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Pastoral approach based on encouraging children to talk openly and air concerns. In almost every room we went into, we saw Place2Be post-boxes where messages flagging up worries can be posted. ‘The teachers really want to help you.’ Each building has a generous supply of outdoor space, constantly in use. Lessons are lively. In a history lesson, we learned that Henry VIII ‘loved jousting and killing’, the children excited by the prospect of their forthcoming visit to the Tower of London. Music permeates throughout, tunes emanating from the...

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What the school says...

Devonshire House Preparatory School is situated in the heart of Hampstead. The School provides education of high quality for both boys and girls, not only to nurture ability in the traditional subjects but also to foster a variety of talents so that each individual child can reach his or her full potential.

The School pursues high academic standards whilst developing enthusiasm and initiative.We believe it is important to encourage pupils to develop their own individual personalities and a good sense of personal responsibility. The School places particular importance on individual attention for each child.

Devonshire House is for children from two to thirteen years of age.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2022, Henry Keighly-Elstub. Previously head at Pembridge Hall for 10 years and before that, deputy head at Wetherby Prep. He has also been senior master at Chesham Prep and head of history at Ludgrove, having started his teaching career at Cothill. Educated at Eton, degree in classical civilisation from Leeds, followed by short stint as an art salesman in London before embarking on PGCE in history at St Martin’s Lancaster.

When we met him, he was warmly shaking every child’s hand, while also adjusting top buttons and ties. Sociable and dynamic, he has a great sense of humour and a pragmatic approach, telling us he wants ‘to ramp up the academics - not at the cost of the nurturing, though.’ Also wants ‘stronger creative arts - I’d love to put dance on the curriculum’. Keen to improve comms with parents, explaining, ‘Parents value cohesion, I want to talk to them more.’ Many feel he has already made his mark: ‘The school needed refreshing.’ ‘All the reforms he’s made have been top class.’. Children also approve: ‘He’s really nice,’ said a year 6 (he teaches study skills across that year), ‘not scary at all’. His golden apple award ‘for good eggs’ has gone down particularly well.

Inheriting an additional building from the now-defunct Lyndhurst House, he quickly reorganised the school over its three sites. ‘It’s working so much better,’ confirmed a parent with multiple drop offs. With the new space available, ‘we can grow,’ says head, telling us that they have ‘more and more interest in 11+ entry.’

Thankful not ‘living above the shop’, he feels it is best his daughters do not come to the school. ‘I don’t think it would be good for them, as the children of the head.’ An energetic man, he is often seen walking briskly around the building, talking to all – a good warm up for his daily run. ‘And I do love my acoustic guitar.’

Entrance

From 2+, following a visit. Offers made in spring term before entry for nursery, and in autumn term for reception. From year 1, children attend an ‘observation morning’, with offers made in spring term before entry. Around a dozen arrive at 7+ following assessments in maths and English. Current capacity and flexibility mean well worth enquiring about occasional places. Those not sufficiently fluent in English welcomed but encouraged to seek extra support outside ‘to close the educational gap more rapidly’.

Exit

Wide assortment of destinations, principally day schools, with occasional boarding. Vast majority of girls leave at 11+, mainly to Francis Holland (SW1), Channing, Queen’s College, City of London Girls, Queenswood and South Hampstead High. Merchant Taylors’ most popular for boys who leave at 11+, as well as Wetherby Senior School and South Hampstead High, North Bridge House and Maida Vale School. For year 8 leavers, most go to St Paul’s, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’, Wetherby and Mill Hill. In 2024, 11 scholarships.

Our view

Located in four large Hampstead villas, each with its own large garden, the school has a uniform feel with fresh paint and bright carpets throughout. Nursery sits next to the main building which houses years 3, 4 and 5. Around the corner are reception, years 1 and 2, and a five-minute trot down the road are years 6, 7 and 8. This building is an architectural delight, boasting stained glass windows, delicate cornicing, vast open fireplaces (some of them now cosy reading corners) and spectacular views of the London skyline.

Each building has a generous supply of outdoor space, constantly in use. The nursery garden houses a water pump, mud kitchen and climbing equipment (‘It’s all about them learning to take risks’), plus wooden story hut and herb garden. Upper and middle schools have huge Astros, while lower school boasts one of the biggest forest schools we have seen, certainly in London – with fully trained forest school teacher who inspiringly designed and maintains it. We crossed a busy playground, trying to work out the rules of a ball game specific to the school. School says, ‘It was apparently invented here and the children play it all the time.’ An inbuilt chess board on one of the tables was being used as a target to land a ball on black or white. Everywhere movement and activity.

Children in nursery (half days possible from 2+, full-time only from 3+) were busy making music, with entranced toddlers shaking bells while waving their ‘twinkling star’ hands. A tuneful ‘goodbye’ from various puppets wrapped the lesson up. After such exertion, we wondered how many would be heading to the colourful sleep room for a catnap. Specialist teaching in French, PE and music, with technology added from reception and drama from year 1. From year 4, specialist teaching in everything, with setting in English and maths, spreading to all subjects from year 7, when all undertake an independent project, an embryonic EPQ, which they present to the rest of the school.

