St Margaret’s School, Bushey
Muddy says: A history-rich independent co-ed day and boarding school for pupils aged two to 18. Excels in the arts, empathy, diversity and sport, in addition to its strong academic results.
This historic school in Bushey, Hertfordshire, has 60 acres of lush green grounds and woodland on its grand doorstep. Previously a girls-only school, it’s been transitioning since Jan 2020 to become a co-ed school, with boys welcomed from pre-reception through to Y6 and the Sixth Form, and will be fully co-ed by September 2022.
Founded in 1749, St Margaret’s may be one of the oldest independent schools in the country, but don’t be fooled by its traditional appearance. True, this Alfred Waterhouse-designed school (the architect behind the Natural History Museum) wouldn’t look out of place in a period film set, but it still feels relaxed, homely and reassuringly unstuffy.
There are just 457 pupils here (433 of whom are girls), with class sizes averaging a cosy 15. That’ll do nicely. The school is selective, but not based only on academics – there’s a sense of ‘fit’ with the children and an alignment with the parents on what they want the school to achieve for their children.
FACILITIES & SPORT
Sport is big at St Margaret’s, and it has the facilities to show for it. The Sport Centre houses a 25m swimming pool – where the Head is hoping to introduce water polo – a dance studio and fitness suite.
Outside, you’ll find a number of sport pitches (field and all-weather ones), along with oodles of fields for everything from football and cricket to lacrosse. As for those acres of woodlands, there are plans for a mountain bike trail – watch this space.
Other facilities include a Performing Arts Centre, new music building, food tech and science labs. There’s also an impressive purpose-built design studio, full of light, angled roofs and views to inspire. Talking of which…
ART & DESIGN
The art and design department is incredibly well kitted out, and it’s easy to see why art is one of the most popular subjects at GCSE and A Level at St Margaret’s. The school offers a range of different pathways post-16: Photography (there’s a dark room), Fine Art, and Textiles are all on the A-level syllabus.
The art department contributes to most events, such as last year’s whole-school initiative for every staff member and student to make, fire up, paint and glaze a ceramic poppy for Remembrance Day from the school kiln.
MUSIC & MORE
Exciting times for musos, as a shiny-new Music and Drama building is currently being built. St Margaret’s likes to share the love with the community and has a long tradition of inviting local care homes over for their Prefect Christmas Music tea.
A good third of pupils learn a musical instrument and do this alongside theatrical music groups and LAMDA. Over in the Senior School, expressive arts are an obvious strength and pupils look forward to the showcase events, as well as opportunities to work with local orchestras and music groups. During the pandemic, the school operated all of its music groups and undertook virtual events and concerts, many of which were shared with local care homes.
Would-be thespians are also well catered for at St Margaret’s, with students routinely staring in TV, West End and film productions, such as actress Jodie Campbell (Bulletproof) who left St Margaret’s last year. The school works with a number of outside companies – including Splendid productions, The Paper Birds and Frantic Assembly, who visit the school to run workshops and give performances. Drama students also get to take full advantage of being so close to London with plenty of visits to the latest shows in the West End.
Each year St Margaret’s puts on a whole school play or musical. This is accompanied by year-group productions, lower-school play and house plays across the year. St Margaret’s productions are pretty varied – from large-scale musicals to smaller ensemble pieces of thought-provoking theatre. Throughout the year, there are opportunities for year-group productions, speech and drama events, as well as the house drama competition.
Beyond the usual sports, music and drama, St Margaret’s has a huge number of clubs, ranging from pottery, Photoshop club, World Affairs, MUN (Model United Nations) and Psychology Society to the more recognisable clubs such as Oxbridge and Engineering preparation, plus Biomedical and Law Society.
There are more unusual clubs on offer, too, such as an Up-Cycling club, which recycles textiles into new clothes to be sashayed down the catwalk at the school’s annual fashion charity show. The school has seen some great alumni successes when it comes to fashion, including Jia Lee, a designer for Dior, as well as Tola Doll Fisher – model, journalist and blogger – who returned to the school for a prize-giving wearing head to toe silver (no surprise, the kids went mad for her).
Trip wise, being so close to the centre of London, there are plenty of day trips to all that the capital has to offer, along with further afield trips that pre-pandemic included Iceland (above), Russia, Borneo, Malaysia and New York.
Instead of relying purely on what the head calls the ‘blunt tool’ of Common Entrance exams, St Margaret’s assesses admissions based on appraisals, interview and school reports. School communities don’t thrive on hundreds of academic eggheads, and though grades are certainly a marker, St Margaret’s is firmly on the lookout for different talents and more rounded qualities.
Once your child has battened down the hatches and gained a place, the school has a strong reputation for individual progress – the added value here is significant, with 96% of all A level pupils in 2020 hitting A*-C, with an incredible 100% achieving A*-B in Physics, English, Government & Politics. University destinations include Cambridge, Leeds, Bristol, King’s College, UCL, Bath, Manchester and Edinburgh, with typical course choices being Medicine, Law, Classics, Veterinary Science, Architecture, History, Biochemistry and Civil Engineering.
