Not opening on schedule ‘absolutely not an option’: Solihull prep head

Mark Penney, head of Solihull School’s new prep school, said Covid-19 “threatened to derail much of what we had planned”

Solihull School, having announced in September last year that it would merge with Saint Martin’s, has opened the doors to its new prep school.

Now the coeducational day school lives across two campuses – the new Solihull Preparatory School on the Saint Martin’s campus on Brueton Avenue (for three to 11-year-olds) and Solihull Senior School on the Warwick Road campus (for 11–18-year-olds).

The school leadership team wrote last year that they hope the merger will help in “ensuring the new school continues to thrive for generations to come”.

Mark Penney, head of the prep school, spoke exclusively to IE about how the Covid-19 pandemic had affected their plans. “It threatened to derail much of what we had planned but, in the end, after a series of seven-day weeks, we were able to see through on most of what we had planned,” he said.

“Most plans had to be rescheduled and resequenced, having lost the anticipated three weeks over the Easter break and one week of the May half-term, but we got there.”

Penney said delaying the opening of the school was not something they were willing to consider. “The margins were incredibly tight and a second lockdown may have proved a tipping point, but from the moment we embarked on making it happen, not opening on schedule was absolutely not an option.”

The margins were incredibly tight and a second lockdown may have proved a tipping point, but from the moment we embarked on making it happen, not opening on schedule was absolutely not an option – Mark Penney, head, Solihull Preparatory School

The school has ample playing fields, a full-sized floodlight artificial pitch, 25m swimming pool, large library, arts centre with performance auditorium and a dance studio. There are bespoke, specialist teaching rooms for art, science and music, while Clevertouch boards have been installed in most of the classrooms.

Making the new school Covid-secure was a challenge but was helped by the school’s large campus and staff body, said Penney. “We were determined from the outset to ensure we had a full return of every year group, from nursery to year 6, and to complement our curricular offering with the fulsome co-curricular programme that our reputation, in part, is built on.

“It would be foolhardy of any head to suggest that all risk can been negated but we have been able to put in place a significant amount of measures to mitigate the risk of transmission.

We are fortunate to have a 20-acre campus and high staff-to-pupil ratios to facilitate this, but it still required a very significant amount of head-scratching and resourcing.”

The school has seen high demand from prospective parents, according to Penney, especially from those who were impressed by the distance learning that took place during lockdown.

“Demand has been very high and considering the economic woes that prevail, it’s been remarkable. In part that demand stems from prospective parents who are drawn to the continuity of education we were able to offer via distance learning when the country was in lockdown,” said Penney.

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