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Make no mistake, these girls work hard. Expectations are universally agreed as being higher than in the past and the Oxbridge whip is cracked harder than it was. But the broad-ish church intake and continuing pastoral emphasis means that academic superstars coexist happily alongside their more pedestrian peers. Parents describe music as ‘amazing’ – for all tastes and levels – from a 50 strong orchestra that plays everything from classical to pop, to jazz bands and chamber choir. ‘My husband isn’t musical at all, but I dragged him along to the latest concert, in which the head of music did an incredible version of Bohemian Rhapsody with the girls, and he absolutely loved it'...

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What the school says...

Northwood College has two very special features: a unique Thinking Skills Programme which enables girls to develop independent and creative thinking that takes them far beyond an exam curriculum and our emphasis on pastoral care which rests on the premise that a happy girl will always achieve her best. Put the two together and you have a school that buzzes with life, where pupils achieve outstanding results.

Our Thinking Skills Programme teaches the girls to understand the way they learn and gives the girls a life skill that will be as useful at university and in the workplace as it is now. Our aim is to raise young women of strong character and generous spirit, who are ready to take on the challenges of the world. We also believe that diversity enhances our school community, thats why we do not confine ourselves only to top exam achievers and offer places to those girls who show the potential to achieve well with a Northwood College education.

From November 2013, Northwood College is joining the Girls Day School Trust (GDST), and combining with Heathfield School for Girls from September 2014, to form an outstanding independent girls school in NW London.
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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

Head mistress

Since September 2018, Zara Hubble, previously head of Northwood College junior school since 2015. Educated at Westonbirt School and City of London Girls, after which she took a Montessori nursery teaching course then a BEd specialising in KS2 at Southbank University. Cut teeth at St Hilda’s in Bushey before joining Heathfield, where she taught year 6 and ultimately became head of year 7. Was persuaded to come to Northwood for one term post-merger with Heathfield in 2014, where she ‘completely fell in love with the school because it quickly struck me that everybody is a somebody here’.

Surprised but elated when it was suggested she went for head honcho (‘junior heads don’t become whole school heads’), she is immensely popular and widely praised for her research-based thinking in taking the school forward and emphasis on taking an already strong pastoral offering to the next level (‘I firmly believe it’s the gateway to academic success – the most successful people I know have the strongest mental health’). ‘It’s as if she was made for the job,’ said one parent; ‘she’s a breath of fresh air, effortlessly motivating everyone around her – you almost want to work there yourself,’ cooed another, with all agreeing that her ‘one of us’ approach means ‘she’s never intimidating, always welcoming and thoroughly lovely’.

Pupils, who describe her as ‘engaging’ and ‘empowering’ and ‘a real listener’, say she has ‘brought new energy to the school’ and love that her door remains wide open at all times – ‘it was a bit scary at first,’ admitted one, ‘but now we realise we really can just drop in with ideas whenever we want.’ And what a striking office it is – flooded with light, with soft and contemporary greys, stunning pupil artwork and a large conference table instead of a desk (‘everyone has something equally important to say here’), all reflecting her inclusive, welcoming temperament.

Youthful, calm poised and sociable, she lives locally with her husband (‘You can never go out in your tracksuit – everyone is a parent or prospective parent,’ she laughs), with whom they have two grown-up daughters, one who works in financial PR, the other studying postgrad medicine at Oxford. Keen skier and book lover.

Entrance

Girls joining senior school from other prep or junior schools take the London 11+ Consortium cognitive ability test, with great emphasis on the interview. ‘But don’t worry if your daughter is quite shy – we are good at finding the spark,’ says school. A few join for A levels, with places conditional on GCSE results (at least five grade 9-5s in total, with 9-7s in the subjects they want to study) plus online test and interview. Occasional places in other year groups (‘we’ve recently been inundated in year 8 – now a very popular year to join’) so worth a call if you’re moving into the area.

Exit

Around 10 to 20 per cent leave after GCSE, with nearly 85 per cent of those who stay moving on to Russell Group or new universities. Recently popular are Queen Mary University of London, UCL, King’s College London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Southampton, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Leeds, Durham and Warwick.

Latest results

In 2020 GCSE, 77 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 61 per cent A*/A at A level (85 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 74 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 39 per cent A*/A at A level (66 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

In the ferociously academic context of this corner of north London, this school has historically favoured a more pastoral bent and value added over striving to be top of the pile when it comes to results. But with pastoral provision gaining increasing recognition as an academic strength, not a ‘softly-softly’ add-on, it should perhaps come as no surprise that results are good.

