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What says..

In short, it’s a bubble – so much so that you might wonder how it’s managed to survive in today’s fast-living society. And there – explain parents – lies its appeal. ‘I’m not saying it’s cut off from the real world – it genuinely isn’t – but these aren’t streetwise girls and they stay children for longer, while getting an excellent academic grounding and holistic education. If you like the sound of that, this is the school for you.’ There’s not a hair out of place (and if there were, it would be cashmere) on the 36-acre site...

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What the school says...

Heathfield School in Ascot is a dynamic and individual boarding and day school for girls aged 11-18. We combine the pastoral with the academic and have a holistic approach to education which ensures our students’ well-being as well as academic success. Heathfield is a small school with big opportunities and challenges in and out of the classroom, including on the sporting field and in music and drama. Our small size means each girl achieves the best she possibly can. A recent study by Durham University put us in the top 17% of schools nationwide for adding value to a child’s education. ...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Art & Design (Photography) at an English Independent School (GCE A level)

Sports

Polo

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since September 2016, Mrs Marina Gardiner Legge, previously director of studies. MA in English literature from Oxford and PGCE from the University of Hong Kong, where she started her teaching career relatively late, having previously worked in business marketing, the charitable sector and teaching horse riding to disabled children. Head of year and assistant head at Rutlish School, a boys' comprehensive in south London, before joining Heathfield in 2013.

Go-getting, no-nonsense, earnest, engaging and frank, she is on a clear mission to change the school’s reputation (parents told us that girls are known as 'clotted cream' among some local schools – as in, thick and rich). ‘I’m sick and tired of hearing people say this school isn’t for clever girls. In the old days, I think possibly it did cater for some girls who weren’t very bright from wealthy families whose brothers went to the likes of Eton. But what we’re turning out now are girls who are movers and shakers – women who run successful businesses and achieve amazing things. We are easily comparable to Downe House, yet often seen as its poorer cousin.’ With dwindling numbers in some year groups presumably reflecting her fears, it’s no wonder her first job in post has been heading a mammoth marketing campaign, albeit with some hiccups as the school’s introduction of a weekly boarding option caused such uproar among traditionalist parents that it was promptly reverted.

Girls claim she’s a visible presence (often out and about; teaches English once a week) and that she ‘commands respect while being incredibly supportive.’ ‘She’s strict, but fair and is amazing at driving us to do well.’ Parents seem keen too. ‘She’s picked the school up and is running with it – great to see.’ ‘She looks and feels like a proper headmistress and word on the street is that she’s well liked.’

Lives on site (having previously commuted from Fulham). Has three grown-up daughters and hobbies include writing poetry and running. ‘I ran a marathon, having never been a runner until after I got over two bouts of cancer 10 years ago. I’m all about perseverance and resilience.’

Academic matters

Aims high across the subject range, with parents certainly getting their money’s worth when it comes to added value (Durham University research puts school in top 12 per cent schools nationally and in the top 17 per cent of independent schools nationally for pupil progress) and generous staffing levels (one to every four pupils), which result in small class sizes with average of 15 and maximum of 19, often single figures for sixth form.

Top line results good overall. In 2016, 42 per cent A*/A grades at A level (75 per cent A*/B). Spikier profile for individual subjects – strong in art and design, photography, psychology, biology, English literature and RS, but sprinkling of D grades in some facilitating subjects. Total of 24 subjects on offer, mostly traditional, with economics and film studies recently added. Slightly mixed results at GCSE, too, though achieve healthy percentage of A*/A grades (47 per cent in 2016). Strongest GCSE subjects include RS, English literature, geography and history, with most popular subjects include history and geography.

Setting? ‘Absolutely!’ exclaims head, clearly stunned by the question, although it only starts from form 3 (year 9) upwards in English, maths and science. Languages kick off with Spanish and French from form 1 (year 7), Latin from year 9. Current push on sciences, off to high profile start with Lord Winston opening new STEM building, boosted by lively lessons, although it’s proving a slow burner, with A level take up improved but still some way to go.
‘Standards have gone up a lot,’ is the mantra here, with girls asked to set their own targets (under supervision), which are reviewed every half term. ‘Teachers know you well, so they know what makes you learn best,’ one girl told us. ‘And there are subject clinics if you feel you are falling behind.’ It’s no exam factory, though – ‘it gets great academic results without being a pressure cooker,’ summed up one parent.

SEN (15 per cent when we visited) well-resourced though Spectrum centre (an unfortunate name if ever there was one, although the name is intended to evoke rainbow shades of pupil diversity rather than autism) is widely used as drop-in service for walking worried, as well as those with identified need (headed by dyslexia). ‘There’s no stigma,’ a pupil assured us. But SEN pupils must be able to follow the curriculum and cope socially and nobody misses lessons, with some in-class support from higher level teaching assistant as well as group or one-to-one sessions, some after school.

