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‘Definitely not some big swanky private school and that’s what I love about it,’ said a parent. ‘Whereas some car parks of other local preps feel like sports car showrooms, most parents here both work hard and you don’t even feel like the children know they’re at private school,’ voiced another. Parent after parent agreed that the two magic ingredients are the school’s ability to nurture and inspire. Children going home saying, ‘Guess what I did today in science or in art!’ is the ultimate goal. ‘Sport for all’ is a claim most schools make but the director of sport here is pretty convincing – whether the team wins (which they do like to do, ‘especially against The Beacon’, according to pupils) or loses, the children are taught  ...

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What the school says...

Chesham Prep is a dedicated, nurturing, sporty, creative, inspiring and adventurous family, where children can blossom. Our Headmaster, Jonathan Beale, is energetic and forward-thinking, he is renowned for his approachability: four mornings a week he is at the school gates, greeting pupils and chatting to parents, and twice a week he spends time reading to the younger years. His five-year plan is ambitious; he wants Chesham to be the first-choice prep in the area.
As children progress through the school we continuously track their progress so that we can help advise on the best future school for each child, 60% qualify for local grammar school places. Every child is nurtured and looked after with the utmost care and attention for their welfare and safety. We welcome mistakes and embrace them as an opportunity for our children to learn and develop. We encourage children to take responsibility for their own learning and from Year 5 they are streamed for subjects. From Nursery upwards the children love being outside and learning in our Forest School. In September 2019 our new 4 lane, 25 metre indoor swimming pool opened, children from Reception upwards have swimming lessons every week.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2017, Jonathan Beale BEd (history and PE at Liverpool) (early 50s). Previously deputy head, having risen through the ranks since joining the school in 1999 as a maths and PE teacher. Attended grammar school in Norfolk. Has taught in both state and independent schools and still keeps a hand in the classroom, teaching study skills to year 5s, adding that he ‘gets around as much as possible – that’s what it’s all about,’ with a sparkle in his eye that makes you feel he’s not just paying lip service. ‘In fact,’ he confides, leaning in closer, ‘if I’m having a bad day, I head straight to the reception class for 15 minutes because the atmosphere in the classroom can’t help but cheer you up.’

Like a favourite uncle, he’s fun, warm and has a lovely sense of silliness. No inhibitions whatsoever among the children who passed him on our tour – far from it, they were itching to tell him about everything from their latest house point to their weekends pursuits. He suits the vibe of the school too – understated, no ego. ‘A great speaker, but you’ll never find him bragging about the school – he’s all about the children and the teachers,’ said a parent. ‘Always on the gate,’ ‘Very down to earth,’ ‘Has really good positive energy,’ raved others, while pupils grinned at the mere mention of him. We were left feeling pretty sure that if any of them was sent to the head, they’d think, ‘Bring it on.’

Lives above shop (well, his office) with his wife, Carolyn, a teacher at a local state school; their daughter is at university in Winchester, their son attends Aylesbury Grammar. Sport, sport and more sport make up his list of hobbies. Having played hockey and basketball at university, he is still a basketball coach for a women’s team in the Wessex league and is a qualified basketball referee. Has added tennis, golf and running to favourites in more recent years.

Entrance

Two main entry points in the early years – nursery (3+) and reception (4+). Places fill up quickly, so register early or risk joining a waiting list (which exist in most year groups). Nursery and reception entry is non-selective, although entry into reception involves a morning or day’s visit. Partially selective in year 3 (7+) when school adds a class of 20 – entry via reading, writing and maths tests. A few join in year 7 (11+) for the two years of intensive academic rigour in classes of 20 max. Entry at this point is via an assessment day including English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests. Occasional places throughout, so always worth asking.

Exit

Around 50-60 per cent to local grammars at the end of year 6 – Chesham Grammar, Dr Challoner’s Grammar and High, RGS and Aylesbury Grammar. A further 25 per cent head off to local independents at that stage, while the remaining 15-25 per cent (exclusively boys as there is no local 13+ exit route for girls) stay on for years 7 and 8, together with the newbies that join at this stage. Berkhamsted by far the most popular in recent years, with others off to eg Royal Masonic School, Claires Court, Abbots Hill, The Beacon, Lambrook, Queenswood, Sir John Laws. Some to the state sector eg St Clement Danes, Amersham School.

