The headmaster of Eaton Square Schools Group, which will open a new co-ed senior school in London this year, outlines its ethos to Virginia Matthews
Not every headmaster enjoys the luxury of deciding whether to use his school’s large, silk-papered staterooms for lavish concerts and recitals or for routine ballet classes. Yet for Sebastian Hepher, head of the group that will open the brand-new Eaton Square Upper School at 106 Piccadilly in London’s Mayfair this September, making the best use of this graceful, Grade I-listed building is paramount.
Although the townhouse is not tailor-made for education, Mr Hepher, 51, who already head up six nursery, pre-prep and prep schools under the Eaton Square and Minerva Education umbrellas, believes the four storeys and basement offer a beautiful space for a day school. “The incredible richness if this building cannot fail to inspire pupils, and when it comes to location, its situation directly opposite Green Park could not be more convenient for any family based in central London” he explains.
Although parents will doubtless be attracted by both the location and provenance of the landmark 18th century townhouse, it is the decidedly modern, international ethos that will distinguish Eaton Square Upper School from rival educational establishments, according to Mr Hepher.
“First and foremost, it is a school for boys and girls in the heart of a city where the vast majority of independent schools are single-sex, and where most of the pupils transferring from our prep-schools have little access to co-education,” he says.
“While I’m not a passionate supporter of either side of the debate, I know from my own family that some children thrive in a single-sex environment while others do better in a co-ed, and I thinks it’s important that parents based in central London should be given the choice.”
Unlike many independent secondary schools, Eaton Square Upper School has no intention of hothousing its pupils or concentrating on the most academically gifted.
“We will, of course, conduct pre-admission tests to determine where our applicants are in terms of their learning or their command of English, but we have no intention of turning people away on academic record alone,” says Mr Hepher.
While the school will prepare for common entrance exams at 13-plus if requested, he expects a brisk demand for upper-school provision from existing Eaton Square prep-school parents.
“We can’t, at this stage, be too rigid about future GCSE and A-level options, but in my view, being fluid and seeing how things develop over time is part of the beauty of a brand new school.”
Having taught in independent schools in London for some 24 years, Mr Hepher says that he has seen “a worrying emphasis on exam results and academic achievement and far too little attention given to the pupil’s all-round welfare and happiness.”
In contrast, the new schools overall approach will be both individual and holistic, he says. “Each pupil has gifts that can be identified and developed, and whether these are in sport, art, music, or traditional academic subjects, we see it as our job to nurture them.”
Mr Hepher also dislikes the notion of students being set too much evening prep, and says that the pupils at Eaton Square Upper will be encouraged to “play and generally enjoy their free time” as well as to study.
Although happy to challenge some school shibboleths, when it comes to its house arrangements, uniform policy and pupil behavior, Mr Hepher emphasizes that Eaton Square Upper will be traditionally British.
“We believe in politeness and respect for others and we also like our pupils to shake hands with each other at the end of the day. Doffing your cap if you are a boy is a good tradition that we will wish to keep, as is sporting behaviors by both sexes on the pitch.”
Playing sport and studying alongside fellow pupils from all over the world will help to bring an attractively cosmopolitan feel to the school, he believes.
“I can’t stress too strongly the enormous benefits that youngsters can derive from getting to know people from totally different cultures and, in my opinion, on we of the very best aspects of attending a school in London is the opportunity to gain a truly international outlook.”
While the socioeconomic background of Eaton Square families is often familiar- “at least one parent in the family is likely to have a very high-powered and demanding job” – the schools also boast European royal connections, political families and even the occasional celebrity parent.
“Among our parent’s past and present, we’ve embraced a very wide range of nationalities and all manner of occupations,” says Mr Hepher. “but although we have been visited by some quite famous people, we don’t tend to attract celebrities as a rule.”