Games, options, the arts

Strong on sports, with an emphasis on team sports, matches often twice a week. Regularly attended by parents and staff, including head (‘I go to as many off-site matches as possible’), with some of sportiest playing across several year groups – only drawback the minnow vs shark issue if facing opponents from far larger schools. As for those who aren’t sporty, ‘they’re expected to get stuck in anyway, and it’s a jolly good thing too,’ one parent told us. ‘My daughter didn’t think she was much good at sport, but their “can do” attitude has made her realise she is.’

Lacrosse popular, no doubt helped by decent tours – USA, Canada among them – and pupil success (regular selection for county and regional squads and one girl picked for great glory with England’s development squad). Netball, rounders, tennis and swimming do well and prominence also given to fitness, with one housemistress being trained up in zumba when we visited. Strong equestrian resources coordinated by dedicated staff member, adept at finding good livery stables and organising dashing events (like military riding with swords) – and the school has its own polo league too. Don’t expect ponies on the front lawn, though – all off site. Everything else – including courts, indoor swimming pool, sports hall, fitness suite and playing fields – on site.

Outstanding art department, with some spectacular work dotting the walls (although the three most notable canvases ‘have been there for years,’ say pupils) plus impressive textiles adorning mannequins, including a ballgown made from intricate layers of denim, with red sequin Nike logo on the bodice. In fact, one of the things the school is best known for is nurturing BRIT style talent in the arts, bolstered by close ties with London College of Fashion, which provides proactive course and careers advice to interested sixth formers. We were particularly blown away by an impressive rail of avant garde garments ready for the school’s annual fashion show (the hottest date on the school calendar, say pupils) which teams up with music and drama department (think actors juggling and live music). One girl talked us through her striking ‘wealth’ themed coat (part of GCSE project), complete with trapped pills (‘representing addiction’), crime tape (‘representing how the wealthy influence the law’) and ‘Just Kids’ logo (‘being influenced by money can start young’). Very well-resourced photography department (with two staff and a dark room).

Drama department thriving, with whole-school Christmas performance (the likes of Lady Windermere’s Fan) and LAMDA is strong here too. Good at knowing who’d rather take a back seat, though nobody escapes altogether, with termly chapel reading for all, even the shyest accepting it as the norm. Gentle encouragement from school results in what parent describes as ‘nice confidence’. Plenty of opportunities for the musical too, from audition entry chapel choir to choice of bands including orchestra and flute ensemble for instrumentalists. Sixty-four girls currently taking peripatetic instrument lessons. ‘I hadn’t expected the music and drama to be quite so marvellous and was left gawking like a goldfish,’ said one parent.

No shortage of clubs – mainly sports, but academic and arts based also popular, plus debating. Head also keen on girls suggesting and running their own – recent examples include gardening club and new online newspaper called the Heathfield Hub. Plentiful day trips (‘Tomorrow we’re off to a climate conference,’ one sixth-former told us) plus some residentials, including the form 3 ‘rite of passage’ trip to Barcelona, part of a geography and classics syllabus.

Boarders

No boarding houses as such. Instead, the upstairs of the main building is dedicated to bedrooms – shared (up to eight girls) for younger years, then own rooms from form 3 upwards (en suite for head girl). The ones we saw were roomy, light, homely and tidy, but with reassuring pockets of clutter and little touches like teddy bears and blankets turning beds into dens – no military style scrutiny here. A gizmo a year policy means you get toaster and kettle from year 10, dishwasher and sandwich maker a year later etc – causes great excitement for the girls. But despite close proximity of bedrooms, girls encouraged not to use them during the day. ‘We want them to feel they’re going home after school.’

Levels of off-duty shrieking suggested that good times were demonstrably had by all, though ‘not definitely not like a sleepover,’ we were told by a pupil. (As one dorm is directly above head’s study, probably just as well…)

Super-efficient and kindly housemistress manages it all, helped by team with background in childminding, nannying or youth work rather than academic background. ‘You can talk to them about anything and they’re so helpful,’ a pupil told us. ‘One girl in my daughter’s room couldn’t sleep and they got her a sleep therapist and yoga – nothing is too much trouble,’ sayid a parent. Inevitable homesickness (it’s always a bit rocky in the first few weeks,’ sayid a sixth-former) is dealt with by hot chocolate, cuddle or ‘on your feet, soldier’ pep talk, depending on what’s deemed most appropriate. Lights out at 9pm for form 1, reaching 10.30pm for sixth-formers.

