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Gustav Holst was a music master here for 16 years and school’s main hall is named after him. Orchestras, ensembles, choirs and bands galore.  TeenTech Consumer Innovation Award recently won by two girls for a cycling jacket with lights on the shoulders to indicate the direction you are heading in was rewarded with a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. One mother commented, ‘In the past it has felt more like a grammar school than a fancy private school. The head seems to be smartening the place up but keeping the diverse student population'... 

 

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What the school says...

Our prep school known as James Allen's Preparatory School (JAPS) takes girls 4-11, but is part of James Allen's Girls' School.

Entrance criteria for the senior school as follows: "11 - Mathematics, English and VR. 13 & 14 - Mathematics, English, VR & Modern Language paper. Interviews for the following years intake are held throughout the Autumn term and the entrance examination is held each January. 16 - usually dependent on an Entrance Examination, GCSE results, a reference from the previous school and an interview. Applications should normally be made by the end of November of the year preceding entry. Examinations are held in the Autumn term. Up to 20 scholarships and 18 means-tested bursaries (up to 100% fees) are awarded on the results of the 11+ Entrance Examination. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Japanese at an English Independent School (GCSE)

2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Additional Mathematics FSMQ at an English Independent School (Free standing Maths Qual Level 3)

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.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2015, Mrs Sally Anne Huang MA MSc PGCE. Previously head of Kent College, Pembury. Educated at Bolton School for Girls and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford where she read classics and English. PGCE from King’s College, London. Taught English and classics at Sevenoaks, where she was also housemistress. Sixth form housemistress at Roedean before becoming deputy head, a post she held for four years.

Head thinks that ‘what JAGS does best is prepare young women for the modern world. That’s the most important thing we do. We encourage intellectual curiosity, a sense of responsibility and purpose. We want the girls to lead purposeful lives.’

Girls adore her and are charmed by her easy manner and approachability. They see her as a very positive role model. Her open door policy means pupils regularly pop into her bright red study at break time, often just to stroke her three dogs and say hello. Teaches one lesson a week of classics to top year at the prep school, so knows many of the girls when they arrive. Also teaches philosophy to year 7 and civilisation to year 10. Knows impressive numbers of pupils by name.

Popular with parents too, who appreciate her warmth and energy. ‘She has refocused the school,’ said one. ‘Mrs Huang is already very popular. It was a difficult job stepping into the gargantuan shoes of the previous head but she has injected modernity into the school,’ said another. ‘A breath of much needed fresh air!’ commented another.

Lives next door so regularly nips over at weekends to catch up on work. Husband Alexis is Chinese but grew up in south east London. ‘Multi-cultural, ethnic diversity is very close to my heart and so was a definite attraction of coming to JAGS,’ explains head. Two teenage sons. Interested in children’s literature, and is particularly keen on Marcus Sedgwick’s novels. Loves theatre of all kinds, especially immersive theatre and heads to nearby Globe as often as possible. In the holidays, she is at her happiest walking her beloved dogs in Wales, where she has her home. Though brought up outside Manchester, she ‘wants to be Welsh’ and is an avid Welsh rugby supporter.

Academic matters

Strong results at A level, with 84 per cent A*/A and 96 per cent A*/B in 2016. Maths, biology, chemistry, history and English literature particularly popular. At GCSE, 73 per cent of all entries were A* and 95 per cent awarded A*/A. Girls normally take 10 or 11 GCSEs.

English department is particularly strong. JAGS was top of national league tables in Pre-U last year thanks to English literature results. No mean feat. Other Pre-U subjects offered are history of art and history. School is otherwise sticking to A levels rather than opting for IB. Head explains that ‘a lot of the girls at JAGS are specialists so they might be better served with A levels and Pre-U courses.’ Modern foreign languages also well taught, with French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese and German offered. Two of these must be studied until end of year 9. Bilingual girls can take a foreign language GCSE early but otherwise pupils take all subjects at end of year 11.

Inspirational staff. Quality of teaching described as ‘fantastic,’ ‘incredible’ and ‘superb’ by parents. Some NQTs taken on most years but more than half the teachers have been here over a decade. Head explains that ‘recruiting here is great, due to the reputation of the school.’ Not uncommon for middle managers at other schools to jump ship to JAGS as regular teachers ‘just to get into the system.’ Males are well represented, making up around 40 per cent of the teaching body. Head observes lessons on a regular basis so knows her staff well and has been hugely impressed by the standard of teaching here. She acknowledges that recent upheavals in education have been a pressure on the teachers and she is also frustrated by the ‘maverick’ marking of A levels.

When academic problems do arise, parents feel they are dealt with quickly and efficiently. Setting in maths and French from year 8, though sets are fairly fluid with plenty of moving up and down as required. Surprisingly few take the EPQ but head hopes to encourage more girls to take it up in future years.

Historically class sizes have been large – reaching as many as 28 in the earlier years. Now, having moved to a five form entry, the maximum class size is 25.

