Good Schools Guide Review



Since September 2022, Sophie Banks, previously head of Eton End School, Datchet, and before that, head of the junior school at Beachborough School, Northamptonshire. She has also taught at Dulwich Prep and City of London Freemen’s School, Surrey. Educated at St Michael’s, Petworth, she has a BA with QTS with a specialism in music and drama from Warwick. More recently, she gained a master’s in educational leadership from Buckingham. Married to Jeremy, head of Caldicott; three daughters. She is a talented musician, having studied at the Royal College of Music junior section while she was at school. Still very much involved in the musical and drama side of the school at Eton End.


Non-selective for 66 highly sought-after reception places, so names down as soon as possible after birth, but not before. Siblings prioritised as long as registered early. Places allocated randomly by calendar month divided into thirds. The year before a girl is due to start in reception, those with confirmed places are invited to an open morning, which includes a tour of the school. Parents then offered a subsequent meeting with the head to ask any questions and to ensure that the school’s ethos matches their approach to education. At this point they are asked for a deposit to ensure a place, with a term’s fees due the following March, but most affluent parents take this in their stride. Occasional places from year 1 up involve an assessment in reading, writing and maths as well as a half-day visit to see whether the child will manage the pace and rigour of the curriculum. Five to 10 places are awarded each year from 7+, following an assessment day in the spring term of year 2.


Very impressive exit results to diverse academically selective secondaries are a key factor for parents choosing this school. Godolphin and Latymer most popular, followed by Francis Holland (Regents Park), Wycombe Abbey, Downe House, St Mary’s Ascot, Latymer Upper, Francis Holland (Sloane Square), St Paul’s Girls’ and Woldingham. Others to American School in London, Holland Park School, Queen’s College London, Queen’s Gate, South Hampstead High, Thomas’s Battersea and Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Undoubtedly the many are attracted by the spacious grounds and facilities of many boarding schools after the compact London site. School advises accordingly along with a dedicated transition member of staff. Plenty of scholarships each year (30 in 2022), academic and sporting as well as musical and artistic, and fine boards in the upper school hall commemorate them. Some leave at 7+ for Bute House.

Our view

Two tall, white stuccoed buildings on leafy Pembridge Square, a quiet haven off Notting Hill Gate, separated by Wetherby pre-prep, the boys’ equivalent but ‘a very different establishment’, affirms school. The girls enjoy roaming through Pembridge Square gardens and are bussed to Paddington Recreation Ground with its extensive facilities for organised games, or Porchester Baths for swimming. Our visit was timely as whole school had been attractively refurbished, uniting the feel of the two buildings with the same freshly decorated white walls enhanced with photographs and pupils’ imaginative artwork, and plush fitted light turquoise carpets throughout.

Both buildings have large halls which double as dining rooms at lunchtime. Wide choice of healthy, tasty, cooked lunches praised by staff and pupils, with girls seated properly at tables supervised in a civilised fashion. Classrooms are uniformly spacious, bright and airy with high ceilings, tall windows, plus digital display screens and visualisers along with tablets. Parents have welcomed evident investment in digital resources and we learnt of the impending reconfiguration of ‘no. 10 annexe’ to provide rooms for music and drama plus play spaces outside. The science laboratory was also due for an upgrade.

Weekly whole-school assemblies, with parents invited, take place round the corner in St Matthew’s Church. School describes its ethos as ‘lightly Anglican’. The infants have nativity plays and there’s a traditional nine lesson carol service. ‘Don’t be surprised to find something different,’ affirms school – ‘for example a rock band playing in the service.’ The Tabernacle Theatre hosts productions and there’s a wealth of colourful, imaginative costumes and hats in the drama space in the basement. Girls – polite and well-spoken – can gain confidence performing in class assemblies, teatime concerts, full-blown productions and drama club and LAMDA exams. They are encouraged to give presentations about topics they have researched independently, and enjoy poetry competitions. They carry out responsibilities as ‘green’ girls, elected school council representatives or house prefects.

School aims to ensure girls get a rounded education with plenty of fun alongside academic rigour: ‘We can do both.’ Setting from year 3 in maths and English, so three classes become groups of four, with heads of department working alongside class teachers. The curriculum includes philosophy, mind mapping and cross-curricular topics. Impressive lanterns on display in the stunning art studio involved science, IT and art (STEAM). One father spoke of his delight seeing his reception daughter enjoying muddy puddles during a forest school session in Kensington Gardens. Others appreciate the upper school residential trips and in particular the team-building and outdoor activities of the exploration society.

There are various mechanisms to support those international girls who need extra help with English. Parents with dyslexic daughters commented on impressive improvements in provision and supportive ongoing discussions. We saw pupils happily engaged in learning right from reception, concentrating in a carousel of well-organised literacy activities. We witnessed year 1s exploring capacity, estimating and experimenting with beakers, working collaboratively and purposefully.

Girls are encouraged to try everything. A multiplicity of clubs include kitchen sink science, Lego and Latin. The school is proud that three-quarters of the girls take instrumental music lessons. There are baroque chamber ensembles with a harpsicord, an orchestra and three choirs: the auditioned chamber choir has biennial tours to eg Venice. Sports include football and cricket, with fixtures against local primary schools, as well as the traditional netball and rounders. The PE department has an inclusive ethos: 180 girls in years 3-6 played in matches in one week. They encounter stiff competition from schools such as Bute House and Glendower, but their efforts are clearly paying off as the U11 girls proudly told us they were playing in the IAPS netball finals.

Parents are made welcome and when we visited were busily counting money raised from a reading marathon for local community charities. Each class had designed word trees to record individual efforts. Parents we spoke to felt they had easy access to any of the staff, including the head, and there’s a supportive parents’ association. The school has maintained its reputation for excellent pastoral care: girls see their teachers as fair and encouraging.

Pembridge caters for an international parent body; the school reflects London life, improves languages and cultural awareness, whilst providing a distinct, English education, appreciated by all. The girls seem relaxed, enjoying everything on offer, despite limited outdoor space, which might not suit a very active girl. With excellent pastoral care, happy, modest girls and good advice on senior schools, this non-selective school could be a great choice for a local clientele. Parents agree it is ‘not precious’ and like the sense of community, unusual for central London.

Parents are overwhelmingly successful professionals, many European bankers, lawyers, consultants, long-term residents and Brits of similar backgrounds from Notting Hill, Bayswater and Kensington with the odd sprinkle of celebrities.

The last word

Those whose daughters have moved on have no regret in choosing Pembridge, praising the thoughtful preparation for the senior school life so their daughters ‘have not been fazed and feel they have had a taste of everything’.