Lockers Park, Hemel Hempstead
Muddy says: A traditional boys’ prep school and co-ed pre-prep with an intimate, home-from-home feel and an emphasis on inclusivity and individuality.
It’s easy to see why this boys’ day and boarding prep school (age seven to thirteen) and co-ed pre-prep (age four to seven) is referred to as the ‘hidden gem’ of Hertfordshire. As my sat nav leads me around the houses of outer Hemel Hempstead, I wonder if I’m going the right way until I spot the Lockers Park gates up ahead. Set within 23 acres, along a tree-lined drive, the attractive red brick building (an exact replica of Rugby School’s Mitchell House) seems incongruous with its surroundings, but with its 145-year heritage the school was established long before the suburban neighbourhood developed around it.
The contemporary pre-prep building is set back in its own area of the grounds, allowing the younger children their privacy and space. With just 170 pupils the school feels intimate and the average class size is 12-16, (pupil to staff ratio 8:1), so no question here of the staff and Head being hardwired into the needs and strengths of each pupil.
Lockers Park rose to the remote learning challenge during COVID-19, achieving a fantastic pace of learning that ensured all years were two weeks ahead of schedule by mid-June. The school then pulled out all the stops to welcome back all year groups following the easing of lockdown, giving everyone a much-needed boost and ensuring pupils were able to reconnect with the school community for the final two weeks of the Summer Term.
The boys have the run of the 23-acre grounds, where they can blast around at break time, getting muddy (after changing into their ‘blues’ – tracksuits and trainers), playing sport and building dens or spotting the resident wildlife in the designated woodland territories for each age group.
Sportswise, there are two cricket pitches, five rugby pitches and six football pitches, plus two tennis courts, an Astroturf pitch, outdoor heated swimming pool, and even a croquet lawn, putting green and shooting range. Indoors there are two squash courts, and a fully-equipped sports hall, too.
It’s a mixed bag in terms of shiny new facilities and those which have seen better days, but there are extensive renovations afoot, which have already kicked off with the library, tennis courts, Astroturf, music studio and the Old Gym being given a new lease of life.
One of the major changes has been a quarter of a million pound investment in the school’s IT provision, which is ongoing. The plan isn’t for the boys to be looking at screens all day, but for IT to be filtered into different subjects to aid, rather than dominate, the learning process. Currently the timetable includes one IT lesson per week, with an emphasis on coding, and that’s set to increase to two.
There is also a traditional school chapel where all of the boys attend a morning service four times a week. Much like an exercise in mindfulness I imagine, it gives those full of pent up energy a chance to calm down and reflect before getting stuck into their lessons. The school welcomes all faiths and all prep pupils take part in the service, which includes non-denominational readings focussing on moral values rather than hard core religious teaching.
How about a school with no fixed number of prefects? I like this idea and it’s not one we’ve come across before – the position is earned and rewarded based on good behaviour, so there could be one or thirty prefects in a single year (this year there are nine, thanks for asking!).
Mr Wilson, the Head, has introduced Critical Thinking lessons in years five to eight, to encourage the boys to think more independently and read more around their subjects. He recently taught a class about how a parliament is formed, and the boys are encouraged to present on a subject that interests them (recent subjects: plastic pollution and dyslexia). This is being increased to two lessons a week and is being opened up to years three and four, too which sounds like a smart plan to me – too much curriculum and not enough off-piste thinking in too many schools these days.
One recent sea change has involved ditching the compulsory Saturday morning school. It’s something that’s fallen out of favour a bit these days, so Lockers Park has taken a big step in deciding to replace it with a new-look optional Saturday programme for Year 3 pupils and above, as of September 2019. The idea is to move with the times and allow families a bit more flexibility at the weekends. The programme offers additional support to younger pupils in core subjects as well as opportunities to join in with workshops on topics like team building and entrepreneurship. Meanwhile older pupils can benefit from help with senior school prep and curriculum enrichment sessions on the likes of ethics, problem solving and creative writing. Finally it will give overseas pupils a chance to brush up on their English language, so they don’t have to miss key subject lessons during the week. It’s super flexible too – parents just have book their son in for any Saturday session by the previous Thursday afternoon.
Christopher Wilson was at Winchester House School in Brackley for 12 years before joining Lockers Park as Deputy Head in 2012 before being promoted to Head in Sept 2013. Lockers Park is traditional – you’re getting proper prep school values here – but Wilson’s big calling card has been to hoick the school into the 21st century in terms of facilities and outlook.
100% Common Entrance pass rate – not bad! Next schools are commonly the likes of Harrow, Eton, Bedford, Haileybury and Rugby so you get an idea of the calibre of academics on offer here. ISI’s evaluation of the curriculum was ‘excellent’, too.
