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The school’s ethos is ‘academic rigour + the joy of childhood’, but while everyone’s always acknowledged its happy, nurturing and creative side, some felt the rigour was not always as taut as it might have been. In a remarkably short time, Mrs Knollys has righted the equation introducing careful monitoring and placing new emphasis on subjects like science and technology. ‘The school is unusual in having...

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What the school says...

It is embedded in our school philosophy that every child should begin and end the day in a happy frame of mind - and NHP is a happy school. In a safe and supportive environment children have the confidence to take intellectual risks in order to stretch themselves academically, to think creatively and to develop a passion for learning.

Kindness and thoughtfulness are defining values of the ethos of the school and we acknowledge and celebrate the qualities and contributions of all our children.
Education is about lighting the fire, not filling the pail and in so doing we enable each child to become his/her own best person. As one parent said 'it is a credit to the school that you are able to see the individual strengths of each child and make them feel special for who they are rather than what they 'should be'.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since September 2019, Mrs Sarah Knollys BA PGCE, who took over on the retirement of founding head Jane Cameron. Educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and Wycombe Abbey, followed by Exeter University (French and Italian) and teacher training at Roehampton University. Started her career at Finton House, then rose through the ranks to senior management at Allfarthing, a successful state primary in Wandsworth. Reverted to the independent sector as founding head of Maple Walk, the pioneer New Model school, before taking over as head of high-flying girls’ prep Glendower. Long connection with NHP, where she served briefly on the board before her appointment.

Experienced, energetic and dazzlingly competent, since her arrival she’s deftly managed to up the academic ante without ruffling too many feathers. ‘She’s not as warm and fuzzy as her predecessor,’ said one-long term parent, ‘but she’s done a great job in assembling a strong leadership team, and we’ve noticed a significant improvement academically.’ A native west Londoner, married with two adult sons, she lives within cycling distance of the school.

Entrance

Luck or an elder sibling has to be on your side to get in as approximately seven names go into the scrupulously fair ballot for every place. One parent, whose offspring squeaked in, said it was a great relief as it is 'definitely the right place for us'. Siblings are always accepted as are applicants from the Acorn Nursery. New entrants in year 7 are welcome, and well supported in finding a year 9 place, particularly those in receipt of a bursary. ‘They have to be able to continue that independent school journey,’ says Mrs Knollys.

Exit

Almost all move on to independent secondary schools (two thirds at 11) with the occasional leaver to Holland Park or Cardinal Vaughan. Destinations include St Paul’s, Wycombe Abbey, Eton, Westminster, Godolphin & Latymer, Latymer Upper, Putney High, Francis Holland (north and south), Wellington, Rugby, Bradfield, Marlborough and the Harrodian. One of Mrs Knollys’ chief objectives has been to strengthen the infrastructure backing up secondary school entrance and she’s introduced measures to ensure ‘every child is given the best possible chance to go to the right school for them’, with candidates given interview practice and advice informed by carefully garnered information. ‘Before we didn’t have the data, now we’re able to talk parents through the process, and say, “the average score here is x, and your child is achieving y.” We can provide them with transparency.’ The benefits of the approach are already reflected in results. One of the main reasons Mrs Knollys’ applied for the job was to work with those staying on to board at 13. ‘They really grow into themselves, and years 7 and 8 years give some parents, particularly parents of girls, time to recognise their daughter might be ready for a different experience.’ Expanding the school to 16 – the eternal question – remains under consideration.

Our view

Turn left at the northern end of Portobello Road and you find yourself in the less exotic Lancaster Road. Here, a typical Victorian schoolhouse – overshadowed by the rather solemn Serbian Church next door – houses the lower school, with years 3 to 5 filling a purpose built building on the other side of the road. Metres away, round the colourful corner of Ladbroke Grove, they have squeezed in a new block for years 6 and 8, including dedicated space for music and art. Mrs Knollys’ focus has been ‘to make the three into a more cohesive unit, providing a smooth transition and continuity through joined up communication.’

The school’s ethos is ‘academic rigour + the joy of childhood’, but while everyone’s always acknowledged its happy, nurturing and creative side, some felt the rigour was not always as taut as it might have been. In a remarkably short time, Mrs Knollys has righted the equation introducing careful monitoring and placing new emphasis on subjects like science and technology. ‘The school is unusual in having two science labs, but science was not previously a high profile subject,’ she says. ‘Now there’s specialist teaching in science from year 3 and maths from year 4, while design technology and computer/IT lessons have been added to the mix.’ Parents with children in higher years have definitely noticed an improvement. ‘My son had been quite bored, but now he is being stretched by some inspiring teaching.’ Families are also grateful for the well organised support they received during lockdown. ‘There was a hugely effective and efficient online programme that managed to strike a great balance between screen and non-screen time and was also manageable for parents.’