Our view

Though by no means tiny, this cosy, wholesome prep has a real family feel. The access via picturesque country roads all adds to the village school feel. ‘Definitely not some big swanky private school and that’s what I love about it,’ said a parent. ‘Whereas some car parks of other local preps feel like sports car showrooms, most parents here both work hard and you don’t even feel like the children know they’re at private school,’ voiced another.

Humble it may be, but it’s no underdog, with academic rigour and sterling results. So how do they manage it? ‘Simple,’ says the head, ‘You prioritise children’s happiness and enjoyment then you engage them.’ Parent after parent agreed that the two magic ingredients are the school’s ability to nurture and inspire. Children going home saying, ‘Guess what I did today in science or in art!’ is the ultimate goal.

The school itself is a mishmash of variously aged buildings, from the original stable buildings that house the vibrantly decorated French and Spanish classrooms (all learn both languages from nursery, then choose one to continue from year 7) to the (almost all single level) classrooms (including some prefabs made permanent) organised around two playgrounds – one for infants, the other for juniors. Founded in 1938 by teacher Christina Adlington (whose daughter still judges some school competitions), the school backs onto an idyllic farm and although we thought it a shame the children don’t make use of it, there’s no shortage of green space including Forest School in the woodland, sports fields and a rather tired looking Astroturf. Fabulous sports hall and even more dazzling (and the newest kid on the block) is the 25m swimming pool. Top of the wish list for school is more classrooms, a separate room for cooking, newer Astroturf and more IT.

‘Which historical characters would you have to your party?’, ‘Let’s act out the battle scene!’ and ‘Right, class, it’s time for a bit of pond dipping!’ are all in a day’s work for (the very bouncy) teachers here. Every class we visited bar none were learning by doing – top trumps cards and Bingo for maths, writing letters for English, creating games for PSHE, drawing African animals etc. All with a good dose of jollity. You can’t help but be drawn in. ‘If a teacher can’t make me smile, we don’t employ them,’ says head. ‘For almost every teacher here, I think to myself, “You’re about the best role model I could ask for,”’ said a parent.

Subject specialist teaching from nursery in PE, music, IT, languages with art and science added to the list from year 3; by year 5, all subjects are taught by specialists with pupils moving around for their lessons. Setting in maths from year 4 and in English from year 5.

Learning support is a department situated behind the library where a team assists and trains teaching staff, offers in-class support, small group interventions and one to one sessions. ‘The aim is for the teacher to manage and adapt everything where possible – it’s not the kind of school where you learn like everyone else then go off to learning support to find out how to better access those lessons,’ said a parent. Three EHCPs when we visited, with another being applied for, as well as children with eg mild ASD, ADHD. Can also cater for all the ‘dys’ conditions and EAL.

A sporty school, with a department run by a 10-strong team. There has always been a tradition of swimming; reception take their first jump in during the summer term, while the rest of the school have weekly swimming lessons. Other key sports are hockey, cricket and netball for girls and rugby, football and cricket for the boys, plus athletics for all in the summer term. ‘Sport for all’ is a claim most schools make but the director of sport here is pretty convincing – whether the team wins (which they do like to do, ‘especially against The Beacon’, according to pupils) or loses, the children are taught to learn from their last game – ‘it’s about giving children ownership over their sport’. A-E teams where needed, and if children aren’t keen on participating, they find a way – most recently superhero rugby. A parent told us, ‘It’s not about the shouty people on the sidelines at Chesham Prep – they want to get them involved.’ Hall of fame with both most improved players and players of the season is testament to this. ‘My kids are not particularly athletic, but they feel they are,’ said a parent. Be warned that after school fixtures can take your child far and wide, though – ‘Sometimes it’s up to 40 minutes away,’ said a parent. Start saving for the uniform now – ‘different games kit for different games, it goes on and on,’ we were told, and that was by a pupil.