Small numbers with special needs. School can support girls with relatively mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, limited sight and hearing. Laptops and extra time in exams sorted for those entitled to it. Two SENCos in the school, one who focuses up to year 9 and the other from year 10 onwards. ‘We don’t have girls who need a lot of one-to-one attention here,’ explains head. Girls have to be able to keep up with the snappy pace so would not suit a pupil with profound difficulties, though adjustments are certainly made to support SEN pupils where possible.

Games, options, the arts

Music is high profile and taken very seriously. All the parents we spoke to raved about the exceptional quality of music. Gustav Holst was a music master here for 16 years and school’s main hall is named after him. Orchestras, ensembles, choirs and bands galore. Huge new music centre is now being built, including classrooms, IT suites and performance areas. Large numbers learn an instrument and play to high levels. Girls regularly win places in national youth choir and national youth orchestra.

Masses of sport going on. Netball and athletics considered to be especially strong but minor sports including ice-skating, golf, table tennis, skiing, yoga and kickboxing also popular. School boasts its own pool which is well used, even on the cold December morning we visited. Twenty-two acres of grounds, with pitches stretching far into the distance. Enviable amount of space for matches and practice, particularly when compared to sister schools in more central locations. One mother we spoke to complained that the sports department tends to focus on the most able, ‘often to the detriment of those who do not excel as much.’ School, however, feels that girls who are less able on the sporting front can at least play for their house, so everyone does compete at some level. Another parent felt that the school should try to concentrate on personal fitness more for those who were unlikely to make teams and that the state-of-the-art gym seemed underused. Extraordinary climbing wall to challenge all levels. Dulwich College lets JAGS girls share its boathouse, so increasing numbers taking up rowing.

Hugh amounts of collaboration with Dulwich drama department too. Middle school and senior school productions include a healthy mix of frothy musicals and more heavyweight plays, ranging from Grease and Thoroughly Modern Millie to Tristan and Isolde. Plays are considered to be slick and high quality and the set we saw would have put the West End to shame. School encourages girls to get up on the stage as much as possible, including public speaking in assemblies, but for those less keen on the limelight there are plentiful opportunities behind the scenes too. Saturday school of performing arts means extraordinary facilities can be enjoyed by the public.

The three art rooms as well as printing room reflect the popularity of this art throughout the school. All girls are encouraged to take one creative subject at GCSE, with roughly half opting for art. Displays of art and DT work around the school, including radios and board games, reflect the high standards. TeenTech Consumer Innovation Award recently won by two girls for a cycling jacket with lights on the shoulders to indicate the direction you are heading in was rewarded with a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Plenty of trips abroad: history department heads to China, RE girls to Israel, others do voluntary work in Romania, and the netball team has played in Barcelona. The cap on costs of trips has been lifted under the new head, with bursary girls being supported by funding from the school. Ski trips have been reintroduced. Head’s belief is that not all trips need to have academic clout, that there is an awful lot to be gained socially and culturally from travelling abroad on school trips.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1741, by James Allen, master of Dulwich College, making it the oldest girls’ independent school in London. His portrait hangs in pride of place in the hallway. Part of a foundation (including Alleyn’s and Dulwich College) set up by Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn. Increasing collaboration with close neighbour Dulwich, from music productions to cookery classes. ‘Mrs Huang is encouraging more integration with the boys, which is very popular, as you can imagine,’ laughed one mother. Part of the Southwark Schools Learning partnership which includes maintained and independent schools in the vicinity. Neighbouring schools share experiences and develop innovative practice.

Ethnic and socio-economic diversity is a fundamental element of the school’s ethos. One mother commented, ‘In the past it has felt more like a grammar school than a fancy private school. The head seems to be smartening the place up but keeping the diverse student population, which is an important part of the school.’ Girls accept and enjoy the variety of backgrounds here. ‘We never judge each other on background or clothes. Not at all. We are very inclusive,’ explained one of the pupils.

Christian foundation though the school wears that lightly as there are many girls here of different faiths and none. Charitable work is viewed as important. ‘Girls are encouraged to have a social conscience,’ according to one father. The Saturday literacy scheme is a typical example: year 10 and 11 year old girls help children from local primary schools with their reading at the weekend. Some girls love the experience so much that they volunteer two years running. One member of staff is just dedicated to community work, including at a local old people’s home. JAGS also puts on Latin classes at Charter School next door. ‘This sense of giving back makes us different from many other similar independent girls’ schools,’ states head.

Outward looking school that is keen to be recognised on the national stage: Arkwright scholarships awarded annually to budding engineers, girls also excel at the junior and senior maths challenges as well as literary competitions. Inspiring range of outside speakers.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

A nurturing school. Current head has done a lot to improve pastoral care and girls have an array of people to turn to when they hit bumps in the road: form tutors, heads of year, assistant heads, as well as senior girls. Also informal ‘family groups’ within the school. The house system means girls in different year groups work together to fundraise, as well as with sport, music and drama productions. The girls feel there is always someone there for them.

