Housed in grand Tudor manor surrounded by picturesque countryside, the day and boarding school supports wide variety of needs including dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and mild autism, as well as school refusers who have previously been unhappy in education.
But it characterises itself as ‘specialist, not a special school’.
Admissions registrar Jenny Davies says: “Slindon is the answer for boys for whom mainstream is not suitable, for whatever reason. They may have learning difficulties or be a bit vulnerable.”
Between 75 and 100 boys aged 8 to 16 attend the school at any time, typical class sizes of six to eight and never more than 12.
Vibrant displays of paintings, textiles and ceramics cover the walls and fill display cabinets all around the school, clearly signposting pupils’ passion for art. Those who struggle with academic study often find great love for art or music, and have the chance to experiment with graphics photography and design. Uncovering hidden talents can be transformative for these boys, who may have suffered years of frustration. Astronomy and horticulture are also very popular. School is home to two friendly donkeys, two pigs and a growing number of other animals.
Jenny says: “If they’re having trouble with something, the boys often come to talk to and stroke the donkeys.”
Lessons structured so boys can work at their own pace. In Years 4-6 children are all taught together in one ‘Primary’ group. Difference in ages is not an issue because needs are so varied, each pupil learns at his own pace. Primary group tends to work autonomously in its own space, providing a strong sense of security. Visual programme is used, including pictorial timetables which particularly benefit children on the autistic spectrum.
Once into Year 7, children have specialist subject classrooms. Thoughtful and practical solutions are in place to ensure pupils can move between these with ease, and focus on learning. ‘Box system’ is used, giving each pupil a tub in every classroom to store work and books, meaning they don’t have to carry it around with them.
“If a boy doesn’t turn up when he should and with the things he should have, we don’t punish him, because that’s why he’s here,” says Jenny. “Instead we look at what we can do to help him find coping strategies.”
Instead of excluding children for erratic behaviour, focus is on rewarding progress.
Boys have half an hour of prep each morning when they do their ‘homework’, allowing them to be unencumbered in the evenings. All do quiet reading after that, giving a clear focus many have previously lacked. Results are remarkable, with some boys improving their reading age by three years within 18 months.
Slindon proudly tells of pupils who came to the school unable to read and write, who left with glowing GCSEs. This progress is the result of work by highly experienced and dedicated staff.
Jenny says: “Because we’re small, we can work closely to provide tailored support. We have one-to-one support for those who need it, and a very high number of learning support assistants who tend to stay with the same class right through the school They get to know the boys’ strengths and where they need most help.”
Excellent IT facilities give pupils access to computers for lessons and research. The ICT suite is next to the main hall, formerly the manor house lounge. Many original features remain including ornate ceilings and large fireplaces, giving the building a homely feel. The hall is used for assemblies and performances. “Concerts aren’t just for the boys who are very good at music,” says Jenny. “The boy who’s just learnt how to play ‘Three Blind Mice’ using two fingers can join in as well.”
Boarders live upstairs in the main house, enjoying spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Younger boys share cosy rooms between two to four, depending on preferences and social requirements. Juniors have large communal bathroom and comfortable family room where they can relax.
More mature pupils have spacious bedrooms, and by the time they reach Year 11 all have a private room to sleep and study.
Matron is responsible for health and wellbeing, and also acts as confidant. School counsellor is also on hand whenever required.
“Some of our boys do extremely well in their GCSEs but many will not achieve high grades, and it’s the life and social skills that we can hone that will make the most difference.”
Life lessons cover wide range of topics, including things like cost of car insurance and tax for students nearing the age when they hope to take to the road. Mechanics is a popular after school club, with boys learning how to pump tyres, check windscreen wipers and oil levels. The school even has its own dual-controlled car and offers pupils lessons in the safety of the grounds.
Jenny says: “Some of our boys do extremely well in their GCSEs but many will not achieve high grades, and it’s the life and social skills that we can hone that will make the most difference. All boys do cookery for at least an hour a week. They learn to use the ovens, washing machines and dishwashers too – we make sure by the time they leave us they are capable of cooking themselves a proper meal.”
Slindon’s flexible and undogmatic approach works wonders, and ensures every child gets the most out of their education.