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Lyonsdown School

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Girls used green screen animation software to create a short film about World War II – Those Magnificent Girls in their Flying Machines, we wondered? The raised beds bear the promise of wild strawberries and herbs, and we liked the idea of the ‘big bulb plant’, when every child brings a bulb to school. Most surprising of all, maypole dancing; the ‘royal ribbon dance’, crown atop the maypole....

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since January 2022, Rittu Hall. Taught across all year groups in state primary schools and joined Lyonsdown in 2018, first as a year 2 teacher, then year 6 and head of English. By the time she became assistant head, and then co-head, she was well known to staff and parents, ‘a safe pair of hands to steady the ship after a period of change’. With local knowledge (she grew up in Barnet and went to City of London School for Girls) and two teenage daughters at independent girls’ schools, she is familiar with post-11+ destinations.

She does not want Lyonsdown to be seen as a hothouse but is passionate about building resilience, a soft skill set to prepare for an unknown future, and encouraging girls to pursue every opportunity that comes their way. She has built a team of experienced staff around her whom she encourages to ‘take risks, do things differently’. Parents appreciate Mrs Hall’s accessibility on the school gate: ‘She wants to be the first to know,' they say. Her forthright nature means ‘she doesn’t flounder with advice, and some parents need a firm hand hold’. A great role model for the girls, we are told, she knows all their names and what they’re up to. Mrs Hall has a degree in sociology from the University of London and trained to be a lawyer before doing a PGCE at Goldsmiths.


Proudly non-selective. One-form entry. Main intake into pre-reception at 3+, joined by a few more into reception at 4+. Open mornings, private tours or ‘stay and play’ sessions prior to registration. Occasional places available higher up the school following taster day and informal assessment. Nursery and reception teachers are, we are told, ‘responsive and reassuring’ and ‘fantastic at helping them settle in’.


Eleven-plus offers (including scholarships) from north London and Herts independents (including Belmont, Haberdashers’, St Albans High School) and selective grammar schools (Dame Alice Owen’s, Latymer, Henrietta Barnett). Parents of recent leavers say how well the girls are prepared for transition, not just academically but also in their independence and maturity.

Our view

The Edwardian villa – the school home since it opened in 1906 – sits comfortably in residential New Barnet, not far from the beginning (or end) of the Northern line and on the edge of leafier Hertfordshire. Visitors are greeted by lion sculptures in the attractive front garden and, basking in the sun on the wall behind them, a pair of ceramic lions – symbolic, perhaps, of the ‘bold and brave’ core value that Lyonsdown girls represent. Other mottos, ‘Be kind’ and ‘Be the best you can be’ (emphasis on the ‘you’, our child guide helpfully explains) were democratically voted in by school council. On the day of our visit, little girls from reception took it in turns to jump, feet together, off milk crates, as the teacher, enthusiastically flexing biceps, encouraged each one to find her bold and brave.

Neatly ordered classrooms (the tidiest we have seen) are furnished with clever segmented tables on wheels, pushed together for group work, or separated, as required. Scientific knowledge and enquiry are to the fore: girls excitedly told us how exposure to the cowpox virus gave immunity to smallpox, hence the discovery of the vaccine, and also, in law-abiding fashion, pointed out some science safety rules – tie up hair and do not taste anything without permission. The youngest girls are introduced to basic coding with Bee-Bots and, by the time they reach year 6, are familiar with abstract HTML coding concepts. Girls used green screen animation software to create a short film about World War II – Those Magnificent Girls in their Flying Machines, we wondered? The French resistance, Churchillian speeches and poignant letters from evacuees made for a truly cross-curricular, and ambitious, assembly.

The teaching style, we are told, is ‘very inclusive, no one is seen as different’. Teachers support different learning needs in the classroom as much as possible. Two learning support assistants work closely with years 4, 5 and 6, and girls may sign up for extra online learning to help with 11+ preparation before school. Booster reading and maths sessions for all ages. ‘We try to work with the girls at times to suit them so they don’t miss out on anything they enjoy.’ One gifted mathematician was inspired by a book she was given to read on the lives of Archimedes and Sir Isaac Newton.

Outdoor learning is now embedded in the curriculum – an INSET day lighting fires and whittling sticks on Hampstead Heath left no teacher in any doubt as to the benefits – and free-flow access from reception to the mud kitchen and the water butts provides endless opportunity to get stuck in, and wet, from the earliest years. Every inch of space in the playground is put to good use: a physically challenging climbing frame with fabulous imaginative scope; a ‘loose parts’ (think spare tyres, guttering and traffic cones) play area; and an outdoor story chair where one small child was ensconced with a book. The raised beds bear the promise of wild strawberries and herbs, and we liked the idea of the ‘big bulb plant’, when every child brings a bulb to school and they see what comes up. The wraparound garden includes a forest school and, inaugurated for the coronation, the King’s Pond with solar-powered fountain. Imagination is not lacking but, reassuringly, we did not see any little girls kissing the resident frog; these lively mesdemoiselles will be fully capable of making their own fortune.

