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A Belmont child is a busy one. School opens at 7.30am for optional breakfast, and from there on in, a cascade of activities barely allows for an oxygen intake. A hundred clubs are on offer during lunchtime and after school, so if elastic or kicking a ball ain’t your thing – why not try ancient Greek? Colourful and interesting displays of student work adorn the corridors, and the pupils we witnessed, while not particularly noisy, were ‘spirited’.  A couple of parents we spoke to said that academia...

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What the school says...

Belmont Mill Hill Preparatory School is situated in the Green Belt on the borders of Hertfordshire and Middlesex, just ten miles from Central London. A part of the Mill Hill School Foundation which is set in 160 acres of beautiful grounds, Belmont stands in about 35 acres of its own woods. We provide a happy, secure and rich learning environment for boys and girls aged 7 to 13, the majority of whom move on at the end of Year 8 to the senior school, Mill Hill, which educates boys and girls from age 13 to 18. ...Read more

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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 2015, Leon Roberts MA PGCE. Taught history for four years in the state sector including a stint in the Lake District (‘stunning place, tough environments’), then moved to London where he worked in two north London comprehensives before a job came up at Keble Prep as head of history. ‘It wasn’t intentional to move to the private sector, but it was a really exciting opportunity to be head of history and coach cricket – two of my passions.’ Four years later he applied for the job as deputy head of Belmont, before being promoted to senior deputy head in 2010 and finally taking on the headmaster’s role.

Although he moved to the private sector, he still very much has his ear to the ground within the state sector. He recently finished a long stint as governor of a state school and has forged strong ties with a few local comprehensives. Believes it is wrong to think you can’t make a difference to all children – ‘I have a responsibility at Belmont to make the children realise how lucky they are and to stay grounded.’

East Midlands born, friendly and down-to-earth, with an energetic approach to the job ‘building on a school which is already in great shape’, but adding his own mark. Has achieved a lot so far, including creating a more progressive curriculum (with a strong emphasis on wellbeing), building a strong senior leadership team with a focus on developing their own expertise and ‘allowing others to lead’, and establishing local partnerships and community links. Very ambitious for the school, admitting that his mission would be to make it not only the best school in the area, but one of the best in the country.

Popular with parents who find him very hands-on and personable (has been joining in with online Zoom quizzes with his whole family). One parent said that ‘Mr Roberts makes it his priority to know every child’s name and greets them in the morning.’

Admits that Covid has made it the toughest year of his career – ‘Like many people, we have been directly affected at the school by loss of life, whether it be an ex-teacher, parents of a teacher or grandparents of students.’ As a result, says a priority will be the physical and mental wellbeing of his students. The school has appointed two new assistant heads, one for teaching and learning and the other who deals solely with the wellbeing of both staff and pupils and who ‘will continue to develop their more holistic approach.’ He explains, ‘this situation has made parents re-think what is important for their child’s happiness.’

Married to a teacher (not at the same school), with three young daughters, including twins. Enjoys cricket (playing and coaching, both boys and girls), walking, running and ‘occasional box set bingeing’.

Entrance

Automatic entry from pre-prep (Grimsdell) to prep (over three quarters of entry) – a few rare exceptions. For external candidates, between 10-15 places available at 7+ – as max 60 in year 3. For families outside the Foundation, 11+ is the main point of entry. Holistic admissions process introduced in 2016 – everyone takes digital tests in numerical, verbal and non-verbal ability, short written exercise, two group interviews, a team building/ problem solving exercise and a tour of school with a Belmont pupil.

Exit

At least 95 per cent move on to Mill Hill School. There is no further entrance test at 13+ but pupils are continuously tracked throughout their time at Belmont. ‘Children for whom Mill Hill is not the right school’ leave at the end of year 6. Once in year 7, automatic place at Mill Hill at 13+ provided they make reasonable academic progress and are well behaved. One parent told us that going through to 13+ was a massive advantage – ‘It feels like an extension of primary school for two years and I love the idea of hanging onto a nurturing environment for a bit longer.’ Occasional transfers to boarding schools eg Harrow, Tonbridge and Stowe.

Our view

Established in 1912, following the success of its senior school Mill Hill, Belmont Prep opened its gates with one student – Harold Pearse Soundy. A year later it had 12 pupils. Originally a boarding prep for boys, it has been a day school since the 80s and co-ed since 1995. The school is in an enviable location on Mill Hill’s Ridgeway – set back from the road and flanked by large houses and beautiful greenery. Hard to believe that central London is so close. Harder still, after taking in the 35 acres of parkland and the panoramic views of the Totteridge Valley. Undoubtedly the school’s selling point, the grounds and its facilities are impressive for a London-based prep school.

For a sporty child, this must be nirvana – there are extensive grounds and pitches for all of the major sports and a new sports hall was opened in January 2020 that includes cricket nets, a climbing wall and a wellbeing suite. Pupils also have the use of the 25-metre indoor swimming pool at Mill Hill School and access to a 1,500 metre woodland cross-country course known as ‘The Oti’ (in memory of a former student who died of sickle cell anaemia). Strong links with Saracens rugby (down the road) and Tottenham Hotspur, but their strongest partnership is cricket and they are home to Middlesex Girls and Women’s. Former Belmont cricket stars of note include Sophia Dunkley, who plays for the women’s England cricket team, and Adam Rossington, captain of Northamptonshire Cricket Club.

