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  • Holland Park School
    Airlie Gardens
    Campden Hill Road
    London
    W8 7AF
  • Head: Mr Colin Hall
  • T 020 7908 1000
  • E admissions@hollandparkschool.co.uk
  • W www.hollandparkschool.co.uk
  • A state school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 18.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Kensington & Chelsea
  • Pupils: 1,400; sixth formers: 185
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • 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..

This is, unquestionably, a good fit for a bright, motivated pupil who has a particular flair for the humanities and English. Located in one of the most fashionable and expensive corners of London, its demographic is very different from many schools of its kind across the capital. But only because standards are high. Hall and his henchman is a phrase that slips easily off the tongue - even if it is said with some irony. There is little scope for miscreants. The open design of the building ensures that no misdemeanour goes unnoticed. If you're sent out of the classroom…

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What the school says...

Holland Park School is an Ofsted outstanding school. Its examination performance in 2013 fell in the top 2% of all schools nationally and almost all students achieve 5 A* to C in English and mathematics. 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

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking Biology at an English Comprehensive School (GCE A level)

Sports

Rowing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2001, Mr Colin Hall BA PGCE (mid 50s). Born and brought up in Durham, he was educated at Durham Wearside grammar school. He graduated with a history degree from Sheffield and went on to to do a PCGE at Cambridge. His career has been meteoric. Each employer recognised his hunger and determination, as well as fierce loyalty (a number of references are reproduced in the staff planner for the benefit of his aspiring teachers). He arrived here from Longford Community School in Hounslow, his first headship; prior to that he had senior positions at Cheney School in Oxford and King Edward VI Morpeth in Northumberland. He still manages to find the time to teach English, which is the subject he has chosen to teach since his first job at Thurston Community School (now College) in Suffolk (his greatest joy, he says, is reading, and he read Sons and Lovers when he was 10). There is a more than a touch of Napoleon about him. A dynamo of man, we have rarely met someone who combines a seemingly unlimited supply of tenacity, fastidious attention to detail, boundless energy, aspiration for both pupils and staff alike and a total and passionate commitment to his vocation.

We were invited (unusually) to attend a staff meeting in the morning. Teachers here are (mostly) younger than 35 and Mr Hall invests as much nurturing and guidance in them as he does the pupils. Marking is assiduously scrutinised, lessons observed, goals and targets set. A canny head, he is also excellent at working the money and the room. The great and the good make up the body known as 'the friends of Holland Park'. Prizes such as the 'pupil premium award' are swept up, Alan Bennett attends whole school events, HRH the Duchess of Kent (known here as Katharine Kent) has her own set of keys to the building.

Deeply aspirational; 'no child is outside of our grasp,' he insists, 'no child is without ambition'. It does not surprise us at all that Michael Gove, the former education secretary, asked to come and 'observe Colin Hall' (although Mr Hall, with a disarming humility, says it did surprise him). Nor does it surprise us that when you Google him, Colin Hall appears among an elite band of 'super heads'. What is more surprising is that despite his Napoleonic appearance, parents describe him as having a big heart, a sensitive and empathetic approach. He also has a reliance on and affection for his trusted loyal advisers, the senior leadership team, but most notably his right hand man, David Chappell, associate head ('everyone is some sort of head,' remarked one parent. There are five deputy heads and five assistant head teachers as well as an associate head).

Academic matters

This is, unquestionably, a good fit for a bright, motivated pupil who has a particular flair for the humanities and English. A rigorous banding is applied across all subjects from the start. Band 1 pupils are considered by staff at pupils to be the crème de la crème. These are the ones taken on day trips to universities, for example and are the participants at the glamorous Perfect Tense event in the summer term when star pupils, selected by staff for 'outstanding achievement', are celebrated at a black tie awards ceremony in Holland Park - attended by the 'friends' of the school as well as by parents and staff. One pupil we spoke to remarked that 'even those in the top of band 2 rarely get to go to Perfect Tense.' While this isn't necessarily true, school admits to the disparity in numbers - approximately 65 per cent of band 1 pupils compared with five per cent of band 4 pupils are likely to be celebrated at Perfect Tense. Pupils (and parents) are keen to move up a band if they can swing it.

