Mrs Faye TGS 2021  17

Meet the Head of Prep - Mrs Hannah Butler-Hand

We sat down with our new Head of Prep, Mrs Hannah Butler-Hand, to find out more about her career in education, what has influenced her view of teaching, and her plans for Thetford Grammar Prep.


Hello Mrs Butler-Hand, would you tell us about a bit about your career before you became the Head of Prep School in 2023?

I completed my BA degree in Primary Education (QTS) with a First Class Honours from Sheffield Hallam University. I graduated with a special recognition for exceptional teaching practice from Professor Robert Winston and returned home to East Anglia to commence my teaching career. I later matriculated at the University of Cambridge to complete my postgraduate Masters in Education, taking a specialism in children’s metacognition.

Having taught within both the state and independent sector for the past 16 years, I have been fortunate enough to experience being a class teacher for all primary year groups, including the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Alongside the role of Form Tutor I have upheld various curriculum responsibilities, including the role of Literacy Lead within our Prep School. I am incredibly passionate about teaching and am proud to act as coach and Mentor to trainee and Early Career Teachers – supporting them with their university studies and guiding them in their new classroom roles. Having previously held the position of Head of Junior School, and stepping down in order to raise my own children, I am excited to return to senior leadership at TGS.


What do you enjoy most about working at TGS?

TGS is a small, family orientated school. This means that every pupil knows everyone else, and that teachers REALLY get to know their pupils. As a result, teachers can encourage and support each individual so that they can really achieve the best they can at each stage of their learning journey.

I love the fact that our oldest members of the school are more than willing to pop down to the Prep School to hear readers, work in the classroom and undertake playground duties. By modelling expected behaviours, talking to the younger pupils and engaging with them, this helps the Prep children understand where they are going throughout the school system, and to develop confidence in their own abilities. There is a real sense of community amongst our pupils, parents and staff; collaborating in our common goal of doing the best by each and every one of our children.


What do you think are the three most important things parents need to know about this educational environment?

Prep school is a perfect environment for children to learn, where specialist teachers in Arts, Sport and Languages complement expert class teachers. As we are not beholden to the National Curriculum, we can (1) design a bespoke learning journey that suits the children we have, (2) develop the ‘soft’ skills, such as resilience, required for the future, and (3) extend their learning knowledge beyond the constraints of the age-based learning. This means we can work with the Senior School to ensure our pupils are fully ready and confident to continue their educational journey beyond 11.

Do you have a philosophy of education?

At the heart of our educational endeavour lies my steadfast commitment to fostering a nurturing and holistic learning environment for our young learners. As Head of Prep, I firmly believe in a philosophy of primary education that is grounded in the following principles:  

  • A Child-Centred Approach: At TGS, our staff recognise that every child is unique, and our curriculum and teaching strategies are designed to accommodate diverse learning styles and paces. By tailoring our approach to the child, we empower them to explore, question, and develop a lifelong love for learning.
  • Holistic Development: I know that education extends beyond the confines of academic knowledge and thus, my philosophy emphasises the holistic development of the child – intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically. The broad and balanced curriculum we offer includes a variety of opportunities for such personal growth.
  • Enquiry-Based Learning: I believe in nurturing the innate curiosity of children through enquiry-based learning. By encouraging children to ask questions, seek answers, and engage in critical thinking, they are enabled to become active participants in their own education. 
  • Collaborative Learning: Our classroom environments promote collaboration and teamwork; where students learn from each other, share ideas, and work together on projects. In promoting this, children develop essential social skills, empathy, and a sense of community, preparing them for success in an interconnected world.
  • Play and Creativity: Play is the natural language of children, and creativity is the foundation of innovation. I recognise the importance of play-based learning in the early years; fostering imagination, problem-solving, and cognitive development amongst our youngest pupils. We provide ample opportunities for unstructured play and creative expression, helping our children to make sense of the world around them.
  • Growth Mindset: Children must be taught that their abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort, practice, and perseverance. This mindset encourages resilience in the face of challenges and a willingness to embrace mistakes as valuable learning opportunities. Our safe learning environment guides and supports children through their learning journey and within their own personal development.
  • Cultivating Ethical Citizens: A key aim at TGS is for us to nurture ethical, compassionate, and responsible citizens. Our unique Prep curriculum and enrichment activities work towards fostering qualities such as respect, empathy, integrity, and cultural awareness. I believe that education should prepare students for academic success as well as equip them to make positive contributions to society.


The Prep School follows an Exploration Curriculum. What can you tell us about this?

The Exploration Curriculum is our way of trying to instil that sense of wonder. Staff have more freedom over the way they teach, able to combine the knowledge from various curriculum areas, and skills. This is important because otherwise certain skills are seen as only relevant in certain ‘subjects’. It also gives staff the chance to change the direction a particular project is going to suit the questions that the pupils are asking, or are interested in. This means that the learning goes beyond the confines of the National Curriculum.

By using granular benchmark testing, we are able to also target those areas of learning that perhaps certain children need to develop, whilst also being able to stretch those who need further challenges. A key point is that we don’t need to teach for the sake of an exam, being able to focus on children’s curiosity and love of learning instead. We are able to work with the staff in the Senior School to prepare our children more for life beyond Prep, ensuring a smooth transition into Key Stage 3. With no SATs to worry about we can run our wide-ranging programme right through to the end of Year 6 whilst having the time to intersperse classroom learning with a varied educational visits programme, enrichment days and full-scale productions for all pupils aged 3-11.


The Exploration Curriculum already sounds brilliant. How important are extracurricular clubs and activities?

Extra-curricular activities are incredibly valuable. Whatever the club is, it gives the chance for further learning, further questioning and further discovery. Exploring subjects and skills in yet new ways; working with people that are not always within your year group; meeting teachers you may not have for ‘lessons’; finding new and future passions. Clubs are also a chance for pupils to shine outside the classroom.

A great strength of TGS is the fact that the older pupils are willing to help and support in these clubs - another chance for modelling expectations to the future generations of the school.

Clubs also allow staff to share their passions beyond the curriculum, for example our Head of Science sharing with the Discovery Club about her summertime tree surveying at an arboretum, taking time to explain the importance of this and inspire future scientists.


Thetford Grammar is a 3-19 school, what are the advantages of this for the Prep pupils?

One advantage is that ‘specialist’ staff can come and teach the younger pupils, creating a clear link from Prep all the way to A-level in many subjects; because there are no SATs, we are able to prepare the pupils suitably in both knowledge and skills before ‘moving up’ to Senior School; this means early interaction with older pupils - and so learning where they are going and what they can hope to be like.

Our Prep teachers work with other senior specialists to make sure that the skills and knowledge the pupils gain by the end of Year 6 give the pupils the confidence and abilities to continue to fly from day one in Senior School. Our transition programme in particular, provides our eldest Prep pupils with regular off-timetable days to experience life in the Senior School with hands-on activities, making the next step in their educational journey being one that is viewed with excitement and opportunity.

It also means that as a staff body we can work together both academically and pastorally for the pupils so that their learning journey really does get the best out of them both in, and out, of the classroom.

Thank you, Mrs Butler-Hand, it sounds like Thetford Grammar Prep School is on an exciting journey.