Berkhamsted School Senior Boys, Girls and Sixth
These two single sex Senior schools and Co-ed Sixth Form offer a melting pot of traditional and modern facilities and values which combine to bring a vibrant and dynamic education to their students.
Leafy Berko is a pretty plum location for a school – an attractive and affluent market town, with a train station (which connects to London) within walking distance, surrounded by the rolling Chiltern Hills. Hidden down a narrow street, just off the main drag, you’ll find Berkhamsted School’s Castle Campus (Senior Boys’ and Sixth Form). The entrance is adorned by the ornate Lych Gate and once inside it’s hard not to be bowled over by the impressive array of period buildings – it could easily be an Oxbridge college.
While this space is predominantly for the boys, it’s also home to the Co-Ed Sixth Form Centre – so don’t be surprised if you spot some girls wandering around the grounds, too. Incidentally the Sixth formers’ lesson timetable is spread across both the boys’ and girls’ campuses.
Over at the Kings Campus – a 10 minute walk away – it’s a far more modern affair with contemporary (but not unattractive) buildings, boasting lots of bright open spaces, and it’s also home to some of the Berkhamsted Schools Group’s headline facilities. More on that later. Kings Campus is the girls’ domain, but much like at the boys’ school, it’s the norm to see some of the Sixth Form boys here, particularly in the private study areas and joining the girls in the dining hall in between lessons.
Plus, all of the children across the group have access to all of the individual schools’ facilities, so it’s not unusual to spy groups of younger kids around, too. This means they’ll get a good feel for ‘big school’ before starting Year 7. It’s nice to see how relaxed the plucky newbies (in their shiny new uniforms) are in their already familiar surroundings during the first week of term.
There are 390 pupils in the Girls’ school and 496 in the Boys’ school, with the main intakes being at Year 7 for girls and Year 7 and 9 for boys. Applications are accepted at other entry points, too, but these are subject to availability.
While the Castle Campus wins on tradition, Kings Campus excels in progression – not that it’s a competition. Everyone’s a winner at Berkhamsted when it comes to the breadth of facilities, as all pupils have access to everything on all sites.
At Castle Campus there’s the stunning chapel (the trad heart of the school, where the boys and girls attend separate services), and the equally impressive library over two floors.
Over at Kings, there’s a brand new 3G (read: super whizzy!) floodlit astro pitch, which is used for Lacrosse, Netball and Football by both boys and girls. Plus there’s work underway to add another tennis court (making 6 in total) and to improve the nearby drop off/pick-up zone which is used by the boys and Prep school, too.
The Kings campus also boasts the 500-seat Centenary Theatre and the Knox-Johnson Sports Centre (yep, named after the first chap to sail solo around the world – he was an Old Berkhamstedian, and still has an involvement in the school today), with its 25m pool, fully equipped gym and impressive sports hall. It’s also open to the public (members only) for evening classes and adult and child swim sessions, too.
Around 90% move up to the Senior Boys’ and Girls’ schools from Berkhamsted Prep and others join from Chesham Prep, Westbrook Hay and Maltmans Green amongst others. They’ll be asked to have an interview with either a Head, Deputy Head or Head of House and sit a written test.
Extra-Curricular activities are massively encouraged here (and lapped up by the students), from the all-singing, all-dancing Outdoor Education Centre, which affords literally a world of opportunities – Bushcraft sessions for all pupils (think of it as team building) to optional clubs, from mountain climbing (the kids can get a feel for the real thing on the climbing wall and high ropes at the Pre-Prep site), and Scuba club, which is planning to run a trip to the Red Sea later this year (where do we sign up?).
The Duke of Edinburgh Award is super popular too, with 45 (that’s 25%) of Year 13s collecting their Gold award last year.
Wellbeing is high on the agenda with great stock put in counselling – don’t let anyone tell you it’s a taboo word – where pupils can visit expert counsellors and coaches for all level of concerns.
There’s a lovely reflective space at the Girls’ school – a modern chapel of sorts, complete with stained glass window – where anyone can go and have some time to think, or schedule a chat with the Headteacher or another member of staff.
And pupil voice is highly valued too. In fact one pupil’s suggestion to have wellbeing dogs in school (thera-pets?!) has led to a scheme where different dogs are on site every day at the Girls’, Boys and Sixth Form. Cue cooing in the corridors!
And social media and use of mobile devices is of course a big part of managing wellbeing in school (and a concern for many parents, too), so in the last 12 months, Berkhamsted has brought in a traffic light system, where different parts of the school are designated green, amber or blue to determine where the kids (and staff I’ll have you know!) are allowed to use their mobiles in specified zones during break and lunchtimes.
It’s all designed to help them learn how to take control of their usage and actually use their devices constructively – even during lessons, in some cases.
Berkhamsted pupils are lucky, there’s no doubt about that, but one initiative which the school set up with Denbigh High in Luton last year is designed to offer those who wouldn’t normally have the chance to experience this quality of education and facilities just that.
The bursary scheme offers up to 8 Denbigh pupils a year a fully funded place in the Sixth Form. Also, the new Anniversary Fund aims to provide 60 fully funded bursary places by 2041, the school’s 500th Anniversary. Plus it’s a good way to remind the current pupils not to take their opportunities for granted.
Again around 90% move up from Senior to Sixth, while others might move on if they’ve gained scholarships elsewhere or want to study a niche A Level which isn’t offered at Berkhamsted. It’s currently about 60:40 male to female.
Students need to achieve 43 points across their 8 best GCSE subjects to secure a place here, as well as complete tests, attend an interview and supply a reference from their current school. And it’s not a walk in the park for existing students either – to progress into Year 13, they’ll need to have performed well in their Year 12 exams, so they can’t afford to rest on their laurels in that first year of Sixth Form.