In the past, one or two parents have mentioned that you should forget this school if your child has absolutely no interest in sport – but that sentiment no longer rings true and the overriding opinion now seems to be that there is so much more to Belmont than that. One parent told us that ‘the drama and art here is amazing and so are the facilities. There really is something for everyone.’

The original 18th century house acts as the main entrance to the school and houses the function rooms, main reception area, staff rooms and the head’s office (with the original beautiful winding staircase) – which has been tastefully refurbished. The school has invested over £10 million in new buildings and enhancements to existing classrooms including a science block, DT/Computing block with new light modern and spacious classrooms, music technology, art studio – and most recently the brand new sports hall, completed in 2020. Outdoor facilities include a large wooden adventure playground and an eco garden where pupils tend seasonal plants and flowers.

The school has a slightly informal, genial vibe. Colourful and interesting displays of student work adorn the corridors, and the pupils we witnessed, while not particularly noisy, were ‘spirited.’ This was particularly evident amongst the school’s council members - a bunch of 8 and over boys and girls who were bright, articulate and bounced off each other like the future spokespeople they may one day become. They were confident, polite and hard pushed to find anything negative to say about the school. One bemoaned the fact that lunch wasn’t better organised, another commented incredulously that ‘we’ve been to play other schools that don’t even have their own cricket grounds’ – which made him feel very lucky. The most recent ISI inspection of the school cited Belmontian pupils as ‘considerate, caring and respectful of each other and all members of the community.’

A Belmont child is a busy one. School opens at 7.30am for optional breakfast and from there on in a cascade of activities barely allows for an oxygen intake. Over 100 clubs are on offer during lunchtime and after school, so if elastic or kicking a ball ain’t your thing – why not try ancient Greek? Or perhaps origami, fishing, bake and chat (‘a great support forum for the children when working remotely’), vex robotics, drone club and many more. Popular after-school activities include chamber choir and horse riding. Fabulous trips including a history trip to Venice are offered from year 6. Sports tours to Caribbean and Europe and an annual ski trip (all sadly postponed because of Covid).

We asked parents what they thought of the school’s response to the pandemic, and in the main, seemed satisfied that Belmont had acted fairly quickly under such adverse circumstances. One commented, that like elsewhere, there was a certain amount of scrambling when the first lockdown was announced – 'Children were largely left with videos to work through and not much teaching.’ However, most acknowledged that by lockdowns two and three it was much better managed with a full day of lessons from 8.30am – 3.45pm, although one parent said that the upper school was much better catered for than the younger ones.

Academic results are well above national expectations. A broad curriculum that includes French from year 3, Latin and Spanish from Year 7 and ‘future skills’ – an aspect of the curriculum that was introduced in 2016 to help provide pupils with soft skills needed for them to thrive in the future. These are weekly lessons with activities within six strands – Create, Lead, Communicate, Innovate, Sustain, Think. ‘All the activities teach vital skillsets, preparing pupils for the future but also allowing them to find their niche within an enjoyable learning environment.’ This can include anything from yoga, mindfulness and philosophy to forest school, first aid and macramé.

Teachers have annual performance reviews and their planning is monitored termly. No sluggards allowed here. A couple of parents we spoke to said that academia across the foundation has definitely been stepped up a notch over the past few years. One parent told us, ‘Belmont was always more of a nurturing school, but the goalposts seem to be constantly changing and you feel like you are kept on your toes the whole time.’ In school's view, while high academic performance is very important, ‘the whole child is very important too – we want them to achieve their very best academically but also want them to be happy.’ ‘Happy’ was a word we heard on so many occasions from parents too, who seem to be in unison when describing their contented offspring – 'Mine were itching to get back’ and ‘I have watched my child blossom into an engaging, happy, individual.’

Sats abolished in favour of continuous assessments from year 3. No longer follows the CE curriculum because nearly everyone goes through to the senior school. Instead, teaches a Mill Hill curriculum which aims to give the same rigour as CE but tailored to enable pupils to delve deeper into subject topics. Places at Mill Hill are not unconditional but any early problems, academically or behaviourally, are usually flagged up while the child is at Grimsdell (the pre-prep), so there are ‘rarely any surprises’. ‘If we didn’t feel a child could cope, we wouldn’t allow them to progress to year 7.’

The school has a highly skilled learning support department experienced in supporting children with a range of educational needs. The majority of these are mild specific learning difficulties. ‘Pupils with SEND also make significant progress, so that their attainment meets their expected levels,' says the latest ISI report. Small groups of gifted and talented children are arranged across the years, and most are prepared for the 11+ and 13+ scholarship awards.

Belmont is a Christian foundation based upon the principles of ‘religious freedom’. The school’s pupils represent a wide range of faiths and cultures, so chapel services and assemblies are inter-denominational. ‘Chapels and assemblies emphasise the importance of our school values that unite us and also celebrate our differences,' says school.

The last word

A school that gets the best of both worlds – the rich diversity and good transport links of a London school along with the overall feel (partly because it’s on the fringes) of a more rural prep, including what some call a sporting paradise. Academic? Increasingly so, but this is no hothouse - and children lap up the informal ambience that gives them room to grow into the very best version of themselves.

Special Education Needs

Belmont has a Special Needs Coordinator who works with children in class and withdraws small groups. She oversees the work of the visiting specialist teachers who provide one to one tuition for an additional fee. Belmont is able to help children with mild dyslexia or dyspraxia, whose intellectual ability is above average. Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
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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