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The head’s love of classics (she still teaches) is reflected both in the syllabus and in an outstanding classics department with Greek, Latin and classical civilization all taught, as well  as -  more unusually – Sanskrit, which is available at GCSE but no longer A level (although some go on to study it at university – especially popular for Oxbridge applicants). Despite being cloistered in Olympia, the school does surprisingly well on the sports front – all praise to the very hard work of the PE department. As such, has no problem catering for sporty girls. Girls flex their thespian muscles with…

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What the school says...

We offer an education which nurtures and enriches the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development of our pupils. Our happy, united atmosphere provides the ideal environment for every girl to discover her own unique combination of strengths and talents and 'to be the best she can'.

St James girls are industrious, open-hearted and courageous; they work together, enjoying others' successes as well as their own. They achieve the highest academic standards and are also encouraged to develop strength through self-discipline and an ability to live according to an intelligent understanding of what is wise and true. Regular opportunities for stillness and quiet enable them to learn to be at ease with themselves, to appreciate the value of being fully present and to develop their ability to concentrate.

Our teachers have excellent subject knowledge and give their time generously to support the well-being and development of their pupils. Relationships throughout the school are extremely positive and are characterised by a spirit of love, trust and mutual respect.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2014, Sarah Labram BA (Classics, King’s College) (50s). As a former pupil and head girl, she was privy to the growth of the school from its inception in 1975 as part of the School of Economic Science’s (SES) philosophical approach to a fixture on the London private school circuit, successful in academic league tables. Sent both her own daughters to the junior and senior schools and has worked there herself for nearly a quarter of a century, rising through the ranks from classics teacher to head of department then deputy head. Totally imbued, then, with the St James’ ethos.

More gentle Kanga than a Tigger, with a mission to build self-awareness and self-management in the girls by promulgating life skills like mindfulness, compassion and citizenship. A moderniser too – she has improved the school’s IT offer, as well as building a new library, lab and sixth form centre.

Parents like her, with some saying she had a big impact on their decision to choose the school. One turned down a well-known academic school for St James as ‘we knew as soon as we heard Mrs Labram speak that the school was a good fit.’ ‘She is extraordinary, running a school with demanding professional parents – she keeps her cool, is straightforward, sensible and intelligent,’ said another. But the parental praise is not without cracks – some remark on a lack of direct contact, ‘there’s a tier of management between us and her, but I think she’s no nonsense, she seems quite firm and the girls respect her,’ says one, while another questioned her long involvement with the school and whether there is ‘enough oxygen’ in the leadership.

Has a keen awareness of the possible ‘perfect storm’ that can come from an uncertain political climate, pressure from social media and the ‘scope for getting it wrong’, so spends a great deal of time supporting and educating the girls to make ‘wise choices’ which is perhaps more important now than ever before.

Enjoys spending time with her family (she’s married to another head), with hobbies largely cultural - music, theatre, ballet etc, as well as cooking.

Academic matters

The head’s love of classics (she still teaches) is reflected both in the syllabus and in an outstanding classics department with Greek, Latin and classical civilization all taught, as well as - more unusually – Sanskrit, which is available at GCSE but no longer A level (although some go on to study it at university – especially popular for Oxbridge applicants). Girls from the prep take it until the end of year 9; those who join from year 7 take it in the first term, after which it is optional. The root of many eastern and western languages, the head feels it’s great for grammar and offers a wealth of metaphysical thought. Plus, say some of the girls, it marks you out as interesting. One parent whose eyebrows disappeared into her hairline at the thought of Sanskrit on the syllabus, now speaks of the merits for girls in learning a different philosophical system.


These unusual ‘extras’ can lift excellent teaching into something inspiring. Philosophy and spirituality are imbued in the day to day, with girls meditating for five minutes at the beginning and end of each class (with inevitable reports of scuffles and giggles), and some sophisticated ontological teaching - especially from the history, RE and English departments. While one parent observed it was ‘a bit of a hodge-podge what with Anglican hymnbooks, Sanskrit and various religious things,’ girls report fascinating ethical discussions, and being given tools to question moral issues.

Academically, the school achieves strong results. In 2019, 76 per cent of GCSEs at 9-7; 56 per cent A*A and 79 per cent A*/B at A level. ‘We expect to get a grade to a grade and half higher than the predictive data,’ says one head of department. IGCEs in chemistry, physics, Sanskrit, biology, chemistry, history and mathematics (these departments say they prefer the syllabus, which they believe offers a wider scope of learning than the current GCSE syllabus). The rest - art and design, classical Greek, Latin, music, PE, drama, religious studies, English language and literature, French, Spanish and geography – are GCSEs. There is an option to do a BTech in applied IT, which is popular. Small sixth form – just 23 when we visited, with 19 subjects offered including classical Greek, Latin, Hinduism, RS and psychology offered, alongside art, biology, chemistry, mathematics /further mathematics, physics, history, history of art, English literature, Spanish and French. Classes are small, particularly in sixth form, where there can be as few as two or three girls per subject.

