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With a school that states boldly in its prospectus, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’, you had better be sure your little darlings have a healthy interest in outdoor pursuits. But, as our last visit testified, there is a lot more to the school than that. ‘There was a lot of spoon feeding in the last curriculum. I wanted to throw it out and start again,' says the head. This has been a collaborative venture with parents working as a team – ‘lots of coffee mornings’ – to establish a programme which was...

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What the school says...

Grimsdell, Mill Hill Pre-Prep is situated in the Green Belt on the boarders of Hertfordshire and Middlesex and just ten miles from Central London. A part of the Mill Hill School Foundation which is set in 160 acres of beautiful grounds, we make extensive use of the outdoors in all subject areas and ‘Forest School’ has a firm place within our curriculum. We provide a happy, secure and rich learning environment for boys and girls aged 3 to 7. Belmont, Mill Hill Preparatory School, is less than a quarter of a mile away and educates pupils from age 7 to 13, the majority of whom move on to the senior school, Mill Hill, which educates boys and girls from age 13 to 18.

We pride ourselves on the exciting and creative curriculum we offer. The children who come here are inspired to learn whilst being encouraged to explore and enjoy their childhood. The boys and girls at Grimsdell learn through hands-on experience. With the support and guidance of professional, caring staff and excellent resources and equipment, each child is encouraged to reach their full potential. Our approach combines traditional skills of reading, writing and mathematics with the breadth and balance offered by an enhanced Early Years Foundation Stage and KS1 Curriculum. Every pupil can enjoy many opportunities offered by learning through Science, Technology and Computing, Art, Drama, Music, PE and French lessons.

The school is housed in a large Victorian building with its own secure play areas and adventure playgrounds, taking advantage of further facilities on the Mill Hill site including a Forest School area, sports fields, swimming pool and theatre.

The usual age of entry is at 3 and 4 years old, but 5 and 6 year olds are considered as vacancies occur. It is expected that most children will pass to Belmont at the end of Year 2.
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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 2014, Kate Simon (40s). Degree in English lit and drama from Sheffield; did her PGCE in Liverpool and cut her teeth working in ‘very tough’ inner city schools. Has known she wanted to teach since she was 14.

‘You have to live and breathe the job, you can’t fake it – it can be emotional and draining, but I love it.’ And she should know, having worked on both sides of the educational spectrum. This is a head who has taught in Stockbridge Village – ‘one of the most deprived areas of Liverpool’ – followed by a stint abroad at an international school in the Caymen Islands (‘beautiful but I missed my busy London life’). A headship of the junior school of the Royal School Hampstead followed between 2002 and 2008, before becoming head of the girls’ upper school at Garden House School in Chelsea. However, with a son and two daughters herself, she no longer wanted to work in a single sex school and decided to look for a role in co-education: ‘We don’t live in a single sex world – I wanted to work in a school that reflects the world.’

When her predecessor at Grimsdell retired, she jumped at the opportunity of becoming head. After a ‘rigorous selection procedure’, she was offered the position and seven years on she is still there and bubbling with enthusiasm. And lucky for the parents, Ms Simon’s heart is most definitely in the Mill Hill foundation – ‘I can’t see myself moving on,' she says.

A Grimsdell parent herself even before taking the helm – 'says something about the school,' reckoned one parent. Looks much younger than she is, given she has a teenage son who is about to choose his GCSE options. ‘Good lighting,’ she jokes (our update was via Zoom due to Covid restrictions). However, we think it’s partly down to her youthful demeanour. She exudes warmth and we liked her instantly. Popular with parents too, one calling her ‘exceptionally approachable and likes parents to give her ideas.’ Another added that she is 'totally passionate about the school, which is clear when you meet her.’

Married with three children, she loves nothing more than family time when she gets the chance, playing the piano to relax and being outdoors. She has also started writing poetry for the children at Grimsdell and collating them in a book.

Entrance

Heavily oversubscribed, with over 100 families vying for 18 places in reception. No longer a first come, first served basis – ‘We try to see everyone who registers’. This involves a one-to-one session where parents are asked to stay in the room, and the activity is very child led – ‘We are really looking at the child’s social and emotional development, not whether he or she can draw a zig zag. This is not about them being a genius at age 4. However we do, unfortunately, have to be a bit selective now because of the demand for places.’ Thirty-four places offered at nursery, so far better chance of securing a place although currently the nursery only offers half days.

Exit

The majority of pupils continue on to Belmont school and through the Mill Hill foundation – ‘one of the major plus points of this school,’ said one parent. However a small proportion moves onto more ‘perceived’ academic schools or single sex schools and faith schools. In a few rare cases, where students may not have made enough progress to move to Belmont, discussions about alternatives take place from year 1. ‘We have to be realistic,’ says school.

Our view

Unfortunate name for a very pretty school. On a beautiful autumnal day, Grimsdell was the antithesis of ‘grim’. Situated on Mill Hill’s Ridgeway, but accessed via a small and very lovely private road, the school occupies the rather grand Winterstoke House. Originally a vicarage for the vicar of St Paul's and sold to Mill Hill School in October 1923, Winterstoke House was purchased to become a school boarding house to host some 42 boys.

