Cambridge International School
Looking for a school that puts huge emphasis on pastoral care, nurturing and individualised education? The Cambridge International School is building a strong, vibrant and unique community in the centre of Cambridge.
Cambridgeshire is a uniquely ambitious county when it comes to education. Our state schools are frequently rated as excellent, and the independent schools are often considered some of the best in the country. But as all parents know, choosing the right school for your child can be confusing, time consuming and, at times, emotional. The most successful schools, of course, have a strong sense of their particular strengths, and the Cambridge International School is no different. With a newly refurbished nursery and primary school in Cherry Hinton, the school is building on its reputation for individualised education in a strong pastoral environment.
CIS is a small co-ed school for 130 children from 2 – 16 years, and has been owned by the International Schools Partnership since 2015. Spread over two sites the brand spanking new redevelopment of Cherry Hinton Hall has recently been completed and houses the infants and juniors. The redevelopment means that the school is now accepting children from the age of 2, which is a huge plus in the overcrowded Cambridge nursery market.
The Senior School (ages 11-16) is referred to as The Temple and is based at Abington, near Whittlesford – no surprises that an international school names its buildings and classrooms after countries and geographical monuments. The building couldn’t look less like a temple if it tried – we’re talking a pink charming old country house that would make a fabulous stylish pad if it weren’t busy educating children. Both sites have a strong feeling of being a home as well as a school, which is due in no small part to the architecture of the buildings. One of the main rooms in the nursery is like a large drawing room, complete with a colourful wonderland of toys strewn happily across the floor.
Headline facilities at The Temple include a seven-acre playing field with all the usual pitches, nets, and astro turf. The feel of this school is a ‘home from home’ so don’t expect huge purpose built sports halls – just to let you know that CIS kids are expected to play, run and compete outside in all weathers! There are art rooms, science labs and a hall that plays host to the drama and music productions as well.
Cherry Hinton Hall is situated in the beautiful 13 acres Cherry Hinton Park. The Hall has undergone a major refurbishment to create an exciting multi-purpose learning environment that includes an outdoor classroom, art room and large library complete with a giants reading room. The school’s dedicated outside space is limited but the school expands into the wider park for curriculum learning and also for sport and PE. Like many country schools there’s a Forest School and the park provides a perfect training ground.
The redevelopment at Cherry Hinton is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, the building has been so sympathetically restored that the joins between new and old are often indiscernible. Granted, the abundance of glass and light are a bit of a giveaway, but the architects have done a sterling job, generously preserving the original Victorian features and simultaneously bringing the school into the 21st Century with a modern, clean and sympathetic development. And secondly, the regeneration has breathed new life into the school. Light floods through the classrooms and the playground is like a secret idyll in the middle of the city.
Although the school is on two sites they do share facilities. Years 5 and 6 are bused to the senior school for sport where they use the dedicated pitches and courts for training and matches, tennis is taught on the courts at Cherry Hinton and Years 1 – 6 are bused to Parkside Swimming Pool for lessons.
Music wise, there are the usual peri-teachers, plus junior and senior choirs and various ensembles. No full school orchestra which is a shame, but on the plus side there’s a school band, you know, swings and roundabouts. Art is well catered for here with GSCEs taken in Art and Design and Media Studies.
All pupils have access to the Enrichment Programme with field trips to places of interest both locally and further afield. The seniors have travelled to Rome, New York and Iceland recently and closer to home there’ve been visits to York, Bath and singing at the Royal Albert Hall.
As a smaller school, the usual caveats apply to music and sporting achievement – it’s hard to compete with schools three times your size but the upside of that is that you do get a go. That said CIS is punching above its weight with teams consistently competing, and often winning, against larger schools in the county. They hosted the Independent School Association Senior Athletics competition recently.
It’s a non-selective school, so it does extremely well considering that children aren’t put through the ‘high achiever’ wringer before they set foot through the gates and half the students are non-native English speakers. CIS’s past reputation has never been wildly academic, it’s seen as a nurturing, very friendly school, providing a personalised education with average class sizes of 10.
The Bunsen burners must be good as they achieved a 100% pass rate for Biology and Chemistry and were so close with 98% at Maths. In languages 100% of the pupils in German achieved A or A*. Results have been quietly on the rise and with the arrival of the new Principal, Philippa Mills, who arrived in September; I would expect this trend to continue though not at the expense of the school’s ethos around individuality.
There’s a diverse mix at this school with 23 nationalities covering 14 different languages – no surprises then that languages are a big deal at CIS. Spanish is the principal language (aside from English) and is taught early on at the junior school. The seniors learn Spanish, French and German in years 7-9 and all other languages will be accommodated as much as possible – this is flexible learning. Each non-English pupil has Mother Tongue lessons to help them retain their cultural language and to ensure they can integrate back to their home country when that time comes. Most staff have taught abroad and both teachers and children are experienced at helping children integrate into a new school when their first language might not be English.
