A unique, small co-educational prep school for boys and girls aged 3-11, Bassett House School has a fresh vision for giving children skills for tomorrow’s world. Find out more about the independent school below…

Where is Bassett House prep school located?

One of the best prep schools in the area, the first thing that strikes you about Bassett House School is its neighbourhood. Tucked away in that Notting Hill enclave between Ladbroke Grove and Latimer Road Tube stations, not far from Portobello Road, this is – in classic estate-agent speak – a London village. But in this case, that’s the right description. Thriving local shops and cafés, tree-lined roads and tended front gardens speak of a community that cares. “I think that’s one thing that makes us quite unique – we really do feel like this village school in London,” says Headmistress Kelly Gray.

The school encompasses three sites, all within a short walk. There’s the handsome four-storey Upper years building at 60 Bassett Road. This is the original site, opened in 1947. A school-purposed rebuild happened in 2001, but from the outside it’s entirely in keeping with its stately Victorian neighbours. Just around the corner in St Helen’s Gardens is the recently opened Early Years building, with bright play and learn areas plus basement drama and music facilities for the whole school. This faces St Helen’s Church and St Helen’s Hall. The Hall is where assembly, gym and lunch happen, and with classrooms, garden space and art room. The fact that pupils share turf with the local church and are on first-name terms with its vicar – known to all as Reverend Steve – adds to Bassett House’s welcoming atmosphere. Kelly Gray says it’s the first thing prospective parents remark on.

Getting to know Bassett House School’s headmistress…

Kelly Gray joined as Headmistress in September 2021 and brings a breadth of experience unusual within the independent schools sector. She was previously Deputy at Ecole Française de Londres Jacques Prévert, where she spent five years, but her career spans leadership and teaching roles across state schools. This includes an early stint at an inner-city Leeds school. “That was a baptism by fire, and the place where I really learnt my craft – you had to.”

Her very first teaching role was in Slough, at another school where families struggled to make ends meet. She moved from there to Thomas’s, Kensington. The contrast was stark, but it revealed a truth that Gray still holds dear. “I realised from jumping across that it doesn’t matter which school you’re in as a child, you still need somebody to catch you – to notice you and to catch you.”

Part of a family of private schools…

Joining Dukes Education early last year gave Bassett House added might. Now it is part of a family of 17 London private schools (plus five outside the capital) and six nurseries. The Dukes Education family encompasses both day schools and boarding schools; nursery schools, prep schools and senior schools; and also boys schools and girls schools. This brings a formidable hive mind to resources, training and – critically – through-school options at 11+. “There’s this huge sense of comradeship and wanting to help one another,” Gray says. “There’s no hoarding of resources – of expertise or of staff – it’s all there for the greater good.” The CPD training Dukes offers runs the gamut from first aid to the university-accredited Senior Leadership Programme that she recently embarked on herself. “The CPD programme is world class and offered at no extra cost, which means you can use those resources to benefit the pupils.”

What is Bassett House School’s philosophy?

Catching children young and nurturing their enthusiasm for learning was its founding principle. It started out, quite literally, from the ground up – a six-pupil Montessori nursery within a family home. This was 1947, the year Maria Montessori’s London training centre opened, putting it in the vanguard of modern educational thinking. “Bassett House was talking about a child-centred curriculum long before the Department of Education,” says Gray. “We still have that Montessori approach in the early years.” It has grown into a thriving prep and pre-prep, but the constant is its ability to produce well-rounded and engaged learners. “What they do brilliantly at Bassett House – they did it long before I came – is to take the children’s natural talents and inquisitiveness and then polish those to a high shine.”

The “greenhouse” approach is at the heart of the Bassett House approach. “Our role is to foster a lifelong love of learning, not stymie it from the word go. If you turn them off learning by 11, the chances are you turn them off for life,” says Gray.  “Children perform best when they have a rounded, grounded and balanced diet of all of the things they love and need.”

Bassett House School’s curriculum…

Bassett House’s curriculum is renowned for Arts teaching and enrichment. “Creativity is something Bassett House does really well.” A tour of the art room shows exceptional work but, more than that, a spirit of bold experimentation. There are lots of chances to make music and drama happen in its regular shows and performances. Even the staff join in, for the staff pantomime is a much-loved annual tradition. “The children just love seeing us make fools of ourselves!”

The school also believes in maximising learning connections. “Life doesn’t come in little boxes of discrete subjects. There are all these cross-curricular opportunities – something our teachers do really well. They squeeze the juice out of that learning so they have made every moment matter.” This opportunity to light the spark happens in many ways. “Children make potions as part of their literacy learning, watch chemical reactions and carve up hearts as part of their science. It’s about creating that spark for learning and engaging in conversations that continue out of school.”

 It’s not only about showing links, but also presenting ideas in ways that stick. “Of course, we have this really robust and rigorous curriculum underpinned with a strong progression framework of spelling and grammar. That’s a given, but it’s not what children remember,” says Gray. “I’ve seen the Fire of London taught via textbooks and worksheets. Then I’ve taught it myself by building a model village, setting it alight and having the Fire Brigade come and talk about the conditions that made it spread so quickly. And that’s the kind of teaching that – if you’ll excuse the pun – lights the fire in children. We have a staff committed to giving that sense of awe and wonder. They create those neurological pathways needed to make memories for life.” The school uses London culture as a classroom – be it checking out the Magna Carta at the British Library or immersive learning at the Science Museum Wonderlab.

