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Herne Hill’s ethos is defined by its ‘Golden Rules’: honesty, kindness and sharing to ensure everyone’s enjoyment. Parents are very positive about the creative and well-structured curriculum which ensures everything is age appropriate and interesting. Lunch during science week, for instance, sees test tubes of jelly alongside pipettes with chocolate sauce to put on...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2016, Ngaire Telford (pronounced Nyree). Joined the school in 2009 as a reception teacher, working up to deputy head and finally taking over the headship. Originally from New Zealand where she trained as a secondary school teacher, on her arrival in the UK she worked as a supply teacher in primary schools and ‘never looked back.’ In addition to the day-to-day running of the school, she has also overseen its expansion, recent building projects and development of a woodland playground area.

Having four children of her own, all of whom attended Herne Hill, she is a seasoned parent and educator. ‘So knowledgeable and experienced about child development,’ say parents, ‘we chose the school because we felt so safe and confident with her. She leads and succeeds in the school’s main aim of giving each child the best learning experiences in their early years. Her calm and focused approach enthuses everyone.


From 2+, kindergarten, 3+ pre-reception and 4+ reception, so put your name down early. Thereafter parents should telephone the school to enquire about occasional vacancies. The assessment process is informal and prospective pupils are invited to the school for a play session. Priority given to children with an attending sibling and those who are committed to attending the full pre-prep school experience until Y2. September sees the largest intake and then small intakes at the start of the spring and summer terms.


At 7+ majority move fairly locally. Most popular co-ed options are Alleyn’s, St Dunstan’s, City of London, Rosemead and Oakfield, single sex choices include Dulwich College, Dulwich Prep, James Allen or GDST schools, eg Sydenham High and Streatham and Clapham. A few move to the state sector eg Dulwich Hamlet or the East Dulwich primaries, the options are numerous. Head ensures all pupils move smoothly on to their next schools and is always available to discuss with parents the best choices for their child.

Our view

In 1976, the then vicar’s wife of St Paul’s Church founded Herne Hill School in the old vicarage building and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. Although now non-denominational, the school still links with the church and the children celebrate harvest festival, spring and Christmas services there. Today the proprietor is Dominik Magyar, a Swiss businessman who works closely with Mrs Telford and staff, developing the school’s resources to a high level.

Herne Hill’s ethos is defined by its ‘Golden Rules’: honesty, kindness and sharing to ensure everyone’s enjoyment. This emphasis on care, consideration and tolerance of others forms the school’s behavioural compass, also underpinning pastoral care and well-being which are embedded into all areas. Parents tell us that their children know exactly what behaviours are acceptable and those that are not.

Pupils divide into three stages, the youngest two-year-olds start at the kindergarten, now accommodated in a large, converted house just up the road from the main school. The new building has been fully refurbished to a very high standard (although lots of steep stairs) with fabulous art spaces and a beach style sand and climbing area. A small house at the end of the garden is a special place for the pupils’ art installations and doubles as a quiet area for mindfulness and a yoga studio. Parents tell us the welcoming atmosphere of caring and fun is what leads them to choose the school, ‘You can see and feel your child will be happy and well looked after.’

Three- to seven-year-olds attend the main site and classes are usually 18 to 20 pupils. Classrooms for younger ones are free flow with their own outdoor areas, decorated with brightly coloured artwork and interesting looking toys that immediately grab their attention. Everyone follows a specially designed early years curriculum that prepares them perfectly for 7+ entry assessments.

Parents are very positive about the creative and well-structured curriculum which ensures everything is age appropriate and interesting. We observed classrooms of well-engaged pupils enjoying individual learning and exciting group projects, particularly literacy activities incorporating drama and creative writing. Maths is an exciting subject here, all sorts of activities and weekly maths discussions where the children enjoy problem solving and chatting about numbers. French is taught through games and activities, we saw eager little faces singing songs, watching puppet shows and playing bingo. Creative projects run across the curriculum, enhanced by art, sculpture, woodwork and the famous themed lunches. Lunch during science week, for instance, sees test tubes of jelly alongside pipettes with chocolate sauce to put on your cupcake. Weekly tasting trays go round the classrooms to encourage children to try out new flavours and seasonal fruits and vegetables. School caterers have a five-star award for hygiene and food preparation, food looked and was delicious, impressive deli style salad bar with lots of choice.

Music, dance and drama are all interwoven into the curriculum and there is a dedicated performing arts space for regular dramatic and musical performances. Huge selection of instruments available for class music and children can have individual lessons on piano, violin, cello or join ukulele club.

Peter Moorhouse, a renowned sculptor and early years’ specialist comes in to help with woodwork projects and with pupils’ assistance has designed exciting murals that run along corridors and staircases.

SENCO and a specialist teacher have their own teaching space to offer support to anyone who might need additional help or is showing signs of learning differences. EAL tuition is also available as needed.

Inclusive sports programme is run by a dedicated PE teacher with activities both on- and off-site. The woodland area is a magical space for children to play, learn and discover, all sorts of fun, games and outdoor classroom activities abound, ‘My five-year-old lives for forest school, whether he is pootling about on his own making mud pies or in a small group learning how to build a wigwam.’ Mini running track around the woodland, woodworking benches, cabin house and a fire pit for weekly summer barbecue lunches add to the attractions. Largish Astroturf playground includes a climbing wall. Year 2 pupils take on the responsibility of being playground buddies, ensuring everybody can join in the games. Charmingly, older children were organising younger ones to play a game of ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf’ when we visited.

The last word

It’s a treat to see a pre-prep school doing what they have always done best for early years’ pupils, something of a treasured rarity nowadays as many have been swallowed up by larger organisations. Herne Hill School is a place where childhood is celebrated, with chatty, cheerful, children learning and enjoying life.

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