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  • Holland Park School
    Airlie Gardens
    Campden Hill Road
    London
    W8 7AF
  • Head: Mr Colin Hall
  • T 020 7908 1000
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.hollandparkschool.co.uk/
  • A state school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 18.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Kensington & Chelsea
  • Pupils: 1,430; sixth formers: 230
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Open days: Check website
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted:
    • Latest Overall effectiveness Outstanding 1
      • 16-19 study programmes Outstanding 1
      • Outcomes for children and learners Outstanding 1
      • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Outstanding 1
      • Effectiveness of leadership and management Outstanding 1
    • 1 Full inspection 13th November 2014
  • Previous Ofsted grade: Outstanding on 26th May 2011
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report

What says..

Lessons are not so much classes as theatre. The teachers’ performances are packed with pizzazz and the pupils are spellbound. English and the humanities trump everything else, say both students and parents. Teachers (30 per cent from Oxbridge, all thoroughly committed – they have to be or they don’t last) are expected to teach across a range of abilities and year groups and all are observed and stretched. Their open-ended questions are relentless; oracy and deep analysis matter. SEND, once a weak spot, is now going from strength to strength. Not an obvious choice for families seeking sporting glory. By the school’s own admission…

Read review »

What the school says...

Holland Park School is an Ofsted outstanding school. Its GCSE examination performance has fallen in the top 5% of schools nationally now consistently for the last 7 or 8 years. It boasts equally outstanding Sixth Form results and launches its students to a range of first class universities. It holds the Investors in People award at gold level, is a member of The Prince's Teaching Institute and enjoys links with English National Opera and many other organisations. The writer Alan Bennett and the poet Simon Armitage are, amongst others, friends of the school. The new school building opened in late 2012 and is a stunning piece of architecture. Students benefit from splendid facilities including a Multi-Use Games Area, a 4G Astro Turf pitch; tennis courts; a 25m swimming pool; professional dance studios; a music recording studio; Music technology suites (Apple Mac); Media Suite; drama studios; dedicated Sixth Form library and reading room. The school is driven, fast-paced and ambitious for its students. In the national league tables it exhibits the highest order of value-added and is frequently visited by other schools seeking to glean from its practices and success. ...Read more

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Sports

Rowing

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2001, Colin Hall BA PGCE (60s). Durham born and bred, he attended Durham Wearside grammar school, thence to Sheffield Uni (history) and Cambridge (teacher training). Spirited, erudite, ambitious and unswerving in his devotion to his vocation, it was never going to take him long to shine, with his first senior positions at Cheney School in Oxford and King Edward VI Morpeth in Northumberland and his first (and only other) headship in Hounslow. Couple these attributes with his fastidious attention to detail, boundless energy and fearlessness in thinking outside the box to ensure students and staff are aspirational and you start to get a picture of this seriously impressive head who has turned this school around from failing urban comp to Ofsted Outstanding and widely celebrated. A dynamo of a man, he is part of an elite band of ‘superheads’ and, we would argue, a true one-off (something that wasn’t lost on former education secretary Michael Gove, who chose to send his younger child here after asking to ‘observe’ him; John Bercow’s three children also attend the school). ‘His drive for excellence and to ensure everyone does their job well is astonishing – I haven’t come across anything like it ever, even in the army,’ said a parent.

‘I’m sorry if you missed the 80s,’ were the first words we heard him utter as he emerged from the shadows following some stirring clips from the movies Brassed Off and Pride in the morning staff meeting (the vast majority were so youthful that we reckon he could have missed out the ‘if’). It was a time, he explained, when things such as the miners’ strike defined people forever, just as COVID has since. ‘If they could face the impossible then, we can do it again,’ was the message. Charismatic and persuasive, he is able to work the room and the money, with the great and the good ranging from Sheila Hancock to Alan Bennett and from Dame Janet Baker to HRH The Duchess of Kent (known here as Katharine Kent – she has her own set of keys) making up the body known as ‘the friends of Holland Park’. ‘No child is outside our grasp’ has been his unfailing mantra and he will do whatever it takes and schmooze whoever he can from the neighbourhood (thank goodness it’s Holland Park) to achieve it.

