We meet up with Joanna Leach, head at Highfield Preparatory School in Maidenhead, to discuss girls’ education and why now is the right time to extend provisions to boys
Can you offer an overview of the history of Highfield Prep…
Highfield Preparatory School has been on the same site since 1918, and is steeped in history as a leading independent girls’ school in Maidenhead, Berkshire. Founded by Miss Evelyn Hadfield in 1918, we operated as a PNEU (Parents National Education Union) school until we the school was made into an Educational Charitable Trust in 1966, and in 2019 the school become part of the Chatsworth Schools group. The school is founded on the guiding principles of Charlotte Mason, a forward-thinking educationalist of her era whose philosophy was that all children are individuals and should be treated as such. The ethos of the PNEU is still found daily at Highfield as we encourage all parents to be actively involved in the education of their child, believing that such co-operation and teamwork will be of the greatest benefit. We strive for excellence in every aspect of life, at school and at home, in academic pursuits and in games.
How would you say the school has evolved over the last 100+ years?
For over 100 years, Highfield Prep has adapted to ensure the school prospers and future children benefit from the excellent Highfield Education. Our ethos of providing a high-quality education in conjunction with a warm and nurturing approach is at the heart of the school.
At its inception in 1918 Highfield was originally a co-ed school up to the end of Year 2 and boys were only phased out 30 years ago. I am delighted to say that from September 2021 we are going back to our roots and we will be extending our provision for boys until Year 2. This move back to co-education means that girls and boys will benefit from the wonderfully happy, creative atmosphere that has been central to Highfield for over 100 years – and which will continue but with a more inclusive balance. The move back to co-education has evolved in response to the demands and desires of parents who are increasingly seeking an excellent family school that will serve both their sons and their daughters, particularly in the early years. This is a hugely exciting time for the future of Highfield.
Today, what age group do you cater for?
Highfield offers co-education in Nursery up to the end of Year 2 and girls only from Year 3-Year 6. From Year 3 onwards the focus is on the academics in preparation for the girls’ senior schools. We believe that educating boys and girls together up to the age of Year 2 enables them to develop their own self-belief and confidence and is part of a whole-school approach on achievement and challenging gender stereotypes in the early years and indeed any form of other discrimination inequality.
What do you see as the benefits of an all girls’ education?
We are experts in girls’ education at Highfield Preparatory School and provide the girls with an exceptional platform to develop self-belief and confidence to succeed. There are many reasons as to the benefits of an all-girls education. Girls’ schools enable them to grow and mature at their own pace, away from the pressure of feeling they need to conform to social stereotypes. Girls can learn and grow because they are free to express their thoughts and opinions without fear of putdown or dismissal. Girls’ schools provide a setting where girls hold all the positions of responsibility; all the scientists are girls; all the mathematicians are girls. This undoubtedly leads to a “can-do” attitude.
Fundamentally, we are specialists in teaching girls; we understand how they learn, how they play, how they develop friendships, and what they need to be successful. This is something we are very proud of.
What facilities do you offer?
We are proud of the facilities we offer. As a town based school, space is at a premium, but one we manage very well and maximise the opportunities available to us. Spacious classrooms with natural light using up to date whiteboard technology; free flow learning areas in Nursery and Reception allowing for learning in all weathers; dedicated computing suite with iPads to use from Nursery upwards; Discovery Room, a specialist classroom for science and food technology lessons; two large outside play areas with space to run and play on the static tyres, monkey bars and climbing frame; and we have a netball court, climbing wall and indoors sports hall.
We may not have acres of outside space, but we do use the very best of the neighbouring local facilities including a state of the art 25m, 8 lane pool at Braywick Leisure Centre where weekly swimming lessons and galas are held, Braywick Astroturf for hockey lessons and the athletics trackin Little Marlow.
How tough have the last couple of years been?
I do not think any of us for a moment thought that almost every country in the world would end up closing their schools and the education of a generation of children would be disrupted. The past couple of years have been tough, but I am so proud of all the Highfield pupils, parents and staff who all pulled together to still be able to provide a high quality education, not just in school but remotely as well. The most important thing though that we focused on during this difficult time was the mental health and wellbeing of all the different stakeholders and with our team of skilled, motivated, and dedicated teachers and support staff we did this brilliantly and I know that all of our parents were very thankful and grateful for our educational provision and pastoral support.
I am very proud of the relationship we have between home and school, even – and especially – through the difficult times we have had and may continue to have in the future.
Was it great to have pupils back before the end of term?
I think we were all delighted to get back to school before the end of term and have some kind of normality, even with having to follow the government Covid guidance. We all missed the social interaction that we take for granted and so to see each other, talk to each others and play with each other in school, and not over a screen, was amazing. I think the parents were also very pleased, as there was no more home schooling to be done!
When your girls leave you at 11, what do you believe they will be ready for?
We are a nurturing school with small classes and specialist teachers who provide an inspiring education resulting in resilient, independent girls ready for the next stage of their education.
Our girls achieve outstanding academic results and many of our girls go onto grammar schools (11+), including Kendrick, Wycombe High and Sir William Borlase, as well as other prestigious independent senior schools, such as The Abbey and Queen Anne’s. We don’t just provide a first-class education, but we help our girls discover their independence and self-confidence who are not afraid of taking risks and making mistakes on their way to success. Highfield girls step out into the world confident in their ability to take on any challenge they choose, whether the world is ready for them or not!
HIGHFIELD PREPARATORY SCHOOL
2 West Road, Maidenhead, SL6 1PD