As I sit at my desk after school, I can hear the sounds of very busy children all around me. Clubs are in full swing with Reception shrieking with delight over this week’s messy play activity, Year 6 calling for the ball from the Netball court, and Spanish club songs charmingly emanating from the upstairs window.

Thinking about all the activities on offer makes me reflect on how tremendously lucky our children are, here at Heatherton, to be provided with such a broad range of experiences from such a young age, and the influence that this will have on them as they grow up. Now as my own child starts to creep towards school age, the ever-important question of where to send him to school seems to be on the horizon. 

So why would you consider Independent Schools for your child and at what age would it be best to send them?

I have been at Heatherton for 6 years, with 4 of those years as Head of Pre-Prep, so of course my answer would be, the earlier the better! But it is important to divulge why.

So why choose an Independent School Nursery and Pre-Prep experience, and what will your child gain from it?

Building Confident Learners

The early years of a child’s life are some of the most important times of their education journey. The building bricks for the next 18+ years of school have been created, and if the foundation of their learning is not secure, just like a building, problems will occur later on. A child may get lost in a large unit of 30, 60, or 90 children, but in a small class of 20 or less, this is just not the case. At Heatherton, each girl or boy (in Nursery) is tracked and monitored from the start of their schooling. These could be as simple as a teacher noticing an issue with their pencil grip, to discovering a child reads better when work is on coloured paper. The small class sizes allow for the individualised care and planning that children deserve when undertaking their initial years of school. No one fades into the background when each child is exclusively focused on at least once a half term. Not forgetting the profound benefits of the co-educational setting within a Nursery. In Nursery, daily interactions in a co-educational environment enables children to interact, play and co-operate across a range of activities, and with the children essentially being leaders of their own learning at this age, such diversity of ideas allows each girl and boy to experience the intrinsic fundamentals of play that can be very different for each gender.

Specialist Teaching

Independent Schools are also in the enviable position of having teachers who are specialised in a particular field to teach that subject. From Nursery, our girls and boys have specialist sessions for French, Music, Science, Computing, Art, and PE. Teachers who are at the forefront of their profession and who are truly passionate about their subject, plan engaging and challenging lessons to suit each class that they teach. Looking back on my time working in State Schools, it is hard to believe that I felt I had the mastery of all the subjects I was asked to teach, and when I see Reception follow a score written on the whiteboard, or Year 2 confidently writing in French, I realise how wrong I was!


Facilities are a big driver in a parent’s decision to choose an Independent School for their child. Heatherton is part of the Berkhamsted Schools Group and is therefore able to pull on the resources of a large family of schools, whilst maintaining its small family feel. Girls in the Prep swim at the Knox Johnson pool at the Senior School, and benefit from sporting coaches who come to share their expertise and skills in Cross-Country and Lacrosse. We have full access to the Berkhamsted outdoor education team, who run year group trips and experiences for children from Reception onwards at the Haresfoot Outdoor Education Centre, with facilities including a High Ropes course. The Berkhamsted Theatre department regularly invite girls in Year 5 and 6 to ‘experience days’ and to help with costumes, lighting, and sound for the school’s productions.

Like many parents, I have an important decision to make about my child’s education. The best thing to do if you are unsure, is to book a tour of the school or attend an open day. I am certain that you will know just by the feel you get of the site and its staff, whether the school is the right choice for your child. Often school tours are led by pupils in the older years, and I would always advise asking them about their experience of the school and what they have enjoyed. Who better to find out the relevant information from than those who have experienced first-hand, the journey through!

Alison Holmes – Head of Pre-Prep Heatherton School

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