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Knightsbridge School visit

13 Sep

Knightsbridge school is a very popular school, but they offer any interested parent an appointment to visit the school at one of their show-arounds within a couple of weeks or so. When I went to visit the school, there was a group of about eight parents, at least half of them internationals. We were greeted by the founder and head of the school, Magoo Giles, who took the time to share his vision of the school and his values. He struck me as a very competent and enthusiastic man who is really in charge and passionate about bringing the best out of every child.

A lot of what he said resonated with me. He said he doesn’t want parents to just hand their child over to the school and say “now educate this child” but wants to form a team with the parents dedicated to working together in making the child into a phenomenal, well-rounded, happy individual. He is a strong advocate of constant communication and said if there is ever a problem he just wants parents or staff to talk to him immediately and sort it out together, rather than letting any form of resentment build up. I also liked his commitment to a very happy and caring environment. He is a firm believer that teachers should never need to shout, as shouting is a sign of loss of control, that if you have authority and are respected you should not get into a situation where you need to resort to shouting.

Walking around the school and visiting the classrooms, I could certainly feel the commitment to happiness and fun were not just empty words. You could even call the environment slightly informal – for example, in one science less we observed, children were allowed to stand or sit on tables while listening and didn’t have to sit still on their chairs. They were even allowed to drink juice and eat fruits at one time. It was very unusual for me to see and certainly not how my school used to be, but it seemed to work brilliantly. The children were happy and cheerful, listening attentively, very engaged, and when I heard the teacher say “I need a volunteer to…” five hand went up before she even completed her sentence. You could really feel that head, teachers, pupils and parents form a team and a community and that, in my opinion, is worth a lot.

Another fantastic aspect is the healthy food. Meat and milk are organic and food is very fresh, with lots of vegetables, dessert is usually yoghurt with fresh fruit or honey and as snacks children have fresh fruit and short bread with juice and water. We visited the cafeteria during lunchtime and it smelt and looked very good, and I can tell you this is very rare, even in top independent schools.

We also learnt more about the curriculum – children start learning French and an additional language (with a choice of Italian, Spanish, Greek and Mandarin) in Reception class already. As to extracurriculars, they can start Ballet and Karate in Reception, and then have a wide choice from Year 1 onwards, including Fencing, Chess, cooking, Football, Dance and more.

I was surprised how large the school is – they actually admit four classes of 18 children per class each year, so despite having a lot of registrations, it might be that it is not as impossible to get a place as I expected it to be. I also found out more about their exit results. As it was only founded in 2005, they have just had their first girls take the 11+ exams, and are going to have their first group of boys sit the 13+ this year. They are very flexible about parents who want their child to move at the 7+ stage already and do support children sitting the 7+ at other prep schools, even if it means they lose their brightest children to Colet Court or Bute House. It was another clear indicator that the school really cares about the best for their children, rather than worrying about their statistics.

Overall, I was very impressed by Knightsbridge School. It looks like a very happy and enriching place, and also an extremely well managed school with all staff committed to making it a great school. I am sure this school is going to do great over the coming years, and even though I thought I was done with registering my daughter, I couldn’t help myself and decided to register her with Knightsbridge School as well.

If you want to read more about Knightsbridge School, read the profile on the SCHOOLS page.

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Hill House school visit

8 Sep

No appointment is needed for visiting the Hill House International Junior School in Knightsbridge. Parents are welcomed any morning during term time between 8.30 and 9am. How does this work, given that most other schools require parents to make an appointment well in advance, and others even fail to respond to parents enquiries unless they have already registered their children? I found out when I visited Hill House to see if I wanted to register my daughter here. When I arrived, five couples of Hill House pupils in their famous yellow and red uniforms were lined up on the entrance stairs, assigned to welcome visiting parents and give them a tour of the school. Two girls sitting in the front row welcomed me and took me on a tour of the school – without the interference of any teacher or other member of staff, who certainly seem to trust their pupils’ personal skills enough. My guides were very friendly and confident 11 year old girls in their final year at Hill House, one English and one American. They had just found out their secondary school placements – one was headed for the elite boarding school Benenden, another for the popular London Day school JAGS.

They showed me around the main Hans Place building which serves as the Middle and Upper school. The library was buzzing with activity, and small groups of students seemed to occupy many of the small spaces here and there – some for intense exam preparation, others reading, drawing, taking music lessons. I got to ask them all my questions – at what age could children start taking individual music and singing lessons? In year 2. Was it true that they did sports every day? Yes. Had they taken advantage of the Switzerland campus? Yes, both had been skiing and loved it. Did they know all the children in their year (given that Hill House admits up to 100 pupils per year, spread across 8-10 classes)? Yes, they knew most, if only by face, maybe half well enough and the other half superficially. As we got back to the entrance, they handed me over to the Director of Admissions, Mrs Janet Townend, a very competent, no-nonsense lady who was happy to answer any further questions I had. I did find out during the tour that despite being co-ed, girls and boys were taught separately from age 8 to prepare the for the different 11+ and 13+ exams, which was a negative for me. I was glad to hear that having come so early, there should be no problem for offering my daughter a place. Mrs Janet Townend also gave me Mrs Bright’s phone number, Head of the Small School in Flood Street, so that I could visit the school where Reception age children start their life at Hill House.

One week later, I visited the small school in Chelsea, head by Mrs Bright, whose children all attended Hill House School. She is very warm and enthusiastic, although one could notice that she had done this parent tour hundreds of times before. Again, the place was buzzing with activity. I wasn’t sure if it is a perfect learning environment, I would think it depends on the personality of the child. There is certainly a lot of action, interaction, play and adventure, but I wasn’t sure if there was ever a quiet time to think and reflect, to study quietly or just concentrate. Maybe that’s not what children need at this age, but it makes me wonder.

I had heard parent comments that Hill House is a perfect place for outgoing, active and sporty children, and I could understand where they’re coming from following the school visit. As with every school, it seems important to know your child’s personality and decide if a school could be a good fit. My daughter is too young for me to know for sure, but for now she does seem extremely sociable and adventurous, so I did register with Hill House school following this school visit.

Coming up next: my Knightsbridge School visit.

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