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  • St Mary Magdalene Academy
    Liverpool Road
    N7 8PG
  • Head: Ms V Linsley
  • T 020 7697 0123
  • E
  • W
  • A state school for boys and girls aged from 4 to 19.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Islington
  • Pupils: 1,350; sixth formers: 240
  • 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

What says..

The parents can’t praise the teaching staff enough and the pupils agree. They are described as hard-working, committed, quick to respond to parents, and they motivate students to learn and to work to their full potential. Most are local, but some have international experience, a few from other European countries. The school has a roof eco garden with a pond, tall grasses for insects, chickens, an aviary and bird feeders with cameras installed by students for filming and observing the hungry visitors, all making the place a mini wildlife haven in the heart of urban Islington. On another part of the building are rooftop sports facilities...

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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)


International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

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


Since 2013, Victoria Linsley BA (history) Nottingham, MSc (history) and PGCE from Oxford. She joined the school in 2009 as vice principal. A Lancastrian, she has worked in London comprehensive schools for 20 years, and as a consultant with failing and special measures schools. She has previous experience as a deputy head at Broomfield School. This slim, petite, youthful head teacher is an energetic dynamo who notices everything and does not miss a trick as she roams through the school giving stern looks to students who may be pushing the uniform boundaries, while generously doling out affirmative ‘well-done's to beaming students in classrooms and corridors. A few approach, eager to share something with her. Proud of the school, its facilities, resources and especially students, she does not shy away from talking about areas for improvement. It seems the Hollingum-Linsley chemistry has created magic at SMMA.

Head of primary school since September 2016, Ruth Luzmore, previously deputy head of Clerkenwell Parochial CE School.

Academic matters

This is the only state school in Greater London to offer the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP), and families familiar with this programme, found in schools worldwide, will feel at home here. School speaks positively of the clarity and direction of the curriculum and how this covers and at times exceeds national curriculum requirements. Parents are complimentary about school’s talent for recruiting good teachers, who themselves represent a variety of nationalities, though there have been the usual challenges of dealing with staff absence and turnover due to maternity leave, relocation, etc, sometimes causing a break in continuity for the children. Specialist teachers offer music, PE and languages; class teachers do the art. Good results at key stage 2 Sats, with children regularly achieving level 6.

In keeping with the IBPYP philosophy and the school’s own global education priorities, pupils study French (years 1 and 2), Spanish (years 3 and 4), and Mandarin (years 5 and 6); Latin is an after-school option. Pupils take lots of trips around London to see museums or take part in workshops linked to their units of inquiry (sometimes at modest cost). Years 5 and 6 take residential trips into the countryside. A parent told us: ‘I love the varied and engaging approach to learning, and there is consistency across the subjects that helps children explore things in a more holistic way.’

SMMA describes its specialties as humanities and global citizenship, and this involves eight key concepts: citizenship, social justice, sustainable development, diversity, values and perceptions, inter-dependence, conflict resolution and human rights. For the 11-16 year olds, this is essentially a non-selective inner-city comprehensive preparing locals for GCSEs using the national curriculum, but aligning it with common entrance assessment standards at the end of year 8 so they can track progress. A good range of GCSEs are on offer and the school sets the bar high. Parents say that the kids know they are expected to achieve; students appear to be serious and committed at school and parents confirm that there is an expectation that pupils will work hard and to the best of their ability – whatever that is.

At sixth form, which offers the IB and A levels, the profile changes; more students come for the final two years and there are admissions criteria - not all year 11s are offered sixth form places. Parents credit the school leaders with working hard to help local families understand the advantages of the IB. There is an expectation of high achievement that is underpinned by what parents and students describe as a strong programme of pastoral care and sense of community. Pupils know they will be supported. Class sizes are 30 for years 7-8; for GCSE classes they are limited to 25 (streamed for core subject areas), and at IB class sizes are limited to 15 but often much smaller. In 2017, 74 per cent got at least four GCSEs at A*-C/4-9 including English and maths; 27 per cent of grades were A*-A/9-7. At A level, 65 per cent A*-B and 35 per cent A*/A grades; average IB point score: 36, with four pupils getting at least 43 points.

The school’s emphasis on global citizenship is demonstrated in a variety of ways, perhaps most notably, according to the parents and students that we spoke to, through the language programme. Most take French, Spanish or German and many also do Mandarin: year 7 students who have scored well on the school’s language aptitude tests are invited to study Mandarin and sometimes Latin through the Inspire Programme in addition to a modern European language. There are several overseas travel opportunities and a special emphasis on Mandarin and China. These global dimensions are also enhanced by partnerships with schools in places such as Finland, China, Senegal, and Jerusalem.

SMMA is one of the few UK Confucius Classroom Schools. Funding from the Chinese government promotes the study of Chinese culture and languages through teacher exchange; two teachers from China also help to plan visits to sister schools in China, and help with cultural studies and festivals within the school. ‘Chinese New Year is really something here,’ we hear. Mandarin is on offer at GCSE and IB level.

