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Coach house now home to ever-popular DT workshop with feel of a real man space where industrious pupils turn out quality projects from wind chimes to fruit bowls. Even maths classrooms are creatively themed and staff overall exude energy and enthusiasm, reinforcing the school’s ethos of ‘really getting boys’. The majority of those who board from year 6 are at their ‘second home’ (as they call it) two or three nights a week. ‘Definitely not pushy’, say parents uniformly, suggesting that…

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What the school says...

Aldwickbury School is a vibrant and dynamic community, linking consistency and tradition with all that is best about modern educational practice. We understand how boys think, grow and learn, eventually becoming fine young men displaying a confident approach toward all that life may hold and a determination to carve out their own future.

The curriculum at Aldwickbury equips the boys with skills to succeed in future schooling and beyond. As a Christian school we pay due regard to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of the boys. There is a daily programme of physical education and games, making full use of the extensive grounds surrounding the school.

The Pre-Prep Department is a happy, purposeful and friendly place where boys experience the joy of learning. Self expression linked to self discipline is encouraged, as well as a caring attitude and respect for others.

Our boys are polite, caring young men who enjoy being free to be boys. We are serious about the boys academic progress and they leave us able to be independent learners. From Year 6 flexible boarding is available, providing a happy and safe environment in which boarders are well cared for.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2003 Mr Vernon Hales BEd (50s). Educated at Langley Park Grammar School and Exeter University, where his education degree majored in PE. After a year in the state system, he started his prep school career at Papplewick (‘great fun’) before heading off to New Zealand, becoming deputy head in its then largest boarding prep school. Returned as deputy head and boarding housemaster at Elstree School, then joined Aldwickbury as the school’s fourth head. Partnered through entire professional journey by wife Claire, also a trained teacher and now head of marketing at school and ‘traditional head’s spouse’. Educated his two sons, now late teens, at Aldwickbury and The Leys, where they are full boarders.

Relaxed, warm and jovial with the boys, and ‘very visible around the school’, according to parents, he recently ‘came out of retirement’ to resurrect his passion for club cricket and harbours personal ambitions to become a good golfer (must be the stunning course surrounding the school grounds calling). Lives in the main school building and is proud of its unique local offering as a boys’ (mainly) day school, based on a boarding school model. Recognises that although sport is very important to boys, he wants Aldwickbury to be an ‘all round’ school. He speaks with conviction about understanding the distinctive needs of boys in their formative years, describing Aldwickbury as ‘philosophically a boys school.’ Would like to increase school numbers very slightly ‘without losing our small school feel’.

Entrance

Non-selective at 4, the school works with local feeder nurseries to ensure smooth transition for its youngest pupils as they join reception. Recently became three-form entry at the bottom of the school, with 15 to a class, due to increased demand for places. Maximum class size in pre-prep fixed at 18. Boys joining higher up the school are invited in for an informal session with their relevant year group head, where they are encouraged to talk about themselves and take tests in reading, maths and spelling to ensure they can access the curriculum. Means-tested bursaries available.

Exit

Vast majority stay at Aldwickbury until the end of year 8. School loses just a few each year at the end of year 6, ‘for either financial or academic reasons’, according to head. Feeds about half its boys into year 9 at St Albans School, ‘a handful’ each year with scholarships. Remainder to schools including St Columba's, Bedford and Haileybury. One or two recently to Eton, Harrow and Shrewsbury and Berkhamstead. ‘The key is getting parents to choose the right school for the boy’, says head. Parents confirm that he gives them a strong steer in the right direction.

Our view

Situated a stone’s throw up the hill from Harpenden’s second (less chi-chi) high street in Southdown, Aldwickbury Mansion, which dates back to 1871 and is full of Victorian character (albeit with a few tired corners), became home to the school in 1948. It makes excellent use of its leafy 20-acre site and has sympathetically incorporated a number of modern buildings to create an appealing and well-functioning school campus. Main school building sits atop grassy terraces and playing fields, affording the head and his boarders a panoramic view of the school grounds. A separate purpose-built pre-prep department was built in 2001, providing the school’s youngest pupils with a bright and cheerful base, where they can ease their way into school life without the rough and tumble of bigger boys.

Reception has its own safe haven outside with a small adventure playground area, plus trikes, bikes and a sand table – ‘very therapeutic if they’ve had a tricky morning in the classroom’, says head of pre-prep. School places a large emphasis on outside learning at this stage – ‘we’re not a forest school but we do take on elements of that ethos’. On our visit, reception boys were enthusiastically doing Victorian-style laundry outside. The pre-prep building is festooned with topic-related art and written work and has its own hall for assemblies, activities and performances.

Junior department houses years 3 and 4, when the school starts to ‘encourage independence in a gentle way’, including the introduction of a more formal uniform. Even maths classrooms are creatively themed and staff overall exude energy and enthusiasm, reinforcing the school’s ethos of ‘really getting boys’. One year 1 teacher quietly plays classical music CDs when she wants her class to concentrate, and – try it at home – it seems to work. Boys in years 5 to 8 move around classrooms for specialist teaching to prepare them for senior school life.

Lovely heated indoor swimming pool – well used, with weekly lessons for all from reception, plus early morning and after-school swim clubs. Coach house now home to ever-popular DT workshop (‘we really look forward to coming in here’, say boys) with feel of a real man space where industrious pupils turn out quality projects from wind chimes to fruit bowls. Art room (also in coach house) is a showcase for the boys’ enthusiasm. The gym is in dire need of some TLC, but school now has an ‘all singing, all dancing’ £3.2m hall and music department, plus several new classrooms including science rooms, ‘to provide flexibility and accommodate growth’. Also boasts a gleaming modernised dining hall (food to be recommended) and library.

