School spotlight: Portland Place School

Jo Golding heads to central London to visit Portland Place School, where a small school is making a big statement about helping young people choose the path that suits them

Portland Place School has certainly carved out a niche for itself in the competitive independent schools’ market. Instead of intense exam pressure, children are given individual attention and the freedom they need to explore different subject areas (particularly creative ones). In a lot of cases, top results are achieved even with the more relaxed attitude of the school. As a non-selective school, pupils are seen for their potential, rather than where they are right now.

The school was founded in 1996, after the proprietor had had a small operation for a couple of years in Kensington. It’s a small school with 210 pupils, but headmaster David Bradbury says this is an intentional choice.

He explains: “We are small by design, it’s never going to be a huge number. We are also phasing out the sixth form at the moment.”

Five numbers

Founding year: 1996

Number of pupils: 210 (60% boys,
40% girls, 12–15% international)

Number of teachers: 55

Percentage of pupils on bursary
or scholarship:

Fees per term: £7,010

As Bradbury mentions, the school is going through an exciting change right now, removing its post-16 intake and focusing on GCSEs. Bradbury explains why this decision was made: “It is reflecting the change in student expectations and the market that’s there for after GCSEs.

“We’re not an academically selective school, so yes, we do have students who are very academically capable, want to do A-levels and go to Russell Group universities, but we also have students for whom that’s not their direction of travel.

“It came to a point where we thought, actually, it’s better that we make sure they all move on to something appropriate rather than trying to force them all down the A-level route. At the point when we made the decision, it was about 50% traditional A-level route, 50% alternative options.”

Portland Place School
Portland Place School

This choice mirrors what has happened across all independent schools, with the Independent Schools Council showing an increase this year in the number of independent schools offering BTECs, Pre-Us and Extended Project Qualifications.

What’s more, the extra space left from the sixth form has meant the school has been able to redevelop its facilities, opening its first dining area this academic year – much to the excitement of staff and pupils. The school has been “very impressed so far” with their new caterers, and staff and pupils are enjoying sitting together at lunchtimes. Parents were also invited into school in the first week for breakfast mornings.

Other new facilities include a refurbished dance studio, and a design and technology room.

The power of technology

Another exciting journey Portland Place School is embarking on is becoming an Apple Distinguished School, which will be completed in a couple of years. Bradbury is an advocate for the role that technology plays in education, and currently students use iPads in school.

He says: “There are risks, of course, but we work with our students on online safety behaviour, and how to keep their digital footprint clean and secure. We do that through our citizenship, computing lessons and it’s part of our curriculum from year 7 onwards.

“The potential benefits of harnessing the power of technology in education far outweigh the risks. It is ubiquitous in adult life so alongside parents at home, part of what we need to do as a school is to make sure our students are ready for that. The accreditation will be that recognition that we use technology extensively, use it creatively and use it to have a measurable positive impact on students’ learning.”

Apple computers are used, for example, in the music room where students can get to grips with editing programmes, while another music room caters for DJ lessons, private one-to-one lessons and choir. The head of music will be taking 25–30 pupils to Barcelona this year where they will take part in two gigs and also enjoy a theme park day.

Albie Marber starring in Macbeth, a Portland Place School production

Bradbury acknowledges that physical space is one of the biggest challenges for a central London school, although the location does provide some amazing spaces pupils can enjoy outside of school. For example, pupils head over to nearby Regent’s Park every morning for PE.

Class sizes are small, with a maximum of 16 children in each class. The teachers adapt their style of teaching to make the most of this opportunity for personalised, individual learning. Bradbury says this means the staff and students very quickly get to know each other, and everybody knows there is somebody looking out for them.

He says: “There’s always somebody you can turn to, which creates a very supportive and nurturing environment. This is repeatedly what parents tell us as well. It’s very much what they’re looking for in a school.”

Bradbury has also found that parents are appreciative of the less pressurised environment Portland Place School provides.

He explains: “We have academically very bright and capable students who would have easily got offers from other types of schools but they’ve chosen to come here, because it’s the right environment for them.

“They wouldn’t thrive in an 800-900 strong school where there’s a constant expectation of getting an A* or 9. They still achieve those amazing grades here at Portland Place School, but the route to get there is different. It is suited to them and their learning style.”

Five facts

1. There is a maximum of 16 children in each class

2. The school is located on Portland Place, the same street as BBC Broadcasting House, Chinese and Polish embassies and RIBA

3. Pupils use nearby Regent’s Park for PE lessons every day

4. The end of year drama performance will be Hairspray

5. Pupils use RADA’s studios for drama rehearsals

Portland Place School has a real feeling of mutual support, with being nurturing key. It reminds me that the environment you are in is crucial to your success, and if a less-pressurised environment gives pupils time to build confidence and figure out their path, this can only mean great things.

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