Small but perfectly formed

Editor Stephanie Broad visits Cleve House School to find out more about their collaborative ethos

Not far from IE Today HQ in Bristol, Cleve House is a small prep school and nursery looking after 70 children from two to 11 with a traditional ethos and family feel – complete with an adorable King Charles spaniel. We caught up with new head Craig Wardle about what’s on the agenda at Cleve House.

Tell us a little about Cleve House.

Cleve House has always prided itself on being a small, family-orientated school. A lot of the children are second or third generation; a lot are very local – a huge proportion walk to school. There’s a family atmosphere. The children look after each other – many are related – and we build upon that so they come in, catch up with their friends, they look after each other, and we look to build upon that to increase children’s confidence, providing them with a broad curriculum, lots of extracurricular activity and lots of opportunities to try new things.

What have your first few months at Cleve House been like?

It’s been fantastic. People have been so supportive. The staff have been full of ideas. You only have to say “Would somebody mind…” and they’ve already done it. They’ve all taken on a club at lunchtime or after school. We’ve got a new website, new prospectus, opportunities to market the school – the staff have been brilliant. The parents are a gift! We hadn’t traditionally had a PTA so they were straight on board. Out of only 50 families in the school, 33 volunteered to be on the PTA.

“The way forward is for us to support each other” 

How does this role differ from previous experience in the sector?

In many respects it’s very similar. My previous school was a rural prep school but both are based on traditional values: team spirit, kindness to others, showing enthusiasm for things. There are different surroundings, but children are children: enthusiastic to try new things, thrive on praise, enjoy themselves and take things on with great gusto – so in that respect, very similar.

What is your favourite thing about being a head?

Seeing the enthusiasm of the children for new things, some of them very simple. If you give them a new ball to play with, most of them have iPads or similar but they still love it. They have an enthusiasm for the library and for things like cross-country.

The school’s nursery

What does the future look like for Cleve House?

We would very much like to start on improving our ICT and its use in the school, raising enough money for a set of Chromebooks so we can use them from nursery right up to year six. The sooner the children start using them the better. We did think about bringing in tablets, but they’re not developing their keyboard skills.

It’s been a pleasure to see the social side of the school develop as well. There are lots of things that are going to happen – raising the profile of the school, getting into the Independent Schools Association which we’re registered to join, forging closer links with other independent schools. We’ve already got a very good relationship with Torwood House, we’d like to work with more. 

Do you think this is important for the future of the independent sector in general?

I think the way forward is for us to support each other. As a head, it’s invaluable to be able to pick the telephone up and say to another head: “I’ve got this paperwork and I don’t know what to do with it – what are you doing?” Or: “Have you got a policy on anti-terrorism?” Everybody’s got something to bring to the table, so if you put a group of heads together, some who have international experience, some who have been at secondary schools, they will all have their fortes. You put it all together and it’s a winning force.

Cleve House School W: www.clevehouseschool.com    

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