The first day back at school after the summer break is always a mixture of anticipation and excitement, but for Eaton Square Upper School it was even more special. Eaton Square Upper School is the senior school to the existing Eaton Square School in Eccleston Place and is located in a Grade-I listed building in Mayfair. On 6 September, they opened their doors for the first time, offering pupils the chance to be part of history.
A week before the bell rang I donned a high-vis vest and explored the building to see how the new school would provide a unique learning environment. Even though the building was undergoing some finishing touches during my visit (hence the high-vis), its beauty was undeniable. Naturally for a listed building, it had surprises around every corner, from ornate ceilings to green silk wallpaper and neoclassical classrooms. The building was once a home for Lord Coventry and, more recently, a London outpost for a private Malaysian university, so this is not the first time it has provided a base for education.
After my tour, I met Sebastian Hepher, Headmaster at Eaton Square School, to find out more…
How is the school building going to aid learning?
In terms of art, I think it has to because of its beauty and history. I have said to parents that if their sons or daughters have any artistic interest, being educated in such a beautiful setting can only be a good thing. Plus, I think the school’s location lends itself to many opportunities because we have so much on our doorstep. I want our pupils to be independent in London and love the city they are in, so part of that is using it.
What will the relationship be between the prep and senior school?
If you open a new senior school, it does beg the question – is the direction of the prep school going to change? Well, the answer is no. We will continue to be a prep school that feeds into a number of boarding and day schools, in particular the ones that are relevant to the pupil. If another school is the right fit for someone, I would absolutely say that to the parent. An independent school is about many things, but one thing is providing choice to parents and pupils. I wouldn’t want this to be anything other than a fantastic school that someone can move onto if they so wish.
Why is Eaton Square Upper School a day school?
In London, over the last 15 to 20 years we have seen quite an increase of prep schools, but very little increase in senior schools. Consequently, it has become incredibly tight when it comes to transfer and there has been an increasing number of people that have had to look at boarding schools because there aren’t the places in the London independent day school system. That’s one of the reasons why we started here.
What will the first day of school be like?
It should be very exciting! The pupils will hopefully appreciate where they are and the staff should be full of energy and vigour. It is a very special time opening a new school. Every minute of every day is setting the tone for what is going to come after that.
How do you plan on using the traditional setting whilst promoting a modern education?
I think within education it has to be flexible and as a Head you have to continue to learn and adapt. One parent also said to me, “Get the basics right and everything else will follow,” and that line has stuck with me throughout this process.
What are the challenges of a new independent school?
Not having a tradition can be a challenge as parents will look at a school and want to hear about its history for reassurance. For example, with a completely new school, parents can’t see how many pupils were sent to a Russell Group university. But, on the other hand, it’s also a positive as the ambition of all staff is 100% focused on making sure it is going to work. We have a fantastic opportunity to start something without having to fight the history that came before it. I actually don’t feel like there are any challenges, I am just excited about what is going to be here.
What advice would you give to Heads who are considering opening a new school?
First and foremost, I think you have to be aware of the market and where your pupils are going to come from. In London, we are very fortunate as we have a large number of prep schools in a very short distance of the school. You also need to have a building which is going to be able to accommodate what you need and a clear vision of who you are aiming at. Finally, make sure you have a fantastic team around you.
Where will the school be in five years?
What a fantastic question – where will it be? All the year groups will be full, so it will feel very different. I hope it will be a school that parents in other prep schools will consider and look at as a strong, established co-ed school in central London that gives them choice. Maybe keep that question and come back in five years to see if our ambitions have been achieved!