Heatherton School is a small day prep school in Amersham for girls aged 3-11 years, with a co-ed nursery on site. A grand total of 158 in the school means there’s an intimate, nurturing and happy vibe, with around 20 girls in each class. From the roadside you’ll think Heatherton attractively homely rather than palatial – there might not be acreage to boast of, but there’s plenty to recommend once you step through the door.
As part of the Berkhamsted family of schools, Heatherton has benefited from investment on-site along with sharing the Group’s facilities – among other things, the girls have access to a brilliant high ropes course, a 500 seat theatre, a 25m swimming pool and more, plus joining Berkhamsted Prep for ski trips and concerts.
The outside space here is charming, with a large playground with a castle, bunting-laden shaded sitting area for Year 6 (who also get sole rights on the outdoor picnic tables for lunch), and a playground complete with climbing frames. A recently installed outdoor classroom – The Eco-Cabin – is used by all pupils for outdoor learning, whilst also creating a quiet space for girls to relax during break and lunch. The nursery children (rising 3 years upwards) are literally just through a gate in their pretty outdoor space, so there’s a feeling of continuity moving up the school.
Aside from using Berkhamsted School facilities, the girls have weekly swimming lessons, cross-country training, netball practice and matches, dance, gym and ballet lessons. It’s a very active school with some high achievers – the school won team and individual medals in all its cross-country events in 2019, and swimming is also very strong here, with before-school swimming clubs for the most able – so I wouldn’t let the lack of onsite goodies put you off.
In terms of buildings, there’s been investment for new science and food technology classrooms plus the renovation of a lovely art room, still currently super-shiny and neat (I’ll take a photo next time I come back and see how it fares!). The girls also benefit from a large ITC suite with 24 computers.
All the classrooms are bright and modern, and the nursery in particular is very spacious and welcoming with a gorgeous enclosed outdoor space.
Heatherton is gently selective, but only in the sense of providing the usual basic Maths/English tests and looking for ‘fit’ at Reception entry. It’s definitely not an academic hot-housey type school, but you’ll be pleased with the results – the 11+ pass rate over the last 10 years has been above 60%; double the county average.
For those looking to stay in the independent sector, Heatherton provides a good grounding for this too with girls progressing each year not only within the Group to Berkhamsted Girls but to Pipers Corner, Wycombe Abbey and RMS, several with scholarships in hand. If you like shiny trophies, a team of Y6 girls recently beat over 80 schools to come first in the region in the National Young Mathematician Awards. Expect specialist teachers in music, modern languages and ballet which starts from nursery (sweeeet!).
There’s a SEN programme here including individual support, group work and booster groups. Pastorally the school is highly regarded – there is a counsellor available 5 days a week for the pupils, plus a tracking system for both academic and pastoral welfare.
Nicola Nicoll started as headteacher in September 20 – just in time to put her mug on the shelf and memorise the children’s names before a second lockdown. She comes with serious pedigree – Westminster Under School, Thomas’ Clapham in London, a stint teaching at a private school in Zambia, and Badminton Junior Girls’ school are all on her CV. A science teacher herself, she’s making STEM a priority area of development and is also overseeing a redevelopment of the school grounds to incorporate a larger sports and performance space, plus a proposed partnership with the parish council to develop a piece of woodland for the whole local community.
Under her leadership expect more co-ordination between Heatherton and the excellent Beacon School for boys a few minutes down the road – there’s talk of getting the schools together more regularly in the future (watch this space!) – as well as a greater use of the brilliant sports facilities within the nearby Berkhamsted Group of schools.
How’s this for you – Heatherton has two on-site Wellbeing Dogs! They belong to the Art teacher and live mostly in the Art room, though they are also taken through the school into various classes and used to calm the children or teach them about how to care and think of others. No surprise to hear that the children who feel nervous about reading to others read to the dogs instead and have come on leaps and bounds.
On the sporting front, it’s one of the few prep schools around here that offers Lacrosse and Eton Fives (when visiting Berkhamsted) as options.
Not quirky but useful to know – there are male teachers at the school (one being the deputy head) which is, I think, important in a girl’s school. The girls do get to mingle with boys too – recently introduced is the option to join the local boys from The Beacon School for orchestra, something to return to the timetable once restrictions permit.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Around 60% of the children here are learning an individual instrument. The Music teacher has a lot of energy (I watched her in assembly accompanying five new instrumentalists in their first ever performances – she was very encouraging!). Year 2 learn a wind instrument and year 5 the ukulele, there are ensembles for Wind Stars, String Stars, orchestra, recorder group, and three choirs. Not bad for a school of 158, right? Drama seems well catered for, with various concerts, shows and its first ever Prep event at the Elgiva Theatre in Chesham to let the school’s performers loose on the stage.
WRAP AROUND CARE
All schools are wise to offer good wrap-around care and Heatherton does better than most with earlier starts and later pick ups than many other schools I’ve reviewed. Parents can bring their children in from 7.30am – 6.00pm from nursery through to Y6 for an extra fee.
Reasonable, perhaps reflecting that some activities are off-site. Pre-Prep £3735 – £3790 per term; Prep £4455 – £4700 per term. A Nursery place for a full day per term is £694.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Very positive. Heatherton is a nurturing, safe, and very family-oriented school accompanied by great results. Parents who send their children here very much buy into the school community, and the staff and parents apparently genuinely mingle.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for a non-pressurised ‘welcoming’ feel, but who care about the academic attainment and breadth of experience for their girls. In a school of 158, the individual attention and pastoral care is high here.
Not for: Can’t compete on acreage so if it’s a large school environment you’re after you may choose to look elsewhere.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! There’s an Open Day on Sat 2 Oct from 10am – 12pm. Details can be found on their website.