Queenswood Girls’ School, Hatfield
Muddy says: Looking for a super-sporty boarding school in a bucolic setting? I have just the thing...
It might be just three miles from the M25 and a 20-minute train ride to London (from nearby Potters Bar station), but Queenswood independent day and boarding school (for girls aged 11-18) feels worlds away from the hubbub of urban life. For starters, it’s based in a staggering 120 acres of grounds. Approaching the Arts and Crafts-style main houses and the collection of more modern but sympathetic red brick buildings, you could imagine the likes of William Morris and friends making themselves at home here.
Q – no, not 007’s gadget geek, but Queenswood for short – is a selective school, and girls are assessed in English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning, and those joining in Year 7 are automatically considered for the Year 7 Academic Scholarship programme. They’ll also need a reference from their current school and to have an interview at Queenswood, which are given just as much weighting as their results.
The school has 450 pupils and there are 70 places in Year 7. It’s also possible to join in Years 9 and 12 if there’s space. Queenswood is always oversubscribed so if you want to give your daughter the best chance of getting a place (and applying for scholarships and bursaries) you need to be registering her by 1 October in the year before she hopes to start. Art, Dance, Drama, Music, Hockey, Sports and Tennis Scholarships are available at all entry points.
Did we mention the mahoosive grounds?? Yep, it works out at a quarter of an acre per girl! Sportswise there’s a 25-metre swimming pool, nine-hole golf course, polo field, Astroturf pitch, grass athletics track, and – wait for it – 27 (!) tennis courts (more on that later…). The jewel in the crown though is the all-singing-all-dancing £3million sports hall, and my is it impressive. With retractable seating for circa 600, a gym which is as good as (if not better than) any I’ve been a member of, and aerobics rooms to boot.
The library has been moved into the old swimming pool site, and it’s a great space, with its vaulted ceilings. It feels cosy but spacious and girls’ artwork dotted around on the walls add warmth and character. I’d feel very comfortable settling in here with a good book.
The Middle School boarding houses have also had a recent refresh, amalgamating four houses into one to create a welcoming open-plan space, complete with pastel coffee shop-style seating booths in the breakout areas, re-furbed bedrooms, a cinema room, kitchen where the girls can test out their culinary skills (under supervision, obvs), and an IT suite.
As teaching spaces go, the Audrey Butler Centre (ABC) is an interesting piece of architecture, somehow squeezing 24 (albeit light and spacious) classrooms (for humanities, maths and languages) into a unique star-shaped building. All classrooms are kitted out with interactive touch screens so teachers can pull up lesson plans or YouTube videos at the drop of a hat, and the girls can join in via online polls and quizzes using their mobile phones – how teaching’s changed!
Then there’s the Pizza Hut (hang on, what?). Don’t worry, not the greasy fast food joint, but what is now the Personalised Learning Centre (refurbished in 2018/19) with a striking resemblance to – you guessed it…! This is where girls can come for specialised support with their work (perhaps they’re struggling in one subject or want to be stretched in another), take part in one-to-one sessions and study groups, or plan revision timetables.
Over the course of the 2021-22 academic year, Queenswood is working on completely refreshing the Bellman Sixth Form Centre to create a multi-functional space that bridges that gap between school and university. There’ll bea self-contained study space, area for lectures and presentations, teaching spaces for small study groups and seminars, as coffee bar and social hub for students and staff, tech and charging ares, and an outdoor seating area where they can relax over a drink and snack from the café.
Queenswood has its own fleet of vehicles to ferry the girls door-to-door, (like a private chauffeur for your daughter and her mates), which covers a lot of ground, including most of Herts, parts of Essex and North and Central London. It costs between £10.50 – £12.50 per journey. The particular USP though is that routes are plotted so that no girl travels for longer than an hour (because the school day’s long enough, right?). Plus there’s peace of mind for mums and dads, too, thanks to the nifty app which they can use to keep tabs on when their daughter arrives at school or is due home – no sneaking off to meet boys after school then!
There’s a traditional chapel on site (Queenswood started out as a Methodist school) and all girls attend, but religion is given a light touch here and all faiths are welcomed.
Your daughter destined for Masterchef? You’re in luck as Queenswood is one of just a few schools in the country to offer the Leith’s (that’s the big cheese of cookery schools, in case you didn’t know) Certification in Food and Wine. It’s open to Sixth Formers, and yes they do get to drink the wine! Years 7 – 9 have an opportunity to wear their chef’s whites too though, with an hour of practical cookery per week, plus there are cookery clubs available to Middle School girls.
Mrs Jo Cameron joined as Principal of Queenswood in 2016 from Ipswich High School, where she was Deputy Head. Clearly a busy lady, I didn’t manage to pin her down for a chat – next time though!
Excellent. Queenswoodians outperform their peers, adding at least one grade more per subject per girl at GCSE level than any other comparable independent school in the country. As for specifics, the school has a five-year average of 72% achieving grades A* – B at A-level and 61% 9 – 7 at GCSE. With results like that it’s no surprise that leavers go on to some of the most prestigious universities including Oxbridge, Bristol, Durham, UCL and Warwick, as well as elite institutions in the USA, Europe and Asia.
Outstanding. Sport is pretty much the backbone of this school and there’s a philosophy of sport for all – not everyone is expected to excel but everyone is encouraged to have a go. Tennis (remember those 27 courts?) is by far the front runner in terms of sporting achievement. Queenswood was ranked the #1 school for girls’ tennis in the UK in 2019 and 2020 and they came back triumphant from the World Schools Tennis Finals in Rome in 2019 with a placement of third in the world!
