Winners 2020

The winners of the 2020 Tes Independent School Awards were announced on Friday 7 February 2020 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.

Below are the winners in each category. Click the name of the category to view more information.

The winners e-book is available here.

Alumni engagement campaign of the year

The winning campaign is "having a massive effect on the city of Newcastle", noted judge Richard Walden.

The project, which offers means-tested bursary places based on a pupil's academic potential rather than their family's financial circumstances, has so far supported 375 students since it was conceived in 2002.

The work is said to have had an effect, not only on the bursary students themselves - and their families - but also on the culture of the Newcastle school, which benefits from greater social diversity among its pupils.

"This shows that what private schools are doing in their communities is very different from what is sometimes reported in the tabloid press," Walden said.

A key fundraiser for the project has been the Bursary Impact Report, which appeared in an issue of the ONA Magazine for alumni, and was sent to around 6,000 alumni and former parents, as well as being available online. The report was full of data, including facts about the achievements of bursary holders and stories about the very personal impact it has had on people's lives.

The magazine was accompanied by a letter from the school's head of English, who has been in post for more than three decades and is said to be remembered "with great affection" by three-quarters of alumni and former parents.

Since the magazine's relaunch, annual voluntary income has jumped to £1.5 million, up from £250,000 the previous year.

Royal Grammar School Newcastle

Best use of technology award

The winner impressed judges with its inclusion of technology in pedagogy, with a focus on pupil learning and results, and its “sheer range of activities”.

Lead judge David James said: “This is very brave stuff for a school to be doing. This school has achieved what is so important – but is frequently overlooked – about using technology effectively: it has insisted that the pupil stays at the centre of the learning.”

Scientists-in-residence in the school’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) room ensure technology is part of the cross-curricular learning. There is considerable student enthusiasm for classroom activities, complemented by clubs that range from robotics to app design.

However, the school stresses its belief in the “human in the room”, and that technology use must be “authentic”: appropriate for a specific moment, a specific subject, by specific teachers. It has ensured that technology brings real added value, which, crucially, has been measured.

The introduction of a bring-your-own-device programme, in which every student brings their laptop to lessons, has led to classroom pace picking up and feedback that is more timely, bespoke and relevant.

Teachers report that their lesson planning is more effective, which the school believes contributed to an improvement in GCSE and A-level results in the summer of 2018.

Judges were also impressed that the school’s director of digital learning and innovation has become a founding member of the Women Leading in AI group, an initiative seeking to empower female teachers to challenge the biases in artificial intelligence.

Wimbledon High School GDST

Boarding school of the year

Wilds Lodge is a therapeutic school near Leicester, which provides boarding for boys aged 6-18 years old with social, emotional or mental health difficulties. It has a 24-hour curriculum, which allows the students to practise a range of skills in different situations while supporting their communication and interactions.

The staff pride themselves on building strong, positive relationships with students, working with them to strengthen their confidence and social and emotional literacy, and instilling strategies that they can use in life to help them become what they want to be.

The education and the care experience are both exceptional – a testament to the fact that staff have undertaken huge amounts of training, and are reflective and committed to the students.

Teacher turnover is very low and the school has invested heavily in staff qualifications. Many in the team have completed degrees while in the school before going on to train as teachers and work in the school afterwards.

Residential visits to places such as Barcelona are an annual event. The students have helped to fundraise for some of the trips, putting on their own Come Dine With Us events and themed evenings.

One parent said: “There are no words to express how grateful and thrilled we are that our son attends this amazing school. From the very first day he started, he has felt valued, listened to and made to feel that he can achieve whatever he wants to and beyond.”

Lead judge Gwen Byrom said: “This is a small school making a large difference to the families it is working with. What staff do to support these children is not celebrated enough.”

Wilds Lodge School

Creativity award

This is a girls’ school that is “not afraid to give pupils a voice of their own” and that takes their learning well beyond the subjects and concepts of the curriculum.

The school, in Ealing, is for girls aged 4-18, and its Da Vinci Programme – aimed at Year 10 pupils – allows teachers to cross disciplines to deliver fascinating and inspiring lessons with creativity at their heart.

