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Parents cite the ‘village school’ atmosphere as one of their main reasons for choosing Maple Walk. ‘There’s a nice, cosy, community feel,’ said one. ‘I liked the fact that it is small, pioneering and affordable,’ said another. ‘It’s a really vibrant, eclectic community.’ Parents emphasise how happy their children are – ‘mine will look back and feel they’ve been part of something really special and exciting’.

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What the school says...

Maple Walk is a happy, thriving and vibrant independent primary school, for girls and boys aged 4-11, in Harlesden, North West London.

We provide a secure and supportive environment for effective learning and personal development. Maple Walk is committed to giving every child a first-class traditional education in the arts and sciences, drawing as a resource upon the Core Knowledge approach which imparts knowledge through traditional academic subjects.

We have a friendly, well-resourced environment with small class sizes, in which children learn and flourish.

Opportunities outside the classroom abound. Through sporting activities, first class music, art and drama, we encourage every child to find their own particular strength
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2012, Mrs Sarah Gillam, BEd from Homerton College, Cambridge. Originally Dorset born, but started her career at Lyndhurst House Prep school in Hampstead. She left education for a while to ‘gain some experience in the professional world’ but came back to education as she missed teaching and the children. Her 30 year career includes two middle school headships and one head of junior science. Prior to her role as head of Maple Walk, Ms Gillam worked for six years at the now defunct White House Prep school in Wokingham (although during her tenure, it was an outstanding prep school, she says). She was attracted to the post of head at Maple Walk ‘because of its wonderful history and story’ and because she felt it was a school with great potential.

Warm and likeable (she was very concerned that we should have nice biscuits with our coffee), slightly distracted but perhaps it was nerves, so keen was she to impress. However, the parents we spoke to praised her ambition for turning ‘a small villagey school’ into a ‘proper prep school’. One parent told us: ‘Ms Gillam takes very seriously the reality of living in London and has worked hard to make sure the pupils are well placed and prepared to take exams for secondary school. She has done this with a more rigorous curriculum.’

Ms Gillam herself says that she has been very keen to work on the process of transforming this school - already an amazing galleon - into a tighter ship with more rigorous applications and monitoring of crew. She has worked at strengthening the senior leadership team and now has an excellent range of advisors. Also an ISI team inspector, Ms Gillam says this can be a great resource for the school as she gets so many ideas from other schools as well as being able to confer with specialists ‘who are at the top of their game.’ She still teaches RE from year 3 upwards for one lesson a week.

Described as a very visible head who is always wandering around the school, is very approachable, open to ideas and someone who ‘patently cares about her job.’ She has an open door policy and as one parent said, ‘is probably quite frustrated that more people don’t walk through it more often.’ Ms Gillam has three grown up daughters, one of whom is also training to be a teacher: ‘If you have this as a vocation, it is something I would always encourage.’ Any free time she has, she enjoys cooking, travelling and spending time with her family.

Entrance

The school aims to be a two form entry school, but this year it was one form due to lack of space. Some 200 applicants for 20 places per form. Siblings get preference, then in order of registration – waiting lists for several years ahead. The advice given is ‘get them on the list as soon as possible.’ For spaces higher up the school, the head meets the parents and the child has a trial day in the relevant class, ‘to check that they will fit in socially and academically’.

Exit

To a wide variety of schools, including Aldenham, City of London, Emanuel, Queen's College, John Lyon, North Bridge House, Wetherby Prep and St James Senior Girls in the private sector, and St Marylebone, Hampstead School and Twyford Cof E School in the state sector. A fair percentage both from last year’s cohort and historically have also been awarded art scholarships at Holland Park School.

Our view

The New Model School Company (NMS) was set up by Civitas (but is now an independent entity) when research identified a gap in the market for a low-cost chain of not-for-profit independent primary schools. Maple Walk was the first NMS school, starting in a rented room in a sports centre off Ladbroke Grove in 2004 with one teacher, two pupils and school materials stored in a trunk. A year later the fledgling school of a dozen pupils moved to the upper floor of a church hall off Kensal Road. In September 2009 the school – by now with classes up to year 4 – moved to its own purpose-built premises in Harlesden, which have impeccable ecological credentials: a sedum roof, solar panels, a ground source heat pump, plus a no-car travel plan. It has added a form each year and now has a full complement of 200 children.

Although the school has had a reputation for being a no frills, low-fee-paying school and a decent alternative for the independent sector, parents we spoke to felt that it was now time to redress this reputation because, as one parent told us, ‘it punches above its weight.’ Another parent said: ‘They do far more than you would expect from a school of this size and have really upped their game.’ The general consensus seems to be that it delivers a great education and is a school which pushes each individual to strive. Indeed it made this year’s Telegraph’s top Ten Value Prep Schools: ‘Excellent value for money’, one parent said.

