Pioneering Primrose Hill nursery headteacher honoured for work with minority communities

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 March 2014

Sheema Parsons at St Mark's Nursery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sheema Parsons at St Mark's Nursery. Picture: Polly Hancock


A pioneering headteacher of a nursery school where children learn Swahili and go to the opera has been honoured with an award for her work with minority communities.

Sheema Parsons has won recognition from the British Community Honours Awards for improving the welfare and the inclusion of minority communities within wider society as headteacher of St Mark’s Square Nursery School, in Primrose Hill.

Dr Parsons, who was made an OBE for services to education nine months ago, will pick up the gong at a lavish awards dinner at the House of Lords in October.

“When I opened the school in 1983, it 
became my dream as an educator to have an impact on British society,” she said. “I have influenced many British nursery schools.”

A large number of celebrity parents have sent their children to the school over the years for its unique approach to learning, including Hollywood 
actress Kate Winslet, former Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher and Bend It Like Beckham film director Gurinder Chadha.

Pupils go on trips to the opera and art galleries, learn yoga and martial arts and speak French and Swahili. Most learn to read and write by the time they leave for primary school, so it is perhaps little wonder that about 60 per cent of the school’s children go on to study at Oxbridge.

“Our academic levels are very high, it’s not like at Montessori school where they are playing with puzzles,” Dr Parsons said.

“They are very well prepared for school. They learn to read from talk; none of this ‘cat,’ ‘mat,’ ‘pat,’ ‘sat’. Children get so bored of that.”

But Dr Parsons will not pass on the secrets of her success to anyone else as she is afraid that no one else will be able to run the nursery to her exacting standards.

“I don’t want to franchise,” she said. “I don’t want to become another Maria Montessori [founder of the alternative Montessori education method].

“I’m not interested in teaching other people what to do. Nobody else can do it. I don’t want someone to take my beautiful schools idea and turn it into a hamburglar school.”

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