Royal Masonic School Pre-Prep and Prep
Part of a vast and impressive campus, this co-ed Nursery and girls' Pre-Prep and Prep offer outstanding facilities and a kick-start to a seamless educational journey from the age of two.
Just outside of Rickmansworth, and a smidge over 20 minutes on the train into London’s Marylebone station, this impressive all-girls’ School and co-ed nursery boasts a 300-acre purpose-built campus (dating back to 1934) that would rival that of some universities – I mean it feels like a small village in its own rolling estate!
This review is covering the Nursery, Pre-prep and Prep, but you can read more about the Senior School here, and of course there’s plenty of overlap, with everything from the expansive facilities to the transitional teaching that really creates a journey for each child throughout their time at the school. An education here starts from as early as age two and really lays the groundwork for the rest of that child’s school career, whether at RMS or elsewhere (although as I’ll explain later, the majority stick around throughout, and not just because there’s automatic entry into Year 7!)
Pre-Prep and Prep are housed in the school’s original sanatorium, Cadogan House, while the Nursery is in its own designated building, Ruspini House, just across the campus. The Nursery welcomes boys, which is handy for parents who have older daughters at the school, but the Prep and Senior School are girls only.
There are 235 pupils in the Pre-prep and Prep and it’s two-form entry from Reception with over 50% coming up from Nursery (they get a guaranteed place), whereas all external candidates are assessed. Class sizes start at 15 in Reception, growing to 16 in Years 1-2, 18 in Years 3-4 and 20 in Years 5-6. This allows for a small number of new starters throughout, although be warned – it’s heavily oversubscribed from Year 5, when parents are starting to think about that all-important automatic entry into Year 7, so it is well worth applying as early as possible.
Well, where to start… the benefit of sharing a site with the Senior School is that the facilities (and the 300 acres of grounds) are open to all but I’ll stick to the headline features here. The Prep School makes use of the Sports Centre and the brand new (as of Sept 2019) Performing Arts Centre – both of which are pretty jaw-dropping. And while the nursery children would feel a little lost in the vast sports hall the nursery pupils they do make use of the Sports Centre’s squash courts – the perfect size for mini PE, gym and yoga sessions.
The vast Sports Centre has its own gymnasium, complete with roll-out soft floor for tumbling and trampolines. Then the main sports hall is double-sized (eight badminton courts’ worth!) with pull-out bleacher seats, viewing windows and large mezzanine areas which are used for clubs like Judo. There’s also a super well-equipped fitness suite, Pilates room, spin studio and four squash courts. Plus there’s the Astro turf and netball courts outside, too.
Equally impressive is the new Performing Arts Centre. It’s very much a whole school facility and the Prep use everything from the Dance Studio to the practical Drama Studio and the 16 private music practice rooms. There’s also a super flashy sound proofed recording studio, with mixing equipment, glass fronted performance room and a green screen room.
There are currently 68 children in the nursery, which is run by Mrs Vicky Greig and her team of highly qualified staff (many of whom have degree-level training).
It’s split into three main classes, by age and availability (age 2, 2-3 and 3-4). Each room feels fresh, modern, airy and spacious, with plenty of separate areas for play and learning, from reading corners and messy play to water activities and role play. Plus they all flow freely into their own outdoor learning spaces with mud kitchens, car tracks, sand play, obstacle course building and garden areas.
The 2-3 year group benefitted from a brand new classroom in Sept 2019, expanding out of Ruspini house. It’s huge with loads of light and space – a vast improvement on the old space which is now used for sleeping as well as intervention sessions in language or maths. Next they’re knocking down a wall in the 2-year-olds’ classroom to open that up.
They’re big on child-initiated learning here, but it’s combined with group-led activities so the children’s individual interests are matched to what they need to learn. There’s a focus at the moment on storytelling and narrative, which involves not only listening to stories but coming up with their own. Plus (not that the kids are aware!) the staff are constantly assessing them and working out any gaps, jotting down their next steps on whiteboards around the classrooms so everyone can work together on these.
There’s a Forest School at Cadogan House, but it’s quite far to walk for the littlies, so they have their own dedicated outdoor play area (in addition to the free-flow outdoor classrooms) under the trees with a wooden house, bridge, storytelling chair, bug hotel and wooden tractor – all the handiwork of the groundsman. The kids even got to spend a session with the school’s grounds team to learn about what they do and help wash their tractors! There’s also a gardening club in the Spring and Summer months which parents can join in with.
