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Spectacular drama full of West End wow: unsurprising once you know the Thomas’s schools have their own technical dept staffed by industry professionals. This doesn’t stop pupils behind the scenes applying stage make-up, creating posters, prop making. Every subject is under an impressively rigorous continual review. A major focus is developing a new curriculum for the upper years as the landscape for 11+ and CE exits changes. Spanish joins the mix...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2017, Simon O’ Malley (50s); MA English lang and lit from Aberdeen, followed by a PGCE in English with drama and games coaching at Westminster College, Oxford. Previously positions have taken him in and out of London and across the world: most recently at Wellesley House, Broadstairs where he was head for 12 years; initially The Banda School in Kenya, where he went for two years and returned after seven having met and married his wife Katy – they have always worked together; she is resident art teacher.

As impeccably immaculate as his school: we omitted to ask Mr O’Malley how he felt about his inclusion in Tatler’s list of hottest headmasters. To our mind, a keen Roger Sterling, the silver-haired ad man of Mad Men, he credits his selection for this most sought after of jobs to his empathy with the cultural values of the school and perhaps his own sound-bitey vision for a school in perpetual growth mode – Better Never Stops. Sporty, he runs to and from school, has recently completed his first London marathon and enjoys golf and cricket. He has two grown up children.

Despite his taking over from the much-loved Ben Thomas, parents are on board and full of praise: ‘He is approachable, intelligent and cares, a lot’. ‘He seems to have time for everyone… one morning he will be at a music recital, the same afternoon at an away cricket match.’ ‘Very inspirational. I really feel he loves what he is doing.’ Children smile his way and he congratulates achievement as we go.

Entrance

Sixty-three reception places. To avoid registration lists closing within weeks of birth the lists are now open between a child’s first and second birthdays. Classes are selected with a balanced mix of births throughout the year and gender. A strong sibling policy reduces places for newcomers significantly. Children are invited to spend up to an hour taking part in small group activities observed by staff: they're looking for confidence to undertake tasks, follow simple instructions, language and social skills. The odd occasional place may arise higher up the school. There is a formal assessment during the Lent term for 11+ entrants, when 20 to 25 places become available. There are a few high value bursaries for pupils joining the school at a higher age.

Exit

A mix of London day schools and out of town notables with many opting for co-education. Over the past five years children have consistently gained places at St Paul’s School, Eton College, Harrow, Wellington College, Westminster School, Marlborough College, Frances Holland, Dulwich College, Bryanston School, Downe House and many more, with a healthy number of scholarships across disciplines.

Our view

A new enquiry-based curriculum is in the pipeline for the whole school aiming to set children up well for a lifetime as learners, whilst still meeting the ultimate hoopla of tests and scholarships. The theme of the week at the time of our visit was ‘perseverance’ and a mother reported as if on cue: ‘My daughter is happy to make mistakes, learn from them and try again. She is not afraid to fail, because she is being taught that mistakes are a positive way to learn.’

Every subject is under an impressively rigorous continual review. A major focus is developing a new curriculum for the upper years as the landscape for 11+ and CE exits changes. Spanish joins the mix from year 7 with Mandarin for younger years. French remains, with advanced classes for the many native speakers. Outdoor learning - not forest school, but adventure based - has proved a big hit with pupils and parents. As befits these digital natives the head is keen to stress the school’s seamless integration of technology into every subject, whether it be use of 3D printing, programming drones, digital photography or iPads in years 4 and 7, giving children the discernment to use them well.

Maximum class size is 22 or 21 in reception. Classrooms are light, bright and spacious, more often than not full of hubbub and excitement on the day of our visit. Huge windows capture views of the city or towards the inner courtyard and sedum roof of the attractive dining hall. The older part of the school – tiled walls and concrete stairs – has been repurposed for the creative arts, housing a pottery studio as well as large art room. Fabulous drama space with theatrical make-up closets. Large media suite and brilliantly child-friendly libraries with modular seating providing well-used reading nooks.

Given the locale and the scrabble for places, we were encouraged to hear from a parent: ‘it doesn’t feel like a hothouse’ and ‘for the junior years very little homework at all apart from reading a book’. More intense higher up: ‘Our 13 year old might have one and a half hours of homework and music practice of 30-45 minutes a night, and this may be after extra school activities.’

Around a third of the 110 teachers have been at the school for more than 10 years, but lots of youthful (mostly female) faces. A mother of two with experience all through the school reported: ‘Some of the staff are exceptional; I am very happy with the teaching.’

