Whether you’re new to the area, your child is approaching school age or you need a change; we know that seeking the right school can be daunting. With open evenings coming up and applications to be submitted, we have been working hard to get the lowdown on all of the fantastic first schools near us. Finding the perfect fit for your individual child is vital to give them the best start, so we want to help with some insightful reviews from those in the know. Although different aspects of schools are important for different children and parents, the great news is that there really isn’t a bad choice and we are very privileged to live in an area which is positively rich in fantastic schools.
We have invited a parent from each school to write a blog on it and share why they chose it for their children. These candid views are available to read on our website and we hope you find them useful in navigating your way through this important milestone! Make sure you have a look around; there’s nothing more intuitive than your own gut instinct for what is right for your child. Do you like the feel of it? What’s the environment like? Could you see your child there? However, there are other things to consider, such as catchment area, so it’s best to find out what is your catchment school, so that you can manage expectations should you look at other schools outside of this.
Therfield First School
Therfield First School is a small village school, situated in the village of Therfield just outside Royston, currently with 54 children from Reception to Year 4.
We looked around all the Royston schools, but immediately fell in love with Therfield First School. Our eldest at the time, was a very shy child, who lacked confidence and cowered in large groups, so we felt a town school would be too overwhelming for him and needed space and time to be nurtured. We live in Royston, so the decision was not taken lightly where we know there are a range of good choices within catchment. We had to consider the daily drive to school, rather than a walk, but also that places are in high demand and there are a limited number. As we were out of the catchment area, it could make it more challenging. We were successful with our eldest getting into the school and our middle child has also now started in reception.
The Reception year (Honeypot) is simply breath taking. We have been blown away, not only by the amazing staff; headed up by Miss Haxton who is like a little pocket rocket; energetic and small, so very much on their level and in tune with the Reception year children, accompanied by two amazing assistants; Mrs Moule and Miss Adams. But also by the amazing facilities purely for the Reception Class; water play, a sand pit and a small garden patch, exclusively for the Honeypot class.
When the pupils start in Reception, they have a buddy from year 3 or 4, who helps them settle into school life. They make sure they are ok at lunchtimes and help guide them on what to do and where to go.
Year 1 and 2 are adjoined to form Duckpuddle Class and Year 3 and 4 from Rooks Nest. I was apprehensive about the years being joined initially, but after understanding the set up and how they are still pushed to achieve their key stage learning objectives, I have admired the set up. From first hand experience, my eldest has also excelled in learning from his older peers (when in year 1), then helping and nurturing the younger year when he was in year 2. Again, the classes are supported by amazing teachers who really ignite the children’s interest to learn.
Therfield are also very passionate about learning outside of the classroom. Their Forest School is the talk of the school. I may not always get much out of what my children did on a day to day, or have “forgotten”, but they always remember when they had Forest School! Come rain or shine, they wellie up and put on the school waterproof overalls to partake in that week’s sessions.
Last term, parents were invited into a family forest school session, where we worked with our child to build a den and collect sticks for a fire. We then made a fire, keeping safe with a bucket of water next to us, and then could sit snuggled up toasting marshmallows. I had worried about taking time off work to do this, but for the termly session to spend some quality time with my son, we both really enjoyed ourselves and it was so worthwhile. It was not at all compulsory but I was really grateful for the opportunity for a lovely experience.
Our eldest son is now in Year 3 and loves going to school. He is extremely happy and settled. In our end of Year 2 Parents Session, we were emotional to hear that he has become one of the most confident children in the school. Something that, three years ago, we could have never imagined! We wholly believe that is down to being given the space to be nurtured and grow and learn to be confident in himself.
The school is headed up by Mrs McGovern who has been at the school for 8 years. She is very hands on, usually always seen on the playground in the morning, welcoming all the children and parents each day, bidding farewell in the afternoons and also leading asssemblies. Her passion for the school is clear to see and she has a way of making everyone feel very special; that includes the children, staff and parents!
