London is a hub for culture, civic life and business, so going to school here brings added value. We explore some of the benefits

Sometime around March 2020 it felt as if the world was tilting on its axis from urban to pastoral. All talk was of a move to the country, the pursuit of open spaces and a quiet life of baking sourdough bread. But, as life settles back onto a more familiar plane, the streets of our first city are looking busy again. London schools and their pupils carried on through the worst of pandemic times, and educators did a superb job keeping pupils feeling secure, as well as intellectually stimulated, in a city that suddenly felt unfamiliar because of the silence.

It is worth remembering that many of our top national performers – both independent and state – have long been located in the capital. These schools tap into more than the obvious resources – there are some surprising advantages when you’re close to the heart of the metropolis. So, as the buzz returns to London, we gather perspectives on what a capital location brings to enrich school life and learning.

Princes Gds
Prince’s Gardens Prep in Kensington is just down the road from world famous cultural hotspots, so pupils are regular visitors to museums and galleries

Culture on tap

When you go to school in London you’re never too far away from a cultural treasure. For Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School, the treasure chest is positively spilling over. Located in a quiet square in Kensington, it is only a five-minute walk (even for the smallest pupil) from the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and V&A. This means that trips to the great national museums are not an occasional expedition but a regular and immersive experience that can be fitted into an afternoon.

The team at Prince’s Gardens use this ever-changing display of themes and objects to inspire all sorts of learning activities – and say it’s especially useful for bringing a subject under discussion to life. It also helps to embed classroom teaching because an adventurous afternoon outing makes any topic come to life in fresh ways.

“Trips to the great national museums are not an occasional expedition but a regular and immersive experience that can be fitted into an afternoon”

Recent examples include a visit to the V&A to support a Year 1 topic on Islam. Children looked around the Jameel Gallery and focused on masterpieces such as the Ardabil Carpet. Then went back to class to create their own versions of this ancient masterpiece. Year 5 pupils recently headed to a lesser-known repository, the National Army Museum in Chelsea, to explore its exhibits and get deeper insights into their topic of World War II. They were able to analyse artefacts and discover what the objects were used for – all enhancing their understanding of the realities of a momentous time in global history.

For Ravenscourt Park Preparatory School (RPPS), located in west London and part of the Gardener Schools Group, WWT London Wetland Centre and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are a stone’s throw away, allowing pupils to take science and nature lessons out of the laboratory and into the real world. To enrich the RE curriculum, pupils have visited the GurdwaraSri Guru Singh Sabha Southall, the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, and St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith. 

Many schools, such as Ravenscourt Park Prep, are located in their own ‘cultural village’, with lots of local assets very close by

While the school regularly makes the short journey to the major London museums, galleries and theatres, this quarter of London is its own distinct ‘cultural village’. For instance, when it comes to theatre, the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith is within walking distance and other brilliant local hubs – including the Rose Theatre in Kingston and Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond – offer a wide range of drama opportunities.

Local is also something that North Bridge House taps into. The five schools in the group, covering nursery to 18, are in north London cultural hotspots – Hampstead, Canonbury and Regent’s Park. This makes them close to all the major London museums and galleries but also stellar places on their doorstep. This is something that North Bridge House takes full advantage of. Its pupils in Hampstead can walk in the footsteps of literary and artistic giants just by taking an enrichment walk around the neighbourhood (just count the blue plaques), and with Burgh House, Keats House Museum and many other gems to tap into for study and cultural enrichment.

North Bridge House Canonbury has developed strong links with the Estorick Collection (specialising in modern Italian art) and recently Year 12 not only went to see a new exhibition but took the tour narrated entirely in Italian. Younger pupils also used the same exhibition to inspire their artworks. This ‘insider’s viewpoint’ is one of the great bonuses of London school life – special relationships are formed and, be it a local or national cultural institution, these can be used to enhance students’ learning experience and cultural awareness.

Capital gains  – the benefits of going to school in London
North Bridge House in Hampstead (also top) has easy access to cultural gems, and lots of green spaces for sport and recreation

Space to roam

While London is busy and built up, it’s unusual for any city for its multiple parks and green spaces. And some of the best of them are on the doorstep for North Bridge House. Hampstead Heath is well-used by its three Hampstead schools, which also have an exceptional sports hall on site, while Regent’s Park is playtime location and sports ‘home ground’ for fixtures for North Bridge House Prep Regent’s Park, as well as being handy for the Canonbury Senior. Pupils also make use of the other exceptional activity spaces that London offers – for instance, Canonbury pupils go white-water rafting and mountain biking at world-class London 2012 Olympics facilities in the Lea Valley and play cricket at hallowed Lord’s.

