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By year 6 it’s all systems go with pupils testing for acids and carrying out electrical projects with circuits, buzzers and lights. Teachers, most of whom are long standing members of the staff room, told us they are frequently ‘blown away’ by the pupils who are ‘so into learning’. ‘Some take the country route, and some take the M25,’ one stalwart told us, ‘but we’re passionate about happy children and they all...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since July 2020, Helen Stanton-Tonner. Previously head of Holland House School in Edgware. Her first headship was at Francis House Prep and she has also been head of pre-prep and nurseries at Swanbourne House School. Was educated in Herts and did a degree in history and literature at the University of Wales. Started her teaching career within the state sector, developing a specialism for teaching and training computing in primary schools. Rose through the ranks to become coordinator for key stage 2 in a large London primary school before taking on an advisory role to support schools with their computing and technology across three London boroughs.

Entrance

Main intakes at 3+ to nursery and 4+ to reception. Non-selective; pupils and parents all interviewed by head and for entry into year 1 and up there are assessments in maths and English. A phased transition began in 2020 to all girls' education - to be complete by 2022.

Exit

Pupils leave in equal measures to the many excellent state and independent schools in close proximity. Popular state options are Henrietta Barnett, Palmers Green High School, Dame Alice Owen, Latymer, Ark Academy, St Michael’s Catholic Grammar, the Jewish Community Secondary and QEG, whilst in the independent sector it’s North London Collegiate, Haberdashers’ Aske’s, Belmont, Queenswood, St Margaret’s Bushey, St Helen’s, St Albans, Mount House, STAHS and Channing. Parents say girls are well prepared for their chosen route, with the school drilling them in past papers from early in year 5 onwards. Head has brought the all-important future schools conversation forward and introduced ‘far more robust’ interview practice to ensure girls are well prepared. Two scholarships in 2020.

Our view

There are happy schools and there are schools that make you grin from ear to ear – Lyonsdown falls firmly into the latter camp. Nestled among the leafy residential streets of New Barnet, somewhere (metaphorically and physically) between London and ‘the country’, the whole school fits snugly into one attractive Victorian villa, with one or two (attached) more modern additions. Not blessed with the acreage one might hope for when swapping a London postcode for EN5, but the site functions perfectly well and girls move around so smoothly that space seems magically abundant. Those we spoke to told us: ‘our school isn’t the biggest, but we love its cosiness’. Well, so did we. The charming nursery boasts the most inspiring outdoor space on the site (there’s not a great deal of competition to be fair); large by any standards and abundantly equipped with everything imaginable to keep little ones skipping into school every day – sand, water and dinosaurs are just for starters; there’s an outdoor reading den and a wonderful pirate ship where, our year 6 guide told us, she ‘had made loads of memories’ during her time there. In the lower school classrooms we stumbled across the reception class in the Buddha position earnestly practising their yogic breathing ‘to reinstate calm after music and movement’. Once they snapped back into action they couldn’t wait to tell us all about what they get up to day in and day out; between trips to care homes and visits from authors, parent cardiologists and medal-bearing grandfathers, we wondered how they found the time to practise their letters and numbers but the quality of the work that festooned the walls and adorned the charming Victorian fireplaces confirmed that they were definitely fitting it all in. Newest facilities include new library, dining hall and science lab.

National curriculum is a ‘starting point’ in most academic subjects, but ‘with frills’, says school. There’s an added focus on problem solving and creativity, particularly in maths, where staff take children off-curriculum for problem solving sessions every week and are covering the KS3 curriculum by the end of year 5. Most subjects are team taught to enable all abilities and aptitudes to receive the necessary attention and there’s no setting, ‘partly to preserve pupils’ self-esteem,’ says school. Specialist teaching for science right from reception and by year 2 pupils are in the newly refurbished lab twice a week, following an ‘investigation-led’ syllabus that cleverly collaborates with maths when it comes to eg measuring and weighing. By year 6 it’s all systems go with pupils testing for acids and carrying out electrical projects with circuits, buzzers and lights. Teachers, most of whom are long standing members of the staff room, told us they are frequently ‘blown away’ by the pupils who are ‘so into learning’. ‘Some take the country route, and some take the M25,’ one stalwart told us, ‘but we’re passionate about happy children and they all get there in the end.’ The part-time SENCo is supported by two teaching assistants to work with the smallish number of pupils with additional learning needs (mainly mild dyslexia or dyscalculia plus some mild ASD). Speech therapy is handled in house and school can support those with EAL needs.

Music on curriculum to year 6 and the newly appointed secondary-trained head of music has ambitious plans to breathe new musical life into the school, with the aim of ‘everyone having a go’. With the snug music room home to piano, glockenspiel and a set of bongos, we wondered how on earth the choir could possibly squeeze in too. But squeeze and sing they do and a spring concert has been added to the performance calendar to supplement the gap between the carol service and school productions (recently Shakespeare Rocks) towards the end of the academic year. Parents love the music assemblies and music café performances, where performers of all abilities are invited to showcase their talents. Piano, violin, flute and voice are the limit of peripatetic lessons; there are no groups or ensembles at the time of writing other than two choirs, but they are high on the wish list, as is MTech. Art and DT are taught as one and thrive under the watch of another secondary-trained head of department. As with music, the art facility is bijoux but functional and the output interesting and of a high standard. School recently voted a finalist in the ‘Excellence and Innovation in Fine Arts’ awards (the only prep school to be placed); ‘it’s all about attitude,’ said the HoD. Under the creative banner these lucky girls cover not just fine, but also digital, arts including animations (‘there’s loads of coding,’ we were informed), textiles and cooking (no boring apple crumbles, though, it’s all sushi and hearty soups). A major focus on STEAM builds on this – there’s a working group of staff to drive this focus and girls code in Python and enjoy robotics club. Visiting experts have recently included female engineers and theatrical make-up artists, and girls have been able to take part in workshops to hone their sculpture skills. No wonder there are frequent successes with art scholarships to eg St Margaret’s and Mount House.

Not much outdoor space for sport on site so girls commute either to Woodhouse College or Barnet Athletics Club for major sports (netball, hockey, football and athletics). Despite the lack of obvious facilities, parents said the provision has ‘really improved’ and that the head of sport ‘gets girls to believe in themselves’ and ‘really goes the extra mile’. Girls assured us that they get their fair share of silverware come tournament time and it was smiles all round when we asked whether team selection was fair; as with all things Lyonsdown, pupils we spoke to glowed with pride when telling us about their friends who had started out in the D team and now played for the As. The large, well-equipped sports hall plays host to PE lessons as well as dodgeball on wet days. Although nothing particularly unusual, there’s something for everyone in the extracurricular programme, and the cherry on top for us on the day of our visit was watching pupils perform in their lunchtime maypole dancing club; incongruous in this multicultural urban setting but the contagious positive energy radiating from such a simple tradition was palpable. No wonder everyone we saw wore such huge smiles.

Vast majority of families are dual income professionals, comprising many ethnicities representative of the locality. Wraparound care is already a major draw for the hard-working parent cohort and set to improve with the introduction of a new homework club ‘to reduce the pressure at home’.

The last word

This little school, succinctly summed up by one happy parent as ‘nurturing within a structured learning environment’, is one to watch. Look past the limitations of the urban site to the staff, who routinely inspire, motivate and nurture, with that ever-present Lyonsdown smile.

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