Teachers from the maths and art departments come together, for example, to demonstrate how Fibonacci’s sequences and concepts can be applied to famous historical works of art, aiming to question notions such as beauty. Teachers also use the subject of Brexit in history and politics to demonstrate how there is no right answer or quick fix.

Sessions combining public speaking and Classics analyse the murderous actions of famous women in classical literature to show the importance of seeing events in their context and the limitations of applying modern- day sentiment. Meanwhile, principles of biology, history and geography merge in the study of advancements in disease control.

Lead judge Simon Larter-Evans said that the winner “has put together an exciting programme that is compelling, coherent and relevant to students’ lives”.

“The emphasis on risk is well conceived, and the programme is detailed, imaginative and, importantly, treats the students with intellectual respect.

“A quick look at the school’s website also demonstrates that this school is not afraid to give its students a clear, unfettered, independent voice of their own,” he added.

An online campaign runs alongside the programme (#doingdavinci).

Notting Hill & Ealing High School

Independent school of the year

The judges had multiple reasons to be impressed by this co-educational day school, which caters for pupils aged 3-18. The North London school is involved with projects in the local community, including coordinating the revival of the 10-day Highgate Festival, and has strong measures in place to promote pupil wellbeing, as well as supporting unique academic innovations in the teaching of English and maths.

Among its numerous achievements last year, the school won a raft of medals and commendations in a Biology Olympiad competition, while the design and technology department was awarded a Design and Technology Association Mark for excellence in teaching and learning.

Highgate prides itself on providing a broad and creative curriculum for every subject area and within every year group. In pre-prep, children regard school as a safe, happy and exciting place. In juniors, the state- of-the-art building provides a nurturing and friendly environment that encourages academic excellence and personal development. In the senior school, Year 11s enjoyed record success last year in public exams, with results that placed Highgate in the top academic tier of UK independent schools, while the sixth form also enjoyed record exam success in 2019.

Founded more than 450 years ago, Highgate combines historic buildings with modern facilities, including a 200-seat auditorium, dedicated recital spaces, science laboratories, modern language classrooms and high- tech ICT suites. The school is also the co-founder of a free sixth-form academy, in partnership with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, which has helped disadvantaged pupils to gain places at top universities.

Headteacher Adam Pettitt said: “We want our pupils to enjoy their childhood to the full, to develop and pursue their academic and co-curricular passions, and to lead fulfilling, exciting lives as thoughtful and open-minded young adults.”

Highgate School

Independent-state school partnership award

This year’s independent-state school partnership award recognises the strong collaboration between the free school Harris Westminster Sixth Form (HWSF) and the historic Westminster School.

HWSF is a selective free school that admits pupils who meet its academic requirements but gives preference to those who have been in receipt of free school meals during their secondary education, accounting for around half of the student body.

Established as a partnership between the Harris Federation and Westminster School in 2014, HWSF is located close to Westminster School and the two institutions share an identical timetable. The collaboration between the two institutions involves students and teachers. HWSF pupils who study German, music, theatre studies, Latin and art history take their lessons at Westminster, allowing them to study subjects not on offer at HWSF.

Students from both schools have plenty of occasions to interact during co-curricular activities, joint meetings of societies, talks by visiting speakers, sports and theatre productions. Teachers also benefit from the collaboration, as it enables sharing of resources and expertise. HWSF teachers observe teaching at Westminster and can be paired up with an experienced mentor, while time is allocated for departments to meet and reflect on best practice and pedagogy.

The partnership aims to develop a “Westminster approach” at HWSF, which values discussion, independent learning and initiative. This, the institution says, has already brought results. In 2019, 27 per cent of students at HWSF achieved A*AA at A level, and some progressed to the most competitive higher education institutions in the world, including the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Princeton.

