Mount House School, Barnet
This small, inclusive school on the Herts / London border now welcomes boys too, has a progressive new Head and big plans to take the facilities to the next level.
Haven’t heard of Mount House School? Perhaps St Martha’s Catholic Girls School sounds more familiar? This small, but perfectly formed school for 11-18 year olds in Hadley Wood, a very well-heeled area of South Herts/ North London, is going through something of a renaissance. The new name – Mount House – was introduced in 2018 to reflect the change from single sex to co-ed (there are currently 73 boys to 156 girls), a progressive new head was appointed in September 2020 and there are plans afoot to upgrade many of the facilities. The long-standing appeal of the school remains unchanged though – small class sizes, an extremely nurturing environment and chances for every student to have their moment in the spotlight when it comes to both academic and co-curricular pursuits.
The selective school currently has 230 pupils (with plans to take this up to around 350) and has been an educational institution since 1940. The main building is a Georgian beauty surrounded by pretty gardens, with some much less attractive, but cleverly concealed modern additions at the back (soon to have a facelift). It’s all housed on a bijou plot of 6 acres, set nicely back from the road and surrounded by trees, making it feel like a safe and welcoming little oasis that happy, energetic kids spill out into at break times. As it’s only a mile from an underground station, you can forgive the lack of grounds for the convenience of being able to quickly commute to the capital after drop off.
Like most small schools, Mount House makes the most of what it has on site and then outsources to nearby facilities for the rest. The glorious leafy part of North London that the school is based in means kids don’t have far to go to find playing fields and acres of forest though.
For sports, the school uses both Monken Hadley Common, just outside the school gates, for cross country and running club and Hadley Wood Playing Fields for athletics, cricket and rounders. They also have a partnership with Southgate Hockey Club (a minibus ride away) whose facilities they use for coaching and matches. Down the side of the Georgian school house there are currently two netball/tennis/basketball courts, which will be transformed by September 2021 as part of the school’s building plans into MUGAs (multi use games areas), which will greatly improve the on-site sports facilities. The school has its own sizeable hall for indoor pursuits like trampolining, badminton, table Tennis, dance and gymnastics too.
Exciting plans to significantly improve the current facilities are currently under discussion with architects and will be revealed to parents and students soon. Watch this space!
While you wouldn’t send your child here if winning at every sport is their raison d’être, there is plenty to keep the averagely sporty child happy. Each week there’s a games afternoon for teams to practise and for fixtures against local schools. There’s a good range of sports to have a go at and, in 2021, golf at the nearby golf club will be introduced as an option for all students.
As is often the case with smaller schools, individual pursuits are the strongest sports, and for Mount House cross country is currently the area they excel in, with students regularly qualifying for and performing well in national finals. The school has recently seen success in netball (U16 Netball ISA Shield Winners 2020), table tennis and athletics too.
Art is the standout creative subject at Mount House, and currently has a large room dedicated to it, with plans to make it lighter, brighter and bigger in the next year. The school has a strong artistic history with sketching classes taking place in the grounds as far back as the 1940s and it’s still a massive strength for the school. This is reflected in the huge uptake of the subject at GCSE and A Level and the excellent results – over 90% A*s and As in the past 3 years. Students can also take Textiles and Photography as A Levels and the co-curricular Art and Photography clubs are some of the most popular in the school.
There are plenty of opportunities for kids to flex their creative muscles outside the classroom too, with regular House competitions and initiatives like a Christmas Card competition, where winners have their designs produced and sold for charity.
Music wise, there are the usual peri teachers, plus a school choir, house band, a guitar group, drum corps and ukulele club. About 30% of students in Years 7 to 9 take individual instrumental, vocal and piano lessons. From Year 10 this percentage drops and students tend to either specialise in music or drop it from this point. There’s currently a drive to increase instrumental tuition within the school, by introducing an instrument each term to Year 7 students (ear plugs at the ready because this term it’s trumpets!) as well as ambitions for a bigger school band and orchestra.
Students get involved in music outside lessons and clubs too, with a full-scale musical taking place every other year, the latest being The School of Rock, which involved a large number of the students. There’s also an annual Spring and Christmas concert, which takes place in a local church.
There are both academic and co-curricular opportunities for any students itching to tread the boards. The school puts on a full performance each year – Macbeth for 2021 – and are currently taking part in the Schools Shakespeare Festival. Individual LAMDA classes are available too.
