year). Day trips from reception, residential trips from year 4, with a night away, then a three-day trip to Cornwall in year 5, three days in Mount Batten for year 6.

Spanish is taught from reception and French from year 3.  Learning support covers the whole school and each case is looked at individually. In-class support is available, plus one-to-one specialist support for autism or Asperger’s.

Amongst the acres and acres of land, there’s a large playground with a sandpit, a wooden pirate ship, a football pitch and even an outdoor chess board. The new outdoor classroom has replaced the forest school that was destroyed by bad weather. There’s a pond, a fire pit and parents have recently planted fruit trees. They are keen to make as much use of the grounds as possible with activities like bushcraft and gardening club. The nursery is next to the playground and is a homely space for toddlers from 8am to 4pm. The school provides wrap-around care from 7.30am until 6.30pm for prep school pupils from 6 years old. Boarding is possible from year 5 onwards but there’s only been one or two boarders recently.

Parents like ‘the friendly, family atmosphere.’ One told us, ‘We chose Stover for a number of reasons - yes, the grounds are lovely and the buildings beautiful but a school needs to give more than that. Mainly we were inspired by the prep head, Mrs Coyle, and the ethos of the school as a whole. You don't have to get the highest scores in maths and they aren't going to force your child into a shape they don't naturally fit. [Stover] helps them to excel in the areas they have a passion for.’  A small rural prep school where boys and girls of mixed abilities can build confidence and prepare for senior school life.

A Quote from Stover

The quality of teaching is excellent

ISI Inspection Report 2014

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