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What says..

School expects ambition and does well with broad intake. No longer seen as a finishing school for Etonians’ charming sisters. Good at hooking pupil interest, says another - ‘the girls enjoy calculating fabric lengths in maths or examining One Direction in economics; it’s not all coal mining and steel construction’. Big STEM investment – snazzy new science block, snazzy new teachers – should start yielding results in next...

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What the school says...

Heathfield is a dynamic and busy day, weekly and full boarding school where girls thrive. We provide an environment where a girl’s childhood will be happy and secure; where every girl discovers her own unique passions and talents and accordingly, develops the confidence and self-belief to enable her to succeed.

In our latest Inspection, the school achieved ‘Excellent in all categories’. The inspectors found that: ‘the overall achievement of the pupils is excellent and represents the successful fulfilment of the school’s ambitious aims’. They also stated that ‘pupils are happy, articulate and confident’ and that ‘pupils grow into young people who make a difference to the world and live their lives boldly’.

Small class sizes and a teacher/pupil ratio of 4:1 ensure all pupils receive engaging teaching and individual attention. Our diverse range of co-curricular subjects and activities evolve every year to accommodate new trends and interests. This ‘have a go’ attitude is infectious and filters down from the upper year groups, which means that girls have the confidence to take risks. Pupils learn where their strengths and challenges lay and are enabled to improve on both.

Well-known for our prowess in the Arts, students enjoy participating in the wide range of Drama and Musical events that take place each term. Heathfield is the only school in the UK to benefit from a Creative Partnership with Falmouth School of Art. Students also benefit from the close relationship with the world-famous London College of Fashion, and Heathfield’s biennial Fashion Show is now legendary.

The construction of our new Sixth Form Centre is underway with completion in September 2022, when it will be launched alongside our new Sixth Form Programme.

Standing in beautiful surroundings just outside Ascot, the school is conveniently located being just 30 miles from central London, 9 miles from the M4 and 5 miles from the M3 motorways.
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Other features

Music and dance scheme - government funding and grants available to help with fees at selected independent music and dance schools.

Performing arts specialist school

Sports

Polo

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since January 2021, Sarah Wilson (40s). Previously senior deputy head at Cranford House and before that director of sport and head of year (sixth form) at St Helen and St Katharine. Prize-winning first in education with geography and PE from Brunel; MA (Open University) in educational leadership. Chairs GSA Sports and Wellness Committee. Has a daughter in lower sixth and a son at a nearby co-ed.

‘Personable’, ‘always happy to chat’, say parents, whose daughters ‘absolutely love her’. ‘Very kind’, ‘empathetic’, ‘a good role model’. A self-professed ‘eternal optimist’, she joined the school just as that gloomy January lockdown began. ‘I got to know people in a very practical way,’ she says, finding the ‘huge focus on community’ invigorating. ‘We did lots online together, including dancing on Zoom.’

A ‘huge advocate of an all-girls education’ and describes ‘a sense of coming home’ when she got the job. Loves the relaxed interaction between staff and pupils. Plays flute in the orchestra (‘I’m not a fantastic flautist but I love it’) and one mum recounts the moment when she ‘went into school to find her in her trainers playing rugby with the girls’. Competed at British gymnastics championships in 2016 (pretty awesome, we thought), sadly no YouTube evidence forthcoming.

First task was to introduce more flexible boarding model. ‘We now offer modern boarding and the flexibility that families need,’ she says, keen to ‘underpin Heathfield’s values whilst moving forward and evolving’. No doubt it will broaden their market, with interest from London having already grown. For a school that was exclusively full boarding until 2015, it’s a big change - now roughly half-half day and boarding in years 7 and 8 with more boarding weekly. Boarders outweigh day from year 9 up.

Entrance

‘Brilliant’ admissions process praised by parents - 'They knew exactly who she was from the off’. Taster days give potential candidates ‘a good feel’ for the school. Assessments for 11+ and 13+ in November before entry. Online CEM test, interview with the head and reference from current school - ‘not strenuous’, we hear. Happy for year 6s to go through the process for a year 9 place and get it all done and dusted. Interview and reference for 16+ applicants, too - offers conditional on GCSE results.

Most from local or London prep schools. Numbers up a quarter since 2015, with bigger cohorts making their way up through the school (but they promise not to expand beyond 280).

Exit

Up to 15 per cent after GCSEs for reasons you’d expect (boys, sixth form colleges, change of scene). For year 13s, Newcastle and Exeter popular recently with ones and twos going everywhere from Bristol to Brookes, St Andrews to Salford. Handful each year to art, design or fashion foundations and degrees. No medics or Oxbridge since 2018 and 2016 respectively, though there’s interest in both.