Make no mistake, these girls work hard. Expectations are universally agreed as being higher than in the past and the Oxbridge whip is cracked harder than it was. But the broad-ish church intake and continuing pastoral emphasis means that academic superstars coexist happily alongside their more pedestrian peers, with neither group feeling undue pressure. ‘Girls are supported to get better results than they thought themselves capable of, but somehow it’s achieved without the hothouse, competitive and non-nurturing environments of some of the neighbouring schools,’ summed up one parent. ‘And they prepare us for well beyond university,’ one pupil told us. 'It’s also about becoming highly employable, so everything we learn is given relevance to the world of work. Why are we learning this? How will it help us in the long run? How can we make sure the learning sticks? These kinds of questions are embedded into lessons, increasingly so as you move up the school.’

Independent thinking is also in the spotlight – staff say it’s the school’s raison d’être, with a full-time cognitive development director ensuring consistency of message and integration across all parts of the curriculum. Even the youngest in the school evangelise about it – ‘teachers don’t spoon feed us’, ‘we are taught that mistakes in learning are good – it’s how you learn’ etc. Lessons we visited bore this out and were interactive (think periodic table bingo), with open-ended questions from teachers, for which girls gave articulate, confident and considered answers. And nobody is resting on their laurels – ‘If I’m being completely honest, I still want the girls to be a bit more feisty – asking more questions, challenging in more creative ways,’ says head. Teachers offer extra classes and clinics not only for those who feel they’re falling behind but to stretch the more able.

Girls choose one modern language from French, Spanish or Mandarin in year 7, one of which must be continued to GCSE. Latin also compulsory from year 7 (not popular with everyone). Setting currently in maths from midway through year 7 and English from year 8, plus in science at GCSE level, although head’s signature evidence-based thinking means it might not stay that way (‘Looking at the latest research, I’m increasingly convinced mixed ability is the way forward so we’re re-evaluating’). Girls take between nine and 11 GCSEs from a traditional curriculum, with non-core options including classical civilisation, drama, music, art plus the very popular textiles. IGCSEs taken in some subjects, at the discretion of each departmental head.

Similarly broad choice of A level options, of which most girls take three, with popular choices including sciences, psychology, economics, maths and music. EPQ compulsory – ‘it isn’t popular with everyone and some girls in my year really didn’t enjoy it, but we all felt glad we stuck it out,’ said one pupil. Historically, there was a disappointingly low take-up of more ‘artsy’ options, reflecting the parent demographic aspiring to careers in the sciences for their daughters, but there has been an increasingly successful push from the school on both the value of doing a subject you really love and that even if you want to be a scientist, you need to be able to express yourself, for which non-science subjects can be crucial.

University application process universally praised by parents and girls. Dedicated full-time careers and UCAS adviser delivers ‘loads of one-to-one advice,’ say parents, plus programme to provide every opportunity for girls to build CV. Visiting advisers are frequent fixtures, eg mock university interviews with admissions staff from Imperial College or staff from nearby Merchant Taylors’ and endless internship opportunities.

Learning support and SEN

Because large number of girls move through from junior school, any SEN usually identified years before arrival in senior school, with seamless transition a major benefit for girls requiring support. Most mild SENs managed in lessons, with only occasional withdrawals.

The arts and extracurricular

Performing arts centre looks newer than it is and includes an excellent drama studio, recital hall with a sprung floor plus well kitted out music tech room and a plethora of instruments from steel drums up. Plenty of opportunities for budding thespians to throw themselves into productions, most recently School of Rock and Daisy Pulls it Off, and although there’s no grand theatre space for such performances, the assembly hall does the job. Parents describe music as ‘amazing’ – for all tastes and levels – from a 50 strong orchestra that plays everything from classical to pop, to jazz bands and chamber choir. ‘My husband isn’t musical at all, but I dragged him along to the latest concert, in which the head of music did an incredible version of Bohemian Rhapsody with the girls, and he absolutely loved it,’ one parent told us. Singing is a biggie here, including head’s popular new Monday morning singalongs – ‘there’s something really special and tribal about group singing that gives you a real feeling of belonging.’ Art popular, with three large studios, lots of talented work on display throughout the school, and an animated head of art. Extracurricular activities mean there’s something for everyone – from the active to the cerebral. School supportive of girls pursuing interests or sports to a high level outside of school.