The staff pupil ration is high - 41 teachers, 14 of which are men, to 261 pupils when we visited, although we did hear criticisms from parents about a higher turnover of staff than they’d have liked and certainly some stalwarts have left recently. On the other hand, the teachers are known for their commitment which chimes with the assiduous attention to pastoral care. Teachers take on a variety of roles - pastoral and mentoring as well as educative.

We were impressed by some of the girl’s analytic abilities over and above schoolwork. A year 7 girl gave an insightful breakdown into the technical aspects of a Disney film, including its storyboard and animation. Another’s passion for the Percy Jackson stories was a tonic. ‘If you join at the junior school, your time is even more beneficial because you really understand Sanskrit, and the ethos of the school,’ a former pupil told us.

Around a quarter of the girls have mild to moderate learning difficulties – which is a high percentage – and the school feels that the size of class and level of academic support, including extra teaching and clinics, provides significant assistance. One parent estimated that 50 per cent of her daughter’s class had extra time in exams, and ‘academic results are really good, considering they take so many kids that are SEN.’ School says the figure across the school for SEN is 33 per cent.

Games, options, the arts

Despite being cloistered in Olympia, the school does surprisingly well on the sports front – all praise to the very hard work of the PE department. As such, has no problem catering for sporty girls, with an outstanding lacrosse team, ISA netball, excellent results in cross country and a successful football team, as well as the usual sports of athletics, rounders, gymnastics, cricket handball and volleyball. The lacrosse team recently won the county lacrosse tournament (four lacrosse players were on the England talent pathway and a year 9 girl had been selected to trial for the U19 England Team when we visited), and two girls represented Wales and Scotland in lacrosse at the Home Internationals. The school also won the ISA Regional Cross Country Competition for years 7/8 and 9/10. The U15 football team recently won the Queen’s College tournament and the U18 football team won the St Paul’s Girls indoor tournament. Self -defense, karate, kick boxing, yoga and dance also available, albeit extra-curricular. Athletic girls will be recognized and stretched here, says a parent of one star pupil, ‘even though the school doesn’t promote itself as a sporty school’.

There’s a sports hall on campus and outdoor netball court, and girls from year 10 upwards can pay to use a local gym nearby. Otherwise sports days and outdoor events go to King’s House Sports Grounds in Chiswick or Barn Elms in Barnes. Professional sportswomen come and speak to the girls, with recent speakers including Jess Grimson, Team England’s top female beach volleyball player, and Jasmine Joyce, a Team GB and Wales international rugby player.

Art is popular. The department produces accomplished work – exquisite oils and pen and inks were on display - and a number of girls go on to foundation courses or university degrees in the subject.

Girls flex their thespian muscles with annual musicals (Mary Poppins was a recent vibrant offering) as was the school decamping to Leighton House to stage Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The girls’ and boys’ school join together for a leaver’s ball (and a joint musical fundraiser to finance it), concerts and a bi-annual musical. One parent, a professional in the music world, said the summer concerts where both schools performed together were ‘fantastic and unusual, and had real heart and soul.’

Choirs are the backbone of the musical offer with a junior and a senior choir, and orchestra, grade 5 music theory and, of course, private instrument lessons available.
The school has recently refurbished its home economics kitchen, and the girls regularly cook meals and serve them to residents from a local nursing home.

Popular extra-curricular trips include a geography trip to Iceland, and a history trip to Berlin.

Background and atmosphere

Located down a quiet road in the shadows of Olympia, the main gate leads into an attractive gated courtyard. Up until year 12, the seniors share this site with the prep school, with senior girls turning left rather than right on entry. Classrooms smack of the Victorian (building opened as a school in 1874 then was rebuilt in 1936) with wooden desks, although of course there are white boards too now. Labs are well equipped and modern, there’s an excellent art studio, and well-appointed hall. Although light and pleasant, some parents have concerns about a lack of outdoor space although there is a netball court, and the girls use the playground during breaks.

The sixth form building is a couple of streets away in a large terraced house filled with classrooms, break-out rooms, study spaces and a good-size common room. Here, girls are largely autonomous, although they return to the main school for assemblies, certain classes and meals – and clearly love their independent life a few streets from the main school.

When the school was founded in the 1970s, it was very much part of the School of Economic Science movement (some would say cult) that had built up momentum since its origins in 1937. The idea behind SES was an exploration of the world's great religions and philosophies and what it is to be fully human in a spiritual way. Although the school has actively distanced itself from the SES, the legacy of this ethos lives on through the school, albeit evolved.

Food has always been vegetarian (originally due to the SES links, although now the main benefit is ‘a huge saving in CO2 emissions,’ says head) which appeals to many parents. It is simple and nourishing – with pizza a popular option.

