St Hilda’s Prep School, Bushey
Muddy says: This petite girls' Prep school puts empathy and education for the future at the forefront of the curriculum, producing academically robust and emotionally resilient young women.
St Hilda’s is conveniently located a stone’s throw from Watford and the M1, just on the outskirts of the pretty town of Bushey, making it easily accessible for parents who live locally and further afield, although most come from within a 20-minute radius.
It caters for children from ages 2-11 (boys are accepted into the nursery, which is handy for parents whose older daughters are already at the school). It’s not big – just 185 pupils in total (10 of those being boys at the nursery) – but that’s part of the appeal for many parents. And it’s one-form entry with a maximum of 20 girls per class.
St Hilda’s is a selective school – children are informally assessed in small groups at age 4, (even if they are already at the nursery), and those wishing to join the school later on are asked to do an English and Maths assessment and spend time with their class group.
Good for a school of its size, without being extensive. The highlight is the 20m heated indoor pool, with it’s own changing rooms (housed in a log-cabin style building!) and diving boards, too. A big plus for a small school.
The Bluebird nursery has plenty of space for stuctured and independent play as well as a dedicated outdoor area and messy play room. There’s room for up to 60 children and they can join from their second birthday as ‘hummingbirds’ before moving up to pre-school as ‘kookburras’ – cute! They also benefit from the Prep school’s specialist teachers in Music and PE, and have the chance to take lessons in Spanish, French, Swimming and Forest School in their pre-school year. Aren’t they lucky!
There’s a small field and a hard play area, with a sweet wooden pirate ship for the Prep school pupils, as well as a Forest School woodland patch (used from nursery to Year 2), known as The Spinney. There’s also a covered outdoor classroom for use in all weather (within reason of course!)
Sportswise, there’s a netball court (which was re-laid over the summer holidays) and a well equipped sports hall with PE and gym apparatus, but for other sports the girls have access to the wider range of facilities at the nearby Aldenham Senior School and take part in weekly athletics sessions there in the summer term, so they definitely don’t miss out.
The sports hall is used for assemblies three times a week – there’s one Head’s assembly, one performers’ assembly and one achievers’ assembly, held on Fridays, where the girls are rewarded for their achievements both academically and otherwise (like if they’ve been a good friend this week – bless!). But for bigger performances and drama productions, they use Aldenham’s facilities.
St Hilda’s celebrated its centenary last year (a fantastic achievement for such a small school) and still runs on it’s founding principles of educating girls for the future – they can thank the founding Headmistress, Violet Curry, for that. Today St Hilda’s is part of the Aldenham Foundation, but Miss Curry’s aims are still very much part of school life.
There’s a big emphasis on progression – changing teaching methods with the times to continually improve and evolve. It might be a school grounded in tradition but it’s certainly not scared of change – in fact it welcomes it with open arms and St Hilda’s longevity is undoubtedly thanks to this forward-thinking attitude.
Part of this is encouraging the girls to have GRIT (Get Really Into Trying) and putting value in ‘soft’ skills. In fact, it’s one of 12 schools which are pioneering a programme called Empathy Lab, which is based on research by neuroscientists and designed to combat the ’empathy deficit’ in modern society. Seems like a great idea, but how does it work? Well, it’s all about helping children to connect with their emotions through literature – it’s proven that kids can get more in touch with their own feelings by relating to those of the characters they read about in books. Clever stuff!
STEM is taken seriously here too and the girls take science from Reception with a senior-trained specialist, as well as one IT lesson a week. St Hilda’s also gets involved with Science Week. It’s great to hear that more girls are taking up these subjects and are (perhaps) more inclined to do so in an all-girls environment.
There’s a School Council, which the girls can join from Year 1, and they’re given the chance to visit the council offices and meet the mayor (mini politicians in the making?), as well as contributing their ideas to the running of the school, of course. And the girls get more responsibility the further up the school they go – each pupil in Year 6 gets the ‘prefect’ title and has their own individual role to play, from house captain to running the eco committee. Responsibility is taken very seriously around here.
And they get to go on some great trips from Reception, including days out at Windsor Castle and residential bushcraft trips to stays further afield like Cornwall and France for Years 5 and 6.
The girls folllow the Read, Write Inc phonics progamme. They get half an hour of library time every week when they can choose a book according to their reading level rather than their age. Plus the school often invites authors and illustrators to come in to do group sessions and readings, too.
And St Hilda’s does its bit for the local community – local toddler groups and a holiday camp for physically and mentally impaired children use the school facilites, and the girls regularly visit the elderly at care homes in the area.
St Hilda’s strongest sports are netball and swimming, and the school’s produced a number of county swimmers over the years. But the full repertoire of sports is offered, from gymnastics to ball skills and rounders. The girls also do ballet from Reception to Year 4 as part of the curriculum.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
The girls have music lessons with a dedicated music teacher from Reception and they all learn an instrument from Year 1. There are choirs, strings and woodwind groups that they can join and there are lots of concerts throughout the year to get involved in, from the nursery nativity to productions by Years 3 and 4, and Years 5 and 6, which are performed in the theatre at Aldenham School.
LAMDA classes are offered too, and depending on the strength of the cohort, St Hilda’s puts on scholarship classes in music and drama, which has paid off with a number of pupils getting music scholarships last year at 11+.
Scholarship classes are also run in art for those who show a natural talent at age 11 (although the children are picked out as early as Year 4). Resident artists come into the shcool too to do painting and pottery with the girls and, to mark the centenary, one artist produced a drawing of the school.
While St Hilda’s girls perform well with the 11+ it’s far from a hothouse environment here. The focus is on building resilience and being able to try lots of different things.
This year, three girls gained academic and music scholarships to local schools and one won a sports scholarship to Millfield.
Popular leavers’ destinations include North London Collegiate School, Haberdashers, Royal Masonic, St Albans High School and St Helen’s, as well as Watford Grammar, Dame Alice Owens and Queens.
There’s a breakfast club from 7.30am and after-school club (which can incorporate extra-curricular clubs and activities) until 6.30pm, both at an extra cost.
On the average to high end for Prep schools in the area at £4234 per term for Lower School and £4511 for Upper School.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Girls who like the idea of a close-knit environment and parents who want a school with a traditional foundation that moves with the times.
Not for: Those after the buzz of a larger school with all the facilities available on site, and are more interested in academic results than developing emotional resilience.
Dare to disagree: Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself. There’s an Open Morning on 21 September 2019. Call 0208 950 1751 or email the registrar, Mrs Selby on firstname.lastname@example.org.
St Hilda’s School, High Street, Hertfordshire, WD23 3DA