Royal Masonic School for Girls, Rickmansworth
A girls' day and boarding school with stellar results, that's perfectly placed for Herts and Bucks but also deliciously close to London.
The Royal Masonic School for Girls (RMS) in Rickmansworth on the Herts/Bucks borders feels very much like a rural school with its 315 acres. At the same time it’s so close to London that the Metropolitan line runs through the town – no wonder it’s increasingly popular with London girls.
RMS is one of the oldest girls’ schools in the country, founded in 1788 by Chevalier Ruspini to help the children of freemasons who were struggling financially (it is still extremely charity aware and is able to offer bursaries up to 100% funding for a student, if that’s right given her context or background).
The site is a stunner, though the majority of the buildings date back to the much more recent 1930s rather than the Eighteenth Century. This is a relatively large school with 950 girls, aged 2-18, including 90 boarders. This review focuses on the senior school, but on site there is also Ruspini House, a pre-school for boys and girls (2-4), and Cadogan House, pre-prep and prep (4-11).
The sports centre is jaw dropping. It doubles up as the Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Centre – open to the public after school hours. Complete with vast double sports hall, Cybex gym, spin studio, just walking into the building makes you feel that you want to get fit (well, nearly). There’s indoor hockey, tennis, volleyball and netball, with yoga, pilates, dance, aerobics and self defence on offer. Outside, the acreage is conducive to sports galore, with all weather pitches and a golf course and a swimming pool in the main building of the school. RMS are regular district champions in hockey, cricket, rounders, netball and athletics.
Science is big here, and the there’s a purpose built department with 10 labs, with refurbishments taking place this year. There’s also a planetarium and observatory and you can choose to do astronomy at GCSE. Great choice of languages, and you can do Mandarin and Latin at GCSE and A Level.
This feels like an arty school – and that includes the performing arts, with big productions of Oliver! and Les Mis in 2018. Lots of music with around half of the senior school girls learning an instrument. Impressive art department and DT. Great facilities for photography and textiles. A new building is planned for September 2019, with dance studio, recital room, editing suite and music technology rooms. On the day I was there, the school was buzzing about that evening’s dance extravaganza.
The emphasis on pastoral care is palpable. Lots of schemes in place, including mentoring and friendship mediation. The girls are very aware of the values system, with a different one in place for each month, including courage, honesty, commitment and tolerance. There’s a lovely feeling in this school that everyone is being looked after and that the girls are looking after each other. Good SEN provision and lots of learning support. A new pastoral hub is due to be created in the Resource Centre.
The school feels refreshingly inclusive. And the learning atmosphere seems extremely purposeful yet relaxed. Over 50 extra-curricular activities and clubs on offer, including clay club, Duke of Edinburgh, cadets, astronomy, golf and synchronised swimming. Loads of bigs trips are on offer, including a biodiversity in Mexico, history in Vietnam and Cambodia and a charity trip to Ghana. RMS Edge is the brand new Sixth Form curriculum, and there are a whopping 32 A Level subjects on offer.
Kevin Carson is likeable, charismatic and totally down to earth. He’s obsessed with learning and pastoral care. He’s still new, appointed in January 2017, and was previously interim Head at The Grammar School at Leeds. His office is less like a sitting room (as with some Heads of independent schools) and more like a boardroom table – I rather like it that it feels work focused. The previous Head, Diana Rose, was in post for over 15 years, but while she is missed, Kevin Carson is already extremely popular with parents and the girls.
Take a look at Drill. Described as ‘synchronised swimming without water’, it’s an RMS tradition that was filmed last term for BBC news. Hardly surprisingly, it’s the only school in the country performing drill! My guide for the day gave me an impromptu demonstration, but of course you need to see 180 girls doing it to get the full windmilling power of it. And when you visit, keep your eyes peeled for the ‘polished cornerstone’ or Ashlar. It’s a small silver badge worn on lapels, as a recognition of hard work, demonstrating the school values, and contributing to school life. Hard to win, and much respected here. For fans of 20th Century design, the 1930s architecture is a must, and the school has featured in many films, including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
There are three boarding houses to accommodate the 10% of girls who reside here, but updates are planned. Boarding is pretty flexible here, which is increasingly helpful for busy working parents. A brilliant programme of activities is available to those who are there at the weekend – and it’s easy to hop on the Tube at Rickmansworth and get into London.
RMS is selective, so if you want to start in Year 7, you’ll be expected to do online tests and a creative writing exercise. In other years, you’ll sit the usual maths and English test papers and there are interviews for all ages. There is absolutely no feeling of hot housing going on here – quite the opposite in fact, yet look at the 2018 results – 49% A*/A at A Level and 60% A*/A at GCSE. And 90% of Year 13 leavers gained their chosen place at uni.
Day pupils fees are on the higher side of average I’d say at £6120 per term for Years 7-13. Cadogan House prep fees are £3825-£4675 for Day pupils in Reception to Y6.
Weekly boarding is a bit more grunty on price, inline with the best private schools. Senior weekly boarding is £9,625 per term; Full boarding £10,440 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
‘RMS flexes around you’, is how one girl puts it. This seems to be a very happy and popular school. Parents love the nurturing ethos. Girls love being at a school that doesn’t pile on the pressure, but will allow you to pursue the non-academic subjects and where a love of learning triumphs over excessive pressure to do well in exams. The girls feel very supported thanks to the mentoring and friendship mediation. And everyone seems to be delighted with the new head. There’s also a feeling that RMS is a bit of a hidden secret.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Girls who want to go out into the world feeling empowered. Despite all the nurturing, it’s still a strong school academically, so be prepared to work hard. At the same time, if you want to pursue something less academic, you’ll be supported to the hilt.
NOT FOR: If you’re looking for a small, intimate school, RMS might not be for you – with 850 girls it’s one of the larger schools I’ve reviewed. And of course if you’re not sure about single sex education, walk on.
DARE TO DISAGREE? A Virtual Open Week is taking place 21st -26th September, when you have the opportunity to hear from the Head and other members of staff. You can also visit the Virtual Visit Hub, where you’ll find online tours and presentations.
You can also read our review of the Nursery, Pre-Prep & Prep here.
Royal Masonic School for Girls, Rickmansworth Park, Rickmansworth, Herts WD3 4HF.