We found girls to be articulate, reasonable and supportive of one another. Especially suited to quieter academic types that respond to a gentler approach and who embrace the meditation time at the beginning and end of each class. Such girls, say parents, ‘blossom’ here. One parent reports a girl joining in sixth form and finding ‘it was like going home for her. She won an award for being an all-round good egg.’ Phones are handed in daily for year 7 to 11, although the head is ‘cheered by the sanguine attitude’ of the girls to social media, observing ‘different generations respond in different ways.’ Sixth formers can keep their phones.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Particularly strong on mental health, with school adept at spotting signs of disturbance and involving parents and support teams (school has a network of professional support from art therapists to SEN advisors, a mental health training mentoring scheme between older and younger girls, and even a dog, Huxley, ‘for emotional support’ that the girls love). Head is proud of the work the school does in supporting the girls’ emotional wellbeing – all part of day to day conversation for the girls - and has led the school in its membership of the Girls on Board scheme, with a focus on navigating the waters of girls’ friendships. Parents speak of friendship groups as ‘thoughtful, caring, clever and confident.’ The mantra used by these staff of ‘is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?’ is a good one for girls who might be tempted to gang upon each other. One parent reported that ‘she had never seen teachers with such a high level of commitment’ to the girls. It’s worth noting, though, that one parent reported more girls with problems than you might hope for, but perhaps this is simply because the girl’s problems are being recognised.

Pupils and parents

Over 40 languages spoken at the school, with families from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. They find it ‘easy to settle in’ says the head, with St James a ‘refreshingly different space to be themselves.’ Vegans, yogis, and life coaches are represented in the parent body, alongside the more usual private school coterie of bankers, accountants and lawyers. Parents are invited to a ‘back to school evening when they are ‘taught’ by the staff, which is a hugely popular event, as is the Christmas Fair when the courtyard and school are transformed into a glorious grotto, filled with trees, cakes and goodwill. One parent felt it’s a shame the school is sometimes overlooked – like others, she encourages her friends to visit the school as well as ‘the Godolphin and Latymers’ because her daughters are so happy there.

Alumnae include actor Emily Watson OBE, Emma Mulqueeny OBE, Sahana Gero MBE, interior designers Anna Jacobs and Anna Glover, writer Lucy Crehan and Natasha Tomalin-Hall, creative director of You Magazine.

Entrance

There are 170 applicants for 30 places; the remaining 18 places tend to go to girls from the prep school (NB now at year 7 rather than year 6). These applicants come from a mix of preps and state primaries (around half each). These include Bute House, Chiswick and Bedford Park, Fulham Prep, Heathfield House, Hurlingham, Kew Green Prep, Larmenier & Sacred Heart Primary School, Pembridge Hall, Notting Hill Prep, Ravenscourt Park Prep, Redcliffe School and The Falcons School for Girls. Main north west feeders include Maple Walk and St Mary’s School Hampstead. School is part of the London 11+ Consortium, which sets a cognitive ability test (maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning) and has a common reference form. Odd spaces higher up. Entry criteria for sixth formers is at least five GCSEs at 9-5 including at least a 7 in the subjects chosen.

Exit

Up to a quarter leave after GCSE’s, often for larger or co-ed schools, both state and boarding. Popular recent destinations after sixth form include Durham, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Bristol and King’s College London. Two to Oxbridge in 2019 – maths and Sanskrit. Strong showing in art recently, with girls going to Central St Martins, Camberwell College of Arts, The Royal Drawing School and The Art Academy.

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries awarded to 10 per cent of current pupils. All current and future parents may apply.

Our view

St James has a special place in the panoply of West London private schools. It offers exceptional pastoral support and many girls benefit from the school’s holistic and nurturing approach. For some, the emphasis on care, compassion and classical education may make it feel slightly staid, but for others it offers an excellent crack of the academic whip in a supportive intellectual environment.

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

St James Senior Girls' School offers an education, which draws out and magnifies the unique talents implicit in each individual. An environment is provided which enriches the intellectual, emotional and spiritual development of a pupil in an atmosphere which supports unity and is conducive to the happiness of all.' Ethos and Aims; Senior Girls' website. Within this environment, pupils with mild to moderate LDD/SEN thrive and achieve good results. Pupils,come from a wide range of backgrounds and are accepted from both the state and private sector. The School has experience of working with pupils with dyslexia, dyspraxia and specific learning difficulties but maintains an open attitude to looking at supporting the needs of pupils outside those areas.The School's policy of keeping the same Form Teacher, where possible, with a class from Years 7-11 provides an opportunity for pupil and teacher to establish good relations. This enables all pupils, but especially those with LDD/SEN to feel that their particular circumstances are understod and supported. Pupils, once settled, are then prepared to take risks - they are willing to try new methods and stretch their goals. Experiencing success enables pupils to develop confidence and a sense of self-worth. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
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 Y
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

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