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November 2020 / Education / by Sophie Hampton

The Great Escape – North Bridge House School

North London’s newest school takes a freeing approach to educating our future generation during a pandemic.

As parents continue to navigate the new academic year around COVID-19, eager to see their children back in school and learning but fearful of the underlying threat, north London’s brand-new Nursery and Pre-Prep School is thriving despite the uncertain circumstances.

This September, the highly successful North Bridge House School extended its unique, specialist offering to families in West Hampstead, with its sixth campus taking teaching and learning way beyond the four walls of the classroom and into a safe, progressive and enriching space.

North Bridge House Nursery and Pre-Prep West Hampstead has been innovatively designed to allow continuous provision of the curriculum outdoors, using sustainable products wherever possible and combining 3D technology with a multi-sensory play space to transform the children’s learning environment.

The ‘Imaginarium’ is an immersive space that transports children to the very place they are learning about – whether that be a tropical rainforest or a railway station, for example. While this state-of-the-art facility contextualises children’s studies and inspires a genuine love of learning from the outset of their education, the outdoor play area is a huge asset as both a teaching and learning environment – today more so than ever. Outdoor learning may have been embedded into the curriculum at North Bridge House long before the current pandemic, however, it comes with a newfound appreciation since the Government outlined how transmission of the Coronavirus is significantly lower in outdoor spaces.

“Whilst we have always shaped our provision around the outdoors being fundamental to growth and development in the Early Years – running everything from science and minibeast clubs to an annual petting zoo in our playgrounds – staff have embraced being able to collapse the timetable and take any lesson outside with the sheltered extension directly over the threshold of the Reception classroom,” says Executive Headteacher, Christine McLelland.

Having made the NBH group’s longstanding Nursery and Pre-Prep Schools popular and high-achieving north London destinations, Christine has designed the new West Hampstead campus around inspiration taken from the Far and Middle East.

“We are learning from schools in countries like Denmark, Finland and New Zealand who have pioneered outdoor learning, whilst drawing upon our own global connections. Being part of the worldwide Cognita Schools group has allowed me to visit and take influence from sister schools in Singapore, where outdoor learning is vital in the process of children developing the resilience to thrive in a globalised environment,” says the broad-minded Headteacher.

The new school’s aim is to take children beyond the conventional and now physical constraints of the classroom and into the natural environment, where they are stimulated through all kinds of sensory, practical, and social experiences. 

“They are developing key social and motor skills come rain or shine, investigating, experimenting and discovering through everything from gardening and sand sifting to tending to school pets,” says Head of School Eilish Sleator. “We want to be as organic as possible and to provide the children with as many unique opportunities as possible in this central London location, including growing their own vegetables and looking after the chickens in our chicken run,” she continues.

In addition to teachers being able to develop more practical methods of learning with the children, the mental health benefits of the outdoor area are huge during these formative years of education – reducing anxiety, initiating friendships, enhancing self-confidence and developing overall cognition in our youngest generation.

Inside, the school facilitates not just the academic achievement of its pupils, but their all-important personal development, too, using multi-functional creative spaces for music, dance, and theatre workshops. Adopting a holistic, child centric approach to pupils’ learning and progression, NBH Nursery and Pre-Prep West Hampstead comes with a wellbeing dog, Albert, and further enhances the growth and wellbeing of its pupils through initiatives like Philosophy for Children (P4C) and Forest School.

The attainment enhancing P4C programme – already successfully practised at the NBH Nursery and Pre-Prep Schools in Hampstead – results in two-month’s additional progress in reading and maths over the course of the year, according to the Education Endowment Foundation, and sees a positive influence on wider outcomes such as pupils’ articulation, listening skills and self-esteem.

It is these same outcomes that are brought to life in the 96-acre site at Cuffley Camp, where all pupils attend Forest School and are immersed in teamwork, resilience, and self-confidence building activities.

“Parents have seen the impact of having their children being confined indoors, subject to greater screen time, and while our immersive technology offers something I know our competitors cannot, we want to create a healthy balance between a forward-thinking curriculum and the great outdoors. Our Forest School at Cuffley develops lifelong critical skills, connecting the mind to nature and the wider world, which is increasingly important in our diverse and cosmopolitan society. In preparing pupils for the sought after NBH Prep School – where I’m very proud to have my own son attend – without the stress of entrance exams, we have the time and resource to offer this on a bi-weekly basis,” concludes the Head of School.

As the North Bridge House group grows from strength to strength; celebrating results well above the national average at every stage of its academically non-selective, independent education for ages 2 to 18; its thriving Nursery and Pre-Prep provision proves that outdoor learning is limitless and fundamental to the skills upon which children’s future successes are built.

To discover more about North Bridge House Nursery and Pre-Prep West Hampstead, call 020 7428 1520 or email admissionsenquiries@northbridgehouse.com. 85-87 Fordwych Road, NW2 (northbridgehouse.com)