St Edmund’s Prep School, Ware
This Catholic co-ed Prep in a gloriously rural setting benefits from acres of land, senior school facilities and focuses on modern day values like kindness and community spirit.
St Edmund’s Prep is just outside of Ware, in the super rural hamlet of Old Hall Green. Approached by narrow lanes, fields and farmland, the school has 400 roaming acres to call its own (well, shared with the senior school, St Edmund’s College, that is – more on that later).
The main part of the Prep was built in 1833 and was the former house of William Ward, a theology lecturer from Oxford University, but the school itself was founded in 1874. Back then (and until 2010 in fact!) it was known as St Hugh’s Prep. As you’d expect, it’s been modernised a bit since then, with physical additions like the 1960s Godfrey Wing, (which admittedly stands out a bit against the backdrop of the grand College buildings, but is often the way with older schools growing out of their space), and it started to welcome girls in the 1980s.
Today it’s a co-ed Catholic school and nursery for just shy of 200 pupils aged 3-11, and while the Catholic values still ring true in everything from the teaching ethos to the attitudes of the pupils, the religious side is certainly not enforced, which is refreshing to see in this day and age. Although it’s worth noting that priority for entrance is given to Catholic children.
Taster days are held for those looking to join at all ages and these are accompanied by assessments for places in Years 1 – 6. It’s become increasingly selective in recent years though, and there are waiting lists for the higher year groups.
Most pupils, particularly younger ones, are very local, but others travel as far as Loughton, Royston and Bishops Stortford. It’s safe to say that the school particularly appeals to parents looking for a 3-18 education, evidenced by the fact that 90% move up from the Prep to the College. Incidentally, preference is given to those who join the Prep before Year 4 and they’re not automatically required to site the College entrance exam (unless they’re applying for a scholarship), which must put many parents’ minds at ease – no need for gruelling exam prep!
I’ve mentioned the expansive grounds – the school owns pretty much as far as the eye can see, with some of it sub-contracted to a sheep farmer, who invites the kids to bottle feed the lambs in the spring. Who needs field trips to the farm when you’ve got that on your doorstep?
The main outdoor space used by Prep is called Bounds Field (yep, it’s ‘out of bounds’ beyond that) – it’s used for everything from kicking around a football to performing in the amphitheatre. There’s also an orchard, which the staff and parents have been spending their free time turning into an outdoor learning area with a pond, nature trail and copse, where the accredited Forest School sessions take place – this is part of the curriculum for Nursery to Year 2 and an additional activity for Years 3-4. There are also plans to build an outdoor covered classroom with bi-fold doors, so watch this space.
Another community developed space is the Prayer Garden, which was designed by the children for quiet reflection (and made a reality by a parent who’s a landscape gardener – handy – with a little help from other parents and staff). They’re big on community spirit here and are never short of volunteers for projects like this.
The Prep pupils are very lucky to be able to benefit from the use of the College’s top-notch facilities, like the imposing Pugin Chapel, indoor pool, floodlit Astro-turf, tennis courts and sports hall, which they wouldn’t get at a standalone Prep.
Indoors there are specialist Art, Drama, Music, ICT and Science rooms. The latter is also combined with French, so there are plans to separate these to create a modern science space for practical work.
Well, as of last year, St Edmund’s Prep now holds an Arts Council Gold Artsmark award for outstanding provision in the arts. The pupils benefit from a specialist art teacher and TA and exhibit their work at the annual Chigwell Art Exhibition.
Performance-wise they don’t do things by halves with last year’s highlight being a production of Peter Pan (complete with flying children!) at the Broxbourne Theatre – yep, not the school hall, but a 500-seat auditorium. They even had their own dressing rooms and makeup artists! There are also loads of opportunities to perform throughout the year, from taking part in the Young Voices Concerts at the O2 to LAMDA recitals and all Year 1-6 children participate in the annual Easter Story retelling in the College Chapel.
