Small wonder

Penny Woodcock tells editor Stephanie Broad about her new role as head of Charlotte House Prep School

Q. You’ve recently become head of the school, after joining as deputy head in 2010. What has the transition to headteacher been like?

A. It has been a smooth and painless transition! Obviously, with six years under my belt, I know the whole school community and they know me. I have always been a member of SMT here at Charlotte House so I am well-versed in the school’s ethos and aims, which I have played a key role in developing. 

Q. Tell us a little about life at Charlotte House?

A. Charlotte House is a single-form girls’ day school with 135 pupils. I love the size of the school as it means I genuinely get to know each and every girl and their families. Each day is different and rewarding in its own way. We challenge our girls by providing them with a varied curriculum which is differentiated to ensure each pupil reaches her true potential. This year we have challenged the girls to “be determined to be the very best that you can be” and we’re endeavouring to ensure that they embrace making mistakes as much as they revel in their successes. It is a simple message – we learn from our mistakes. 

Q. How does Charlotte House work with other schools and/or the community?

A. We are a standalone prep school – something which is becoming increasingly rare. As such, we offer a bespoke service when we are preparing our girls for secondary transfer. In any year, we might be preparing form VI for as many as 20 different schools. I am perfectly positioned to advise our parents as I maintain close links with the schools we feed to (and I inevitably get positive feedback about what an asset our girls are to the schools they go on to!)

Being a local girl myself, I feel passionately about encouraging the girls to be active members of the local community, whether it be singing at the Canal Festival, performing plays at local retirement homes or raising money for local charities. The girls relish these opportunities and never fail to make me feel incredibly proud.

Q. The co-ed versus single-sex debate has resurfaced recently. As an all-girls’ school, what are your thoughts?

A. I have had experience across the board in that I’ve worked in both co-ed and a boys’ school and now I’m in a girls-only setting. I firmly believe that the girls do flourish here and they are never too anxious to have a go at something. In a co-ed setting, I believe that girls are far more likely to take on stereotypes and feel that they can’t compete with boys in certain fields. We work hard to provide opportunities to try varied activities including some that are still unusual in the education of young girls, such as engineering, construction, football and tag rugby. 

We were delighted when our team was victorious at the Haileybury Science Challenge last year, showing how confident and competent our young female scientists are. 

We ensure that we provide opportunities to interact with boys, such as attending plays at each other’s schools, taking part in cross-school challenges and, of course, the obligatory school discos. I am confident that our girls benefit from a fabulous education and that they leave us knowing that actually, boys aren’t from another planet!

Q. What does the future hold for Charlotte House?

A. The demand for our nursery and reception places next year is higher than ever before, so the future is looking bright here. We have a very supportive PTA and they are helping us to ensure that we stay ahead of the game as far as IT provision is concerned; this is such an important area for the future. 

We will continue to be a small school that achieves great things.

Q. How does this relate to the independent sector in general?

A. Parents seem to be worrying very early on about secondary transfer and even a school like ours, with a tremendous success rate, finds it hard to reassure them. I strongly believe that each child is like a precious flower and to really blossom to their full potential, they should be nurtured in a small greenhouse before introduction into a huge garden.

I have read two interesting pieces today: one about parents of summer-born children being able to decide which educational year they join reception. I completed research on the disadvantages of the system to summer-born children so I fully appreciate the issues here, but I am not convinced it has been thoroughly thought through and I will be interested to see how this plays out when the children in question reach secondary age. The second piece centered on the re-rearing of the debate over charitable status for private schools. I am convinced that we all do as much as we can for the local community and our very existence saves the government millions – not to mention how much greater the shortage of school places would be if we all closed. We are an important and crucial part of the education system and here at Charlotte House we are certainly supplying an outstanding private education which continues to meet the local demand. 

Charlotte House Prep School W: www.charlottehouseprepschool.co.uk

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