By Debra Barnes’ who tweets HERE
It is never too early to start thinking about which primary school you want your child to attend.
Not even the offspring of headteachers can be confident about securing a place in a city where good schools are so oversubscribed and you can no longer poke fun at those who circle their primary and secondary choices while still in the maternity unit.
Keeping an eye on schools high on your list is essential because they change, particularly when a new headteacher arrives. It is important to keep up to date with developments, be it through Ofsted reports or simply talking to parents with offspring there. And if they are removing their children from an academic institution for anything other than personal reasons, you may need to question your choice.
For the children who turn three within the next year and will be joining a reception class next September, the application process has just opened, and although the closing date is not until 15 January 2015, now is the time to do the final research. Look at the admissions criteria for each school and be realistic.
There is little point choosing a school where you are unlikely to get a place, although going on a waiting list can sometimes deliver results. Speak to people, look at the websites and, most importantly, attend the open days or, if you miss one, try to organise a private visit.
This is the best way to find out if a school is the right one for your child, though to be really sure of a school’s suitability, listen to the headteacher.
We invited six headteachers to share what’s special about their schools:
• Rosh Pinah Primary School, Edgware
Status: Voluntary-aided, Orthodox Jewish
Headteacher: Angela Gartland led Little Ridge Primary School in East Sussex for 12 years before joining Rosh Pinah in June. She is part of the Lilac Sky leadership team, which was brought in to turn the school around following a period of instability.
What makes a great school?
“A great school is one that buzzes with the excitement of enquiring minds. It’s a place where teachers prepare outstanding lessons; where children look forward to coming to school and where the whole community has fun and learns well for the future.”
How does a school under the leadership of Lilac Sky differ to another school?
“Lilac Sky has a great track record transforming schools to become good and outstanding. We lead as a team, of complementing skill sets – we implement our 100-day plan in the early stages of running the school before going on to develop a three-year strategy.
We will do whatever we need to ensure schools improve – that’s our job. “We believe in flooding schools with positivity. We don’t shout at children to get things done; we work through positive recognition to improve children’s behaviour and learning.
They will also notice our professionalism and, let’s face it, a bit of Lilac too! We work hard, but want to enjoy our work with children.”
• Rainbow Montessori School, West Hampstead
Status: Independent Montessori
Rainbow Montessori School was founded by the late Linda Madden in 1982. The daughter of a refugee from Nazi Germany, Linda was a leading figure in the UK Montessori movement until her early death from cancer in 2011. Linda’s family, including her mother Rita Gromb, now carry on her hard work.
How does Rainbow differ to other primary schools?
“A good way of explaining the philosophy of Rainbow would be ‘Montessori doesn’t teach – children learn’. We pride ourselves on using the Montessori materials to enable each child to learn new things in a concrete way before the transition to abstract concepts, to understand the underlying principles of maths, English and other subjects. We clearly are opposed to learning by rote.
“We apply the Montessori philosophy with care for each individual child, including many aspects of ‘social’ education such as working in groups, respect and empathy for others, and personal independence.
Through this, we encourage excitement and a lifelong interest in learning. We do not crush this with premature competition between pupils, with inevitable winners and losers.
Learning should be enjoyed for its own sake. There are no merit stars at Rainbow. Finally, behind all the theory, Rainbow is committed to making learning fun. We work hard to broaden the children’s environment with trips and special events.”
• Akiva Primary School, Finchley
Status: Voluntary-aided, Progressive Jewish
Led by headteacher Susy Stone since 2008, Akiva is the first school in Barnet to be awarded ‘Thinking School’ status.
What is a Thinking School?
“A Thinking School is one that puts the teaching of thinking at the heart of learning, in order to extend its learning in creative ways. We offer our pupils lots of opportunities to develop both academically and creatively. We take them beyond just being able to pass tests.”
What makes a great primary school?
“For a school to be great, it is important to know your cohort and your context. Great schools cater for their pupils. At Akiva, we have confident, articulate and able children and we make sure we add value to that. We give all our pupils the confidence to be creative and independent learners, whatever their level of ability.”
