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King Alfred School

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What is included in the King Alfred School review?

Academic results & facilities
Up to date results for GCSEs, A levels, BTECs and IB; we go to places league tables can’t reach.

Pastoral care and inclusivity
From how the school reacts when something goes wrong to how they tackle thorny issues like substance abuse, consent and mental health. We check they’ve got it all covered.

Fees, scholarships & bursary information
An independent education is a major commitment; our review enables you to compare everything from fees to hidden costs, as well as giving detailed information on scholarships and bursaries.

Information about the head
Our unparalleled access to the head teacher means we can tell you exactly what to expect when you meet them – from leadership style right down to the décor of their study and what they’re currently reading.

Teaching and learning approaches

Entrance & admissions information

Exit information - where do the children go next?

Learning support & SEN information

Arts, sports and extracurricular

Read the review »

What says..

Many schools are frustrated by the narrow constraints of results-driven education but KAS has consciously chosen a different path that gives children the freedom to actually enjoy school. It’s a relaxed, colourful and thoroughly creative environment that celebrates curiosity and the power of independent learning through play and craft, especially outdoors. Those joining from more structured environments can find it hard to adjust to the different style; many say their children blossom and ‘feel heard’, but it doesn’t suit every child…

Read more
  • King Alfred School
    Manor Wood
    149 North End Road
    London
    NW11 7HY
  • Head: Robert Lobatto
  • T 020 8457 5200
  • F 020 8457 5249
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.kingalfred.org.uk
  • King Alfred School is independent school for boys and girls aged from 4 to 18. Fees are £20,013 - £24,129 pa and the school does not offer boarding. Interested in reading more? Access our unbiased King Alfred School review.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Barnet
  • Pupils: 714; sixth formers: 125
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Fees: £20,013 - £24,129 pa
  • Open days: September, October and November
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What the school says...

King Alfred School is an informal independent day school situated on the edge of Hampstead Heath in London. Students range from reception age through to sixth form. A vibrant, friendly community where the emphasis, both academically and socially, is discovering and maximising the potential of each child. Unique amongst independent schools in its progressive roots, an absence of formality and petty rules, which allows us to treat young people as the individuals they are. By emphasising the development of a safe, non-competitive and relaxed community, it claims both outstanding examination results and, perhaps more importantly, happy and confident students. ...Read more

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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2013, Robert Lobatto, a ‘gentle and thoughtful’ north Londoner who attended Haberdashers’ Boys, then read history at Oxford. Describes his school experience as ‘the antithesis of nurturing’, which later wound up informing his educational idealism. On track to become a lawyer, running summer camps while at university, steered him instead into teaching as a way to change the world. He progressed from history teacher to transformative head of several London state schools which had serious behavioural challenges, one garnering an award for most improved London school. However, disillusioned with results-driven education policy, he was considering leaving teaching when the opportunity arose to lead KAS. ‘I loved the feel of the place,’ he recalls, and it reconnected him with why he originally became a teacher. He nonetheless identified the need for more modern systems and structures to deliver the school’s progressive potential – ‘it had a big heart but not much of a core,’ he confides.

Constructing the building blocks for his vision took longer than anticipated thanks to Covid, which nonetheless acted as a catalyst for new ways of teaching and learning. Parents speak warmly of his ‘methodical and thoughtful’ approach to ‘making the school more organised,’ without losing its special spark and informality. He is ambitious for the school as a pioneer of more child-centred education and talks with contagious enthusiasm about sharing expertise to promote system-wide change: KAS is part of a group of other progressively-minded schools (including St Paul’s Girls and the Big Education academies) that come together to share and develop best practice. Parents say, ‘He really gets our children’, and they also value his educational insights and links to interesting resources in the weekly newsletter: ‘There’s always something inspiring’.

Entrance

Not academically selective, but sign up as early as possible for reception entry. Forty places are offered on a rolling basis following family visit and play-based assessment. Around 120 applications for between 10 and 12 places at year 7, though occasional places do arise throughout the school so it’s always worth asking. First sift involves written tests and creativity tasks, with top 20 per cent invited back for full day of activities. Sixth form numbers have significantly increased in recent years and are set to expand further - currently around 30 join in year 12. Candidates need five 6s at GCSE including a 6 in the subject to be studied (some A levels require higher than that). For the UAL performing and production arts course, the requirement is five grade 4s. At every stage, commitment to the school’s ethos is crucial and applicant taster days are an important part of the process.

