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Tutors (Hill House speak for teachers) are ‘characterful and brilliant,’ we heard. Teaching is a relaxed but traditional affair, although one pupil said there are ‘strict ones’.  Mediaeval history class exploring popular pastimes and resulting in game of conkers looked great fun, but Latin class with ‘scholarship’ group offered drier fare. Classrooms all happy, lively, surprisingly chatty places but…

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What the school says...

Hill House is a family run school welcoming children from all over the world. We celebrate the individual and together we enjoy an energetic, inclusive and diverse community.

Our school offers a nurturing environment that encourages each child to take risks, realise their full potential and develop and a life long love of learning.

We believe a broad based curriculum is the best way to kindle children's curiosity. We are passionate about music, art, drama and sport as a way for young people to explore their world.

www.hillhouseschool.co.uk
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Other features

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Since 2002, Richard Townend. Grew up sweeping and polishing the floors of Hill House. ‘The children think I’m 100,’ he quips - and he probably is around mid-70s although spruce, sprightly and remarkably good at remembering pupils’ names. Known affectionately as Mr Richard he accepted the head’s baton when his father and founder of school, Lt-Col Townend died. Hill House is a proud family affair and his own two sons, Edmund (deputy head) and William (bursar), appear poised in the wings for dynastic succession. Their avuncular father, graduate of Royal College of Music’s Conservatoire, originally taught music at Hill House. He continues to lead choirs and plays organ, treating us to an impromptu rendition of the national anthem with school band corralled in support. Anthem a mainstay of weekly assembly (‘because we are British’) followed by a rousing chorus of Jerusalem, just one of school’s quirks.

‘Music is for pleasure,’ he states, eschewing music exams but admitting that some do grades outside school regardless. ‘Parents are more competitive today,’ he reflects and confesses to mixing up class names to obscure top set status. Despairing of 11+ tests and pre-tests - ‘terrifying’ is his verdict - and asserts goal of Hill House is ‘happy, smiling children’. Parents are almost all adoring. ‘Always enthusiastic and positive.’ ‘A father-like figure but neither paternalistic nor overbearing.’ ‘Leads by example.’ ‘An inspiration.’ ‘Passionately dedicated’. Just one former parent, not quite so evangelical, resorted to eye rolling at mention of his name, and a lone voice broached ‘occasional misunderstandings’ caused by ‘incoherent’ communications. Easy manner with pupils got our vote: a small child handed him an enormous instrument case which he simply took and placed in store without a single word having passed between them.

Entrance

Welcoming and based on ‘mutual affinity’ after spending morning/afternoon in school. Space permitting, Hill House is open to all between ages of 4-11 and youngest accommodated with several visits as school says ‘anyone can have a bad day’. Year 1 onwards, maths and English assessments completed as part of class activity.

Exit

A varied and impressive list of destinations await. Most boys leave at 13+ with around half awarded boarding places at Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Winchester College. Fewer girls board and some stay until 13+ before taking up places at Cheltenham Ladies College, St Mary’s Ascot, Benenden and Bryanston. Majority leave at 11+ for London day schools: Francis Holland both SW1 and NW1 are popular, as is Queen’s Gate, usually at least one to St Paul’s Girls’ or City of London Girls. Some boys at 11+: Highgate, Latymer Upper, Wetherby Senior but in the main 13+ when the boys head off in droves across the river to St Paul’s, also Westminster, Dulwich College and City of London Boys. Around 15-20 scholarship awards every year. In 2021, Brighton, JAGS and Downe House also featured.

Our view

Originally established in 1949 as a Swiss ski and climbing school, the school upped sticks and expanded two years later to Knightsbridge, which completed the transformation to Hill House International, a pukka prep that has enjoyed royal patronage (HRH Prince Charles attended briefly, aged 8). The Swiss outpost in Glion is still going strong, with popular sojourns for older years, but school life is now mainly confined to annexes dotted across capital’s swishiest neighbourhoods. Hans Place, Knightsbridge remains admin HQ, and houses the main school (ages 9-13) in grand style with oak panelled corridors bedecked with sports memorabilia, plus Townend family portraits. ‘Just like Hogwarts,’ offered one cheery guide before disappearing down winding staircase. Cadogan Gardens, another warren-like conversion of handsome redbrick townhouses, is home to pupils aged 5-9. Reception runs on open plan model, self-contained in a former church hall just off King’s Road, with playground and garden. Each annexe has full-time nurse and laundry, as well as a kitchen providing snacks (lots of fruit bowls in evidence), freshly cooked lunches (delicious salmon on day we visited) and sandwich tea for seniors (mountain of cheese sandwiches demolished in seconds). In a triumph of spatial planning, the school - once housing over 1000 pupils - makes room for around 620 on current roll (650 capacity tops now) and remains London’s largest prep.

