From 'broken' to flourishing': Heathside Preparatory School in Hampstead
- Credit: Heathside
A "broken" Hampstead prep school on the cusp of closure has been transformed by new leadership.
Heathside Preparatory School, in Heath Street, has come out of "requires improvement" to be rated "good" by education watchdog Ofsted – which is "fabulous news" for new headteacher Kate Vintiner.
"Allowing something to flourish again has been the best job in the world," she said.
In 2019 a Ham&High investigation uncovered chaos behind the scenes at the school, which was bought by Dukes Education on the last day of summer term.
Last year a High Court judge found failings in former headteacher and proprietor Melissa Remus's running of the establishment, including taking in GCSE pupils without permission.
Heathside hoped to open a senior school, and was given permission for it by Ofsted, but has been unable to find a suitable building so from September pupils will move on after Year 8.
Kate was appointed by Aatif Hassan, founder of Dukes, in July 2019 when the school was "on the brink of bankruptcy" and the school community was invited for a meeting.
"Parents, children, staff were incredibly anxious," she said. "Prior to Dukes taking over 100 families left because the school was so unstable. Aatif came in and said: 'I've bought the school, everything is going to be okay.'"
Dukes put £500,000 into the school for new equipment and Kate appointed a new senior leadership team.
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"To make a school fabulous, as a school leader I want to be surrounded by people better than me in the different areas," she said.
The mum-of-three went through every element brought up in the previous Ofsted inspection, looking at health and safety, safeguarding, staff contracts, and pupils behaviour policies.
She said: "Once you've got solid foundations you can build something amazing on top, but if you don't have the policies the procedures and the compliance right, whatever you build on top will wobble and fail."
No sooner had things settled than Covid struck, but Kate said the school was already in emergency planning mode, "it was just a re-run for a different scenario".
All 225 pupils, from nursery children aged two to 14-year-olds, had IT provision at home, and scholarship pupils were provided with the equipment.
There was lunchtime music events and staff quizzes to make online learning engaging.
By the end, the pupils surpassed the national progress and on their return the "quirky building" allowed for discreet bubble groups.
"We're slowly getting back to a new normal where we are cautious but optimistic," said Kate.
Pupils have access to Forest School education on Hampstead Heath and get bussed to weekly swimming lessons in Hendon.
"For some children Heathside offers something really unique," said Kate.
"It's incredibly focussed on personalised learning, it's about the individual, it's about giving the children the confidence to be who they are. Really flourishing rather than be regimented and be something they are not."
For Kate, the cast-iron proof of how well things are going is the Ofsted report following a three-day inspection at the start of January.
"There are not many schools begging Ofsted to come but we said please come," she said.
"We really wanted Ofsted to come and endorse the school and say who we are to the world.
"It was really important to the children, to the families and the staff that Ofsted came but because of the pandemic we were waiting and waiting.
"We achieved a good that we were incredibly proud off. They really picked up the essence of the children thriving."
In the report, inspectors said: "Leaders’ work to improve the school has been highly successful.
"Following the change of proprietor and the appointment of the current headteacher, leaders have acted decisively. They have put past failings behind them and built a well-organised school that has pupils’ learning as its focus."
On Tuesday at 4.30pm the school is hosting a spring concert, Heathside Young Voices, at Hampstead Parish Church, in Church Row.
A community-wide mental health festival is planned in June.
"Not only have we been able to retain that special bit of Heathside, the core of Heathside, which is the bit he previous proprietor got right, we've been able to rebuild it, build upon it and make it an incredibly flourishing special school for all the children and the families of Hampstead Village," Kate added.
"It's been an amazing two years. I know Covid's been in the mix and we've had challenges with that, but to take something that was quite broken and nurture it
and hold on to what's special about it and enable it to become special again, has just been wonderful."