What makes Avika stand out?
“We are unique among Jewish schools because our ethos is Progressive, not Orthodox or pluralist so, for example, we observe one day rather than two for the chagim. All of our religious practice is egalitarian, so girls are given the same opportunities as boys and we integrate Jewish studies discreetly into all areas of learning.
Akiva is blessed with good parental support and we welcome our parents to become involved with classes, the library and coming in to talk to the children about their professions.
• St. Martin’s School, Mill Hill
Status: Independent co-educational preparatory
Angela Wilson has headed St. Martin’s since 1996 and regards the school as her home, treating parents and staff as family and the children as her own children.
What makes a great primary school?
“One that has a varied and all-encompassing curriculum, which teaches tolerance and respect to all, regardless of colour or religion, and emphasises the importance of literacy and numeracy while providing opportunities in the arts and sport.
The staff in a great school are devoted and committed to looking after the physical and emotional needs of all the children, and parents feel welcomed by the staff and feel comfortable discussing any issues which may arise.
What makes St Martin’s a great school?
“St Martin’s is a small and nurturing school. There are an average of 14 children per class, which we believe is the perfect size for most successful learning. We believe that each child is an individual and must be cared for, cherished and given the support required so they can reach their potential.
St Martin’s is a family; unique, warm, caring and everyone working together to become the best we can all be.
“We hold traditional values; encouraging good manners and respectful behaviour at all times. We welcome children from all backgrounds and religions and teach tolerance and respect for all. We are proud of our children’s achievements; both academically, socially and artistically.”
• Eden Primary School, Muswell Hill
Status: State primary, Independent Jewish
Jo Sassienie has been headteacher at Eden since its creation in 2011. Eden is the only Jewish primary school in the borough of Haringey.
What is special about Eden?
“Eden was the first Jewish school to be set up without affiliation to any particular denomination of Judaism.
Everyone is welcome – Orthodox, Reform, secular Jews and non-Jewish children, too. Our admissions policy is that we offer 50 percent of our places to the children who live nearest to the school, whatever their religion.
This school year, around 12 percent of our students are not Jewish. We are a small school, one form entry and, being so new, we only have classes from Reception to Year 3 so far, but that just adds to our sense of community which is so important to us.
We value innovation in education and believe children should be excited to come to school and learn. We actively seek out exciting projects so children learn through creative and stimulating activities.
Eden Primary School also has a big commitment to teaching about nature and we often use the woodland behind our building for our outdoor curriculum.
At Eden, we learn about the many different ways of celebrating Judaism while also respecting and celebrating other faiths.
We positively acknowledge differences and explicitly value and learn from the diversity of religious beliefs and backgrounds of everyone in our school and the wider community.”
• Sinai Primary School, Kenton
Status: Voluntary-aided, Orthodox Jewish
Sinai is the largest Jewish primary school in Europe. Headteacher Robert Leach tells us how big is better.
What makes Sinai a great primary school?
“Because we passionately believe that ‘every child matters’, we endeavour to monitor every pupil’s personal and academic progress throughout their schooling.
Our school is full of happy children who love learning and benefit from our commitment to high quality education. Sinai boasts a nurturing and supportive, vibrant and dynamic staff team, state-of-the-art equipment and offers a wide range of extracurricular activities.
Jewish Studies is integral to the heart of the school and our children leave with a strong Jewish identity.”
Why should parents choose Sinai Jewish Primary for their child?
“Sinai makes a commitment to every parent to nurture their children and give them the opportunities to develop their unique strengths and to build the skills they need to achieve their best.
We are a three-form entry school, so there are many opportunities for our children to make friends and lots of space to explore but the school is also small and caring in areas where it needs to be.
We have a team of dedicated staff to ensure that children settle quickly when they first start school.
We never stop caring and have strong pastoral assistance available throughout each child’s years with us. Children always come first at Sinai.”