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More rounded and less single-mindedly academic than some of its competitors, with a broader range of ability. Inspiring and personalised learning are further draws for parents. ‘They have this ability to bring out the best in every child – they nurture talent rather than expecting pupils to already be really swotty and amazing,’ said one. While pupils are expected to drop some or all the extras at the doorsteps of other schools in favour of the academics, quite the opposite happens here. The only thing that may hold them back…

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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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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2009, Katherine Haynes, BA MEd NPQH (early 50s). Attended Oxford High School (‘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.

Last time we met her, she told us she felt she ‘could provide a different perspective’ and had big plans afoot to expand the academic and extracurricular offering, as well as polish up the pastoral care. So has she done it? You bet, say parents, and what’s more she’s modernised facilities, amalgamated the school with local prep school Quainton Hall (making it all-through nursery to A level) and is all set to bring girls into the fold from September 2021. All this, and she still finds time to continue as a school inspector and, in her limited free time, do gardening and travel.

For some parents, she’s the reason they picked the school – ‘I’ve never heard a bad word said against her,’ said one (and nor have we). ‘Always makes an effort with my son,’ said a mother – ‘I remember her coming up to me to tell me how well he was settling in and commented on what a lovely smile he had – it went a long way.’ ‘She always says, “If there’s something wrong with the school, tell me – if I don’t know, I can’t fix it,”’ enthused another. New parents love nothing more than getting their glad rags on when they get the golden ticket to dine at her house – ‘such a great way of making sure you feel involved.’ Pupils describe her as ‘very interested in us’ and ‘quietly firm.’

Entrance

At 11+, 75 per cent come from local primaries (about 250 apply from over 100 schools for 80 places, with increasing numbers making John Lyon their first choice). English and maths exams plus a big emphasis on a group activity, which school claims is ‘really liked by the children and excellent for finding out more about each individual.’ From September 2021, girls will also be admitted and the school’s recent amalgamation with Quainton Hall School means pupils (both girls and boys) from there will have guaranteed entry into year 7. At 13 (when four forms expand to five), all from local preps, with main feeders Durston House, St John’s, St Martin’s and Orley Farm. English, maths, French and science exams (no pre-tests) at this stage. While the school is academically selective, the term ‘potential’ is not just rhetoric here. 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’. Occasional mid-year admissions, plus five or six new joiners into sixth form (six 6 grades at GCSE required, with 7s in the subjects to be studied at A level).

Exit

Some 30 per cent leaves post-GCSE for local sixth form colleges. Of the remainder, most to university, with London the overwhelming favourite (40 per cent) – LSE, UCL, King’s College London, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway and City most popular. Two-thirds to Russell Group, notably Durham, Warwick, Nottingham, Southampton, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol. Sometimes a few to Oxbridge, though none in 2020. Popular courses include international relations, biochemistry, maths, computer science, economics, English, history, music and classics. One medic and a dentist in 2020. University advice up-to-date and thoughtfully tailored to individual needs (including STEP classes for mathematicians and Oxbridge preparation programme).

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

More rounded and less single-mindedly academic than some of its competitors, with a broader range of ability. Inspiring and personalised learning are further draws for parents. ‘They have this ability to bring out the best in every child – they nurture talent rather than expecting pupils to already be really swotty and amazing,’ said one. ‘My sons were slow starters and are now top students,’ said another. 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. ‘And the boys spur each other on,’ added a parent (though another said, ‘although I love that the teachers are encouraging rather than pressurising, there are times my son could do with a bit more of a kick up the backside’).

French, Spanish and Latin for all in years 7 and 8 – all offered at GCSE, along with classical Greek. Ditto at A level (though not much take-up at this stage - head hopes this will change when girls arrive). Impressively, STEAM (includes robotics, 3D printing, programming etc) taught to all years 7-9 in new high-spec STEAM lab – ‘great for capturing imaginations early.’ Light touch setting (maths throughout, English for year 10 and 11 and French and Spanish in years 9 to 11).

