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  • Aldenham Prep School
    Elstree
    Borehamwood
    Hertfordshire
    WD6 3AJ
  • Head: Mrs Gocher
  • T 01923 851664
  • F 01923 851605
  • E [email protected]
  • W aldenhamprep.com/
  • A mainstream independent school for pupils aged from 3 to 11 with a linked senior school
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Hertfordshire
  • Pupils: 160
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: £10,140 - £14,571 pa
  • Open days: Virtual Open Mornings and Open Working Mornings will be in October, January and June.
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Linked schools: Aldenham School

What says..

Nestled in a picture perfect postcard village, yet just a stone’s throw from the M25 in the grounds of Aldenham School, location is clearly a big draw for urban families who describe the setting as ‘fantastic’. Historically, the feel has been of a village school though the large new contemporary style prep and pre-prep building may put an end to that from a physical perspective. Parents are, however, as loquacious as ever about how ‘caring’ and ‘kind’ the atmosphere is from day one. Parents love the bijoux headcount too – ‘keeps the family feel,’ said one. The school has a quietly confident mixed ability (though a bit less…

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What the school says...

Aldenham Prep School is set in the same glorious site of over 110 acres of Hertfordshire countryside on which the senior school was established in 1597, Aldenham Prep School is dedicated to ensuring the flexibility for each boy and girl to develop their own individual abilities, whether they are academic, creative or sporting. An excellent all round education is available offering exceptional opportunities in outstanding facilities from enthusiastic, motivated and caring staff. ...Read more

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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2011, Vicky Gocher BA BEd MA (50s). Previously deputy head at Caterham Prep and before that taught at Downsend School, Leatherhead. Educated at Gwernyfed High School in Powys, Wales followed by Hull University (English) and a PGCE at Roehampton. Completed master's in educational leadership and innovation at Warwick in 2011. Can’t remember a time when teaching didn’t beckon and has always been drawn to primary age – ‘I love my subject of English, but it’s much more rewarding getting to teach a bit of everything, including skills for life.’

Purposeful and business-like but with plenty of warmth and gentleness. Widely recognised as having cemented school’s reputation and brought things on academically without moving into the pressure cooker territory that some other local preps inhabit. Consistent with the Aldenham ethos, she enthuses about school’s nurturing atmosphere – a refreshing approach (some might say USP) in comparison with local rivals. ‘A wide range of abilities mirrors life,’ she says. Parents approve, saying she’s ‘well liked’, ‘easy to get a response from’ and ‘knows all the children.’ ‘Down to earth – you always see photos of her in the weekly newsletter with her wellies on in the field or in the woods doing activities with the children.’ Still keeps a hand in with the troops in the classroom too, currently teaching geography.

Lives on site with husband and has two adult daughters, both of whom are in the teaching profession. Out of school, you’ll often find her walking in the local countryside travelling or visiting her ‘well scattered’ family.

Entrance

Oversubscribed, with around four applicants for each place. More academically selective than it used to be (‘they need to be above average to access the faster pace of the curriculum’), but still relatively broad by North London bubble standards. School also looks for ‘someone who will grab every opportunity beyond the classroom.’ Entry at 3+ and 4+ by gentle ‘playgroup style’ assessment to ascertain readiness and sociability. Applicants for occasional places thereafter assessed in maths, English and reasoning, and by interview.

Exit

Parents increasingly take the long-term view, hoping to get their child into Aldenham School (three quarters move up into seniors) thereby avoiding the pressure of multiple 11+ entrance tests. Entry is not guaranteed, however, with conversations regarding next steps carefully timetabled 18 months in advance, kicking off with a session with head of senior school. School fully supports and prepares for entry to other destinations, with pupils heading off in small numbers to a range of schools including Haberdashers’ Aske’s (boys and girls), Merchant Taylors’, St Alban’s High School for Girls, St Margaret’s, St Albans Boys, Queens, Immanuel College and Watford Grammar. No more than a few each year move into the state system, though school is happy to support Herts and Beds 11+ hopefuls (no tailored tuition however).

Our view

Nestled in a picture perfect postcard village, yet just a stone’s throw from the M25 in the grounds of Aldenham School, location is clearly a big draw for urban families who describe the setting as ‘fantastic’. Historically, the feel has been of a village school though the large new contemporary style prep and pre-prep building may put an end to that from a physical perspective. Parents are, however, as loquacious as ever about how ‘caring’ and ‘kind’ the atmosphere is from day one. Parents love the bijoux headcount too – ‘keeps the family feel,’ said one.

Big and airy, with huge windows, the ground floor of the new building is home to the pre-prep classrooms of nursery, reception and years 1 and 2, with children literally moving up to prep whose classrooms are above. Parents are grateful for the two parts of the school becoming more cohesive, having previously been based in separate buildings. School now has its own dining room and science lab (it used to depend on borrowing the senior school’s), and there’s a multipurpose hall for drama, PE and performances with additional music studio and practice rooms. Whizzy looking IT room and creative space for art and DT and – for the first time – a shared pre-prep and prep library (school is aiming for a sense of, ‘I can read this book now but am looking forward to reading that when I’m a bit older’). The old prep has gone to the senior school, which is expanding in size, while the old pre-prep is being demolished. School still benefits from sharing some of the senior school’s facilities including sports hall and theatre.

Wonderful outdoor play zones and gardens which segue into woodland where pupils can enjoy using adventure equipment, looking onto further endless idyllic grounds and playing fields. ‘I took one glance at the outside area and thought, “This is the school for us,”’ said one parent. Stunning sports field and Astroturf.