Another important partnership is with Deloitte, which supports the school and students in many ways as part of its corporate social responsibility programme. Deloitte staff work with students and provide expertise to help prepare them for life after secondary school.

The parents can’t praise the teaching staff enough and the pupils agree. They are described as hard-working, committed, quick to respond to parents, and they motivate students to learn and to work to their full potential. Most are local, but some have international experience, a few from other European countries. It seems that it is a satisfying place to work; the turnover is quite low. Two young Oxbridge grad tutors are based in the library to help students with essays, maths or any other academic challenges. Parents say the teachers are good role models for the youngsters and help instil a sense of pride. 'They work hard at setting a high standard; they go beyond the call of duty. They will give kids – even the bright kids - a bit of a kick up the backside and say, "We can do better than this".'

This is offered within the context of a C of E perspective, but it is an inclusive school with students of all faiths, and parents say the religious aspect is subtle and low-key. Good support for SEN.

Games, options, the arts

Lots of after-school sports (including competitive teams) and other activities on offer in the primary school – such as Japanese art, chess, book club and gardening. Some of these activities are run by senior school teachers and coaches and even sixth form students (earning D of E points), and make use of the senior school's impressive sports facilities – one of the advantages of being a through school. An annual school-wide Shakespeare project supported by the Young Shakespeare Company culminates in performances, both dance and drama, by the students. Dance is popular, pupils excel at table tennis and were national champions recently.

Although parents say there is a good range of activities on offer, one remarked that the school had not been particularly flexible about approving a student absence in order to take part in a special activity outside the school during term time. The school responds that they have authorised term time absences for children attending both sports activities and activities related to the arts, eg TV, film and stage work. Parents and pupils are excited by all the extracurricular opportunities on offer here.

The school has a roof eco garden with a pond, tall grasses for insects, chickens, an aviary and bird feeders with cameras installed by students for filming and observing the hungry visitors, all making the place a mini wildlife haven in the heart of urban Islington. On another part of the building are rooftop sports facilities. D of E from year 10 upwards counts toward the IB Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) section. Pupils recently worked on a community project creating drawings of the local area to inspire a colourful mural on permanent display at a local train station. An extended school day on Mondays and Tuesdays offers sports, Mandarin language and culture, arts, community involvement and cooking. Parents talk enthusiastically about this programme and the variety of opportunities it affords.

The school makes good use of its networks – sometimes through its partner schools around the globe, or through parents - to invite all sorts of guest teachers and performers to work with students. They also take advantage of ‘virtual networks’, having Skype conferences with students in other countries. Younger classes go on camping trips, sixth formers have an activities week in Cornwall; on alternate years there are trips to partner schools in China – parents and students rave about these; they have travelled to Berlin, to Mexico and also to Senegal, where they volunteered in a local school and learned about African music.

The school has impressive sports facilities considering its urban setting, including a sports hall. Netball, basketball and football teams are all in training; and perhaps because of the Chinese links, pupils have won national table tennis competitions.

Music is popular and all year 7 and 8s learn musical instruments – we walked in on a group listening to a just-finished recording of a pupil playing her own composition. World music features highly here, and rather than full scale orchestras, the school features numerous small instrumental ensembles.

Pupils were keen to talk about the school’s twice-yearly drama productions, which can involve everyone interested. ‘If you are in year 7, you may not get the lead, but there is a part for you.' All sixth formers encouraged to volunteer, not just IB students with their 150 hours of CAS.

One student told us about Chapel Club, led by the full-time chaplain, which she had enjoyed earlier in the day: they had read and discussed biblical proverbs, which she said ‘was something refreshing in the middle of day.’ The school definitely has a C of E ethos, but there is no pressure to conform.

Background and atmosphere

While there has been a Saint Mary Magdalene School here for 300 years, the development of a 21st century 3-19 academy offering the IB programmes was an initiative of the church in partnership with Islington council and opened in 2007. The facilities are truly dazzling. Modern, minimalist, pale-coloured wood, carpeted throughout with lots of light pouring through windows throughout the building. The design and layout ingeniously mask the school’s vast size. There are two floors largely reserved for sixth form, and all the floors overlook a large open courtyard area where the canteen and dining area is based, a gathering space effectively at the heart of the school. On the ground floor is the theatre, along with the ‘noisier’ specialist teaching rooms. The school is immaculately tidy without feeling sanitised; beautiful displays throughout celebrate student classwork and art, and most of the classrooms have lots of internal windows so that pupils at work are easily observed from the walkways. ‘Open and transparent’ is the feel.