One of the best-paid academy bosses in the country with a salary of £260K, he still finds time to teach English, albeit ‘really only so that other teachers can learn from me – I’m a great believer that the headteacher should be one of the best teachers in the school’. But there’s humility too - he makes no secret of his reliance on and affection for his trusted loyal advisers, the senior leadership team, most notably his right hand man, David Chappell, academy head. And nobody doubts his big heart, with parents and students describing him as empathetic (although some feel, as one put it, that he is ‘more interested in the brightest kids and the ones with family connections’).

‘Lives and breathes the school – it is literally his baby,’ said a parent, and he concurs. ‘I go on holiday to north Norfolk once a year, but it’s my work that I live for.’ Perhaps it’s for the best, reckoned one parent – ‘I wouldn’t want to go on holiday with him just because, in the nicest possible way, he’d be exhausting! He is an extraordinary man.’

Entrance

An ever-shrinking catchment area that now stretches to no more than about half a mile from the school. About 1,600 apply for 240 places, with up to 50 appeals, only a few of which are successful. Siblings get priority and 24 places (10 per cent) are reserved for the specialist 'art aptitude test' (two drawings under exam conditions), with distance no object. Normally about 380 apply, with a waiting list for this test as well as a main waiting list. Most pupils come from local primaries, especially Fox up the road, but there are growing numbers from independent junior schools. Tests for banding take place in the autumn of year 6.

For entry into sixth form, at least seven GCSEs graded 9-6 including English and maths and at least 7s in the subjects you want to study. That goes for existing pupils as well as external applicants, although the former get priority, with proximity to school the decider for the latter.

Exit

Around half leave after GCSE, mainly to colleges to do more vocational courses, other sixth forms to do other subjects or into apprenticeships. Hardly any to the independent sector. After A levels, all but one or two to university. Two-thirds to Russell Group universities. Five to Oxbridge in 2020 and six medics, as well as one overseas to École Polytechnique to study maths and physics. Some years quite high numbers take a gap year, others hardly any. Most popular are the London unis, particularly UCL and King's, but the school is working to drive them further away with recent students off to Warwick, Sheffield, Nottingham, Manchester, Bristol and Durham. Wide range of subjects from engineering to law, to English, classics, architecture and theology. A few go off to art college.

Latest results

In 2019, 69 per cent of pupils got grades 9-4 in both English and maths at GCSE; 43 per cent A*-A/9-7 grades. At A level in 2019, 36 per cent of grades were A*/A; 62 per cent were A*-B. For 2020, 87 per cent of pupils got grades 9-4 in both English and maths at GCSE; 55 per cent A*-A/9-7 grades. At A level in 2020, 55 per cent of grades were A*/A; 96 per cent were A*-B.

Teaching and learning

Lessons are not so much classes as theatre. We saw an RE class with lights dimmed, incense burning and da Vinci’s Last Supper lit up as a backdrop to 12 glasses of wine and plates of flatbread on a table with a red velvet tablecloth. We sat in on what we thought must be a food tech lesson only to discover the English teacher was using bowls of ingredients to teach King Lear (Which character is like the plain flour? And which is sickly sweet like sugar? etc). One maths lesson involved complex sums using Celebrations chocolates and we heard how Narnia was to be recreated later that week with bowls of ice, hot chocolate and Turkish delight and even wind and smoke machines. The teachers’ performances are packed with pizzazz and the pupils are spellbound.

English and the humanities trump everything else, say both students and parents – ‘just because that’s the area of interest for the senior leadership team,’ reckoned one. ‘You only have to watch how many of the Perfect Tense prizes fall into those categories,’ said another. This glamorous annual summer event sees star pupils selected by staff for ‘outstanding achievement’ being celebrated at a star-studded (remember those ‘friends’ of the school) black tie awards ceremony. The event is a very big deal that acts as a key motivator for students.

