York House, Rickmansworth
A school with its own farm animals? Naturally, we had to check it out! This rural idyll of a school has a seriously outdoorsy culture and an academic programme that makes learning fun.
York House is a co-ed prep day school with 375 children aged 3-13 in west Herts, close to Croxley Green. The school is brilliantly positioned for busy working parents. Take your pick from the M1 or M25, the Metropolitan Line from Croxley Green, or a train from Rickmansworth. For the more leisurely, you’re almost walking distance from the spa and gym at The Grove.
The setting is idyllic. The main building is a Georgian House with 47 acres of woodland, farmland and a sanctuary for rescue animals. It feels completely rural and away from the stresses of the world.
The school was founded in 1910 in Hampstead but has been in its current location since 1966. It has never been a boarding school and only started accepting girls 8 years ago. There are still more boys than girls but this is changing each year. Nursery starts from just under 3 years and children can stay until age 11 or 13.
This is a very outdoorsy school and plump with possibility for adventure. If you book a visit, you’ll need to bring your wellies. You’ll be swept off your feet as you find yourself barrelling around the countryside in a buggy admiring the sheep, pigs, horses, goats, donkey and hens. Keep your eyes peeled for deer and buzzards. And there’s a neighbour who has some rather attractive alpacas.
Outdoor learning is big here, with a pond for fishing and lots of new equipment for climbing. ‘The Orchard’ is the play area for children in nursery and pre-prep. There’s a hide for bird watching, a polytunnel, fruit trees and a bug hotel. Children are encouraged to collect eggs from the hens, feed the goats and learn how to care for all the animals. ‘Donkey downtime’ is a thing. There are loads of opportunities for challenging yourself thanks to a well-designed obstacle course and a mountain bike track. The overall feeling is that the environment is being nurtured and the children are thriving from what’s on offer.
The sports facilities are fine: 8 sports pitches including an all-weather pitch. Rugby, football, netball, hockey, cricket, athletics and rounders and more are all on offer. Girls’ netball is strong; two children are national finalists in badminton, and two of the teams are unbeaten in rugby. One boy has been selected for the Saracens development squad and there is also an elite European water-skier champion in the school. There’s a positive ‘sport for all’ ethos here which is part of the overall approach to wellbeing.
Inside there’s a new drama studio, IT room, art studio, library, sports hall and music rooms. You can learn French, Mandarin and Latin. There’s lots of music and a vibrant performing arts department. One-to-one LAMDA lessons are available during the school day as well as an after school club. There are 27 classrooms and the whole school is well looked after and buzzing with purposeful activity.
This may be a prep school, but the emotional intelligence ‘RULER’ programme in place comes straight from Yale. The premise is that you benefit from being able to recognise and name your emotions. There is a lot of emphasis on the importance of self-reliance here. The children I met were extremely enthusiastic and keen to tell me stories about the trips, the food, the chickens, and the need to look after each other and be kind. There is a huge sense of pride and appreciation about the school being special. They talked enthusiastically about some of the clubs and after-school activities: golf, street dance, archery, taekwondo, ballet and tap, knitting, kayaking and philosophy. They also talked about the support that’s on offer from teachers and how they know where to go for help.
The ‘York House Way’ is based on how children learn to reflect, develop and grow. It’s all about enjoying the broadest possible education. The children I met were certainly extremely confident and also seemed grounded and happy so it seems to be working.
‘Cultural capital’ is also important here and children are encouraged to find things that interest them from a young age. Opening up young minds to the wonders of classical music, art and history can’t start early enough and of course the ability to speak fluently and passionately about an array of subjects can only help when it comes to those interviews for secondary schools.
Jon Gray is head and his wife Emma is assistant head and they’ve been here for six years. They are an exceptionally good team and create the wonderful family feeling at York House. They have three children at the school and admit that they are both demanding parents and school leaders. Teachers here know that’s it’s not acceptable to spring things on parents. You need to give parents enough warning if your child is expected to come to school in a World Book Day outfit. Jon Gray has been a head teacher for thirteen years and was previously at Hornsby House School in London. He sees life at York House as the perfect antidote to the competitive London school scene. Jon and Emma are also responsible for 65% growth in the numbers at the school, but they’ve done other improving things, including planting 2,000 trees.
The original founder, Rev. CV Hawkins, had a connection with Wimbledon and adopted the colours of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. This is the only school I have ever visited where you can admire alpacas.
The school describes itself as ‘pleasingly oversubscribed’ and I can see why. You don’t need to put your child’s name down at birth, but the earlier the better. There are no more than 18 in a class. Additional help and learning support are available for those who need it. Children go on to secondary school at age 11 or 13, with some leavers going on to good local state schools. In 2018, children went on to Stowe, Harrow, Merchant Taylors’, St Albans School, Berkhamsted, Thorpe House, Rugby and Tring School of Performing Arts.
Reception: £3480; Year 1: £3835; Year 2: £4085; Years 3 – 8: £4635.
From 7.30am until 6pm. You can start with breakfast at early morning club and there’s a range of different after-school care with snacks and meals. Over 90 clubs are on offer.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents love the family feeling. They appreciate the fact that Jon and Emma Gray totally get what it’s like to be a busy working family. Children also like the relaxed family home feel and they absolutely love all the extras, from the animal sanctuary to lots of outdoor learning.
GOOD FOR: If you’re constantly trying to drag your child away from a screen and urging them to go outdoors, this could be the place. It’s brilliant for learning self-reliance and appreciating that’s there’s so much more to life than purely academic learning.
NOT FOR: It’s hard to know who wouldn’t like this school, but if you need to put your child on a school bus in the morning this might not be for you.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest! There’s an open morning on Sat 18 May.
York House School, Sarratt Road, Croxley Green, Rickmansworth, Herts, WD3 4LW