What else? Well the Sixth Formers have their own block on the Castle Campus, complete with a chic, industrial-style café area. There are ten houses in Sixth, which are different to those in the Senior schools, just to shake things up a bit. Year 12 and 13 are mixed in the House rooms, where they have tutor time, chill-out time and hold practice sessions for various House comps, like house music.
Of course there’s an element of healthy competition but the kids seem to love taking part too – even if you’re not a natural songbird, you can stand at the back and belt your heart out to One Direction. The same goes for House sports. As well as the popular ones, there are also things like house frisbee, so even if your left foot needs some work on the football pitch, you might be a pro at spinning a disc.
A lot of stock is put in preparing the students for life after school and the dedicated careers department includes a library, and an expert team of advisers on hand, with excellent connections, to help set up work experience placements – something that seems to have fallen out of favour with other schools recently – and we don’t mean spending a week behind a bar…
Berkhamstedians are placed in top London law firms, banks, management consultancies and creative agencies to name a few. Plus the school holds its own annual careers fair where they’ll get to chat to top unis and employers – a pretty unique opportunity that the kids are encouraged to grasp with both hands.
And if uni is their chosen next step, there’s masses of support and preparation in place for that, from regular lectures, to super curricular activities like Oxbridge study groups, and the opportunity to do something called an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), where students can choose to study a specific topic – from architecture to politics – in depth alongside their A Levels and produce a dissertation or artefact on a subject they are passionate about.
They’re encouraged to research this in great depth using the library resources (and the librarians go above and beyond, running research sessions on everything from referencing to plagiarism). It’s impressive and, if I’m honest, degree-level stuff!
Although this is clearly an academically driven department, it’s refreshing to meet the Head of Sixth, Martin Walker, and hear that the students get the support and encouragement to find and follow their own path whatever that may be – from setting up their own business or doing an apprenticeship.
The Berkhamsted trophy cabinet is pretty impressive, including the 1st XII U19A Lacrosse team and the under U15s Fives team being named National Champions this year. Plus, they were ranked the 10th best Rugby team in the country by the Daily Mail.
The major sports are Rugby, Football, Cricket, Lacrosse, and Netball, but there’s also Hockey, Tennis, Rowing, Athletics, Golf, Squash, Fives, Swimming, Trampolining, Equestrian, Skiing and Gymnastics on offer. And they don’t perform badly in those either. The Equestrian Novice Team were named Hertfordshire County Champions and the Senior Mixed Ski Team came 1st at National Schools Indoor Open Ski Championship.
But there’s very much an anyone-can-have-a-go attitude here and they often field A-E teams in the main sports to incorporate all pupils in team sport.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
34% of pupils learn a musical instrument in school but others take private lessons out of school, too, and there are loads of opportunities to perform from House Music to International tours.
This year the Senior Choir sang Mass in the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padua as a part of a tour to Northern Italy and The Big Band and Barbershop group performed on tour around Lake Garda during the summer. And it’s not just about performing – four Year 12s actually composed the score for the full-length Senior drama production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory earlier this year.
Everyone takes part in drama lessons up to Year 9 and there’s also the chance to take extra LAMDA classes, too. Plus the kids can get involved backstage with the costumes, sets and lighting.
We Will Rock You was the main performance last year and nearly 2,000 people came to watch it. And Berkhamsted Sixth performed The Miser at Edinburgh Fringe last year too – they’ll be going back in 2020, and rehearsals are already underway.
ART AND DT
There’s an impressive art department within the Chadwick Centre at Castle Campus, with a gallery-style display of the A Level work, from sculpture to photography (yep, they can take A Level photography, too) and some pupils have even exhibited their work outside the school gates at private galleries. There’s also an artist in residence at the school during term time and scholarships are awarded to Year 12s entering Sixth Form from other schools.
The boys’ DT block is getting a shiny new makeover – opening any minute now – with funky graphics on the wall and all the latest equipment from 3D printers to laser cutters, and one Year 11 won a sought-after Arkwright Scholarship last year.
As the first year to fully use the new GSCE numbered scale, just under 20% of grades were the new ‘9’ grade, and just under 99% of grades were at grades 9-4 (the equivalent of A*- C), while at A Level 12 students got straight A*s and 53 received 3 As or better. Not bad! And that means even more leavers are going on to top ten universities like Durham, Warwick, UCL and LSE this year (with a few gaining Oxbridge places).
Pupils can stay on after school at the library or go to day boarding in the boarding houses (and have an evening meal) until 8pm and there are also late coach drop-offs on the most popular routes to save parents schlepping out after a late work meeting. There are a number of boarders. Flexi boarding is popular with those who do sports or other activities after school and can be booked at the last minute and weekly boarding (mon-thurs) is available for age 13 and up. Breakfast is also available on a pay as you go basis too, so hungry teens can nab a quick bacon bap on their way to class.
Senior Boys and Girls termly fees are £5,900 for Years 7 and 8; £7,140 for Years 9-11. Berkhamsted Sixth fees are £7,140 per term.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Ambitious go-getters who are always looking for ways to make themselves stand out from the crowd, and want to get the absolute utmost from the education and opportunities available to them.
Not for: Those who are happy to coast along and aren’t willing to show initiative won’t make the best of their time at Berkhamsted, which has got so much to offer for those eager to excel.
Dare to disagree: Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself. There are Open Events on 27 September (for Senior Boys’ and Senior Girls’) and 26 September (Sixth Form).
Berkhamsted Boys’ School and Sixth, Castle Campus, Castle Street, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, HP4 2BB.