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  • St Mary Magdalene Academy
    Liverpool Road
    London
    N7 8PG
  • Head: Ms V Linsley
  • T 020 7697 0123
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.smmacademy.org
  • A state school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 19.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Islington
  • Pupils: 1,110; sixth formers: 220
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted:
    • Latest Overall effectiveness Good 1
      • Outcomes for children and learners Good 2
      • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Good 2
      • Effectiveness of leadership and management Good 2
    • 1 Short inspection 10th January 2017
    • 2 Full inspection 16th May 2013

    Short inspection reports only give an overall grade; you have to read the report itself to gauge whether the detailed grading from the earlier full inspection still stands.

  • Previous Ofsted grade: Good on 17th June 2010
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • Linked schools: St Mary Magdalene Academy Primary School

What says..

The school has no qualms about saying that it has ‘a clear focus on academic achievement’ and it works to develop ‘globally-minded citizens who are happy and successful’. For financial reasons it has stopped teaching the IB, but the ethos has strongly influenced the curriculum and teaching. Inspire programme includes masterclasses (talks by Jeremy Corbyn and Nick Robinson recently, and the Grayson Perry talk was a sellout)...

Read review »

What the school says...

A one class primary with a much larger intake at 11

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Psychology at an English Comprehensive School (IBO Higher level component)
  • Best performance by Boys taking Chinese at an English Comprehensive School (GCSE)

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

Head

Since 2012, Vicky Linsley (late 40s): she joined the school as deputy head in 2008 and credit must go to her for the transformation of this school to a highly oversubscribed ‘extremely well run’ school with fantastic results. Vicky Linsley was a scholarship child who went to do history at Nottingham and then to Oxford for a masters degree and her teaching qualification.

Youthful, energetic and pragmatic, pupils call her ‘inspiring’ and ‘really, really nice’. Very present around the school, she is generous with her praise of pupils and her pride in the school. An eloquent speaker, which helps her to build partnerships with businesses (Deloitte, Virgin Trains, local businesses). Teachers find her ‘approachable, she always has five minutes for us, even for small matters’. She has nurtured many and entrusted them with responsibilities, maintaining a surprisingly stable staff body - no staffing vacancies when we visited and, unusually for any school, no shortage of maths or science teachers. She is an Ofsted inspector ‘an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t and bringing about change’ - and works as a consultant with schools looking to improve.

Academic matters

The school has no qualms about saying that it has ‘a clear focus on academic achievement’ and it works to develop ‘globally-minded citizens who are happy and successful’. For financial reasons it has stopped teaching the IB, but the IB ethos has strongly influenced the curriculum and teaching - encouraging independent and team learning, keeping timetables very full and having the equivalent of creativity, activity and service through the Inspire Programme.

The results have been rising and are impressive for a primarily non-selective school - 27 per cent of GCSE results were 9-7 in 2018, and 80 per cent of pupils got 9-4 in both maths and English. The sciences are especially strong with almost all pupils getting grades 9-6. Also strong emphasis on languages, resulting in 100 per cent top marks in Mandarin, with Spanish and French also successful. Religious studies (unsurprisingly for this church school) get excellent results. At A level, 35 per cent A*/A and 65 per cent A*-B grades in 2018. ‘Good results thanks to a really excellent work ethos built up over time in the school’ and ‘not stressful thanks to three year GCSE programme and the school culture’.

Some streaming in lessons from year 7. The pupils who have got into the school on the language aptitude test are expected to take Mandarin enrichment classes as well as a European language taken by other pupils; those who join the Mandarin Excellence Programme have four hours Mandarin each week. The school has an extra three full-time Mandarin teachers from China, who also teach Chinese culture.

Year 9 pupils start their GCSE curriculum and class size drops to 25: ‘having three years gives us time to teach more than just the content of the curriculum’ and also allows for more outings in year 10, helping to ‘raise aspirations and give a sense of purpose for exams’. ‘We aim to give a broad and balanced curriculum so kids really enjoy learning, and they want to learn more because we have more time for content’. Generous selection of subjects, but core subjects given priority. Pupils said that ‘teachers have our interests at heart and know what we like’ and ‘teachers care about you’. And parents raved about the youthful vitality, energy and enthusiasm of teaching staff.

Library used for English lessons and weekly library lessons and for book clubs after school; the school is clearly almost as busy before and after school hours as during. Parents say the school has ‘nailed the curriculum and ensures the kids get the results they want’. Certainly, no one dreaming or looking out of windows when we visited.