Westminster School and Harris Westminster Sixth Form

Lifetime achievement

The recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award is definitely no newbie. Now in his 103rd term as a headmaster, Richard Foster leads Windlesham House, a boarding school in the South Downs. Considered “a stalwart of boarding”, Foster is credited with having taken Windlesham from strength to strength, creating what one parent described as “the school you dream you went to yourself ”.

He started his career in 1985 as the youngest-ever headmaster at Pembroke House School in Kenya. He turned that school into a co-educational institution and forged partnerships with UK public schools. When he left, Pembroke House had a long waiting list. In 1994, he became headmaster of St Anselm’s in Bakewell, where he increased the school’s focus on boarding and transformed its social engagement with parents. Also, owing to his “excellent” fundraising skills, he enabled wide renovation works and the creation of a new sports hall.

While at Windlesham, Foster is said to have devoted himself to the school, creating an environment that students often refer to as a “home from home”. He has promoted the institution widely with parents and the education community, and is highly respected by other school leaders, who regularly come to him for strategic advice. At the heart of his philosophy is the notion that happiness is fundamental for children to do well. His mantra to students is “be kind, be kind, be kind”. Parents appreciate Foster’s devotion and commitment to the happiness, safety and emotional wellbeing of the children in his care.

His students also benefit from his knowledge of senior schools and “immense” network of contacts – he is said to be “excellent” at matching the individual student to the right senior school. As a result, Windlesham has an “unusually high” success rate, with all children gaining a place at their chosen school. And based on their experience at Windlesham, almost all of them opt for boarding.

Windlesham House School

Marketing campaign of the year

In September 2016, Notre Dame School noticed that its pupil roll numbers had been falling for a number of years. Staff at the Roman Catholic day school in Cobham, Surrey, decided to find out why.

They discovered that parents chose the school for its sector-leading teaching and learning, leadership and facilities, and its “excellent” Independent Schools Inspectorate report. However, there was also a perception of a school “strong in arts but a last resort academically”, which was “starkly misaligned with reality”. The experience of families dealing with the school was seen as minimal and transactional.

So the school focused on customer-facing activities, while cutting its marketing and admissions expenditure by 50 per cent and its advertising expenditure by 85 per cent. New admissions and marketing approaches were introduced, aimed at creating an accessible, transparent and kind admissions journey that would be less stressful for prospective parents and children. Friendly, informative welcome packs were produced, while key messages were identified to build a word-of-mouth reputation and address misconceptions. Importantly, the role of the admissions team was reframed as that of an advocate for families rather than a gatekeeper.

The figures do not lie. The senior school roll is up by 18 per cent in two years, and five year groups are full. Applications at 11-plus have risen by 42 per cent, and the school is now a first-choice destination for candidates, including those of the highest ability.

Lead judge Rachel Hadley-Leonard said Notre Dame had run a brave and insightful campaign that recognised the importance of customer service throughout the admissions journey. “The school took bold steps to cut back on more traditional marketing strategies and focus on ensuring that every family was given a personal and five-star customer experience, resulting in pupil growth and improved feedback,” she added.

Notre Dame School Cobham

Pre-prep/prep School of the year

The school dog and a gender-neutral uniform designed by the pupils were among the features that caught the judges’ attention in this category.

Bella the Australian labradoodle was recruited by the learning support department to provide comfort and support to children who may need it. And the uniform change, inspired by the Norwich-based school’s pupil-led council, is said to have had “a major impact on everyone’s tolerance and empathy”, as well as making “a huge difference” to a small number of pupils who felt out of place in their old uniform.

The school’s other achievements include its newly formed Formula 24 electric go-kart team, which was said to be the first ever team from Norfolk to qualify for the Greenpower International Final. A total of 40 pupils have so far attended races nationally and, behind the scenes, they have built and modified the car, while gaining hands-on engineering experience and benefiting from a fabulous context in which to learn teamwork. The project has also benefited hundreds of state pupils.

The school is set in a 15-acre wooded site in Norwich, where children have the space and freedom to play and explore. Every child has the opportunity to represent the school in sports fixtures (Year 4 upwards), participate in house matches and in swimming galas (Year 3 upwards), and all children take part in athletics sports days.

