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 And what could make spelling tests any sweeter than taking them in a 20 acre meadow? Huge sports hall dwarfed the tiny tots we saw rehearsing their show and a new reception classroom block (2015) is the cherry on top of this idyllic setting. Things step up in the prep school with a well-structured timetable and parents praising the fact that ‘it suits all academic abilities – those who aren’t super bright don’t get lost,’ and reporting that children are generally pushed to reach their potential and are ‘well prepared’ for examinations... 

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What the school says...

A family of leading independent schools based in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, offering high quality education and care for boys and girls aged 5 months to 18 years.
Berkhamsted Pre-Prep - Co-educational independent day school for pupils aged 3-7. We place each child at the centre of everything we do. Wellbeing is our first priority, and providing a high level of nurture and care is our primary focus
Berkhamsted Prep - Co-educational independent day school for pupils aged 7-11. We are a supportive, family community which fosters a strong sense of belonging. Being a pupil here is a unique experience; every one of our pupils is treated as an individual.
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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

Headmaster

Since 2013, Jamie Hornshaw BEd MEd NPQH FInstLM (40s). Educated at Plymouth University, where he took his primary teaching degree; recently completed at MEd in education leadership at Buckingham. Intent that Berkhamsted prep no longer seen as an easy shoo-in to the increasingly competitive senior school, entry to which he wants to be ‘seen as a bonus.’ Investing heavily in freshening up both the site and the staff room – ‘lots of rolling up sleeves and getting back to basics.’

Formerly head of the British School of Paris Junior School. Cut teeth as year 3 teacher at St Peter’s Prep in Devon, followed by Hazelwood School in Surrey, teaching years 3 and 4 as well as running sports teams and directing plays. Joined Grove Place Prep in Hampshire as deputy head and head of English and drama before moving to Brentwood Prep as deputy head. Attracted to Berkhamsted by ‘family and community ethos,’ inheriting it after a shaky period following merger with Haresfoot Prep. Now in the process of ‘taking school by the scruff of its neck and moving it up a division’ – as stated in his recent prize-giving speech: ‘Status Quo’s a great name for a band but not an ethos for a running a school.’ Parents in favour of improvements made so far. ‘He has a great communication style,’ said one, referring to head’s introduction of weekly update to share successes, and his Twitter feed, which regularly reminds parents about calendar events and results. Lives on site with wife and two daughters, both Berkhamsted pupils.

Head of pre-prep since 2015 is Karen O’Connor BA, PGCE, NPQH, formerly acting head of The Rosary Roman Catholic School in Camden.

Entrance

Non-selective entry into pre-prep at 3+ and 4+ currently oversubscribed. Fifty-four places in nursery class and reception, with around half moving up from the on-site Berkhamsted Day Nursery. Six additional places in year 2 and a further 15 in year 3.

Entry into prep more selective, particularly as senior school places are becoming harder fought for. Standardised testing in English and maths for applicants from year 3 and up. Fifty children recently tested for year 5 with just 15 places offered – ‘we don’t want to be seen as a soft option any more,’ says head. Most make successful transition from pre-prep to prep, with a tiny minority who it is felt won’t be able to keep up supported in finding more suitable schools.

Exit

Almost exclusively to Berkhamsted senior school at 11+. A handful each year head off to state grammar schools and one or two to schools traditionally seen as more academic, eg St Albans.

Our view

School split between pre-prep, for children from nursery to year 2, and prep, across two different sites, about a five minute drive apart and with totally different vibes. Visitors to the pre-prep, housed on the former Haresfoot site, can’t fail to be charmed – if not stunned – by the picturesque setting and seemingly endless acres of land. Superb facilities and spacious classrooms sit amongst walled gardens tipping off into woodlands, home to the adventure playground and high wires course. And what could make spelling tests any sweeter than taking them in a 20 acre meadow? Huge sports hall dwarfed the tiny tots we saw rehearsing their show and a new reception classroom block (2015) is the cherry on top of this idyllic setting.

The prep has a business-like atmosphere and instantly gives the impression of a very large school – when pupils arrive here in year 3 they leave behind a dreamy country prep environment for one which feels so urban it could almost be in London. A recent facelift, however, has left buildings very smart with few tatty corners, and pupils continue to enjoy excellent facilities – as well as occasionally those shared with the Berkhamsted senior school, including theatre, pool, playing fields and new food tech room. Slight wistfulness about lack of prep fields to run on at playtimes.

