Heywood Prep School, Corsham
Muddy says: Hard to find fault with this lovely co-ed prep school in the heart of Corsham - a family vibe, a pretty town setting and very happy kids!
Heywood Prep is a bucolic day school and nursery for boys and girls aged 2-11, in the bustling and oh-so-pretty Wiltshire town of Corsham. With a total of 200 pupils, the school is set in 2 acres of gardens (with a few secret playgrounds), with an impressive manor house and other buildings housed in former stables and even an old fire station. And very attractive it is too! Founded in 1940, the school has been on the same site for over 60 years, with an instant feel of a small, friendly place with family at its heart.
The school is in the heart of Corsham so no room for swimming pools or stand-alone sports centres (there’s no need when you can pop down the road and use someone else’s!) but Heywood has its own astro, tennis courts and two adventure playgrounds. The enclosed site means that the kids get the run of the playgrounds and field during break times, plus a woodland area at the rear of the school is presently being converted into an official Forest School with outdoor classrooms. It might be a small school but its two acre site feels spacious, with a pond, Antonia’s Garden and even peacocks checking themselves out in the art room windows.
For a small school sport is really pushed at Heywood, and they certainly punch above their weight on the sports pitch. Professionals from Bath Rugby Club come to Heywood to coach after school clubs, and in return the children get to be flag bearers at matches.
Classrooms are large and bright, as is the gorgeous Art Block – small but perfectly formed – while music, concerts, assemblies and drama take place in the large, light hall, which converts itself into the dining room for lunch with, may I say, the most delicious looking spread I’ve seen at a prep school, with a large selection of salads on top of the main meal and even its own bakery selection. In fact, I was told by more than one person on my visit that the food is so good that most members of staff aren’t able to resist it and pile on the pounds when they first arrive!
Children do extremely well at 11+, with 100% of pupils getting into their first choice of senior schools – as a passionately non-selective school that’s a big academic tick. The most able pupils are pushed all the way and 12 scholarships and exhibitions were awarded to this year’s 20 leavers across academic, sport, music, drama and art. Children move on to boarding schools such as Westonbirt and Kingswood, but more predominantly onto day or mixed day/boarding in Bath and beyond, including Dauntsey’s and Prior Park. Pupils also go to the excellent state schools in Chippenham. Heywood prides itself in giving its pupils a comprehensive preparation in all areas for their senior school journey.
Classes hold a maximum of 18 (no more than 16 in Reception), with two forms in each year from reception upwards. It is obvious from visiting the school that the focus is very much on the individual, from the school’s SEN department to preparing for an Eton scholarship. The school’s eight ‘C’s – Commitment, Creativity, Curiosity, Craftsmanship, Collaboration, Confidence, Compassion and Communication – wind their way through the school in all areas.
Rebecca Mitchell has been in the hot seat for a year now and has very much made her presence felt with a strong future vision. Previously the Deputy Head at Heywood and before that Head of Pre-Prep, her passion for nurturing each child is clear – ‘The children don’t have to adapt to us,’ she says, ‘we have to adapt to them’ – and she is equally proud of the close knit staff team and the open and listening community that clearly breeds extremely happy children!
Another of Rebecca’s brainchildren is the Treehouse, a dedicated space for Heywood’s learning support department. A lovely quirk of the school is that SEN encompasses not only learning support but learning enhancement and their Gifted and Talented programme too, so the needs of all are catered for. This lovely bright building offers everything from a growing programme of one-to-one sessions (the team comprises an SEN co-ordinator, a specialist learning support teacher, two learning support tutors and two TAs, an incredible level of support for a small school) to a Mindfulness Zone where anyone who needs 5 minutes in a quiet space with large cushions is welcome. With a massive push on mental health and wellbeing in schools across the country, Heywood are grabbing the issue by the horns and tackling it with gusto both in the classroom and outside of it.
Keen to be visible and approachable, Rebecca is a friendly face at the gate every morning, eats lunch with the children and assures me that her door is always open…as long as her office isn’t full with nursery children in their weekly story time session!
The nursery consists of four bright rooms in a pretty, homely building, with children working their way vertically up the building as they get older. There is a maximum of 8 children in each class at any one time, with children taking sessions in the main school for music and drama, and Prep teachers visiting nursery for French, PE, phonics and music. The connection between the Nursery and Prep is strong, with almost all children moving up and regular meetings taking place between staff from both departments ensuring that when littlies do move up, they are well prepared.
