Skip to main content

What says..

This is a school that breaks the mould in many ways – children address teachers by first names (more friendly), there’s no uniform and there’s not much going on in terms of prayers or assembly, just a weekly ‘reflection time’. Academic rigour is the stand out point, and it’s delivered with a soft touch – or, as one father put it, ‘They get them ahead by stealth’ - with children working a year ahead of their peers. This is rooted in full days from nursery instead of the usual half day (where we found junk modelling in full flow with some suitably Islington-esque packaging – lots of champagne and Nespresso boxes). Nursery and reception forms are served by...

Read review »

Do you know this school?

The schools we choose, and what we say about them, are founded on parents’ views. If you know this school, please share your views with us.

Please login to post a comment.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2009, Caroline Lloyd. Joined the school 15 years previously, straight after a BEd at Exeter – ‘It’s one of the few times I resisted my parents who wanted me to do a ‘proper’ degree. I was always going to teach, so what was the point?’ – eventually working with every year group.

She never reckoned on becoming head, but while working part-time as a young mother, the school’s former owners decided to sell up after a ropey Ofsted report. So, Caroline (everyone’s on first name terms here) applied, knowing some things needed to improve but eager for the school’s special qualities to be preserved. Rarely do you find such loyalty to a school (unless it’s family owned).

Though she insists ‘I never thought of myself as a leader,’ she’s clearly an accomplished one, with staff retention many schools would envy. That she shares an office with her admin team and makes the morning coffee herself says as much about her leadership style, and parents love that she understands their needs and challenges while clearly adoring her young charges. While no longer teaching herself, she knows every child and family well. ‘She has a real personal touch, and creates a family feel,’ said one parent; another that 'Caroline’s guidance has been invaluable, she’s been spot on identifying prospects of success for secondary schools.’

Her directness is largely respected, though occasionally bristled at. Managing expectations of ambitious parents of not necessarily very academic children remains her biggest challenge: ‘Very occasionally people are upset if you’re honest.’ Children generally apply to some of the most over-subscribed day schools in England, and she feels she treads more softly now with parents who choose to tutor for those cutthroat exams. Boarding is widely considered a dirty word by most, to her amusement – her own children thrived on it.

Her big focus recently has been the massive expansion into two neighbouring buildings – a really smart conversion which was on the point of completion on our visit. It means the school is gradually doubling in size, so what does she look for in new teachers? ‘For me it’s more important that they are caring, loving people, giving children the utmost support rather than the most whizz-bang science lesson,’ she told us.

Has a son and daughter – one considering her career, the other at uni – and enjoys reading and walking.

Entrance

Non-selective, with entry by lottery on 8th May (apart for children with siblings already at the school). With the new expansion, the nursery now has two forms instead of one, however, so it’s less of a lottery than it was. A hefty deposit secures a place, non-refundable until your child leaves the school. Applications dropped a little post-Covid – the City was eerily quiet for a long time. Intake more international than it used to be as the school works with Cognita’s own international agents – with Russians, Americans and more.

Exit

Very diverse, with around a quarter winning places at the most competitive London day schools such as City, City of London School for Girls, Alleyn’s, South Hampstead, Merchant Taylors’ and Highgate. Forest School has been the biggest single destination lately, with some also taking up the exam-free offers that come from sister Cognita schools North Bridge (at Canonbury and Hampstead). Offers also accepted recently to Channing, Queen’s College and Francis Holland, with a smattering moving on to Wetherby for a crack at 13+ entry.

Our view

In beautiful buildings on a historic square, the school does a brilliant job of helping you forget what minute amounts of outdoor space they actually own. Situated on Charterhouse Square, the site of an ancient plague pit, the school looks out towards the Charterhouse itself, one of London’s ‘best historical gems’, a monastery turned Tudor mansion, turned school (the original Charterhouse before it relocated to Surrey) and most recently an alms-house. The leafy square serves as the school’s unofficial school yard, but during our January visit was carpeted only in mud.

No wonder the expansion into two adjacent buildings has caused such excitement – including a semi-covered rooftop for outdoor winter play (albeit with ball sports forbidden). The school is expanding gradually towards two form entry, and has a gleaming new library, art/science room (‘We used to have to spread newspapers out in our main classroom for art,’ explained our approving guides), better meeting room, reception, first aid and SEN spaces - and best of all, a cracking basement dining room complete with restaurant-style open kitchen. Everyone is effusive about the meals - we’d happily have gobbled the whole menu (but stuck to half). The new conversion also has a custom-made lift, and the whole school now has an air cleaning system (which parents were keen on as air quality readings for this part of London aren’t great). All this helps explain why fees are higher than at competitor preps with smaller classes. Here, they max at 26, allowed for by generous room sizes.

This is a school that breaks the mould in many ways – children address teachers by first names (more friendly), there’s no uniform and there’s not much going on in terms of prayers or assembly, just a weekly ‘reflection time’. Academic rigour is the stand out point, and it’s delivered with a soft touch – or, as one father put it, ‘They get them ahead by stealth’ - with children working a year ahead of their peers. This is rooted in full days from nursery instead of the usual half day (where we found junk modelling in full flow with some suitably Islington-esque packaging – lots of champagne and Nespresso boxes). Nursery and reception forms are served by two teachers each plus a TA. Younger year groups use a system of ‘gems’ given as rewards to children – leads to golden time treats at the week’s end.

