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Parents love its haven-like quality – ‘My son had been through a traumatic time and I wanted somewhere he could feel safe and secure; Lloyd Williamson absolutely offered this’ – and strong community mood.  High aspirations for all build self-confidence. ‘Children who excel are pushed, and those that struggle aren’t made to feel like a reject,’ said one parent. ‘They do plenty of exercise, but there’s no full-on programme of cricket or team games’ ...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Proprietor and co-principal

Since 1999, Lucy Meyer BSc, MPhil (Cantab). Studied neuro- and developmental psychology at Reading University, before taking an MPhil in psychology and education at Cambridge. Then worked in the City for four years. ‘It was a big mistake, but I learnt that teaching is my passion.’ Taught for two years in the state system, followed by a stint at Hampstead Hill pre-prep, before deciding to go it alone. ‘Both systems taught me what I did and didn’t like and I’ve used elements from both.’ The head’s passion for the school is evident (‘I put my heart and soul into it’) and her accessibility (‘Lucy is always available to talk’) and approach (‘She’s clever and sympathetic, not too headmistressy’) are much appreciated by parents. Has been a senior marker for Sats and written academic books for teachers. Married with one daughter at the school.

Co-principal Aaron Williams BEd MSc (psych) PTSRA MBACP is also a psychotherapist in private practice, and works here part time. Like Lucy, he is considered very available and responsive.

Academic matters

Not overly focused on results, but providing both a rich and interesting curriculum and more-or-less tailor-made support for every child. Class size kept very small – ideally, not more than 12, never more than 18 – and well-qualified teachers know pupils well, furthering the school’s goal of fostering ‘individuality, initiative and a love for learning’. High aspirations for all build self-confidence. ‘Children who excel are pushed, and those that struggle aren’t made to feel like a reject,’ said one parent.
In primary years, follows the national curriculum ‘plus’ (French and Spanish, for example, from year 1), and, according to Ofsted, pupils make rapid progress. Reading a particular strength, aided by close attention and a well-stocked library.
School is currently transitioning to become a full secondary school. At this level, despite its diminutive size, the school is able to offer a broad range of subjects at IGCSE, supplementing a core of full-time subject teachers in maths, English, the sciences and French with part-time staff who teach everything from sociology to Afrikaans. ‘We ask the children what they want and customise what we teach accordingly,’ says Lucy. A parent confirms the claim. ‘I said my son wanted to study classical Greek and “hey presto”, they found a Greek scholar. They’re hugely responsive.’ Only one GCSE entrant in 2019, whose percentage of 9-7 grades was 50 per cent. No A levels or IB currently offered.
The school copes well with mild (and the head stresses ‘mild’) learning differences (dyslexia, dyspraxia, cerebral palsy, ADHD) and is quick to spot problems. (‘My son had early learning difficulties,’ said one parent. ‘The school assessed this, communicated regularly with me, and put consistent measures in place to personalise his learning. As a result, he’s made excellent progress.’) Deputy head is SEN trained, and two SENCos guide on differentiated support in the classroom. School also happy to place a child out of year if they feel it’s right.

Games, options, the arts

Not a huge amount of on-site outside space and no gym, but pupils taken daily to the local authority-run adventure playground – ‘better than most playgrounds’, said one parent - which the school has sole use of during the school day. ‘They do plenty of exercise, but there’s no full-on programme of cricket or team games,’ commented another. On-site studio for dance and drama, which doubles for assemblies. Spacious music room, with large peripatetic music staff and imaginative approach to instruction. ‘One boy was bored with the guitar, so I bought a mandolin,’ says Lucy. However, doesn't currently tend towards large scale music or drama performances. Art is more concerned with the built environment than drawing and painting.

Attractive on-site playground for early years and tiny allotment, where younger pupils grow vegetables for in-school consumption. Daily clubs provide plenty of extracurricular enrichment from chess and jewellery-making to languages and ‘funky dance’. Wide variety of out-of-school activities, too. ‘They go on amazingly good outings and are particularly good on Shakespeare, with regular trips to the Globe.’ Annual sleep-away trip, too, to the Isle of Wight – ‘You go across the ocean, so it feels like going abroad,’ says the head. Freshly cooked meals and healthy snacks served in large, bright top-floor dining hall.

Background and atmosphere

Started with just four children in 1998 and named for its principal, the prep remains on its original site – a low-lying 1970s office block, which started life as England’s first family-planning clinic - where the school has slowly spread expanded from a small space to occupy the entire building. In addition, it has established a satellite nursery in Notting Hill, and a new senior school just minutes away.

The senior school (11-16s) is housed in what was once a Catholic working men’s club. Still distinguished by various appurtenances of the faith - such as a supersize statue of Mother Theresa – out of hours its dining hall continues to be used by nuns to feed the poor. Above ground level, the freshly spruced-up space now houses plenty of nice, light classrooms – including a good lab – and an ample common room with table football, and walls adorned with photographs of role models, from Rosa Parks to Freddy Mercury. Velvet sofas and patchwork textiles make it cheerful and welcoming. ‘I want it to feel like home,’ says the head. It currently has some 30 pupils across the senior age range, with plans to expand to around 150.