Number of GCSEs has been reduced to nine as standard – head says this is ‘to give more scope to go beyond the curriculum,’ with pupils encouraged to take HPQ or other qualifications such as AQA level 2 in further maths. Nimbleness is paramount, with less rigid timetables than at other schools and nothing beyond the obvious as compulsory – ‘they craft the pupil’s choices around their individual strengths so it doesn’t matter how weird and wonderful their mix of options is,’ we heard. IGCEs in maths, English, all sciences, geography, history and drama; GCSEs in everything else. DT being re-introduced from 2022. Good spread of A levels includes classical civilisation, psychology, politics, music technology and computer science. Business studies and economics top the popularity stakes, and they bring in the best grades along with maths, sciences, art and drama. None of the ‘try before you buy’ approach that some schools take by getting pupils to start with four, then drop to three– all take three, with around three-quarters doing an EPQ (or in-house independent research project) in the subject they might otherwise have taken. 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.’

School is an EdTech top 50 school for digital innovation, with every pupil pulling out their laptop or tablet from their schoolbag as naturally as they would their pencil case at the beginning of each lesson. No parental fears of ‘Oh my child can’t do that – they’re bound to misuse it!’ or ‘But I don’t want them typing everything and forgetting how to use books!’ because school gets it ‘spot on’, we heard. All meant online learning was reasonably seamless during the pandemic – ‘they just ran the timetable as usual, but also recognised that it’s not healthy to sit at a desk all day so incorporated PE and sociability too,’ said parent. School not complacent, though – ‘it’s very much a partnership with parents, so when they told us they wanted more structure, more breaks and for us to be bolder with what we try, that’s exactly what we’ve done,’ says head.

Lectures aplenty – pupils can listen to guest speakers at the Talks on the Hill lecture evenings, while ‘JLx’ comprises a series of 15-minute lunchtime lectures led by different departments and designed to showcase an area of learning beyond the school curriculum, such as politics.

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. There’s also a qualified EAL teacher. ‘My son had a few learning barriers and they’ve been amazing – he’s got learning support lessons in addition to his teachers understanding his difficulties and it’s all been proactive and at no extra cost,’ said parent. Gifted-and-talented programme, too, for those in need of ‘enrichment’.

The arts and extracurricular

‘My son went into the school being sporty, but now he loves drama and debating too – they’ve developed skills and interests I didn’t think they ever would,’ gushed a parent, not untypically. While pupils are expected to drop some or all the extras at the doorsteps of other schools in favour of the academics, quite the opposite happens here. The only thing that may hold them back are the pushier parents (of which there are some) for whom academic attainment is everything.

The big annual musical is one of the highlights of the school calendar and a consistent sell-out over three nights, with recent productions including We Will Rock You, Anything Goes and South Pacific all including big casts with girls from local schools. The weekly live theatre that forms part of online learning means parents sometimes get the chance for front row seats at other times of the year too. Drama is also 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. Perhaps most exciting is that pupils get to work with professional companies, including the Donmar Warehouse, the Lyric Hammersmith and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Music ever improving and includes 17 wide ranging groups and ensembles including flute choir, guitar ensemble, Pride of Lyon’s chamber choir, rock band etc. ‘I’d never have thought my boys were musical but one is now grade 5 flute, having never picked up an instrument until he got to senior school and the other has got into the guitar after being wowed by one of the school’s rock bands,’ said a parent. Active links with both London Chamber Orchestra and Royal Academy of Music. Numerous grade 8 musicians. Choir has recently sung at St Paul’s Cathedral and St George’s Windsor. Department benefits from a purpose-built recording studio. As with drama, widened access during the pandemic has not been lost on parents – ‘Rather than just some of the boys having the chance to go along to the lunchtime concerts, parents and boys can tune into them whenever they want, which has been wonderful.’

Good take up for, and outstanding results in, art, with imaginative and varied examples adorning the school walls. House art and postcard competitions also valued, so you don’t have to study it to enjoy it. Plenty go off to art college or to study architecture – parents tend to see it as high status as the more academic subjects. The two large, well lit studios have a real buzz about them.

Every Friday afternoon is dedicated to a timetabled programme of ‘skills-based’ activities including everything from cooking to mountain biking, with a carousel on offer for younger ones and increasingly more free choice as pupils move up the school to include, by sixth form, community service. High take up of DofE and school also has its own CCF with 100 cadets, which partners with local Pinner High School. Plenty of trips (cricket and football to South Africa, work volunteering service to Laos, skiing to European Alps) and societies, from computing to chess.

