Exclusive Interview with Mr Donal Brennan, Headmaster, of St Anthony’s School for Girls

 

 

Introduction

It was a pleasure to speak with  Mr Donal Brennan on 28th April 2021. Warm and friendly, Mr Brennan comes across as an incredibly personable and approachable head. He is on the gate at both pick up and drop off and has a word for every child. He is clearly a much loved head and gets involved in everything from running the school to running a bbq at the  school fair. He knows every child and every parent and his doors are always open. 

Under his headship, the school is thriving and great exits bear witness to his dedication and passion for helping and supporting each and every girl throughout their  academic journey. Mr Brennan, originally from the West Coast of Ireland,  says he was Inspired by his older brother, who taught him, and in his family teaching was a noble profession, a vocation which was encouraged and highly respected by his parents in the rural community he grew up in.

‘Education was held in the very high regard’ as a means towards a better life, but the idea of good education mattered dearly. 

An adage he clearly adheres to as the headmaster of a young school that is growing and making it’s mark in the North London Community under his expert guidance. 

 

Question:

What do you feel is important in a headmaster of a prep school and what qualities do you feel are most important in a headmaster? Do you think this is different depending on whether the school is a co-ed school or a single sex school?

Answer: 

To be a successful headmaster of a prep school one has to be, ambitious, optimistic and determined.  The 11+ examinations are demanding, but at all times you must be true to the ideal that the young children in your care are being given the best educational foundation, where they can grow in mind, body and soul.

 

Question:

Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to St Anthony’s Girls and how it differs from Hampshire and Hill House if it does?

Answer: 

I do not think it is different depending on whether the school is co-ed or a single sex school.  Prep school needs to ensure that the children are presented with the broadest range of stimuli to encourage creative thinking, develop skills and explore hidden talents in nurturing and highly respectful environment.

Question:

How would you describe your ideal school? What do you feel should be the ethos and heart of any school?

Answer: 

My ideal school is St. Anthony’s Girls where strong foundations have been built, bright, airy classrooms within walking distance of the Golders Hill Park.  An environment where teachers truly show that they care and will always go that extra step to support and guide children.  An environment that is a sanctuary of creativity where there is a sense of purpose and that opportunity finds itself around every corner.

 

Question: 

St Anthony’s Girls has gone very quickly, (in less than 10 years), from a small school to being one that is rapidly gaining a very good reputation in the community. What do you feel has contributed to such a rapid growth in a relatively short time?

  • The rapid growth of St. Anthony’s owes its success to a number of factors:

Ivy House with its large airy classrooms, with specialist teaching spaces within a five minute walk from Golders Hill Park makes for a very appealing learning environment.

The teaching staff appreciate the importance and the value of having ample time to really guide and support the children in their learning.  They are sincere, truly committed and happy to work at St. Anthony’s.  The children are relaxed at ease and encouraged to find their inner voice and share, knowing that they will always receive a positive constructive response.

Parents recognise the sense of there being a ‘St. Anthony’s Way’ of being which attracts more and more families who are eager for their children to have a mindful and spiritual learning experience who academic success is a natural pursuit but it is nurtured and supported with a comprehensive sporting and creative Arts curriculum.

 

Question: 

How does the school handle the 7+ process? Do you prepare girls who want to leave? What is the intake into the school like? How many places are on offer at 7+ ?

Answer:

We are an 11+ school and believe that the children who grow and enjoy a very happy childhood without early testing at 7+ will reach their academic potential at 11+ will be confident as young people and will have found their talent for Music, Drama and Sports.

We are sensitive to families who may wish to do 7+ but we do not promote it as an exit point from St. Anthony’s.

 

Question:

There seems to be a large number of exits in all different years from the St Anthony’s boys’ school and it seems to have been in the case for the past several years due to a variety of factors. Do you see the schools merging and becoming one co-educational school? Or is there any cross over between the schools for any subjects? Is starting the co-educational nursery at the school a first step in this direction?