The school motto of Bringing Learning to Life, can be seen and felt across the school at all times. Children are encouraged to ask questions, learn from their surroundings and real-life concepts, using the outside areas as much as possible. Lessons are very practical and highly participative. Creative topics are launched with exciting BIG BANGs and are planned with awe and wonder in mind.
The school vision statement:
We are a nurturing village school; inspiring children for a lifetime love of learning through an exciting creative curriculum. Children will leave our school with treasured memories, shared experiences and the knowledge and confidence to embrace their next challenges and beyond.
Sandon JMI School is a small village school, situated in the middle of the green triangle between Royston, Buntingford and Baldock, about 15 minutes’ drive from each.
We first visited when my eldest was 3 and I was heavily pregnant with my youngest. We’d just moved to Baldock, and expected to send both children to one of the schools in town. In fact, I’d already completed the online application (just in case I got distracted by the imminent arrival and missed the deadline completely!) and filled my slots with Baldock schools. I had no idea Sandon existed, until a good friend told me about it, and suggested we visited.
Sandon aims to help children develop as independent, self-confident and successful learners, and we saw that in action when we first went to have a look. As we were shown round the school every class was buzzing in that perfect middle ground between disruption and oppressive silence. It instantly felt like the right school for us, and we went home and changed our application forms.
Now, my eldest child has just started Year 6, and my youngest is in Year 2, and I am so glad we made that decision. Yes, we committed ourselves to 11 years of driving to school, instead of walking to a closer school, but the pay off has been worth it. Not only is the school all that I could have hoped for and more, but we even enjoy the drive. We get to see the changing of the seasons across the fields in all their glory, and so much wildlife! Deer, hares, red kites, buzzards, ducks, moorhens, and more are all regular sightings on our school commute.
Both my children are thriving academically at Sandon, but they are also learning so much more. There’s a lot of emphasis on being outdoors, and the forest school area is brilliant. They get to climb trees and play with fire, all in a safe and respectful environment of course! Other lessons are taken outside whenever they can. Last year, Class 1 took turns being robots in the playground as they learnt the rudiments of coding, without a screen in sight. Later on they put that knowledge to use on the class tablets, learning more skills along the way.
It is a small school, and friendships are encouraged across year groups, with the older children leading sports and playground games for all ages. They encourage leadership and respect and self-belief and have lots of opportunities to learn how to work and play as part of a team. After Reception the classes are mixed-year groups, which seems to work exceptionally well. The children get to know the others in the years above and below them as well as their own year group. This expands the pool of potential friends, which is a clear concern at a small school. The teachers are used to differentiating work across two year groups, which means when they work with children who need some extra support or an extra challenge they can stretch that differentiation out at either end, and no-one is left behind.
Everyone is given a chance to try, and find out what they love to do. Over the years my two children have sung at the O2, entered national engineering awards, competed for the school in gymnastics and football, sung in the school choir at events in town, learnt to sing, dance and play instruments. Ability is less important than having the opportunity to do what they love. One loves reading, and was rewarded for that. The other launched her political career at the age of 5, and persuaded her peers to vote for her to be on the school council.
There is a real community feeling amongst the Sandon JMI families too. We pull together when needed and help each other out. Lots of people lift share to get the children to school around their work hours. Once a term we help in the school grounds, and spend a Saturday gardening, painting sheds, mending fences and trimming the living willow dome. There are always cakes on offer for anyone lending a hand, and I’ve found myself working alongside parents and teachers, having conversations about anything but the children, which makes a refreshing change.
So many years ago, when we first found Sandon, it seemed madness to put a small village school top on our list, above a large, successful town school within walking distance. Now my eldest child is in his final year there, I wouldn’t change that decision for the world. I’m very glad I’ve still got another 5 years making that journey and being part of the wonderful Sandon JMI community.
Review By Keely Blows (Parent)
When it came to choosing a primary school for our eldest it felt a little overwhelming; that time seemed to creep up too quickly and suddenly it felt like a very big decision on our shoulders that would form such a large part of his childhood years.
My initial reaction was to simply follow friends and family that had children already happily settled in primary, however, even though we knew very little about Studlands Rise, we decided to also take a look around for ourselves.