Latest results

In 2021, 63 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 65 per cent A*/A at A level (86 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 45 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 38 per cent A*/A at A level (67 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Gently academic, the school expects ambition and does well with broad intake. No longer seen as a finishing school for Etonians’ charming sisters. Girls we met chatted happily about their lessons (‘drama’s fun because we get to do improvisation’; ‘bit too much mapwork in geography’). Teachers eclectic - ‘If you put the RS teacher and the textiles teacher and the history teacher together, the only thing they have in common is their passion,’ says one mum. Good at hooking pupil interest, says another - ‘The girls enjoy calculating fabric lengths in maths or examining One Direction in economics; it’s not all coal mining and steel construction’ (perhaps new STEM development will change that?). We saw some lessons that were livelier than others, though parents not shy if something’s awry - ‘God help you if you’re a teacher who isn’t up to par,’ laughs one, ‘because the WhatsApp groups are very active.’ Sets from year 7 in maths and English; from year 9 in science and languages.

‘We were put off by other schools that chucked exam stats at us,’ said one mum, ‘because I didn’t want her to be a stat.’ Indeed, stats not the focus, and results superficially seem a mixed bag - at GCSE, plenty of 9s in art and drama, with options (geography, RS) doing better than core subjects (lots of 5s in combined sciences). Art also shines at A level, with photography and PE up there too. It’s all in the value added, though, and parents told us that they ‘really get the best out of the children’. Tiny classes – average of 14 in lower school, more like eight or nine at GCSE. Encouraging and supportive to those who need it; academic girls who like being top of the class are stretched, but it’s not competitive.

Big STEM investment – snazzy new science block, snazzy new teachers – should start yielding results in next couple of years. This will require a shift in culture, or perhaps it will create one. Shool says lower years are already showing interest. International design challenge for Water Intelligence running when we visited. We watched a busy physics lesson with girls getting hands-on with circuits and a very jolly, high-energy biology lesson where girls were improbably excited about a quiz on pathogens. Lots of targeted advice on what Mr or Ms Examiner will be looking for.

Library well stocked and welcoming; librarian runs lunchtime club for those who enjoy stamping, shelving and cataloguing (lots do, apparently). Quiet reading room with comfy chairs and knick-knacks on the walls to make it feel homely.

Next big spend is on new sixth form centre, due autumn 2022. New programme to accompany it – mentoring with alumnae, leadership development, broader learning beyond the curriculum. Sixth form can take the Leiths Introductory Certificate in Food and Wine, a five-term course in cooking and entertaining – jointing poultry, filleting fish and making meringues all on the menu. Upper sixth also do a course in how to spot a nice bottle of wine (and drink it, presumably). Parents approve - ‘Whenever you go to an old Heathfield girl’s dinner party, they can make a soufflé and a gravy.’

Learning support and SEN

Culture of the school in general lends itself beautifully to supporting girls with SEND, and parents rave about support. Around 25 per cent on the register, many receiving timetabled one-to-one lessons. One grateful mum told us that her daughter’s prep school had written her off - ‘She’s so dyslexic, we thought she probably wouldn’t do GCSEs, but now she’s on track.' Another appreciated the school’s guidance: ‘It’s been life-changing for her.’

Thirty-two receiving English language support with qualified teacher. One-to-ones or small groups, working towards IELTS.

The arts and extracurricular

Art rooms are next-level cool, stuffed with projects past and present. A bejewelled skeleton perched on top of some drying racks; a dress made from mussel shells and leather on a mannequin in the corner. A lot of very feisty work, unsurprising given department’s attitude that every project should be ‘bigger, better and more interesting’. Bastardised school uniform was a glimpse of old-school Heathfield naughtiness - ‘must marry well; trust fund baby; poor little rich kid’ declared the boater’s sash. Touché. A well-established tradition of excellence in fashion and textiles, and a touching tribute to the late Isabella Blow, alumna and muse to Steve McQueen. Partnership with Falmouth College gives GCSE and A level artists the opportunity for undergraduate-level experiences.

Musicians well catered for. More than half learn an instrument and there are choirs, orchestra and ensembles aplenty. Digital recording studio stocked with iMacs and one of those clever mixing decks - electric and acoustic guitars looked very nonchalant just lying around.

All-mod-cons 220-seat theatre, with lots do LAMDA as well as RADA Shakespeare Certificate. Drama scholars run clubs for the younger ones; there’s also costume and stage make-up club and technical theatre club. Art and textiles students now involved in school productions on the creative side.

Sport

Thirty-six acres of glorious greenery. Six netball and tennis courts, five lacrosse pitches, fitness suite (on an old squash court), studios for spin and dance. Not particularly flashy, but a great offering for a small school and who needs flashy, anyway? The 25-metre swimming pool has ‘leisure centre’ feel, and boarders love getting the inflatable canoes out ‘for silly fun’ at weekends.

