Alexandra Park School A GSG School
- Alexandra Park School
- Head: Mr Michael McKenzie
- T 020 8826 4880
- F 020 8888 2236
- E email@example.com
- W www.apsch.org.uk
- A mainstream state school for pupils aged from 11 to 18
- Boarding: No
- Local authority: Haringey
- Pupils: 1430
- Religion: Non-denominational
- Review: View the Good Schools Guide Review
- Current Ofsted grade: Outstanding on 16th November 2011
- Previous Ofsted grade: Good on 5th March 2007
- Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
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What the Good Schools Guide says...
The school pulls off the very tricky achievement of being a successful London comprehensive welcoming the full range of abilities and social spectrum. ‘Unlike other schools round here, it doesn’t pick and choose. It’s very inclusive,’ said one parent.
What the school says...
Alexandra Park School is a thriving and dynamic comprehensive school which boasts excellent examination results and an outstanding curriculum experience in both the main school and the sixth form. The school is situated on a beautiful five-acre site adjacent to Durnsford Park within sight of Alexandra Palace. Now entering our thirteenth year since opening the school has expanded to meet growing demand for places. In October 2011 we were successful in our application for Academy Status....Read more
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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards
- Best performance by Boys taking Turkish at an English Comprehensive School (GCE A level)
Good Schools Guide review
Since 2008, Mr Michael McKenzie MSC PGCE (late 40s) - educated at a comprehensive in Birmingham, he read chemistry at Nottingham, followed by his teacher training at the Institute of Education. Head of year at William Ellis School in Camden which he cites as one of his ‘most enjoyable times in education’, then head of sixth form at LaSwap and a brief stint at Parliament Hill School. Subsequently, deputy and associate head at Beal High School in Redbridge. Familiar and comfortable with Alexandra Park School’s ethos before he applied, as the founding head had been his teaching mentor.
His reputation had preceded him and phrases such as ‘the consummate PR man’, ‘fantastic salesman’, ‘smooth’ were not an exaggeration. This head could sell sand to the Sahara - and it doesn’t take Einstein to suss out how this once mediocre comprehensive has now become top of the league of schools’ in Haringey. The head says: ‘If I am called a salesman, it’s only because my commitment to the product - in this case education – is unequivocal.’
We finally meet (after trying to pin this head down for a while) and are greeted as if we were royalty – beaming smile, firm handshake and the exuberance of somebody who clearly delights in their job. Friendly and chatty – one could almost forget the purpose of our visit and drift into a non relevant conversation. But be not fooled – this head is very much on the ball, and relishes the school’s many achievements and outstanding students. He constantly finds his students ‘very entertaining’, and delights in meeting different kids every year. ‘I have a student now. who is possibly one of the brightest I have ever come across. I am so excited to see how it pans out for that person....I am constantly motivated by bright pupils and those who want to challenge.’
He is a state school head through and through and says he could never be beguiled by the private sector, ‘London has a very interesting education system. One of the strengths of this school is the mix. We still have pupils from as far afield as Tottenham when school’s catchment used to exceed five miles.’ However, he is realistic that this diversity has changed over time, as the school’s popularity has reduced the catchment to 0.7 miles - which by virtue of its location (pricey Muswell Hill), will invariably make it more socially homogeneous. ‘I can’t control that element, but it will be a long time before that happens. There is still a good mix at APS, which keeps the school a little bit sane.’
Described by parents as being ‘very much on the ball', we imagine this head doesn’t allow himself much downtime. Married, no children.
The proud recipient of a World Class Schools award, which means that APS belongs to a pretty exclusive club of only 18 other schools nationwide. The award is given to schools who ‘equip students with knowledge, skills and confidence to thrive in a challenging international environment where those who succeed take risks and continually pursue improvement.’ APS's motto is ‘success for all' and the school pulls off the very tricky achievement of being a successful London comprehensive welcoming the full range of abilities and social spectrum. ‘Unlike other schools round here, it doesn’t pick and choose. It’s very inclusive,’ said one parent.
The intake may be all-encompassing but the academic values remain traditional. ‘We don’t play any games with the curriculum,’ says the head, and the school is notably strong on core subjects. 2015 results at GCSE: 78 per cent got 5+ A*-C including English and maths, with 40 per cent of grades A*/A. Most pupils take 10, including all three sciences. Spanish, French and Mandarin standard languages with Turkish also an exam option for GCSE and A level. Classics also a popular option with more than 120 pupils studying this at GCSE and A level.