One of the smallest schools within the town, and with a single form entry, it has the feel of a village school but with an average of 30 children per year group. Something that both my partner and I commented on after this visit was how relaxed and happy all of the children looked in their lessons. Eager to come up and show the Headmistress their work as we walked around and all of the childrens names recalled by her with lots of interest.
Knowing we needed to decide, we went with our instinct on where we felt would be best suited to our son’s personality and there has not been one day since that we have regretted the decision we made with Studlands Rise.
The sense of community and friendship that we witnessed on that first visit has always remained. Children across year groups looking out for each other, lots of hellos in the morning from pupils parents and teachers.
My son was shy initially but the nursery staff always gave him emotional support at drop off time and very quickly he went off happily, there was never a day that he told me he didn’t want to go into school.
There has been so many opportunities within the school to build in confidence; parts in the nativity and assemblies, whole school/class trips, and sports meets with other schools to name a few.
The ladies in the office work so hard to ensure that the day runs smoothly providing lots of communication between school and home. Whenever I have rung with a question or something I have forgotten to do, I have always been greeted with a friendly approachable voice and a solution quickly found.
Both the teachers and teaching assistants greet the children at the start of the day with a smile and a chat and will always take the time to listen to any concerns or worries. Regular open classrooms have been a lovely informal way for us parents to see the childrens work and have a chat with the teachers in addition to parents evenings.
My eldest left in 2020. He went off to his next school with friends he had grown up with since nursery and he has so many wonderful memories of the school, especially his teachers and still talks about his time there.
My daughter is happily coming up through the school now, so eager was she to get into the gates as a pupil rather than just dropping her big brother off. With an addition of an amazing pirate ship in the playground, paid in part by funds raised by parents, this has been a source of added excitement for all the year groups to enjoy.
We are lucky in Royston to have a great choice of schools and I can only speak of Studlands as it’s all we have personally known. But for us, it has always held a feeling of family and provided our children with a strong and happy foundation for the school years ahead.
Reed First School
From the moment we saw Reed First School, we knew it was the ideal primary setting for our children. Approaching its beautiful main building in a spring thunderstorm, our 4-year-old daughter exclaimed, “It’s like a princess fairy tale castle.” The doors opened, we were warmly welcomed by the Headteacher Mrs Wittich and our daughter’s face told us everything we needed to know – she was enchanted and inspired all at once.
Now flourishing in Year 2, her younger brother is in Reception after a fantastic year in the Nursery class; we could not be happier with the outstanding quality of teaching and learning which the dedicated staff have consistently delivered. Being a small village school, Reed First enjoys the distinct advantage of responding to an individual child’s needs every single day. This is achieved by small class sizes, nurturing and innovative teachers, experienced teaching assistants and home-school communication books which are continually checked and updated.
All of the staff know every child on roll, and all of the pupils know each other from Nursery right through to Year 4. As a result, stepping onto the school site is always a friendly, supportive experience, and the children grow up understanding what a positive learning community feels like. They are also continuously encouraged to realise the school’s four core values of Aspiration, Independence, Resilience and Respect – these values are at the beating heart of the school, and the children are always immensely proud when recognised as embodying them.
Another reason that Reed First offers such an incredible provision is that it genuinely addresses ways of maximizing a child’s potential. Whether your child has a bias towards the performing arts, ecology, science, sport, art, reading, history, designing, geography, technology or maths, Reed First will find the spark that ignites the inner curiosity of a child. Its curriculum offers a diverse range of visiting speakers and workshops, as well as school trips and linked initiatives with several other local schools. Also, national events are marked and celebrated, and children are regularly encouraged to contribute towards countrywide charity events. As a result, no week is ever the same as the next, and the children enjoy an education rich in content. Alongside this varied curriculum, literacy and numeracy are taught expertly; the huge importance of phonics and well-crafted handwriting is keenly promoted.
Crucially, parents are encouraged to play a vital role in the life of the school. ‘Friends of Reed’ is an extremely pro-active parent-run committee which constantly raises money to enrich the experiences of the children. In addition, parents are invited to attend delightfully intimate weekly assemblies, as well as observing classroom activities and well-rehearsed drama performances. There is a genuine sense of community spirit at Reed First School, and new parents are immediately welcomed to join in with school life. Daily drop offs and picks ups are also friendly and personal, which further enhances the strong feeling of community at Reed First.