Sport

Doesn’t boast the most gleaming array of facilities we’ve ever seen and the field is tiny, but for what is essentially a London school, it’s well enough equipped. Stand out facility is the recently refurbished 25m pool – with everyone swimming all year round and weekly lessons for years 7 to 9. Sports hall has a new climbing wall used both in PE lessons and by clubs. Gym also attractive and well equipped, apparently well used at lunchtimes by older girls. PE and games compulsory even in sixth form, with girls playing to a high level in netball, plus tons of extracurricular sports on offer to suit all tastes – hockey, badminton, football, cricket basketball, yoga, you name it. Perhaps not the most obvious choice for super sporty types, parents told us – ‘it’s not sports-crazy or fiercely competitive, although we are getting better in matches and the new director of sports seems to have a better vision,’ said one. But for every girl that agreed, one seemed to disagree – ‘Sport is my absolute love and I’ve never felt I’ve missed out here,’ said one, with a number of outstanding gymnasts and swimmers attending the school.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1878 in Endsleigh Gardens, Bloomsbury, with around 25 boarders and a handful of day girls. Headmistress Miss Buchan-Smith, concerned about the unsavoury influence of the Euston area on her girls, moved the school to its current site in Northwood in 1893. The current front building – red-brick late arts and crafts with leaded lights – was opened for 20 boarders and just two day girls. The Briary, next door, accommodated little boys, and although they are long gone, school pays tribute to those who went on to fight and fall in the two great wars with an annual wreath laying at Ypres.

Joined Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) in 2013 as a precursor to merging with Heathfield School, already a member of the Trust, with Northwood girls now benefiting from participation in GDST music and sport competitions, and in conferences on eg Oxbridge application, as well as access to travel scholarships and to an alumnae network numbering some 75,000 members, bringing a healthy pool of work experience and internships in which to fish. Staff also benefit from additional training and development opportunities, which bears obvious fruit in the classroom.

Space is at a premium and the plethora of disparate buildings wouldn’t win any beauty contests, but somehow it all hangs together nicely in this urban setting to create a cosy and unintimidating atmosphere - and all aspects are highly functional. The library is among the most attractive we’ve seen – once the original gym, it is now a contemporary Scandi-style space, in the same mute greys and whites of the head’s office (same interior designer) and lovely mezzanine level for fiction. The homely sixth form common rooms buzz with chatter, and there’s plenty of seminar rooms and quiet working space for this upper end of the school who feel well looked after. The dining room, although not huge, is light and airy and we enjoyed tasty fodder and plenty of choice. Most striking to visitors is the calm – almost serene – atmosphere that pervades the school. Smiling faces are everywhere to be seen and parents and pupils report supportive behaviour between girls. New sixth form centre to open soon.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral support has long been the backbone of this school, although some might say it’s been a double-edged sword, giving it a reputation of being the softer option among local schools. The reality is, say pupils and parents, that the ‘strong school community’ and ‘ethos of kindness’ which permeates every aspect of school life has a direct impact on learning - ‘I can be myself here,’ said one pupil.

Behaviour-wise, there are minor transgressions only in the main, and these mainly tiny bumps in the road to adolescence, reportedly dealt with ‘brilliantly and sensitively’, with school focusing on discussion and resolution (including coaching), although there is a detention system. ‘They hear both sides of the story and keep an eye on girls they need to,’ said one parent. Older girls pick up concerns of their younger peers and head reports ‘very few’ eating disorders or instances of self harm – highly commendable in an academic girls’ school; ‘we don’t value aggressiveness.’ Lots of talks for parents and pupils alike on subjects such as social media and cyberbullying. There is a strong house system with competitions in anything and everything, the highlight being the house music competition in which every girl participates.

Pupils and parents

Majority from British Asian backgrounds although all cultures and religions represented (there’s a multi-faith prayer room for free use by girls as and when) and a more sensible and earnest cohort you’d be hard pushed to find. No reports of cliques, and girls we met appeared to work towards their own best, not someone else’s, as well as genuinely celebrating each other’s achievements and thinking outwardly – ‘these girls have a huge moral compass,’ one parent told us. Parents, many of whom are dual income, are – as one put it - ‘just normal and down-to-earth. You don’t get many of the mums who have been home all day and turn up done up to the nines.’ Wide-reaching coach routes transport girls from Ealing, Edgware, Kenton, Gerrards Cross and Pinner, while proximity to Northwood station on the Metropolitan line gives easy access from both directions – a good job given the ‘nightmare parking’ reported by parents.

Money matters

A few means-tested bursaries – up to full fees for particularly deserving cases. Scholarships for academics, art, music and sport.

The last word

If neighbouring options feel too large, aggressive or hothouse, this may be just what you’ve been looking for. All things pastoral are at the very heart of what they do and this, combined with a purposeful culture and vibrant and evidence-based teaching, means Northwood girls emerge as independent thinkers, confident communicators and happy all-rounders, with nobody left festering in the background.

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

In the Junior school at Northwood College, 2 part time staff are employed to offer support to individual girls and to small groups, notably to girls who may be dyslexic. In the Senior school, girls have access to a special needs teacher. They have one to one lessons. This support is available to girls with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. There is an extra charge for this.

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

Who came from where


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