Royal High Prep School GDST, Bath
Muddy says: A caring, family-based all-girls prep school and nursery in Bath, with its own skills-based holistic curriculum, where every girl will find her niche
The Royal High Prep School (formerly called the Junior School) and Nursery are perched on 11 acres of hilly parkland in the Weston area of the city, with around 140 pupils on the roll, aged from rising 3 to 11.
Interestingly, the Royal High School started out as two separate schools. The Royal School, founded in 1874 by Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale, was for the daughters of military families. Bath High School was set up by the Girls’ Day School Trust in 1875 for girls of all social classes. The two schools merged in 1998 to become the Royal High School GDST, part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, the UK’s largest network of girls’ independent schools. The Royal School premises became the Senior School (read our review) and the Bath High School premises in Hope House on Lansdown Road became the Junior School. The Junior School moved to the Grade II listed Victorian mansion Cranwell House in 2014 becoming the Royal High Prep School in 2019.
Officially a day school, it’s sometimes possible for the older girls to board up at the Senior School.
Reception, Years 1 to 4 – and the Head – are housed in the elegant Cranwell House which sits overlooking the grounds and the city beyond. The former reception rooms of the Victorian mansion have become airy classrooms with high ceilings, huge windows, full-length wooden shutters and cornices. But alongside all the period features, there are interactive white boards, computers and bee-bots.
A staircase sweeps up to the first floor to Years 3 & 4 classrooms, a learning support room, a two-room library and music practice rooms. On Fridays the girls sit on the stairs and read their books.
The Nursery is located in the old Vine House and Orangery attached to the main building.
Behind Cranwell House and across a small courtyard is the separate, architect-designed slate-clad Hope Hall, which includes classrooms for Years 5 and 6. Pupils enjoy the sense of progression as they move across.
A sports hall with views out into the grounds doubles as assembly hall, performance space and school canteen.
There’s a professional looking dance studio. Dance and the performing arts are big here, with all pupils taking ballet and then modern dance, with lots of performances and shows (I saw photos of productions of the Lion King and Jack and the Beanstalk).
The whole place sits in beautiful parkland with specimen trees, pond, space for outdoor play areas and a playground with an amazing view across the historic city that makes you feel you’re on top of the world.
The school’s developed its own Cranwell Curriculum, a skills-based holistic way of teaching, where girls lead their own learning. Recognised in the TES awards for schools twice, girls help develop themes and teachers then weave in skills, learning objectives and a wide variety of different subjects throughout the term. Seems to apply even down to a gym class which was working around the theme of ‘flight’ and combining sports, acrobatics and the dynamics of assisted flight. It’s engaging and stimulating for the pupils (and, I imagine, brain boggling for the teachers). Maths and English are also taught separately.
At the beginning of each term, girls are given scrapbooks. Writings, drawings, worksheets and photos all go to build up a record of work ending with comments from the pupil, teachers and parent. Great memento.
Language specialists from both the Prep and the Senior School help create an international feel.
Had a nose into several classrooms, where girls were eager and engaged but not precocious.
Classes of up to 24 girls but these are split into smaller groups according to need. In such a small school, teachers can pick up on any issues fast and offer learning support in one-to-one or small groups when required. Last year every girl moved up to the Senior School, with 14 scholarships awarded.
The school’s got a new head, the super warm and friendly Claire Lilley, previously head of Sidcot Junior School. She’s committed to the school’s family feel and its unique Cranwell Curriculum, which helps creates a real thirst for knowledge and makes links across subjects as it’s taught in a thematic way. Rooted in the 5Rs – Resourcefulness, Resilience, Reflectiveness, Relationship building and Risk-taking – it aims to help girls blossom into well-educated people with confidence, self-belief and a good moral compass, so they thrive and aim higher than they ever thought possible.
All the usual sports, with girls playing rugby and football too. It might be a bit hilly but pupils can still play rounders in the grounds, with a hard sports surface round the back and a new jump area – high and long – coming soon. The school does well against its competitors with biathlon, swimming and running all notable strengths. Additional sports facilities are shared with the Senior School (a 5 min mini-bus ride away) where they link up with senior staff and Sixth Form sports leaders.
Most pupils play a musical instrument but the emphasis is playing from the heart not pushing for grades. Lots of mini concerts and playing with others. After school choir is super popular and the girls frequently perform locally, including with the Bath Rotary Club.
Close links with the Senior School include musical events (gig night, Dance Show, Summer Music Concert). From Year 3, there’s also a gradual transitioning from the Prep to the Senior School, with classes like DT taking place at the Senior School, shared projects (a big metal birds art project with Years 8 & 9) and Sixth Formers coming in to help with activities.
They take advantage of being in the city. The Nursery and Reception put on their nativity play on at the egg, Bath’s dedicated children’s theatre. Michelin star winner Robert Clayton of Clayton’s Kitchen came and made bread with the pupils. One of the owlets in the famous Owls of Bath trail was designed and painted by pupils and resident caretaker Tom, an artist in his own right.
It’s a ‘Healthy School’, something that’s taken seriously by the catering team and girls alike, and having had lunch there, I can certainly vouch for that.
Like the Senior School, links with Crane Academy in Kenya as well as Howells, another Girls’ Day School Trust School in Wales. Prep and Senior girls take part in GDST competitions and overnight stays around the country together.
Year 3 Royal High gardeners won Gold in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Budding Gardeners Competition at RHS Wisley last year and put on an art exhibition in a Bath art studio.
The students have helped build their own Celtic hut in a wooded part of the grounds. Used for outdoor learning all year round when weather permits, and in the summer, Year 3 girls and parents pitch tents round about for a fun family camp out.
They set up a webcam to record night time activities at badger setts in the woods
Allotments in the corner of the playing field, soon moving closer to the school buildings. Girls made jam and, in partnership with Waitrose and a local farm shop, sold their produce to raise money for the Hawk and Owl Trust.
A Prep School pupil starred in the recent Robin Hood film.
Excellent. You can drop your little darlings off at 7.30 am and then collect by 6pm. Loads of clubs, including mindful moments, chess and even fencing, if you fancy. En garde!
The Cranwell Hopper Shuttle bus goes between the Senior and Prep morning and afternoon.
Nursery: 3 days a week £2,060; 4 days £2,746; 5 days £3,432. Reception to Year 2: £3,432 per term; Years 3–6 £3,616 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents value the high levels of pastoral care, the intimate feel of the place and the balance between academic focus and sport, drama and music. Girls love the theme-based learning, where they get to help choose the themes (and they can be pretty much anything). Another parent with ‘chalk and cheese’ daughters – one very arty, the other into science and robotics – says both have found their niche.
Good for: We’d say, what girl wouldn’t thrive here? Small and family-based so good for helping build confidence, with strong links with the Senior School providing a smooth transition up to Year 7 and beyond. All the benefits of being close to the city but with the feel of the countryside.
Not for: Parents preferring a co-ed education: it’s strictly girls only.
Dare to disagree? Take a look for yourself! The next Prep School Open Day is Thur 26 Sept 2019 from 9.30am–3pm. To book your place or for more info call 01225 422931.
Royal High Prep School, Cranwell House, Weston Park East, Bath, BA1 2UZ. Tel 01225 422931. royalhighbath.gdst.net