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We’re not ones to be bowled over by shiny facilities (if anything, we’re suspicious of too much gloss) but Highgate Juniors is a prime example of how sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Parents we spoke to used superlative after superlative to praise teaching staff, likening the partnership between parents and teachers to ‘a long journey with two-way trust’.  Pupils said their teachers are ‘all just so much fun’. The staff we saw were generally...

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What the school says...

The Pre-Preparatory department occupies 7 Bishopswood Road and is headed up by Mrs Diane Hecht.

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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

Principal of junior school

Since 2002, Mark James (50s). BA in theology from Nottingham University, followed by a PGCE in English from the London Institute and an MA from King's College London. Grew up in Somerset where he worked for a term at Wellington School. Started career in the state sector – Tiffin grammar in Kingston – then Emmanuel School, followed by a decade at Dulwich College and a stint at the Southport School in Queensland, prior to making the transition from secondary to primary education, becoming deputy head at King’s College Wimbledon junior school. It was under his leadership that Highgate Junior was transformed from an all-boys 7-13 prep into a modern mixed 7-11 school. ‘We’re not a prep school,’ he was swift to point out. ‘Our pupils don’t have to sit an entrance test for the senior school; education is a marathon, not a sprint.’ In today’s ferociously competitive education landscape in north London and beyond, this is a not only a unique formula but, in our opinion, a winning one.

Parents past and present unstinting in their praise for this head who is, they say, ‘the heartbeat of the school’. Enormously likeable; an enthusiastic can-do character with just the right mix of gravitas and approachability to keep the (sometimes overly) ambitious parent cohort in check (‘when parents challenge us on whether the maths here is advanced enough, I point them in the direction of the year 11 GCSE results’) and the pupils bouncing into school every day. Seemed happy to have sacrificed his position as director of admissions for the senior school (aka THE man to know in north London) to focus solely on headship. His wife is also a teacher and they have two daughters – both of whom who have gone through Highgate School.

Head of pre-prep since 2012, Diane Hecht DCE (50s). Previously deputy head of St Columba's Junior School in Kilmacolm, she came south as two of her grown-up children had settled in London and feels that she has found a wonderfully similar school in Highgate. 'The girls here wear exactly the same tartan skirts as at St Columba's – it was meant to be!' Warm, efficient and enthusiastic.

Entrance

From September 2021 onwards, selective entry at 4+ and phasing out of the nursery (pupils already in the nursery will be able to move up automatically as before); ‘we want to be more accurate with selection,’ says head. Twenty places will be available in 2021 for new pupils to join the final cohort moving up from the nursery, growing to 60 in 2022, to make three forms. At 7+, an additional 50 places are available, to make five forms of 22. Unsurprisingly, places are extremely hard fought for at both entry points, with north London’s finest tutors set to work to help secure an offer. Reportedly ‘a bit of jostling for position’ once the selected 7+ pupils make their entrance but it all settles down pretty quickly under the sensible watch of Mr James.

Exit

Almost all skip up the hill to Highgate School, delighted to have dodged the 11+ process along the way (at the time of our visit, year 6 had just taken their end of year exams – by all accounts a very low key, jolly and supportive process). A small handful depart for eg Latymer, QEB or Henrietta Barnett. Those who are unlikely to thrive in the senior school are advised by year 4 and supported throughout to find the best destination; parents we spoke to said this was handled ‘incredibly sensitively’.

Our view

There are schools (and trust us, we’ve seen a few) and then there’s Highgate Junior School. Tucked into Bishopswood Road, one of the many prestigious residential streets that line the route from Highgate to Hampstead, is – without doubt – the most impressive junior school building we’ve ever seen. ‘I expect you see lots of schools with space like this outside of London,’ mused Mr James; actually, we’ve never seen anything quite like it. Opened in 2016 following a three-year build project financed by the sale of property around the village, the sandstone and glass fascia is more akin to a modern art museum than a school. ‘I’m a convert to the theory that buildings can change behaviours,’ said Mr James. The reception area has a beautiful feature wall by a specially commissioned artist; the first hint of what is to come. Portland fossilised stone provides the interior backdrop with a design which gently curves its way to the upper level. Reptiles and amphibians of various kinds are sculpted into the walls throughout the building to encourage children to explore and discover different surfaces and textures as part of their learning exploration. Light and space abound and from the circular central atrium you can almost see the whole school – inside and out. The hall alone, with its 360 retractable seats, would be the envy of many a secondary school we’ve visited. Classrooms are bright and spacious, with the luxury of having been designed for their specific purposes – art, science, DT, music etc - and many open onto the outdoor space with its small amphitheatre, adventure playground equipment and courts marked out with playground games – all surrounded by the extensive Highgate playing fields.

