New Abacus Belsize free school to push Mandarin and outdoor learning – and Poet Laureate’s son is first teacher

Reception teacher Lucas Motion and headteacher Vicky Briody. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Reception teacher Lucas Motion and headteacher Vicky Briody. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The headteacher of Camden’s newest free school has outlined her vision for the first time – and revealed she thought “long and hard” before taking on the job.

Abacus Belsize Primary School’s newly-appointed principal Vicky Briony said Mandarin classes and “outdoor learning” – with reading, writing and maths work spilling out into the playground – will be at the heart of the school’s ethos when it opens in September.

And while she values working closely with Islington Council in her current post, as deputy head of Highbury Quadrant Primary School in Highbury, she said she will relish the “freedom” of running a school away from local authority control.

“I really thought long and hard before applying for the job because free schools are unknown,” she said. “But with the current way things are going, how much local authority involvement will there be in schools in five years time?

“It’s great to have that freedom to offer things like Mandarin and outside learning.”

Ms Briony said Mandarin lessons will begin at reception, with the school placing great emphasis on early language acquisition, alongside its desire to take education outside of the classroom.

“Thirty-eight per cent of businesses want their graduates to be able to speak Mandarin, but only four per cent of schools offer it,” she added.

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Speaking to the Ham&High about the school’s plans, the 32-year-old was joined by its first teacher Lucas Motion – the son of former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.

A former student at Central School of Speech and Drama in Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, Mr Motion will teach the first reception class from September. Two thirds of the 30 places have already been filled.

The 24-year-old, who is also moving from Highbury Quadrant Primary, said: “I feel very excited and quite lucky to be part of this.

“I have a definite commitment to my current class, but I would be lying if I said there was not excitement about starting in September, and the opportunity to be part of a brand new school.”

Meanwhile, neither teacher seems phased by the uncertainty surrounding the school’s permanent site which is yet to be found.

Abacus Belsize has agreed a temporary two-year home in Hampstead Town Hall in Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park.

Ms Briony insists Abacus is high on the list of schools that could be found a base by Boris Johnson. The Mayor of London has pledged to hand empty public buildings to 10 free schools – and Abacus has its eye on Hampstead Police Station in Rosslyn Hill.

“I’m told we’re high up on Boris’s list,” said Ms Briony. “We’re not campaigning for the closure of the police station, but if the site becomes available we would seriously consider it.”