And thanks to the amazing facilities and experienced teaching staff on the doorstep, the experiences open to these little ones are better than most nurseries could dream of offering. To name a few, there are library sessions with the school’s librarian, they can learn about space in the school’s own planetarium (yep, really!), the Prep Music teacher runs weekly morning sessions, they can try woodwork and cooking (with the Nursery’s own chef) and the 3-4-year-olds go swimming, which is organised by the school’s Sports department and the Year 11 girls help out which must be a lovely experience for them too. They also get to use the squash courts for physical activities.
All of this, naturally helps to ease the transition into Prep, added to the fact that there’s regular open discussion between the staff about individual children’s needs and joint staff training to make sure everyone is on the same page.
There are also a couple of opt-in groups available – Spanish and Playball – but as of this summer, Spanish will be opened up to all Nursery pupils for a small additional fee, which will make it more accessible to everyone.
The Nursery day is 8.45 – 4pm but it operates an 8-6 day with wraparound care including breakfast club, then tea club from 4-5pm and late club from 5-6pm. Plus, for parents who have to work over the holidays there are Easter and Summer camps run by the Nursery staff.
PRE-PREP AND PREP
Cadogan House has a really colourful and fun vibe, with murals and creative corners at every turn. Reception classes are sweetly named Daisies and Buttercups and have their own dedicated outdoor area, while Year 1 classes upwards have more ‘grown-up’ alpha-numerical names.
The Year 1 classrooms also both open up on to a shared outside learning space, with its own puppet theatre, and are soon to be refurbished and modernised with Smart boards, a fresh lick of paint and a ‘bringing the outdoors in’ feel.
Other classrooms are due for a bit of modernisation too, with plans to remove the carpets and create a cleaner, fresher feeling space. The Year 6 classrooms (one of which doubles as a Science Lab for use by Year 5s too), have already been done, and as you can see from the pics, they look super sleek.
There are four Houses in Prep – Sapphire, Emerald, Ruby and Topaz (which, incidentally change in senior school), and it’s refreshing to hear that while the pupils can earn House points for participation in events like the annual talent show, there’s not a competitive element to it – plenty of time for that in senior school. Having said that, classes who have performed or behaved particularly well are rewarded with the Cadogan House teddy – cute!
There’s a dedicated Forest School area, which I didn’t have chance to see this time, but is used on a regular basis up to Year 2, with some one-off sessions for the older girls.
Cadogan House has its own hall, which is used for assemblies, performances and PE (although from Year 3 this takes place in the main school Sports Hall).
Language-wise, Years 3-6 take French lessons, which increases to two lessons per week in Years 5-6 and it sounds like it’s taught in a really fun and interactive way – with singing and special trips where the girls have chance to dress up in Gallic costume and order food in French.
There’s a lovely Art Room which is a hive of activity – they cover everything from clay and papier-mâché to perspective in Prep, giving them a good grounding for Art in Senior School. And there are drop-in clubs too for those who want to do more out of class hours. And at the end of April RMS will be hosting SATIPS 2020 an art exhibition of work from children in Years 3 – 8 from over 30 schools.
When it comes to other creative subjects, the girls also do termly rotations of DT, Cooking and Sewing in Year 6, giving them a little taster of each subject. And they can whet their apetites for cooking from Year 4, too.
Then there’s the library. The girls have weekly lessons in here and can come in at their leisure during lunch times and breaks too. There are lots of clever initiatives put in place by the librarian and teaching staff to help engage the pupils with reading, including sections of recommended books for different year groups, making it easy to select something suitable for their age, and the Author of the Month, where all girls are encouraged to read one book by a particular writer – this month it’s Dick King Smith.
The school has nine core values and works on instilling these by choosing a Value of the Month throughout the term, with assemblies focused on each one. The girls are also on board with the confidence-boosting and resilience-building Bounce Back acronym, which includes important lessons like ‘Blame fairly’ and ‘Nobody is perfect’.
And of course tasking the girls with responsibilities all helps too. In Year 6 they can take on roles like being Road Monitors, Learning Prefects (for different subjects like Art or reading), as well as House Captains. What’s lovely is that everyone gets the chance to be a House Captain as they’re rotated every term. I also spot that my Year 6 guides are wearing ‘Big Sister’ badges – a sweet idea where anyone who is struggling or wants someone to talk to can approach them for support and advice. They’re even given special training and have to write an application letter to be considered for the role, so it’s not taken lightly.
One thing to note is that all Year 6s are required to have their own iPads and are allocated lockers to keep these in along with their other belongings.
Outside the classroom there are masses of co-curricular activities to try – over 180 in fact – boy, are these some lucky girls! There’s everything you could think of from a range of dance clubs and Yoga to language clubs and Mindful Colouring, as well as sports like Kickboxing, Mighty Netball and Swim Squad to name a few.
