The all-round nature of an education at this central London primary school focuses on developing independent learners.
In 1997, Southbank became the UK’s first school to offer all three International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes: the Primary Years Programme, the Middle Years Programme, and the Diploma Programme. Since then it has become the IB school of choice for a small but high-achieving number of expats living in central London and local families with an international outlook.
The school enrols around 800 students across its three central London campuses (Kensington, Hampstead and Westminster), which are located across five sites. The Kensington campus and the purpose-built Hampstead campus each enrol around 220 students aged three to 11 years; both primary schools offer the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme. The majority of students move up to the Westminster campus, where they study the IB Middle Years Programme and then the IBDP across three separate locations.
Southbank stands out for being very international in its outlook, and it celebrates an ever-changing mix of nationalities. Students come from Europe (32%), the UK (20%), and the US (13%), with a small number coming from Asia, Canada and South America; there are around 70 different nationalities across the school, and Southbank says this “special mix of nationalities, cultures and languages really does create a fantastic atmosphere and a wonderful sense of community”.
English is the language of instruction, but there’s an excellent English as an Additional Language (EAL) programme that makes an education at Southbank wholly accessible to non-English speakers. Students aged under nine (Grade 4) who speak little or no English can enrol into the school’s EAL programme, which aims to equip them with the standard of English needed to graduate to Grade 6. EAL lessons are also offered to MYP students who need some extra support to speak and write English.
As an international school, extra effort is taken to welcome international students, many of whom may be living in the UK for the first time or be away from family. From class buddies for each new child to meet and greet activities, families are given that all-important support needed to settle into a school and country.
Southbank 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, and opportunities to connect and collaborate with peers in Cognita schools across the world.
Southbank is one of only a few UK schools to offer all three IB programmes, and it strongly believes the PYP and MYP is the best – and most rigorous – preparation for the Diploma Programme. Although each IB programme has a standalone framework and curriculum, students with an MYP and PYP background can find it easier to meet the varied demands of the DP. For example, the experience of the MYP can equip students with the research skills need for the DP’s Extended Essay.
The school has a strong early years’ programme for children aged three to five years that follows the IB PYP play-based learning programme. Students start inquiring about different concepts from as young as K1 and are immersed in a play-based curriculum that equips students well for the PYP.
The primary school delivers the PYP which is based on six Units of Enquiry – Who we are, Where we are in place and time, How the world works, Sharing the planet, How we express ourselves, and How we organise ourselves. All subjects (mathematics, languages, science, social studies, personal, social and PE, technology, music, and art – are taught through integrated units. The final year of primary ends with the PYP Exhibition, which gives students the opportunity to showcase their learning.
In the MYP, compulsory subjects include art, drama, English, history, ICT, maths, modern foreign languages, music, PE, religious studies, geography, science, and technology; students must learn a European language.
The IBDP continues a broad and balanced learning approach to subjects; students need to successfully complete six subjects (three at higher level and three at standard level), which must include a language and a science. In addition, students must complete an Extended Essay, a Theory of Knowledge course (TOK), and the CAS programme (Creativity, Action and Service).
IBDP students start their academic year with Discovery Week, a four-day residential trip that that focuses on teamwork, initiative, problem-solving and decision making. Recent Discovery Weeks have involved paddleboarding in Jersey, orienteering in Dartmoor, and mountain biking in the Lake District; it gets students off to a strong start for the challenging two-year course that lies ahead of them.
The truly international style of the IB is an excellent fit with the school’s multicultural community and the IB Learner Profile is embedded in the school's culture. For example, there is an excellent languages programme at the school that encourages bilingualism (and trilingualism). Students learn Spanish in the PYP, can choose between French or Spanish in the MYP, and there’s a choice of over 10 different languages offered in the IBDP (Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Malay, Portuguese, Japanese… the list goes on).
A substantial number of IBDP students study for the Bilingual Diploma, and the Westminster Campus has specialist tutors fluent in over 20 different languages offering lessons outside of the MYP curriculum in languages such as German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese and Swedish.
Across its campuses, the school has invested in specialist facilities that are dedicated to the arts and technology, and provide the extra resources needed for modules in the MYP and IBDP. The school says it also “uses London as a classroom”, so expect visits to museums, art galleries, historic buildings, theatres, concerts, student conferences, parks, woodlands and nature centres to study wildlife.
Class sizes are small (around 20 students in a PYP and MYP class, and 13 in an IBDP class).