All this contributes to personal drive and aspiration and the results speak for themselves. In 2017, 79 per cent of pupils got grades 4-9 in both English and maths at GCSE. At A level in 2017, 45 per cent A*/A and 73 per cent A*-B. Not a wide range of A levels offered, but all 'proper subjects'. English and biology currently most popular at A levels. Fewer than 10 take Spanish and/or French. A tiny few do design or music.

Teachers here are thoroughly committed. They have to be or they wouldn't last. Parents talk of a high turnover of staff, particularly in the maths department, but Mr Hall holds on fast when he strikes gold with a talented teacher. Lots of opportunity for career development and promotion. English, humanities and art are all strong here and the staff, in those subjects, long serving. Class rooms could be mistaken for museums - ordered, uncluttered, tastefully decorated and minimal. Mr Hall's attention to detail spares no corner. Lesson plans are scrutinised, progress reports monitored and the delivery of lessons constantly observed and remarked upon. We were given copies of the lesson plans of every lesson we saw, as well as examples of marking. All extremely thorough and impressive. The lower bands have the advantage of the some of the best teaching. No one is allowed to coast here. Parents particularly enthusiastic about geography, history and English teaching. 'They lit a spark in my son,' remarked one parent, 'with a combination of inspirational teaching and incentivising notes of encouragement from the head'. However, another parent deplored a 'boot camp approach' - evidenced by an inflexibility and greater concern for the results and statistics than what might be best for the individual.

A measure of staff commitment is the practice of opening the school on Saturday mornings as well as for one week during the holidays - for what are called 'interventions'. About 200 children will come in on a Saturday to benefit from extra support and teaching. There may well be sports fixtures and practices on Saturdays too. As many as 600 students have lessons over the the Easter holidays. Teachers aren't paid extra for this; their professionalism demands it of them. Parents are impressed by the thoroughness with which progress is tracked. 'If my son gets a lower result than expected, the teacher will ring me to discuss why this might have happened.'

Many pupils take GCSEs early (a practice that is unlikely to be able to continue under the present regime). By year 10 some have already taken four or five subjects including French, Latin, English literature, history and RS. A few parents regret this suggesting, that their children weren't allowed enough time to enjoy the subject and study in depth, cramming in a short time instead. Others feel disappointed that their child might have been able to achieve an A* in a subject if they had taken it at the normal time. Pupils we spoke to bemoaned 'the exam culture', the constant pressure and the stress this can cause.

Not the school for a child with special educational needs, whether mild or severe, and by Mr Hall's own admission 'you have to be very sure you can meet them.' The school does have lifts, so can accommodate physical disabilities, and perhaps even a case of mild autism. There are a number of students here with 'emotional and behavioural difficulties', we were told. Full time SENCo but one parent remarked on the high turnover of people in this role. In class support provided wherever possible; occasionally a student may be withdrawn from class to be given extra support.

Games, options, the arts

Excellent sporting facilities - lots of outside space, Astro and tarmac for netball, tennis, football and cricket on the doorstep, as well as a spanking, shiny, well-equipped gym with basketball courts etc in the basement, not to mention the 25m competition swimming pool. One of our year 11 guides enthused about netball. Girls in the team are keen and committed and will turn up for practice at 6.30am on a freezing winter's morning. There are house matches every term and a house sports week. As well as rugby, football, cricket and netball, plenty of minor sports also offered, including lacrosse, badminton, table tennis, athletics and rowing, and there are netball and football tours as well as a ski trip.

However, parents agree that the uptake and quality of boys' sport is patchy. Football is popular and the school competes impressively against the local competition which includes Cardinal Vaughan, Burlington Danes, Chelsea Academy and Latymer Upper. Matches and practice sessions are timetabled on Saturdays. Rugby and cricket, on the other hand, have some way to go. Although two hours a week is allocated, most do little above and beyond this; 'My son is getting overweight and has no way of letting off steam,' complained one parent. Perhaps the work pressure is such that students are afraid of committing too much time to doing anything outside the classroom? Either that or, as one parent put it, 'the boys aren't being enticed to do more sport'. However, the school will support pupils' enterprising initiatives - setting up an American football club, for example. A cricket tour to Ampleforth College in Yorkshire caused a great flurry of excitement, but 'the standard is low and enthusiasm quick to wane,' observed one parent.