Meanwhile, every pupil from Years 1 to 8 had their artwork framed and exhibited in a biennial art exhibition, while numerous plays, concerts, house singing and the variety show give a platform for all to perform.

The school also won a computer coding competition at the University of East Anglia and was third internationally in the Vocab Express Challenge (piccolo category).

Town Close School

Senior school of the year

In September 2017, Highgate School co-founded a free sixth-form academy in partnership with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, called the London Academy of Excellence, in Tottenham.

The first group of students received their A-level results in the summer of 2019, with 70 per cent achieving A*-B grades and more than half going on to study at Russell Group universities (compared with around 1 per cent of Tottenham school leavers overall). “What they have done for disadvantaged pupils, getting them into good universities, is unbelievable,” said judge Julie Robinson.

Highgate’s headteacher, Adam Pettitt, said that part of the school’s success was down to “liberating teachers to teach the subject, not the exam spec, [so] that their passion can ignite every child’s wonderfully diverse curiosity”. Examples of academic innovation include a “maths jam” – where sixth-formers and teachers delivered mini talks on interesting pieces of mathematics – and an English department initiative to develop a reading culture across the school, called Highgate 21, in which staff select 21 novels for pupils to read during their senior school years.

Richard Walden, another of the judges, said the school was “very, very strong across a whole range of factors”. Those factors include community projects and a very active, pupil-led environment committee that campaigned against air pollution created by cars outside the school.

The school also employs a director of wellbeing, who manages a team of counsellors and works closely with heads of house and the nurse team to ensure pupils are supported and that parents receive expert guidance.

Highgate’s record-breaking success in its public examinations for Year 11 and sixth form in 2019 placed it in the top academic tier of UK independent schools.

Highgate School

Sports award

The sports programme at Reed’s School, in Cobham, Surrey, was commended by the judges for its record participation rate, excellent results and outreach activities.

The programme is nurturing elite athletes as well as developing a lifelong love of sport among students. “[There’s] good evidence showing all this, and of improved wellbeing,” said lead judge Richard Walden.

The school offers a wide range of sports for students to choose from. Participation in lower years is 100 per cent, while at senior level, it is 70 per cent. All pupils taking part in the sports programme, regardless of skill level, have the opportunity to represent the school in competition – something the school considers “fundamental” to its sporting ethos.

Many students, in fact, enter the school without having much previous sport experience. For example, the school’s First XI boys’ hockey team won the under-18 national title this year, and nine of the players had never picked up a hockey stick before starting at Reed’s. In 2018-19, the school won 16 national titles, and 26 pupils represented England or Great Britain in their sports.

The school also has three sports academies: tennis, ski-racing and golf. Athletes in these academies are supported with a personalised programme incorporating training and education. The high performance programme at the school was the first fully integrated centre of its kind in a school for young athletes in the UK – and has been “widely copied”, Walden said.

Its sports facilities, which Walden called as “superb”, are provided at “no or little charge” to many community groups, and Reed’s organises a sports outreach programme for more than 40 schools from financially disadvantaged areas.

Reed's School

Strategic education initiative of the year

Eton’s Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning (CIRL) impressed judges with its impactful contribution to promoting innovation and evidence-based practice.

Lead judge Julie Robinson said the centre “leads the way in collaborative, evidence-based research” and “provides practical support to pupils and teachers very widely by making findings available online for free”. Measured impact, careful background research and experimentation “make the work of CIRL particularly valuable”, she added.

CIRL is a set of facilities carrying out original research to develop expertise in teaching and learning among staff and students. It has promoted a culture of creative innovation, disciplined enquiry and evidence-informed practice, helping teachers to hone their skills through self-assessment and collaboration with colleagues. Since its establishment, teachers at the school have been more engaged with evidence-informed practices and academic publishing has increased. School-wide research has also been initiated, for example to investigate how Eton promoted students’ happiness and socioemotional skills.

The centre also offers training to teachers and students in evidence-based innovations, including spaced repetition, revision techniques, feedback and research methodologies, and it collaborates with the Chartered College of Teaching to promote research literacy among teachers.

