Lockers Park, Hemel Hempstead
Muddy says: A fun and inspiring boys' day and boarding prep school (with pre-prep for both girls and boys) that celebrates the individual and encourages parents to get involved.
Lockers Park is a day pre-prep school for girls and boys aged 4-7 and a day and boarding prep school for boys aged 7-13. In spite of its striking Victorian frontage, once you step inside, it feels more like a family home than a school. It is set in 23 acres of parkland and woodland, and once you are here you could be in the middle of the countryside, even though it is close to the M1 and the centre of Hemel Hempstead town centre and railway station. Its location is key to why it was established -140 years ago – as one of the first purpose-built preparatory schools in England. Henry Montagu Draper thought that the site, which at the time had a local station at Boxmoor, was ideally situated between London and Warwickshire and therefore would be a perfect place to build a boarding school to prepare boys for Rugby School. Today, when boys leave after Year 8, some continue this tradition by going on to Rugby, as well as a host of well known public and independent senior schools. The school building has bags of character and beautiful gardens and grounds. When I visited, I immediately felt at ease. When I left, I felt optimistic and energised. It was inspiring to meet children who are relaxed and confident, excited about learning, and getting the most out of life. Oh to be young and part of the Lockers Park community!
Everything you could wish for and more. The grounds are wonderful, with some lovely landscaped gardens but also woodland bits for the outdoorsy adventures and play encouraged by the school. There are rugby and football pitches, tennis and squash courts, a shooting range, a putting green, a croquet lawn and an outdoor heated swimming pool.
The school has an enviably expansive feeling of having dedicated space for different activities, thanks to the fact that it was originally built – in 1874 – as a school. So there’s a proper library, and a hall for the Cubs and Scouts to meet each week. The art room is big and the high ceilings feel like a proper art school.
There are lots of individual music rooms around the main hall, where there is a stage, and on the day I was there, everyone was talking about the imminent production of Comest Dine With Me. There’s a chapel, and there is some kind of service every day. The school faith is Church of England, but of course it welcomes all faiths and none.
One thing that struck me during my visit, was that Lockers Park believes in balance, and in giving children as many opportunities as possible so that they can try out different things and come to their own decisions about what they enjoy, be it painting, playing the saxophone or skiing. So yes, the sport is excellent and yes, there is sport every single afternoon. Yet the art department is also alive and kicking. And as for music, over 95% of boys play at least one instrument.
Lockers Park Prep has a longer school day than most and there are also lessons on Saturday mornings. During the week the day starts at 8.20 and ends at between 4.10 and 5.30 dependent on age. Having met several of the boys and experienced the upbeat atmosphere of the school, these hours feel like a positive. For a start, it allows more outdoor play, games and sport every single afternoon. The school encourages a ‘let boys be boys’ philosophy, and the high-spirited nature of the school is palpable. It is a hive of activity. Something that impressed me was that sport is regarded as being much more than playing and winning. So when Lockers Park hosts a match, it lays on tea for the visiting team. For parents who come to watch afternoon sport they are also invited to stay for tea. My eyes were boggling as cakes were brought out from the kitchen, and as I was leaving, parents were arriving to watch their sons play, but I bet they were really there for cake.
One boy I talked to admitted that he didn’t like rugby, but that he quite liked badminton, so he had chosen to play it that afternoon. Sport every day helps with concentration and, the Headmaster told me, it’s about creating a behaviour that encourages the boys to look after themselves beyond their Lockers Park schooling; about looking after yourself for life. Art is displayed all over the school and it’s not a small part of the curriculum. Art extension groups are on offer, and you can go along in your break times to do more art just for the love of it and regardless of ability.
Music is a big part of school life. The most competitive element in the school is the Chapel Choir. There is also a string orchestra. There has been a music scholar in every year group for the last thirty years. The music department gets involved with singing and playing beyond school and last year the Chapel Choir performed at the Berkhamsted Festival of Light and at St John’s, Smith Square in London.
In addition to rugby, football, cricket, tennis, squash and athletics, you can also learn rifle shooting. There are opportunities to ski at the nearby Hemel Snow Centre, and one Lockers boy skis for Great Britain and spends two weeks each year in the Alps. There’s a great feeling that teamwork and motivation are a huge part of life and not just sport. The Headmaster refers to Claudio Ranieri in the school magazine and asks the question: “What made the Leicester City manager think that he could pull off the unthinkable?” Chess is a fairly recent addition to the school and, last year, one of the boys tied second (with an Under 13 England player) in the IAPS Chess Championships.
Headmaster Christopher Wilson could have had a glittering career as a cheesemonger but instead he became a maths teacher and is now the big cheese at Lockers Park. For 15 years he worked for Neal’s Yard Dairy in Covent Garden during his school holidays and at one point he did seriously consider pursuing a cheesier life path. After I’ve grilled him about retailing and cheese, we talk about school. Talking to him in his sitting room only increases my feeling of being in a family home. His own house is right in the middle of the school grounds, and he lives there with his young family. He teaches maths, and he is also involved with helping boys to prepare for senior school, from CV writing to verbal and non-verbal reasoning. He seems to know the senior school landscape inside out, as do many of the other teachers.
I ask him to define the Lockers Park brand: ‘It’s rooted in community, manners, standards, etiquette and doing things the right way.’ I tell him that I was surprised and delighted by how completely natural and confident the boys were when talking to me – and to him. ‘The boys are just happy to talk,’ he says. ‘They are interested that people are interested in them.’ Building confidence and self-esteem is paramount, he says. And the key to success? ‘The Golden Triangle. Where parents, the child and the school work together, and where each side is connected.’ Mr Wilson is bursting with pride about Lockers Park, and rightly so, and this pride is something that comes out in the boys I talked to. He’s proud that the school is non-selective, and that manners, fun, kindness, consideration for others all count – as do good results. He’s very committed to the social and emotional development of the boys. When it comes to the history, he says: ‘I think Lockers Park retains the best bits of its heritage but blends it with the best bits of the modern world. It’s about balance.’
