Muddy says: Pupils at this town centre co-ed Prep have access to senior-standard facilities, specialist teachers who go the extra mile and the opportunity to be part of the wider Berkhamsted School family.
Berkhamsted Prep is a co-ed school for 340 7-11 year olds. The building itself started life as a family home – so, like many traditional schools it has plenty of character, but wasn’t designed for its modern-day purpose.
In the centre of affluent Berko, it’s slap bang in the middle of the Berkhamsted Schools Group’s boys’ and girls’ senior schools, which means the kids are able to get used to their future surroundings from a young age (if they transition up that is – 90% do!). Handily, the train station (which runs direct to London) is just a five-minute walk away, too.
Being part of a group of schools (which spans education from five months – at the Day Nursery – to 18 at the co-ed Sixth Form) comes with its perks. Namely that they can all benefit from each others’ wide range of facilities. The catchphrase being ‘we may not have it all together, but together we have it all’.
The Prep School has access to ten acres of playing fields and there have been improvements to the outdoor space in recent years, including a great amphitheatre which is used for outdoor learning (some pupils are filming scenes from plays in a drama lesson when I visit), as well as being a nice place to sit and chill (or play!) at lunch and break times. The parent association-funded adventure play area has had a bit of a spruce, too!
There’s more planned over the summer, too, so watch this space. Plus the dining room extension will be completed for the Autumn term, which will make space for an extra 30 places, and open out the space with patio doors to an outdoor area with picnic tables, where the Year 6’s can eat (as a special privilege).
As well as that, they have access to an impressive range of facilities across the whole School Group (which is more than most standalone Preps can offer) including the sports pitches on Chesham Road Fields and Haslam Playing Fields in Berkhamsted and the 500-seat Centenary Theatre and Sports Centre (with swimming pool) on the Senior Girls’ Kings Campus.
85% of pupils transition up from the Pre-Prep. The other 15% come from the local towns and villages and are assessed through a combination of entry tests and interviews. At Year 5 an extra form group of around 20 children is added to accommodate (in the main) younger siblings of those joining Berkhamsted at 11+.
Specialist subject teaching begins from Year 3 and it’s taken seriously here – all the French teachers speak French as a first language, and the history teacher is also a collector – his classroom is like a museum! How’s that for bringing history to life?
It’s nice to hear that it’s the specilist teachers who are tasked with providing additional support for those who need it, (they’re the experts after all), while the TAs are on hand for the more able in the class groups.
I like the school’s attitude to IT – they liken it to a snack, for use when you’re hungry for knowledge, but encourage the pupils not to rely on it for everything. The idea is for it to be used spontaneously and cross-curricularly, although the kids get an hour of dedicated computing too and they learn coding from Year 3.
As for the creative subjects, Food Tech and DT are introduced in Year 5 – the class I walk into are designing their own summer pool slide shoes (how cool is that?) and the smell of fruity (sugar-free of course!) muffins wafts over from the kitchen – some have risen better than others, but we can’t all be destined for GBBO, can we?
Up the narrow staircase to the art room (the former boarding houses – you can almost picture the bunks lined up here, and some parents actually remember staying here themselves). There’s loads of work displayed on the walls tracking the history of art, from Van Gogh to Warhol. The school runs regular workshops with visiting artists – I spot a felted Lowry-esque piece, which the kids learned to make their own felt for.
On that note, they have a minimum of one visiting speaker or trip per term (all included in the fees), and often trips are combined across subjects, like art and drama (when the pupils visit the Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre in one).
And there’s plenty of opportunities to nurture their passions outside of the curriculum too, with over 50 clubs – some of the more unusual ones being fishing and Warhammer, as well as Eton Fives (more on that later). And they’re encouraged to demonstrate leadership too, by taking on responsibilities in school, from being a playground pal, or digital leader, to a member of the eco committee, as well as sports, drama and music captains.
The Year 5s recently helped to organise the Pre-Prep sports day, and the house groups remain the same from Stepping Stones (age 3) throughout the Prep, so I expect there was plenty of encouragement and house loyalty!