All students are streamed into four different groups. Band 1 students are the crème de la crème and are taught Latin (in addition to the French or Spanish that all students learn from year 7 and can add to with the other one from year 9) and taken on day trips to universities, among other things; bands 2, 3 and 4 are ‘reasonably mixed’. Within those bands are sets for every subject and the desire by students (and their parents) to move up keeps everyone on their toes, contributing to personal drive and aspiration. They are worked hard from day one and there’s tonnes of testing and rigorous monitoring.

Teachers (30 per cent from Oxbridge, all thoroughly committed – they have to be or they don’t last) are expected to teach across a range of abilities and year groups (‘We don’t save our best for the top students’) and all are observed and stretched. Their open-ended questions are relentless; oracy and deep analysis matter. ‘What do you think, Izzy?’ ‘Ok, you can’t answer – pick a friend to answer for you.’ ‘Great, now unpack what you said!’ ‘Oooh yes, but why?’ As for exercise books, we’ve never seen anything quite like it. Not for these students a dogeared, doodle-covered old thing but a heavily branded, beautifully illustrated volume in Farrow & Ball colours including week-by-week map of learning, handy tips such as writing creatively (English), geographical command words (geography), exemplar work complete with red comments, common errors, glossary etc. The lined (or plain for art; grid for maths) pages are filled in with some of the neatest handwriting and most constructive, detailed feedback we’ve ever come across.

A measure of staff commitment is the (unpaid) Saturday (and occasionally Sunday) morning school, with the school also open for a week during the holidays. For students, it’s voluntary but well-attended, with around 200 coming in on Saturdays (when there may well be sports fixtures and practices too) and up to 600 during the Easter holidays. Granted, they don’t skip down the pathway, but they (or their parents) appreciate the extra support and teaching.

GCSE teaching happens in short, sharp bursts – two (chosen by the pupil based on their favourite and strongest) taken in year 9; three in year 10 (to include English language); the rest in year 11. Means all leave with 11 GCSEs. ‘Students love it because they grow up knowing exactly what big exams feel like rather than waiting for a spin of panic and the parents don’t have to wait for that one big moment of shock or delight,’ says head – although some parents told us they feel depends on how motivated your child is and warn of the potential heightened tension lasting three years. ‘For some subjects like history, I also think you need to be more mature to get the most out of it,’ added another. Results are strong, including for MFL (pupils can take up to three languages, although most do one), although PE and drama let the side down a bit (school says it’s because ‘the less shiny students tend to choose them – the rest want EBacc’). At A level, 15 ‘proper’ subjects are taught until 12.50pm, the idea being that students do independent study (with interventions where necessary) at school or home in the afternoons. Fewer than 10 take Spanish, French or Latin and a tiny few do music or drama.

Learning support and SEN

SEND, once a weak spot, is now going from strength to strength, with 42 EHCPs and four physically disabled students when we visited. In particular, the school is known for its expertise in high functioning autism. Also caters for milder dyslexia, dyspraxia etc mainly via TAs in the classroom and, where necessary, sessions with Greta, their warm and delightful 80-something ex-SENCo. The full-time SENCo is one of the deputy heads.

The arts and extracurricular

It was a production by staff not students that piqued our curiosity about the drama department. Every spring term, the leadership team puts on an annual Shakespeare play (most recently King Lear), a bonding experience for them and great fun for the pupils (a few of whom get involved - sixth form only). Students perform in an annual large-scale school musical production (most recently Guys and Dolls). There is also a ‘drama evening’ held in March and annual student Shakespeare performance in November. But a student told us that drama teaching ‘can be up and down – the teachers often leave so it all depends who you get.’

The 100-strong (including eight staff members) choir – which is what everyone talks about as soon as you mention music - is something to behold. Large, impressive and growing, we spoke to one student member who had performed in Florence and at Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as in St Paul’s, Chichester and Durham. The orchestra plays a wide repertoire of classical and modern music. Plenty of instruments – double basses, guitars etc – available to borrow but only 25 have individual instrumental lessons (plus 12 singing) which you can only do outside the school day. Students rave about the jazz, rock bands etc and there are opportunities for music production too.