Exit

A handful leave at year 7, just under a third (14-15) of the cohort after GCSE, largely to local state options but some to independent schools such as Francis Holland. Wide range of destinations and courses after sixth form, including Russell Group universities. Nottingham, Queen Mary, York, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Leeds, Manchester, Central St Martins, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and London Film Academy popular recently. Others to Northeastern University (US), Parsons Paris (France), Maastrich (Netherlands) and Eindhoven (Netherlands). Students effusive about superb support for HE choices, as well as gap year planning.

Latest results

In 2023, 40 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 52 per cent A/A* at A level (74 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 48 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 34 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

Many schools are frustrated by the narrow constraints of results-driven education but KAS has consciously chosen a different path that gives children the freedom to actually enjoy school - ‘running around having the time of their lives’, as one relieved parent commented. It’s a relaxed, colourful and thoroughly creative environment that celebrates curiosity and the power of independent learning through play and craft, especially outdoors. We’d echo ISI inspectors’ recent view of the ‘open, inclusive atmosphere’ in the lower school and the ‘carefully structured curriculum’ that lays the foundation for learning in the upper school. Head firmly believes that ‘learning should be enjoyed not endured’ and this delight in learning was evident everywhere: happy children engrossed in creating ceramics to adorn totem poles, making a film of shadow puppets using iPads and concocting face scrubs as part of a wellbeing ‘spa’.

Their classrooms were some of the most inviting spaces we’ve seen in a junior school, with every inch of every surface covered in colourful, engaging displays. All open out onto green space, with wooden playgrounds aplenty and a sweet gypsy caravan; connection with nature is integral to the school’s educational approach – it even has its own farm and beehives. We also loved the ‘zen den’ in reception class and the emphasis on emotional preparedness for learning – the first time we’ve encountered 5-year-olds discussing the amygdala and hippocampus. Specialist teachers for French, art, ICT, music and PE from year 2. School is making a conscious shift from children as digital consumers to creators, and we enjoyed watching year 3s exploring all the different aspects of making their own TV show.

In years 6-8, an exciting alternative curriculum tackles what are often ‘fallow years’ with interdisciplinary, enquiry-led learning across year groups that celebrates going off on a tangent. We met enthusiastic and engaged pupils working at low tables, on comfy sofas and in a cosy nook, discussing ‘how do we know things from the past?’ A new approach instigated after the pandemic, some initially sceptical parents felt it has helped with the transition to upper school and weaves a wider range of experiences into pupils’ education. School is now reviewing the curriculum for years 9 to 11 to include innovative school-created courses as an alternative to some GCSEs from September 2023. Head recognises parental anxieties about the proposed changes and has consulted extensively, confirming that doing a majority of public exams remains important. Jury still out but many welcome the fresh take.

Measured homework and no exams till year 10. Instead of grades, feedback focuses on knowledge and understanding, transferable skills and personal qualities such as independence. Some parental concerns about levels of assessment and monitoring, but head insists these are as rigorous, if less visible, than elsewhere and staff meet regularly to review progress as well as individual development. School is also piloting new reporting methods, working with leading educationalist Bill Lucas and the London Interdisciplinary School. Most parents echoed the head’s emphasis on the importance of ‘trusting the process’ and staff taking a holistic approach to their pupils’ development. ‘I feel they know my child incredibly well,’ commented one. Parents enthuse about parents’ evenings in the lower school, where their children talk them through their work and ‘really take agency and pride’.

Those joining from more structured environments can find it hard to adjust to the different style. Many say their children blossom and ‘feel heard’, but it doesn’t suit every child (or every parent). ‘My child felt that expectations were quite low both in terms of classroom behaviour and pace of learning,’ said one parent, who acknowledged that the ‘more relaxed’ approach works well for other pupils. Mixed views on the level of challenge: some would like to see more stretch encouraged, particularly for the most able pupils in maths, and were uncomfortable about expectations on more confident learners to support their peers; others reckon the school gets the balance just right.

Staff warmly praised for their accessibility and responsiveness by both pupils and parents. Relationships between teachers and learners are ‘incredibly warm’ and mutually respectful (assuming you don’t see feet on desks or hoods up as an obstacle to learning) – the ‘best thing about the school’, according to our guides. Staff clearly love their jobs and the freedom to take a creative approach, noting that ‘it’s informal but there is a rigour’ to the school’s educational approach. Emphasis on respectful collaboration in and out of the classroom means ‘you leave school knowing how to work with other people’, said one happy parent.

