An exclusive interview with Mrs Helen Richardson, headmistress of Kilburn Grange School
Mums In The Wood was introduced to Kilburn Grange School recently by one of the parents. I am very grateful to Ms Richardson for seeing me and taking the time to speak to me about the school on 3rd November 2015.
Ms Richardson is highly experienced and although this is her first headship, she has 16 – 17 years of experience under her belt. She has taught for many years in inner city state schools starting off in Upton Park and East Ham then her final appointment before coming to Kilburn was a school based in Stratford near the Olympic Park where she worked as a Deputy Head. Children from the school were chosen to represent and participate in the opening ceremony at the Olympics under her direction. She is clearly dedicated and enthusiastic about the school and comes across as a capable, efficient and driven head, keen to help integrate the school in the local community. She has also run Graduate Teacher training programmes which have been rated as Outstanding and continues to pick and train her teachers while also encouraging them to grow within their own specialisms. Growing up as the only black child in her class, she is eager to promote diversity and strongly believes that children should be exposed to different cultures, beliefs and religions.
Kilburn Grange School is a new free school. It has amazing spacious and well structured classrooms with large windows and a lot of natural light streaming in. Large interactive screens have been provided for the two reception classes to support the children in their learning. Learning was in progress when we visited and the children were engaged and frankly mesmerised by the safety video that was on. The school has around 24 children per class. The school is run and owned by the Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET).
Ms Richardson explaining the concept of free schools to us, had this to say. “Free schools have more flexibility to tailor the curriculum to the needs of their pupils. Although we follow the Statutory Framework for EYFS and from next year National Curriculum, we can adapt them as necessary to meet the needs of the children. Secondly, the school fulfils a need within local communities where there is a lack of school places and parents can choose a school with brand new state of the art facilities and enthusiastic dynamic teachers. Finally, free schools led by a Trust like ours, have more flexibility in buying in support. State schools are usually use services from the Local Authority whereas free schools have the flexibility to buy in alternative support that is better suited to the needs of the school and pupils.”
If Kilburn Grange School is a free school, which is similar to an academy, what is the admissions criteria? Is it the same as other state schools?
Free schools are similar to academies in that the school is not governed by the Local Authority. The quality of the school comes down to the people running it. The previous Government set up the scheme hoping that there would be a strong parent influence and some Free Schools are run by parents but in my experience, having an organisation that has a proven track record for setting up Free Schools, alongside education advisors is advantageous to the success of the school.
In a Local Authority school, as mentioned above, the school could be limited in terms of where services are sourced from, e.g. speech therapists, occupational therapists etc as they have been chosen by the Local Authority. However, with free schools, the school can go to a different borough or privately source support staff and therapists as there is no fee paid to the Local Authority, the school can identify and call in the best people for the job. This is especially important for the provision of Special Education Needs (SEN).
The every day running of the school is the same as the Local Authority school. The priorities are the same. The admissions criteria are run through Brent Council. Currently, there is no catchment area for selection. Anyone can come from any borough but parents will be more likely to achieve Kilbrun Grange as their first choice if they are closer to the school. At the moment, most children are from NW6. Currently, we have 51% from Kilburn, Brondesbury, West Hampstead and Queen’s Park. Around 30% from NW2 i.e. Cricklewood, Neasden, Willesden and Dollis Hill. The other 19% are from NW10, NW8 and W10. Most children are from the local area. From my experience of other new Free schools, as the school grows, a catchment area will naturally occur, as the school becomes part of the local community.
In an area that is saturated with so many very well regarded schools both state and private, what does Kilburn Grange School offer that sets it apart from the rest?
We are trying to create a profile. We are a new school for the local community and we like to think of ourselves as a blend of the independent sector and the state sector. So we offer the best of both worlds. There is an emphasis on diversity and there are 19 different ethnic backgrounds. We also offer an extended day, with a breakfast club from 7:45 am and afterschool provision which includes a range of clubs, as well as general after school care from 5:00pm – 6:00pm. We are also hoping to offer Mandarin very shortly to the children.
There is no religious affiliation and the school is multi religious.
We have beautifully designed uniforms which gives the school a feel of a private school and the parents and children love the quality and design.
There is a two form entry to the reception class so when this year’s intake moves into year 1, we will take another reception cohort and the school will grow organically until 2022 when it will be full with a maximum of 420 pupils.
We take in year applications if we have spaces in the year group, but we can only take admissions for reception this year as we do not have any Key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2 classes.
The school is built in a way that the reception classes for the youngest pupils are on the ground floor and the Year 6 (eldest) will be on the higher floors.
What kind of parent involvement is there in the school and what are the expected levels?
We are trying to gather more parental involvement and the school is in the early stages of establishing a strong Parent, Teacher, Community, Association (PTCA) called Friends of Kilburn Grange School. They will be responsible for arranging half termly events where parents can celebrate their child’s work, fundraising and promoting the school. We welcome parental involvement as this is a unique opportunity for parents to contribute to shaping a school at the very beginning. Parents feel able to recommend ideas to the school and they are always considered and actioned where possible. We have an open door policy with open dialogue with parents.
What is the policy of the school on special needs and gifted and talented children? Is there extension work provided?
We have a SEN co-ordinator. There is no cap on the numbers of children with special needs. The emphasis is on diversity and we believe it is important for children to learn and experience what real society is like.
With regards to pupils who are Gifted and Talented, we recognise and harness potential. We believe all children have a gift and believe that we should focus on the potential of all children and we will provide specific reports which show pupils who are performing above expectations, however, we do not “label” pupils.
There is a base line assessment in Reception. Class teachers set targets to work towards the learning goal. We can identify and differentiate within the class room setting. There are 3 phonics groups and we teach the pupils according to their stage of development. Each class has a teacher and a teaching assistant and the deputy head also teaches phonics each day.
The Head Teacher visits the home of each child before they start? Is this something every head teacher of a free school does or is this specific to Kilburn Grange School?
As a new school it would be good practice for a member of the senior leadership team to visit the homes of the children they are offering places to. It is important that we establish relationships with the families and create a connection so that when the children come to school, they will not feel too anxious. Usually in most state schools, it is the class teacher or the Early Years co-ordinator who visits the homes of the pupils. It is general practice to visit the child in their natural environment.
What happens if a parent has a complaint? What is the procedure? e.g. if it goes to the governing body and the parent is not satisfied, does in then become the responsibility of the Local Authority?
The first port of call should always be the Headteacher, next the Chair of Governors and then the Chief Executive Officer of the Trust and finally the Chair of the Trust. This is in line with the school’s complaints procedure.
The school has a Local Governing Body which is the same as the Governing Body in a Local Authority School and is made up of the Chair, Vice Chair, parent representative, teacher representative and a representative from the Trust.
The complaints policy is set out on the school’s website and the staff will be able to direct any parent who wishes to use the procedure to the policy.
The local authority is only contacted if there is an issue with a safeguarding children. If the school wishes to contact the Local Authority for advice or to carry out external monitoring of standards then this is possible.
There is also a whistleblowing policy within the school.
Mrs Richardson is clearly driven and very experienced. Initial visits from the Trust and external sources (including the Department of Education) have been positive about the school so far. Mrs Richardson is enthusiastic and I am sure the school will do very well under her headship and guidance. It is difficult to draw conclusions about the school itself as it is currently at the very start of the process and only has two reception classes but all signs are very positive. I wish her all the very best and am sure Kilburn Grange will turn out to be an excellent addition to the schools in the area.