Art is exceptional. When you walk into the pristine hotel – sorry, school - reception area (more of that later), you’d be well advised to stop and look. Expect quality over quantity – only two when we visited, but jaw-dropping stuff. One, a self-portrait by a sixth-former, was produced under exam conditions – all the more incredible. Thorpe Lodge, an enchanting building, formerly inhabited by the Bank of England, is home to A level art. Students rave about its bohemian environment and magical gardens, where they are given complete creativity to express themselves. Particularly talented students as young as year 9 have been known to take A level art under supervision by the academy head. DT is well equipped and popular.

Clubs and societies? You name it, they have it: reptile, chess, student leadership, film, theatre etc. ‘Some are quite small but we don’t mind – passion is more important than numbers,’ says head. DofE attracts 400-strong a year.

Sport

Not an obvious choice for families seeking sporting glory. By the school’s own admission, it is not ‘our biggest priority’. We didn’t spot a single trophy on our visit, although we were reassured they do compete impressively in football and basketball against significant locals eg Cardinal Vaughan, Burlington Danes, Chelsea Academy and Latymer Upper. And there are termly house matches and a house sports week. There’s certainly no shortage of facilities including lots of outside space, Astro and tarmac for netball, tennis, football and cricket on the doorstep, as well as a new, shiny, well-equipped gym with basketball courts etc in the basement, not to mention the 25m competition swimming pool. Rugby also on offer (although not considered a strength), as well as plenty of minor sports including lacrosse, badminton, table tennis and athletics, and there are netball and football tours as well as a ski trip. But, report parents, the overall quality is patchy, they only do two hours a week PE as part of the curriculum (there are two hours a day available as part of extra-curricular too) and there aren’t many fixtures. (‘As with many London schools, we struggle to find schools to compete against and don’t think the benefits of travelling a two hour round trip to play a match is proportionate to the benefits it brings,’ explains school.) Dance – which has two studios and several teachers - is popular, both as a mainstream subject and after school.

Ethos and heritage

‘Holland Park School spent £15k on Farrow & Ball paint and £6k on Jo Malone candles,’ ran one of many such press headlines in recent years. You certainly don’t feel like you’re entering an inner city comp when you walk into the shimmering glass building, replete with tasteful furniture, exquisite rugs, beautiful fixtures and fittings (‘I know it sounds silly, but I just love the doorknobs,’ one student told us) and, yes, the sophisticated fragrance of Jo Malone. ‘Why do we do it? Because the students are worth it and because I wanted to put things in place that many of our students don’t have at home,’ says head, who points out that these extra luxuries are either funded by the ‘friends’ of the school or given as gifts or non-delegated funding.

It’s a far cry from the 1960s monolith that preceded it, although to be fair this particular west London comp has long had glamorous associations. Founded in 1958, it quickly became the school of choice for the liberal left (Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins both moved their sons here from Westminster and Winchester respectively) and with Anjelica Huston among the alumni, the school had a decidedly cool reputation. But ‘the socialist Eton’, as it became known, later went to the dogs and it is the current head and his leadership team that have wrought a remarkable change not just in terms of behaviour, aspirations and academic results (an Ofsted inspector once called it ‘a grammar school for all’) but the overall look and feel of the school. There are Ercol tables and chairs in the classrooms as well as the front hall and communal areas, and not a hint of mess, clutter or damage. Everything is immaculate, everything is high-end.

