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The school buildings – comprising a large Victorian house and 1980s brick-built blocks ­– look modest from the road, but don’t be fooled...Despite a relatively small site, the facilities are impressive, not necessarily what you’d expect for a school of around 140 children. Parents praised the number of opportunities for sport and music, which they say are remarkable for the school’s size. ‘But it’s not elitist,’ says one, ‘everyone...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2022, Andy Kaye, previously deputy head. From a forces family – his dad was an army doctor and his mother a nurse – he was educated at Harrow School, then graduated in psychology from the University of Worcester.

He always planned to enter teaching but made a deliberate decision to work in industry for six years first – working in logistics for a Spanish vending machine manufacturer. ‘I made a conscious decision to experience the world outside education first,’ he says, fearful that education can be ‘insular’ if you let it be. It has allowed him to bring more to the job, he says, and given him a useful perspective. After completing the Graduate Teacher Programme he launched into a career in primary teaching because it allowed him to ‘work across the curriculum’. He joined St Hilda’s as a year 5 teacher in 2016 after a spell in a state school.

Something of a trailblazer as the first male head in St Hilda's 104-year history, he is described by pupils as ‘Mr Funny’ and believes that humour goes a long way in education. ‘The sound of children absolutely laughing is just one of those genius things,’ he says. Even so, this levity disguises a serious sense of mission.

He says his leadership style is all about good communication and always having an ‘open door’ – something appreciated by parents. ‘He listens, tries to understand and takes action’ says one, who also described him as ‘a breath of fresh air’ as a year 5 teacher. Although he no longer teaches classes, he does support in year 5 and 6 maths lessons when he has time.

He likes to model the school’s ‘try new things’ ethos and has been known to join in on the glockenspiel at year group music concerts, despite a lack of musical training. Educationally, he believes strongly in getting the girls to be unafraid to ask questions, empathise with others and think about how they can change the world for the better. ‘Results come from a value-centred fun and engaged learning approach,’ he says. For his headship, he wants to challenge the girls to look beyond school and ask how they can make a difference.
When we asked if being the school’s first male head had caused any raised eyebrows so far he told us: ‘No, not at all. I was the first male deputy. I don’t see it being an issue at all.’ And from the parents we spoke to, neither do they.

Entrance

Applicants for reception have an informal 45-minute assessment with a member of the early years team, where they observe how they interact with others, their creativity and imagination and do some work on numeracy and literacy. ‘The assessment is not intended to be daunting or formal but relaxed, giving us the opportunity to see the child for who they are,’ says the head.

Exit

School is a member of the Aldenham Foundation but only around 10 per cent of pupils head to the senior school, as there is a wide variety of options in the area, both private and state. Girls go on to St Margaret's Bushey, Haberdashers' Girls, St Helen's, Northwood College, North London Collegiate, Royal Masonic School for Girls, Watford Grammar, St Albans High, Haberdasher Girls etc.

Our view

A 15-minute walk from Bushey station, the school lies in a suburban area with a villagey feel, although the busy main road reminds you this is not the countryside. The school buildings – comprising a large Victorian house and 1980s brick-built blocks ¬– look modest from the road, but don’t be fooled by looks. The unassuming appearance masks a lively, friendly school bursting with energy and possibility. Sports and musical trophies are carefully displayed in glass cabinets in the brightly lit reception area and girls look relaxed and at home as they move around the buildings in brown blazers with blue check dresses. Artwork – both 2D and 3D – adorns every display board and surface.

Academically, the school takes its ‘preparatory’ role seriously, preparing girls for selection at 11 in classes of up to 20 (sometimes much smaller). However, parents insist this is not a ‘hothouse’ and is a very nurturing environment with a ‘family feel’. ‘The school does a really good job of mediating the pressure that can come with the 11+,’ says one, ‘They do it in a way that doesn’t feel pressurised.’ The girls themselves seem unphased by the thought of exams in year 6, although a younger girl complained that she ‘doesn’t like the tests’. There is a strong focus on helping the most able girls apply for scholarships, and candidates are invited to join focused scholarship groups in art, sport, music, drama and academics.