The school takes a positive early intervention approach to learning difficulties, and the large SEN department provides excellent support for those who struggle and booster groups for those not reaching their potential. Those who need stretch are also now being effectively reached through initiatives like NACE, the national association which addresses the requirements of able children.

This is an Advanced Thinking School – the only London school with this accreditation – and the evidence is everywhere. We sat in on a fascinating year 6 philosophy class and wanted to vote ourselves when it came to choosing the question for discussion; in fact, we would have paid big money to stay and listen to the intelligent arguments raised. Mrs Knollys has also introduced a valuable post-11+ programme that covers such useful skills as ‘Shakespeare in a day’ and first aid. ‘I wanted to use the time to do something relevant, not just to go to Centre Parc.’

The school is celebrated for its creativity. Super strong music, with several choirs, including a chamber choir which you have to audition for, as well as ones for the less sonorous. In fact, being unable to sing is not considered an option here and you are encouraged to learn an instrument even if 'you can’t play for toffee'. The vast art room (plenty of scope for the next Anish Kapoor) gives the subject high visibility, and Mrs Knollys has integrated drama formally into the timetable from reception to supplement the famed reception and year 1 nativity play, and years 3, 6 and 8 productions.

Differing opinions on the quantity of sport available, some claiming that it was a bit light on the ground – 'they could definitely do more' – and others saying that 'they were brilliant getting him into sport'. All in all, we felt that the consensus from the pupils was that they weren’t missing out and there were plenty of after-school opportunities if you wanted to do more, including martial arts in year 1 and street dance and touch rugby higher up. 'There really is something to interest every type of child,' said one parent about non-sporting alternatives, including chess and coding. Limited facilities mean the school relies on local facilities, but plenty of choice means most children are happy to give something a go. Teaching too is of a good standard and the head, herself an enthusiastic athlete, is keen to have as many fixtures as possible. Parents of very sporty children are generally happy to supplement the in-school offering with external lessons and activities.

Outwardly, NHP appears a laidback school but discipline is key, albeit (hopefully) self-imposed. Messing around lands you with an orange card and 'culpas' are handed out for more serious or repeated offences. These can involve a spell of community service or a detention at breaktime, luckily a rare occurrence. The modern terror of online bullying plus the perils of the internet are areas that the school is extremely aware of, running talks for parents as well as strict supervision throughout. Some parents feel, too, that issues occasionally overlooked in the past have been tightened up under the new regime. ‘Things are being sanctioned properly,’ said one. ‘My son encountered a problem with bullying and the response was immediate and quite forceful. I was very pleased.’ Mrs Knollys has also strengthened the pastoral scaffolding, with a new form tutor role introduced into years 4 to 8 – ‘Now everyone has two members of staff looking out for them.’ Year 5s benefit from the Oppidan mentoring scheme – ‘Children need the support of young adults, who are not their parents and teachers; someone they can discuss things with and explore their future plans. ’Empathy for others (and themselves) is encouraged through ‘kindness week’ and ‘self-care’ journals (for years 5 and 6), and parents and pupils engage actively with the local community contributing books and Christmas boxes to local primaries. We like the sound of the Nurture Week, which encourages staff to take part in anonymous acts of kindness to cheer up someone’s week. There's a school council, enhanced house system and pupil leadership programme.

‘The school has a wonderful energy and strikes a great balance between nurturing and creative and academically rigorous,’ commented one mother. ‘It’s cosy, but not woolly.’

Money matters

Offers two or three bursary places in years 7 and 8, as well as the Jane Cameron Bursary for performing arts awarded in year 4 (which lasts for the length of time the pupil remains at the school). Recipients are recommended by local state schools and by music charity Nucleo. Competition is fierce, but the school hopes to expand the provision over the next 10 years.

The last word

A super happy, nurturing and creative place, which encourages pupils to develop individualism not simply fit into a mould. Now also benefitting from improved attention to secondary school entrance.

Special Education Needs

Notting Hill Prep School has a well established Learning Support Centre that strives to be a centre of excellence. The department is very well resourced and employs a full time Special Needs Co-ordinator. The Learning Centre programmes cater largely for the needs of pupils with mild learning difficulties e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia and those children experiencing some speech and language difficulties. The whole school is very well resourced in terms of IT equipment and the Learning Centre utilises a wide range of SpLD specific programmes, alongside assessment batteries, visual search and cognitive attainment programmes. All pupils preparing for external examinations are able to partake in Thinking Skills and Study Skills programmes and workshops. Similarly, Gifted and Able pupils are able to access a wide range of software designed to stimulate, engage and challenge children. Perhaps the key to the success of the Learning Centre is that there is no stigma involved in using the facilities, as such a wide range and number of children throughout the school enjoy access to the facilities offered there.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
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 Y
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

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