THE HEAD TEACHER
Previously Principal Deputy Head at Norwich School, Lara Péchard joined St Margaret’s as Head in January 2020, just a few months before Covid closed the school. She was quick to bring in a clinical psychologist to help students and advise teachers during lockdown, and to also provide help sessions for parents with a buddy-up system with a form rep. This is especially helpful if you’re a newbie parent who’s yet to be added to the must-have What’s App group.
Aside from steadying the ship in pandemic waters, Péchard’s been tasked with taking St Margaret’s through its transition from girls only to co-ed. Having taken two of her previous schools from single sex to co-ed, she knows what she’s doing. With two children of her own under 10, Péchard’s super organised and definitely has the energy and enthusiasm to see it through.
SEN & PASTORAL CARE
St Margaret’s ISI report praised the school’s pastoral care, saying, “The excellent pastoral care shown by the staff, supports pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural awareness exceptionally well.” Mental wellbeing is a subject Péchard is hot on – at her last school she was recognised by MIND for the initiatives she carried out there.
She has plans to build on the already strong SEN and pastoral care at St Margaret’s, kicking off with creating a dedicated chill-out space, with staff on hand if a child needs someone to talk to. Péchard’s rolled out a programme of pastoral webinars, too, which have been given a big thumbs-up by parents, especially during the most recent lockdown. There’s also a dedicated Learning Support Department, including four qualified support tutors. Teaching staff have all been given further training on how to support students, and this is set to continue.
Instilling kindness and community service is part of St Margaret’s OM – doing local clean-ups, helping charities in the community and making sure all children do volunteering work in the community at least once a year.
WRAP AROUND CARE
There’s wraparound care for The Nursery and Junior School from 7.30am–6pm, while Seniors can hang out from 8am–6pm (4.30pm on Fridays). Boarders need to give 48 hours’ notice if they decide they want to come back to school early (or not leave in the first place – can’t say I blame them).
Early Years to Juniors have their own beautiful recently refurbished building. Classrooms are bright and colourful, with areas for activities from role play and creative arts to sensory exploration and computing.
But it’s outside where littlies are spoilt rotten, with a performance stage, playhouse, pirate ship, sand pit, construction area, small world area, den building, adventure playground, water play, mud kitchen, bikes and scooters. And then there are the incredible grounds, with their green fields, ponds and bluebell woods.
Up until now, children started here at three years old but after listening to parents’ appeals to have younger siblings at the same school, the entry age has recently been reduced two years, so now’s a good time to sign up your own little people.
Littlies (two to four year olds) in the Nursery get to take part in a broad curriculum, which includes outdoor learning in the woodland, building teddy shelters and looking for animal tracks. There are also. weekly bikes and trikes sessions, language immersion and rhyme time in the library.
Once children join Reception, they become part of the Junior School and their curriculum expands hugely. Alongside the core subjects of English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Theology & Philosophy and languages, they’ll also do drama, music, PE, art, Design & Technology.
Day, weekly and fulltime boarding are all available here from Y7, with the vast majority boarding fulltime (mostly international students from countries such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Nigeria, Italy and Mexico).
There’s talk of allowing younger years to access boarding in the future, but for now the 40 boarders get to enjoy an amazing place to live, with acres for a garden, while still being only 20 mins from central London. Jammy!
For such an old school (260 years and counting) that’s steeped in history and tradition, St Margaret’s offers some distinctly quirky after-school activities – from Beyond Biology, where kids are taught dissection (eek!) to augury club, fun, fashion and fantasy club, upcycling and, er, serial killer club.
When it comes to traditions, St Margaret’s doesn’t disappoint – it’s awash with them. Besides having a long-time boarder with four legs, Bracon the dog (below), there’s the annual teacher and staff netball match; St Margaret’s Day Feast and Coin Trail; whole school singing Happy Birthday in the dining hall en masse whenever there’s a birthday; donkeys at Xmas (above); the annual visit to the Anderson shelter round the back of the school for Y7 history; and to top it off, there’s the prefect all-expenses-paid trip to Edinburgh for the day to celebrate St Margaret’s Day with all the other St Margaret’s Schools.
The fees for Junior day students (£4,104–£5,013) and Senior day students (£5,997) sound very reasonable to me, while £11,322 for full boarding is a steal.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: If you’re looking for a fantastic international mix where diversity is celebrated; if you’re not sure where your child’s talents lie but want to ensure they get the best tutoring and encouragement for whatever they decide to pursuit – whether that be politics, biology or silver-pants-wearing fashion designer. And, if you’re new to the school, the locality or even the country, St Margaret’s seems to go out of its way to make not just the kids but also the parents feel welcome and shown the ropes, thanks to the parent buddy system.
Not for: Parents looking for a greater emphasis on pure academics might want to look elsewhere. Also, bit of a waste for kids who are unlikely to make the most of the plentiful extra-curricular options available.
Book in for an Open Day taking place on 19 June. To make your appointment, please call 020 8416 4440 OR ping over an email to email@example.com. Or, if you want to have a sneak-peak yourself, just click on the virtual tour of the Junior School here or the Senior School here.
St Margaret’s School, Merry Hill Road, Bushey, Hertfordshire WD23 1DT.
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