Strong family feel throughout with staff known by their first names and pupils making friends across the ages. ‘My son knows most of the school, from the older kids to the teachers.’ Virtually all the senior school pupils have moved up from the juniors.

The school is non-denominational and staff as well as pupils very diverse, with plenty of headscarves on display. The overall ethos is an unusual mix of trad and bohemian. So, smart navy-and-gold uniform, with plenty of competitions and silver cups. ‘You have to learn to win,’ says the head – but prizes awarded mainly for less than cut-throat activities, such as the World Book Day fancy-dress competition, where this year’s winning entrant was a latterday Frieda Kahlo.

Parents love its haven-like quality – ‘My son had been through a traumatic time and I wanted somewhere he could feel safe and secure; Lloyd Williamson absolutely offered this’ – and strong community mood. ‘It could be a bit tidier and the admin a bit slicker,’ says one, ‘but when it comes to the warmth, positivity, academic achievements and support from staff, it’s head and shoulders above other schools we considered.’

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pastoral care undoubtedly a strength. ‘Pupils’ personal development is outstanding,’ says Ofsted, and ‘teachers care deeply about pupil’s wellbeing.’ Undoubtedly the imperative here is ‘putting children first’. ‘We’re about making children feel good about who they are,’ says the head. ‘They’re not spoon fed, but we’re very supportive.’

Not the place for ‘snowflakes’, however. The aim is to teach emotional literacy, resilience and how to cope with setbacks. ‘We teach them to fail and think again.’ The head is definitely not encouraging of helicopter parenting. ‘If someone comes to me and says, “Why has my child not got the biggest role in the school play?”, the answer will be: “They didn’t audition well enough. That’s life".’ Parents also expected to back up the school’s expectations. ‘They have to understand that if their child doesn’t love a teacher, they still have to do their homework.’

Firm boundaries mean bullying virtually non-existent - ‘We indoctrinate children in being kind and being part of a group’ – and tolerance is a leitmotif. (The school, for example, is a Stonewall school.) Feel-good factor enhanced by the presence of numerous ‘pre-loved animals’ – dogs, cats, guinea pigs – and the head tries regularly to do something personal for every child, whether that’s bringing in a coin for a coin collector or a special book they might be interested in. ‘Everyone benefits from individual attention.’ Support further enhanced by staff mentoring and a psychotherapist, who is a part-time member of staff. ‘If they’re anxious, they don’t learn.’ As a result, the school is particularly good at addressing the needs of children who may be struggling emotionally elsewhere. ‘One boy, for example, came back to us from a large comprehensive where he was required to be very grown up at 12. Here, there’s no pressure to grow up.’ Overall, a strengthening experience. ‘My children left the school with a true sense of themselves and always talk about how lucky they were to be listened to and be able to voice their opinions.’

Children generally well behaved, disciplinary issues minimal. ‘I have excluded five children in 20 years,’ says the head. Her view is that: ‘children do not want to be in trouble; all behaviours have a reason.’ Parents’ needs, too, well attended to with an open-door policy and wrap-around care from 7.30am to 6pm.

Pupils and parents

Mainly families with two working parents, though the demographic is divided between banker-belt Notting Hill on the Palace Gardens Terrace site and the more boho feel of those attending the Ladbroke Grove school. Plenty of single mums and grandparents funding the fees, plenty of creatives working at the BBC, in design and fashion. A few celebs. Families overall are very international, often here for brief stints while circling the globe, though virtually all speak English fluently. ‘It’s not at all snobby,’ said one local mother. ’Unlike many of the other independent schools in the area, it has a real egalitarian quality, with no veneer of entitlement or privilege.’

Entrance

Children admitted at any age and any time of year - so a welcome port for those arriving unexpectedly from abroad. ‘We don’t have a formal exam, we invite children in for a day’s interview to see if they fit in.’ As a result, the school has a very inclusive, cosmopolitan feel, and Lucy believes is often a good match for ‘square pegs’.

Exit

All prepared for 11+ exams - ‘Exams are part of life; it’s important to get used to the etiquette,’ says Lucy - but, as the school continues to 16, there’s no pressure to depart. Leavers’ destinations are as broad as the intake, stretching from highly competitive independents like St Paul’s and Latymer Upper School to nearby comprehensives (Queen’s Park, Holland Park, St Marylebone and Twyford). Population tends to be fluid with comings and goings at all ages.

Money matters

Fees kept at a reasonable level and paid monthly throughout the year. One 100 per cent bursary available, which can be divvied up and is allocated in the strictest confidence. ‘But it won’t go to someone doing a house extension’.

Our view

Effective, affordable school, providing an intimate, nurturing environment and positive ethos that inspires children to succeed.

Special Education Needs

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