The quaintly rural location found in Reed naturally lends itself to a thriving forest school on site, and the children regularly spend whole days learning and exploring in the fresh air; this is a privileged opportunity that they have embraced with genuine enthusiasm. The children also love their fiercely competitive house system of Barn Owls, Eagle Owls and Tawny Owls, and relish winning points for their house through daily activities and the legendary summer sports day.
Reed First School is simply unique; no child is overlooked, no child is undervalued and no child is ever lost in a sea of faces. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Reed First School produces children who feel confident in interacting with the world around them. It is extremely well managed under strong leadership and offers a safe, caring and rigorous learning environment. I am so grateful that we visited it on that stormy spring day; it’s giving our children the perfect start to their educational journey.
Icknield Walk First School
By Helen Smith
Founded in 1966 and located in Poplar drive, Royston, Icknield Walk First school is a larger than average primary school with approximately 335 students and has an overall “outstanding” Ofsted rating.
The school’s motto is Achievement, Celebration, Teamwork.
At this school you get a real sense of the children being at the centre of everything they do. They are encouraged to develop their independence and sense of responsibility whilst being kind, respectful and looking out for each other.
Once the children are in year 3, they can apply to become a SPOT pupil (Super Pupils On Trust). Their responsibilities include assembly preparation, litter collecting, registers, dining room helpers, helping in reception during lunchtime and buddying in the playground at lunchtime if anyone is on their own or feeling lonely. They also have talking circles where children from different year groups can talk together and share any issues they have. This all contributes to the sense of belonging and feeling heard that is at the heart of this school.
Taking care of the school is a real team effort from everyone-staff, pupils, the PTA and the fantastic fundraisers that they organise.
Just this year one member of staff (Mrs Williams) ran the South Downs 50mile race and smashed her target of £2000 to raise funds for the children at the school!
I chose to send my children to this school because of its “outstanding” ofsted report, the sense of community that you get the moment you walk through the gates and also because it’s where I attended as a child.
I have so many fond memories of the school, the staff, trips, fireworks displays and how I felt as a pupil there. I hope my own children will create and cherish fantastic memories for themselves as they grow and progress through this wonderful school.
The warmth and sense of community that surrounds the school was evident on their legendary, annual fireworks display back in November 2015 when they paid tribute to the late Colin Freeman who was a volunteer and event organiser of 24 years and sadly passed away earlier that year. “The fireworks were bright and loud just as he liked them” and were dedicated to his memory.
Each morning the head teacher, Mrs Sherwood, is usually at the gate welcoming the children and their grown ups with her cheery disposition. She is often accompanied by Mrs Harward who is the children’s emotional well-being mentor. She is often seen supporting families through the gate in the mornings and I have had some really positive support from both Mrs Harward and Mrs Sherwood when my eldest was struggling emotionally with returning to school after the second lockdown during the pandemic. I had a call from Mrs Sherwood who reassured me that they would keep an eye on my daughter and that she had already been in her classroom that morning and looked out for her at lunch and saw her happily playing with friends.
At the start of the pandemic, my eldest had just started reception and her teacher was so lovely and supportive. She would call every week, not to see if we were doing the school work but to see how my daughter and all of us as a family were doing and if there was anything she could do to support us further.
My eldest is now in the first week of year 3 and is so happy and settled. Her teacher really focuses on the positives and seems to encourage the children in what seems like a more therapeutic way.
The school have a briliiant box where pupils have their name out in throughout the week for all sorts of good deeds, positive behaviour or trying hard. At the end of the week, a name is drawn and they get a prize so all children’s efforts are acknowledged.
The office staff are all so lovely and so friendly and helpful.
The newsletter often includes pictures of the children and their achievements in and out of school. The wording is also so lovely and beaming with pride, the children must feel a huge sense of pride with the whole school celebrating their achievements.
