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Most subjects are taught by class teachers but science is led by a dynamic former research scientist from King’s College London. She teaches girls from year 1 and enthuses them about the subject from the start – everything from snail races to learning how to purify water. ‘We need to get girls passionate about science from a young age,’ she says...

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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

Since 2013, Silvana Silva BEd (50s). She arrived at the school as a year 4 class teacher in 1989 and has stayed ever since. Deputy head for 11 years before taking the top job. A north Londoner by background, she attended St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School in North Finchley and did her degree at Roehampton University. She always wanted to teach and previously taught at primary schools in west London. ‘But as soon as I walked in here in 1989 I thought, this is for me,’ she says. ‘Everything has always been new and exciting.’

A positive, energetic and sympathetic head, she is very proud that the school was named as the Sunday Times independent prep school of the year in 2018. Much liked by pupils and parents. ‘We offer academic excellence in a happy and relaxed environment,’ she says. ‘The girls have to be happy and they are our number one priority. Pastoral care is paramount for us.’

She still teaches both reception classes once a week and says it’s the best part of her job. ‘It’s really important to get to know all the girls and their personalities,’ she says. ‘They are full of life and joy and love telling me about their day.

Married (her husband works for John Lewis), with one grown up son. She’s a great believer in ‘healthy mind, healthy body’ and in her spare time enjoys going to the gym, theatre and spending time with her family.

Entrance

The two main entry points are 4+ and 7+. At 4+, 100 applicants try for 40 places – two reception classes of 20 each. The girls are observed in groups of three or four doing ‘nursery style activities’ (playing, interacting and talking to junior school teachers). No formal reading or writing required. At 7+, 30 to 40 apply for an additional eight year 3 places. Girls are tested in maths, writing and verbal reasoning. Girls who do well in the test are invited back for a short, informal interview and a tour. The school is full but places occasionally come up in other years (mainly due to families relocating).

Exit

Virtually all (93 per cent in 2020) progress to the senior school at the end of year 6. Confirmed, unconditional offers of places for the senior school are made in the spring term of year 5. The juniors still take the senior school entrance test with outside applicants though – so they can be considered for scholarships on an even footing. A few leave at 11 for other senior schools (such at St Paul’s Girls’, Godolphin & Latymer and Lady Eleanor Holles) but the assumption is that once they join the junior school they’re here for the duration.

Our view

The national curriculum is watched but certainly not slavishly followed. Girls do key stage 2 Sats – the head says teachers find them useful to track the girls’ progress. ‘It’s all very low key,’ she adds. ‘There is a bit of preparation but no angst about them. It’s just part and parcel of what we do.’ Teachers focus on developing literacy and numeracy, with daily lessons in each subject. The school is rightfully proud of its integrated curriculum, introduced eight years ago. Designed ‘to give meaning to humanities subjects’, each year group from year 1 to year 6 is given a theme (anything from pirates to the First World War). When we visited year 6 pupils were studying the geography of the First World War battlefields and having philosophical discussions about what is worth fighting for.

Most subjects are taught by class teachers but science is led by a dynamic former research scientist from King’s College London. She teaches girls from year 1 and enthuses them about the subject from the start – everything from snail races to learning how to purify water. ‘We need to get girls passionate about science from a young age,’ she says. Computing (lots of coding) and Mandarin are taught from year 1 onwards. French and German are offered as after-school clubs. Other clubs run at lunchtime and after school include computing, sewing, animation, art, touch typing and yoga.

Sensible levels of homework. Reception pupils get reading every evening, year 1s take spellings home and year 2s and up have homework – once a week in year 2, four nights a week in year 5 and every night in year 6 (but only for 30 minutes). Every so often homework is suspended and girls take part in an ‘open homework’ project – subjects range from hopes and dreams to heroines (choices included Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai; one girl nominated her granny). Girls have two PE lessons a week (gym, dance, netball, cricket), with weekly swimming from reception through to year 4.

The school is academically selective so while some have learning support for dyslexia and dyscalculia they must be able to cope with the pace of the curriculum. Support given one-to-one or in small groups. Strong links with the senior school. Girls from years 7 and 10 come and read to their junior counterparts, year 12s run a Minimus Club for year 4 girls and many pop in to say hello to their former teachers. Music, led by a former professional opera singer, is a tour de force. Girls take instrumental lessons from year 3 and there’s an 80-piece orchestra. Plenty of opportunities to perform in concerts, bands and choirs too.

The junior school is located in a well-kept Victorian villa on a quiet residential road. It’s on the same site as the senior school, with a green Astroturf, playground and south-facing garden at the back. Whole school assemblies are held twice a week in the junior hall but the junior girls also use the senior school’s impressive hall and indoor swimming pool. The girls, in jaunty navy and red uniforms, walk across to the senior dining room for lunch. They all belong to one of four teams which compete for an annual team cup. Great emphasis placed on self-esteem, confidence and being happy at school and as girls progress through the school they take on responsibilities such as acting as ‘playground pals’ to younger pupils and elected reps on the school council.

Most pupils live relatively nearby. The majority have two working parents (lots of doctors, lawyers and media types) and the school runs a breakfast club from 7.30am and an after-school club till 6pm, both run by staff rather than an outside agency.

An academically excellent school that nurtures its pupils and helps them to develop into happy, confident girls. The head says that it’s vital that the girls are happy – and they really are.

Special Education Needs

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