Sixth form of 120 pupils per year completely selective by GCSE results, and once in, get a very full timetable of lessons, extracurricular activities, exercise and a real commitment to enrichment, with many collaborative projects - encouraging leadership and entrepreneurship. Pupils appreciated ‘plenty of choice at A levels, but if you reconsider your subjects, you can change - the timetable seems to work for you to be able to take any subject combination you want’. ‘Our teachers are organised and knowledgeable and enthusiastic.' ‘They make it applicable to real life and raise ethical questions, not just teaching to get grades,’ according to sixth form students. ‘They get us involved; lessons are really interactive’. Maximum of 15 pupils per A level class. Not a huge amount of dedicated space for sixth form. Full time graduates supervise study areas, help with essays and ‘keep work going generally’. This type of subtle mentoring works to raise expectation and graduates are also available to help with UCAS forms and encourage the idea of going to university. Every student in sixth form taken to visit a university (some now lucky enough to go first class on train with a parent or friend thanks to a partnership with Virgin Rail).

Special needs supported by SENCo with ASD specialism and part-time dyslexia specialist; all pupils screened before joining school. Some 13 pupils in school with EHCPs, and 70 accessing support in or outside school. Those who just need an extra bit of help can have tutoring sessions with maths and English graduates in the main hall. Parents say ‘they don’t give up on anyone’ and that thanks to target tracking they are ‘on it like a car bonnet if they slip’.

Games, options, the arts

School is open from 7.30am when children can be found in the chess club, martial arts training, extra lessons, or just coming in for £1 breakfast. The day often ends late, so plenty of time for clubs before, during and after school. Games in huge soundproofed state-of-the-art gym - no whistles or shouting needed to get classes playing team sports (basketball, hockey, dance, trampoline, cricket, badminton) for weekly two hours PE. Astroturf on the roof for football and sport and Finsbury Park for athletics. This is an urban environment and so the playground is not large, however, a mad keen footballer we met said that he gets to play ‘all the time’ - and has plenty of matches against other schools too. Girls’ teams encouraged and included - no sense that anyone is second class here. Recognition for effort or achievement for sportspeople given at weekly assembly.

Arts rooms aplenty - sixth formers have own studio so are able to leave artwork out. Textile, pottery, art and tech GCSEs enhanced by equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters. You don’t have to be doing tech GCSE to be involved in Formula E club, building an electric car and then racing it at Goodwood racing track. Proper, spacious cooking facilities for both food tech and popular after-school clubs and enrichment programme. Music a growing part of school life, partly thanks to MiSST (Music in Secondary School Trust), with every new pupil being lent an orchestral instrument and having small group lessons, as well as individual music lessons (‘excellent peripatetic teachers,’ according to some parents) for those who continue with their instrument. So 300 music lessons timetabled in somehow as well as orchestra, rock band, string groups and then the annual huge musical - ‘a semi-professional experience for the kids with lighting, costumes, musicians.' ‘My shy child just came out of herself through the school musical production’. For some 20 pupils the highlight of their year is going to a music residential to Radley School.

Inspire programme includes masterclasses (talks by Jeremy Corbyn and Nick Robinson recently, and the Grayson Perry talk was a sellout), workshops (Deloitte Consulting sent their chef to give classes, the RSC brought in a group to work on Hamlet) and City trips - not only to offices but also to British Film Institute and theatre outings (local Almeida theatre generous with free tickets to SMMA). Pupils join competitions and get onto programmes such as STEM courses, Oxford Girls' Maths Conference and Women in Leadership conferences, and to go for visits or internships at City firms they have partnerships with - RBS, Cushman Wakefield, Société Générale, UBS.

Students every year from China, Indonesia, Korea and even Kazakhstan attend school for a term as part of ‘global citizenship’, which is a founding principle of the academy. Once the students leave, friendship and global citizenship encouraged as pupils become email penpals. ‘With the job market changing so fast, we prepare our children to have flexibility, interests, skills and ideas, rather than just careers’.

Background and atmosphere

This is a London Diocese sponsored school and the motto (James 3:13) ‘show by a good life that your works are done by gentleness born of wisdom’ sets the tone. A sense of kindness and action and learning emanates. RIBA awards for this purpose built school which one parent called a ‘Tardis, a building that flows nicely and does not feel cramped’. Built around a closed atrium with all classes looking inwards to the central library and chapel built on stilts over the canteen. Windows onto the corridors, open study areas and flow of the building give a feeling of transparency and openness. Pale wood, excellent acoustic management, curved edges, large windows, glass-topped atrium all help to soften the edges of an otherwise totally urban and closed in school off a fairly main road. Pupils said ‘there are no hidden corners or blind spots’, ‘we are really safe here’. We were struck by the calm and quiet in such a vibrant and active school - there are no bells in between lessons and playtime is managed well with room for activities in the playground without impeding each other.