Has specialist status as a science and maths school and an international school. More than 200 students last year had the opportunity of studying in partner schools in France, Spain, South Africa and China. Mandarin on the curriculum here and is more than token - students can spend time on an immersion course in Beijing, with 57 studying the language pre-GCSE, a dozen or so in the sixth form.
Some setting from year 7, depending on the department head - so maths and science are setted, English is not. When students first arrive, they are split into ‘Alex’ and ‘Park’ – one lot doing Spanish, the other French. This has been the subject of much heated debate as students are no longer offered the choice. One disgruntled parent told us: ‘My family live in Spain, so I was very keen for my daughter to learn Spanish, but she was put into French and there is no room for movement.’ Arts and media studies - unsurprisingly in this heartland of the media classes - are notably good so, to counterbalance the trend, has opted for a specialism in science and maths, with a dramatic upswing in results. Good vocational curriculum, with BTecs in sport, business, art, salon services and catering, some taught at the College of North East London. ‘It means children who might have been less engaged have something positive and interesting to do, and those taking academic exams have the space to focus,’ said one parent.
Strong gifted and talented programme - pupils take early exams in maths, statistics, astronomy and classics. Astronomy has become so popular that the subject caused much controversy last year as the school didn’t anticipate how many students would want to do the course, and spaces were limited. One parent told us: ‘When we heard that astronomy was being offered as a GCSE, we jumped at the chance - we’re middle class after all, of course we’d want our kids to do an extra GCSE!’ However, there were many disappointed students who didn’t get onto the course at first, ‘but credit to the school, they listened to parents and extended the provision’, putting an additional astronomy class to cater for all 60 students.
Also notable SEN support under dynamic head of special needs, with additional support in year 7 for those who've not yet achieved the requisite level in maths and English. This school seems to succeed where other large comprehensives fail, in that the large bulk of students who fall in the middle are as well monitored as those at the extreme ends. One parent told us: ‘My daughter was very middling in her primary school and didn’t have much confidence in her abilities. However, she has really thrived at APS, and whenever I go to parent evenings, one would think my daughter was top in everything.’ Another parent told us: ‘My son was really floundering before he came here, but he has really blossomed. The teachers get him.’
A National Teaching School, indicating the importance the school places on appointing the best practitioners and ensuring they receive the latest training. The teachers have been particularly praised as being a young and enthusiastic cohort with infectious enthusiasm – although, as with all schools, ‘you do get the odd one who makes you think, why are they still here - are they un-sackable?’ Such is their dedication to the job, that the school is open on Saturdays and Sundays several weeks before exams, for students who feel they need an extra bit of support: ‘This is all off the back of the teachers, and not because I ask them’, Mr McKenzie assures us.
Popular sixth form - in 2015, a creditable 38 per cent A*/A grades and 66 per cent A*-B grades at A level; 32 subjects on offer - strongest include English, French, physics and ‘a really happening’ history department.
Games, Options, the Arts
Busy, busy, busy. Specialist music and drama with a media suite and dance on offer. The school has a vibrant and very well-resourced music department with large numbers of students choosing to study music at key stage 4 and 5 and also a range of vocational courses including music technology. Extensive extracurricular programme including three choirs, orchestra and jazz band and the department organises an annual concert tour to Europe. More than 250 students take music lessons; 25 different peripatetic teachers. Every student is expected to study music and drama each week. Large scale productions of Oliver! and Grease include around 60 pupils running the entire event from on the stage, to behind the stage to front of house. The school also has an annual Shakespeare performance.
Art also popular (100 per cent pass rate for GCSE last year), ‘one of the reasons my daughter chose this school.’ Lucky pupils can draw inspiration in the stunningly bright art studio overlooking the golf course, which the head says he’s been trying to claim for years as his office, ‘but the art team won’t let me.’ (We were particularly struck by a fantastic portrait of Barak Obama drawn by a GCSE student). Energetic visual arts with A levels in photography, art and product design, plus a creative and media diploma for those wishing to work on large-scale projects. Also a wonderful facility for textiles and those wishing to do fashion design.