Classes are small, with 16 the maximum number. When it comes to leaving and moving on, all of the boys go to their first choice of school, the place gained either through Common Entrance or, in many cases, through a scholarship, many with music scholarships. In keeping with the objectives of the founder, boys still do go on to Rugby, but also they go to some of the top independent and public schools. At my table at lunchtime, the Year 8 boys were only too eager to tell me where they were going next. Wait for it: Millfield, Stowe, Bedford, Winchester, St Albans, Berkhamsted, Haileybury and Eton were just some of the names mentioned.
The beautiful pale building whispers ‘architect eco design heaven’ as you approach. This mixed pre-prep is open from reception through to age 7 and is a relatively new addition to the school. On the day I was there, it felt idyllic, thanks to the sunshine, outdoor gardening activities and general all round feel good factor with gazoodles of attention for each child. The children come to the main building for lunch and art lessons, sport, IT and to use the stage. Three teachers and two teaching assistants are currently looking after 26 children. The school day here finishes from 3.45pm. Wrap around care from 7.45am until 6pm is also available at no extra charge and this includes optional breakfast and supper.
Lockers Park was one of the last boy’s prep schools in the area to be predominately boarding, staying close to its original purpose. Today there are more day boys than boarding, but it still feels very much a boarding school. You can of course do weekly and flexi boarding, or just board one or two nights a week. There is not one, but a team of matrons and a doctor. The bedrooms are in the main building and the environment is bright and colourful. I found the rooms surprisingly tidy but was told that they are always like this and they hadn’t made a special effort for a visitor. With more weekend fun and games and trips for full boarders than you can imagine, there are also visits to London museums, galleries and exhibitions.
To have lunch in the oak panelled dining room, knowing that Lord Mountbatten was an Old Boy, and talking to a boy who tells you that he is going to Eton in September, you might be tempted to think that Lockers Park is a traditional school. Yet it is progressive and modern, celebrating the individual and preparing boys to go out into the world being as rounded and interested in life as possible. There are many quirks that make up the personality of the school. At lunchtime, Headmaster Christopher Wilson suddenly got up – I was sitting opposite him – and smartly tapped a gavel on wood, bringing over 100 people to complete silence, and the noise level before that had been impressive. We then had the news of the day including vital questions about who wanted a ski supper that evening. Not a fondue, but the need to eat early before skiing at the nearby Snow Centre.
There’s a resident tarantula. You’ll be pleased to know that it lives in a cage. Checked shirts are part of the uniform, and I liked the fact that you can choose what shirt you want to wear but still be in uniform. It’s a little thing but all adds to the emphasis on individuality. Don’t talk about tuck at Lockers Park. Sweets are known as slatter. The reason? Years ago, a Mr Slatter had a sweet shop in Boxmoor, which is where the boys would go for sweets. One of the boys told me this. Another boy told me that what makes the school different is that houses are ‘Sets’. There is a huge pride about the layers of stories that are part of the fabric of the school. There’s a dedicated train room for ‘enthusiasts’ where you can talk about gauges and signals and nurture your inner shed man which surely is a good training for life. The school feels completely unstuffy. The boys were completely natural, unguarded, and confident in a non showy-offy way. I watched them talking to some of the teachers, and there was not a hint of self consciousness; the children and staff seem to respect each other as people. They were also interested in what I had to say and what each other said. One boy said that he was looking forward to his next school because it would give him an opportunity to be more in control of his own time and to make his own decisions. At 12 and you’re thinking like that? Amazing.
Fees: Starting at £3,350 per term for reception up to £5,510 for day boys and £7,720 for boarders. You can choose to board one night a week for £425 per term. While the hotel system is not encouraged, if you do ever need to stay, it’s £55 for one night.
Wrap around care:
A feature at Lockers Park is not to charge for extras. The school day runs from 8.20am until 4.10pm-5.30pm (depending on age) and being a boarding school, I suppose it makes it easier to offer wraparound care. This means that day boys can arrive at 7.30am and stay until 7.00pm. Amazingly, every boy is invited to do this, at no extra cost and with no need to give prior notice. And all day boys are welcome to come in early for breakfast and stay a bit later for supper, again at no extra cost.
Word on the ground:
Parents love the fact that Lockers Park isn’t pressurised and that the school day is packed yet still feels relaxed. Parents also love the open communication with staff. One mother described the school as ‘a secret place of magic,’ and a place where ‘boys are encouraged to be boys, get muddy, be active and be unique’. One parent told me how her son’s self-esteem has rocketed since joining the school, and another mother observed that every single boy is known to every member of staff. And finally, from a parent: “The days feel rich yet decompressed and there is such a broad range in every school day that they can really enjoy themselves, and take their time to find what their strengths are, in sport, academic subjects, drama, art and music.”
Good for: Anyone who believes in celebrating the individual and who wants to avoid a hot-housing school atmosphere. Parents who want to be one of the sides of the ‘golden triangle’: working closely with their child and the school.
Not for: Anyone who wants their child home by 4pm. Boys who only want to do sport once a week. Parents who don’t want to get too involved with what their children are up to at school.
Dare to disagree?
Go and see for yourself: there’s an Open Morning on Saturday 13 May, 10.30am-12.30pm. Contact [email protected] for further information.
Lockers Park, Lockers Park Lane, Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead HP1 1TL 01442 251 712