Highfield Prep, Maidenhead
A celebration of girl power, this 'family' oriented school is producing fearless females in a non hot-housey environment.
HIGHFIELD PREP SCHOOL, MAIDENHEAD
Highfield Prep is a girls’ day school for 3-11 year olds, perched on a hill in the cente of Maidenhead. It is academically non-selective, deliciously small, with just 135 pupils, and class sizes are set at a maximum of 22. The school, opened during the First World War in 1918, is celebrating 100 years in this historic building and the guiding principles of former head and educational trailblazer Charlotte Mason are evident today. Basically, it’s all about teamwork making the dream work with parents, school and child working together to get results.
Compared to some private schools with their posh science blocks and golf courses, Highfield’s facilities are more modest. The site is relatively small, but there’s plenty of space for the girls to let off steam or find a quiet, contemplative spot. It does have a large multi-use sports hall, netball and tennis courts, a climbing wall and an eco garden that was opened by local MP and Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017.
As with all urban schools, when it comes to green space, it’s all about getting creative. Highfield uses nearby Braywick Sports Ground for matches, Magnet Leisure Centre for weekly swimming lessons, Little Marlow for athletics and the Muddy Award-winning Norden Farm for some performing arts activities. Are you starting to think the school’s not very sporty? Wrong! Highfield punches well above its weight – and it’s not surprising when you have an England Hockey player in charge of PE. Ruth Young is a top sportswoman in her own right and has seen girls thrive in district, county and national competitions in tennis, hockey, gymnastics, netball and biathlons.
Academically, the headmistress feels strongly that girls should be exposed to the sciences early (perhaps to avoid bunking off chemistry and biology in their teens like I did!). To inspire a love of the subject, children are exposed to science and technology from Early Years upwards. The fun all happens in the aptly named Discovery Room kitted out with high hexagonal tables to encourage a collaborative working environment.
A specialist teacher comes in each week to teach computer technology – iPads are used regularly, there’s a suite of PCs and the girls design their own games and apps, create content and basically do things that boggle my mind. Make way dinosaur coming through.
There’s good music provision, with 70% of kids playing an instrument in the school orchestra. There’s also a large school choir, a chamber choir, a Year 3 beginners’ recorder group, and instrumental chamber groups are formed for special events.
Strong. The kids tend to go to their first choice schools (a wide variety including Queen Anne’s, The Abbey, Kendrick School, Newland’s Girls’ School, Luckley House, The Marist etc) and are tutored for the 11+ or Common Entrance exams. Although academically there are no worries – average class sizes of 22 mean your kids are getting a lot of attention – I also really like the ethos here. Highfield plainly states on its promotional material that the girls are encouraged to be ambitious. If something hasn’t been done before, be the first. There is a sense of purpose – social stereotypes determining what girls can or cannot do simply do not exist here. Work hard, be bold, be fulfilled and your opportunities in life are limitless. Love love love.
Highfield has a history of trailblazing headmistresses, so no pressure for Joanna Leach, then. But she has risen to the challenge. Joanna’s been steering the ship for the past 3 years, having previously worked in the state system as head of Englefield Primary. Currently working towards her Masters in Education, she’s incredibly passionate about Women In Leadership, and the ‘can do’ vibes can be felt all over this school. One of her recent additions to the school is a large, inspirational mural, celebrating great female leadership from Marie Curie to Malala Yousafzai. Awesome women silently egging Highfield’s girls on to greatness. The girls are taught to be confident, resilient, independent thinkers and encouraged to push societal boundaries of ‘normal’. Much like Joanna did, back in the day, when she was the first in her school to play cricket and football. She’s the perfect person to help produce fearless females. I liked her a lot.
The nursery is very well-equipped, with the usual freeflow indoor/outdoor areas, and plenty of love and attention. By the time the kids make it to Reception, they’re paired up with Year 6s assigned as their buddies, reading to them, playing with them and supporting them.
Probably its biggest quirk is this extremely homely approach. I was very attracted to it, as I can see how it would allow kids to blossom but of course it’s not for all children. Those parents whose kids are ‘larger than life’ characters might want the scope to ‘grow into’ a bigger school. For a school of this size, there is a concerted effort to offer a broad range of extra curricular activities from ballet, art and gardening to self defence, Futsal and computer club. It’s all about choice. I also love the emphasis on strong female role models to encourage the girls to think big.
Family life is important – so there is no school on Saturdays and enough time in the evenings for home pursuits, including a realistic session of homework for older children. I really agree with that, there’s way too much shoving pressure down kids’ throats at way too young an age. Certainly there’s no hot-housing here, it’s a lovely, nurturing, family-style environment for the kids, a kind of everything in moderation approach.
Wrap around care:
The school day runs from 8.25am to 3.30pm. Years 3-6 finish at 3.45pm, but kids can be dropped off at 7.45am for Breakfast Club and The Den After School Club runs until 6pm. A virtual high five from working parents.
Word on the ground:
Nurturing, friendly, effective. The parents I talked to love the fact that the children are allowed to stay young here. That was definitely my sense of the school too.
In addition to the means tested bursaries, to celebrate the 100 years of the school, the Centenary Bursary (available in 2018 only) has been introduced this year to include free wrap around care for the first term and up to 50% discount on fees – making this a very real option for many hard working families. Apply, you never know.
Fees: Very good value, the fees are around 20% less than the average private school. Reception, £3,075 per term; Y1&2 £3,330; Y3&4 £3,580; Y5&6 £4,060. Fees include tutoring for Common entrance and 11+ exams, but hot lunch, trips, breakfast club and after school care are all extra.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Children who prefer a smaller, more intimate and ‘family’ oriented school. Parents who care about the academics but resolutely don’t want to hot-house their kids or force them to grow up too fast. Anyone looking for good value education – at 20% less than most private schools it may open up an option not previously thought available to some families.
Not for: Those who like the ‘grandness’ of country private schools. The main building is attractive, but it occupies a compact site. Kids with ‘large’ personalities might do better at a bigger school with more of a pecking order. And it didn’t bother me particularly, but there’s a bit of road and train noise, but not unexpected given its location.
Dare to disagree: Oh be my guest! The next open day is Wed 13 March – 9.30am-11.30am. Take a look and then let me know what you think.
Highfield Preparatory School, 2 West Road, Maidenhead SL6 1PD Tel: 01628 624918