Exclusive interview with Mrs Emma Webb, Headmistress of Queen’s College Preparatory School

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On 25th January, 2017 Mums In The Wood met with the very professional and equally charming  Mrs Emma Webb, headmistress of  Queen’s College Preparatory School.  After beginning her teaching career at Davenies Prep in Beaconsfield, she moved to the prestigious British International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she spent 11 happy years in a number of leadership positions. Emma took over the headship of Queen’s College Prep in September last year, and is warm and enthusiastic about the school she is leading.

In her words, the heart of Queen’s is its pastoral care. A school where every child is treated as an individual, with a focus on ensuring that the school produces confident, inquisitive, children who love learning. She is practical and grounded and  believes strongly that children should not be assessed at 4+ and that children should be allowed to be the age they are. She does not believe that a 7 year old should be expected to behave like a 12 year old and does not place value on pressurising children unnecessarily. 

 

 

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Question:

What is your vision for the school and how does it differ from that of your predecessor? 

Answer:

I was attracted to QCPS initially because it completely fits with my philosophy of education. I believe that children learn best when they’re allowed to enjoy their childhood. We do that here by ensuring that the environment in which they’re learning is not pressurized. They do extremely well here academically because they’re inquisitive about the world and want to find things out, not because they feel they must learn for a test. We expect 7 year-olds to behave like 7 year-olds and allow them to develop naturally and in their own time. So, in terms of ethos and philosophy it will definitely be about continuity and keeping the warmth of the school and the way that the girls are with each other. At the same time, we have a duty to prepare our girls for life in the 21st Century, and we are updating some of our systems and planning developments in the STEM subjects. By embracing the latest technological advances we can ensure that we make the most of what is on offer in the 21st century, particularly in terms of how we share information with the girls and communicate with our parents.

 

Question:

Are the children who come to Queen’s all local to the area or do you have some children who travel in from further out? Does where a child live have an impact on admission to the school?  

Answer:

We have lots of girls who live locally, and a significant number who travel in to us. We do not consider where a child lives during the admissions process, as it really is a question of parental choice.

 

 

Question:

Without a formal assessment, how does the school select which applicants to offer a place to? What is the criteria the school uses to decide whom to offer a place to? 

Answer:

We do not formally assess the girls in terms of their academic ability because we don’t believe that 3 year-olds should be assessed in that way. The girls come into school for 20 minutes, while their parents are talking to me, and join one of our Reception class. We are looking to see how they interact with the other girls, how comfortable they are in our environment and we are checking to make sure that there are no significant, apparent learning difficulties that we wouldn’t be able to cater for. So it really is more of a moral assessment if you like, to make sure we’re not inviting girls into an environment in which they might be uncomfortable or where we cannot provide for their needs.

We ask for a report from nursery, to help us to identify any significant needs that we may not be able to manage. However, I’m as happy to take girls from home as I am to take them from nursery. In essence, we offer places to those girls that we feel will most benefit from an education at QCPS.

 

Question: 

Do you feel that not having an assessment affects the school’s academic reputation? Are there any plans to change the process?

Answer:

I don’t think so, but I think perhaps our cosy exterior sometimes obscures people’s perception of the level of academic success we have here, and I would like to expose the academic backbone of the school a little bit more than it is at the moment. We don’t feel that we need to be selective on entry to Reception because we are so confident in our ability to ensure that all our girls reach their full academic potential. Our girls gain places at the most prestigious schools in London because our academic standards and expectations are very high, and our environment supports the development of each individual girl so well. There are no plans for us to change this, as it would be rather at odds with our inclusive and welcoming ethos.

 

 

Question:

Do the girls have to sit a test to pass through to the senior school or is entry automatic? Would the school’s policy on the admissions process into the senior school remain the same or is a change in policy forthcoming? 

Answer: 

Queen’s College, London, is part of the North London Consortium and our girls apply for places in the same way as external candidates. As the vast majority secure places at QCL through the traditional route, there are no plans to change this policy at present.

 

Question:

In an environment that is becoming increasingly competitive with regards to the importance placed on academic attainment, what factors do you believe are most important and should be taken into consideration when setting out a curriculum for each year group?

Answer:

I believe a broad and balanced curriculum should always be provided, no matter how competitive the environment becomes. It is vital that children are provided with a rich variety of experiences when they are young. I firmly believe that all children have strengths and talents, and one of our most important tasks is to help them to find them. You cannot do that with a narrow curriculum that devalues the importance of artistic, musical, creative or physical endeavours. So we expose our girls to as many things as we possibly can and help them to find something they’re passionate about, that they enjoy and are good at. We celebrate achievement in everything equally. By providing the girls with the opportunity to shine and face challenges in many different ways, we help them to develop inner confidence and strength of character. Our girls are known and respected as individuals. They are not just very well prepared for their Senior School entrance exams. They are very well prepared for the next stage of their education and life beyond.