Homework from an early age. Mostly optional in nursery, ‘though we ask parents to do sounds and numbers with them.’ More formal from reception, though none set on Wednesdays. It is highly personalised and usually tests things learned weeks ago rather than earlier in the day – thus testing recall, and ultimately readiness for exams – with parents asked to mark it, plus nightly reading. It’s also set in the summer (but not Christmas) holidays. ‘It’s quite a lot compared with state schools but when children move on they find they’re well prepared for secondary school life,’ reflects deputy head. ‘You’re expected to be involved, but they’re quite flexible,’ said one parent. ‘But it’s chicken and egg – if you want to get children into competitive schools you have to prepare them to do some exams.’

Some parents would like more language provision, but there is Spanish for all, and there are further specialist teachers for music, drama, dance and sport. Scratch coding is taught in a bright ICT suite from year 1, and in year 3 children have their own devices. No Latin but there is RS, and oracy is now timetabled too from year 1. Starting as show and tell in nursery, it develops to explore speaking skills, presenting and debating – extremely useful, one imagines, for school interviews. A by-invitation maths club stretches the most able: 'Our core areas are English, maths and sport,’ says head. No setting, but children are subtly grouped into different ‘desk islands’. Staff sit on the floor with them and bob between desks. Some classrooms are colour coded according to year group, with green painted corridors that feel as fresh as a newly picked Granny Smith. A packed ground floor scooter depository testifies to a pretty large number of children arriving on foot.

No weak links among teaching staff, say parents and pupils, and the children rave about lessons – ‘maths especially.’ Science also praised – they told us of a recent experiment measuring the weight of gasses in fizzy drinks. ‘In our view, the teaching is flawless,’ said one parent. Low staff turnover - ‘I’ve been here 10 years but there are others who have been here 20 or 30,’ said one. ‘It’s just a happy place.’

Learning support is known as POD (Pupils of Determination) ‘to make it positive and welcoming’. Staffed by two part-time specialists, one a counsellor, it provides group and one-to-one support for everything from behaviour and friendship to specific learning challenges (for no extra charge). Currently works with just over 10 per cent of pupils. Roughly a third of pupils speak a second language and a small number receive EAL support. An active buddy system gets older children reading with nursery and reception pupils, resulting in much waving during our tour.

Children can audition for the choir from year 4; open entry to year 6s. Close involvement with Christmas service and the annual show, both hosted in borrowed facilities nearby eg City of London School For Girls’ theatre. Given school’s proximity to the Barbican, children are taken sometimes to lunchtime concerts. But current space constraints mean only private piano lessons are offered (on a keyboard), so those wanting to study other instruments must make arrangements outside school. Some parents would like to see more offered in terms of music – head says this is on her agenda. A few children have LAMDA lessons. Each year group goes on a school trip a term, with a residential in year 6 with a bushcraft company – ‘The children come back stinking of smoke’, says one approving mother.

The fact the school has no sports hall, theatre, courts etc (though there is room to host table tennis club in the basement ‘Jungle’) is resolved by walking children 15 minutes away to rented facilities where there is weekly tennis, plus swimming from year 2, along with football, netball. Fixtures from year 2 (mostly football and tag rugby, with girls playing football now too) roughly five times a term. 'We only play local schools as I do have issues with children sitting on coaches all afternoon for a 40-minute match,’ says the head. Any other sporting opportunities – such as the City of London’s athletics event for local schools – also taken up. A dance teacher runs classes for nursery to year 2, and then year 6s.

With Cognita ownership comes much useful back-office support and some sharing of best practice across schools, but also use of ‘net promoter score’ software to measure customer satisfaction of pupils, parents and staff, which sounds a tad overbearing in an educational setting. Parents have ready access to the head or any staff member – even emails sent to the generic school email address are usually replied to by the head, we heard: ‘She likes being involved in the nuts and bolts herself.’ Cognita’s early Covid experience on other continents was a definite plus, though parents find the latest app for booking clubs etc ‘clunky’, and the Cognita-supplied website we find really short on detail.

Families come primarily from around Islington and the Barbican, and many work for local legal and financial firms or St Bart’s hospital, with the school’s position backing on to Barbican tube a huge plus. The intake may be non-selective, but it’s clear after a lunch in their company that there’s a ton of talent here: we’ve never met sparkier year 4s. Head understands that her parents have packed diaries and full plates, and keeps communications to the essential – which they appreciate.

Wraparound care (chargeable) available from 8am until 6pm and staffed by the teachers. Only downsides is there aren’t enough staff left to run many after-school clubs, which some families lament. Only football, chess and art remain (and are sometimes over-subscribed). However, each day is themed – with STEM activities on Mondays, arts and crafts Wednesdays, and so on. Since the same staff are in charge, they’ll adapt the plan if, for example, a nursery teacher knows her children have worked hard during the day and are just itching to run around.

Money matters

No bursaries or sibling discounts

The last word

A much-loved and slightly quirky school entering a new phase of growth, while retaining its character. Yes, it has space constraints, but for those living and working nearby it’s a godsend – first-class teaching and immensely happy children just a stone’s throw from the office.

Special Education Needs

We aim to provide every possible opportunity to develop the full potential of every child. Children with special educational needs must be valued as individuals and should be encouraged to integrate with their peers, both socially and academically. They should have access to the whole school curriculum. At all times, consideration will be given to maintaining and enhancing the self esteem of children with special educational needs. In our school we aim to offer excellence and choice to all our children, whatever their ability or needs. We have high expectations of all our children. We aim to achieve this through the removal of barriers to learning and participation. We want all our children to feel that they are a valued part of our school community. Through appropriate curricular provision, we respect the fact that children have different educational and behavioural needs and aspirations; require different strategies for learning; acquire, assimilate and communicate information at different rates; and need a range of different teaching approaches and experiences.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment Y

Leavers' destinations

Who came from where


Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.