An all-through education – join in the nursery and stay until the sixth form – allows teachers to invest fully in students, says Dr Adrian Rainbow, Head of Hampton Court House

one school for life
Adrian Rainbow

Last week, we had a fire alarm practice. The school assembled in the sunshine according to age with sixth-form students at one end – and at the other, the toddlers who are in our pre-nursery. There were 300 children of all ages, all behaving patiently; I even found myself called on to hold a baby. 

It was a perfect reminder of how special this school is: a place where parents trust us with their children from start to end, a place where we can build an education, block by block, investing in each student with pride, knowing we will see their hard work come to fruition.

The idea of an all-through education such as the one we offer is not new, but it seems to me that it has never been more appealing. 

While some parents assume they must keep shopping around for different schools to match different life stages, we try to offer a one-stop alternative. Come to us, for our immersion French and high academic standards, but you also get a way of learning that supports the individual in a genuinely transformative way. 

No other system offers a child the chance to be individually assessed throughout their entire school life by teachers who really know them and care for them. That means better grades, on the one hand, but also – crucially – a secure environment where most children cannot help but thrive.

This is not something that happens by accident. Schools like ours have to work hard to ensure our students draw the full benefits. For example, we have just finished an entire curriculum review, looking at what we teach all the way through the school. We have had to make sure that our plans are consistent, with each year’s learning forming a solid bedrock for the next.

We also use our own benchmarking, as well as referencing national standards, to check pupils’ progress. So that means worrying less about whether children hit the targets mandated by the government in Key Stages. Instead, we look at each child and ask whether they are hitting the right target for them. Our teachers know their strengths and weaknesses – and, of course, can then intervene early so that missed learning can be made up before it becomes an issue.

Parents trust us with their children from start to end. So we can build an education, block by block, investing in each student with pride and see their hard work come to fruition

School life is not just about academics; the pandemic has reminded us that pastoral care is essential too. An all-through education experience is an advantage as staff see students grow up while keeping in close contact with their families. 

We think of it as a triangulation between staff, parents and children. Mental health concerns, friendship issues, problems with behaviour – these can all be picked up earlier and dealt with when a child is utterly known in their school.

I particularly like the way year groups mix without hierarchy. If I see football games going on at lunch, the players may be drawn from four different year groups.

And the older students enjoy modelling good behaviour for the younger students while taking up mentoring opportunities. Year 12 can volunteer to read with Years 2, 3 and 4. It’s good for their UCAS form and the younger ones are thrilled. Next year, we hope to get older students mentoring in French, science and maths. 

one school for life
Pupils at Hampton Court House

One of the advantages for many families is that there is no need to worry about the 11+ or 13+, where children become stressed – and parents spend fortunes on tutors.

We’ve dropped both exams; new students take our own entrance tests. And I am more interested in what they bring to the school in terms of personality – will they fit in? will they be thoughtful? – than simply having academic aptitude.

This matters as the school is a family. Our students get the results they deserve and which we know they have worked for their whole school career. It’s an immense privilege to be part of that journey.

Since writing this, it has been announced that Dr Adrian Rainbow is moving to be head of Eaton Square Senior School. Kate Vintiner will continue as Principal at Hampton Court House.

See Hampton Court House’s online listing here.