The school has a quietly confident mixed ability (though a bit less broad these days) cohort who chat with enthusiasm and pride about their school, struggling to choose one thing they think is best. Unlike senior school where number of boys dominates, here it’s exactly 50/50. Excellent cultural mix reflects the local community with every main religion represented. Plenty of London commuters in the parent community, helped with their long days by before- and after-school care on offer, starting at 8am and ending at 5.30pm, with pupils in years 3 and up able to commute on one of 11 school coaches (also used by those living in Radlett, Edgware, Stanmore, Mill Hill, Harrow, Bushey and St Albans). Lots of City types and medics among the parents, some military families (it’s close to Northwood MoD headquarters), plus a sprinkling from the world of showbiz. ‘Because there’s a range of children, you do get some pushy parents but they don’t dominate,’ said parent.

‘I often go in to find my daughter in the arms of a teacher – they are so soothing and nurturing,’ said a parent about nursery. Reception, to which nursery children transfer ‘without batting an eyelid’ according to parents, has teacher and two TAs with all other year groups of maximum 23 children having one full time TA. Specialist teachers for music, drama, French and sport but everything else is taught by the class teacher - ‘means they can really get to know you and if, say, you struggle in maths, they’ll know how you learn and what you need pastorally to best support you,’ says head. Setting in maths and English almost from the off, with lots of movement. Despite an atmosphere which parents describe as ‘more laid back’ than other schools in the vicinity, all report a high standard of teaching – ‘such a relief to know they’re learning well without any stress,’ said one.

There’s a misconception that the school takes a huge number of pupils with SEN – in reality, the head of learning support assists a handful of children across the school (mainly mild dyslexia or dyspraxia, occasionally mild ASD) with one-to-one sessions held in the aptly named Launch Pad and joins classrooms to provide booster groups where required.

Perhaps not the fastest at responding to the pandemic, say parents – ‘it was challenging at first and parents in different year groups had issues, but they worked well to find a way that made everyone happy,’ explained one, while others appreciate the ongoing parent surveys ‘to which they respond swiftly and effectively’. See-saw, the platform they settled on for online line learning, is easily accessible for parents of younger ones and older pupils to access independently, we heard. TAs are used for online break out rooms and all subjects are covered – not just the academics but also music, French, drama (including rehearsals for big plays) and some PE. House competitions carry on too – everything from ‘how long can you keep a balloon in the air?’ for the little pupils to circuit training for older ones.

Dynamic music and drama teachers enthuse pupils, with a large proportion taking LAMDA examinations (which can be done on site) and all get involved in the annual year group productions which culminate in the year 6 finale in the senior school theatre. Pupils regularly take part in the Watford and North London festivals, not just for the predictable mime and small group performances but debating too. All learn recorder in year 3, ukulele in year 5 and keyboard in year 6 and about a third have peripatetic lessons. Many leave able to read music and having taken ABRSM exams. Singing is big here – you’ll likely hear it from some corner or other of the school when walking round - and pupils attend Young Voices at the O2 every other year.

Budding artists get the chance to learn about the great and the good of the art world, as well as dovetailing pastel, chalk or charcoal work (among others) with history or geography projects. Large scale projects feature too – all pupils recently submitted a piece of work for a single collage that went down a storm.

An impressive list of extracurricular activities to broaden horizons at lunch times and after school includes yoga, LEGO, coding club and sewing. ‘Even from a young age, you can do lots to keep you busy – it allows children to develop in so many more ways than academically,’ said parent. We were disappointed to hear they were all suspended during lockdown, however, while a bugbear for parents is the additional cost - ‘my child would do a club every day if they could, so it would be nice if at least some were free.’ All the more surprising, perhaps, given that many are staff run eg marketing manager takes trampoline club, year 4 teacher takes touch typing and the head runs the LEGO club (school says the reason is so that the more expensive external ones can be subsidised by the internal ones).

Sport three times a week, comprising games, PE and swimming, which takes place at a nearby leisure centre. The usual culprits of football, hockey, cricket, netball and athletics take centre stage with a wholly inclusive ethos that ensures all those who want to have a chance to represent their house and school. ‘It’s not just about those who are best, but not so all-encompassing that those who hate sport have to be in a team,’ said parent.

The biggest rule here is be kind. The ‘do as you would be done to’ ethos seems, in the main, to be enough to keep misconduct at bay, though when it does raise its head (rare) younger pupils can expect to miss a playtime and have ‘a conversation’, while older ones get a mark on their chance card that they carry around (which also lists marks of the more positive variety). Lots of accolades and rewards for achievements from badges for house point excellence to commitment to sports. ‘My daughter was very shy and they were really able to bring her out of her shell through their confidence boosting – she’s come on leaps and bounds,’ said one parent. ‘It’s a school where you get the feeling that every child matters – that they’re all special,’ voiced another. ‘It’s the little things like writing a message to us when our youngest was born and giving our child all the extra nurturing she needed when her grandparents were poorly. And it’s the practical things too like getting a quick reply to emails and offering extra wrap-around care at short notice if needed. These are what make Aldenham.’

The last word

For parents looking for balance, roundedness and a school where their child will have the space – physically and mentally – to grow, look no further. Unashamedly kind without compromising on quality teaching, this is a school that allows its charges a childhood while keeping plenty of options open for the future if the call of the north London academic hothouses proves too loud to ignore.

Special Education Needs

Aldenham Prep School provides a broad and balanced curriculum for all children. When planning, teachers set suitable learning challenges and respond to children's diverse learning needs. Teachers take account of requirements and make provision, where necessary, to support individuals or groups of children and thus enable them to participate effectively in curriculum and assessment activities. Nov 09.


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