My youngest is about to start nursery at Icknield and I cannot wait to watch her journey through this fantastic school and see her supported to achieve her best and most of all, have fun and fall in love with the school just as myself and my eldest have.
Barkway Barley Federation Schools
Review By Beverley Harding (Parent)
The Barley and Barkway Federation Schools are a federation of two schools, based in the villages of Barley and Barkway, near Royston, Hertfordshire. They are run by the same head teacher, who constantly goes between the two schools to enable the smooth running of both sites. She is involved within the classes, helping out when needed, and communicating with the children and admiring the children’s work, as well as in the background making sure that the schools are providing the best possible care and education for each individual pupil. The Barkway site houses the younger children in the school – Nursery, Reception and Year One. The Barley site houses the upper years – Year Two, Year Three and Year Four. This works brilliantly due to the schools having a low number of attendees and the younger children feel very settled and secure, without there being any intimidation of older children and a busier setting. The federation actively promotes British values to ensure that pupils leave prepared for life in modern Britain. They are encouraged to regard people of all faith, race and ethnicity with respect and tolerance. The teachers are wonderful. They are very committed to the school and relate well to the children in their care. The schools have a very good relationship with parents and encourage an active role in the running of the schools. The majority of the class’ average between fifteen and twenty children in each class, and with the same amount of staff as other state school classes, meaning that there is a brilliant adult/child ratio enabling excellent teaching opportunities. There is a wide range of subject matter to enhance the standard curriculum, with an emphasis on increasing the children’s knowledge of the world around them, introducing them to more unusual sports and activities, as well as the more usual academic subjects. They have a Forest School, an allotment, and links to the local care home, all of which receive regular visits from the children. Other extra-curricular activities include after school clubs run by the teachers at no extra cost – basketball, tag rugby, speed stacking, Lego and craft to name but a few. During the Summer Term this year, the children were introduced to Drumba (an exercise format that combines regular or weighted drumsticks with lower body dance steps to create a fast paced intense workout for the upper and lower body) and Archery. They also took part in a speed stacking tournament at King James Academy against other schools, and did a whole school trip to Shepreth Wildlife Park. The Federation is a Church Of England school and have regular termly services at both Barley and Barkway churches, where the children are encouraged to participate with readings, songs and music, and where parents are encouraged to attend, giving more opportunity for parents to be involved in their children’s school life. There are several small resident dogs who visit the children on a regular basis, which causes much excitement for both children and parents alike. The Federation are passionate about making children feel happy, safe and secure, and they offer the very best educational opportunities to all, whatever gender, or ethnicity. They personalise learning experiences so that all pupils make good progress and achieve well, and grow both educationally and spiritually. They develop independent, confident children who value learning and enjoy school. Their school values include, friendship, compassion, courage, forgiveness, perseverance and thankfulness and this is at the heart of all they do. I really cannot recommend the federation highly enough!
Mrs Beverley Harding.
Anstey First School
Review By Jenna Johnson (Parent)
With a claim to being the smallest school in Hertfordshire, Anstey really does provide a unique and charming foundation for learning. My personal, favourite thing about the school is the inclusive, family feel that runs through the staff, children and parents alike. Due to small numbers, it is absolutely common practice for all of the children, from reception through to year 4, to play together like siblings. The older children take great pride in helping the little ones and there is lots of interaction between all of the years, every day.
Chickens are kept in a coop next to the playground and children take it in turns to help with feeding them and collecting eggs. There is a purpose made forest school area on the grounds, to allow children to interact with nature and explore their surroundings. In winter they usually end their forest school sessions with a safely managed fire, hot chocolate and a biscuit, which is just lovely. The playing field and park just next to the school, which is utilised for sports and summer play and the village hall (next door) is used for indoor PE, school performances and events. There are also school dogs who my children absolutely adored.
I think of Anstey like a ‘bubble’, away from growing up too fast and where they can enjoy childhood for that little while longer than larger schools. All of my children still believed in Santa, fairies etc when they left and had no idea about brand names and Tik Tok – a rare and beautiful thing these days! But, fear not, they were not then thrown in the deep end when moving on to the next school; they were more prepared than most of their peers. They had received a bespoke primary education and also the support and nurture to discover themselves and be brimming with confidence to take on the world when they left.
