Will Williams, Headmaster of Kew House School, talks about the challenges – and opportunities – of a focus on community spirit

Of all the lessons we have learnt from recent times, the importance of the role played by schools in forging and maintaining community cannot be overlooked. Timely as they were, the renewed statutory responsibilities within the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) guidance and the spotlight shone by Everyone’s Invited and associated discussions played a significant part in focusing school leaders on their role in creating inclusive and supportive whole-school communities.

Being the new Head of a thriving London day school in September 2020, it was clear to me that Kew House School (KHS) had an open, calm, supportive community of staff, pupils and parents. Unfortunately, my first meeting before INSET was: “The One Where We Talk Bubbles” (apologies to Friends aficionados). The construction of our “Covid mitigation strategy”, as in other schools, created necessary divisions within the school. Staggered arrival times, break times and tutor periods did their job in reducing pupil absence, until of course we all went – very successfully – online. Teams for lessons and Zoom for assemblies cannot ever replace the soft learning that occurs vicariously as pupils go about their school day; listening, watching, laughing, playing.

The challenge now is to reinvigorate the community by re-establishing the links that generate those wonderful occasions that we remember most from our school days. Our approach for this school year has been to make sure that we can give opportunity to all age groups to learn from each other. There are three strands to our strategy. Firstly, we are a school that takes great pride in its Personal Tutor (PT) system, arranged vertically from Years 7 to 13.  Often our Year 11 pupils miss out on opportunities to lead their groups, whilst for many Sixth Form students focus on their post-18 pathway becomes all too consuming. Thus, we have created Sixth Form PT groups to give them support as a cohort. The school’s House system is evolving over the year so that it provides greater opportunities for pupils to participate in events, from the ‘standard’ elements of sports to any of the nearly 100 clubs we have on offer at KHS.

“Our approach for the school year has been to make sure that we can give opportunity to all age groups to learn from each other” 

Our second approach is to remove the year-group barriers that often stifle whole-school community. We welcome the traditional curriculum areas of music and drama, which allow year groups to work collaboratively. Our ‘Whole School Summer Read’, encouraging pupils, parents and staff to have a common focus, also shows this innovation. Finally, as community is built on belonging and sharing, we have been looking forward to seeing all our parents on site, at the side of sports pitches and by the river, being both supportive and supported.

Kew House Copy
Community is central to life at Kew House School, with opportunities for all age groups to learn from each other

Although the main focus in reinvigorating the school community is on the youngsters, our school’s ethos embeds community in its founding principles. Having a Parent Café onsite is a tangible expression of our desire to be an open institution where parents can freely come to meet with staff, not behind an office door, but at the heart of the school.

There is one further factor that we value very highly at KHS – pupil voice. The school is a positive, calm learning environment within which respect is ingrained. Respect – between pupils, between staff and pupils and between parents and staff – underpins a genuine openness to ideas and feedback. A pupil community whose response to the disclosures from Everyone’s Invited was to engage staff with creative ideas to support RSE for the younger years, is one that demonstrates an embedded sense of community responsibility. This foundation gives me hope that with care, fun and sensitivity, we will, as a school, “build back even better”.


Further reading: Wells Cathedral School on how drama builds empathy