Two closed weekends a term, otherwise first two years who want to can go home after Saturday sport, returning Sunday evening – similar freedom of choice for sixth formers. If we’d have visited the school a month earlier than we did, the school sign would have also promised weekly boarding. But following the resistance from those parents who want it ‘to stay as a boarding school – that’s what we signed up to’ (as one put it), the option was swiftly removed and a new school sign made. ‘Parents feel like this is a proper boarding school and they want the ethos that comes with that,’ explains head, with some parents also having worried it was a sign that the school was facing financial difficulties (hotly denied). One parent told us, ‘The whole thing has been a shambles,’ while another said, ‘It’s not as if the full-on boarding can last forever.’ Many suspect it will eventually be phased in discreetly.

For those who do stay on, weekend activities mainly include sports (swimming pool, tennis courts and the sports hall ‘in constant use,’ says school literature) and there’s also dance and music, craft, cookery and discos, bands, quizzes and competitions in the evenings. ‘The themed dinners are good too – everything from Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter,’ one girl told us. Outings as well – cinema, museums etc. Older ones do less, with licenced lazing about, along with some socials with local boys’ schools.

Background and atmosphere

Heathfield is just one of a number of tiny, charming girls’ schools in the area that, to the untrained eye, can seem pretty much indistinguishable. But what sets this one apart is a particularly happy and homelike feel with a dash of top school trimmings. (That and the penny-sized home-made biscuits and meringues served with tea to all visitors.) It’s as if someone has carefully curated a best of boarding school experience, from the tiny, bow-fronted Harry Potter-esque tuck shop (where, said sixth former, ‘hordes of first formers run to get strawbs and ice cream and eat them in little groups on the pitches’) to the occasional water fight and spontaneous dancing, both popular exam pressure relievers. In short, it’s a bubble – so much so that you might wonder how it’s managed to survive in today’s fast-living society. And there – explain parents – lies its appeal. ‘I’m not saying it’s cut off from the real world – it genuinely isn’t – but these aren’t streetwise girls and they stay children for longer, while getting an excellent academic grounding and holistic education. If you like the sound of that, this is the school for you.’

There’s not a hair out of place (and if there were, it would be cashmere) on the 36-acre site; pupils wear their uniforms with pride; and we’re met with a look of horror when we asked if there are assemblies on issues such as self-harm or anorexia (‘We’re all about prevention here – so we’d make sure they ate healthily in the first place’).

Originally founded in London by Victorian educational bigwig Eleanor Beatrice Wyatt for the disadvantaged of South Ken (doubtless a more substantial group in 1882 than today), school moved to current site in 1899 when she decided to concentrate on training future educators in greener surroundings. In 2006, gained pupils and financial boost after merger with St Mary’s Wantage, commemorated in attractive performing arts centre, old honours boards displayed in foyer. Wyatt would have no problem recognising the school today, down to high church accoutrements that include a termly candlelit mass once a term (white dresses on the uniform list) in tiny chapel, pews bearing engraved names of all leavers and heads. But that’s not to say facilities are lagging behind – those of note including the dazzling shaker/Laura Ashley style fifth and sixth form common rooms leading off old assembly hall, plus well-stocked pristine white-shelved library, uber-modern science labs and playing field where groups of friends congregate in summer.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The fact that every pupil and parent we spoke to raved about the pastoral care – but couldn't quite put their finger on what makes it so good – reveals how embedded the nurturing culture is here. ‘But without the cotton wool,’ adds the head firmly. When asked who the girls talk to if they’re unhappy, the consensus was there was nobody they couldn’t talk to. ‘You could even go to the head if you wanted,’ said one, with more common sounding boards including the housemistress, teachers, counsellor (two days a week), ‘independent listener’ (‘hardly used, but important they are there,’ says head) and the girls themselves (with an unfortunately named ‘crush’ system, whereby a sixth-former becomes a younger one’s crush to help look out for them).

Small size means school tends to function as a family (‘including inevitable sibling rows’) and careful pupil selection also seen as key to keeping the school happy, with friendships formed here generally for life. Alpha personalities probably better suited to larger school.

Traditionally, more carrot than stick when it comes to behavioural policies, although everyone agrees the current head has stepped up on strictness – with detentions now set for poorly worn uniform, lack of punctuality, misbehaviour in class etc. Parents clearly pleased that girls who see it as ‘cool to continually misbehave’ get their just deserts (22 temporary exclusions in just over two years). A number of girls have also been expelled or given the option of going quietly during the last few years, say parents, although school insists it’s actually just one girl. Smoking in school grounds historically an issue – and some parents stay it still is, although school reports that current head ‘has clamped down hard on it.’