Answer:

The launch of the St. Anthony’s Nursery in (September 2021) is an ideal opportunity for the St. Anthony’s Schools to begin to develop a co-educational culture within our schools.  Nursery children will at 4+ choose to enter the boys and girls schools and the opportunity for the children to experience mixed learning especially will be possible in a range of areas such as ‘Sacremental’  Preparation, School choirs, Sports, Drama, Debating and Clubs. Relationships formed at nursery level will thus be maintained throughout their time within the St Anthony’s schools. 

 

Question: 

Are there plans afoot to introduce a secondary school too?

Answer: 

The introduction of a secondary school is a project that has been discussed and parents do ask when this will happen as it is seen as a natural next step, in time.

 

Question:

What is the school’s approach to STEAM learning and preparing the girls for non traditional careers in a digital age?

Answer: 

St Anthony’s Girls ensures that girls similar to the boys are taught STEAM subjects by specialist teachers ensuring that Mathematics and Science are given ample time on the timetable.

The STEAM + child initiated Enterprise week and the culture of hands on experience learning in our science laboratory ensure our girls are inquisitive and highly engaged in these subjects further supporting the girls as they progress into secondary school and a future where non traditional careers will be the norm.

 

Question:

When competing for places against the more established, traditionally academic schools in the area, how does St Anthony’s Girls prepare the students who are applying to the most competitive schools at the 11+?

Answer: 

St Anthony’s has achieved outstanding 11+ results, ensuring that the girls achieve places in schools which include N.L.C.S, South Hampstead High, Channing, City, Highgate, Belmont, Queens College and Francis Holland. We owe our success to an excellent partnership among parents, children and teachers.  The St. Anthony’s eighteenth month 11+ programme of preparation which begins at the beginning of Year 5 allow the children to have ample time to prepare without it being rushed, intense or stressful. 

A specialist team of English, Maths, and Science teachers prepare the girls for ultimate success in the 11+ examinations.  At no time do we limit the extra curricular or the sports and creative arts curriculum during this time.  The girls also avail of Debating, Philosophy and are nominated for roles of responsibility which further support with developing confidence and assertiveness skills.

We work very closely with parents to identify schools which are the best match for the girls, this approach that the girls experience the 11+ programme as an affirming process with a real sense of success at the end.

 

Question: 

With so much exposure to social media alongside the pressure of exams, how does the school prepare and support girls preparing to enter secondary school pastorally and academically?

Answer: 

During the summer term of Year 6 the girls experience a creative curriculum with an emphasis on team work initiated group activities such as the STEAM & Enterprise Fair where girls are guided to lead on independent assignment work which is more in keeping with aspects of Year 7 learning.

The girls also complete a series of workshops within the RAP project which ensures they are fully conversant with the world of social media, the transition to owning their own mobile phones, the positives of internet and online communication as well as being aware of the limitations, risks and social pressures they may be exposed to.

 

Question:

What is the school’s policy on children who are gifted and talented and/or children who have special needs? Do you have a full time SENDCO at the school?

Answer: 

All children are assessed at entry to St. Antony’s in an age appropriate way. Our SENCO, the Deputy Headteacher ensures all send needs are evidenced, differentiated teaching, focus groups and one-to-one support is in place to ensure that individual learning profiles are catered for in all lessons.

A number of specialist staff support according to the needs of the children.

The school works to ensure a wrap around programme supports the individualised learning path of each child.

Gifted and talented children are offered a bespoke programme where it further supports their progress and sense of achievement.

 

Question:

What do you feel about the adage that single sex schools are better for girls and co-educational schools are better for boys? Is there any truth in that given the difference in maturity at similar ages?

Answer: 

At St Anthony’s Girls we are inspired to teach the girls because they are curious, enquiring and assertive, in all that they do.

Each is treated as an individual who is being guided along her learning path, aspiring to achieve across a range of disciplines.

We do not hold preconceived ideas about what we expect because they are girls.

Question:

While smaller classes are excellent for individual attention and teaching, what social impact do you feel it has as the girls grow through the school? How does the school handle cliques and any issues that arise as a result of friendships gone awry?