In the lower school, specialist teachers teach ballet, drama, French, music, PE, science, Spanish and swimming. In the upper school, the top three classes also have subject specialist teaching in English, maths and humanities.

Pupils with special needs are accommodated at the school, with the emphasis on partnership between the teachers, parents and child. Children with dyslexia and speech and language needs are catered for.

Despite a relatively small site, the facilities are impressive, not necessarily what you’d expect for a school of around 140 children. Highlights include a heated pool under an unusual-looking but effective polytunnel; its wooden changing rooms have the feel of a Nordic sauna. A tennis court area doubles as an extension to the playground and is also used for touch rugby and netball. A spacious gym block houses traditional gym equipment and girls’ achievements in gymnastics and ballet are celebrated on the walls. In summer, a rounders square and running track are marked out on the main lawn. Girls are enthusiastic about the adventure playground and the wooded forest school area with trees, cut logs, mud kitchen and dens.

The school has a small library in the main modern block. It could do with a cosy beanbag or two but is well-stocked and has clearly marked sections to guide young readers. A box of books marked ‘Empathy’ fits with the theme of the school’s Empathy Week and a poster informs girls that ‘life is great when you try something new’.

The year 5 and 6 classrooms – complete with old-fashioned slam-top desks – are housed upstairs in the Victorian building (the thudding of year 6 feet can be heard quite clearly in the headmaster’s study below).

Other classrooms are in the main modern block – highlights include a large art room which feels like the beating heart of the school. Well-stocked with everything from paint to googly eyes and pom poms, girls also have access to tools for DT projects. Art lessons take up a whole afternoon in the timetable each week. The science room is a stimulating place, complete with ubiquitous plastic skeleton. We saw girls enthusiastically inspecting various cooking ingredients under an impressive array of microscopes. The computer room, plus 3D printer, sits alongside. The youngest children are encouraged to use computers independently via specially adapted keyboards with big colourful keys.

There is an enthusiasm for sport and the arts both within the school day and after school. All girls have a timetabled swimming lesson with an after-school option as well. The music department is well stocked with instruments and there is a separate room for instrumental tuition. There are 28 clubs, including choir, orchestra, chess, coding, STEM, street dance and yoga. Most girls take at least one while some keen pupils take up to five. The school hosts swimming galas for other schools in its pool and also uses the facilities at nearby Aldenham School for the annual sports day.

Parents praised the number of opportunities for sport and music, which they say are remarkable for the school’s size. ‘But it’s not elitist,’ says one, ‘everyone has a go’. Forty per cent of girls take instrumental lessons.

In terms of preparing girls beyond the academic, the school clearly puts an emphasis on empowering them to lead and show an example to younger children. There is a buddy system which means all new reception girls have an official ‘buddy’ in year 5 to support them. All year 6 girls are prefects and take their roles very seriously, many of them sporting an array of different badges on their lapels.

Girls are encouraged to help in the community with projects such as food banks and there is a partnership with a local care home where the girls go in to sing with residents. Extra pastoral care is provided by the Aldenham School chaplain who visits once a week to offer informal support to the girls from a spot in the library or playground. Parental involvement is also clearly key. All the parents we spoke to said it was an unstuffy place with very approachable staff, many of whom have been there a long time. Other aspects singled out for praise include the school meals (‘the chef knows all the pupils’), with some parents actively choosing the school because of the attention to detail around children’s specific food needs, including allergies. One parent grumbled that snacks in the upper school had not been provided since the pandemic, despite a rise in the fees, but overall they seemed impressed by the standard of provision.

Girls tend to come from diverse, professional, dual income families often working in finance, business, PR and retail, says the head. Most are from ‘within a five-mile radius’, including Harrow, Pinner, Stanmore, Bushey and Watford.

Money matters

No scholarships or bursaries offered.

The last word

A buzzing, nurturing school punching way above its weight. St Hilda's works closely with parents to turn out confident, empowered girls ready for their next step.

Special Education Needs

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