Parents and pupils alike describe Aldwickbury as ‘very friendly and welcoming’, and the nurturing feel pervades the fabric of the school. ‘Definitely not pushy’, say parents uniformly, suggesting that league table watchers may want to look elsewhere. Boys have the knack of knowing when to be quiet (quite a feat in a dining hall of rumbling tummies waiting for someone to say grace) and when to let off steam. Confidence and manners, without arrogance, in evidence in all age groups.

A true 4 to 13 school. ‘All year 8 boys have jobs’ and are given responsibilities around the school, such as helping teachers get younger boys organised in the mornings and listening to year 5 boys read at lunchtimes. With around half the teachers male, the overall vibe is of a school where boys really can be boys. Year groups encouraged to mix at meal times, with lunch taken as ‘sections’ (that’s houses to the rest of us). Boys compete throughout the year for the section cup, not just in their academic lives and on the sports fields, but also with competitions and challenges, including section Scrabble and top autumn favourite, the ‘conker-tition’.

Majority of pupils from the immediate environs, with 50 per cent ‘sharing the AL5 postcode,’ according to head. Remainder from surrounding towns and villages. Very few from further afield. Overwhelmingly Caucasian majority reflects the local community. Most parents in the professions, many dual income, but a by all accounts a pretty grounded bunch and a number ‘stretching themselves’ to pay school fees. A parents’ association set up recently to bring together parents, staff and boys and foster the school/community relationship. Events so far have included discos with local girls’ school, monthly tuck shops with home-baked cakes and a dads vs masters cricket match.

French with a specialist teacher from year 1, with Spanish and German added to the mix in year 5 and Latin from year 6. Specialist teaching from year 3 for ICT, art, music and drama. Mixed ability classes ‘by ethos’ to end of year 5, although head admits to some ‘subtle setting’ from year 3 and parents of able children report extra work being given to ensure the brightest are stretched. Classes mixed at end of years 2 and 4 which some parents grumble they find ‘stressful’, although they admit the school ‘normally gets it right’. Streaming introduced from year 6, with two or three classes and a scholarship class in year 8. This, however, is not always uniform in its structure – head is determined to ‘start from the point of what’s best for the boys’. SEN all in a day’s work and good provision in place to deal with minor blips rather than more serious problems.

Music taught by male teachers from pre-prep onwards, which really ‘turns boys on to learning an instrument’, according to head. Around 160 boys from year 1 upwards take music lessons in a wide range of instruments. Abundance of musical groups to join, from choir to guitar groups, including the popular Aldwickbury Strings group, a collaborative effort between staff (including the bursar, a talented violinist) and boys. Drama is ‘really important’, says head, with participation in plays compulsory up to year 5 to ‘build confidence’. Main school play, most recently A Christmas Carol, performed in the round, is optional in years 7 and 8 but most choose to take part, if not on stage, then in lighting or costume, with the occasional rugby player taking charge of make-up.

Sport is the lifeblood of the school, with specialist teaching twice weekly from year 1 and boys from year 3 up having a daily games lesson. Competitive football, swimming and skiing are ‘excellent’, says head, and boys regularly compete at national level. Team fixtures for all from A-E teams, so everyone gets a ride on the school minibus and a shot at sporting glory. Colours awards on offer for stars of rugby, football cricket et al, but also for drama, music and citizenship, proving that heroes are not only found on the sports fields here. In the words of one boy, ‘all things here are valued the same’.

Boarding almost exclusively flexi, with the occasional weekly boarder, but no provision for boys at weekends. The majority of those who board from year 6 are at their ‘second home’ (as they call it) two or three nights a week, with provision for 33 boarders at any one time. Once the plethora of after-school clubs has finished, there’s more fun, with ‘non-stop activities,’ say boys, followed by weekly film nights in the cosy boarders’ lounge and occasional events such as the popular ‘chippy night’ (one benefit of being so close to the high street). Functional dormitories sleep up to nine year 6 boys, with numbers dropping to four or five in the upper years. No phones with SIMs are allowed but, with all that’s on offer, boys have got better things to do than phone home. With the majority of boys living so locally, most are here purely for the fun of it and speak wisely of their new found ‘independence’ and how boarding has changed them.

Day boys able to join boarders for breakfast from 7.40am and supper for a small cost – handy for commuting parents. All boys from year 5 up stay for prep until between 5.10pm and 5.45pm and there is an after-school club which can take pupils of any age up to supper time at 5.50pm.

Broad range of extracurricular activities to cater for all tastes, from chess, Lego or general knowledge club for the cerebral crowd to skiing, fencing or martial arts for those wanting to try their hand at something more physical. Loads of opportunities to get out and about, with trips aplenty. School makes full use of being on the capital’s doorstep, with trips to art galleries and theatres and also ventures further afield (expeditions to France, Iceland and the much anticipated leavers’ trip to Dartmoor). A schedule of evening seminars on topics such as ‘the history of the Ashes’ (‘much more interesting than it sounds’, says head) is in place for older boys and their parents, and a number of external learning sources are brought in throughout the year. When we visited, boys were buzzing after a visit from a ‘mathemagician,’ part of the maths week itinerary.

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