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Parents believe the school gets the balance just right. ‘The grades are good, but you’re not made to feel awful if you’re not at the top of the league tables.’ A ‘rounded’ education given a firm emphasis, with a timetabled programme of ‘skills-based’ activities including everything from cooking to changing a tyre. ‘People describe us as one of the best kept secrets in London,’ says the head, who clearly now intends the secret to leak out. ‘We want to…

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What the school says...

The John Lyon School is a successful and well regarded independent HMC boys school situated in Harrow on the Hill. We are approximately twelve miles from the centre of London. The School is easily accessible from two nearby underground stations and is also served by a number of local bus routes.
The School was founded in 1876 by John Lyon, a wealthy Elizabethan farmer. Today the Harrow Foundation comprises of Harrow School, The John Lyon School, Harrow International Schools and John Lyons Charity.
The original buildings have been greatly augmented over the years, most recently with a multi-million pound development of a new Science wing, second Drama Studio and new Fitness Suite. A series of planned projects will further enhance the quality of facilities at the School. The general standard of teaching accommodation is excellent, with subjects taught in clustered classrooms. Departments are well resourced including interactive whiteboards and dedicated office space. We have a sports centre on the main site, which includes an excellent swimming pool, and our 25 acre sports ground, Sudbury, is just a few minutes away.
The School aims to give an all-round education, developing every boy to his maximum potential in a happy and caring environment. The emphasis is not only on high academic achievement but also on musical, artistic and creative skills, together with sport and extra-curricular activities. Pupils join us principally from schools in the London boroughs of Harrow, Hillingdon, Ealing and Brent, but a good number travel from much further afield.
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Since 2009, Katherine Haynes, BA MEd NPQH (40s). Attended Oxford High School for Girls (‘No doubt, that’s the reason I’m driven in the way I am’), before reading maths at Warwick, followed by an MEd. Then taught in the Midlands, becoming head of maths at Edgbaston High School, followed by Warwick School, where she first started out as a school inspector and took the professional training scheme for headship. Her appointment at John Lyon made her the first woman ever to head an HMC boys’ day school, but she had no hesitation in taking up the challenge. ‘I felt I could provide a different perspective and saw what was possible. I wanted to make it more academic and put it on the map.’ Has acted decisively on this brief, expanding the academic and extracurricular offering and polishing the pastoral care. Parents undoubtedly appreciate her approach. ‘She’s vibrant and dynamic, with no airs and graces, no nonsense,’ said one fan. In term time she ‘lives and breathes’ the school, and all praise her involvement with pupils (‘She really has time for the boys’) and their families (‘We were so impressed she invited parents of new boys to dinner at her house’). Continues to work as a school inspector, and, in her limited free time, enjoys gardening and travelling.


At 11, 75 per cent come from local primaries (about 200 apply for 80 places, with increasing numbers making John Lyon their first choice); English and maths exams plus group activity. At 13 (when three or four forms expand to five), all from local preps, with main feeders Durston House, St Martin’s, Orley Farm; English, maths, French and science exams (no pre-tests). The school is academically selective, but here the term ‘potential’ is not just rhetoric. All applicants are interviewed by senior staff (at 13, all by the head), with the intention of snuffling out ‘those happy to be busy, active and willing to push themselves’. Applications are now open for girls into year 7. Small intake into the sixth form, plus occasional mid-year admissions. From September 2021 John Lyon will welcome girls for the first time.


Some 30 per cent leaves post-GCSE for local sixth form colleges. Of the remainder, 70-80 per cent to their first choice of university, with significant numbers to leading London colleges (LSE and King's), then Russell Group (50 per cent) countrywide. Sometimes a few to Oxbridge, though none in 2020. University advice up-to-date and thoughtfully tailored to individual needs (including STEP classes for mathematicians). ‘We’re ambitious for boys and see what’s possible,’ says the dynamic head of university applications. High proportion to professional degrees in science (one medic and one dentist in 2020), law, economics, architecture and finance.

Latest results

In 2020, 68 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 53 per cent A*/A at A level (80 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 62 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 32 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

Small class sizes (20-23 in years 7-9, 18-24 at GCSE, 10-16 at A level) mean that pupils are well known by staff. (‘A good relationship with teachers helps with their work,’ says the head.) Currently reducing GCSE numbers from 10 to nine, ‘to give more scope to go beyond the curriculum’. IGCSEs in maths, English and all sciences (‘The exams are harder, but they make the transition to A levels smoother’). Carousel of languages, with Mandarin taster in year 8 (including a successful exchange programme with Harrow’s sister school in the Far East), Latin from year 8, classical Greek from year 10. Post-GCSE, the school remains happy with A levels, adding classical civilisation, psychology, government and politics, music technology, computer science and, soon DT, to the subject range. Also major emphasis on the EPQ, with an impressive 100 per cent achieving A*/A most years. Results overall very solid, a reflection of the effort to instil self-discipline, hard work and high expectations. Parents believe the school gets the balance just right. ‘The grades are good, but you’re not made to feel awful if you’re not at the top of the league tables.’

