A high-achieving co-ed day and boarding school in a stunning 500 acres site with the best of both worlds - nestled in rural Herts, but within 20 miles of London.
Haileybury is a co-ed boarding and day school for 830 pupils aged 11-18 in a rural location, 20 miles north of London and close to Hertford, Hoddesdon and the A10.
The architecture is grand. Fact fans, you’ll want to know that the 1862 building was originally home to the East India College and it later merged with the Imperial Service College; the quad is the largest of any school or university in the UK; and the dining hall has the largest unsupported dome in Europe! There are tree lined avenues and 500 calf-stretching acres, and frankly it’s all rather beautiful. No surprise to find that in a school with this much land, many of the 400 teachers live in a house on site.
Blimey, where to start? This is a school that feels like it has everything. Every single department has a wow factor and many have been recently refurbished or are brand new. The dedicated Modern Foreign Languages department is impressive with French, Spanish, German and Italian all on the menu. The science building has 20 labs. With 500 acres, the scope for outdoor pursuits is vast: climbing, riding, flying – although I think the planes and horses are actually off site. But cross country takes on a whole new meaning, and you can hop on a bike and cycle in the wood. The sports pitches and courts are world class.
Music is strong here, and the Director of Music is Andrew O’Brien, who used to be at the nearby prep school Heath Mount, where he led the choir to win the BBC Junior School Choir of the Year. Hardly surprising then, that last year in the Autumn term, Haileybury was the only school this year in the country to perform Britten’s War Requiem. I think any would-be musician is going to salivate over the music department – 12 grand pianos and a state of the art music suite will do that to the best of us.
Drama and dance is equally strong – Alan Ayckbourn was a pupil here (the theatre is named after him), and he still visits the school from time to time. And when I visited, everyone was getting ready for a performance of Fiddler on the Roof which was open to all.
ART & DT
The art department is spacious, bright and inspiring and the Removes (Year 9) were preparing for their Black and White exhibition while I was there. The DT building is brilliant.
One happy knock-on of having huge grounds is that the sports facilities are stunning. The strongest sports are the more traditional rugby, cricket, hockey and netball, but you can learn pretty much anything and everything at Haileybury, from flying to riding. There’s a new golf simulator, a climbing wall, and the 25m swimming pool was recently refurbished.
The teaching for sport is stellar: Michael Owen (British Lions and Wales) leads 18 rugby teams across the year groups and there are strong links with various clubs, including nearby Saracens, who along with Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club use the facilities throughout the year. Many pupils go on to play rugby professionally, and the same goes for hockey. In 2018, Haileybury was in the Top 4 schools in the country for hockey and the school is becoming known as a hockey centre.
There are a staggering 130 co-curricular options on offer here. Boxercise or bee keeping? Scuba or shooting? Have a look at the menu and prepare to be amazed.
As this school is more boarding than day, the pastoral side is something that is taken very seriously and there are any number of things – and people in place. There are of course housemistresses and housemasters, matrons, a nursing team and a resident Chaplain school counsellor. There’s also a Health Centre on site – no waiting for an appointment. I’ve not come across that in any other school I’ve visited.
Everything about this school feels bold and confident. So you can forget about a half day trip to Whipsnade Zoo and instead, pack your bags for base camp Everest, diving in Bonaire, netball in Barbados or sign up for the geography trip to Iceland.
Martin Collier is still a relatively new broom – he took over as Head in September 2017. He has an MA in Modern History from Oxford; he was Head at St John’s, Leatherhead, and before that, Second Master at Oundle. He also spent 10 years in the state sector which amongst all this beauty and privilege is no doubt a healthy marker.
He’s full of plans for the school. Outside, a conservation management programme and estates masterplan is underway. Inside, there’s going to be a radical redesign of the classrooms, and Apple is coming in to advise. Since Collier arrived he’s put in place a new senior team and designed a new timetable with shorter lessons. Improving teaching/learning and a dedication to pastoral care are his two passions.
Haileybury is selective – it has its own exams – and the kids who come here are bright. As part of their commitment to innovation, they use artificial intelligence to help understand a pupil’s learning profile and present an individualised pathway which suits their learning needs. A big calling card here is the IB, the highly credible European version of A levels that offers a broader scope of subjects. Leavers go on to top universities, as you might expect. In 2019, the results were a whopping 43.6% for grades 8-9 at GCSE and 38.1% for A* and A at A Level. Just absorb those for a minute… Have a talented kid? There are plenty of scholarships on offer: sport, academic, drama, music, art and DT.
Even if you don’t want your child to board, I reckon she or he might beg you to let them stay. On the day of my visit, there was evidence of the night before – a pizza party – and I also got to see the room where everyone convened for Love Island last summer. 70% of pupils board (315 boys and 239 girls) and to make things easier, boarders can return to school on Sunday evenings on one of the school buses with pick ups from Bucks, Cambs and Kent and London. There’s a separate boarding house for the Lower School (Years 7 and 8) and after that, you go into one of the 12 main houses. Flexi boarding – so popular in many independent schools – is only available for the Lower School. For everyone else, it’s full boarding or 6 days a week. Like several other schools I’ve visited, the girls dorms are particularly lovely.
On a par with the other top tier private schools. Lower schools fees are a bit less ‘ouchy’ at £5,904 for day pupils and £7,643 for boarding. Senior School day cost £8, 882 with boarding: £12,048.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents love Haileybury because being involved in day to day life at the school is encouraged. Proximity to London means that it’s easy to take your child to the Smoke for an evening treat, particularly at weekends. There is no sense of entitlement here – the children seem very appreciative of the amazing opportunities that are on offer. They talk enthusiastically about the service ethos and the projects they are involved in, including the Haileybury Youth Trust in Uganda. Everyone seems to love the food – I sampled it and I agree with them. People seem impressed with the changes that have been made by the Master Martin Collier since he took over the top job.
GOOD FOR: Joiner-inners. Those who like a rural school with access to culture – London is an easy journey and for more local pleasures Hertford is close. Parents will love the breadth of the offering, and those delicious exam grades.
NOT FOR: Haileybury maintains a Saturday school which may not suit you and the overt Christian ethos is of course a highly personal choice.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest! There are Open Mornings and Evenings for 11+, 13+ and 16+ entries throughout the year. To find out about their next one, visit Haileybury.com.
Haileybury, Hertford, SG13 7NU; 01992 706200.