Exclusive interview with Ms Laura Martin, Headmistress of St Anthony’s School for Girls
It was wonderful to meet with the newly appointed headmistress of St Anthony’s School for Girls o 21st April 2016. Ms Laura Martin is an elegant, warm, friendly and charismatic headmistress. The vision she has for the school shines in her eyes, confirmed with every word and every smile. She is genuinely excited about launching the school and has some fantastic ideas that will give the girls under her care the fullest benefit of a rounded education. The school has already adopted the European Eagle Owl at Golders Hill Park and plans to use the park to the fullest extent to help the children experience a hands on approach to outdoor activities as much as possible. Growing up as one of 5, her instincts to nurture and teach came naturally to her and she thanks God for her calling. Starting off at the Holy Rood Church school in Watford, Ms Martin specialised in Early Years Education and was the Assistant Headmistress at her next school, Holy Family Catholic School in West Acton.
St Anthony’s Girls school has been presented as being distinct and separate from St Anthony’s Boys’. Given that both schools are part of the Alpha Plus group, which includes other boys and girls schools, why was the decision made to make it a sister school to an existing boys school rather than an independent entity?
The reason the school was founded was because of the success that St. Anthony’s School for Boys has experienced. It is oversubscribed and has excellent exit results year on year with more boys seeking a place than currently available. Parents have frequently asked about the possibility of St. Anthony’s developing a school for girls, desiring that the educational quality and ethos they experience for their sons could be extended to their daughters.
We knew therefore from our engagements with local parents that a new girls’ school would be very welcome to them. When the opportunity arose for Alpha Plus Group to secure Ivy House, they had every confidence that it was perfectly suited to house a new girls’ school.
Since the announcement was made about the new school, it has become increasingly clear to us that St. Anthony’s School for Girls appeals not only to parents currently at St. Anthony’s School for Boys, but also to many other parents in the area seeking a Catholic education.
The new school will therefore help to address what we believe is a growing demand in this area for girls’ education, and especially for Catholic girls’ education.
Given their shared ethos and close proximity, we see many benefits to the two schools having a close affinity.
The Alpha Plus Group offers a network of expertise and its Gold Standard of academic excellence. We will work collaboratively with other Alpha Plus schools such as Wetherby School and Pembridge Hall School so as to draw on their breadth of knowledge and experience.
Do you feel that the demand for Catholic schools has risen with increase in the French population in London? Will St Anthony’s girls’ try to fulfil this particular need?
I think London is highly diverse and that good schools will always be popular with parents. St Anthony’s girls’ will be delighted to welcome members of the French community but will not be only catering to one particular community as such. We hope to have diverse nationalities and religions at the school as is the case at the boys’ school.
In what way would St Anthony’s Girls be more closely affiliated with St Anthony’s Boys than any other Alpha plus school?
Although a separate entity to the boys’ school, St. Anthony’s Schools will share the same ethos and values.
As the two Catholic schools within the group, St. Anthony’s School for Boys and St. Anthony’s School for Girls will naturally be more closely affiliated in their shared Catholic ethos and the religious education they provide.
We will from the outset share a similar approach to the curriculum and to the children’s education. As time moves on, I would love to foster even closer links, for example by having a mixed choir, shared sporting events, assemblies and EYFS shared playdates and as the children get older perhaps we can organise dances and other social events. To begin with we will also share some of the excellent facilities available at St. Anthony’s School for Boys, such as the swimming pool.
We hope to organise a breakfast club at the girls’ school which will be open to siblings attending the boy’s school, and to provide a mini bus to transport siblings between the two schools during morning drop and afternoon pick up. We feel that while we are growing, it would be good to enable such social opportunities for the girls.
Our priorities are to provide the same academic standards as the boys’ school but these will not be governed by each other. We will work as independent entities.
Is there a sibling policy that would cover both schools? For instance, what will the relationship between St Anthony’s boys and St Anthony’s girls mean for siblings at the two schools? For instance would sisters of boys attending St Anthony’s have priority at admission? How would this affect sisters at St Anthony’s girls?
Yes. Siblings will get priority. There is however no automatic guarantee. If we feel the school is a right fit, a place will be offered to the siblings. The likelihood of having to choose down to the one place is highly unlikely so we should be able to offer to siblings at both schools.
Being a catholic school, how would you balance the religious affiliations of non-Catholic students?
The Catholic ethos of the school will inform and guide its management and development in the coming years and the school will also welcome children from a non-Catholic background, continuing the excellent tradition of the boys’ school in contributing to the diverse, tolerant and inclusive nature of the local community.
We strongly believe in the promotion of values common to all religions, for example that of being kind to others and respecting the world around us. It is vital that children understand that maintaining their faith is important, in a context of showing tolerance and understanding towards other faiths.
St. Anthony’s Boys educates children from a variety of religious backgrounds, whilst maintaining the school’s Catholic Ethos. Their highly inclusive community celebrates the beliefs and values of all families. They maintain an environment that welcomes open religious discussions. St. Anthony’s School for Girls will share this vision and celebrate all festivals though there will be an emphasis on Catholicism. Having taught in a multi-religious school, I have a lot of experience discussing religion with children. It is quite amazing to see the extent to which children understand and talk about religion drawing on their own cultures, experiences and practices. It lends a lot of depth to a classroom conversation.