Sport central to school life with focus on lacrosse, netball, cricket, tennis, athletics and rounders. All year 7s represent the school - every one of our lunch companions was off to play lax that day. Fixtures organised to ensure they don’t just get thrashed by A teams from big schools. Not a walkover, though - seniors won division one at recent lacrosse nationals. Rosy-cheeked girls running around in their skorts on the chilly autumnal day we visited - a wholesome, get-outside attitude. Lots of tennis year-round and trampolining popular.

Equestrian life big, though we didn’t find it ‘horsey’. Girls ride at Berkshire riding centre; doesn’t matter if you have a pony or not. Heathfield Diamonds polo team get lots of goals off Eton, Marlborough etc - won SUPA UK Schoolgirls’ National Open Championship 2020. Not all too gymkhana and jolly (recreational) hockey sticks, though. School has links with Ascot FC and a couple of girls have joined the youth ladies’ team there; visits from England rugby players and a trial at Maidenhead RFC has encouraged some to pursue rugby.

Boarders

Accommodation cosy and characterful, endearingly scruffy after the rather clinical, anonymous rooms that we see so often nowadays. Colourful duvet covers, fairy lights, photos and lots of teddies add to the effect. Proper tweenage bedrooms - a bottom bunk made into a den, handbags hung over the bedpost. Noticeboards shout about ‘tidiest dorm’ competitions, birthdays and new year’s resolutions (‘to play with my new friends’; ‘to try and listen more in maths’; ‘to learn how to play lacrosse’). All very innocent stuff. Boarders each have their own tuck shelf - apple juice, pot noodles and Turkish delight the poisons of choice. House parents try to mix up friendship groups - ‘They always get told, if you don’t get your besties this term then you’ll get them next term,’ chuckles one mum, adding that ‘of course, by then your besties have changed’.

Lots of evening activities including mindfulness Monday, honey and oat facemask making, meditation. No wonder they all look so well. Weekends more high energy - girls were off to do laser clay pigeon shooting (mind boggling), ice skating and Go Ape when we visited. Day girls often join in too. A quarter of boarders from overseas, drawn in part by proximity to Heathrow (biggest numbers from Spain and China).

Relaxed approach to going home at weekends, or parents coming to visit: ‘If I want to take her out for dinner, I can just email and ask – I could never do that at my son’s school.’

Every day girl attached to a boarding house, and can pop up there to hang out with friends – a nice touch, ‘eroding any division between boarders and day girls,’ say parents. Sixth form house more independent and separate from the rest where girls develop important life skills by doing their own laundry and ordering the odd takeaway.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1899 by Eleanor Beatrice Wyatt, of whom a rather humourless portrait hangs in reception. Miss Wyatt already ran a school in South Kensington for ‘the lower-middle and lower classes’, but had a change of heart, deciding that what she really ought to do was teach those who could in turn educate others (ie poshies) and that she fancied some country air. A move to Ascot was just the ticket, and Heathfield was born. School absorbed St Mary’s Wantage in 2006 and started admitting day girls in 2015.

A ‘good, clean environment’, say parents, delighted by how the school pushes the wholesome fun - ‘We have a laugh,’ girls agree. One popular outing involved going to Tesco with the gappies and getting their own trolley (presumably Ocado brings it to the door at home); roller-discos and water-skiing also recent offerings. ‘My daughter was wary of joining in until the school suggested indoor skydiving – you can’t turn that down as a 12-year-old.’ All harmless stuff but, for these girls, the ideal way to break the ice and reduce social anxiety post-lockdown.

A close-knit community. ‘The other day her head of year called just to say hello and check in,’ one mum tells us; communication is ‘fabulous’, says another. Parents feel that teachers are accessible and eachers say there is no distance between them and the girls; girls feel safe and looked after by this cohesive team of adults around them.

Pretty chapel with ‘hysterical’ chaplain (funny, we assume, not panicked) means that girls look forward to the services. Inscriptions of every old girl have overflowed from the wooden pews onto the wall paneling and provide a snapshot of the school’s history (Betty, Diana and Joan have given way over time to Katerina, Flora and Grace). A nice sense of belonging for current girls, who tell us that they feel part of the school’s story.

Famous alumnae all style and sass. Interior designer Nina Campbell, actress, ex of Jude Law and everyone’s-pin-up Sienna Miller, Jimmy Choo CEO Tamara Mellon, polar explorer Rosie Stancer, and cousin-of-the-Queen Princess Alexandra, the Honourable Lady Ogilvy. Almost certainly never all in a room together, but nonetheless the list conjures irresistible notions of cocktail parties, Chelsea dives and Marlboro Lights. More recent alumnae serve to demonstrate how the school has changed since the 90s, of course: one recent leaver just finished army officer training at Sandhurst and another worked on the front line as a newly qualified nurse during Covid.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Exceptional pastoral care and a culture of looking after one another. Parents much more interested in talking to us about this side of school life than the academics. No eye-rolling here about teenage girls. School unfazed by ‘everyday trials and tribulations’ and girls talk about ‘hippo time’ (‘it’s fine to wallow – as long as you’ve got a strategy to get out of it’). ‘If she’s having a wobble, I can email one member of staff and it all gets filtered down,’ said one mum. Another described how when granny wasn’t well recently the school gave her daughter a card and some stamps so that she could write - ‘so kind, so thoughtful’.

