Review of Junior Girls
A unique 'diamond model', Claires Court is a family-friendly gem with an emphasis on personal development AND solid academic results.
We were delighted to welcome Rachel, Muddy Stiletto's Berkshire Editor to the Junior Division recently to review both the boys and girls. We'd love you to see what she said about us below or to comment directly onto the Muddy Stiletto's website, please click here.
Claires Court Junior Girls is part of a unique, three-site all-through day school for ages 2-18. It’s one of only a handful of schools in the UK with a ‘diamond’ model which means the Nursery and Sixth Form are both co-ed, whilst Juniors and Seniors are single sex.
Founded in 1960 by the current Principals’ parents, Claires Court has roots in Maidenhead stretching back to 1861, with now over 1,000 kids on the register.
You’ll find Claires Court Junior Girls at the Maidenhead town centre site on College Avenue. The co-ed Nursery School, Senior Girls and co-ed Sixth Form are located here too. Originally a convent school, the Wilding Family bought the site back in 1993.
The sum of all its parts make it a pretty big cohort, but each ‘division’ has 200-350 kids, giving it a smaller, family vibe – all sharing the same core values of responsibility for oneself and others, respect, loyalty and integrity. As I said, unique. We love the flexibility in the curriculum, the variety of opportunities and the culture of learning.
This is not a school waging a facilities arms race. The ambition was to move all age groups to one site. Currently off the table, there is a renewed focus on the needs of the individual sites with improvements being planned.
Do not judge a school by its frontage. Often town centre sites lack the acreage needed to accommodate a broad spectrum of sports, but there’s a surprising amount of green space. Sporty baubles include, a 20m indoor swimming pool, two all-weather courts for netball, hockey and tennis, a playing field for football, cricket and a 200m athletics track. For the full Olympic standard 400m track, the girls use Marlow Athletic Track and matches/ tournaments take place at nearby Braywick Park. There’s also the option to do gymnastics and dance.
Pack your cossies away, parents. Having their own pool means the girls get to enjoy weekly swimming lessons from a young age, ensuring they learn the skills to be safe and confident in water. Phew. The kids aren’t exactly short of sporting activities on site and there’s always a few rising stars competing at county and national level.
MUSIC, ART AND DRAMA
Everything is geared to instilling confidence, and an understanding that we all have creative ability. Girls are encouraged to experiment and have a go, be it art, design, music, drama, dance and public speaking.
Music plays a very important and much-loved role in life at Claires Court, from singing in assemblies to large-scale performances and informal concerts. Specialist music teaching begins in Juniors and, as they progress through the school, the focus is on a practical and ‘hands on’ approach which gives every child the chance to engage in some form of music-making, including improvisation and composition.
Got an energetic jazz hander? They have time to shine in the big Christmas show, Prize Giving and talent shows. LAMDA qualifications are offered, so girls can snag graded awards for public speaking, recital and acting skills.
What’s the secret at Claires Court? Strong values, for starters. Responsibility, respect, loyalty and integrity are the pillars of the school community with the older children mentoring the younger ones. Unsurprisingly, the children are charming, caring young people who are a pleasure to be around
Wellbeing is also a high priority. Mindful of the screen time clock doing overtime during lockdown, they have consciously chosen to achieve screen time balance during lessons – learning outside, trips, going back to traditional teaching methods, as well as using online resources. They’re also working on the girls’ emotional and social development to improve EQ with a toolkit of coping strategies. The pandemic has left scars on many kids, but I think all children (and adults) could benefit with a mental health MOT.
Claires Court has a very good reputation and the girls consistently achieve well above the national average. Progress is tracked throughout the year and support is available to pupils who need ad hoc or long term help. Proudly non-selective, there are high levels of expectation and Claires Court takes pride in its focus on preparation, not pushiness.
