Rydes Hill Prep School and Nursery, Guildford
A small close-knit school teaching strong traditional values centred around kindness alongside a broad curriculum.
RYDES HILL PREP SCHOOL AND NURSERY, GUILDFORD
Rydes Hill is a Catholic prep school and nursery in the Guildford suburbs. It’s a small school tucked away on a small-but-perfectly-formed site, but there’s everything you could want in a school. And the results speak volumes – the boys and girls go onto a wide choice of excellent schools.
The school takes girls from age 3 to 11 and boys from age 3 to 7 – it’s one form entry, and class sizes are small. There are about 100 pupils at the junior school, and 40 in the nursery. It’s non-selective, and there’s a huge emphasis here on preparation – whether that be children leaving after nursery (although most stay on), boys leaving at the end of Year 2 or girls leaving at age 11. While the school is Catholic, it accepts all faiths and none. About one-third of pupils are Catholic.
First impressions are of a school that’s brimming with warmth and happiness. Head teacher Sarah Norville greets me outside, before I’ve even stepped into the building. The ethos here is ‘happy children learn’.
The school was founded in 1945 by the Ladies of Mary, an order of nuns who had been evacuated to Hatchlands during the war. The main school building was originally a private residence which has been owned by a number of families our the years including William Edmund Elkins, of the Elkins Brewery family, also a former Guildford mayor. It’s a stunning early Georgian red brick building built in the 18th century, and added to during the Victorian years. A handsome clocktower is still part of the building today.
The site isn’t huge, although the entry along a sweeping driveway through an automatic gate is certainly impressive. While the main school building has a traditional feel to it, classrooms are big, light and bright.
The dining hall – once the living room – is a wonderful space, timber clad with beams and beautiful arched doorways. Think the Hogwarts dining hall on a slightly smaller scale. Another room that also warrants special mention is the library. It was once the billiards room, it’s oozing character with elaborate wood panelling including a series of original Joan of Arc murals painted onto the wall panels.
There’s also a school hall – a multi-use space used for indoor sports as well as school productions.
This year the school will get a brand new performing arts centre, which will house a music centre, ballet studio and practice room. The existing music lodge is to be converted into a brand new nursery with the addition of a second classroom.
Outside, there are netball and tennis courts, and plenty of grassy areas, plus a small wooded area.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Music is important at Rydes Hill, and is taught from nursery all the way through to Year 6. Children have two music lessons each week. Year 1 pupils learn the recorder and in Year 2 they learn the violin. In Year 3, pupils get to learn wind and brass instruments. Across the school, more than 90 instrumental lessons are taught by peripatetic teachers. There’s a school orchestra, junior choir and smaller groups like wind, recorder, string and flute ensembles.
And if music is important, so too, is drama. Speech and drama is taught from Reception to Year 2, and it’s an option from Year 3 upwards. There’s a focus on producing confident speakers, and the formula seems to be working – the school is one of the best in the country for speech and drama results.
For a small school, Rydes Hill does very well sporting wise. The school is not afraid to be competitive and there’s a real ‘have a go’ attitude. The school frequently makes the national school finals in netball and also has representatives in the national (IAPS) schools swimming competitions. Not bad for a school that doesn’t have a swimming pool on site. swimming lessons, though, start from Reception with children bussed to the Surrey Sports Park. The school also does particularly well in gymnastics, athletics and ballet.
Boys leave at age 7, and go on to schols like RGS Prep in Guilford, Cranmore in West Horsley and Aldro in Shackleford near Godalming. Girls move on to Guildford High, Tormead, St Catherine’s, Prior’s Field, Farnborough Hill and St Theresa’s as well as schools in the state sector.
The process for girls leaving at 11 starts in year 4 or 5, a process that helps families find the right school for their child and works towards achieving an offer.
in 2020, the 23 leavers (of whom 20 applied to Independent Schools) were offered 16 scholarships in music, sport, academic, drama, creative writing and maths. All accepted a place at one of their top three choices.
From Reception upwards children have specialist teachers for French (chosen because it’s the language offered by most senior schools), speech and drama, ballet, computing, music and PE. From Year 4 up, specialists teach science and in Year 6 pupils have specialist teachers for maths.
Sarah Norville is warm and engaging, and very approachable. She’s been Headmistress at Ryde’s Hill for three years, having come from St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Wimbledon where she was the head teacher for 11 years. She’s not one for hothouse learning, and is firmly of the belief that happy children will want to learn. But by the same token, she says that if children are ready then it’s good to get going. She’s big on preparation – and it’s a process that’s steadily ongoing for all pupils from the moment they arrive.
The nursery at Ryde’s Hill is vibrant and busy, with around 40 pupils in total across the different sessions. There’s a strong focus on getting children prepared for school, and most pupils will have a strong grounding in reading and writing by the time they move on to reception. Children in the nursery have specialist teachers for Forest School, PE, music and movement and rugby.
In the Pre-prep, Reception here is called Kindergarten, moving on to Lower Transition (Year 1) and then Upper Transition (Year 2). In the Prep School, Year 3 is Lower Prep, Year 4 is Middle Prep, Year 5 is Higher Prep, and Year 6 is Form One.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Nursery places are offered as both term-time only and year-round. The Nursery has extended day care from 7.30am-6pm.
Before and after school care is also available for children in the pre-prep and prep schools – there’s Breakfast Club from 7.30am and Early Bird Club from 8am. After school ends at 3.15pm, Stay and Play is offered until 6pm. There’s also a wide range of extra curricular clubs offered from cross country and coding to ballet, netball and art clubs.
Nursery fees start at £780 per term for one full day rising to £3255 per term for five full days. Termly fees (including lunch) are £3,256 for Reception; £3,653 for Years 1 and 2; £4,875 for Years 3 to 6.
WORD ON THE GROUND
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families looking for a small school where every child is well known and will be on the receiving end of plenty of attention. Children are well rounded and attain excellent academic results. Good flexible after-school care is particularly helpful for busy working parents.
Not for: If it’s acres of space and a rural setting you aspire to, Rydes Hill isn’t that school. Parents of boys who are looking for an all-through prep school might also might want to look elsewhere, as provision ends at Year 2 here. (Although boys leave very well prepared for their next schools.)
Dare to disagree? Book an individual tour of the school and see it for yourself.