Avoid organising a work meeting or coffee with a friend on the morning when club applications are released. ‘They fill up within five minutes,’ warned a parent. In addition to the main sports, there’s skiing (at the Snow Zone in Hemel Hempstead), golf (at the local driving range) and martial arts, as well as chess, art, crafts, LEGO robotics, music and drama, among others. Plus wrap-around care from 8am to 6pm.

Over 60 per cent of children have individual music lessons with peripatetic teachers. Enthusiastic director of music organises concerts throughout the year, as well as an annual candlelit supper and smaller performances. School choir and training choir both popular.

A few grumblings about drama – not enough of it on curriculum etc (although year 5s upwards now have weekly drama lessons – ‘so good for their confidence)’. Great excitement among pupils about the productions including nativities in the younger years, separate annual year 3 and 4 productions at Easter, a year 5 carol service and Easter play, and a joint end of year summer production for years 6, 7 and 8 – although a few said ‘the same old people get the main parts’. LAMDA in the pipeline.

Art very much its own subject from year 5 upwards – below that, it usually forms part of topic learning. We saw some fabulous art (as well as English, maths and science) work on the term’s topic of African Adventures, with other topic examples including travel. Plenty of trips eg to Kew Gardens, Henry Moore exhibition. Lots of focus on individual artists eg Monet, Van Gogh.

Families (mainly Caucasian, as is the area) come mostly from Amersham and Chesham although increasingly from Little Chalfont, Great Missenden, Prestwood, Wendover, Aston Clinton, Berkhamsted, Tring and Aylesbury although most don’t travel more than 25 minutes and there are school coaches to help. Lots of parent involvement – reading with younger ones to organising all the usual PTA wreath making days to (the extremely popular) camping on the field.

Pupils are a cheery bunch, noticeably at ease with adults. ‘I want to hear the noise of the children,’ the head told us, ‘though obviously there’s a time to be quiet.’ True to form, we found the atmosphere spirited and dynamic. But there’s a traditional side to this prep too, with pupils all springing to their feet with that familiar collective, slow motion, ‘Good morning Mr Beale and good morning visitor’ whenever we entered classrooms.

Both academically and behaviourally, there are high expectations and this, together with an intricate reward system (golden time for the tots, certificates and awards for the older ones) eliminates the need for firm discipline in most cases. Pupils we met couldn’t think of anyone ever getting into any trouble beyond a quick telling off from the teacher, although the head pointed to some isolated incidents of children not doing their homework several times on the trot or speaking out of turn, for which he had to get involved and make a call to the parents. Pastorally, no complaints – helped by twice-weekly staff briefings. Unpleasant behaviour generally nipped in the bud before it bubbles up into bullying. In fact, we spotted pupils learning about how to resolve arguments and about rules and responsibilities as part of PSHE.

Full tummies all round after the well-liked lunches; the intriguing sounding cowboy pie is a favourite and pupils also raved about the hot dogs and haloumi and vegetable wraps.

Money matters

No scholarships or bursaries. Sits somewhere in the middle when it comes to local independent school fees. Not a rich school – no big money behind the scenes.

The last word

‘I knew as soon as I looked at it – it’s just got a vibe about it and is the best decision I’ve ever made,’ said a parent, as did many others besides. More grounded, less pressured and softer around the edges than some of the other local offerings, this is a real community school that lives up to its promise of making learning fun, and the results speak for themselves.

Special Education Needs

The Learning Support Department is near the Learning Resources area. We have three small rooms for individual and small group lessons. All staff are qualified to work with children who have specific learning difficulties. We have regular visits from an Occupational Therapist and a Speech and Language Therapist. We adapt our provision to the needs of the individual child. Some pupils have in-class support, some have small group interventions, some have 1:1. We provide interventions to develop fine and gross motor skills, confidence, social skills, handwriting, spelling, maths, literacy, in addition to our specialist dyslexia support and pastoral care. We work closely with staff in all areas of the school to advise and work together to help all pupils access all areas of the curriculum. We have dyslexia-friendly boards, books, specialist teaching, adapted cushions, pens and pencils. We accept referrals from staff and parents and usually complete an assessment before making decisions about the help a child requires. We have regular meetings with parents, teaching staff and pupils to create or review a pupil passport for each child. Provision maps are updated throughout the year and are used to identify the needs of individual children.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment Y
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment Y

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