As parents, we strive to give our children opportunities to have a go at as many interests as possible, whether it be playing a musical instrument or a sport, tackling practical tasks or creating beautiful art. We want them to find something they love doing and feel confident in their skill.
The staff at Heywood Prep School, which is based in the heart of Corsham, understand this desire to find the areas where our children can happily shine and accordingly offer a wide range of activities way beyond the national curriculum, from learning modern languages and exploring nature at forest
school, right through to designing and making robots to compete in the Lego League competition. Every child learns a musical instrument and it is testament to the pleasure this accomplishment brings that during my visit, around half a dozen boys and girls have brought their ukuleles out into the sunny playground at break time to play music.
Rebecca Mitchell has been at Heywood Prep for eight years, the last four as Headteacher, and two of her own children are pupils here. She heads a team that includes long serving members of staff, such as Alex Jones, head of nursery, who has been at Heywood for 23 years. Heywood has a roll call of 185 children in its pre-prep and prep schools, with a further 40 in the nursery school. They share a two-acre site centred on a mellow old Georgian house and gardens, all of which add to the atmosphere that this is a family home where children can be safe, happy and confident.
Good manners are important, says Rebecca, “We want our children to be able to talk to adults with character and confidence.” Throughout the school there are signs that thoughtfulness are valued. In the cosy Burrow, the Listening Ear sessions are for children to unburden their worries to an adult. On a landing on the stairs in the main house is the red Positivity Postbox where children post cards with compliments about their peers. “It means a lot to a parent when they receive a postcard that says their child has been kind to someone,” says Rebecca. School assemblies are non-faith based, instead exploring topics such as kindness.
Right from the moment children join the Heywood family, as young as two, they are supported and inspired. They learn social skills, such as sharing, taking turns and learning to settle to a task, alongside phonics and making marks to prepare for joining the main school. They play in the nursery garden and each afternoon there’s an activity to stimulate young minds and bodies, from walks and PE to learning Spanish and making music. Class sizes in pre-school are no more than eight, while older pupils are taught in groups of up to 16.
Further up the school, lessons are taught by specialist teachers, just as they would be in secondary schools. And if a child excels in one field, they can be stretched through the carefully planned individualised learning sessions. Equally, if there is one area where a child struggles, their individualised learning programme makes sure they receive the extra support that they need.
Science and STEM are highly valued. “We don’t know what these children will do in future, but we know which skills they will need,” says Rebecca. “Look at how many changes the world has seen in the past 30 years, who knows what challenges our children will encounter.” During lockdown the school’s head of science, Camilla Evans led online science demonstrations and experiments (some with pleasingly dramatic results!) with more than 80 families across the country watching at home.
The whole family gets support from Heywood. The school offers wrap-around care from a breakfast club first thing in the morning, through to after-school clubs. Parents can ring through on the same day if work commitments mean they need their child to be cared for after school. Homemade and delicious food plays a key role in keeping
children happy and active, whether it’s a mid-morning piece of fruit and
cake enjoyed in the sunshine, a hearty hot lunch or supper following afterschool activities.
Parents play an active part too, visiting the school to talk about their own careers or sharing experiences from other countries and cultures. And when the time comes for their child to move on from Heywood after Year 6, parents are given support when it comes to choosing the next step.
From a chalet in the grounds comes the sound of drumming and singing. The children are completely absorbed in the music, taking part with beaming smiles. There are plenty of opportunities for performance at Heywood. Peripatetic teachers offer piano, guitar, flute, cello and drumming lessons, while pupils taking part in speech and drama take part in the annual Mid-Somerset Festival. There are school productions every year, fostering confidence at public speaking that will equip these young learners to become leaders in adult life.
Heywood also excels at sport, often reaching national level in competitions. Under the expert guidance of Chris Knight, the director of sport, there are myriad opportunities to go off site to play rugby with Bath Rugby and cricket at Corsham Cricket Club ground. Everyday PE can be done in the school grounds, while sports day is held at Biddestone village and pupils swim at Springfield in Corsham town.
As Rebecca watches the children enjoying the sunshine in the playground she says, “We develop a dynamic curriculum and we strive to ensure that above all else our children are happy.”
Written by Georgette McCready for the Bath & Wiltshire Parent.