The boys take part in structured sport and outdoor play every day. Every boy is encouraged to represent the school termly and often Lockers Park will field a whole year group (even the least enthusiastic ones), while larger schools will leave 40-50 pupils behind. But despite often playing against schools twice their size, the school puts on a good show, winning more games than you might expect, particularly at the top level. They’ve had some pretty big names come in to help with coaching, too, including ex-Wasps rugby coach Rob Smith.
Your child not into tussling on the rugby pitch? As well as team sport Lockers Park encourages individual and minor sports, with opportunities to take part in everything from ju-jitsu and badminton to golf and shooting, and the school has celebrated great successes with their chess team, too. It’s also handily located near to the Hemel Snow Centre, and the school takes 50 boys there one evening a week, resulting in a thriving ski team.
A whopping 95% of boys play at least one instrument, with the usuals of piano, violin, guitar, saxophone and drums being the most popular though there are also takers for ukulele, piccolo and French horn. The chapel choir is heavily over subscribed, which you often find in single sex schools – there’s no fear of being seen as ‘uncool’ if all of their buddies are doing it too.
The purpose built pre-prep school was added in September 2015 and accepts boys and girls (age 4-7). The building feels light, airy and modern in comparison to the traditional prep school building, with a reading area and spacious, contemporary classrooms, filled with colourful artwork and up-to-date tech. Aside from the usual numeracy, English and phonics, they also have weekly nature lessons, where they try everything from scavenger hunts to making woodland jewellery (I know, the mind boggles!)
Around 50% of the boys board in some way, shape or form, with 15% boarding full time, so weekly and flexi boarding are clearly the popular choices. Boys can even sleep in the boarding house if a parent has an emergency and are unable to collect them, so there’s a very relaxed and adaptable approach.
I love this idea – part of the school’s commitment to individuality is that the boys are all allowed to wear whatever shirt they like as long as it’s checked or striped, allowing them to express a bit of personality – I spotted some wearing bright pink shirts and others in multi-coloured ones. While this sounds like a very forward-thinking move, it’s actually been part of the school’s tradition for years.
You’ll also have to get used to some Lockers Park patois. Sweets are known as ‘slatter’ from the days when a Mr Slatter would deliver sweets to the school via horse and cart; going to the loo is known as ‘going up passage’, and houses are known here as ‘sets’.
What else? Well, the science department has a small menagerie of pets from stick insects to ‘Snakespeare’ the corn snake. Sadly, the resident tarantula, Tara, recently passed away, but after much discussion from the Eco Committee about a suitable replacement, the science teacher has just put in a request for a bearded dragon. Watch this space.
Another long-standing tradition is the game of Dark Tower, where, for one night all the lights are turned off at the school and the boys set up a base camp in the woodlands, whilst the teachers armed with torches, run around the grounds chasing them. Sounds very ‘Hunted’ but clearly the kids love it.
Lockers Park has something of a unique ‘all inclusive’ model when it comes to wraparound care (7.30am-6pm for pre-prep and 7.30am-7.30pm for prep), which includes breakfast, supper and activities – all at no extra cost. This makes it a very popular option, with many parents taking advantage of it every day. It’s very flexible too in that parents don’t have to book in advance. The school bus ferries to and from Harpenden and St Albans. Plus, a new Berkhamsted and Tring bus service will launch in September 2020.
Starting at £3,725 per term for Reception up to £5,910 for day boys and £8,520 for boarders. You can choose to board one night a week for £450 per term up to £1,980 per term for five nights a week. And it’s £46 for a one-off night.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Being a ‘hidden gem’ comes with its pros and cons – I hear that parents who visit Lockers Park love it but not many know it’s there, and while larger schools have hundreds of parents talking about them, news of Lockers Park travels a little slower on the grape vine. But what people are saying is that this is a school that absolutely understands boys.
The addition of the co-ed pre-prep is not a sign of things to come. Mr Wilson is passionate about the benefits of single sex education (as long as it suits the individual) and particularly at this age (7-13), where boys and girls learning styles vary so greatly. So there’s no inkling of Lockers Park becoming fully co-ed any time soon.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Boys’ boys, who thrive on outdoor play, hands-on learning and being in a ‘big fish, small pond’ environment, where they will always feel part of a team as well as being valued as an individual.
Not for: Boys who prefer to stay indoors on a computer to getting muddy outside. And boys who are already independent, robust and confident enough to make their mark in a larger school could find the Lockers Park model potentially confining in later years.
Dare to disagree?
Visit Lockers Park’s new Virtual Admissions page, where you’ll find short, handy video introductions to both the Prep School and Pre-Prep, as well as a welcome video from the Head, Mr Chris Wilson plus lots of helpful FAQs. In place of the school’s usual Open Morning, you can fill in a form to request a personal video meeting with Mr Wilson to find out more.
Lockers Park, Lockers Park Lane, Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead HP1 1TL 01442 251 712