The education is traditional, with reading taught by phonics, French taught from reception, history taught chronologically and Latin taught in year 6. Maths is set from as early as year 1, but there is movement between sets. The school says: ‘We recognise that within each class there are pupils of widely differing mathematical aptitudes and we aim to provide suitable learning opportunities for each of them.’ The school follows the increasingly popular Singapore maths scheme, although this is ‘often supplemented by other resources.’ English is not set, but there is differentiation within the classroom for the more able and also for those who need more assistance. One parent told us: ‘One of the perks of a school of this size is the small classes and that each class has a teacher and teaching assistant, so you know your child will get a lot of individual attention.’

The teaching was praised by parents and pupils alike: ‘They have really nice teachers who know the children well.’ ‘Teachers are absolutely on it.' The head’s after-school secondary transfer club introduces exam techniques to older children, and the year 6 class teacher ‘is very experienced at secondary transfers’. ‘They do their absolute best to make sure they are well prepared,’ said a parent. Certainly parents are happy. ‘They seem to be getting a very good grounding,' said one.

The school can cope with mild SEN – ‘we don’t assess children coming into reception, but we do ask parents to be honest and transparent and we may talk to their nursery if we have any concerns’. One-to-one literacy and numeracy assistance at extra cost; some children get speech and language support outside school.

Sport has very much been an area of focus for the school, with a ‘competitive but inclusive policy.’ Whilst onsite sport facilities are pretty basic, the school has the use of nearby Roundwood Park for tag rugby, hockey, football and netball etc. For the particularly keen, an early morning (7.30am) cross-country run is offered to both pupils and their parents. We were told of an inspirational PE teacher who encourages even the most uninterested of children to give competitive sports a try, even at the cost of sacrificing a win for the school. One parent said: 'My son is not great at cricket, but this teacher put together a team of all the least talented cricket players in the school to encourage them to have a go at a competitive game against another school. They loved it.’

An emphasis on children becoming confident public performers: the annual Craigmyle poetry competition (named for the charitable trust that paid for the new site and building works) involves everyone from reception upwards reciting a poem by heart, and there are public speaking competitions, music concerts and drama performances. ‘The children are very confident,’ said a parent. ‘They have nice manners, they can talk to adults, they look you in the eye.’

This is a busy busy school. Lots going on to excite and motivate - indeed their most recent Independent Schools Inspectorate report praises the range of extracurricular activities. This includes photography, art portfolio club, Spanish, chess, dance, puzzle club, drama and football.

The curriculum is further enriched by a wide range of educational visits for all year groups, whether it's mud-larking on the Thames or visiting the Imperial War Museum. There is the year 5 residential trip, which has included a bushcraft trip where students are taught basic survival skills, and the annual year 6 week-long residential camp - which could be staying at a château in France or a PGL adventure course on the Isle of Wight. One pupil told us: ‘I really like the variety of things on offer here. There’s lots of great stuff to do, but it’s also quite academic.’

The school copes well with its limited premises. 'Of course that would be the one thing I’d change about the school if I could, but without physically moving the school, there’s not much you can do’, said one parent. But the outdoor space still manages to squeeze in playgrounds for infants and for juniors – with a climbing frame, football/netball court with climbing wall (also funded by the PTA, Friends of Maple Walk). There are interesting looking outdoor ‘pods’ for music classes with peripatetic teachers. The gardening club grows vegetables in tiered beds and a butterfly/bee-friendly area is in concept. The children learn to swim at a local pool and try out a different sport each half term.

The active PTA has raised funds from auctions, casino nights and summer fairs to name but a few, for part-time specialist dance and sports teachers, and parents have donated computers, including a suite of Netbooks that travel round different classrooms. The school has a broadly Christian ethos, with some religious assemblies and nativity plays, but all faiths are welcome and Jewish and Muslim parents come in to talk about their religions.

Despite the low fees, it is still very much a white, middle class demographic – albeit mostly journalists, artists and musicians rather than bankers and lawyers. A much larger percentage of families now live locally (previously the majority from Queens Park and Willesden Green) and the fact that it is so predominantly white and middle class probably represents how the area has changed. But as the school says, ‘it doesn’t stop us hoping and trying to attract a more diverse demographic.’

Parents cite the ‘village school’ atmosphere as one of their main reasons for choosing Maple Walk. ‘There’s a nice, cosy, community feel,’ said one. ‘I liked the fact that it is small, pioneering and affordable,’ said another. ‘It’s a really vibrant, eclectic community.’ Parents emphasise how happy their children are – ‘mine will look back and feel they’ve been part of something really special and exciting’.

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