Innovative School Where Children Thrive

With early learning experiences increasingly recognised as providing vital foundation for future life choices, Kate Bowyer meets Karen Mehta, the inspirational headteacher at exceptional Ashbridge Independent School to learn why your school days really should be the happiest days of your life

As parents, we want the best for our children, and who wouldn’t vote for a school complete with a paddock housing goats, sheep, rabbits and guinea pigs? Driving through Ashbridge’s extensive grounds, I evolve from regret that my daughters missed out on something special, to envy that I didn’t come here myself.

Rolling woods, meadows, tracks and trails lead to single-storey spacious classrooms, clad in natural slate, which nestle into the landscape. This is not accidental, a welcoming Karen informs me, pointing out the exits which lead each well-equipped classroom directly to the outdoors.

“The school was founded in 1995 on a philosophy of academic excellence achieved through and in balance with creative, artistic, social and sporting development. Cross-curricular activities link the indoor and outdoor throughout the day. For example, studying geology and art right here in the landscape or using maths to calculate the length of the cross-country track. It’s what brought me halfway around the world to be here at Ashbridge.”

Beginning her teaching career at more typical UK schools, Karen advanced to become head of the prep and pre prep section at a large international school in Brunei. Believing in the importance of wider, more developmental primary school education, the perfect fit of Ashbridge’s innovative curriculum for pupils aged four to 11 drew her thousands of miles home to become headteacher in 2014.

“From physiology to attention span and brain development, primary children are completely different to secondary, and everything we do should reflect that,” she explains, as we walk across the all-weather sports pitch. “We instil a keen curiosity for learning in our pupils, the confidence to be creative, develop innovative thinking skills, and respect for themselves, others and the wider world.

“For the children, learning should be holistic – using more than 40 varieties of fruits and vegetables grown in our Britain In Bloom winning kitchen garden and greenhouse to teach gardening, food sustainability, cookery, even dining skills. This helps prepare a well-rounded child for life, with skills like budgeting, planning and preparing food, with the advantage of being naturally relaxed and confident in social situations.”

Outside core school hours, all Ashbridge children can participate in inclusive before and after school care and many after school clubs, from gymnastics, music lessons and musical theatre to computing, art and business clubs.

“Our parents are fully involved in school life and share our values,” explains Karen. “Working hard to give their children the best foundations, they can have confidence they’re receiving a wide range of well-paced activities, small class size attention, rest and outdoor play, from 7am to 6pm (should they wish), five days a week.

“We aim to send children home eager to talk about their day, inspired and empowered to participate fully in family life, conversations and leisure activities, having done everything a young person should do during the day. Everything is structured around four rights we believe every child deserves – to be happy, to be safe, to learn and to be themselves.”

The school also contains a secure woodland with teepees, forest school and outdoor library, and a scaled-down ‘village’, where pupils can ride their bikes and role play in the child-sized shops.

“Outdoor, self-guided play and adventure helps develop natural skills and risk assessment – children should be proud of having dirty knees,” says Karen. “They thrive in this environment, and when they leave us, Ashbridge children go forward equipped, friendly, confident, capable, empathetic, conscientious, responsible and curious.”

Thanks to carefully selected, highly qualified and motivated staff, pride in the uniform and consideration of manners, academic rigour is ensured alongside innovative activities and autonomy. External assessments show pupils consistently achieve above-age related expectations in core Key Stage I and II subjects.

Prospective parents are very welcome to visit Ashbridge and its four nurseries in between regular open days, simply by contacting the school. “I’m so proud of what we do. Me popping into a class with visitors is the norm for us, not something we need to try and stage, or tidy up for,” smiles Karen. I can certainly understand why she receives place reservations several years in advance.

Other situations, like herding 20 escaped lambs back into the paddock, are equally unique, giving rise to the school phrase: “Only at Ashbridge!”

When not herding livestock, Karen is busy with plans for 2024: “We have a state-of-the-art STEM suite equipped with computers, robots and green screens, but I also want to take technology and embed it across all subjects and outdoor tasks, as the world is going to be for these next generations.” Only at Ashbridge, indeed.

Ashbridge Independent School and Nursery
Lindle Lane, Hutton, Preston PR4 4AQ
01772 619900



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