Notwithstanding its strong reputation for the arts, science is also popular here, housed in spacious, modern labs; we enjoyed a lively sixth form discussion about ethics and genetics. Our guides enthused about the focus on practicals and the ‘learning through doing’ culture. School’s approach to languages also reinforces this ethos; French starts in reception, threaded though cookery and drama — successfully promoting languages as fun, with a decent uptake of French and Spanish at both GCSE and A level.

Learning support and SEN

Child-centred, flexible approach very sympathetic to supporting a wide range of SEN including ADHD and social anxiety. However, the focus on self-regulation means perhaps not the best place for a child with complex needs, particularly in the lower school. Four pupils with an EHCP, 17 per cent of pupils registered as having SEND. Parents speak highly of how school develops each child’s talents, ‘regardless of the starting point’: ‘They don’t turn away children who aren’t perfect,’ (a relief to any parent, no doubt!) and SENCO is very open to pre-assessment conversations to help candidates show themselves at their best. Pupils are accepting of neurodiversity and unselfconscious about needing extra help at times – one volunteered how kind teachers are about anxiety issues. ‘Really wonderful’ dedicated learning support counsellor gives one-to-one assistance and pupils are also encouraged to check in as needs be. Dedicated SEN support and counsellor for the lower school.

The arts and extracurricular

The arts are what KAS is best known for, and with good reason – drama is ‘the life force’ of the school, embodying its focus on collaboration and creativity, and teachers appreciate the ‘really supportive parents’ who offer invaluable expertise through workshops and masterclasses. School’s commitment to alternative pathways is reflected in its bespoke performing arts diploma developed with the University of the Arts. Students rave about the industry-focused opportunities this course provides; parents love that ‘they treat them as young professionals’. Two well-equipped drama studios and the versatile Phoenix theatre (complete with hipster-chic bar) mean plenty of performance opportunities, and many students take part in ‘phenomenal’ productions - most recently, The Addams Family.

Impressive composition suite and recording studio support music tech A level and students’ own projects alike – ‘lots of people use it’, enthused our guides – and there are ‘loads of fantastic concerts’, including the popular ‘Unplugged’ gig and annual ‘KAStonbury’ festival which features a professional stage and musicians. About half the pupils learn an instrument, with a breathtaking number of lunchtime groups including barbershop, chamber choir and jazz band; more focus on rock/jazz/electronic than classical.

Art ‘really stuck out’ at open days, reported several families, who loved that design courses are also ‘very arts-based’. Stunning art in the huge paint-spattered, industrial loft-style studios and ‘amazing’ photography studio (‘feels like a workspace not a classroom,' approved our guide) complete with darkroom and massive printer. Posters for the annual photography exhibition featured some highly professional and imaginative work. Extensive DT facilities offer a wealth of hands-on opportunities from an early age (mobiles using bamboo from the grounds, weathervanes made from plastic bottles recycled into acrylic sheets), including the jewel in the school’s crown: an outdoor forge, adorned by artistic and practical ironwork created by students and by the inspirational female blacksmith. Lower school boasts its own superb art technology space, complete with kiln, and we were wowed by the highly sophisticated pottery and artwork on display.

School’s progressive ethos is encapsulated in the fabulous week-long ‘village project’ that takes place annually at the end of year 8. Pupils create an outdoor community, building and living in shelters in a wooded area known as ‘the camps’, cooking their own meals and running their own parliament. Adults take a step back but support an astonishing range of creative learning activities, giving pupils plenty of space to experiment and reflect – something school also seeks to embed throughout the year. In the upper school, Wednesday and Friday afternoons are given over to enrichment sessions where pupils can choose from an extraordinarily wide range of activities, from skateboarding and bouldering to blacksmithing. We watched with awe as a group wielded power tools to convert an old crane into an enormous den complete with reading benches.

Extracurricular offer more organised in recent years, following parental feedback, and there is a ‘fantastic range’ of clubs, though some parents feel that participation could be more actively encouraged. ‘They give us a lot of independence,’ agreed pupils involved in developing and running social and community projects. School also runs its own programme of TED talks, to which pupils, parents and teachers all contribute.

Huge enthusiasm for ‘amazing’ trips, with drama students heading to Romania and artists to Rome. Residential ‘camps’ are also a big feature of KAS life, from years 4 to 12, with outdoor activities such as coasteering very popular. Social responsibility is a fundamental part of the school’s ethos; sixth formers lit up with excitement talking about a ‘life-changing’ volunteering/adventure trip to Namibia and KAS’ long-term support of a school in Sri Lanka.