Sport isn’t the be all and end all here – the focus is on enjoyment, participation and performance in equal measure – but the school fares pretty well and is enjoying a particularly good spell at the moment. The strongest sports for girls are netball (the U11s were IAPS National Finalists this year), lacrosse and cricket, and for the boys it’s football (the U11s were National Champions this year in the ISFA), rugby and cricket.
Plus, the U9s were named IAPS Gymnastics 2-piece Champions, and Berkhamsted swimmers have been National Finalists ten years on the trot in the IAPS and ESSA competitions. They perform really well at Eton Fives too (it’s a bit like squash but played with leather gloves instead of rackets) and have been U11 National Champions for the last three years.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
The aim here (as with all elements of Berkhamsted life) is to give all pupils the opportunity to stretch themselves, whether that’s simply to get a bit better at something that doesn’t come naturally, or to help the more gifted to excel. All pupils in Year 4 learn not one, but three instruments on a carousel system (one term of brass, one of wind and another of strings), and all drama pupils take the LAMDA qualification every year (this year they achieved 257 distinctions and 78 merits).
50% of pupils play an instrument and 12% play more than one. There are 17 peripatetic music teachers and loads of co-curricular clubs and ensembles to join, from music theory to funky flutes and samba band, as well as orchestras and chamber groups. Children are also encouraged to attend Saturday music schools and evening ensembles run by the Hertfordshire County Music Service, plus there are some great opportunities to go on music trips and holiday courses.
The school is also an approved examination centre for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, which means the kids don’t have to go far to take their music exams! With this much on offer, I’m not overly surprised to hear that one violinist from this year’s cohort was picked to play for the National Youth Orchestra.
There’s one major musical concert at the end of every term, as well as a number of informal ones throughout the year, and the music department also takes pupils to perform for the volunteers at The Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted and at other local care homes.
And the opportunities to perform outside of school don’t end there. Year 4s have taken part in performances (in aid of Barnardo’s) at the Royal Albert Hall and the Barbican Centre in London – quite something for eight and nine year olds!
While the majority of leavers go on to the Berhamsted group’s senior schools (last year’s leavers won 5 sports scholarships, 4 music exhibitions and 2 drama exhibitions to Berkhamsted), others went on to a total of nine different schools, including one sports scholarship to Millfield, Chesham Grammar, Aylesbury Grammar, Ashlyns School, Watford Grammar and Lockers Park, which is more diverse than previous years. Pupils might well be encouraged to continue on their Berkhamsted journey, but it’s not expected and it’s nice to hear that more stock is put in ensuring that the pupils are matched to the best schools for them.
Jamie Hornshaw joined Berkhamsted Prep in 2013, following a headship at the Junior School at The British School of Paris, in France. He’s bubbly and utterly amenable, seeming to put the kids totally at ease when he enters the room. And that’s all any parent wants to see – a head that takes education seriously but puts the children first.
£4,800 per term in Year 3, to £4,930 in Year 4 and £5,180 in Years 5 and 6.
This is available from 7.30am to 6.30pm during term time, and from 8am-6pm for those who attend the BASECAMP activity programmes during the holidays. It’s designed to give a ‘home from home’ experience and the kids can choose which activities they want to do, whether that’s getting on with their homework, playing games or doing something creative.
Not something you come across at every school, Eton Fives is really popular here. It’s a version of handball played as doubles in a three-sided court. The school has three of their own courts on site which cost, well, the price of a house to build, but clearly it’s paid off as they are pretty darned good at it (see ‘sport’ section above), and – naturally- have their own specialist teacher in this rather niche of sports.
On another note, kids can also ask the kitchen staff to bake a tray of cakes for their class on their birthday – sweet!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those wanting to continue their journey from Berkhamsted Pre-Prep with a level of consistency, and parents who value the childrens’ access to such a broad range of facilities and the convenience of a town centre location.
NOT FOR: Those who are only prepared to look at the Prep school in isolation, and prefer the idea of a self-sufficient set-up where all the facilities are available on one site.
Dare to disagree: Don’t take my word for it! The Virtual Open Event is on Thursday 4 March at 20:00. Book here. You can also read our reviews of the Senior Boys, Girls & Sixth and Nursery and Pre-Prep.