The major drama production of the year is performed not by pupils, but by staff. The leadership team puts on an annual Shakespeare play each Lent term, well attended by the whole school community; it is clearly a strong bonding experience. Photographs of performances adorn the walls, and particularly amusing characters (who can't act for bacon, confesses one of the leadership team wryly) are discussed for months afterwards. With the exception of an annual 'drama evening' in March where a wide range of age groups perform a selection of pieces - perhaps from the A level or GCSE syllabus - it would seem that there is little drama for the students, apart from what takes place in the classroom during a drama lesson, or when studying a play during English. Apart from the school hall, used primarily for assembly, there is nowhere to put on productions on site, and no mention of any attempt to borrow or lease any local theatres.

A small but impressive choir is growing in quality and stature, and is led by one of the talented deputy heads. We were impressed when we saw a number of double basses and guitars in a music practice room, owned by the school but available for pupils' use. Some pupils receive financial support from the school to play their chosen instrument. Lots of prizes for music. There is clearly very positive encouragement coming from the top (and it helps that Katharine Kent is a strong supporter of the arts, especially music). An orchestra gets cobbled together from pupils who play an instrument outside school, but there is little continuity. When we asked one pupil why there are not more musical groups, she replied tartly, 'probably because they can't make us do an exam in it.' School is part of the tri-borough music service (which includes Westminster, Kensington and Hammersmith); however, one parent talked of the music as taking place 'in fits and starts'. Peripatetic music teachers are not accommodated as there is huge resistance to any pupil missing an academic lesson to fit in an instrumental lesson.

One of the assistant head teachers runs the dance department, which is burgeoning. Two dance studios in the school, and several teachers; dance is a popular mainstream subject as well as after-school activity. We saw boys and girls, gawky and graceful, making shapes and loving it. When asked about drama productions, most parents we spoke to talked of dance performances.

The art department is exceptional - and pupils heavily rewarded with prizes and praise for creativity. Mr Chappell, the exceptional associate head, is currently steering a very talented group of students from year 10 through to the sixth form through A level art in the bohemian environment of Thorpe Lodge. A run-down and enchanting building, once inhabited by the governor of the Bank of England and with its own magical gardens, Thorpe Lodge is situated within the school gates and a stone's throw from the main building. Here, the art students are given free rein to express themselves, and so they do. Huge self-portraits in oil, spectacular installations and a plethora of other work was currently in progress when we visited. DT is well equipped with several laser printers as well as 3D printer. With the art scholarship students and a passionate teaching team, the school well deserves its reputation as an excellent choice for those with a creative bent.

Background and atmosphere

What you see now when you enter the shimmering glass building, replete with tasteful furniture, aesthetically pleasing fixtures and fittings, not to mention the delicate fragrance of Jo Malone candles, bears almost no resemblance to the 60s monolith that was Holland Park Comprehensive several years ago. Mr Hall and his leadership team (referred to by one parent, wryly, as the 'men in black': though there are two women on the team, the preponderence of young white men - who when we visited were wearing black gowns - give some weight to the analogy) have wrought a remarkable change. It neither looks, nor, more importantly, smells like a school. Fresh flowers, designer furniture (Ercol tables and chairs even in the classrooms as well as the front hall and communal areas), no mess, no clutter, and above all no damage. Everything is immaculate. The staff room is tastefully adorned with simple two seater pale blue sofas and blue Smeg fridges, banks of daffodils decorated the assembly hall on our visit, thoughtfully framed posters, paintings, poems and catechisms adorn the freshly painted walls.

The building itself is all glass and (sun) shine. Every one of the 1,400 pupils is housed here. With the exception of A level art in Thorpe Lodge, all lessons and activities take place in this one building. Everything is open plan, from the library to the unisex WCs. It's not possible either to smoke in the lavatories, or curl up in a discreet corner with a book - the building is easy to police and its corridors regularly patrolled. There is nowhere to hide. We were standing on the 'bridge' during break and it was like observing an installation - a river of smartly dressed, well-behaved young men and women moving seamlessly and smoothly up and down stairs and along the wide spacious passageways.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Hall and his henchman is a phrase that slips easily off the tongue - even if it is said with some irony. There is little scope for miscreants. The leadership team members are ever present and enforce good behaviour - from attire to skullduggery. The open design of the building ensures that no misdemeanour goes unnoticed. If you're sent out of 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 contain 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.