The school has a one-to-one device programme, and technology is used confidently and effectively in all year groups.
The school describes extra-curricular activities as “an excellent way to extend what our students learn in the classroom”, and it puts this into practice by offering clubs as varied, as educational and as inspiring as rock climbing, Lego, chess, cookery, fencing, textile art and ukulele.
As students move up through the school they can also sign up for clubs such as Model United Nations, Duke of Edinburgh Award, global issues and robotics, all offering those key opportunities to stand out from the crowd when applying for a place at a college or university. Work experience and voluntary work is strongly encouraged to help students build up their personal statement.
The IB dedicates both time and resources to the arts, and this is reflected in Southbank’s arts programme. The PYP includes dance, drama, music and visual arts, and all students from the age of five learn to play either the violin, viola or the cello through the Suzuki music programme. When they reach Grades 4 and 5, they can also learn guitar or flute. Southbank recognises the value of a performance too, and all PYP children take part in a termly solo concert and an annual school concert.
During the MYP, students rotate through units on Media, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts. In Grades 9 and 10, they choose one of these subjects to study for the whole academic year:
In the IBDP (Grades 11-12), students study music, visual arts, theatre and/or film as part of the arts subject group. IBDP students must study Theory of Knowledge, which includes a unit that addresses questions such as ‘Who determines art and what is and isn’t art?’, ‘What are the standards a society uses to judge good art?’ and ‘What is the purpose of art?”. They also complete a CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) project, which can include arts activities.
While Southbank may not have the space for extensive sports facilities, it runs a very active sports programme. Students at the Kensington and Hampstead campuses use a sports centre, which is a 15-minute bus ride away, and has a large sports hall, climbing wall and dance studio.
Sport at Southbank is inclusive with plenty of emphasis on enjoyment and well-being, but it does fare quite well in terms of trophies too – particularly for tennis and basketball. As well as timetabled lessons and clubs in athletics, badminton, basketball, climbing, football, softball, tennis, volleyball and golf, students can get involved in a range of sports at competitive levels. As a member of the International School Sports Association (ISSA), the Southbank Sharks regularly compete against other schools in friendly matches and tournaments; there are several overseas sports tours too.
Southbank has a reputation for academic excellence. Students regularly achieve well-above average results in the IBDP.
In 2022, the average IBDP score was 36; it was 37.6 in 2021 and 36.6 in 2020. Just under 20% scored 45-40, and 27% scored 35-39.
17% of students achieved the bilingual diploma, a prestigious distinction given to students who prove mastery of two languages through their IBDP programme (given that students need to complete and receive a grade 3 or higher in two languages, it’s extremely challenging).
There’s typically a cohort of around 70 students taking the IBDP each year, and the pass rate is 99-100%.
The majority of Southbank leavers go to university in the UK, but other key destinations include the US and the Netherlands.
The Hampstead campus has facilities including a STEAM lab for science, technology, engineering and maths activities, an edible courtyard with birdhouses and a bug hotel.
Located in trendy Notting Hill, the Kensington campus is housed in two Victorian villas. Facilities include an IT lab, a music room and two sound-proofed practice rooms, a library/media centre, and a hall that’s used for lunches, sport, school ‘town meetings’ and concerts.
The school has a rolling admission process and accepts applications all year round; students can start school at any point in the academic year (subject to availability). This is particularly ideal for the many international families here who may be moving at different times of the academic year.
Admissions decisions are based on a review of the following: a completed application form, student essays/student drawing, copies of reports from the previous school (two years of reports as appropriate), and reference(s) from the last school. The school is looking for "above-average academic ability".
Southbank is a day school and therefore all applicants must be living with a parent or responsible adult family member.
Annual fees range from £26,655 for early years (three years) through to £29,100 for the PYP (five to 11 years). At the other Southbank campuses, the annual fees range from £32,250 for the MYP and £33,930 for the IBDP.
Good for: With its relatively small body of 500 students, there's an environment where students may feel more comfortable to perform, play a team sport or have a greater likelihood of taking a lead role in a play.
While Southbank is an all-through school, it does offer the advantages of having separate campuses for its primary schools, which can often provide a more nurturing and primary-centred environment for young children
Not for: It’s IB all the way here, so there is no option to study for qualifications such as GCSEs or A Levels. Southbank is also very much an urban campus with limited outdoor space and facilities so, while some will love the central London location, others may crave more space and greenery.
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