Opening in 2023, Radnor House Prep School offers an exciting setting where children can grow and thrive. Absolutely Education finds out about this new learning community coming to Twickenham

Words: Libby Norman

Radnor House Prep offers the kind of blue-sky thinking around education that will fire the imagination and lift the hearts of parents across Twickenham and beyond. Here we have a brand-new school. It will offer a huge amount of space, a fantastic setting right on the Thames and a top team of educators invested in building a thriving learning community for children aged from 2 1/2 to 11.

While Radnor House Prep is not yet open, it is going to inhabit a well-established space that is already a very popular school. Radnor House Twickenham (which takes pupils from Year 5-13) has become so successful it has outgrown its space and is moving to the landmark Kneller Hall, also taking on the name Kneller Hall School, from September 2023. This means, effectively, two brand new schools close by in Twickenham expanding the educational opportunities for this area of south-west London. Both schools are part of Dukes Education – there is a palpable sense of a long-term educational vision at work.

Radnor House Prep – a school for the future
Radnor House Prep is an exciting new school for children aged from 2 1/2 to 11 – part of Dukes Education

This is certainly something inspiring Radnor House Prep’s founding Head Stephanie Piper, already in place for many months and busy planning this new school community. “After 21 years of being a Head, this is an amazing opportunity to just to step back, to look at things and think: how are we going to do it and what would be the best that we could possibly do?” she says.

This is not to say that Radnor House Prep is an entirely blank canvas. “They have got the most incredible facilities already,” she says. Reshaping obviously means redesigning appropriately for younger and smaller children, but the school proportions are energising and inspiring – unusual for the sheer number of large learning spaces that are at Radnor House Prep’s disposal. These have opened up opportunities to create exciting teaching and learning settings.

“With the Thames running alongside the school, pupils here have vistas that are life-enhancing on the gloomiest winter day”

As an example of this, there are three well-equipped science laboratories at present. These are being remodelled into state-of- the-art STEAM spaces. “The three current labs will be used for science, for coding, for robotics, for CAD, art and technology. It is important that science and technology are not distinct from art and creativity as there is always crossover and also the need for children to be able to develop their core skills across all of these subject areas,” says Piper.

Radnor House Prep – a school for the future
Existing facilities in Pope’s Villa are being remodelled to offer state-of-the-art teaching and learning spaces for this age group

Exciting 21st-century stuff, and even more so because the school comes with no ‘baggage’ of inherited IT and can ensure superb systems from the outset. In case you think it’s all shiny and new, this will all be happening on a site that comes with a unique and rather marvellous slice of London history. Known as Pope’s Villa, the Victorian Gothic building by architect Henry Edward Kendall Jr (among the founders of RIBA) stands proudly on the site where leading Enlightenment poet Alexander Pope once lived and worked. It still bears his name and, by some miracle, Pope’s Grotto remains – running under the road at the front of the school. It even has a preservation group (patrons include Monty Don) dedicated to keeping the poet’s subterranean flight of fancy alive. So, this exciting new school with the latest technology also comes with a fantastic old grotto attached – that is something not many schools can brag about.

The site is also located right on the banks of the Thames, a priceless position that the founding Head calls “the best view in London”. With the river running alongside the back of the school, pupils here will have indoor and outdoor vistas that are life-enhancing on the gloomiest winter day. These vistas are going to be maximised within the new design as an outdoor covered play area for the Early Years pupils. The redesigned space will, she says, be “fabulous”.

Radnor House Prep – a school for the future
Radnor House Prep’s location, on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham, means fabulous vistas in all seasons and spaces are being designed to maximise the views

Stephanie Piper is relishing the many opportunities here to design and build a community that works for every member. She brings with her a wealth of experience of school leadership, having been Headmistress of Devonshire House Prep for 11 years and, before that, Kings House School in Richmond. She raised her own children in Hampton and still lives in this area, so understands both the local and broader London learning landscape very well.

Unusually, Piper started out as a senior specialist, teaching French and German. “I think it’s a really good mix to come with that subject specialism background but also having the opportunity to have that younger age group,” she says. She says she got hooked as soon as she switched from senior to prep education. “At this age, children are so interested, and so engaged. They are so thirsty for information.”

Radnor House Prep is an exciting new school for children aged from 2 1/2 to 11
Head Stephanie Piper brings a wealth of experience and is designing a curriculum to inspire and challenge young minds

Stephanie Piper’s experience of this “thirst” is being put to good use in designing a curriculum to keep curious minds engaged. “We can look at the curriculum. We can
say: what is the best that is out there at the moment in learning for younger age groups?”, she says. “Our teaching will follow the child, using a completely redesigned space and that fabulous outdoor covered play area. Children will be encouraged to learn at their own pace, to expand their minds and to explore the world. Learning will be self directed, allowing the children to get a sense of independence and confidence in their ability much faster than in a more traditional setting.”

From Year 1, children will be taught by a class teacher and TA, and still with lots of access to the school’s outdoor spaces. Even in these early years there will be specialist teachers in French, Music, PE and Drama (the school has a brilliant theatre on site). From Year 3 onwards, subject specialists will teach all lessons and children will move to different rooms – as they would in a senior setting – making full use of the purpose-designed spaces.