A new headteacher, Mrs Sarah Richardson, started in Sept 2020, coming from one of the most academically successful schools in the country, The Perse School in Cambridge, where she was Deputy Head. Mount House is a very different proposition to The Perse, but I’ve met her, and really liked her – and think she’s the perfect person to lead Mount House through this exciting new chapter. She’s very calm, welcoming and personable but has that special don’t-mess-with-me aura that means students will immediately respect her. She’s particularly hot on kindness within the school and happiness being the key to students thriving.
Richardson clearly has high ambitions for Mount House School – developing the co-curricular offering, working on the master planning project to enhance facilities, extending the trips programme, and continuing to drive academic results in an upwards trajectory – but is quite rightly taking time to get to know each student and to understand every aspect of the school before she makes any sweeping changes.
She was particularly attracted to the school because of the strong pastoral and nurturing vibe, the fact that the students are so well-adjusted and genuinely nice individuals and because of the flexibility it offered her as a head. She is very hands-on and teaches history to the Year 9s, which allows her to interact with the students and also have more of an understanding of her staffs’ needs and experiences in the classroom.
The school motto ‘Inspiring Every Individual’ is clearly something that Richardson believes strongly in. Although Mount House is selective, she’s quick to point out that there’s no rigorous testing to gain a place here. If the head and the staff recognise potential in the child when meet them, they understand that it can take several years and the sort of individual attention offered at Mount House for a child to reach their full ability. The school is mostly looking for pupils who will contribute to the life at Mount House in co-curricular interests as well as being committed to their academic studies.
At the top of the school the class sizes are really small, some tutor groups with just four or five students, so individual attention and personally tailored teaching are a given. Outside the classroom Year 12s and 13s are given leadership opportunities in the form of organising inter-house events and by becoming Guardians to a couple of Year 7s. Sixth Formers have their own space within the school – a Common Room, a Study Room and some class rooms.
Sixth formers head off to a range of brilliant unis each year, including top Russell Group unis. There’s a wide range of subject choices reflecting the school’s dedication to finding each student’s particular strength or passion. Mount House has a particular strength when it comes to international applications thanks to a Head of Sixth Form who is experienced in the application processes at top European and US universities.
From September 2021, sixth formers will be offered the opportunity to add a ‘fifth column’ topic onto their A Levels and EPQ: these include law, business French, global citizenship and thinking skills. These additional academic challenges are aimed at helping students gain skills that future employers are looking for.
There’s already a pretty comprehensive offering of co-curricular and academic enrichment clubs with more set to be added once the new head rolls out her plans. There are all the usual suspects, from musical groups to sports like badminton, football, netball, hockey and trampolining, which is by far the most popular with 40 members.
As for academic clubs, equality and inclusivity are high on the agenda, which isn’t surprising for this pastorally-strong, nurturing school where students are encouraged to have a voice. There’s a Varsity Club, where students participate in a variety of critical thinking tasks and debate legal cases, politics and current affairs alongside key events in history. In 2020 the Sixth Formers set up the House of Equality focussing on Black Lives Matter and Black History through presentations, speeches, and group discussions aiming to raise awareness throughout the whole school and educate others about what is happening in the world. Finally, there’s Speakers’ Corner where individual students can present subjects of their choice to the whole school.
The school is particularly strong when it comes to pastoral care, having been rated ‘excellent’ in the last ISI inspection. No child will slip through the net here with a dedicated Deputy Head Pastoral and a School Counsellor available to support students on a 1:1 basis. Add to that the small class sizes, heads of houses, heads of section, form tutors and Guardians and you can see why this is one of the school’s main attractions.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Trying to juggle school drop off with your own commute? The school has clubs after school from 4-5pm from Tuesday to Thursday and there’s Homework Club and study sessions Year 11s. In the mornings, students can study in the library from as early as 7.30am.
Pretty impressive. In 2020 90% of students achieved a 5 – 9 grade at GCSE (with 47% at 7 – 9) and 93% of A Level students gained A*-C grades (with 65% at A*-A). Mount House is also a top 5 school locally for added value.
Average I’d say for this area. £5,520 per term regardless of year group.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Children who prefer to be a big fish in a small pond. There’s a chance for every student to have a go at this school and the teachers pride themselves of knowing every child individually, and creating a nurturing and supportive environment that helps every child reach their maximum potential.
Not for: Super competitive kids might feel a bit constrained in this small school that is all about inclusivity.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest. Mount House has an Open Day on Saturday 26 June where you can see the school for yourself and meet some of the teachers. Find more information here.
Mount House, Camlet Way, Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire, EN4 0NJ; 0208 449 6889; mounthouse.org.uk