Ravenscourt Park Prep has a generous playground and sports hall, but alongside Kew Gardens and London Wetlands Centre, it has privileged access to a plethora of exceptional west London green spaces, not least the borough flagship Ravenscourt Park right next door. This Green Flag park offers 20 acres of space to roam in its walled gardens, wildlife and play areas and paddling pool. There’s even a beach here for the summer. School sports, including tennis and basketball, can take place in the park, along with fun events such as whole-class picnics.

“Pupils go white-water rafting and mountain biking at London 2012 Olympics site Lea Valley and play cricket at hallowed Lord’s”

Prince’s Gardens Prep has Hyde Park – one of London’s finest green spaces – right on the doorstep, but also an amazing two-acre private walled garden that is the pride of the school. Safe and secluded, and with shade from fine old trees, it is used for forest school for the youngest pupils and play and learning throughout the year for everyone. Children keep wellies at the school so that every day can be an outdoor day. The garden is a resource for everything from Stylist Club (using natural materials to create fashion) and Gardening Club, to birdwatching, painting and science and nature lessons.

At Ravenscourt Park Prep, staff make full use of the many experts on hand to share their knowledge with pupils

Real-world immersion

One huge advantage for all London schools is the free flow of ideas and access to a huge breadth of resources, thanks to privileged access to so many expert voices in civic and business life as well as a huge variety of easily accessible places to explore. This is something that touches London schoolchildren from their very earliest years – whether it’s taking a school trip round the corner to buy seeds and plant pots (something North Bridge House Nursery pupils do), learning an instrument guided by a recent Royal College of Music graduate (Prince’s Gardens Prep) or hearing from leading journalists and TV presenters as part of journalism week activities (Ravenscourt Park Prep).

This is where the ‘buzz’ of being in the capital comes into its own. Put simply, it’s easier to find willing experts to enrich school learning if they happen to live and work close by. At Ravenscourt Park Prep, the team make full use of the wealth of resources close by. For example, as part of its entrepreneurial week activities, small business leaders have talked to Year 6 pupils about turning an idea into a viable business. The school finds the huge concentration of business and university expertise a real asset when it comes to developing educational themes and presenting information in engaging and salient ways.

Prince’s Gardens Prep runs special career assemblies with guest speakers as part of 11+ preparation, inviting members of the parent body and experts the school has reached out to. The menu of careers discussed is diverse, just like the student and staff body, enabling a truly international perspective – and a sense of limitless possibilities – to be introduced at an important time in young people’s lives and educational development. 

Similarly, North Bridge House Schools careers forums for Prep and Senior pupils tap into the expertise of the parent body – their wide-ranging careers and connections give students a broad vision of local, national and global opportunities. The net can be cast even wider via alumni. A famous art dealer attending a careers fair and then treating pupils to the sight of a real Picasso or Hockney as part of insights on working in the commercial art world is an unforgettable way to imagine possibilities beyond the more obvious career paths.

“Privileged access to so many expert voices in civic and business life is something that touches London schoolchildren from their very earliest years”

With all London schools, the exposure to so many influences builds awareness. North Bridge House Schools believes that this also helps to open young people’s eyes to interests they can take further and sustain for life, not just careers. Litter picking in nearby parks may seem a small act in support of the local community, but also inspires children to think further about topics such as resources and environmentalism – even develop their own advocacy skills. Prep School pupils also have a collaboration with ZSL London Zoo, enabling them to go behind the scenes, talk to experts in the world of zoology, gain current perspectives and consider what more we can all do to conserve wildlife and preserve our environment.

Then there’s resilience – something that is front of mind for all parents and educators since the pandemic. It’s a hard one to quantify, but there’s no doubt that London students’ immersion in a fast-paced environment exposes them to more noise, but also gives them added awareness of others, perhaps more independence and certainly a sense of the big wide world beyond the school gates. This, in turn, can help to build something every child needs: a growth mindset. “In order to believe that all pathways are open to them, a child needs to see that ‘people like me can do that’. This means that schools need to ensure that the topics that they teach, the books in their library, the displays in the corridors and the speakers that they invite into school, all reflect a fully diverse society,” says Carl Howes, Headmaster of Ravenscourt Park Prep. “The beauty of being in London is that it makes it possible to do this really well, thanks to the richness and diversity that the city offers.”

ISC Guide to Schools in the London area

Further reading: MPW on its fresh approach to 14+ education in London