GOOD SCHOOLS GUIDE
We sat in on a fascinating year 6 philosophy for children (P4C) 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. On asking fouder Jane Cameron what she was proudest of, she answered, ‘This may sound fluffy, but it is having created a community where everyone is happy’. Not a bit fluffy in our view…
Since September 2019, Sarah Knollys BA PGCE (40s), previously head of Glendower Prep, who took over on the retirement of founding head Jane Cameron. Educated at Exeter (a degree in French and Italian) and Roehampton universities. Started teaching career as SEN assistant at Finton House; rose from form teacher to maths co-ordinator, SCITT mentor, key stage 2 manager, senior management team and school governor at Allfarthing, a busy state school in Wandsworth; founding head, Maple Walk School, London (2005-2012). Married to Christopher; they have two teenage sons.
Bright and bubbly, Mrs Knollys exudes warmth and is highly accessible. She is the kind of person who rolls up her sleeves and gets on with it, whether it be teaching netball, transforming school lunches or wearing her slippersocks round the school on Red Nose day and dressing up in something crazy on Fun Friday. She gets things done – as can be seen from a previous job at Maple Walk, the pioneer New Model school which started ‘out of a trunk’ as she puts it, with two pupils, and had 150 pupils by the time she left. She has been on the Notting Hill Prep governing body for the past year, so has an insider’s view of the school.
Luck or an elder sibling has to be on your side to get into NHP 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 and although it is not automatic for children from the Acorn Nursery (still attached to the school) to get in, it is certainly no disadvantage. Recently moved to three form entry but demand still far exceeds supply.
Almost all move on to independent secondary schools with the occasional leaver to Holland Park or Cardinal Vaughan. Leavers in 2020 to St Paul’s, Wycombe Abbey, Eton, Westminster, Godolphin & Latymer, Latymer Upper, Putney, Francis Holland (north and south), Wellington, Rugby, Bradfield, Marlborough and Harrodian. If any of the ‘secure, cushion or stretch schools’ turn down one of the pupils, school banishes any sense of failure by saying that it’s just the same as a restaurant telling you ‘we’d love to fit you in but we just don’t have enough tables’.
School’s determination to maintain original ethos is immediately apparent on meeting everyone, from the very small people sitting on the floor, right up to the confident, friendly, amusing, only just children like the head boy and girl. This is a Thinking School and the evidence is everywhere, with hands shooting up when asked which habit was being studied this week. We sat in on a fascinating year 6 philosophy for children (P4C) 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.
Leavers’ results show that the system works and there is no need for parents to worry that philosophy is going to stop their children learning the basic building blocks. The ethos of the school is easily absorbed, particularly that learning how to learn is, at this stage, more important than anything else. Not a school that believes in offering a huge language choice (no Mandarin here): French all the way up, together with Latin from year 5 and Greek (optional) in years 7 and 8. Apart from the four founding teachers, there are another 15 who have been here for more than 10 years, but the average age is only 35 and the school says they lose very few, unless they are Antipodean, with quite a high percentage returning to the fold later in life.
The lower school head of SEN (who has been here since the school opened) is an articulate enthusiast for early intervention, and the children being given extra help responded happily to questions. One parent told us that when her son was diagnosed with ADHD ‘they were really wonderful at supporting him’, and we were convinced that the large SEN department was well on top of any problems.
Music is huge at NHP; there are 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 play an instrument even if ‘you can’t play for toffee’.
The vast new art room (plenty of room for the next Anish Kapoor) should give the subject much more visibility. Reception and year 1 take to the stage at Christmas with a sometimes slightly unorthodox nativity play which, last year, featured an angel joined on her way to Bethlehem by sundry others including cowboys/girls and footballers. Year 8s are given the task of writing and staging their own play in a week, whilst years 3 and 6 produce plays in the spring and summer terms.
Differing opinions on the amount of sport available, from both parents and pupils, 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’. At the moment the girls are confined to hockey as a team game, but apparently some are petitioning to play rugby with the boys. Not surprisingly for a Thinking School they have been told to go ahead, provided they can get enough mates to sign up. 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 Boxclever higher up. ‘There really is something to interest every type of child,’ said one parent about non-sporting alternatives, including chess and coding.
Outwardly, NHP may appear a laid back 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 monitoring throughout.