Around 100 pupils take private instrumental lessons and all Year 2 children get a term’s free group tuition on violin, cello, ukelele or recorder, with a view to whetting their musical appetite, and there are choirs and instrumental groups for Years 1-6 too. The popularity speaks for itself as there were 165 music, drama and dance entries in last year’s Performing Arts competition.
On the sporting front, they’ve got plenty to shout about too, as holders of a Sainsbury’s Gold Sports Mark three years on the trot. Their strongest sports are football and netball, with the U11 football team winning the Hertfordshire and Essex Regional title six years running, and the U11 and U9 netballers regularly sweeping the board in inter-school comps.
The kids also benefit from specialist swimming coaching from Nursery to Year 6 (swimming) and tennis in Years 3 and 4. Tennis is also a part of the PE programme, alongside lacrosse, basketball, rounders and athletics, while the Games curriculum focuses on rugby, hockey and cricket.
Pupils can also fuel their passions in one of the many co-curricular activities. There are 80+ to choose from, which change termly and are all led by professionals and experts. There’s a wide range of sports, and performing arts (including LAMDA exam prep, script writing and prop making), as well as things like Lego, First Aid, knitting, life drawing, photography and karate.
Cookery club is held twice weekly and is always over-subscribed, and gardening and eco clubs are popular too – in fact the school has a really strong environmental focus and received an Eco School Green Flag Award last year. They even follow an eco code and the pupils have asked to put up signs about switching off lights and not wasting water off their own backs – Greta eat your heart out!
There are also plenty of chances to play to their strengths in the inter-house competitions which include everything from an annual spelling bee to dance, music, drama, sport and even a pancake race!
In the classroom St Edmund’s predominantly follows the National Curriculum but has specialist teachers in art, Spanish and German (from Year 4 upwards), French (from Nursery), and drama. While as a rule Catholic schools tend to recognise parents as primary educators, at St Edmund’s it’s very much considered a partnership between parents and teachers, which is reassuring to hear.
And there’s a big focus on the Growth Mindset style of education and the 5 Rs (resilience, responsibility, readiness, respect and resourcefulness) – perhaps they can put their last inspection results down to that, with the school being rated outstanding in personal development.
WORD ON THE GROUND
I was lucky enough to nab some one-to-one time with a couple of parents whose son had just had his interview for the College. Completely off the cuff they told me that they were so impressed by the children’s confidence and eloquence when they first looked around the school that they would have been really proud to have been their parents. Now it is their children making that impression on prospective parents.
They particularly waxed lyrical about the way the children are so well looked after here, and while they were initially sceptical about choosing a Catholic school (as non-Catholics themselves) the values appealed to them and they were won over by the amazing opportunities here.
Steven Cartwright took the helm in 2009 and since then the school has grown from 140 to just under 200 pupils. He’s an animated and engaging Head, who the kids seem to be encouragingly comfortable with, and in return he puts his trust in them – in this case, two Year 6 girls were plucked at random (completely un-prepped) to accompany us on the tour and invited to share their (honest!) opinions of what goes on here, which if you ask me, shows an utter confidence in the contentment and maturity of his pupils.
Perhaps this has something to do with Mr Cartwright’s continuous questioning and encouragement to think independently, as well as the value that he and the school put in ‘pupil voice’ – there are bags of opportunities for them to feel empowered by taking on roles like arts, eco and sports ambassadors.
There’s a Breakfast Club from 7.30 – 8.30am and a Tea Time Club from 3.30 – 6pm which are both run in the Prep building.
Nursery costs £1647 per half day a week per term and £3294 per full day a week per term. Reception to Year 2 is £3,785 and for Years 3-6 it’s £4,750.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who like the idea of an all-through education and the benefit of senior school facilities on site, and who put stock in modern-day values like kindness, community and caring for the environment as well as an all-round education which fosters resilience and independence.
Not for: Those who prefer a contemporary or urban setting and can’t overlook the religious aspect of school life. While the Catholic element certainly isn’t in your face here, the religion’s core values do underpin life at St Edmund’s, and although many find this a draw, it’s won’t be for everyone.
St Edmund’s Prep School, Old Hall Green, Ware, Herts, SG11 1DS