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High March School, Beaconsfield

Small but perfectly formed, this non-selective pre- and prep school in well-heeled Beaconsfield puts pastoral care and happiness at the top of the agenda.

WHAT? WHERE?

High March is a non-selective pre/prep school for girls 3-11 and boys 3-4 in a particularly well-heeled road in Beaconsfield (gated mansions abound!). It sits in two sites, one for Nursery to Y2, and then a minute walk down the road for Years 3-6, and with 300 pupils and four acres it’s a compact school with a family atmosphere – no surprise in a way as High March has been owned by the same family for over 70 years, with the school directors both grandchildren of the former headmaster and headmistress. Class sizes are 20 max.

SPORTS FACILITIES

Like most schools with limited space, High March is inventive with what it has and then outsources where necessary. Both school sites have lovely play areas – the Junior Site in particular is very creative, with a ship made by the maintenance staff (seriously!), a lovely sensory garden and an extravagant wooden Wendy house. The school does have an excellent sporting calling card in its own shiny 20 metre swimming pool – every child gets to swim once a week and no surprise that there are several talented triathletes and biathletes at the school, four of whom competed in the British Modern Biathlon championships in November 2019.

There are new netball courts at the school – netball is the major sport here, the Y6 netball teams regularly reach the final of the IAPS national tournament. Football and cricket are played on the back Astroturf. For athletics, the girls use the fields at Beaconsfield High School, and for Forest School the littlies head off to Shortenills in Chalfont St Giles. Newly-extended Art room.

Academic facilities worth particular mention are the revamped ICT suite and the extremely well equipped and bright art room, with sewing machines, woodworking stations and its six potters wheels – highly unusual to have that number in a senior let alone prep school (a fabulously passionate teacher, Mrs Bissett, too).

MUSIC, ART & DRAMA

There’s a lot going on, particularly in music where there’s another inspirational teacher, Mr Hayes, who just oozes enthusiasm. Singing is the big thing at High March – there’s an orchestra at Upper School which is no mean feat given the school only goes up to 11 years, plus ensembles, and roughly 60% of the children from Y1 up take music lessons here.

You’ll also find the usual LAMDA exams, and the production at Christmas is the big deal here – no stars and minions though, every child is delivered exactly the same number of lines, so that, depending on your opinion, everyone or no-one can shine!  An arts centre has been assigned money – it’s an area that they’d clearly like to develop further – and the hunt is on for premises close-by.

LITTLIES

In nursery it’s mixed, though still predominantly girls, and then all-girls from Reception onwards. There’s nothing particularly unusual to shout about here – normal messy play, dressing up, free flow between classroom and playground etc. I did really like the noise and organised chaos here though. The kids look like they’re having a blast – no doubt the classrooms need a good clean at the end of the day. There are some lovely initiatives like Mini Me Yoga, a six-week block of bendiness, breathing and wellness for all the kids, and the children have specialist teachers in ICT, music and sport.

ACADEMIC RESULTS

Though High March is non-selective, the school clearly delivers academically – High March pupils move on to some of the best state and independent schools, both in the local area and beyond, and the school takes great pride in helping parents and girls find their best next step. High March girls have so far this year attained seven scholarships. But, as a number of senior independent schools are yet to communicate their offers, they are confident that this number will increase (and may indeed exceed last year’s total of 9 scholarships). There’s also been a massive surge in places at Wycombe Abbey in the past couple of years There’s a very high pass rate for 11+, around 80% this year (February 2021) but if you’re planning to send your child here to be trained up for grammar school please be aware that the school offers no formal training for pupils for the 11+ test, you’ll have to get your coaching elsewhere.

A mix of early interventions and confidence in teaching skills early seems to be the secret of success. The children learn cursive writing from Reception and are also read with for 10 minutes every day in lesson throughout Pre-Prep.  The kids are streamed for maths from Y4 and English from Y5. In Y5 children can take Latin and classical studies.

THE HEAD

Kate Gater joined in Sept 2019, before any signs of Covid were on the scene, having come from a headship at Oxford High prep school. She’s warm and personable – if she was just another a mum in the playground you could imagine having a laugh with her. After the pressure cooker environment of being at a central Oxford prep school, she’s clearly relishing the pastoral-led ethos of High March and she sees the strength of this school in its broad appeal and breadth of opportunity for all, not just the super-talented. Tiger parents, take note.

QUIRKS

Nothing major, though it’s rare to find a private school that has been run by a single family since 1948 Not surprising then to find that there’s a High March school song from 1948 that was made up by the girls at the time and is still sung by the present pupils now. I didn’t hear it, but I’m guessing it’s suitably of its time.

In keeping with the sense of fairness and opportunity for all that runs through High March, there are two head girls each year – one from each of the two Y6 classes. To make sure there are no cliques and that the girls learn to mix, the classes change regularly.

LEARNING IN LOCKDOWN

At the start of the third lockdown (January 2021), High March moved to a programme of remote learning for all girls in Reception to Year 6 – it includes live lessons throughout the day, form time and assemblies. Even Art, Drama and PE are covered. High March aims to replicate the in-school experience as far as possible – the younger girls, for example, are still heard to read individually over Zoom every day. The remote learning programme has been well received, as witnessed by a number of emails from parents to the Head praising the programme. The Nursery has remained open throughout the lockdown.

FEES

Slightly below the local average I’d say, perhaps reflecting the compact grounds. Current pricing is: Nursery (5 mornings) £1,950, Reception £3,985, Year 1 £ 4,120, Year 2, £4,495, Years 3–6 £5,160.

WRAP AROUND CARE

Early drop off at 8am and after school club for Reception children upwards until 5.30pmis included in the fees. I imagine that pick-up time will be further extended in the next few years as it’s a bit on the early side compared to most schools I see and we all know parents are working harder and longer.

WORD ON THE GROUND

Very positive. High March is the antidote to those quietly hot-housing prep schools that talk happiness and all-round ability but have a gimlet eye on silverware at every turn. Parents love the nurturing, family atmosphere.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Those looking for a caring, inclusive school that puts pastoral care and happiness at the top of the agenda, expecting achievement to follow from that. The academic results show it’s working.

Not for: High March can’t compete on acreage or facilities with the likes of local competitors so if you’re looking for all bells and whistles on site, move on.

Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! The next open morning is Sat 22 May 2021, by appointment only. To book a place, you must complete the online form.

High March School, Ledborough Lane, Beaconsfield HP9 2PZ. Tel 01494 675186.

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