In conversation, Mr Hall defies this appearance of zero tolerance. 'The development of individual relationships is so much more important than casting things in black and white,' he insists. He proudly states that no-one has been permanently excluded for five years, while accepting that sometimes the last resort is the only option. Parents are involved as soon as their child is excluded from lessons. Punishments include doing serious work over a period of two to three days - no break or lunch with friends. Restorative justice is a firmly held belief here - and constructive discipline.

Students are rigorously monitored. If they are disorganised, late or disruptive, are they getting enough support from home? Tutor system is key in pastoral care structure. If there is a lack of motivation in the class room, are individual teachers doing enough to support and guide - are work books being marked quickly enough, for example?

Pupils and parents

The school has had a glamorous history since its founding in 1958. It was the school of choice for the liberal left in the 60s (Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins both chose to move their sons from Westminster and Winchester respectively to Holland Park), and with Angelica Huston among the alumni, the school had a decidedly cool reputation. Colin Hall has restored much of this glamour during his 15 (plus) years. Although one parent referred to a 'champagne socialist' element among the parent body, it's no longer the choice of just the trendy left. A number of high profile members of right wing political parties are attracted to the school's rigour and aspirational ethos, but the creative, media element is still strong.

Located in one of the most fashionable and expensive corners of London, its demographic is very different from many schools of its kind across the capital. But only because standards are high. Parents who once might have saved and scrimped to go private are celebrating the fact that their children can be educated to such a high standard, funded by their taxes alone. You will still find here the odd Etonian or Wykehamist who has chosen to return to London in the sixth form. The catchment is narrow (currently a half mile radius) but it's not impossible to get a place if you live further afield if you can get in on the art scholarship ticket. Pupils here are smart, focused and polite. Ofsted rated behaviour outstanding and we agree. They know how much devotion comes from the top down into their education and they respond to it.

Entrance

The catchment area is getting smaller by the year. Now you have to live within about half a mile of the school to have a chance of getting in. About 1,600 applicants for 240 places. Can be as many as 50 appeals, with only a tiny few successful ones. Banding tests take place in the autumn of year 6. Siblings get priority; 24 places (10 per cent) are reserved for the specialist 'art aptitude test', with distance no object - 'you could live in Glasgow and get a place'. Normally about 380 apply for these 24 places. Applicants aren't interviewed, nor do they need to provide a portfolio, just two drawings under exam conditions. There's an art aptitude waiting list as well as a main waiting list - possible to sit on both. Large numbers from local primaries but particularly Fox up the road. Growing numbers from the independent junior schools.

Entrance into the sixth form is tough. 'This is a very academic sixth form,' we were told - the high standard of the sixth form regarded as a role model to fuel the aspirations of students lower down the school. At least seven GCSEs graded A* to B (or numerical equivalents) including English and maths. Minimum of As in the subjects you want to study. Priority will be given to pupils from Holland Park, otherwise proximity to school will be the decider between two equally competing candidates.

Exit

After GCSE very few NEETs - almost all who leave join colleges, apprenticeships or other sixth forms. One or two to the independent sector but mostly to Holland Park sixth form (about 50 per cent) or to other state sixth forms. After A levels, 87 per cent to university. Around two-thirds to Russell Group Universities, including a few to Oxbridge. Quite a high number choose to take a gap year. Most popular are the London University colleges - particularly UCL and King's. Students choose to read a variety of courses from veterinary medicine, medicine, engineering and law, to English, classics, architecture and theology. A few go off to art college.

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. It has all the appearance of an exceptionally well-funded school, so we suspect Mr Hall is very clever at tapping any available and potential resources.

Our view

Ofsted rates the school outstanding under every category - indeed 'beyond outstanding' in several, and the inspectors are superlative in their praise for the school. It would take a harsh critic to disagree. This is a sparkling environment and your child will emerge polished and bright if s/he is academically ambitious, prepared to toe the line and thrives under pressure. Comprehensive it may be, but it won't suit every child.

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