Three school counsellors, including one from the local church and also a CAMHS counsellor specialising in mental health. Head assumed there would be many girls with mental health issues given the high achieving nature of the school and the high standards girls expect of themselves, but has been struck by how few there are with difficulties. She explains, ‘We are managing it but it is definitely there. Teenagers are under increasing pressure.’ Girls are good at looking out for each other here and assemblies on self-esteem and a ‘happy being me’ programme aim to address problems head on.

Bullying is rare and girls are taught the importance of being kind from early on. The way the girls interact with each other is crucial and the school will come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who misuses social media. Bringing the school into disrepute at weekends is also not tolerated. A girl would be asked to leave ‘if she was having a negative impact on other girls’, though current head has not had to expel anyone yet.

Pupils and parents

Over 50 languages spoken at home. Though some pupils are from affluent backgrounds, there is a sizeable proportion of the squeezed middle that is working very hard to pay the fees. Parents are doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, hairdressers, bus drivers and students, as well as many media folk. Most families are dual income.

Pupils come from far and wide, though majority from south east London. Handful from north of river and Kent. Coach service shared with Alleyn’s and Dulwich means travel from long distances is manageable. One pupil we spoke to travels for three hours a day and she is not alone. Some pupils walk to school, others cycle or use public transport.

Good relationships between parents and teachers reported. Parents rave about the improved communication and love the fact that they can now email staff directly. Head has been delighted by how ‘rational, liberal and educated’ the parents are at JAGS and feels under less pressure from parents here than at any of her previous schools. ‘I didn’t expect that. Parents here have a great sense of proportion.’

Strong and active PTA that fundraises huge sums for school bursaries, as well as organising social events.

Entrance

Main points of entry are 11+ and 16+. At 11, around 500 apply for 120 places. Pre-selection assessment mornings in the autumn term, where girls are observed in a one-to-one context as well as group situations. The day consists of puzzle-solving activities, taster lessons taught by head and online tests in verbal, non-verbal and numerical reasoning. ‘We know after this assessment day that there are some girls who will not thrive at JAGS. Largely, we take note of who participates, who talks first and who is engaged. We also take note of girls who are very quiet. This would not be against them but is useful for sorting out forms if they do come here.’ Candidates are informed before Christmas whether they are to be allowed to take the entrance exams in January but vast majority are called back. Written tests in maths and English. Offers are made in mid-February and those who hold offers attend a Fun Day in early March. No sibling preference. Nearly 90 per cent of JAPS girls come straight up to senior school. They have automatic entry.

For occasional places in other years, candidates sit tests in mathematics, English and reasoning (non-verbal, verbal and numerical); 13+ and 14+ candidates sit an additional modern foreign language paper of 30 minutes (if they have a second language).

Places in the sixth form are dependent upon entrance exams based upon subjects to be studied at A Level, GCSE results, school reference and interviews with head and head of sixth form.

Exit

Around 15 leave after GCSEs, often heading for co-eds such as Westminster or KCS Wimbledon. A few new girls come in at this stage to replace the leavers and head intends to recruit more. Though she understands that girls who have been here from the age of 4 are keen for a change, she knows from experience that a co-ed school is not always in a girl’s best interests. Every year some girls return within the first weeks of the autumn term, having missed the supportive environment of JAGS. ‘We are happy to take them back, though we might not be able to accommodate their subject choices at this stage,’ states head.

Most A level leavers head for university though some choose one-year courses at the Royal Academy of Music. Others make a beeline for art foundation courses, particularly Kingston, Camberwell and Central St Martins. Popular university destinations include Durham, London, Edinburgh, Leeds and Bristol. Increasing numbers to Oxford and Cambridge recently – 16 in 2016. One parent commented that, in the past, girls have not always ended up at the top universities but head is changing that. She is focusing on giving pupils the confidence to apply for elite universities. Girls choose a wide variety of courses from biomedical engineering to history of art, but medicine is a particular strength, with three Oxbridge medics and eight off elsewhere, plus three vets, in 2016.

Huge careers lecture programme. School has a head of careers, head of further education, as well as Oxbridge co-ordinator. Help given with interview practice and with preparing for aptitude tests. Sixth form tutors help with the writing of personal statements, though head thinks girls tend to spend inordinate amounts of time on these.

Money matters

Art, music and sport scholarships available. At 11+ academic scholarships are worth up to £4,000 pa. Over 120 girls currently on some form of bursary, with over 50 on totally free places. A few 16+ scholarships of £1,000 awarded on the basis of GCSE results but girls keep it pretty quiet as bragging is frowned upon.

Our view

One father commented, ‘JAGS is everything you would want from a school. Girls are genuinely happy. They are given the chance to be what they can be.’ Another said, ‘The head is taking the school onwards and upwards. It was great before but Mrs Huang is changing things for the better.’ JAGS produces articulate, ambitious, confident yet modest girls. Impressive on every front.

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