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The school benefits from good sports facilities on site and locally and will take advantage of the many superb outdoor learning spaces in this area of London

There’s no doubt that the outside spaces are hugely impressive for any visiting parent, but Piper says parents who have already attended parents’ evenings are even more inspired by what the state-of-the-art technology and sheer range of learning spaces inside the building are able to offer their child. “Being a new school, we can ensure we are ahead of the game rather than having to catch up and renew with technology.”

“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to think: what would be the best that we could possibly do here?”

There are going to be elements that focus directly on building creative capacity. The large music and drama spaces are superb for fuelling creativity, but there is also going to be a modern breakout space where children can enjoy one-to-one teaching, group work and other ways of taking learning beyond traditional classroom confines.

Radnor House Prep – a school for the future
As a new school, there will be both spaces and a curriculum focused around building children’s creative capacity – taking things beyond traditional classroom settings

As you’d expect from a language specialist, there’s emphasis on the value of learning languages really early. “French will be the core modern language, the intention being that they will gain mastery in French before they move on to their senior schools, where they can take up Spanish, Mandarin or German with the confidence that they already have a sound understanding in French,” says Piper.

Games and PE are a vital part of the mix, as at any good prep, and will take place partly on site (there’s a great gym and good outside games spaces) but also in some of the many sports facilities in this neck of the woods – including Teddington Cricket Club, the grounds at Saint Mary’s and, as its superb facilities come on stream, Kneller Hall. Radnor House Prep is more or less equidistant between Bushy and Richmond Parks, so outdoor exploration is a given. “In this part of London, we are very fortunate with the facilities available to us, and we hope to be able to take advantage of all of these. We will also be running residential trips and day trips – their value is immeasurable.”

Specialist teaching and stretch and challenge will be balanced – helping young people to be supported and extended at their own pace.

The teaching and learning approach will, says Piper, provide plenty of stretch for the most able, but always within a balanced and progressive setting. “It will be a challenging curriculum which will ensure that pupils are well prepared for the very highest 11+ entry exams, if appropriate, but also supported and extended at their own pace and without the need for excess pressure or stress.”

One big draw for prospective parents is that students here at Radnor House Prep can move on to Kneller Hall or the other Dukes Education school locally, Hampton Court House. Piper says that this guarantee makes a big difference to children and their parents. “It stops 11+ being the be all and end all exam,” she says. But crucially, Radnor House Prep remains independent – this means staff will adopt an entirely individualised approach.

Twins Laptop A S C
All children at Radnor House Prep will have a guaranteed place at Kneller Hall or Hampton Court House – taking the pressure off 11+ as the “be all and end all’ exam

“Parents will be able to review choices along the way and look at the other schools available and what would be the right fit for their child. We feel that this freedom to choose offers the best of both worlds, a guaranteed place waiting – so pressure off – but a challenging and exciting curriculum which will keep all options open.”

Of course, all schools – but especially prep schools – are about so much more than exams and onward journey. They set the foundation for a happy and fulfilled life. This is core to the ethos at Radnor House Prep – and something Stephanie Piper is passionate about. “Social and emotional literacy must be taught alongside numeracy and literacy and given equal value. Neuroscientists are clear that the optimal time to change mindsets, attitudes and behaviours is prior to the age of six,” she says. “We are not going to pay lipservice to mindfulness or wellbeing, they will be integral to everything we do and how we go about our lives at Radnor House.”

Performers A S C
The school has superb performing arts spaces and will ensure a broad enrichment programme and strong pastoral care

She points out that pastoral care has been one of the key elements in Radnor House Twickenham’s enormous success. It is moving on and becoming Kneller Hall School, but kindness is set to remain embedded in the fabric of school life here at Pope’s Villa. “We want to emulate this and through our Radnor Rs – our core values of Resilience, Respect, Reflection and Resolve – we hope to provide solid pastoral care at a crucial time of a child’s development.”

“Mindfulness and wellbeing will be integral to everything we do and how we go about our lives at Radnor House Prep”

As the Radnor House Prep team prepare for the exciting run up to September 2023, there is fine tuning going on – including visits to see best practice and incorporate more great education ideas. The overarching aim is to ensure the enjoyment – the ‘buzz’ – of learning and growing here together and instil a spirit of belonging. “A new school creates its own community,” says Stephanie Piper. “We are bringing together a wealth of experience to provide the very best offer, and to ensure we build a kind and caring community where children thrive.”

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Radnor House Prep School opens in September 2023, and is hosting a series of open days where parents can find out more

Radnor House Prep School at a glance

Head: Stephanie Piper
Gender: Co-ed
Day or boarding: Day
Ages: 2 1/2 -11
Points of entry: Nursery (from age 2 1/2), Reception (4+) and occasional in-year admissions
Admissions: Non-selective. Early registration advised from birth. Any questions, contact [email protected]
Religious affiliation: Non-denominational
Next Open days: 6pm, Thursday 24th November 2022;
10am, Saturday 3rd December 2022
Address: Radnor House Prep School, Pope’s Villa, Cross Deep, Twickenham, Middlesex TW1 4QG

Further reading: Capital gains – added cultural benefits of a London education