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Inspirational staff: ‘some really, really good teachers’, say parents, who take time to really understand individual strengths and weaknesses. Feedback is ‘spot on, not cut and paste’, says one parent. Comprehensive, well-oiled pastoral care system in place and girls have an array of people to turn to when they hit bumps in the road: form tutors, heads of year, assistant heads, senior girls. Extracurricular activities delivered with...

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What the school says...

Our prep school is known as James Allen's Preparatory School and takes girls 4-11, but is part of James Allen's Girls' School.

Entrance criteria for the senior school is as follows: 11+ applicants attend a pre-selection morning in the autumn term, followed by the entrance exam in January. There are no one on one interviews except for scholarship assessments. They are assessed in Mathematics, English and Reasoning. 12, 13 & 14+ Chance Vacancy applicants are assessed in Mathematics, English, and Reasoning in early January. 16 + applicants are invited for interview and sit a Critical Thinking test and essay in November; offers are dependent on GCSE results and a reference from the previous school. Applications for all year groups should be made by the end of October in the year preceding entry. Up to around 20 Academic scholarships are awarded on the results of the 11+ Entrance Examination and we also offer scholarships in Music, Art and Sport. Scholarships are valued between £1000-£4000 per year. Lastly, means-tested bursaries are available across all year groups. ...Read more

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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

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

Headmistress

Since September 2020, Alex Hutchinson, formerly head of Woldingham School. Has held a range of roles in day and boarding girls’ schools, including chemistry teacher at JAGS, head of science at St Mary’s School, Ascot and head of sixth form at Wimbledon High School. Read chemistry at St Edmund Hall, Oxford; PGCE from Bristol. Married to Chris, headmaster of Royal Russell School.

It’s no wonder she’s won the respect of parents and girls so quickly. She is immediately impressive and likeable, as well as straight-talking, intelligent and thoughtful. An excellent listener with an easy manner. Has adopted a very practical, see-the-bright-side approach to what has been an extraordinary first year, dominated by Covid: ‘I have seen the community responding to a crisis and there’s no better lesson’, she says. ‘Everybody has been very kind and unbelievably supportive’. Thrilled by her new role: ‘When the headship was advertised, I was like, “Oh my goodness”’, she laughs. Committed to preparing girls for the real world, and to creating a school that is genuinely representative of its south-east London community. Seems humbled by the opportunity to lead the school: ‘Yy priority is to listen and learn’. Key observations so far? ‘It’s very real, authentic, diverse, gutsy – not an ivory tower’.

A keen sportswoman, though she plays less hockey than she used to (‘It wasn’t that I was getting slower, but that others were getting faster’, she grins). Nowadays, ‘anything outdoors is relaxation’, particularly with her ‘hilarious’ spaniel in tow. This wholesome approach informs her attitude towards the wellbeing of the young people in her care: ‘We’ll never be complacent about academics, but it’s not about spending an extra hour on your homework to get it perfect, it’s about getting to hockey practice’. Parents mainly delighted by this philosophy, though one or two we spoke to would rather their daughter spent that time on her prep. Regardless, we were pleased to see that pastoral care is absolutely front and centre: ‘It’s about the total package’, she says.

Entrance

Main points of entry are 11+, deferred 13+ and 16+. The entrance process has recently changed. All candidates will now sit the online ISEB Common Pre-test between November and January of year 6 and are also invited to attend Welcome Morning assessments and interviews in the autumn term.  At 11, over 500 apply for 130 places. Offers are made in mid-February. No sibling preference. Nearly 95 per cent of James Allen's Junior School girls come straight up to Senior School via automatic entry.

For occasional places in other years, candidates sit tests in maths, English and reasoning (non-verbal, verbal and numerical).

Places in the sixth form are dependent upon a critical thinking test and essay, GCSE results, school reference and interview.

Exit

Most head for university. Popular destinations include Bath, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, King’s College London, Imperial, LSE, Manchester, UCL and York, as well as colleges and universities in the USA and Europe (including Duke, Princeton and Amsterdam). Five to Oxbridge in 2021, and seven medics. Girls choose a wide variety of courses eg Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, computer science and maths with industrial experience, aeronautics and astronautics, Hispanic studies and economics and Japanese studies. Usually some off to top art institutions, including Central Saint Martins, City and Guilds and Camberwell College of Arts. Others pursue degree apprenticeships.