Though relatively limited on-site space for sport, games spill over into adjoining Dunsford Park and plenty of variety to suit all tastes. Basketball, football (West Ham’s wonder youngster, Reece Oxford, is a recent ex-student), netball, rugby and cricket are main sports, but judo, aerobics, trampolining, tennis, badminton, wrestling and rugby also part of the offering. Online student newspaper. Eclectic range of after-school clubs includes astronomy, knitting, fashion, pursuit cycling and cheerleading.
Trips a big feature, with more than 120 throughout the year including student exchanges to China (for those studying Mandarin), geography in Iceland, French in the south of France, art in Madrid, politics in Washington and design in New York. Good careers advice with visits to universities and higher educational conferences.
Background and Atmosphere
Local parents lobbied the local authority to create a new school in the area and APS was eventually founded in 1999 on the site of a former FE college. A relatively constricted site, which feels more spacious due to the surrounding greenery of Muswell Hill golf course and Durnsford Park. The original mix of pleasant brick buildings, some from the 1950s, some from the 1980s, have been joined by a sleek modern extension (winner of a 2006 Civic Trust Award) and the sixth form centre.
Spatially, it is one of the decision makers for parents choosing (or not) to send their child to the school: ‘I would say the lack of space at APS is the only downer of this school. At lunch time there isn’t really anywhere for the younger students to hang out, so they gather in groups around the old car park.’ However, this is shortly about to change as the school is in the process of acquiring some of the land from the neighbouring golf course (which by the time this goes to print should be in the bag). Mr McKenzie says: ‘Now pupils won’t just wistfully look out onto all that beautiful green belt – they can actually benefit from it.’
Parents unanimous on the remarkably welcoming atmosphere: 'Everyone from the lady on the gate who checks uniform to the school receptionist makes you feel at home'. Even the police officer seeing kids onto after-school buses does it with a smile. Parents also enthuse about the school's multi-culturalism and inclusiveness ('They really try to be for everybody') and genuine concern ('It's far more nurturing than some of the other local comprehensives'). But concern is not cosseting. Mr McKenzie is also a very visible presence and is on the gate most days: ‘He is very chatty to us parents – sometimes a bit too chatty and I worry that my daughter and her friends will think I’m terribly un-cool hanging out with the head.’
Pastoral care, well-being and discipline
Traditional values apply. ‘Kids need firm boundaries and it’s important for the school to set them,’ says the head. ‘We expect them to be at school, on time, in uniform, ready to work.’ Smart red and black kit is strictly enforced. ‘There used to be a gang who wore their uniform in a special way and that’s now all ended,’ said one parent approvingly. Mr McKenzie also tries to clamp down on big clusters of students hanging around outside the local café at lunchtime, occupying the pavements. Not the school’s best PR (although we have to say there are very few other places for them to go).
Behaviour in general is ‘excellent’ and school aims to keep it that way by instilling a sense of responsibility. ‘We’re training pupils to choose to do the right thing.’ Misdemeanors are promptly and firmly dealt with - 'When my son got into a fight, there was absolutely no messing. They threw the rulebook at him’. Whilst Mr McKenzie considers himself to be fair, he is not one to pussyfoot around; ‘This is definitely not a non-excluding school. If a child is making it difficult for other children to learn and we have exhausted all other options - we will exclude.’
‘Other options’ could include a trip to The Bridge, a prospect so mortifying that the mere mention is enough to make even the tardiest of students get their act together. One parent told us: ‘My son is a bright child and generally well behaved, but has the potential to be swayed by peers. He was sent to The Bridge fairly early on, to deliver a message to a teacher. A stroke of genius’, according to that parent, as she said that the experience was enough to ensure that her son was ‘never late or naughty in class again’. When questioned further, it pans out that The Bridge is a fully staffed, self-contained base providing a wide range of interventions to those ‘who present challenges in class.’ One parent said: ‘I imagine that children with a nervous disposition would probably be terrified.’
Drugs not a notable issue. ‘It’s bizarre’ says the head, 'at a previous school we had an incident every week. Here perhaps they’re more savvy more mature and are listening to our advice.’ Weapons, too, had been conspicuously absent until just one recent incident in school – but the offender was promptly excluded.