By reaching out to other organisations, the centre’s work “cascades into educational developments broadly and widely”, Robinson said. The centre has collaborated with the universities of Harvard, Oxford and UCL, as well as with other schools, including local state and independent partnership schools across the Thames Valley Learning Partnership. Research projects have studied how students deal with stress, independent-state school partnerships, and developing resilience and character education.

Eton College

Student initiative of the year

A student initiative to tackle period poverty has captured the judges’ attention this year. Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets or handwashing facilities. It is a problem that means one in 10 girls misses out on school because she cannot afford sanitary products.

A group of lower-sixth students at girls’ school St Augustine’s Priory, in London, have decided to raise awareness of the issue and play their part in preventing period poverty – an initiative that the institution said represents a “prime example” of the school’s belief in the power of the individual to make a difference in the world.

The students’ group, called Preventing Period Poverty, is adding its voice to lobby the UK government to change the policy that makes tampons and feminine hygiene products subject to VAT. Through their group activities, the students have gathered 8,500 followers on Instagram and made valuable links and collaborations with suppliers and local businesses.

One of the partnerships involved Preventing Period Poverty working with jewellery makers to support the work of homeless shelters. From this collaboration, a necklace – dubbed the Bleeding Heart – was created, and 60 per cent of the sales profits will be used to distribute sanitary products to homeless shelters across the UK.

Another company that the St Augustine’s girls work with is Flowcup, which is now donating one menstrual cup to women in Africa for every cup sold. As part of their outreach activities, representatives of the Preventing Period Poverty group spoke on a panel at a Women of Power event in London in October 2018.

St Augustine's Priory

Wellbeing initiative of the year

A campaign to improve the mental health of pupils, staff and the wider community has helped Bradford Grammar School stand out against a record number of entries this year.

The Happiness Campaign involves teaching staff from the headteacher down, as well as parents and pupils, who come together in a series of online videos talking about how they have managed their own mental health. There is also tailored support for pupils who need it, a focus on how sport and exercise can contribute to mental wellbeing and an emphasis on what staff can do to support pupils’ mental health.

The campaign goes beyond the school gates to the wider community and other schools via resources available on Bradford Grammar’s website. What’s more, it has won the support of 35 national charities, including Time to Change, Rethink Mental Illness and the NSPCC.

Lead judge Durell Barnes said: “The Happiness Campaign puts wellbeing and self-esteem front and centre of life at Bradford Grammar School. Led by the head, with emphasis on tailored support for pupils and ensuring staff wellbeing, it reaches out to parents, alumni, feeder schools and the local community.

“The toolkit and materials available more widely are about supporting pupils and ensuring other professionals do likewise,” he added.

Bradford Grammar School

Whole-school community initiative of the year

Five years ago, Highfield, the junior school at Harrogate Ladies’ College, was donating around £5,000 a year to charity, on average. However, it wanted to engage pupils and parents more effectively in community outreach activities.

This year, the Yorkshire school is celebrating a record-breaking figure for charitable giving, with £21,761 raised by the school’s 196 children, while parents and the wider community have donated well over £70,000 to charities supported by the institution.

The school also wanted to show that charitable giving isn’t just about a financial contribution. “At its best, [it] goes beyond the financial to include time, resources and skills. At its heart is a thriving relationship between giver and recipient,” the school explained in its submission.

The school’s work in a deprived Ugandan rural community is a good example of this ethos. In 2015, Highfield linked up with charity CRMI to help complete the building of a primary school in the community.

Each year, a group of Year 6 pupils and their parents visit the school and meet sponsored children, while Highfield staff run teacher training activities. The school has also purchased land to prepare a sports field, given solar lamps to each child, renovated the houses of four of the poorest families and provided medical treatments for children.

This year, the institution is celebrating a milestone, sponsoring more than 100 children at the school, with more families joining up.

The judges said they were impressed by the school’s activities in Africa and its “remarkable” fundraising.

Highfield at Harrogate Ladies' College