They were never overlooked or treated as a number, they were treated as individuals and allowed to be themselves, without judgement. The teachers at Anstey will go out of their way to find a way to engage each child in the task or topic. One of mine learnt her early number bonds perfectly, by adding My Little Ponies that had been especially brought in to help her!
Academically, all of my children thrived and learned so much. The teachers really are fantastic and all of the staff members are very involved with the children on a daily basis and know them so well.
My youngest child has additional needs and Anstey was the best place for him in those early years. Anstey is well known for their specialism for children with extra needs. It is the small and nurturing setting that is ideal for them, with a sensory room and an experienced SEN team.
All of my children started the school when they were just 2 years old, at the on-site preschool. I had no worries about them going off as I knew it was a home from home. There are usually no more than 10 children at any time in the pre school and it’s the perfect stepping stone between home and school.
Anstey is just a 10 minute drive from Buntingford and 15 minutes from Royston. I would highly recommend considering the school and making an appointment to go and see it. I was originally unsure because of it’s size, but when I went to look around I immediately fell in love.
Tannery First School
Review by Natalie Graham (Parent)
Both of my children go to Tannery Drift First School and I have been so impressed with the school. The headteacher, Mrs Greetham, creates a real sense of warmth and we often see her welcoming children into school in the morning and chatting to parents. My kids have settled very well and with the buddy system that encourages the older years to have specific roles in helping the younger years out, it feels a very close knit school.
The school itself is well laid out and always well presented with awards that the children have achieved and artwork from each year lining the halls and reception. With large, reading corner – reading at Tannery is clearly a cornerstone in the curriculum and the spacious classrooms, a school library, gym equipment in the hall, and an ocean scene dining room, Tannery has great facilities for the children. Each classroom also has its own quiet children are challenged and supported to develop their reading daily.
A lot of the younger years have their own large gardens to play in and explore, as well as a wildlife area. There’s plenty of play equipment for the older children too, a large sports field and a hard court.
Tannery offers many clubs for the kids at lunch time such as tennis and free afternoon clubs like science or mindfulness along with breakfast and afterschool club. The children also benefit from a range of professionals that are invited in such as musicians, artists….all the way through to expert Kapla builders!
There are also lots of events organised throughout the year – most notable was the Tannery Campout where parents and children were invited to spend the day with lots of entertainment provided and camp overnight – it was a great success! There are local year group trips and a lot of opportunities to head over to King James’ and get familiar with the school.
For me, the first few years of school should be about creating an environment where the children enjoy learning and this is exactly what Tannery creates. They have various activity stations, particularly in early years and KS1 classrooms, that encourage the children to learn through hands-on activities. Tannery really encourages children to try new challenges and persevere with new or difficult tasks – I love this as it develops a growth mindset which is key for future years.
The curriculum is creative and relevant – at the moment my daughter is exploring the 7 continents and 5 oceans that make up our planet – very relevant and she is enjoying watching Frozen Planet II at home to understand more about our world.
And not to forget the teachers! Of the teachers that my children have had so far – we have been impressed with them all! They have a lovely bond with each child and get to know them and their passions. They greet each child as they head into the classroom and they are always available if we need to discuss something.
It’s always a good sign when the kids come home happy (tired), but happy!
Layston C of E First School
Review by Lauren Hickey (Parent)
Layston C of E First School is located in Buntingford and is in walking distance for most Buntingford residents. It has a single intake of 30 children per year making it quite small compared to some of the other double intake lower and primary schools but still bigger than some of the smaller village schools. This means that children are always taught in single age classes as there is no need to mix age groups for lessons, however, still allows for year groups to mix at play time and assemblies so there is still socialisation with different aged children. The school is spacious with a large playing field and various engaging play areas.
The school’s motto is “Loving to learn, learning to love, for every child a chance to shine” and I’ve seen this practiced over the years. Staff are nurturing, encourage independent learning and appreciate that all children learn differently, have different interests and that they should all be celebrated.