Year 7 has its own ‘transition manager’, and one parent we spoke to, whose child had joined from neighbouring Rhodes Avenue, told us that ‘there were a few opportunities during the summer term for new students to spend a day at APS and be taken around to orientate themselves.’ Pupils remain in the same tutor groups for five years with a director of studies for each year. Also supported by learning mentors and counsellors. About 56 pupils with statements of special needs/ EHC plans have mainly cognitive rather than behavioural difficulties and the school copes well with autism, Asperger's and Down's. One parent told us: ‘I shopped around many schools before I chose APS for my son because of his very particular needs. I have to say, they have been amazing for him. If he was upset they would know about it. And nobody laughs at you here for being different.’ The pupils we met were a lovely blend of savvy, street smart and witty (‘the only thing that’s missing at the school is a statue of me’) - with polite and thoughtful. They shared one common notion - that they were all really happy to be there and felt listened to and looked after.
Communication between parents and school clearly a strong point - ‘All my emails, however trivial, get answered promptly’. And various methods of positive re-enforcement are used: ‘We often get phone calls home or postcards telling us how well our daughter is doing.’ They also have a commendation system of silver, bronze and gold: ‘Their rewards system is brilliant. It makes the pupils want to do well. ‘
Pupils and Parents
Wide social spread, from the comfortable middle-class suburbs near the gates to some of the most deprived kids in the country - ‘a high proportion on the cusp of social needs’. Middle classes tend to dominate the PTA, which runs endless jumble sales and bazaars and is strongly involved in the day-to-day running of the school, but the kids themselves mix well. Very supportive parents - ‘Parents helped set it up and want to make it work’.
Around 1600 applications for 232 places. Usual priority to looked-after children, those with statements of special needs and siblings, then distance from the gates, which is now less than a mile (0.7 this year). The largest percentage (approx 20 per cent) from adjoining high-achieving primary Rhodes Avenue, as well as from Bounds Green, Our Lady of Muswell, Bowes, Coldfall, Coleridge, Hollickwood and Muswell Hill and another 30 or so local primaries.
Majority of existing pupils continue into sixth form of 340, with 70 or so joining from other local schools. External applicants for A levels should have at least five GCSEs A*-C, with Bs in A level subject choice. (The head has been known to invite pre-A level students to his office, to lay out the pros of staying on at APS, if he gets a whiff that they may abandon ship for another local sixth form.)
Some 80 per cent secure their first choice of university, which the head says ‘is very important to me.’ Of these, around 60 per cent to Russell Group universities. Students regularly secure places at Oxbridge (four in 2015). ’What is heartening is in the last three years these Oxbridge students have read a range of courses including English literature, law, history, maths, modern languages, music and natural sciences.’ Other popular destinations include LSE, UCL, Manchester, Bristol, Bath, Nottingham and Warwick.
Training school and academy trust status bring in extra funding.
A notably welcoming place for children (and adults) from across the borough. Not an academic pressure cooker but a school with high standards for all.
Overall school performance (for comparison or review only)
Results by exam and subject
Special Education Needs
The school provides support for a large number of children with Statements of Special Educational Needs as well as students on the Special Needs register. We support students with a wide range of need including ASD; Speech, Language and Communication; Down's Syndrome; SpLD; and general learning difficulties. Certain members of the department have particular qualifications and experience in speech and language impairment. The departmental team consists of teachers, learning mentors and a large number of teaching assistants. In addition, we have specialist TAs with responsibility for literacy, numeracy and year 7 transition, whose work is co-ordinated by a lead teaching assistant. Students are assessed on entry to school and, using this baseline data, may be allocated additional support with literacy and numeracy, on a withdrawal basis. This support is in addition to the in-class support provided by TAs and learning mentors. All statemented students have a key teacher and TA who are both responsible for giving support to students and parents, liaising with other teaching staff, and meeting with parents.
|Condition||Provision for in school|
|ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder||Y|
|Aspergers Syndrome [archived]|
|Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders||Y|
|Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]|
|CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia|
|Delicate Medical Problems [archived]|
|English as an additional language (EAL)||Y|
|Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory|
|Has SEN unit or class|
|HI - Hearing Impairment||Y|
|MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty||Y|
|MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment||Y|
|Natspec Specialist Colleges|
|OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability|
|Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty|
|PD - Physical Disability||Y|
|PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty|
|SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health||Y|
|SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication||Y|
|SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty||Y|
|Special facilities for Visually Impaired|
|SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty||Y|
|VI - Visual Impairment||Y|
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
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:
sometimes, but not in this year
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