Majority of pupils from two to three mile radius, with many moving to the area for the 3-18 education found here. Very little ethnic mix but demographically diverse – plenty of first-time buyers with a bit of old money thrown in for good measure. Lots of dual income commuting families keen to benefit from outstanding wrap-around care and new, modern approach to communication: ‘Things like the introduction of electronic booking for parents’ evenings make life so much easier,’ said one.

Pre-prep offers a gentle and nurturing start to school life. ‘We don’t support cursive writing being taught from 5,’ says head. ‘The only benefit is marketing to parents.’ Homework – or ‘home learning’ as it’s known here – is optional and the focus is on ‘being mindful of every stage of development,’ and allowing children to grow at their own pace. Things step up in the prep school with a well-structured timetable and parents praising the fact that ‘it suits all academic abilities – those who aren’t super bright don’t get lost,’ and reporting that children are generally pushed to reach their potential and are ‘well prepared’ for examinations, especially those for entry to senior school. Head concurs: ‘In a mixed ability cohort we provide for the strongest and the weakest.’

Traditional, formal curriculum with French from reception and twice a week from year 3, science ‘going great guns,’ according to head and history top choice with the children due to ‘inspirational’ departmental head, whose room is ‘like a museum’. DT specialist taught from year 3 in well-equipped lab, complete with dye sublimation machine to provide greater links with the art department. Drama on curriculum from year 3. Tasters of Mandarin and Latin in year 6 give pupils an idea of what’s on offer at the senior school. Children mainly class taught to year 3 with lessons almost exclusively specialist taught by year 5 in a format ‘closely modelled on what they’ll experience when they move up to senior school.’ Subtle streaming for reading from year 1 and maths from year 2. Maths groups split into sets from year 3 with movement on a half termly basis so ‘it’s never a white rabbit moment to parents,’ says head.

Team of five SEN experts – all dyslexia specialists – work across all Berkhamsted schools, with about 10 per cent of the cohort on their register. Although they are qualified to work across all levels, there is an acknowledgement that ‘the pace is fast’ once pupils hit the upper prep years and ‘they have to be able to cope – it wouldn’t be the right school for children with greater needs.’ Able to deal with mild to moderate dyslexia, dyspraxia and children on the autistic spectrum. All children screened in year 3 with a mixed programme of in-class and one-to-one help, and those with the greatest needs removed from French.

Parents uniformly comment on ‘huge range of opportunities on offer’ and this is highly evident in music and drama. All children play a stringed instrument in year 2 with peripatetic lessons available from year 1. There are choirs, bands and ensembles aplenty from year 2 upwards and LAMDA on curriculum to year 6. Huge number of productions and recitals on the calendar, with every year producing its own show annually – recent successes: The Lion King, Little Mermaid & Return to the Forbidden Planet.

Alongside drama, pupils name sport as top dog – and honours boards around the school demonstrate commitment and excellence, not just in the usual suspects but also minor sports like tennis and swimming, although with two games sessions and one PE lesson a week there’s not as much coaching as at some preps. It’s football, rugby and cricket for boys and lacrosse, netball and cricket for the girls as major sports. Focus on making sport accessible for more children, with initiatives like ‘sports pupil of the term’ – a prize for endeavour, not necessarily achievement – introduced. Competitive successes are ‘on the up’, according to head, with teams reaching national finals in swimming relay, national champions Eton fives and county tennis players and cricketers amongst the cohort. Fixtures up 25 per cent in the past five years and external coaches brought in to re-energise teams. New Eton fives courts getting good use. Compulsory Saturday sport axed in favour of optional house sports festivals, ‘where even a D team player can get a gold medal.’

‘Fantastic’ extracurricular programme, say parents, with clubs on offer three nights a week in the pre-prep (cookery, judo, nature) – mostly included in fees – and clubs from Eton fives to Spanish in the prep. Lots of trips, with pupils going further afield as they move up the school, culminating in a year 6 outdoor pursuits trip to Skern Lodge. Wrap-around care a major selling point for the hard working middle class parent cohort. Pupils can be looked after from 7.30am to 6.30pm up to 50 weeks a year, including the provision of breakfast and tea – a facility used by around 30 per cent of families who are, apparently, ‘moving from north London in droves.’

Things are looking up for Berkhamsted Prep now that the head has his feet firmly under the table, major changes have settled and improvements to the sites are completed. A solid choice for parents looking for an all-through, thoroughly rounded education – not to mention immunity to the local 11+ frenzy – in a leafy suburban setting. Without the universal favourite topic of ‘next schools’ on the dinner party agenda, we wonder what on earth Berkhamsted parents talk about…

Special Education Needs

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