Pupils and parents

Almost one in 10 mums are old girls, which adds to the already strong likelihood of being invited to socials (mass pub lunches before exeats), as well as to the fiercely strong school loyalty. Indeed, plenty of old money keeps on rolling down the generations as satisfied customers send on their daughters and granddaughters, although head insists it’s a more mixed bag than in the past. ‘One of the questions we’re often asked is Are there normal families here? And there are,’ she laughs. Balance is firmly in favour of ‘British girls’ (just under 80 per cent of total, a fifth from expat families, international pupils largely from Europe, Russia and Far East). Old girls include designer Nina Campbell, actor Sienna Miller, polar explorer Rosie Stancer and the late Isabella Blow. In fact, so many famous names that aren’t so much dropped as infused into school literature. When you’ve so many celebs that ‘Mrs Le Bon’ judging the school fashion show merits only a (large) postage stamp-sized picture in the school mag, you’ve got nothing to prove about your connections.

Current pupils feature Emilies, Kathies, Charlottes, Daisies and Roses in abundance - a roll call of reassurance. These are the kind of girls who look you in the eye, who are confident, chatty and generally likeable.

Entrance

Offers (mainly in form 1 but quite a few in form 3) are conditional on passing school’s own entrance papers (English, maths, science and non-verbal reasoning), taken in November with places offered in December. Not known for being overly selective, although school they turn away those who wouldn’t cope. Handful of places in the sixth form – interview plus minimum five A*/C GCSEs with Bs in A level subjects. School is looking for girls who are good communicators, team workers and have creative potential.

Majority of pupils within 50-mile radius, mostly from country preps (‘we are seen as a nice continuation – now that I’ve got my fire working, I just need the black lab,’ laughs the head), although some from West London, with Hyde Park School, Knightsbridge Prep, Finton House, Fulham Prep, Eaton Square, Pembridge Hall, Garden House, Broomwood Hall and the Thomas’s trio - Clapham, Fulham, Battersea - the biggest feeders. Others from Surrey, Sussex and nearer bits of Hampshire (Ashdowne House, Cottesmore, Daneshill, Farleigh, Godstowe, Wellesley House). A few from East Anglia, Yorkshire, Scotland. Bright locals interested in day places also encouraged to get in touch – although only 10 day girls when we visited.

Exit

Some leave post-GCSE – 10 girls the year we visited. ‘Co-ed is a big call,’ admits head. Of those who stay on, vast majority go to university, 70 per cent (of those who stay on in UK to be educated) to Russell Group, with Edinburgh and York among the most popular. Currently, sciences and maths popular courses - two medics, one at Oxford, in 2016. ‘Most of our girls get 2:1s or above – besides the obvious academic preparation, I think it’s because we prepare them so well for independence through our boarding ethos,’ says head.

Money matters

Discounts of 10 per cent for children from diplomatic, 20 per cent for armed forces families (five children max in each case) down to five per cent for siblings (flat rate).

Music, drama art and sport scholarships offered at 11+, 13+ and in sixth form. Also academic, by invitation - top 40 per cent of entrants sit extra tests. Confer lots of glory but, at £750 a year, little in the way of spondoolies. Also means-tested bursaries covering all fees (‘The bastion of privilege is changing,’ insists head). Helping hand extended to existing pupils if family finances hit a crisis.

Our view

Enchanting and quintessentially British boarding experience with chocolate box-esque quality, though works hard to ensure that it never tips into cutesie. And while this small school produces rounded, ambitious and highly capable girls thanks to its good academic grounding and outstanding opportunities in the arts, one can’t help but wonder about its long-term future unless the die-hard traditionalist parents are dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

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Special Education Needs

In addition to the wide curriculum offered by Heathfield, girls are supported by the learning support department, better known as Spectrum. Heathfield has welcoming purpose-built rooms to accommodate either individual or group teaching for those students who may have a specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. All the staff are qualified teachers and provide support particularly in literacy and numeracy. Some of the Spectrum staff are fluent in French and are also able to offer additional support for this subject if necessary. Staff are qualified to assess girls should they require exam Access Arrangements and will make the necessary applications to Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). Approximately 10% of current students receive additional support. Spectrum also administers EFL (extra English for international students). These EFL classes offer subject support, IELTS coaching for university entrants and the full range of English language qualifications offered by The University of Cambridge Examination Board. Overseas students at Heathfield come from many areas of the world, including Spain, Japan, China, Russia, Mexico, Thailand and Germany. Currently the EFL students form about 7% of all students.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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