Years 12 and 13 mixed in vertical tutor groups, allowing year 12s to get a sneak peek at the UCAS process before they go through it themselves and then giving them a handy group of contacts to drop in on when doing university visits.

Latest results

In 2021, 99 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 93 per cent A*/A at A level. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 91 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 71 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

Excellent results throughout. Maths, biology, chemistry lead the pack for popularity with history and English literature close behind. Girls normally take 10 GCSEs.

Strong results in chemistry, maths and English, as well as smaller subjects including drama, politics and religious studies. Good performances in modern foreign languages too: French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese and German all taken in healthy numbers, bucking the trend elsewhere. Two of these must be studied until end of year 9. Bilingual girls can take a foreign language GCSE early but otherwise pupils take all subjects at end of year 11. Maximum class size is 25 in lower school, smaller at GCSE and A level.

Inspirational staff: ‘some really, really good teachers’, say parents, who take time to really understand individual strengths and weaknesses. Feedback is ‘spot on, not cut and paste’, says one parent. ‘My daughter feels excited and challenged by her work’, says another. Some suggested that years 7 and 8 are relatively gentle, with expectations and pressure ramping up in year 9. More than half the teachers have been here over a decade. Males are well represented, making up around a third of the teaching body . A multi-talented staffroom, it seems: the staff Christmas panto is a hot ticket.

‘The only person you compete with is yourself’, says the head, and though we suspect that some parents and students do have an eye on how peers are doing, we did not find too many sharp elbows. If academic problems arise, parents feel they are dealt with quickly and efficiently, and there’s no stigma around getting extra help. Setting in maths from year 8, though sets are fluid with plenty of moving up and down as required. We found no tutoring culture: ‘the school does a lot of stuff, so you don’t need to supplement’, explained one father.

Bountiful opportunities for academic development beyond the curriculum. Co-educational enrichment programme, joint with Dulwich College, gives sixth formers the chance to study anything from pop music to religious fundamentalism. Girls routinely perform well in junior and senior maths challenges. One student recently recognised in Oxford Science Schools Essay competition for her entry on creativity in science.

Parents felt the school found it ‘difficult to get into the swing’ of online teaching during the first lockdown in summer 2020, but that teachers and pupils got much more comfortable with the model second time around. A positive focus on spending time off-screen, too – one assembly slot was dedicated to creating origami animals.

Learning support and SEN

Small numbers with special needs. School can support girls with relatively mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, limited sight and hearing. Two SENDCos in the school. ‘We don’t have girls who need a lot of one-to-one attention here,’ explains school. Girls must be able to keep up with the snappy pace so would not suit a pupil with profound difficulties, though adjustments are certainly made to support SEN pupils where possible.

The arts and extracurricular

Music is high profile and taken seriously. All the parents we spoke to raved about the exceptional quality – ‘It’s a big deal,' we heard. The Gustav Holst music hall (Holst was Director of Music here) hosts ‘fantastic’ concerts. ‘Brilliant’ new music centre opened in 2018 – Vaughan Williams Auditorium (he was a music teacher here) seats 500 and hosted BBC Question Time. Orchestras, ensembles, choirs and bands galore. ‘The school takes a lot of trouble to make sure that the girls enjoy it, as do us parents’, sayid one appreciative father. Super practice rooms and suites for music tech. Almost half learn an instrument and play to high levels. Girls regularly win places in national youth choir and national youth orchestra.

Collaboration with Dulwich drama department. Lively middle and senior school productions include a healthy mix of frothy musicals and more heavyweight plays. Performances considered to be sharp and sassy; slick sets and costumes have West End feel. Girls take part in everything from shadow theatre to hip-hop workshops to ‘speed character creation’ with an assortment of hilarious props – school ensures there’s something for everyone. Those less keen on the limelight are involved behind the scenes. GCSE and A level drama offered but lots more get involved off timetable.

Three art rooms and a dedicated printing room. Popular throughout the school with around half choosing art for GCSE. Displays of art and DT work around the school, including radios and board games, reflect the high standards. Pupils often finalists at TeenTech Consumer Innovation Awards for their inspired creations.