Two full-time SEN staff in a dedicated large space with innovative pods, plus visiting specialists. Sixty children currently identified with SEN – more dyspraxia than dyslexia. A mother of a child with various undiagnosed learning differences on arrival told us: ‘The school is incredibly supportive with revision help and timetabling for my son.’ Her son added: ‘Without Thomas’s I would be nowhere’.

An increasingly co-ed focus for sports provision. On the ground this means things like boys’and girls’ cricket teams with any player eligible for the 1st XIs. Other main sports for boys are football, rugby and athletics, for girls netball and hockey, with everyone taking part in gymnastics and athletics. The odd Olympian dropping in. Also on offer: tennis, table-tennis league, golf, karate and fencing clubs. A thriving list of trad and on trend clubs – pottery, yoga, coding and girls’ football.

A ‘particularly strong’ music dept hosts over 400 individual lessons a week. Choristers perform at the Cadogan Hall and Albert Hall. Ensembles of every kind: ukulele, rock, jazz and brass.

Spectacular drama full of West End wow: unsurprising once you know the Thomas’s schools have their own technical dept staffed by industry professionals. This doesn’t stop pupils behind the scenes applying stage make-up, creating posters, prop making. Ambitious productions of Macbeth, Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, Disney’s Mulan ,and Beowulf for year 5 complete with huge monster puppets. An amazed parent commented: ‘our shy-by-nature son now wants to be the lead in school plays’. Dance is an important part of the school too.

The zingy lime green used on everything from doors to walls in the new building helps, but the fizz definitely comes from within. ‘Vibrant and bustling’ are the descriptors we encounter most often from parents. ‘Warm, sociable, fun, confident kids, kind, professional and highly organised,’ another parent thought apt.

The Thomas’s school motto, ‘be kind’, is written in stone, literally, above the door and the school leads the way with its pastoral care. A father reported: ‘an overwhelming sense that they have this square and centre in everything they do.’ A mother: ‘very caring and very open…a teacher would call me directly just to say that my daughter was sad or upset about a certain thing so I could speak to her at home.’

Social and environmental responsibility is much in evidence, from this year’s charitable support of a local community boxing club voted for by pupils, to an enormous pile of bags of clothing heading to good homes. A lovely art installation in a corridor features papier-mâché sea creatures entwined with single use plastics, and children go litter picking along the Thames. A stunning installation above a stairwell called A Shared Future, of suspended clothes found on a Greek beach belonging to refugees, has made political and social issues real for everyone here. A mother told us: ‘the focus is on making the child a good person, not just an academic one’.

Rules are clear. The behaviour policy states a precise 6:1 ratio of positive to negative comments from teacher to pupil. Stars are so old hat: children receive ‘golden unicorns’ for notable behaviour or work. ‘Reflection time’ is a sanction for misbehaviour. An early adopter of mindfulness, pupils or parents may make use of the school counsellor. An extremely well thought through well-being policy aims to ensure no mental health issues go unnoticed and staff are well-informed on everything from FGM to radicalisation. As a parent confirmed: ‘Thomas’s keeps up and is always thinking ahead on how best to prepare the children for the world we live in today.’

Pupils travel from as far as Wimbledon and Barnes, Bayswater and Kennington. More than half are local. Large numbers of French and Italian but also Mandarin, Russian and Swedish speakers. Twenty-seven children receive some level of EAL support. Whilst many pupils are inevitably from extremely wealthy families, one mother shared: ‘We live in a less privileged part of town and commute half an hour to the school. We have always felt 100 per cent accepted.’ This note continues with others describing parents as ‘friendly and non-pretentious’and ‘within the school walls we’re all equal.’ One pupil in particular has brought global attention: Prince George. On a practical level this means extra security measures evident from the front door. Visitors have their phones placed in a locker. Parents, however, are simply issued with security passes, no-one has to sign a non-disclosure agreement and new parents and pupils are simply spoken to openly about expectations.

Special Education Needs

Our school in Battersea (London) ensures that the broad curriculum offered is fully accessible to children with special needs/specific learning difficulties. In the light of evidence about a child's particular needs, provision may include: appropriate and effective classroom management plans; ongoing consultation with parents and pupils; developing and maintaining links with other mainstream and special schools; alerting all teachers and support staff to the child's needs; helping the child develop appropriate practices for taking down and recording information eg using laptops; and providing alternative sources of information. Nov 09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
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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