Sport

‘Not the sportiest school ever,’ admit pupils, although it participates in ISA competitions (we spotted a few trophies) and PE is offered at GCSE and A level. Year 9s can also undertake a sports leadership programme. The general vibe is more about enjoying physical activity and developing skills than ‘let’s win the league’, yielding a diverse mix of sports’ clubs – including cheerleading, fencing and boxing — and the multi-use pitch was busy with break-time footballers.

Ethos and heritage

Founded by parents in Hampstead in 1898, the original aim was to provide an education based on what was best for the child and encourage learning for its own sake. Part of the progressive movement, KAS sees its kindred schools as Bedales in Hampshire and St Christopher in Letchworth. Parents agree that the original ethos remains core to the school’s values; ‘they are very good at finding what makes each child shine’.

An oasis of green space tucked away off a busy main road, school is spread over two sites in gorgeous, extensive grounds. The main site has a villagey feel, with an attractive mix of buildings clustered around a central common-like field, plus a woodland area with jungle gym and mini-amphitheatre. Across the road at Ivy Wood (once the home of Anna Pavlova), the infants’ classrooms, Phoenix theatre and DT block nestle in wooded gardens.

No uniform and an atmosphere of ‘respectful informality’; pupils call teachers by their first names, seeing them as friends with a ‘great rapport’. Pupils have a high degree of freedom — one parent happily described them as ‘free-range kids’ — but understand that privileges come with responsibility. From year 10 they can leave the site at lunchtime, provided they are back for registration. Stunning sixth-form block (built in 2021) provides both communal social spaces with bright yellow sofas and quiet study areas. Years 7-9 have their own common room with furniture built by pupils in DT from recycled materials.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents welcome the increased structure that the head has introduced to enable children to thrive in this less overtly-managed environment - ‘More freedom brings more opportunities to go off the path,’ he notes - it’s all part of the learning process. Small tutor groups (known as ‘crews’) foster supportive conversation about pastoral concerns and ‘the whys’ of behaviour. Focus on reflective learning and understanding of individual/group responsibility means that those going through difficult patches are patiently supported over what can be a considerable time. Counselling is also available for free on a self-referral basis.

Students were enthusiastic about the peer mentoring system, which sees sixth formers trained as ‘peer listeners’ by external professionals; they work closely with younger years to offer a safe space to share experiences and also run a mental health project with year 7s to help them develop resilience strategies.

Pastoral care is seen as a ‘long-term education programme’; zero tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol on site but main focus is on educating pupils, recognising the realities of the world outside school. Disruptive behaviour is discussed collectively rather than simply punished – ‘They are genuinely interested in the children’s perspectives,’ approved one parent, although others question whether this is always effective or timely: ‘It didn’t seem like there were any consequences,’ remarked one who felt a lack of resolution. School is clear, however, that where ‘nothing else has worked’, exclusion may be necessary. Overall, parents recognise that ‘it’s a journey’ and trust that the school ‘will hold the child through all the ups and downs’. Head observes that students will gain ‘just as good exam results as they would elsewhere and probably be quite a bit happier’ along the way.

Pupils and parents

Parent body welcoming to newcomers and mostly very engaged with school life, praising the ‘really responsive’ dialogue between home and school. Before and after school, grounds are full of parents chatting. Not many ‘City uniforms’ but plenty of creatives, academics and other professionals including medics – reflected in the range of parents volunteering at the year 9 ‘careers café’. Fair number of A list celebrities, particularly from the performing arts, but it’s not a ‘starry’ culture: parents agree that ‘everyone is really friendly and down-to-earth’. Pupils and parents alike value the strong sense of community and the lower school café for parents on Friday afternoons is popular - ‘it’s like a big family’, several observed. Parents (current and former) also make up most of the school governors.

Pupils confident and articulate - your standard north London teenager rather than the ‘hippy on the hill’ of lingering mythology. Parents are proud that they ‘grow into young adults who are not scared of authority’ and who feel they have a voice. Pupils say ‘most people are really kind’ and appreciate that they are encouraged to ‘take up challenges and allowed to make mistakes’. New joiners generally welcomed into the fold, assisted by bonding trips and mixing-up of form groups each year. Whispers of ‘lower school cliques’ being ‘hard to penetrate’ from some quarters, but this seems to vary between year groups. Plenty of trips and activities (especially at sixth form) support integration.

Money matters

Some bursary support is available, primarily at year 7 and sixth form entry.

The last word

An unusual and individual alternative to the more pressured environments of some other north London establishments. Be ready to subscribe fully to the school’s approach and ethos. For those who do, as one parent put it, ‘it’s just joyous’.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Who came from where


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