No excuses to log off at the end of the school day even during a global pandemic – with everything from Zoom fitness to online yoga and even batting techniques as part of cricket sessions. Online cookery classes don’t just involve baking cakes, we heard, but ‘all kinds of things like casseroles, with 30 plus on the call – it’s inclusive, fun and positive and we wound up getting a lovely family dinner out of it!’

Sport

Though the school overlooks some of the playing fields of Harrow, its own expansive 25 green acres are a five minute minibus-ride away, where there is also a floodlit MUGA pitch. Hockey, tennis, football and cricket are on the menu (‘not a school for rugby types because there isn’t any,’ said parent). Pupils also have access to Harrow’s nine-hole golf course, squash and tennis courts. On site, there’s a gym, 25m pool and fitness suite, with sporting options including basketball, judo, and badminton. There’s a long tradition of archery, with school doing consistently well in the Silver Arrow competition. ‘There’s even water polo and BMX-ing – the variety is fabulous,’ said parent. ‘Healthy lifestyle’ is at the heart of the sporting ethos, says school – a good job, said one parent ‘because some of the parents are of the mindset that their child is the next Lionel Messi.’

Long list of recent honours includes first XI Middlesex cricket champions and U14 Middlesex hockey champions - and they’ve brought home some recent silverware at borough level for basketball 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 a new 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 meal. Other much-appreciated, improvements include a sixth form centre, occupying the entire Victorian school house, which provides both learning and leisure space for older pupils. There’s also the new flagship STEAM lab. And there’s been a full overhaul of the Lyon Building, which houses classrooms, library and the school’s main hall. A reconfiguration of the central mall area has created an exhibition space. Atmosphere is friendly – everyone knows each pupil’s name, from the registrar to the receptionist.

Alumni include Jagjit Chadha, economist, Michael Bogdanov, theatre director, Timothy West, actor, Alastair Fraser, cricketer, Julian Rhind-Tutt, actor and Andrew Carwood and Michael McCarthy, directors of music at St Paul’s Cathedral and Washington National Cathedral respectively. Also journalists Stephen Pollard, Gary Gibbon and Liam Halligan.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents united in the view that the school does its utmost to develop every inch of potential and nip any barriers in the bud. Full time counsellor and school nurse onsite. Healthy mixing of year groups thanks to the vertical house system, sixth form peer mentoring scheme and sixth formers leading some assemblies (‘it’s one of the aspects of school life I miss most in lockdown,’ muses head). ‘Lots of checking in during times of online learning to check the pupils are ok,’ said parent.

Recent ISI inspection praised the school for its diversity and inclusion – ‘the school community transcends cultural difference and exudes an ethos of inclusivity through natural acceptance.’ Doesn’t mean things like Black Lives Matter are brushed aside, but unlike at some schools we review, there was no big piece of work required off the back of it. Pupil voice strong. Bullying minimal and discussed openly.

Little evidence of teenage rebellion – perhaps the school’s bespoke Parenting Teenagers course (a sell out every time) should spread its wings to benefit the rest of us. Code of conduct replaces endless rules, says head. Even so, if that code is broken, lines are firmly drawn, with a system of de-merits, detentions, suspensions (up to 10 a term) and permanent exclusions (one or two a year). ‘I’d say they’ve made real efforts to improve discipline – the message is more and more that if you want to be here, you have to behave,’ voiced a parent.

Pupils and parents

Primarily local, although catchment is becoming wider with pupils now coming in from central London and outside London notably Beds, Bucks and Herts. Excellent rail links (especially the Met line) makes it particularly popular with those who live in eg Rickmansworth, the Chalfonts, Amersham etc. New coach service from September 2021 will go to Gerrards Cross, Northwood, Ealing, Willesden, Edgware and further still. 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. Not a massive community among the parents, we heard – ‘maybe the school could do a bit more to encourage that,’ felt one (though we felt the head’s suppers already go above and beyond). Communications can be a bit last minute, we also heard, but again there’s contradiction in the air with another telling us, ‘There is plenty of it – you just have to read it!’ Boys are positive, focused and keen.

Money matters

Good value. The John Lyon’s Charity now offers more means-tested bursaries. Scholarships available in academic, art, drama, music, STEAM, sport and all-rounder – include five per cent reduction in school fees.

The last word

A thriving school which provides a well-rounded, well-grounded education in a welcoming atmosphere. Great praise for the care and attention the pupils receive.

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
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
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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