Learning support and SEN

About seven per cent of pupils receive some sort of learning support (typically for dyslexia), which is provided by two specialist teachers in the learning support department. Those with English as their second language - the school does its best to accommodate families relocating mid year – also aided by a qualified EAL teacher. Gifted-and-talented programme, too, for those in need of ‘enrichment’.

The arts and extracurricular

Drama a popular choice at GCSE and A level, with aspiring thespians busily practising their lines outside the two well-used drama studios on our visit. Boys also mount productions at Harrow School’s Ryan Theatre and have the opportunity to work with professional companies, including the Donmar Warehouse, the Lyric Hammersmith and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Music - praised by parents as ‘phenomenal’ - benefits from a purpose-built recording studio.

A ‘rounded’ education given a firm emphasis, with a timetabled programme of ‘skills-based’ activities including everything from cooking to changing a tyre. Out-of-lessons options also extensive, with a particularly high take up of Duke of Edinburgh (an impressive 30 pupils successfully completed gold recently). CCF also on offer, as part of the Harrow School cadet force. Plenty of trips (football to Iceland, cricket to South Africa, joint ski trip with Harrow, Wellington and Dulwich) and societies, from computing to chess. ‘It’s a very broad ranging education,’ commented one contented father.


Though the school overlooks some of the playing fields of Harrow, its own expansive 25 green acres are a five minute minibus-ride away. These have recently been updated with a state-of-the art MUGA (multi-use games areas) pitch, providing excellent floodlit facilities for hockey and tennis alongside football and cricket (and archery). Pupils also have access to Harrow’s nine-hole golf course, squash and tennis courts (clearly made good use of, since one boy recently gained a tennis scholarship to the US). On site, there’s a gym, 25m pool and fitness suite, with sporting options including basketball, judo, and badminton.

Ethos and heritage

John Lyon School - established in 1876 to ‘educate local boys’ – forms part (along with Harrow School) of the John Lyon’s Foundation, and sits a street away from Churchill’s alma mater in leafy Harrow on the Hill. The two schools have a happy, but not smothering, relationship, with heads of departments meeting for lunch, boys enjoying use of each other’s more covetable facilities.

One of the head’s greatest achievements has been a 10-year plan to modernise the outdated buildings. First on the list was the introduction of a dining hall. ‘I wanted somewhere the whole school could sit and chat.’ Moving the library to a new location has provided an attractive central space, where staff and students can socialise over a hot or cold meal (though the food itself is perhaps not a highlight - ‘It’s OK,’ said one boy politely). Other, much-appreciated, improvements include a sixth form centre, occupying the entire Victorian school house, which provides both learning and leisure space for older boys. Next on the agenda is a flagship STEAM (the sciences plus art) building where DT, computer science and maths will unite with art.

A rebrand is also in the pipeline, which, it is hoped, will put the school more prominently in the spotlight. ‘People describe us as one of the best kept secrets in London,’ says the head, who clearly now intends the secret to leak out. ‘We want to bring across the vision of what we represent: heritage and innovation, creativity and resilience.’ Other widely acknowledged USPs include ‘the family atmosphere’, the ‘friendliness’ and the attractively small scale. ‘It’s not too big,’ said one father. ‘Everyone knows my son’s name, from the registrar to the guy who sits on the front desk.’ Some feel the rebrand is long overdue. ‘The school doesn’t beat its own drum enough; it’s sometimes seen as an also ran, which it definitely shouldn’t be.’

Alumni include Michael Bogdanov, theatre director, Timothy West, actor, Stephen Pollard, journalist and Alastair Fraser, cricketer.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Great praise for the care and attention boys receive, with parents united in the view that the school does its utmost to develop every inch of potential. ‘My son is a bright child, but not A*, nor is he massively sporty, but John Lyon is a lovely, nurturing, comfy school, which gets the absolute best out of him.’ Confidence building in the public arena very much part of the package. ‘My son has really flourished here and is turning into a nice young man who is able to talk to anyone.’

Boys generally motivated and ambitious with little evidence of teenage rebellion. ‘We promote a code of conduct rather than having endless rules, so it’s usually possible to pull back before declaring “time’s up”,’ says the head. Even so, if that code is broken, lines are firmly drawn.

Girl-free zone compensated for by good links with neighbouring schools, so debating with North London Collegiate and Northwood College, drama with Royal Masonic.

Pupils and parents

Primarily local, very cosmopolitan, with over 50 per cent from Asian families, whose children will often be the first in the family to go to university. ‘They’re aspirational and hardworking and want to do the best for their children,’ says the head. Boys are positive, focused and keen.

Money matters

Good value. The John Lyon’s Charity continues to help with means-tested bursaries.

The last word

A small, thriving school, with historic links to Harrow School, which provides a well-rounded, well-grounded education in a welcoming atmosphere.

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

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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

Who came from where

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