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Class sizes are small at no more than 16 – one reason parents cite for choosing the school – so that no-one is overlooked and children benefit from specialist teachers right through the prep school. Much is made of sport at Heywood. For a small school on a small site, the breadth and depth of sport on offer is remarkable. Undaunted by its own unavoidable space constraints, the school begs, borrows (but probably doesn’t steal) local facilities….

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2017, Rebecca Mitchell MA (Cantab) PGCE (late 30s). A Bath girl by education and upbringing, Mrs Mitchell has returned to her home turf (ish) for her career to date, with spells at two Gloucestershire prep schools including what has now become Westonbirt Prep, before arriving at Heywood initially as head of the pre-prep, then deputy head from 2014. She used this time to ignite the curriculum quite literally: a cross-curricular study of the great fire of London entailed setting fire to a mock-up of Pudding Lane in the quad. (It’s now a much loved annual fixture). Thematic learning continues to be the watchword at Heywood - 'but I don’t expect our children to fit the curriculum,’ she told us. 'Making them fit a system judged purely on outputs is the greatest challenge facing education today’.

Elegant, jolly and approachable, Mrs Mitchell is well liked and respected by children and their parents alike. ‘Confident and pleasing,’ was the verdict of her pupils and ‘very polite when she comes round with visitors’; we concur. But it was heart-warming to witness a cry of ‘Mummy!’ from her small daughter in a nursery class; Mrs Mitchell’s other children are in the prep and at Westonbirt respectively. Any spare time apart from ‘tearing round after three kids’ might find Mrs Mitchell out with her camera (by her own admission, a keen amateur photographer) or baking: ‘I made my own wedding cake!’ she revealed.

Entrance

From the age of 2 into the nursery, from where it often seems very hard to move on to another school. Heywood is resolutely non-selective at any stage, even the commoner points of reception and year 3 - ‘we welcome children who would flourish and make the most of a Heywood education’ – but the school will want to see reports from previous schools, if applicable.

Exit

To a remarkably wide range of local secondary schools at 11+ - two thirds to independent schools. Around 20 per cent to Westonbirt, the only senior school in the Wishford Schools group of which Heywood was the first. Great care is taken over the matching of the child to the next school and the head prides herself on her detailed knowledge of local provision. Individual meetings about the next step are held in year 5 and entrance exam preparation designed accordingly. Double figures of scholarships most years with everyone got to their first choice school, so they must be getting it right. Parents tell us that there is no stigma attached to leaving the independent sector – and that local state schools can always spot a Heywood child for being organised and well prepared on arrival.

Our view

The tone for the day was set by a parent helping us negotiate the narrow iron gate into the school who (unprompted) described Heywood as ‘outstanding’, so we arrived with his view in mind. The prep could hardly enjoy a more idyllic setting in a pretty foursquare Georgian house snugly nestled in two acres in the middle of the charming small town of Corsham midway between Bath and Chippenham. The nursery occupies what was once the town’s fire station within the grounds. The littlest ones were busy making dog biscuits out of Play-Doh when we visited (not, we hope, to be given to any unsuspecting dog at home), but we were assured that the nursery aims to make children ‘school-ready’ in terms of sitting quietly, taking turns, basic phonics, numbers and so on. Play group it is not, and one mother was faintly critical that it does not accommodate the needs of very small children, such as naps. Teaching space is cheery and quirky – we particularly liked the light bright classrooms open to the rafters – but equipped with the up to the minute IT, Microsoft Surface Pro. This was not substituted for good old-fashioned teaching, however. Lessons looked traditional: children facing the front in rows (out of Covid necessity) tackling the nuts and bolts of parts of speech and multiplication.

Class sizes are small at no more than 16 – a reason parents cite for choosing the school – so that no-one is overlooked and children benefit from specialist teachers right through the prep school. We were particularly struck by the individualised learning sessions that each child receives, tailor-made to their own needs on a daily basis - challenges or talents with a mix of subjects, age-groups and possibly enjoyment. Some sessions might be designed to fill an academic gap, some to enhance a skill, some to focus on a social aspect of school life a child might be finding tricky (plus technique for specific entrance exams). ‘Every child is amazing at something, but every child has something which needs to be worked on’ as the head put it.