Other extracurricular activities delivered with characteristic panache. Debating team performed well in their first John Stuart Mill Cup recently. As part of the Southwark Schools Learning Partnership, the girls collaborate with students from Dulwich College, Alleyn’s and 7 local maintained schools for Glee Day, Model United Nations and anti-racism conferences, and recent Thinking About Engineering event.

Plenty of trips abroad. History department heads to China, art department heads to New York, RS girls to Israel, others do voluntary work in Uganda, as well as regular trips by the MFL department to Europe. The cap on costs of trips has been lifted, with bursary girls being supported by funding from the school. Ski trips popular.

Sport

Masses of it. Netball and athletics considered to be especially strong – JAGS had the most female entries of any school in recent London Virtual Cross-Country event. School boasts its own pool, one of the best school pools around, and 22 acres of grounds. Enviable amount of space for matches and practice, which shows in their results. Parents we spoke to were satisfied with the amount of sport their daughters were doing; even those who are not A team players get involved in house competitions. Extraordinary climbing wall to challenge all levels. Girls can opt to row from year 11 but given that the school’s boathouse (shared with Dulwich College) is a coach trip away in Putney, parents we spoke to felt it was unlikely to become a major sport.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1741 by the eponymous James Allen, a man ‘skilful as a skaiter; a jumper, athletic and humane’, according to the inscription on his portrait – this makes JAGS the oldest independent school for girls in London. Part of a foundation set up by Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn in 1619 to prepare poor boys for apprenticeships or university education, which also includes Dulwich College and Alleyn’s. Lots of collaboration and integration between the three schools at every level.

Visionary JAGS science teacher Dr Lilian Clarke pioneered botany teaching in the nineteenth century – the Botany Gardens that she established in 1896 are still looked after by the girls today. JAGS remains passionate about ecology – ‘The eco side of things is shouting loud’, we are told. As a Green Flag school with Eco Schools England, JAGS has committed to becoming zero-carbon by 2030. Girls participated in the Youth Climate summit, part of the national Let’s Go Zero campaign, and recently took part in The Big Pedal, a national competition to get more pupils and staff cycling to school. ‘It’s really important that we make good use of our grounds in terms of wellbeing’, says the pastoral lead, who excitedly outlines plans for forest school, gardening ‘and just being outside’ – a way of life that is already well embedded at the prep. JAGS used to have an onsite beekeeper; one of the technicians makes chutneys to sell at Founder’s Day from produce grown in the greenhouse.

Ethnic and socio-economic diversity are fundamental to the ethos. 'It's not a conscious thing, it’s a matter of course’, said one parent. Some edges have been smoothed out – cars at drop-off are a little smarter than they used to be – but girls embrace and celebrate the variety of backgrounds here. Stephen Lawrence Day marked by activities and discussions throughout the school. Christian foundation worn lightly – many girls are of different faiths and none – but charitable work viewed as important. Southwark Schools Learning Partnership again facilitates this: JAGS arranges Latin classes at Charter School next door; pupils from St Saviour's and St Olave's come in for Computer Science A level classes.

A school that looks forward and outward whilst remaining aware of its roots: JAGS’ houses are named after significant figures in the school’s history.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Comprehensive, well-oiled pastoral care system in place and girls have an array of people to turn to when they hit bumps in the road: form tutors, heads of year, assistant heads, senior girls. Robust monitoring system means that concerns get followed up as appropriate. Mental health first aiders from years 12 and 13 are in the wellbeing pod, right outside the year 10 and 11 office, every breaktime (‘rec’) and lunchtime – we hear that they get overrun with girls just wanting to go in for a chat.

Lots of vertical friendships. ‘Sister groups’ within the school means that every girl gets a postcard from her new big sister before she joins and is then part of a family from day one. House system means girls in different year groups work together. Girls feel there is always someone there for them. ‘Unless they feel that we genuinely support them, they won’t thrive’, says the school.