They refer to the Head Teacher as the Principal at CIS to reflect its international status and Philippa Mills is the main lady who joined in Sept 2017 from a British school In Spain. She’s a Cambridgeshire lass (educated at King’s Ely and Homerton College); she’s friendly, experienced and can’t help but exude enthusiasm for her role and school life.
Philippa’s daughter Rosie has enrolled at the junior school and having worked at some of the country’s top boarding schools, she was at Wycliffe College before taking over as Head of Boarding at Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls, she then became the Principal of Laude British School of Vila-Real. She knows that the big USP for CIS is its reputation as a ‘home from home’, a super-friendly, caring school that delivers a lot of individual attention on each child. There’s an emphasis on respect, a desire to encourage open-minded children and it celebrates individuality.
Last year was one of the best for GSCEs in the school’s history. In a typical year, most 16+ leavers move onto the highly competitive Hills Road or Long Road Sixth Form College, with the remainder staying in the private system such as the Stephen Perse Foundation. Philippa is already developing key links with neighbouring schools to ensure that pupils find the right school to continue their educational journey.
Wrap around care
Excellent. At the Primary School the day starts at 9am and ends at 3.15pm and pupils can be dropped off at the breakfast club at 8am and picked up at as late as 5.30pm.
Seniors can arrive at school from 8am for an 8.45am start. School finishes at 4.30pm but most stay on for activities until 5.30pm and there’s supervised prep (so you don’t have to). After school clubs include chess, football, drama, art, DofE and they’re responsive to pupils’ suggestions for others. Transport is currently set up around Whittlesford, into the city and beyond towards Waterbeach and Trumpington. Additional bus routes may be added in the future.
There’s a quirky feel to CIS, which is encouraged. This isn’t your mainstream large private school but its small size offers a flexible and far more relaxed approach recognising that children learn in different ways. CIS are experts at integrating children into school at extremely short notice. If parents have only just arrived from abroad it’s not uncommon for pupils to start before their uniform has arrived, no-one is going to get stressed by it.
The staff are experienced in learning support and at this school it’s not just for pupils who are struggling academically but also those that need a more encouraging environment to build confidence in their abilities. Many of the teachers are from other countries so the range of languages spoken at the school on a daily basis is extensive.
Some overseas pupils require a visa to attend the school and CIS can sponsor students who live with host families and wish to study in the Cambridge area.
It’s an exciting time at CIS and the opening of the lush new junior school is just the beginning of a journey under the strong leadership of the new principal. Nothing is concrete yet but there are discussions around a future boarding house and a Sixth Form, so watch this space.
Word on the ground
CIS has put any recent difficulties well and truly behind it and Philippa Mills has brought stability and a firm vision to the ship. Parents seem very supportive of the school and the principal is keen to develop stronger links with them and the local community. Philippa’s approach is very accessible. She describes herself as a communicator and she’s visible, on show every morning at either the junior and senior school, easily reachable on the end of a phone and you’ll catch her at the local pub this Thursday getting to know the parents in an informal setting.
CIS is not a sport or drama powerhouse, though clearly there are kids who are talented across the board. But that’s not why children come to the school – it’s a nurturing thing, allowing every child to develop their own strengths and learn in their own way. Class sizes are small and children are taught in a way that builds confidence, respect and achievement in equal measure. Additionally, the schools prides itself on its sense of community, especially amongst displaced new parents who find themselves in Cambridge without their support network. Parents share tips, lifts and insider information on Cambridge as a city for raising a family; it’s a friendly, supportive place. But it’s not just for international families; CIS is a local school too, and is fast becoming a competitive option for those families that want a small, caring and quietly ambitious school for their kids.
From September 2017, Infants (Nursery and Reception) £3,983/term, Yrs. 1- 6 £4,197/term, Yrs 7 -11 £4,481. Hot lunches are an extra £240 a term and one free Mother Tongue lesson a week is free, additional 40 mins lessons are £21 each.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: anyone wanting a supportive, friendly school with a caring family feel that does well on the academics without being a hothouse. Excellent for children who have fallen through the cracks in big beast schools and are looking for a nurturing and positive alternative.
Not for: Really big personalities. Some kids just need more physical and mental elbow room than CIS provides. The size of the school means that all kids get a chance to join in school teams, but the supercompetitive may find that kind of inclusivity frustrating.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning on Sat 12 May 9.30am-12pm. Let me know what you think.
Junior School, Cherry Hinton Hall, Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge CB1 8DW and Senior School, The Temple, Bourn Bridge Road, Abington, Cambridge CB21 6AN. Tel 1223 416938. cambridgeinternationalschool.co.uk