Classrooms are myriad but small-scale, with stair-landings converted into cupboard-like music rooms. General elbow room in short supply, although everyone appears to rub along good naturedly enough. One corridor jammed with coats, not all on hooks, and a bit of black tape covering a worn carpet, made for homely touch in otherwise impressively maintained and well-resourced operation. Principal keen to show off latest acquisition: former Welsh church in Chelsea, lovingly restored with glittery chandeliers from Italy, transformed into music rooms, art studio, large gym plus space for drama, fencing and concerts.

Lt-Col Townend declared, ‘We are a school like no other.’ ‘Most schools are all about keeping parents happy, but Hill House is about keeping pupils happy,’ translated a parent. The school has always made its presence felt eg unisex uniform of reddish-brown plus fours and gold cable knit pullovers (because school believes ‘grey uniforms equal grey minds’) is both distinctive and practical. Daily dose of sports and fresh air manifests visually in endless Hill House crocodiles parading between annexes and sports fields, something that has earned them the sobriquet, ‘Knickerbockers of Knightsbridge,’ courtesy of BBC documentary.

Tutors (Hill House speak for teachers) are ‘characterful and brilliant,’ we heard. Some are loyal Hill House veterans of 20 years or more. At least one couple met, married and now have children at school. Teaching is a relaxed but traditional affair, although one pupil said there are ‘strict ones’. Mediaeval history class exploring popular pastimes and resulting in game of conkers looked great fun, but Latin class with ‘scholarship’ group offered drier fare. Brisk and no-nonsense grammar on board with written exercises to reinforce - still impressive for keeping pupils on their toes and focussed at 5.15pm. General resignation to mounting homework and extended days (as late as 6pm) when secondary entrance tests loom: ‘Level of preparation is high but not too pushy,’ thought one mother - and results, as another pointed out, are ‘impeccable’. Class sizes always small, around 12, and subjects set by ability as pupils progress through school. Classrooms all happy, lively, surprisingly chatty places but work-focussed and clearly productive too. Appreciative parent said, ‘Teachers go out of their way to bring out the best in every child with a lot of encouragement’. Conventional language offering, despite cosmopolitan pupils and international moniker: compulsory French from reception (taught by native speakers) and Latin option later.

Full time SENCo team of three currently assists 45 children with moderate levels of support and one pupil with EHCP (medical reasons). Specific needs like dyslexia and dyscalculia addressed, but also literacy booster groups and lots of early intervention. Key support mainly provided by tutor in classroom for later years.

Parents rave about sports. Swimming once a week, with kit provided by school (no excuses and no soggy schoolbag). Fencing boasts national titles. Skiing in Switzerland always a winner. Plus all the usual suspects including rugby, tennis, cricket, hockey, football etc. Fleet of mini-buses provide taxi service going further afield and plenty of muddy knees (girls and boys) in evidence (along with one cheerful casualty attached to icepack) on our visit. Annual sports day is a celebratory affair, with one mum confessing, ‘It always brings tears to my eyes’. It’s modelled as quasi-Olympics, with flag waving encouraged (multi-nationals wave several) and national anthem played (again).

Music integral and over 80 per cent of pupils participate in choir/orchestra or both. Huge store of musical instruments (even mini harps and baby bassoons) is available on loan. One parent told us, ‘Children grow musically as they try out different instruments and develop confidence.’ Frequent opportunities to channel parental pride with drama and musical showcases and all levels encouraged to perform, whatever the skill set.

Snap poll with handful of seniors revealed art unanimous winner of favourite subject accolade, with talented art-lovers clearly accounting for abundance of stand-out work on display. Early 1pm school finish every Friday and array of popular after-school clubs on offer. Parents grateful for ‘creative freedom’ Hill House provides, with one mother delighted that her children get a chance ‘to try out lots of things and find out what they are really good at and flourish’.

Student council gives pupils taste for debate, as well as having recently launched a kindness campaign. One alumnus did speak of encountering unwanted rough and tumble - and a parent recalled school intervening to split up a clique of girls once - but pupils we met were self-assured, with no difficulty in speaking up for themselves and were respectful when others did so too. School ethos of good manners is ‘consistently emphasised,’ as one father put it, and valued by parents.

Originally a school for boys only, it has been mixed since 1981 – and although still slightly boy-heavy today, it’s worth remembering that numbers are skewed by majority of girls leaving at 11. Families are a smorgasbord of nationalities and lifestyles - many local, but some travel despite Hill House offering no transport. Working parents can utter sigh of relief – no PTA to bake for: school puts on welcome drinks party at start of year and then leaves parents to organise themselves. ‘Both children and parents make friends for life,’ claimed one parent and pupils we spoke with were incredibly loyal and proud of their school. A current pupil even told his mum, ‘My children will all go to Hill House’. School often graced with touch of glamour: as well as being choice of royalty and diplomats, singer Lily Allen attended, as did Jemima and Imran Khan’s boys - and politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, a proud alumnus.

Money matters

Fees competitive and can be paid monthly. Hardship bursaries available for current families.

The last word

Don’t expect your child to be wrapped in cotton wool, but do expect Hill House to deliver on top class preparation for secondary school. A full-on, broad education with touch of 'Boy’s Own' adventure.

Special Education Needs

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