We were blown away by large-scale collaborative art works – still-lifes and portraits (each child given a different A4 section to work on, 16 sections pieced together and the identity revealed – imagine the excitement!). No surprise to hear of multiple successes in national art competitions, even acceptance in the Royal Academy summer exhibition. Inspiration across pottery (blue willow chinoiserie on paper plates), artists (Julian Opie minimal self-portraits, Roy Lichtenstein onomatopoeic pop art), textiles (an upcycled wedding dress with lace and feathers, inspired by swans) and royalty (sculpted heads of Charles and Camilla with crowns and cups of tea). The inspirational art/DT and music teachers work together to create a post-11+ project to include museums, concerts and the major end-of-year musical production in the theatre of Mill Hill School – ‘The girls feel very important,’ says one proud mother. Lots of singing echoing around: hymn practice, French carol practice and, we are told, participation in the Young Voices choir when primary school children perform to an audience of 9,000 at the O2. Flutes and violins do not an orchestra make, but there are small ensembles and soloists who perform at assembly.

Clubs are popular at all times of the day: problem-solving, creative writing, yoga, debating, newspaper club (run by girls who edit articles, write book reviews and interview teachers) and, most surprising of all, maypole dancing; the ‘royal ribbon dance’, crown atop the maypole, a coronation highlight. Outside providers offer Mad Science, robotics, karate and LAGAD (gymnastics and dance). One mother told us how her daughter begs to go.

New director of sports has ‘upped the game’, according to one parent, offering variety and encouraging resilience in these once-timid lion cubs. Football, cricket and netball on offer, with tennis also in the mix after a call from parents to make use of Barnet Lawn Tennis club nearby. The introduction of intensive swimming for years 3 and 4, over a two-week period, led to a deafening Hoorah from parents. Barnet league lends an opportunity to play football against local schools and competitive cross-country is now also on offer at Mill Hill School, whose facilities (12 minutes by coach) have broadened the scope of sport, not least on sports day.

While a new relationship is being forged with the Mill Hill School Foundation (Lyonsdown became part of the Mill Hill Foundation in 2022), there is still a backward glance to the traditional education which Lyonsdown set out to provide: houses are named after pioneering women – Nightingale, Parks, Earhart and Anning (Mary, palaeontologist; yes, we had to look her up too). There is moral sentiment in the reconditioned stained-glass windows which speak of Love, Peace, Non-Violence and Right Conduct, and there is an old-fashioned sincerity about the way the girls look out for each other. They unselfconsciously ask each other how they are and notice if someone doesn’t have her breadstick allocation (two each) at break. A chosen few proudly wear ‘playground friend’ tabards and carry them back, neatly folded, on open palms, as if holy treasure. When one school council member was asked why she was suited to the role, she said, ‘because I’m kind and creative’. The founding mothers of Lyonsdown might be surprised to learn that general knowledge and maths quizzes, even trips, with neighbouring boys’ and co-ed schools, are proving popular.

The Happy at Schools Project (THASP) is delivered to staff and children, giving them the vocabulary – ‘bat it away’, ‘flip it’, ‘stay in your own lane’ – to express emotions when things aren’t going well. Wellbeing is a timetabled lesson for every year group and Norman the therapy dog is also around as a calming presence, even to be read to! Diversity week was marked by children devising a personal coat of arms to celebrate heritage, interests and identity. It was interesting to hear girls articulate what it is that makes them who they are, and to celebrate difference in this diverse community.

Most families live within a five-mile radius of the school, roughly one-third from nearby High Barnet and another third from N20/N12 postcodes. We are told that parents work hard and tend to be aspirational for their daughters, appreciating wraparound care (early morning waffles and pancakes) and after-school clubs until 6pm. ‘It’s a massive commitment but we have no regrets,’ says one. Many parents still find time to get involved with Friends of Lyonsdown to help raise funds for extras, most recently playground equipment and a grand piano.

The last word

A local school with a warm, community feel. ‘It’s like sending your children to family for the day,’ says one parent. ‘Academically and pastorally delivering the goods,’ says another. Head’s aim of building confidence and resilience is beginning to pay off: ‘Now I’m at Lyonsdown I can do anything,’ says one little girl with a proud roar.

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