Located in Islington, North Bridge House Senior School and Sixth Form is an academically non-selective school for Years 7 to 13 with annual fees of less than £22,000.
The school belongs to the North Bridge House family of co-ed day schools, which has six north London sites offering an education from two through to 18 years. The Canonbury campus is the newest addition to the North Bridge House group; it opened Years 8-13 in 2014, making it the first independent senior school in Islington and the only Sixth Form in the NBH group. In 2017, it introduced a Year 7 cohort.
NBH is part of the global Cognita education group. While the school offers its own individual ‘brand’ of education (typical of all Cognita schools), there are benefits to being part of an international family of schools. These include students participating in Cognita’s Global Be-Well Day (a day dedicated to student mental health and wellbeing), supporting charitable initiatives such as Solar Buddy and Light Up Learning, and improving their Spanish through online chats with peers in Cognita’s Spanish schools.
Executive Headteacher Brendan Pavey has the dual role as headteacher of both North Bridge House Senior Schools – Canonbury and Hampstead. He joined NBH Hampstead in 2017, and was previously Head at Long Close School and Head of Sixth Form at Shiplake College.
His philosophy is that schools should be:
"...great fun places to come to work and to learn - and that by setting the expectations levels very high, whilst supporting rather than pressurising pupils, excellent academic outcomes will follow."
In 2015, the school was awarded Outstanding in all areas in its first Ofsted inspection, nine months after opening.
As an independent school, NBH Canonbury has the freedom to offer an enriched version of the English National Curriculum. The school has added breadth to the traditional curriculum, with subjects including Mandarin, music, drama and PE now offered at GCSE; photography, psychology, and government and politics are now taught at A Level.
From Year 7, students choose to study two languages; either Mandarin or Latin and French or Spanish. As well as PE, the timetable also includes compulsory weekly enrichment sessions when students can explore interests that are not covered by the curriculum. It’s all about giving students choice and encouraging them to discover new interests, which can give them a huge advantage in university applications at the end of their NBH journey.
In addition to studying three A Levels, students complete the Extended Project Qualification, a standalone qualification that tests their independent research skills.
Compared to the very academically rigorous and selective nature of some neighbouring north London schools, NBH Canonbury offers a more relaxed learning environment that will certainly suit some students more than others.
The school's success (and popularity) is built in part on its understanding of teenage learning patterns. Led by headteacher Mr Pavey, the school is committed to "understanding the impact of adolescence on the way they think and behave – and it's taken the advice of experts including University College London’s Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Teenage Mental Health champion, Johnny Benjamin. The result? There's a later start time for all Sixth Formers, for example, who start school "when they are more receptive and have greater capacity to learn."
It may have a small student community, but this does not restrict the school's extra-curricular activities. There are lunchtime and after-school clubs, weekly life skills courses in financial management, owning a home, applying for a mortgage and owning a vehicle, and an optional lecture programme.
Programmes including the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and Young Enterprise add to the well-rounded education offered here.
And, as a Cognita school, NBH has use of the group’s Cuffley Active Learning Centre where students attend a variety of residential and activity trips. It’s actively used by the school throughout the academic year.
It's not the sportiest of schools, for several key reasons. With limited space, the school has no indoor or outdoor sports facilities (a small courtyard is used for a spot of football maybe). However, the school takes full advantage of its central location to play sport in local sports centres and parks – and students play a wide range of sport from tennis and netball to skating and trampolining. Also, one of the drawbacks of a small school is having limited numbers when it comes to fielding competitive teams, so expect a restricted timetable of matches and league games.
NBH Canonbury reports strong results in both academic and creative subjects since its first cohorts in 2019. While they are well-above the national average, as you’d expect from a non-selective school, they are not top of the league tables.
In the 2021 A Level results, 65% were A*-A grades and 90% of the school’s grades were a B or above. Overall, the school achieved 100% A*-A grades across English Literature, Latin, Mandarin and music, highlighting the strength of the languages department; it was all A* grades in further maths and art too.
Students went on to first-choice universities, including top universities including University of Bristol, Durham University, King’s College London, University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield, University College London, University of York, and Royal Academy of Music.
In the 2021 GCSE results, 65% grades were 7 or above (A or higher), and 15% at Grade 9. Once again, there was notable success in the languages department: 100% of students achieved Grade 7 or above in Italian, Latin and Mandarin. A further 25% of students secured the top Grade 9 in Spanish.
In 2019, when students last sat exams, 34% of A Levels grades were A*-A and 22% of GCSE grades were a 9. In 2020, 68% of A Levels grades were A*-A and 24% of GCSE grades were a 9.
While there is a rise in grades over the the past three years, it has been a very unusual couple of years for all schools due to the cancellation of exams. The real test of whether teaching standards are driving higher results will come once students sit exams again from next year.
As a non-selective school, it is perhaps more important to look at the progress students make during their time there rather than the number of A* grades. A measure of its success in helping girls and boys of all abilities reach their goals can be seen in its Value Add results, which show students gaining grades significantly higher than their predictions – ABB rather than the predicted BBB, for example.
Set within a Tudor building that's over 500 years old, NBH Canonbury has contemporary teaching facilities including three science laboratories, an art suite and accompanying A Level art studio, and a music room and instrumental practice pods. The rather charming King Edward’s Hall used for drama lessons, assemblies, performances and events, and there is also a library, study area and Sixth Form Common Room.
There's something quaint, charming and unique about this campus – and its setting within some beautiful gardens helps to create a very welcoming place to learn.
Main entry points are Years 7 and 12. While the school is not academically selective, students do sit assessments in maths and English, and have a group interview to assess their suitability for a place here. Many students enter Year 7 from NBH Prep Schools and Year 12 from NBH Senior Hampstead, which does not have a Sixth Form.
The school has a small international student community and welcomes applications from students with English as their second or foreign language, who are supported by an EAL teacher.
Annual fees are £20,520 for Years 7-11 and £21,735 for Years 12-13. Scholarships are offered in academics, art and the performing arts for exceptional Year 7 and 12 applicants.
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