Ms Linsley believes in the importance of maintaining an orderly, organised environment for her pupils. Rising above the central communal area is the two-floor library (one level reserved for sixth form) with chapel (more of a quiet room) above - imagine it as a structure built on 'stilts’ at the first floor level - so they are easily accessible by crossover walkways all from all floors. Classrooms are spacious and more than ample for the class sizes - nowhere did we see students crowded and cramped - and there are copious specialist teaching rooms: the art quad even has a built-in large kiln studio and an IB art studio, so that students can leave their partially-completed projects out without worrying about accidental disturbance by others. There are music rooms with practice spaces, recording facilities, etc, there are ICT suites; and there's a spacious classroom for the school’s high achieving autistic and Asperger’s pupils, who also intermingle with the other pupils.

The primary and secondary schools share the same site but are quite separate, so the primary students have their own space while benefiting from use of the secondary school facilities. Lots of windows throughout make for bright classrooms and many have access to outdoor areas – either to the garden or balconies. The library is welcoming and well-stocked.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The IBPYP features a built-in ‘character education’ element through the IB learner profile, which is amplified by the school’s Christian values (commitment, empathy, forgiveness, hope, independence, integrity, thankfulness and tolerance). Golden values are highlighted throughout the year, and school fundraising events support causes such as the Nepal earthquake and other good causes.

Rather than traditional form tutors SMMA has teacher ‘academy guardians’ who manage multi-age groups of lower secondary student ‘families’. They stay in the same groups as they rise through the years, and everyone likes this pastoral continuity. In sixth form they become part of a new ‘family’ of combined first and second year IB diploma and A level students, who meet with their guardian regularly. They also serve as mentors to younger groups of pupils, enabling them to learn from their older peers about what lies ahead in the sixth form. The family groups are named after continents, emphasising the school’s global outlook. Guardians are the first port of call for any concern and it seems they are quick to return phone calls or emails. Communication is a strong suit, according to the parents.

Though we gather there are definitely some pupils who are more motivated to learn than others, behaviour, as such, is not an issue. The school is non-selective and has a highly diverse socio-economic student community, but there are expectations and consequences for absence; pupils who arrive more than seven minutes late to lessons may be refused entry by the teachers. This sets the standard. One parent told us, ‘There is a very rigorous code of discipline; they don’t kick them out, there’s a sort of "3-step programme". Kids who don’t want to fit in with the standards of behaviour tend to move on.’

It is also interesting to note in the ‘tips from sixth formers’ that pupils ‘should not use up too many hours working in a part-time job’, suggesting that this is a community where pupils need to earn their pocket money.

Younger pupils wear uniforms, and on the day we visited were immaculately turned out – impressive. Sixth form has a sensible dress code.

Pupils and parents

The students we met were a multicultural mix – both ‘home bred’ and recently arrived. They speak of the strong community feel; the continuity of the mixed-age ‘family’ groups is reassuring. One previously home-schooled student said she chose SMMA over an independent London IB school because she was so impressed by the ‘great’ teachers she met during the open day taster sessions. ‘They are so supportive and really helped me adjust to the system here’. She said that she felt there was less pressure at SMMA than she sensed at some of the independent schools she visited. Another said that the sixth form is enhanced by the international perspectives gained by having classmates from all over the world. ‘You get a glimpse into all sorts of cultures here. That is very motivating and makes you want to know more about those people and places.’


The primary school has one-form entry with classes numbering 30 pupils, boys and girls evenly mixed. ‘It’s quite cosy’, one parent told us. Because of admissions criteria, all the students are local Islington residents and represent a wide socio-economic mix; from children of affluent professionals to the children of immigrants and asylum-seekers in assisted housing. Looked after children and siblings are given priority, and as it is a C of E school, church attendance is also taken into consideration, with distance given lowest priority. Heavily oversubscribed.

Year 7: 180 pupils admitted on the basis of strict criteria. After looked after children and siblings, and those coming up from the primary department, 70 per cent open places (by proximity) and 30 per cent foundation places (children attending an Islington C of E primary school, with proximity as a tie-break); 18 places (no catchment criteria) based on language aptitude tests at both year 7 and year 9. For IB, a minimum of seven grade B GCSEs (or numerical equivalent), including English and maths, with A grades to study science and/or maths at higher level; for A level, a minimum of five grade C GCSEs including English and maths, with B grades in A level subjects.


Most move up from the primary school to the secondary department. Some 60 per cent leave after GCSEs; even SMMA students applying to sixth form must go through an admissions process. University and career counselling is good, and this is one of the areas where the Deloitte partnership is helpful. Two to Oxbridge and two medics in 2017; others to London unis, Leeds, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol etc, with one to Canada on a scholarship and one to Sciences Po in Paris.

Money matters

Most parents happy to pay for school trips, though there is support for those who find this a challenge. ParentPay cards also serve as ID cards and enable parents to replenish student accounts for lunch money.

Our view

Students say: ‘There’s something for everyone here. Even if you don’t like a subject, you can learn to enjoy it. They don’t give up on kids here and you develop a lot of independence.’ The students we met were a memorably impressive bunch – perhaps a bit too smart, ethically-minded and work-focused to be uber-cool, but the sort any parent would be proud to own up to. Kudos to the C of E and Islington on this impressive success story.

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