The building itself is all glass and (sun) shine and provides teaching areas for every student. With the exception of A level art, all lessons and activities take place in this one building. Everything is open plan, from the library to the unisex loos, and the spacious passageways are easy to police and regularly patrolled. There is, says the school, nowhere to hide.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral care and behaviour management are two sides of the same coin here, with a behaviour and attitude team made up of non-teaching staff, along with a trained counsellor. ‘It’s a tough love approach and the fact that they are as forensic with it as they are with the grades means you don’t see much rebellion,’ said a parent. ‘I make no apology for providing clarity and boundaries – children need to feel safe and happy to learn and expectations of good behaviour and rules are part of achieving that,’ says head. There is little scope for miscreants. The leadership team (‘the men in black,’ as some call them, although there are two women; the lack of diversity is not lost on students) is ever present and picks up on everything from attire to skullduggery. The open design of the building means that if you're banished from the classroom for poor behaviour, it's like being sent into a goldfish bowl. Uniform, attendance and behaviour all strictly observed. How else would the delicate Ercol chairs and tables that adorn all the classrooms survive with not one scratch or speck of flicked ink or graffiti? These young adults are taught to take care of their surroundings, of themselves and of others. Nobody we met considered it unfair or punitive – ‘It’s just common sense. You just read through the rules and don’t do them,’ said one student. School won’t shy away from working with families – parents are involved as soon as their child is excluded from lessons. Internal exclusions are rare and there have been no permanent exclusions in over a decade. Vertical tutor system are praised, and students report a strong student voice, although parents told us they’d like a more formalised system for them to air their views. Inclusivity is in the bones of the school – ‘Everyone is accepted for who they are here and there’s nothing they shy away from talking about,’ said a student.

Pupils and parents

Parents range from self-confessed 'champagne socialists' to high profile conservatives, creative and media types and wealthy entrepreneurs. Many who might otherwise have gone private can’t believe their luck to have such a high standard of education, funded by their taxes alone. But just because the school is smack, bang in the middle of one of the most fashionable and expensive corners of London, not everyone here is monied – far from it, with 31 per cent on pupil premium. To put things in perspective, the Grenfell disaster had a huge impact on the school.

Pupils are driven, friendly and courteous. They are articulate and – hurrah to this – teachers work hard to ensure their every other word is not ‘like’ and ‘basically’.

Money matters

Now an academy but retaining its very close links with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, it remains the area's flagship comprehensive school. Always well-funded by the Royal Borough, this is now matched by funding from the Education Funding Agency. For a state school, it is exceptionally wealthy, with a head knows only too well how to tap into any available and potential resources.

The last word

We love the idea of these students being mentally transported back to their inner-city comp schooldays not by a whiff of a sweaty gym but by the aroma of a Jo Malone candle. But while the media have had a field day haranguing them for it, we think they’re missing the point. The environment, in all its swankiness, is part of a much bigger message this school gives youngsters about being worth investing in on every level and with an attention to detail we have rarely seen. For youngsters who are prepared to toe the line and work hard, this is a dazzler of a school.

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

The school treats its students as individuals and understands that all students, regardless of diagnosis, have their own needs. There is some specialism in the school in high functioning autism, and many students with ASD have been very successful in the school. For more information and to discuss your child, please talk with Joe Holloway, SENDCo and deputy head.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Interpreting catchment maps

The maps show in colour where the pupils at a school came from*. Red = most pupils to Blue = fewest.

Where the map is not coloured we have no record in the previous three years of any pupils being admitted from that location based on the options chosen.

For help and explanation of our catchment maps see: Catchment maps explained

Further reading

If there are more applicants to a school than it has places for, who gets in is determined by which applicants best fulfil the admissions criteria.

Admissions criteria are often complicated, and may change from year to year. The best source of information is usually the relevant local authority website, but once you have set your sights on a school it is a good idea to ask them how they see things panning out for the year that you are interested in.

Many schools admit children based on distance from the school or a fixed catchment area. For such schools, the cut-off distance will vary from year to year, especially if the school give priority to siblings, and the pattern will be of a central core with outliers (who will mostly be siblings). Schools that admit on the basis of academic or religious selection will have a much more scattered pattern.

*The coloured areas outlined in black are Census Output Areas. These are made up of a group of neighbouring postcodes, which accounts for their odd shapes. These provide an indication, but not a precise map, of the school’s catchment: always refer to local authority and school websites for precise information.

The 'hotter' the colour the more children have been admitted.

Children get into the school from here:

regularly
most years
quite often
infrequently
sometimes, but not in this year

Who came from where


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