After much anticipation, Maida Vale School Sixth Form is opening to its first cohort this September. Absolutely Education finds out more

Maida Vale School is an exciting addition to the London education scene and now, in the second phase of its development, the Sixth Form opens this September. Understandably, this is creating a good deal of excitement among its first student cohort getting ready to step up to MVS Sixth Form life.

This has been a carefully planned moment for Maida Vale School and its parent, the Gardener Schools Group. As MVS Deputy Head Academic and Teacher of English Nicki Ridley explains, it has been about ensuring the school grew from the ground up. This meant a staged refurbishment of the magnificent light-filled Victorian building it inhabits to deliver truly 21st-century learning spaces. The initial phase was timed for the school opening in 2020. Those first pupils enjoyed imaginatively remodelled learning spaces, including a superb Design Technology workshop and Computer Science lab, plus lofty Art studios with views across London. Also, an entire floor for the creative arts (top-notch theatre included) and a dedicated food and nutrition kitchen classroom.

“The mix of talents and interests is going to be really exciting and will bring a fresh, bright and energetic cohort”

Phase two has now happened, adding on 12 new classrooms. Some are smaller – designed specifically for the seminar-style lessons used by 16+ learners – while larger rooms are designed to accommodate the growing cohort lower down the school. As part of phase two works, the school has also added a practice basketball court to the existing MUGA. The outdoor sports facilities here are particularly good for a central London school and a great draw for students and their parents. “The jewel of all this, and perhaps one of the jewels of the building, is our Independent Learning Centre (ILC), so our key Sixth Form Space,” adds Nicki Ridley. “It has got high cathedral ceilings, a wall of windows and then another wall of glass looking into the corridor and other classrooms. It’s light, it’s airy – a breathtaking space.”

Maida Vale School – Sixth Form arrival
MVS Sixth Form Centre will be a hub of study time – an introduction to the kind of co-working environments young people will encounter after school

It certainly is a large and inspiring space – cool pendant lighting, tactile textures and calm colours, perfect whether you are studying alone or in a group on the large co-working desks. There’s a library, breakout and cosy study spaces and access to a lovely roof terrace. And what Sixth Former wouldn’t get excited about having their own personal cafe? While the ILC is the Sixth Form space, staff will use it too, which adds to the sense of agency – of being ‘the grown-ups’. Nicki Ridley says that’s part of the point. “We want them to feel a bit more adult, a bit more privileged. They also have privileges such as going out at lunch. They will be held more responsible, so we are giving them the space, as well as the skills, in order to use that well and correctly.”

The fact that staff will be dropping by – to catch up on marking, grab a coffee or have a quick chat about an assignment – is a deliberately light-touch approach to supervision, and also replicates the modern university and office spaces that students will encounter further down the line. It’s based on a similar ILC design at Gardener Schools Group’s sister Senior Kew House – so the team already know it works brilliantly. Of course, there is reassurance in this soft staff presence – pupils know there’s a friendly ear if they are stuck on something or want an informal chat. This will provide invaluable extra reassurance for the new cohort arriving. “We want pupils joining us in the Sixth Form to also feel instantly that this is a supportive place,” says Nicki Ridley.

Maida Vale School – Sixth Form arrival
Existing Maida Vale pupils, who have grown up with the school, will be joined by an additional cohort from across London and further afield

Recruitment is happening apace. Ridley has been interviewing prospective pupils from across London (MVS is easy to get to from all points in the capital by public transport), but also places like Oxfordshire, Dorset and as far afield as Switzerland and the Middle East. “The mix of talents and interests is going to be really exciting and will bring a fresh, bright and energetic cohort to add to our existing Sixth Form pupils. All our staff have taught Sixth Form and A levels before and produced fantastic results. They are chomping at the bit to teach Sixth Form again,” says Nicki Ridley. The new MVS Head Teacher Magnus Bashaarat takes over the reins from Founding Head Steven Winter in late April. Bashaarat brings with him a wealth of experience – both in Head and senior leadership roles and in ensuring happy and fulfilling Sixth Form life – and he’s already been busy meeting pupils and parents.

“We want external pupils joining us in the Sixth Form to also feel instantly that this is a supportive place”

Nicki Ridley says academic rigour and lots of options are key to the approach of the new Sixth Form. “We’re offering a wide range of subjects.” While most pupils will opt for three A levels, other options are on the table – many will complete the EPQ, and BTEC is available for the vocationally and technically minded. The school will consider all possibilities, including T levels. This is, in part, inspired by what students are asking for. There is also the sense (very apparent among all educators right now) that this incoming Sixth Form – those who were at the formative teenage years of 12 or 13 when Covid hit – bring somewhat different perspectives and a strong desire for individualised pathways. “Our current pupils will say they have absolutely adored the attention, the support, the guidance that MVS can afford them. Every time we host an open day, a tour or an event, we really try and emphasise that because that is what we will continue. And because our classes are small, there’s so much help and guidance.”

Deputy Head Nicki Ridley says the individual attention that is the hallmark of MVS will continue in Sixth Form

There will be extensive careers support – including help with applications to North American universities and navigating apprenticeships and work placements. But it’s not all about study. “With any Sixth Form, balance and variety are essential if pupils are going to feel like they are enjoying school life as well as excelling at it,” says Nicki Ridley. With that in mind, MVS is including three hours of Games on the Sixth Form timetable every week. This spans traditional team sports, but also locally sourced alternatives such as yoga and boxing, all guided by the activities pupils want to try.

Pupils will be encouraged to keep up broader interests – participating in some form of academic enrichment every week and getting involved in the Year 12 Volunteering Programme that supports MVS’ local community. There’s a diverse Sixth Form Lecture Series in planning, and creative and performing arts enrichment (productions, bands and the rest) promises to be just as vibrant as it is further down the school.

MVS is including three hours of Games on the Sixth Form timetable and offers good outdoor sports facilities – appreciated by students and their parents

As with any new addition, there’s a feeling of promise – of evolution. These young people will take a lead, both as the first role models for the uniformed part of the school, and in helping to define and establish bold new MVS traditions. “Our new Sixth Form will all have the ability to create, and therefore run, any kind of enrichment club with the help of our teachers and then trickle that interest down the younger areas of the school,” says Nicki Ridley.

“No one at MVS believes that one size fits all. We value diversity, in all regards, and we just know that every young person is so individual and unique,” she adds. “So whether they are studying A levels or T levels, BTEC or EPQ we will create a bespoke curriculum for them. And it’s going to be so exciting!”

Maida Vale School

Further reading: Gardener Schools on the case for co-education