Answer: 

Small classes are excellent for individual attention and this has ensured that girls make consistent progress without any time lost while waiting in a long que, with your hand up.

We see the positive results of this across all year groups where learning happens and teacher intervention, so immediate, that learning leaps can be quickly facilitated.

Team work, we are a united group, we work for the common good within our class, we are all equal but uniquely special are the guidelines by which avoid cliques, special friends, pre-booked playmates for playtime, or reserve seating and whispering among the girls.  Each class is a team with an emphasis on being happy for everyone in the group.

 

Question:

How much involvement does the parent community have in the school? Is there an active parent association?

Answer: 

Parents are actively involved in the life of the school. The headteacher meets every parent and child on the gate at drop off, parents have an open invitation to attend all three weekly assemblies. Talk Time, Worship with Song and Friday Celebration assembly.  Teachers and Parents communicate directly via teacher school email.  Teachers will telephone parents when necessary, respond to all emails within 24 hours and will see parents directly on the school gate at home time.

The Friends of St. Anthony’s Our Parents Association are instrumental in supporting with whole school uniform sales, Christmas Fayre, Summer BBQ, Macmillan Coffee mornings and rallying volunteers to support with such events.  Turning cause into action in line with our ethos of Actions Speak Louder than words ensure we have a robust charitable approach to helping those in our community who are less fortunate than us.

Our parents are assertive, which I appreciated, as their confident feedback helps me in ensuring that we are all united in supporting our vision, of delivering and living by ‘The St Anthony’s Way of kindness, respect, curiosity, inspiration and forgiveness.

 

Question:

What do you see as being the role of St. Anthony’Girls school within the local and wider community?  With most private schools having connections with the local state schools, do you have any thoughts on how Anthony’s Girls School might engage with other local schools going forward?

Answer:

St Anthony’s Girls is a confident school, which has found its niche within Golders Green and Hampstead. It has been acknowledged in recent diocesan inspections as having an outstanding commitment to Catholic Life. The girls believe that words alone are not enough, we must be pro-active in our support of those who need our support.

This resonates with our parents and teachers who are very supportive of initiatives such as Mary’s Meals, The Harriet Food Appeal, Little Village, CAFOD overseas development projects and WATER AID.

Our Mini Vinnies/Young Child Lead Charity group believe in placing regular visits to the elderly at The Sonesta Old People’s Hone and are looking forward to running the Summer Talent Show to support families who do not have access to reading books.

St. Anthony’s Girls has, this year twinned with DIL Secondary school in Pakistan with an aim to plan fund raising initiative in 2021/22 to support this school and its students.

 

Conclusion

St Anthony’s School for Girls is most certainly on the way up and is one to watch as it grows year on year. The education provided is excellent and as each year adds on new entrants, the school is living up to the high expectations of North London parents. With impressive and creative teaching methods and dedicated staff, the school is beginning to hold its own in terms of stats and as the applications grow so are the facilities. The co-educational nursery  and access to both the Boys’ School and the Girls’s School via the nursery, is making sure that siblings stay together and the part  diamond structure of the school with a co-ed nursery, then splitting into single sex teaching and the coming together again for cross curricular activities ensures that both the girls in St Anthony School for Girls and the boys in St Anthony’s School for Boys are in the privileged position of having the best of both worlds. Co-educational activities with single sex teaching.

The school itself overlooks Golder’s Hill Park where the girls go regularly for exercise and the new nursery and playground speak for themselves. Large airy classrooms with lots of natural light, balconies over looking an expanse of green and housed in the beautiful, historic, building that was once home to Anna Pavalova, St Anthony’s School for Girls is a haven for the creative, the academic and the musically talented. Every classroom is beautifully and tastefully designed to make girls feel at home and be inspired at the same time. The school has a wonderful family feel to it and it is no wonder that smiling faces and skipping feet are the norm here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like & Share this post...

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Register for free events

Subscribe to our newsletter to register for our free events.