The school became Grimsdell in 1995 – a newcomer compared to the other two schools in the foundation. The reason for its formation was largely due to a Mrs Grimsdell, widow of an Old Millhillian, who bequeathed a large part of her late husband's estate to Mill Hill School. Following a request from the school governors, Mrs Grimsdell agreed that the benefaction be applied to create a ‘much required’ pre-preparatory school, and Grimsdell opened its gates. The school is situated adjacent to Mill Hill School but has its own grounds – not quite on the scale of the other two schools, but more than adequate for a pre-prep.

This is a cute, cosy school on the inside – nothing grand and pretentious, despite the impression given by its exterior. We were seated in a colourful and bright reception area with a large aquarium to gaze at while we waited to meet the head. Familiar sounds of overexcited kids emanated from one or two of the classrooms. All classrooms are light, airy and well equipped – particularly the Sunshine Room which, as its name suggests, is a warm and nurturing space. This is where pupils go who need extra learning support, which can include intervention groups, one-to-ones, play therapy and school counselling. Specialist on-site teachers in music, PE and French are on hand and 4 to 7 year-olds have weekly keyboard lessons with a music specialist.

Like all three of the schools in the Mill Hill Foundation, Grimsdell has an air of individuality which sets it apart from many other fee paying schools. No better is this highlighted than with the bespoke, creative curriculum, introduced by the head four years ago – ‘There was a lot of spoon feeding in the last curriculum. I wanted to throw it out and start again.’ This has been a collaborative venture with parents working as a team – ‘lots of coffee mornings’ – to establish a programme which was more forward thinking and child centred. Topics are theme based, with the whole school following the same curriculum, but at different levels. It also becomes an immersive experience which ‘promotes reflective learning and adaptability.’ When learning about the North Pole, for example, the classroom was transformed into an igloo with one large block of ‘ice’ which the pupils had to break open to discover a letter from an Arctic explorer – ‘This sort of attention to detail gives the child a motivation to learn and to become inquisitive.’

Parents we spoke to enthused about this new way of learning. One said, ‘The new curriculum is amazing. They are learning loads of new things, they don’t even realise they are learning’, while another added that ‘the attention to detail is flawless. When my daughter returned to school after being off for a while, they dressed the class up like a hospital and made the teaching very relevant around her.’

The pastoral care is another element which has seen an increase in support and attention, with a triage system of care which includes an assistant pastoral head, a head of SEN and a play therapist. Since Covid, the school concentrates more than ever on wellbeing – ‘Children at the school have lost grandparents due to Covid; we have been reaching out to them and their families as much as possible.’ We loved the idea that all pupils returning to school after lockdown were issued with tickets and passports sent to their homes with a section on it called ‘tummy wobbles’, where the pupils were able to draw on their passports anything they might be worried about.

‘Amazing communication from the school throughout,’ said one parent regarding lockdown. Another told us that the ‘second and third lockdowns were much better dealt with and there were live lessons, live reading sessions and assemblies as opposed to videos. Children were also sent whiteboards and paint palettes to their homes.’ One parent did say, though, that sometimes it was tricky as the online days were not that full, although she did caveat that by adding, ‘You can’t really have a four year old sitting down for five to six hours a day.’

One positive outcome of Covid for the school has been the four large tents erected in the school grounds, enabling music lessons to continue outside safely. While this was only supposed to be a temporary measure, it proved so successful that the school decided to purchase the tents as a permanent fixture. ’It is a great way of bringing the outside learning inside. Who says you need four walls to learn maths?’ says the head.

As with Belmont and Mill Hill, Grimsdell’s selling point is undoubtedly its idyllic surroundings. Pupils not only have access to 120 acres of beautiful parkland at Mill Hill school with its sports pitches, swimming pool and woodland, but they have their own great adventure playground and science garden to enjoy. A firm believer in the great outdoors, Grimsdell has its own Forest School. Each session has a theme and activities can range from mini-beast hunting to fire building and cooking outdoors.

With a school that states boldly in its prospectus, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’, you had better be sure your little darlings have a healthy interest in outdoor pursuits. But, as our last visit testified, there is a lot more to the school than that.

The last word

Parents appreciate the expertise of the large foundation and the lack of pressure to take exams for future schools. ‘If you’re looking for a hothouse, this is not the place for your child. We are about the whole child, but academia is not compromised,' says head. Very much an individual and forward thinking school (over 1,000 followers on Instagram) but with good, old fashioned values One parent told us, ‘Grimsdell is a secure and nurturing stepping stone, which is illustrated by my own excited and eager children.’

Special Education Needs

Grimsdell has a Special Needs Co-ordinator who works with children individually and in small groups. The needs of the pupil may be identified by either the parent or the class teacher and it is the teacher's professional judgement, in consultation with colleagues and his/her understanding and awareness of the individual needs, which is central to the special educational needs provision at Grimsdell.

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

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