A largely topic-based curriculum offers an immersive, organic learning approach that deep dives into subjects. It’s fair to say it fires up staff creativity and the girls seem to love it too. I was treated to a trip in the Travel Tardis to the Jurassic period, with sound effects, fact-finding and artefacts. Pure joy to watch. There’s a positive and progressive approach to education and a welcome focus on learning from mistakes rather than seeking perfection.
Leanne Kirby has taken on the role as Head of Juniors covering both boys and girls. She brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, and is a familiar face to many having been Head of Nursery and Junior Girls. The new role is a logistical headache for her no doubt, flitting between two sites, but the move has been incredibly positive for the children, staff and parents. Communication has been simplified, inset days are aligned and, with her beady eye on the bigger picture, Leanne has been able to create overarching opportunities. For instance, a trip to Winchester Science Museum was on topic for both the boys and girls so they coordinated a joint trip..
Leanne is warm, welcoming and laser focused on making improvements that offer equal opportunities for the Junior schools. She has the kind of no-nonsense energy and sense of fun that we like here at Muddy. In terms of development, right now it’s about improvements to the curriculum – particularly in modern languages. A language development programme has been introduced in French, Spanish and Japanese which is now being filtered down the year groups.
In the co-ed Nursery, children can join from the age of two and they have a building all to themselves. It’s still very much a part of the whole school, with older children popping down to visit during break times, but it’s a safe space for them to grow in confidence at their own pace.
Outside there’s a playground, and they even have a small pond for them to dip their toes in the science pool (not literally, unless anyone falls in). The rooms are large and flooded with natural light from the large windows. You’ll notice a deliberate lack of plastic, preferring a more Scandi natural vibe. As you would expect at this age, the nursery is incredibly nurturing. Lots of play, lots of fun, they get outside in all weathers and make academic baby steps as they prepare for Juniors.
Probably the most unusual element of the school is its ‘diamond model’ teaching method – one of just a handful of all-through independents in the UK to adopt single-sex lessons for Juniors and Seniors. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds – single sex learning but co-ed socialisation.
It’s an old covent school, so don’t be surprised to find religious icons dotted around. A statue of Jesus is embedded in one of the walls of the nursery, a hangover from the days the building was home to the resident nuns.
Forest School is not always a reality for townie schools, but the girls don’t miss out. They can sharpen their Bear Grylls skills at the bucolic Junior Boys site, bussed up in the school day by the schools own transport.
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Run with military precision. There are 12 routes available, including shuttle buses between sites. No logistical nightmares for parents. You can do one drop off and the school will whizz them off to where they need to be. Coaches run all over Berkshire and Buckinghamshire and include pick ups from Windsor, Chalfont St Peter, Marlow, Twyford and Great Missenden.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Whether you’re a working parent racing to your first meeting or you’re trying to catch an early yoga class, there’s an optional early drop off from 7.30am, with breakfast and pre-school activities available. Pick up can be as late as 6pm.
Normal school drop off starts at 8.30am. Reception and Y1 finish at 3.30pm and the older year groups classes end at 3.50pm. After school activities run Monday to Friday until 6pm (5.30pm on Fridays) – and it’s not all sport and study. There’s Fun with Food, Superstar’s Science Club, Chess, Sign Language, Canoeing, Cosmic Kids Yoga, Fashion Design and Gardening. There’s also a Holiday Club – a godsend for stressed out working parents juggling those looooong breaks.
WORD ON THE GROUND
I know a few of people who have sent their girls here and without exception they’ll talk your ear off about how nurturing the school is. They love it. ‘Warm and welcoming atmosphere’ is a phrase used a lot. Another thing I hear is that individuality and acceptance is key. The only niggle from one mum was that girls sport did not appear to get the same billing as the boys.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those who want the best of both worlds. With its unusual adoption of single-sex lessons from 5-16, Claires Court allows its pupils to follow their academic interests without fear of gender stereotyping.
Not for: If you’re after a big school or want lots of green/outdoorsy space for your girls, this may not be the one for you.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! The Junior School Open Morning on 29 April. To book an appointment, please click here.
Claires Court, 1 College Avenue, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 6AW. Tel 01628 327500