Pioneering headteacher at St Mark’s Square Nursery School in Primrose Hill made OBE

Sheema Parsons has been awarded an OBE for services to early years education. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Sheema Parsons has been awarded an OBE for services to early years education. Picture: Nigel Sutton. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The founder of a pioneering nursery school which teaches yoga and runs trips for children to art galleries and opera performances has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Sheema Parsons, headmistress at St Mark’s Square Nursery School in Primrose Hill, was made an OBE for services to early years education.

Mrs Parsons’ unique approach to nursery teaching has persuaded a host of famous names to send their children to the school over the years, including photographer David Bailey, rock star Noel Gallagher and Hollywood stars Kate Winslet and Thandie Newton.

Reflecting on the honour, Mrs Parsons said: “I’m totally touched and moved. It’s been a very exciting journey and I am as committed now as I was when I started.

“I like to sort children out before they go to big school so that they fly when they get there.”

The school, situated on the edge of Regent’s Park in the basement of St Mark’s Church, in St Mark’s Square, celebrates its 30th birthday tomorrow with a reunion of former pupils.

St Mark’s was opened by Mrs Parsons and her late husband Bruce in September 1983 and the school prides itself on providing a holistic and consciousness-based education for children aged two to six, with an annual intake of just 28.

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“Thirty years ago, I had a vision of what a nursery school should provide and it’s as relevant now as it was then,” said Mrs Parsons. “The importance of individuality is paramount to me. We were the first school to do martial arts and yoga and the first to take children to art galleries and opera. I wanted children to become aware of themselves through learning and meditation.

“I don’t teach at or to children, it’s an equal relationship. I’m interested in each child’s opinion – if we got to an art gallery, I don’t teach them, they teach me.”

Film director Gurinder Chadha, 53, best known for her 2002 comedy Bend It Like Beckham, sent her twin son and daughter to St Mark’s and has since pushed for Mrs Parsons to be recognised for her work.

She said: “Sheema has an incredible sense and understanding of young children. She can look at a child, spend a few days with them and tell you what their future career and life will be about. She’s done that with my kids.

“My son often says he would like to go back to nursery!”

Others who work in education were also recognised.

Kentish Town resident Mary Rimington, deputy principal for curriculum at City of Islington College, received an MBE for services to further education.

Highgate resident Anthony Tomei, former director of the Nuffield Foundation, and NW1 resident Brenda Wallace, former head of Gumley House Convent School in Isleworth, were both awarded OBEs for services to education.

Richard Rainbow, former deputy head of Malorees Junior School in Brent, of NW6, was award an MBE for services to education.