Extra curricular activities at Bassett House…

Pupil benefits is something taken very seriously at Bassett House – from wraparound care and after-school fun to ‘Club Croissant’ twice a week for the school’s native French speakers. The cohort is a “melting pot” culturally, with parents from across the UK, Europe and beyond. This enriches school culture but, says Gray, there’s a core element they share. “These are all parents who are passionate that their children receive the very best education, but in a school that is a greenhouse, not a hothouse.”

 Kelly Gray says it’s important to do things children can relate to – things on their level. Recently, knowing there was a pyjama party for younger pupils, she surprised them. “I sneaked pyjamas and slippers into school, put them on and walked into their classroom saying: ‘did someone say pyjama party?’. They loved it. Five minutes out of my day, but small things have a big impact.” Hot Chocolate Fridays are another case in point. Randomly selected pupils from different year groups are invited into the Head’s office. Other teachers drop in, quite a lot of biscuits get eaten and everyone chats. Gray says it’s remarkable how much children open up in these encounters. “They create strong foundations, helping to ensure that if something is bothering a child, they are willing to approach any member of staff.”

Parent and school relationship…

Of course, any successful relationship between school and pupil requires buy-in from the whole family. “Our number one aim is that the children go on to the very brightest future. It’s quite a bold aim, and if you’re going to achieve that it requires a partnership.” To ensure that, the admissions process is made transparent. Interested parents can dip their toes in via a Zoom event. From there, they book a parent tour. “I conduct tours personally. Other than making sure that the teaching and learning here is excellent, there’s no more important job than finding out what they are signing up to – and what that ‘Bassett buzz’ is all about.”

 This partnership extends to working together for a smooth 11+ journey – always a front-of-mind concern for prep parents. “The conversations start early,” says Gray. Year 4 teachers start to assess the best fit for each individual pupil and the Senior School Fair each autumn is a chance for all families – but especially Year 3 and above – to see options and meet prospective schools informally. Parents and pupils are also invited to talks by senior school Heads, forums that are about demystifying the process. “Our children go on to great London schools – Godolphin & Latymer, St Paul’s, Queen’s College – but our goal is to get each and every child into the right school for them. Our Form 5 and 6 teachers are incredibly knowledgeable about schools in the area, not just academically but pastorally. Parents appreciate the conversations, the candour and the complexity of our teachers’ understanding.”

Pastoral care at Bassett House…

 The best onward path can’t happen without the right support during the prep journey. “If a child isn’t happy, they cannot learn,” says Gray. “Everything we do at Bassett House is wrapped in this blanket of safeguarding.” The male Head of Sport and PE also heads up pastoral care and is, she says, “wonderful” at ensuring all children are supported. He’s had great success opening channels for boys – who usually find it harder to ask for help – by running a weekly ‘communication station’ before school to help with any communication or anxiety difficulties. “It’s so important that boys understand themselves and can articulate how they feel.”

 Not every child can articulate their problem, and that’s why Bassett House has a pupil plan in place as soon as children join that stays with them through to Year 6. There are pastoral check-ins at least once a week with form teachers where children talk about how they are feeling. Termly pastoral audits involving teachers and senior leaders discuss every child. The children’s own buddy and house systems are valuable extra layer of peer-to-peer support.

 Gray says COVID and global uncertainty have brought greater recognition among educationalists that pastoral care must be pre-emptive, not reactive. So too teaching and learning, and Bassett House is redesigning its curriculum to meet tomorrow’s challenges. “Our new curriculum that we’re building right now is all about skills for future leaders. At the very heart are those rigorous and robust frameworks that make sure pupils’ core subjects are rock solid,” says Gray. “But politically, culturally, environmentally, economically, this is a changing world for children – an uncertain future. It’s more crucial than ever that, as educationalists, we keep evolving, and that we teach young people adaptability, tenacity and other vital life skills.”

 The framework that Kelly Gray and her team are weaving through every part of life at Bassett House covers six main strands. Alongside Creativity and Digital Literacy, it includes Global Citizenship – building links with local and global schools and fiscal awareness through projects such as The Fiver Challenge. Skills for Future Leaders includes sports and service leadership, as well as areas such as school councils, a lecture programme and Doctor and Lawyer for the Day activities.

 Emotional Intelligence is already embedded, with clear guidance on areas such as respect –for instance, sport is co-ed so that children build respectful relationships. In the new curriculum, there is added focus on debating big issues (whistleblowing, Black Lives Matter, for example), as well as local and family challenges in the wake of the pandemic. Sustainability is another strand, with a school eco-council, focus on incorporating COP26 goals into school life, plus Green and nature activities.

 Kelly Gray has no doubts that their big-picture approach is the right one for a generation facing a future of uncertainty. “As much as anything, it’s about teaching them how to be a human being in this world – it’s as fundamental as that. We had a Year 6 leavers’ event not so long ago and one young man, who’s gone on to great things now, said: ‘At Bassett House they teach you English and Maths but, more important than that, they teach you how to be yourself’. I don’t think I could put it more eloquently myself.”