Hockey is the most popular winter sport, with the school named County Cup Winners in four out of five age groups in 2020. The girls are trained by an ex-international men’s hockey coach, who, when I visit is joined by a visiting former pupil who has represented England on the pitch.
Q girls can throw a good lunge, too, with several students qualifying for the British Fencing Championships and representing the UK in recent European tournaments.
And, Queenswood is now a regional hub for girls cricket, thanks to a partnership with four-time Women’s Ashes winner, Lydia Greenway, who runs master classes and cricket camps (for Q girls and non-pupils, too) in the grounds.
Drama and dance are big at Queenswood. There are eight productions a year, from full-scale musicals with casts of up to 100, to intimate scholars’ plays. These are performed in the Clarissa Farr Theatre, which seats 280, and there’s a dance suite and an intimate performing arts studio, named after former pupil Helen McCrory. There are also special events which are open to the public, to see visiting theatre companies or big-name speakers, such as Ruby Wax and Prof Brian Cox (where can we get tickets?!)
As for music, more than 75% of pupils have taken up an instrument during their time at Q, with around 50% playing at least one at any one point. Girls can make use of the many spacious sound-proofed music rooms and the department has fantastic connections, with the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Academy of Music.
It’s a 50/50 split between day girls and boarders, with around 25% of all pupils staying at school over the weekend. But flexi boarding is popular too, with 75% of the day girls opting to stay for anything from a couple of nights a term to a few days a week.
On that note, boarding is really flexible, and the vast majority of girls have some experience of boarding during their time at Queenswood. Flexi-boarding allows parents to book either on an ad hoc basis or as a regular arrangement each week. And if girls want to take part in after-school activities, are in a play, or returning late from a school trip, the option to board is there. Some might just want to test the waters by gradually easing into boarding on a more regular basis.
Lower School (Years 7 and 8) board in Stamp House, which accommodates up to 48 girls. This is also their base during the day, where they can hang out at break times or study. Middle School are in the newly spruced up Centre (the main school building). Years 9 and 10 share rooms with buddies, whilst Year 11s have their own private ones. Trew House is home for the Sixth Formers, where they might share a room with another girl in Lower Sixth, but all Upper Sixth girls get a room to themselves.
There’s no Saturday school, but there is a morning programme of sports fixtures and activities for day girls and boarders to get involved in. It’s compulsory for boarders in Years 7 – 10 to do at least one activity, plus there are loads of weekend trips to London, Cambridge, Oxford and nearby activity centres for things like skiing and climbing.
Ready for a history lesson? Q was founded in 1894 (it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year) on the principles of John Ruskin, which were very liberal as far as girls’ education went. When the school moved to its current location, on the site of Sheepwell House in 1925, the girls studied horticulture, botany and nature, and wore Liberty white silk dresses, to imitate the water lilies from Ruskin’s works. Can you imagine?! Thankfully things have moved on a bit since then… but today the girls run their own 1918 club, where they learn about the suffragettes and discuss feminist issues, so Ruskin’s philosophies are still striking a chord.
The eagle eyed might spot the phoenix cast iron knocker on the main door of Trew House. A reminder that the school literally rose from the ashes, after burning down in 1936 – not that you’d know because it was re-built almost exactly as it was, brick-by-brick.
Head inside the chapel and there’s another hidden quirk, with some of the pews bearing a little carved mouse – the trademark of their carpenter, one of the best of his time. Apparently TV’s Salvage Hunters came to the school and were desperate to get their hands on them. I bet they were!
There’s no wraparound care as such, but girls are strongly encouraged to take part in the extensive co-curricular programme, which includes a whopping 100+ activities, ranging from Aerial Hoops to Arabic Club. Registration is from 8.20am and collection or pick-up for day girls is at 6pm Mon – Thurs (4.40pm if they’re not doing an activity) and 4.30pm on Fridays.
The 2021/22 fees for day girls per term come in at £7,330 (Years 7 and 8); £8,540 (Years 9 – 11 and Sixth Form). For full boarding it’s £8,815 (Years 7 and 8); £12,020 (Years 9 – 11 and Sixth Form).Flexi boarding charges are on a sliding scale, with the option to book ad hoc nights (space allowing) at £60 per night.
WORD ON THE GROUND
One thing that struck me is how the girls are given their own space and freedom to develop here. From Stamp House, where Lower School girls might still be learning to live away from home, to the Sixth Formers who are allowed to ditch the uniform in favour of their choice of smart office wear, the girls are thoroughly supported academically and pastorally at every level. The school has an interesting view on breaking down the barriers to success – better to try something and fail first time, than not to try at all. I suppose that’s what breeds such resilient girls. And there’s a real buzz in the air, perhaps due to the fact that there’s always somewhere to be, or something new to try. What with so many opportunities to get involved in there certainly doesn’t seem to be any time to get bored!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Girls who want to get stuck in to school life, aren’t afraid of failure, and are eager to try new things and make the most of every experience.
Not for: If your daughter is a bit of a wallflower when it comes to trying something different, she’ll struggle to hide here.
Dare to disagree? Go and see for yourself: individual tours are offered in the February half term and the Easter holidays and open events are planned for the summer term, Covid-restrictions permitting Book online, or call 01707 602500 for further information.
Queenswood School, Shepherd’s Way, Brookmans Park, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 6NS