Lessons are lively. In a history lesson, we learned that Henry VIII ‘loved jousting and killing’, the children excited by the prospect of their forthcoming visit to the Tower of London. In science, we observed articulate reasoning of year 4s in a sparkling debate about whether Pluto should be a planet, while in French, year 8 regaled us with their stated career ambitions. Assemblies animated too, as we saw in the interconnected house accommodating years 3-5, where the hall later morphed into a dining room where the children helped themselves to an excellent hot lunch (we found the soup particularly nourishing), alongside an appetising cold array. Lunch replicated in each of the buildings, as are libraries, science labs and art rooms, where we saw children recreating some Ted Harrison scenes, complete with DT corners.

Just under 10 per cent on the SEN register, with two EHCPs when we visited. Dyslexia, ADHD and autism all supported by three full-time staff and, where required, weekly visits from OT and speech and language therapists. ‘Low key’ specialist booster sessions in English, maths and phonics – ‘seen as just another lesson,’ praised one parent. School enjoys excellent relations with the local authority and holds termly good practice meetings with other local schools, maintained and independent. School being part of the Dukes group (together with associated connection to Cavendish group) felt to be beneficial too: ‘Means there’s lots of support out there,’ explained SENCo. Overall ethos is to celebrate neurodiversity, with children encouraged to present assemblies. ‘My son just couldn’t wait to do his on autism,’ said one parent. But school ‘wary’ of accepting any child whose needs or behaviour might have negative impact on others: ‘We have that chat and parents generally understand.’ With the many international families – ‘mainly European but American and South-east Asian too’ – there are lots of bilingual children, but only five require EAL support, again included in fees.

Music permeates throughout, tunes emanating from the various practice rooms scattered around each of the buildings. Just under 40 per cent learn an individual instrument, available from year 1, and regularly perform at the weekly secular assembly in Hampstead Church, to which parents are also invited. Soundproof music pods in playground too. In addition to jazz band, drum band, choirs, ensembles and orchestras, there is a festival choir which goes on tour every other year, alternating with a sports tour. ‘That Prague trip was just the best,’ recounted one boy. School-wide Christmas concert in Hampstead Church, plus early years nativity play. Year 4 puts on own production (recently written by school’s own drama teacher) while older years gear up to an all-singing and dancing musical, most recently Shrek and Hercules. ‘It brings everybody together towards the end.’

Sport ‘strong and serious’, but not aggressively competitive. Football, cricket and cross country for both boys and girls, netball just for girls. Some pupils would like more – one boy expressed an interest in doing hockey while a girl wanted to take up lacrosse - ‘a shame’, she felt. No swimming – ‘It’s disproportionately time-consuming and all the children learn outside,’ says school. Full fixtures list but school admits it can be difficult to match up mixed teams with other schools. Good onsite facilities for smaller matches, off site for larger ones. Years 2 and 3 spend a morning or afternoon a week at Stone X, a short bus ride away, ramping up to two from year 4.

Copious number of clubs from reception, from coding to quizzes, animals to art. Trips galore, starting early. Year 3 away for one night, year 4 to PGL for two nights, a week in France for year 5, surfing in Cornwall for year 6, geography field trip in Wales for year 7 in Wales - ‘Do you remember? We got so wet!’ Top year culminates, quite literally, in the Alps. Oh, and the optional ski trip.

Pastoral approach based on encouraging children to talk openly and air concerns. In almost every room we went into, we saw Place2Be post-boxes where messages flagging up worries can be posted. ‘The teachers really want to help you.’ Full-time nurse provides reassuring ears, as well as plasters and cough medicine, plus there is a therapist onsite twice a week to provide group or individual support at no additional cost. School recently won a wellbeing award. Pupils, who have a casually respectful manner, speak of a happy, positive atmosphere. ‘You’re never afraid to make mistakes,’ said one. ‘Everybody makes mistakes,’ agreed another wholeheartedly. Parents grateful for regular workshops to keep messaging the same at home and school: ‘They’re always trying to help you help them.’ Uniform a practical mix of navy and tartan, although the originally white piping on many blazers had turned decidedly grey.

Children mainly local, from Hampstead and Belsize Park but also Golders’ Green, Finchley, Muswell Hill and Islington. All strongly encouraged to walk, bike or scoot in, with ample places to park them. Sound advice, especially when you consider the inevitable congestion at drop-off is compounded by another prep school opposite. Families are ethnically diverse and reflective of local area. Principally dual income, there are lots of doctors and lawyers but fewer nannies than in some schools nearby. Hence useful provision of wraparound care from 8am to 6pm. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without it,’ said one parent, ‘it’s a real life saver and my children love it - I’m not sure I could match what they do at home.’ Holiday clubs welcome too. Parents increasingly involved in the PTA. School values this partnership, keen to lure more to the Friday assembly but appreciate, as some admit, ‘It’s difficult when you’re working’.

Senior school advice comes in for praise: ‘Nothing comes as a shock, we’ve been involved all the way along,’ said one mother, while a girl told us that she ‘had not felt too nervous about the exams’. Maintains that London edge, however, and although not heavily called upon, the school benefits from the priority entry scheme to Dukes senior schools.

Money matters

Fees in line with other local schools. A very few free entitlement places available in cases of unexpected hardship. No bursaries.

The last word

Well on the way to becoming a solid, stretching, well-connected prep school of the highest standard, offering something for everybody aged 2 to 13. With his dynamic, realistic, ambitious outlook, head has already wrought much change, all good. Watch this space.

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