And for those who really want to take advantage of the RMS experience and everything it has to offer, flexible, weekly and full boarding is available from Year 4. The majority of Prep boarders tend to start from Year 5 and they have their own small wing, so as not to be too daunting, whilst also being integrated into the house. They even have the chance to invite their classmates for sleepovers.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the old Prep uniform is currently being phased out, with Prep girls soon to all be wearing the same as the Senior girls, ultimately saving parents the cost and chore of buying a whole new set of togs when their daughter hits Year 7 – good news!
For Years 1 and 2 there’s a scheme called Music First, where the girls have an opportunity to learn one of a small selection of instruments in pairs or small groups, then they can choose to take individual music lessons from Year 3 with the numerous peripatetic teachers, and there’s really no limit – from electric guitar to bassoon.
Wind and Brass are particularly strong in Prep though and there are two orchestras in Years 5-6. Singing is also popular and there are multiple choirs, including Pre-Prep, Community Choir and a Chamber Choir.
There’s usually an annual musical for Years 3-6 – past productions have included The Lion King and a ballet version of The Pied Piper, but these are interchanged occasionally with some more intimate Year 6 only productions – this year they’re doing a film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which the girls will be able to edit themselves.
But that doesn’t mean the younger years don’t get chance to perform – there are plenty more opportunities throughout the year from Dance workshops to the House talent show, poetry competitions and the Pre-Prep Nativity. There’s also the so-called Rush Hour Concerts, which include a Morning Music Platform where anyone who wants to can come and perform to parents between 8-8.30am and some Friday evenings, every Half Term.
There’s a sport for all attitude here, and the girls are active in some form every day, with both development and full squads, and RMS will bring in specialist coaches for pupils who show a particular talent. The curriculum is multi-sport and includes gym, netball, football and hockey as well as weekly swimming, cricket (the school has its own pavilion), cross country and ball skills. There are also masses of co-curricular sports clubs offering everything from ballet to taikwondo and fencing.
While it’s not a selective school in Reception, the Value Added Scores are exceptional, with all girls achieving National averages and above so clearly they’re doing something right when it comes to Early Years teaching. In fact the Pre-Prep is outstanding in early reading and Maths, and this may be in part down to working with external lead experts, who come in to the school and provide feedback on lessons to help upskill staff in those core areas.
Although there’s automatic entry into Year 7 from RMS Prep, the girls don’t get away with not taking the exam – it’s used for setting purposes and creates a fair playing field for external candidates. This year six Prep girls were invited back for academic scholarships, too.
Mr Ian Connors entrusts me to the guidance of two of his Year 6 girls to show me around, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be able to answer any questions I might have. There’s confidence for you! Afterwards I have chance to catch up with him and find out what makes him and RMS Prep tick.
While there’s obviously a dedication to achieving highly here, it’s not the sole focus – in fact it’s interesting to hear Mr Connors talk about supporting the ‘silent middles’ as well as those facing additional challenges such as dyslexia, not just the gifted and talented.
He’s dedicated to ensuring that noone plateaus under his watch, and has a humbling awareness that there’s always room for improvement, in both teaching and learning. There are rigorous tracking systems in place to help with this . Plus he knows all too well how important it is to have fun at school, too – excellence needs to be balanced with enjoyment and in Mr Connors’ opinion the two are not mutually exclusive.
I’ve mentioned the before and after hours options for Nursery above, but from Pre-Prep (Reception to Year 2), the girls can join Larks from 7.50 – 8.15am in Cadogan House Hall, while Prep girls (Years 3-6) can go to the school’s Day House, Devonshire, from 7.30am where they are looked after until 8am until they walk up together to Cadogan House.
There are also plenty of after-school activities that finish at 4pm or later, including supervised homework sessions that fininsh at 5.15pm or pupils can opt to stay for supper club until 6.15pm.
Nursery starts at £34 for one morning session to £420 for five days based on an 8am-6pm extended day. The day termly fees for Prep (Cadogan House) are £3825 – £4675 for Reception to Yr6 . Weekly boarding costs £7050 and Full boarding is £7435.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who are looking to invest in their child’s education early won’t fail to be impressed by the wide range of facilities and opportunities here, as well as the joined-up thinking and consistency in teaching and pastoral care, which carries girls seamlessly through their school journey.
Not for: Those who feel daunted by the campus-style environment or who aren’t convinced by the idea of a holistic, all-through education. Apart from the fact that places become more limited as you go up the school, the real benefits of being part of the RMS family are realised by those who join as early as possible.
Dare to disagree? A Virtual Open Week is taking place from 21st -26th September, when you have the opportunity to hear from the Head and other members of staff. You can also visit the Virtual Visit Hub, where you’ll find online tours and presentations.
Royal Masonic School, Rickmansworth Park, Rickmansworth WD3 4HF