St. Anthony’s School for Girls will operate with a Pastoral Board, which will work with Alpha Plus and the school leadership to ensure the Catholic ethos of the school is nurtured and developed. The new school will therefore be run with the same ethos and values as the existing St. Anthony’s School for Boys in Hampstead, where the Pastoral Board model has worked highly successfully.
The new school will teach pupils in a Catholic environment, and will be inclusive and open to other faiths. It will be both academic and caring, setting high educational standards as well as being deeply focused on nurturing the individual, developing respect and creating an environment in which kindness is a core value. It will have a family atmosphere, which will be informal yet structured.
Watching Mr Paul Keyte, Headmaster at the boys’ school has been very helpful. He has been very welcoming and the manner in which the religious education is conducted there is a model for how we will proceed at the girls’ school.
Will the school be a selective one with children having to sit a 4+ assessment for entry to the school? What other entry points would be available to the school? For instance, would there be a 7+ entry point?
Initially we will have classes in Reception and at Year 3 when we open in September 2016 and growth will be organic after that, with Year 1 and Year 4 opening in September 2017. St. Anthony’s School for Girls starts as a single form entry but will become a two form entry school in time. We will be a Prep school and educate girls from age 4 – 11 years and prepare them for 11+ examinations.
For 2016 entry, we will be operating on a non-selective basis for Reception but will be assessing for entry into Year 3. For Reception class entry, there will be a meeting with me so as to ensure the school is the right one for the child. For entry in Reception 2017 onwards, an informal assessment will take place.
The school will select pupils using the same process as St Anthony’s School for Boys: there is an assessment process, but it is not focussed simply on academic ability but as much on whether it is felt that the prospective pupil will enjoy and flourish in the learning environment at St Anthony’s School for Girls.
We will have a 7+ intake and girls will be assessed on reading, writing and math. The assessment will be based on tasks as opposed to exams and will reflect the nature of activities the girls are used to in their current lessons. I don’t feel that you get the best of a child when the child is under pressure and individual personality is important to us. We want to be able to nurture and bring out the best in an individual child and we don’t feel that formal exams are the way to go.
Parents will naturally be cautious to enrol their children in a brand new school. What would you say to such parents? For example, what would St Anthony’s Girls offer over more established Catholic schools like St Christina’s and St Mary’s or non Catholic schools like South Hampstead or Sarum Hall among others?
Firstly the school is housed in a magnificent historical building, surrounded by the green spaces of Golders Hill Park, which will facilitate a great deal of outdoor learning. We will achieve academic excellence through outdoor learning experiences. We believe that fresh air and learning, whilst enjoying the environment and the earth that God gave us, is an extraordinary luxury in London and we intend to make full use of it.
The building itself has gone through extensive refurbishments and provides state of the art facilities and technology. The girls will have access to laptops and tablets and classrooms will be equipped with interactive white boards. We will mix traditional values with modern approaches to learning. Extra-curricular activities will be on offer from Reception.
The garden and the environment will be landscaped to create a forest school approach and we hope to have a mini-beasts shelter and provide the girls with the opportunity to plant their own vegetables and dig their own garden. I believe that although technology is wonderful, children need to socialise face to face, to feel and touch when learning and use space imaginatively and creatively.
We see ourselves as offering choice to parents in a community which is lucky to be already served by many fine schools and in which demand is growing.
We plan to maintain a strong Catholic ethos so we will celebrate the Catholic faith while being open and inclusive to all faiths. We hope we are able to replicate the family values that St. Anthony’s School for Boys promotes.
My personal vision for the new school is to create a family atmosphere, which will be informal yet structured.
- Anthony’s girls will feel safe, secure and valued
- They will enjoy learning in an environment deeply focused on nurturing the individual
- They will grow to be confident and resilient young women
- They will learn and play in an environment where kindness is a core value
Showing love, kindness and compassion to others are core Catholic values. These are values that we hope the girls will grow up with and then extend to the wider world when they leave St. Anthony’s School for Girls. The Gospel values will underpin our teaching and inspire the children to become the best versions of themselves as they grow up. These are the values that I hold dear and the values I hope the girls who come to St. Anthony’s Girls’ will follow.
The school is housed in the former residence of the world famous ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova. Ivy House is a magnificent 3 storey building overlooking Golders Hill Park and also has a large terrace at the back. Ms Martin has all the characteristics of an ideal headmistress to launch the new school. She is filled with enthusiasm and passion and is looking forward to heading what promises to be an excellent school. She hopes to create a family atmosphere at the school and wants it to be recognised, not only for excellent academics but also for the nurturing environment it promises to provide for all the girls who attend. Mums In The Wood is sure that the school will be a welcome addition to the area, providing another option for parents who are looking for an excellent education at a Catholic institution. I look forward to visiting once the building work is complete and will update this article with more on the school then.
Registrations will be accepted via the open days.
Open days: 7th and 21st May 2016 and 11th and 25th June 2016.