Early establishment of ground rules about behaviour and study skills (‘the SMMA way’). ‘They have to learn to self regulate - we have 1,300 pupils and they need to learn about manners and being polite’. Christian ethos with teachers and pupils treating each other with respect (everyone on first name terms). Engaged and open-minded students listened and spoke kindly of each other when we met them. Teachers don’t interrupt each other or the pupils. Mealtimes are a pleasantly calm and orderly event with pupils and teachers sharing food, space and conversation. The canteen is in the centre of the school, like a kitchen being the heart of the home, busy and used (from breakfast club to after-school snacks via the feeding of the 1,300 at lunchtime) and spotlessly clean. Pupils called food ‘healthy and tasty’ but of course raved about Friday chips.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Spiritual, moral, social and cultural education embedded in the school through curriculum lessons as well as assemblies and activities and in form time. Full-time chaplain for guidance and support. ‘Reverend April is my son’s favourite person in the school because she is such a kind, generous presence, comes to cheer at basketball matches, and may well be the heart of the school in her eyrie in the centrally placed chapel.' A part-time psychotherapist (appointment by self-referral or suggested by staff). Pupils said there was 'no bullying, but if you see something you can go straight to a teacher or report it anonymously on school website anti-bullying page’. Teachers spoke of restorative justice meetings - how would you feel, how would the other person be feeling. The need to be ‘kind’ is the leading principle.

Tutors work with ‘Guardian Groups’ of pupils in the same house but across all year groups. ‘It means we know older pupils and they tell us how to do things and we say hello to them round school’. It also means the older ones look out for the younger ones. The ‘academy guardian’ acts as first port of call for any issues as the group meets each day. The system seems to create a ‘close and small community and allows us to get to know them really well and they trust us,’ say the guardians. Pupils also said they liked having the same pastoral group throughout their school life because it ‘is like my family away from home’.

The deputy head for expectations and standards, meets heads of year, the SENCo and chaplain every fortnight to ensure pupil well-being. They work on the premise of ‘what would a good parent do?’ in all dealings with pupils and he leads assemblies about humanity, compassion and expectations in order to ensure happy, and therefore successful, children.

Discipline from detentions set by teacher, heads of year and if necessary involvement of parents. ‘Certainty of consequence more important than severity of consequences’ - so pupils not intimidated or fearful. Parents appreciate the fact that they get phone calls not only if there is a problem but also if there is something to celebrate when their child has excelled.

Pupils and parents

The school is mostly non-selective and reflects the diversity of the area well. ‘We chose it over an independent school because there is no sense of entitlement here, and our child has really polite, kind friendships with kids he would never have met at a north London independent school’. Around half on free school meals and eight looked after pupils. Parents told us that the school has high expectations and everyone is expected to comply - strict uniform policy evident, tight punctuality enforced, and serious work ethic encouraged. The curriculum guide given at the beginning of each year includes ‘practical ways to reinforce your child’s learning’, ‘how you can help’ and ‘resources for pupils and parents to support learning’. Learning is clearly expected to be a whole family endeavour. Parents said that they felt listened to - suggestions by staff, pupils or parents are heard and responded to positively.

Entrance

Of the 210 places in year 7, 30 come from SMMA primary school, then preference to children in care and siblings of pupils in the school. Ten per cent selective on language aptitude (400 children sat for those 18 places recently). Remaining places are 30 per cent Islington Church of England primary school pupils (catchment area around one mile) and 70 per cent on distance from school (currently about a half a mile from the school). A further 18 admitted in year 9 via language aptitude test. At sixth form, top third stay on to create half of the selective sixth form (no automatic transfer), which has 120 pupils in each of the two years. Usual entry requirement is at least seven GCSEs at 4+ including English and maths, with 6+ in proposed A level subjects - 7 for maths and 8 for further maths.

Exit

The 60 per cent or so that leave after GCSEs go to eg Woodhouse, Camden Girls or City and Islington College. But ‘why would I go somewhere less good than here just to have a change?’ Some 40 per cent of sixth formers go to Russell Group universities and a few abroad (McGill, Science Po). Three medics in 2018. Sixth formers get work experience with one of the partnership firms together with exposure to other worlds through the masterclasses and visits, as well as a paid for visit to a university, which all helps with personal statements for university applications.

Our view

A shining example of an excellent school. Parents and pupils are aware that they have picked the golden ticket if they can get an education here - the results are evidence of top quality teaching, and pupil’s involvement and happiness are enhanced by the wide enrichment programme, whilst the pastoral care provides a tight safety net. If you want a top notch inclusive comprehensive education, this is the place to go.

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.

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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

Further reading

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:

regularly
most years
quite often
infrequently
sometimes, but not in this year


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