The main, and most brilliant quirk at Heywood is actually to discover the quirk in each child. They mean to find out if a pupil is amazing at chess and if so, will set up a chess club for them. This spirit forms itself into Heywood’s IL programme, half-hour daily Individualised Learning Sessions for every pupil exploring quirky subjects in small, mixed-age groups where children of all abilities can be stretched, supported and developed. Think Latin, Debating, Current Affairs, Chinese, Shakespeare Club, Nature Club, Astronomy, Engineering and even Paper Polyhedron Club. For the little ones there is everything from Sports Squad, Wizard Maths, Puzzle Busters and Reading Rangers to Picture Detectives, Imagination Lab and Bunny Buddies. On my visit I was impressed that children aren’t pigeonholed here – one day they might take part in a particularly Gifted And Talented IL session and the next day have extra support with phonics. The small groups build up friendships, help staff to get to know the children well and the programme is a wonderful opportunity for pupils to try new things and find out what they excel at. It’s also a great way of using the unusual hidden talents of staff members – British Sign Language, anyone?
Another fabulous addition to Heywood is their GATI programme (see how they’ve added an ‘I’ for ‘Interested’ to Gifted and Talented? A great idea to encourage kids who are just that – interested – to join in). Both children and parents are welcome at after school and weekend events – think everything from art workshops and felting to lectures by Bath Astronomers complete with telescopes!
There is a tangible sense of gown working closely with town here: the school takes part in the Blue Sky Festival at Corsham’s Pound Arts Centre, plus Heywood sponsors the local Arts Trail and Corsham 2k Fun Run. Art workshops, Science and Space Talks, and Parent and Child singing workshop are organised for the school and the community beyond.
It’s very good, and entirely flexible. Kids can stay for tea (a proper meal, they assure me) and after school clubs until 6pm, and can arrive for breakfast at 7.30am. A demand for year-round care from parents means that Heywood runs a holiday club pretty much all year round (bar Christmas and New Year and bank holidays), 8am-6pm for all ages, with a full programme including swimming, cooking and Nerf wars.
Lots of wonderful extras here, including a 4-night residential trip in Year 6, plus sports tours to other Wishford Schools including Hatherop Castle and Cricklade Manor Prep. The odd ski trip too (parents welcome) for the powder hounds amongst us.
The creativity of this school is staggering (think green glitter leading Year 1s into their classrooms for a Winnie the Witch theme), and the main building creates a real feeling of buzz-iness, with kids getting to know each other well. Drama is a biggie here, with form drama assemblies every term and four plays a year. Music and drama evenings are held at The Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, many students have individual LAMDA tuition and the school takes part in the creative arts festival Mid-Somerset Festival, often winning distinction in a number of classes.
I was particularly impressed by their growing plans for Year 6 pupils once summer exams are done. Bikeability, rookie life-guarding courses, studying banking, Scat Band and the Wishford Young Enterprise scheme form just part of the Leavers’ Programme.
Reception fees start at £1920 per term (plus 15 funded hours) rising to £2995 for Years 5 & 6. Lunch is £275 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The mums I’ve talked to adore Heywood and its happy, friendly, nurturing feel. The excitement of the Year 6s in their weekly ukelele class merrily strumming along to the opening chords of Eye of the Tiger pretty much sums up the enthusiasm of the Head and her staff. The communication between parents and school is strong and parents appreciate that homework has been pulled right back, with only a nightly focus on reading, spelling and times tables. Many parents love the opportunity for families to study together at weekends, with optional topic sheets or museum visits.
‘There are very few tears on the gate, even in the first few days,’ says one happy Mum.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Well-rounded kids. The vibe is informal and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. Good flexible after-school care is particularly helpful for busy working parents.
Not for: Those who require full-boarding, a country location, a larger school cohort, or parents who prefer a selective hot-housey approach to schooling.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at their whole school Open Day on Saturday 20 October, 9.30 – 11.30am. The theme is ‘Just Imagine’ and there are lots of activities that little visitors can get involved in. They are also holding an Early Years Open morning on Wednesday 14 November, 9.30 – 11.30am.
Heywood Prep School, The Priory, Priory Street, Corsham, Wiltshire SN13 0AP, Tel: 01249 713379 , www.heywoodprep.com