In Beech Class at St Swithun’s Junior School, Romily and Saffy, aged five, are beside themselves with excitement, as their chicks have hatched and are cheeping from the classroom incubator.
Saffy skips off to make a chick from feathers and a loo roll while Romily proudly tells me the best thing about school is getting messy, especially when she’s doing pizza-making.
Thea, who wants to be a firefighter ‘because you can spray lots of things with water’, is counting money in the role-play area, and Milo is deep in concentration practising his writing in a card for his ‘very beautiful’ mummy.
With one-to-one support teacher Christine, Holly is chattering away in a combination of Makaton and speech, reading labels from pretend presents to work out who they belong to.
There are just eight children in Beech Class, which can accommodate up to 16. Teacher Miss Jones, who is clearly adored by her charges, gently guides them through their activities.
It’s through a combination of fluid play and more structured sit-down sessions that reception-age children are encouraged to gain independence, learn the basics of phonics, maths and the world around them but most of all feel confident and proud of their achievements. The sparkling new junior school, officially opened this spring, was purpose-built, and it’s a lovely place to be.
At break time Holly is on her bike, weaving through an obstacle course created just for her, while, wellies on, Sofia and Cordelia are jumping in a big muddy puddle. Across the playground a playmate tumbles into the gap between the guinea pig cages and is lifted out by two Year 4s, who give her a cuddle.
With two-form entry across the school, everyone knows everyone. Miss Jones is able to prompt her charges about things that have happened at home, because she knows Mummy and Daddy so well.
While education is taken very seriously indeed at St Swithun’s, inclusion in the junior school does not require an entrance exam. They’re not in the business of creating an academic hothouse, headmistress Mrs Grimes tells me, although their results are outstanding year on year. Instead, she’d like to think the school ‘enchants’ children with learning. She apologises if this sounds rather gushy, but I understand her completely – because during my morning I’ve been rather enchanted too.
At the junior school celebration assembly there are awards for everything from scuba-diving to success with times tables. Assembly has to be extended to fit it all in.
It’s all about ‘flourishing as individuals’ says Mrs Grimes, and with so many ways to do that at St Swithun’s, everyone has something to feel very proud of indeed.
St Swithun’s Junior School, Alresford Road. Winchester. Tel. 01962 835750. www.stswithuns.com