 

 

Question:

Do you have provisions for students with special needs and does the school operate a gifted and talented list? How does the school provide for the needs of these students? 

Answer:

We don’t have a learning support department in school at the moment. That means we can’t manage some specific, more complex learning difficulties. The more common learning difficulties, like dyslexia, we can manage very well. We are very much about knowing our girls as individuals and ensuring that we provide them with what they need, so that if a girl is particularly able, we will provide her with that stretch. Learning is quite individualised. We know where the girls are. We plan and differentiate accordingly.

 

Question:

With a school situated so close to the West End and housing girls who are essentially growing up into women in the heart of the city, how do you make sure that the children are not over exposed to undue influences that a major city can throw up? 

Answer:

I don’t think that our location makes our girls any more vulnerable than they would be elsewhere. Sadly, the internet has the potential to expose children to undue influence wherever they are. We have a truly outstanding pastoral care system at QCPS, and a spiritual, moral, social and cultural development programme in which we address the challenges of modern living in an age appropriate way. We are also developing a programme to help our parents with topics like e-safety at home. As I mentioned earlier, we want our girls to enjoy their childhood and grow up in their own time. Keeping them safe is very much part of that.

 

Question:

With girls who are mostly from an affluent background, how do you encourage the girls to grow up with a social conscience?

Answer:

With privilege comes responsibility, and we do a lot of charity work in school with the girls to help them to understand that there are others who are less fortunate. During assemblies, and in class, we talk about the difficulties faced by others. Kindness and compassion are important here.

 

 

Question:

How important is parental involvement within the school? 

Answer:

There is a strong sense of community and belonging at QCPS, and our parents are very much part of that. They are always welcome in school, and we encourage them to be actively involved in their daughter’s education. They are, after all, the most important people in her life. However, we do understand that parents often lead busy professional lives and we appreciate that juggling commitments can sometimes be difficult. Each family is different, and whilst we hope to get to know the families of our girls very well, we don’t have specific standardised expectations of them.

 

Conclusions

The school is housed in a home and the architecture and beautiful fireplaces bear witness to this. The homely family feel of the school also was more emphasised by this fact, said Mrs Webb. The first thing that strikes anyone walking through is that the school is a  hive of buzzing activity, all the way from reception to Year 6. The classes have an enormous amount of work adorning the walls and girls are encouraged to explore and become independent thinkers in every year. The classroom doors have motivational key words encouraging girls to be independent, confident, thinkers, readers, writers and so on. Several classrooms have boards put up with illustrations of the basic principles of the growth mindset theory.

The food is cooked on site at the senior school and brought over to the junior school and the dining room though somewhat smaller in size is full of life with girls chatting, performing and generally relaxing. The Year 6 girls we met when walking around the school were proper in their manner, polite and respectful when speaking and clearly took their positions as the seniors of the school seriously.

The art room was wonderfully used and the paintings of a good standard. Artwork reflected Picasso, Matisse and Klimt and the school clearly took pride in the work of their students with corridors proudly displaying work of different year groups. The school has a clear emphasis on the arts  and languages with french being part of the curriculum from reception as is ballet and music. A strong music department allows interested girls  to take lessons in a wide variety of instruments.  On display, were not only the more popular instruments but also a variety of more ethnic instruments as well. Clubs are available from reception but the school does not provide wrap around care and clubs close at 4.00 p.m. Extracurricular activities are varied and include fencing, yoga, ballet, art, knitting and a range of other activities. 

Girls are differentiated depending on the calibre of the year groups and the staff are strong in their ability to differentiate. However formal sets are introduced in years 5 and 6. The school also operates a confidential gifted and talented list. Furthermore, Mrs Webb is personally involved with helping parents choose senior schools for the girls. She ensures that there is an open and honest dialogue with the staff members responsible for the girls and their parents. She is present at every parent evening meeting from the Spring of Form V and takes an in depth interest in how the girls are progressing throughout their school careers.

The current Deputy Head is also the SENCO but the school is looking to appoint a Head of Learning Support, who will take over the role of SENCO and deal with any mild issues detected in the students along with PSHE / SMSC work as well.

Contrary to popular belief, the school does NOT have a 7+ entry and although form 3 is a smaller class, this does not reflect policy regarding admission at 7+ as the school only has occasional places available within this year group. 

Along with a few renovation projects which Mrs Webb is introducing within the classrooms, the Hall will also be getting a facelift as will the website which will be unavailable from around April this year.

The lack of an outdoor space within the school premises is amply compensated for by the amount of outdoor lessons and time the girls spend both in Regent’s Park and in the Crescent a few doors down. 

In conclusion, the school gave off a wonderfully happy, warm, busy, vibe with classrooms full of colourful learning aids and girls all full of smiles whether they were knights  fighting an imaginary foe in reception or performing skits in the dining hall in front of their friends.

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