Three school counsellors, including a CAMHS counsellor, as well as sixth form counsellor, youth worker, school chaplain and her dog, Lina, who is in hot demand – a calming, non-judgemental presence, she has her own Twitter account and is something of a local celeb. Girls are good at looking out for each other; assemblies on self-esteem and a ‘happy being me’ programme aim to address problems head on. JAGS girls ‘handle difference without batting an eyelid’, we hear – ‘Diversity is not new to us’, says the head, ‘we are historically diverse’. Lively LGBTQ+ society. Uniform allows girls ‘to be themselves’ – lots choose to wear trousers or shorts. Uniform can also be adapted for faith. School has just adopted the Halo Code, which ‘guarantees members of the black community the freedom and security to proudly wear their Afro-hairstyles without restriction or judgment’.

Lots of opportunities to bond at the start of year 7. External joiners and junior school girls mix well. Bullying is rare and girls are taught the importance of being kind from early on. The way the girls interact with each other is crucial and the school will come down quickly on anyone who misuses social media. Bringing the school into disrepute at weekends not tolerated.

Pupil and parent surveys feed into what’s covered in PSHCE, and the girls feel that they are listened to. Parents are invited in for talks on any of the topics covered in PSHCE, often delivered by outside speakers who are experts in their fields. Regular ‘Speak up, speak out’ days give girls the opportunity to speak out about what’s important to them. One parent told us how nice it is when the sensitive topics discussed come back as dinner table conversations: ‘they’re encouraged to have opinions, and even if the school doesn’t agree they give them a forum’. Girls are very good at using their voices, says the head – parents and students agree that they are articulate, forthright and brave.

We visited shortly after the emergence of the Everyone’s Invited website, which prompted a lot of questions in the press around how independent schools were educating young men and women about sexual consent. Red ribbons were tied to the gates outside JAGS in response to the emerging national situation. ‘We are never complacent on this, and come from an incredibly strong position on safeguarding; our diversity and inclusion agenda is really advanced and really strong’, Mrs Hutchinson told us. The school sees this as a chance to build on the work they are already doing: they have established a new gender equity group, giving students a forum in which to discuss gender inequity in society and encourage them to affect positive change.

Pupils and parents

Over 50 languages spoken at home. Though some pupils are from affluent backgrounds, there is a sizeable proportion of the squeezed middle that is working very hard to pay the fees. Parents are doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, hairdressers, bus drivers and students, as well as media folk. Most families are dual income. Hard-working fathers and mothers serve as role-models to the girls, who appreciate the value of their education and don’t take it for granted.

Pupils come from far and wide, though majority from south-east London. ‘Not all Dulwich folks’, say parents – whether from Beckenham, Croydon or the City, JAGS is a school worth travelling for, it seems. Coach service shared with Alleyn’s and Dulwich means travel from long distances is manageable.

Money matters

Academic, art and music scholarships available at 11+, 13+ and 16+; sport scholarships at 11+ and 13+. Scholarships are worth up to £4,000 pa, though most are £1,000 pa. Around 130 girls currently on some form of bursary, with over 50 on totally free places. Ambition is to become completely needs-blind – one of the schools leading the way on this. A few 16+ scholarships (£1,000) based on GCSE results but girls keep it pretty quiet – bragging is frowned upon here.

The last word

We found humour everywhere – a ‘genuinely good-natured place filled with noise and silliness’, we were told. Mrs Hutchinson giggles as she recounts the moment when she came out of her office to see a pantomime cow curtseying to the portrait of James Allen. Throw in an exceptional approach to bursary provision and boundless opportunities, and you’ve got a truly brilliant environment in which clever local girls can thrive. JAGS has always produced articulate, ambitious, confident yet modest students – we think that under Mrs Hutchinson’s leadership there’ll be more colour, buzz and laughter than ever.

Please note: 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.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

We are not a schoool which specialises in SEN and we have no in-class support or withdrawal teaching, other than for a statemented severely hearing impaired pupil. We do have a SENCO and staff alert her to pupils whom they think should be tested for SEN. We have a number of girls with mild dyslexia, mild dyscalculia and mild dyspraxia. A few use laptops. Candidates with SEN have to be of the appropriate academic standard for entry to the school, but are given extra time in the English Entrance examination and are able to use a laptop for it. Our SENCO provides some one-to-one support for individual pupils outside of lesson times and provides all staff with guidance and strategies for teaching pupils with SEN. We endeavour to provide extension work for gifted and talented pupils in all areas and have allowed exceptionally talented musicians to have a reduced academic timetable to allow extra practice.

Who came from where


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