We’re not ones to be bowled over by shiny facilities (if anything, we’re suspicious of too much gloss) but Highgate Juniors is a prime example of how sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Parents we spoke to used superlative after superlative to praise teaching staff, likening the partnership between parents and teachers to ‘a long journey with two-way trust’. Pupils said their teachers are ‘all just so much fun’. The staff we saw were generally young and energetic; there’s an open-door observation policy with frequent feedback given plus a low staff turnover, and both the professional growth of teachers and their continuity no doubt contribute to the success of the school. From year 3 onwards, classes are full at 22 and although there’s ‘no overt setting’, according to head, there is discrete streaming within the classroom, that can vary from topic to topic. ‘Happiness and safety override everything,’ he says. ‘We want year 6 to be a celebration of childhood with no glass ceilings, rather than a holding room for adolescence’. Hear hear. Art, music, DT, languages and sport are taught by specialists, with not ‘just’ French on the curriculum but a carousel of whatever specialisms lie in the staff room at any given time; at the time of our visit, Mandarin, Guajarati, Italian and Russian each on an eight-week carousel. Pupils then start languages from scratch in year 7. Teaching takes a thematic approach with threads running through all subjects, and humanities subjects such as history capture pupils’ imaginations by looking at world events through eg fashion. Because of school’s selective nature, numbers requiring learning support are quite small. The SENCo (‘absolutely incredible; a really special person’, according to parents) takes one-to-one and small group sessions for those with mild SpLd, although time outside the classroom is kept to a minimum.

‘The creative side of the school is amazing,’ parents told us. More superlatives followed. Drama: ‘fantastic’, art department: ‘amazing’ and music, you guessed it: ‘just fabulous’. Drama on curriculum to year 6. Plays and performances (recently Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Verucca Salt was our guide) take place in either the studio theatre or the lovely open air drama garden, also used at playtimes for quiet chatting. Music feeds beautifully into the plethora of opportunities awaiting pupils once they reach the senior school. There’s a string project in year 3 with all pupils trying the violin and brass scheme for all in year 4. Choirs and ensembles feature heavily in the extracurricular programme. Speaking of which: knitting, sock toy making, gardening, photography, Minecraft, multitudinous sports clubs and much, much more on offer. Clubs and activities tend to be activity based rather than having an academic bent: ‘being interested in things is valuable without a badge or a certificate,’ says head. We quite agree.

Possibly slightly less on the sporty side than more trad preps – particularly before year 4 where all sports are mixed gender, the cause of one or two grumbles from parents who would prefer to focus on competition and excellence – but it’s all here and in true Highgate style is infused with enthusiasm and vigour. Fortunate to share the fabulous facilities of the senior school with the added bonus that the fields, pool and Mallinson Centre are right on the doorstep, pupils play football, cricket, netball, fives plus athletics and swimming and have three games lessons a week. Plenty of fixtures too – girls now pioneering matches in football and cricket – and teams often down to D or E, meaning plenty of chances for an outing and a match tea, with much success; girls' hockey team were recently placed third in Southern Regional Championships. Outdoor education is on curriculum.

Parents describe ‘an incredibly caring’ culture that ‘feels like a family unit’. Pastorally focused, the new director of well-being from the senior school is on site once a week and pupils we spoke to were very clear on who they should go to if they weren’t happy. Head spoke of a real focus on personal development and embedding character skills. As with senior school, there’s a strong philanthropic emphasis; pupils from a local state primary were enjoying use of the outdoor play equipment at the time of our visit; school has partnerships with five or six primaries and shares eg early morning maths sessions, singing, science and general knowledge with them. Frequent visits too to a local care home for the elderly: ‘our aim is for pupils to have a better understanding of what charity really means,’ says head.

Parents commute their children from the near and far parts of north London and report them having a ‘marvellous time’ – we say they couldn’t fail to.

Special Education Needs

Our small learning support department works closely with teachers, parents and outside agencies to support those children who have additional needs. Support is given within the classroom as well as individually and in small groups. Currently we have no children with a statement or EHC Plan.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
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 Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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