I have had one child go all the way through the school, another in year 4, one in Reception and another who will follow in a couple of years. I have seen many changes over the years, but the school have always succeeded in maintaining a family feel to it. All of the staff are very friendly and welcoming. They practice an open-door policy so parents are always welcome to speak to the teachers if they have any concerns. Parents are also invited to get involved within the school, whether that be helping out in cooking lessons, going on school trips, or reading with the children on a weekly basis. These experiences are really rewarding as a parent as you get to know more about the school and can see how your help really improves the children’s learning opportunities, however, there is also no pressure on parents and the school understand that not all parents can (or want to) help.
The school has close connections with St Peters Church and Christian principles underpin everything they do. The church incumbents deliver weekly collective worship with the children and talk about Christian values such as kindness, love and friendship. The children walk to church several times throughout the year for children’s services such as to celebrate Christmas, Easter, Harvest Festival, Christingle and of course the end of year Leavers service. Layston school also maintains strong connections with the community, an example of which is the donations that are given at harvest festival which are then distributed throughout some of the local elderly residents and delivered by year 4 children or donated to the local food bank.
We are very lucky at Layston to have weekly forest sessions. In forest school children get to experience nature, learn about different wildlife, and grow their food in the allotment. They get to take risks in a measured, safe, environment by cooking on fires or using gardening tools. A particularly fond memory of mine is helping on a forest school session (parents are always encouraged to help out if they want to) and making necklaces with the children using items they could find in the wooded area and being able to use secateurs (supervised of course) to cut sticks. In the corner there was a large hole where some of the children had been digging to see if they could dig to Australia. They weren’t successful but it struck me what a wonderful opportunity it was for a child to be able to try this! In forest school, the children get to be just that…children. They dig, they climb, they get dirty and they learn through experience. Mud week and water week at the end of term have been particular favourites with my boys (although not necessarily with my washing machine!)
Friends of Layston School (FOLS), our PTA, are a group of friendly mums who are always actively working to raise money to spend on the children. Any parent is welcome to join and there is no pressure to commit beyond your means as all offers of help are appreciated. FOLS host summer fayres, Christmas fayres with Santa’s Grotto as well as cake sales for each year group and other fundraising events to raise money that can then be spent within the school. In recent years they have purchased equipment such as tablets and an amazing climbing frame in the playground as well as arranged special days for the children such as Lego workshops, graffiti workshops, a Jubilee afternoon tea, African dance workshop, reptile petting zoo, and even a visit from Santa’s reindeer who will hopefully be returning again this year. Not forgetting the chick or duck eggs that they arrange for the year 4s to hatch each year!
Every year the school comes together for a Christmas play with the year 4 children taking the lead roles and the other year groups contributing songs and dances throughout the show. What is truly wonderful about watching these plays, besides the children’s amazing performances, is seeing how much effort the staff at Layston put in to giving the children such a rewarding experience. From painting the set, finding props, sorting costumes, auditions and rehearsals, the staff have got it all covered and clearly put in such a lot of effort. The result is an event that all the children and parents look forward to every year.
“Loving to learn, learning to love, for every child a chance to shine” are guiding principles that underpin the culture that drives teaching and learning in our school, and ultimately our children’s experience. The staff at Layston live and breathe this motto and by embedding this into the day-to-day school life they are supporting and shaping our children’s understanding of the world and giving them the strength to develop core values of their own. Layston C of E truly is a community within a community.
Melbourn Primary School
Review by Jennifer Grundy (Parent)
Melbourn Primary school is located in the heart of the village and is very much at the heart of the community. Mrs Wilcox has been Head of the school for over 10 years, giving needed consistency and strong leadership. There is also a fantastic PTA team working closely with her to deliver their vision of creating ‘a community where diversity is valued’ and to encourage everyone ‘to speak and know they are listened to’. Being a very inclusive school can bring difficulties, however, the team of teachers, TA’s and staff (including a specialist family support worker, Spanish teacher, SENCo, sports coach and designated forest school teacher) work tirelessly to ensure all students and parents are supported where needed, so that all children have the opportunity to have the education they deserve.
