A stone’s throw from Hampstead Heath, this small, all-girls prep school embraces a ‘we, not me’ community spirit and a progressive teaching mentality that results in impressive academic achievement. Life skills – cooking, health and safety, leadership skills – are woven into the curriculum, as is ‘homework’, which is done and dusted during the school day to free up time for extracurricular clubs and positions of responsibility on the school council and in the library.
The school is housed in a beautiful Georgian building on a leafy residential street very near Belsize Park Tube station and several bus routes. Many pupils live within a 15-minute radius, and walk or scoot from home. Despite its small size, the school boasts a purpose-built theatre, all-weather pitch, an adventure playground and gardening plots. They use the nearby heath for sports such as rounders, cricket and rugby.
A Durham psychology graduate with a master’s in transformational leadership and seven years under her belt at Garden House, where she was deputy head for academics, head Morven MacDonald is young, enthusiastic and passionate about education. We were struck by how friendly and open her relationship with pupils was as we toured the school and playground. She loves the idea of ‘magical moments’ in education – happy childhood memories that stay with you for life – and seeks to create a space at the school for them to happen. She’s also a proponent of Chatsworth Schools group founder Anita Gleave’s ethos that schools should be run to develop future leaders for a global setting who are instilled with integrity, confidence and passion.
Assessment is a light-touch affair: the girls and their families have an interview to establish whether they will fit in and the children pop in for observation in the Early Years and a taster day in Key Stages 1 and 2. The school also asks for any reports regarding additional learning support, which is well catered for here. There are lots of international families, and pupils can join throughout the school if there is a space and they are suited to The Village Prep.
Academics and senior school destinations
The small number of pupils – around 90 – means the school obtains strong academic results without the need for hothousing. Rather than being made to jump through exam hoops, girls are encouraged to enjoy learning, and the Village Prep’s gentle and bespoke approach delivers impressive achievements. Getting homework done at school frees up time for play and curiosity-led learning at home.
Languages are strong, with French, Spanish and Latin all on the curriculum, and girls use iPads and Chromebooks from the Early Years through to the Upper School. Underpinning the learning are five values: perseverance and resilience, curiosity, reflection, collaboration and independence. The girls are encouraged to learn from their mistakes and, recognising that learning isn’t always linear, the school integrates some lessons across age groups. Science, history and geography are taught by specialist subject teachers in Key Stage 2. Weekly culture lessons in Upper Key Stage 2 create an opportunity to study an idea expansively, through its art, politics, literature and history.
The school runs a bespoke 11+ programme to ensure that pupils end up at the right secondary schools. Most go on to South Hampstead High School for Girls, City of London School for Girls as well as Channing, North London Collegiate and Francis Holland.
The girls take part in sport pretty much every day and it’s timetabled two to three times a week. They play netball, football, cricket, rounders and tag rugby, as well as doing swimming, orienteering, gymnastics and athletics. The emphasis is on fun and learning how to win – and lose – well. The school has ties with Saracens Rugby and Saracens Mavericks Netball, which helps hone pupils’ skills.
The playground is zoned. For free play and forest school-type activities, as well as sport, a decked terrace is accessible from the pre-prep. The theatre has great lighting and acoustics (last year, girls staged a contemporary adaptation of Taming of the Shrew) and also acts as a multi-purpose hall and dining room for lunch. A creative lab the length of the ground floor is a great space for engineering and science activities. Nearly 80 per cent of pupils learn an instrument, with everyone from Year 3 to 5 taking ukulele lessons. Every class takes part in a musical production for their Key Stage, and there's an annual May Day celebration for Grandparents and families.
There are over 25 clubs: fencing, art, karate, debating, drama, chess – the list goes on. One we’ve never heard of is ‘plogging’ – picking up litter while jogging. Social outreach is a strong part of the ethos; the school works with a local charity supported by the Duchess of Cambridge called Little Village that recycles items for children under five.
The school’s tight community makes it very well placed to deliver excellent pastoral care from teachers, form tutors and specialist teachers. The approach is proactive, with every child discussed individually twice a week, meaning any potential problems are caught early. The older girls get a lot of opportunities to acquire leadership skills, and the very active school council has introduced features like a friendship bench and vegetable trays to grow produce for school dinners.
Parents are very much part of the school family, with many giving talks or presentations about their professions. Recently, one parent who works in high fashion led a workshop on sustainability in their industry. This led to an eco fashion show, as well as pupils developing new school uniform accessories which supported the social enterprise Knit Up (run by a Village parent).
The Village Prep is a very international community – some 60 per cent of pupils speak a different language at home – and the school promotes links with the local community to foster an outward perspective.
Small and perfectly formed, The Village Prep delivers a holistic, 360-degree education without ever feeling like a bubble of privilege. The girls look outwards, not inwards, and the single-sex setting frees them from gender pressures, with football as popular as dance. And the presence of many international pupils gives them a healthy global perspective too.