School has its own IT suite, Lego robotics table and 3D printer – and English got particular thumbs up from our enthusiastic year 6 interviewees, plus ‘building hydraulic boxes’. Cross-curricular learning is embedded in the timetable from reception up with a weekly STEAM (STEM plus the creative element of the arts) lesson with a big theme for each term eg global goals. The school may be small but is not afraid to invite industry experts in to share their knowledge. Maths, science and computer science syllabuses are all linked.

SEND are catered for in the Burrow, a well-used and welcoming space for all children. A truly holistic approach is taken towards children experiencing difficulties not just with ‘book-learning’ but also with behaviour or friendships; any observations, decisions and provisions are ‘triangulated’ between the vastly experienced and wise SENCO, teachers and parents with the child’s involvement where appropriate. Specialist lessons support dyslexics, a ‘calm corner’ is a refuge for ASC children and individualised learning sessions can be tailored to address issues of self-confidence or anxiety. Recently, a wellness curriculum has been devised.

Much is made of sport at Heywood. For a small school on a small site, the breadth and depth on offer is remarkable. Undaunted by its own unavoidable space constraints, the school begs, borrows (but probably doesn’t steal) local facilities at Corsham’s cricket, rugby and football clubs, plus using the town’s leisure centre pool for swimming lessons but space was number one on the children’s wish list and ‘an athletics track, please!’. Up to 20 per cent of the prep timetable is given over to games and PE; everyone gets a game and a fixture, and the most talented go on to county level sport and scale the heights of ISA national championships. Clubs offer sporting options outside the main offering.

Music comes over loud and clear at Heywood too. Its tiny wooden home whose walls are hung with ukuleles and more exotic instruments is right at the centre of the school, which boasts no fewer than three choirs as well as a strings group. Pupils try out up to six instruments as part of timetabled music; individual lessons are provided by peripatetics. Music is generously shared in collaboration with local schools and the community, its church and care homes too. The dining hall doubles as a performance space for performances and assemblies - every child will have the chance to take part in at least one production per year and more frequent opportunities to showcase music and drama throughout the year.

Heywood children go off on trips all over the place - littlies to the Cotswold Wildlife Park, older ones further afield, including Young Voices concert at the O2 and for year 6, a residential trip to Skern Lodge on the north Devon coast. All this is greatly appreciated by the children and parents alike, as is the outstanding care the school takes of the children. ‘You can always go to your friends and trusted teachers when things go wrong,’ our year 6 interviewees told us – and informal counselling is provided through the listening ear service. Everyone rates the school’s size and family feel as positives. In nursery, children are asked to rate their mood on a cloud and sunshine chart during the day; any less than ideal behaviour results in children of all ages being moved on to the ‘thinking cloud’ to ponder any misdeeds. A couple of children we spoke to did not feel that bad behaviour in the playground was always picked up on, but generally that the reward system was fair.

Privilege and diversity as notions are embedded in the curriculum: ‘We regularly take current news stories and debate them’ the head told us, ‘We don’t just react and run a theme day on Black Lives Matter, for example’. The children themselves seemed a more diverse bunch than we might have expected for a rural area. Parents range from first time buyers to Old Heywoodians, those whose children have particular talents or needs and those who appreciate the wrap-around childcare the school runs until 6pm. The welcome appears to be warm for all, with enough communication and a quick response from individual staff, but in the view of one mother, the weekly newsletter ‘has become a bit of a marketing exercise’.

Money matters

Fees are lower than other local independent schools but some 'extras' (eg lunch – surely an essential?) are charged separately. No scholarships; limited bursaries offered in the case of extreme short-term hardship.

The last word

While it might look like a small golden bubble, Heywood throws open its doors to Corsham and way beyond – necessarily virtually for now – giving its pupils a window to the wider world. Its thoughtful and independently-minded head - the sort of person you would entrust your small child to in a heartbeat - presides over a kind place where the able are stretched and the less able supported. Parents can be confident that any educational need will be picked up and acted upon. A gentle, stimulating introduction to education, but one which equips its pupils to navigate possibly choppier waters of senior school.

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