Together, they have also organised a host of successful fundraising events such as ice cream stands during the hot weather, the annual Summer Fayre and Fireworks night.
My two eldest children are in Year 2 and Foundation, and although they seem to be settling well this year, it hasn’t always been the case. Due to Covid and lockdowns, my eldest struggled hugely to settle over the last 2 years, but I found the school and teachers to be invaluable with their support for him and I in such an emotional process. The buddy system between Foundation and Year 5 students, is also a great way to bridge the age gap and make the young ones feel less intimidated.
The school has a fantastic outside space, with a woodland area for forest school lessons, where children are learning vital skills about nature and how to care for the world around us. There is the track field, with the ‘golden mile’ that children run daily to encourage healthy lifestyles, a brain break between lessons, show perseverance and encouragement to better themselves and improve over time. There is also Jungle equipment, a trim trail and a hard playground. Foundation stage also benefits from their own outside area filled with age relevant activities such as a mud kitchen, sandpit, flowerbeds for them to grow herbs/plants in and play equipment.
The classrooms across the school are well equipped and walls are proudly adorned with children’s work and awards. Foundation stage especially is extremely welcoming, with games and toys that encourage learning, while helping to make the children feel safe and secure in their new environment. There is also a large library at the centre of the school to encourage reading for all ages.
The school frequently organises school trips, with Paradise Wildlife Park and Thetford Forest, and upcoming trips to London and Places of worship being very popular. Afterschool clubs and tutoring add to the all-round learning opportunities for the children
There is wrap around care available on site and next door in the adjoining Melbourn Playgroup and MOOS, which can be utilised on Fridays because the school shuts at 13:30.
Overall I have been impressed with how hard all the staff work to accommodate a thriving community, and how much my children have learnt in such a short space of time; I feel achieving their moto of ‘Making Learning Irresistible’.
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School
Review by Charlotte Crotty
Roman Way Academy has just been the most perfect school for my boys to thrive and I just know when it is time for my little girl to attend it will be the same. The school has gone from strength to strength over the last few years under the guidance of new leadership and I have been so proud to see how my boys have grown.
One of the things I love the most is how they care about every single child, and they really take the time to form relationships with every single one. This can be seen in the morning when the senior team are always in the playground greeting every child as they come in and they also celebrate all their achievements both inside and outside of school. The staff are incredibly friendly and approachable and their communication with parents is brilliant. My son suffered with anxiety after returning to school last year and found certain things overwhelming. After speaking with the deputy head at the time (now the head) there were so many things in place for him within the classroom within a couple of hours to help him with this. She had taken the time to meet with him and put a long-term plan in place for him within a day and he was also enrolled on a talk and draw class within 2 days. I could not praise them enough for this, it made such a difference that his anxiety wasn’t just brushed under the carpet, and he was really listened to, and it was dealt with so quickly.
They have access to fantastic facilities both inside the school but also outside. The field is fabulous, and they have recently restored a large, wooded nature area at the back of the school for the children to enjoy with forest school classes on the way.They will have the opportunity to pond dip and get involved growing vegetables in raised beds, den building and a whole host of other activities. They have an awesome list of clubs that they can attend after school once a week and the classes this year are great, Woodland Club, Lego Club, Sports Club and many more. There is even a club this year featuring different activities each week celebrating Roald Dahl and Julia Donaldson. And not to mention the only primary school in Royston to have their own swimming pool, meaning during the summer months the children can spend more time swimming and less time walking to and from a further away pool. I remember looking around before sending my eldest there and I was just so impressed with the classroom sizes and the amount of outside space.
The last few years have obviously had their challenges with covid and home schooling, but the school really did take this in their stride and handled it amazingly. There was always plenty of work set and lots of zoom lessons to attend however there was no pressure with this. They completely understood everybody’s personal circumstances were different, we were all just doing our best and they were so accepting and supportive of this. Every week their teachers phoned to have a chat with them and see how they were but also to check in with us and see how we were doing.
I genuinely wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Roman Way Academy to anybody looking for a primary school in Royston and I can’t wait to see what my children will achieve there over the next few years.