Everyone’s Invited ‘such a moment in time’, says head; school ‘gave the girls the opportunity to respond in whatever way they felt most comfortable’. Curriculum deals with issues around consent (‘it doesn’t have to be sexual; we introduce the concept of consent within friendships too’) and use of alcohol and drugs. Girls can speak to staff anonymously, if they’d prefer, using an online help line accessed through a QR code. Small size allows staff to be very hands-on (‘the biggest challenge of lockdown was not being able to check in with them all informally, not seeing them in a passing moment’). No formal LGBTQ+ group, but ‘everybody is accepted for who they are’.

Girls hang out in common rooms at break times. Welcoming spaces, all a little different - bulging bookcases trendily organised by colour, pretty fireplaces, squishy sofas. Year 8s swarmed to show us the tuck they’d bought (lollipops the snack du jour). Good old-fashioned tuck shop sells good old-fashioned sweets; none of that Jamie Oliver nonsense here, thank you very much.

Oak-panelled dining hall bustling at lunchtime, French doors opening onto garden. We visited on Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ and found the array of goodies totally overwhelming (it’s not often that we get buffet paralysis). Mountains of guacamole, tacos, chilli con carne and – whisper it – churros for pudding. We took a couple for the road, clinging on to them all afternoon like a child with a party bag.

Boarding organised by year-group, not vertically. Four vertical houses run independently and engender great loyalty. Lots of photos around of girls being silly in the name of house competition.

Discipline taken seriously, though school recognise that ‘they’re going to push boundaries, that’s normal’. Vaping pre-Covid has calmed down; annual drugs searches (‘we get the dogs in’) yield nothing, school says. Misuse of social media results in suspension and rehabilitative safety session. Parents mentioned classroom disruption in the lower years (‘room for improvement,’ said one). Majority of naughtiness seems to be talking after lights-out, though, and we can forgive that.

Pupils and parents

Minibuses bring in day girls from Bracknell, Windsor, Virginia Water etc. Weekly boarders can jump on board at South Kensington and Chiswick on a Sunday evening, returning on a Friday night.

We were surprised by the international diversity of pupils - not all born and bred in the home counties by any means. Nor do they seem particularly high maintenance - a few glossy ponytails, of course, but generally low-key in the glamour stakes. Introduction of day girls has reinforced the socio-economic diversity, the school told us as we walked into the car park to see an enormous Bentley arriving for pick-up. We do believe them, though - much less old-school posh than it was. Mums say, ‘It’s not obvious who has cash and who doesn’t.’ ‘It’s not a cheap school, and there are going to be some parents who want the network’, but ‘a nice, normal, family feel’, with no pressure to dress up for the school gate - less glitzy than elsewhere in the area.

Money matters

Academic, art, drama, music and sport scholarships at 11+, 13+ and 16+. Equestrian at 11+ and photography at 16+. Means-tested bursaries of up to 100 per cent awarded for financial or compassionate reasons.

The last word

A nurturing school with a popular new head who unashamedly prioritises all-roundedness. Parents appreciate the traditional skills and values – ‘It’s no good being a lawyer if you don’t know how to poach an egg,’ said one. But school keen to push the academics and leave that culture behind. We can’t see why they’re incompatible, and look forward to watching this generation of Heathfield girls work their way to the top of whatever field they choose, equipped with the life skills to ensure they're as happy cooking up ideas in the boardroom as they are in the kitchen.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

In addition to the wide curriculum offered by Heathfield, girls are supported by the learning support department, better known as Spectrum. Heathfield has welcoming purpose-built rooms to accommodate either individual or group teaching for those students who may have a specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. All the staff are qualified teachers and provide support particularly in literacy and numeracy. Some of the Spectrum staff are fluent in French and are also able to offer additional support for this subject if necessary. Staff are qualified to assess girls should they require exam Access Arrangements and will make the necessary applications to Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). Approximately 10% of current students receive additional support. Spectrum also administers EFL (extra English for international students). These EFL classes offer subject support, IELTS coaching for university entrants and the full range of English language qualifications offered by The University of Cambridge Examination Board. Overseas students at Heathfield come from many areas of the world, including Spain, Japan, China, Russia, Mexico, Thailand and Germany. Currently the EFL students form about 7% of all students.

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

Who came from where


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