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'Why the King's Maths School is a model finally being replicated elsewhere'

Posted on: 06 Mar 2020
Posted by: Andrew Halls

Andrew Halls, head of King’s College School, Wimbledon discusses the King's Maths School, a free school set-up to centre entirely on the needs and aspirations of children who love maths. He argues it is a model which can, and should, be replicated.

King’s Maths School in Lambeth was opened by King’s College London, in 2014, and within what seemed a few nanoseconds established itself as one of the most successful schools in the land.

Today, the model it created is at last being replicated elsewhere. I am just surprised it has taken other universities so long. I should say here that Exeter was a noble exception to the initial indifference shown by all our other great universities, opening its own excellent maths school at the same time as King’s. Still, the good news is that some amazing universities are now following the example set by King’s and Exeter: Liverpool, Durham, Surrey, Lancaster and Cambridge are all set to open maths schools, with Liverpool first off the blocks.

King’s Maths School is, as its name suggests, entirely centred on the needs and aspirations of children who love mathematics. Its curriculum is clean and focused: maths, further maths and physics are the three full A levels, with AS levels in economics and computing. For the right pupils, the formula is astonishingly successful.

In two of the last three years, the school has topped the DfE performance tables for all schools in the UK, of every type. The inspirational headteacher, Dan Abramson, tells me that they add more value than any other major A level provider - about a grade per entry, and this is a fantastic reflection on the value of the education they provide. It also puts into context the inevitable criticisms that because it is so successful it is also increasingly selective. That is the sort of complaint my own school, King’s College School, Wimbledon, also has to field, and, like Dan, I find it very helpful to be able to point to the remarkable level of added value that academic schools like ours are able to provide when we all create the right atmosphere, a love of learning and academic exploration.

If I am sounding a little proud of this great school, it is because I am. I was a founding governor - Baroness Wolf asked me if King’s College School, Wimbledon, would be interested in helping her to set up what, at the time, was a completely untried concept in the country. The new school was inspired by the Kolmogorov Physics and Mathematics School in Moscow, founded in 1965. I liked the unashamed emphasis on looking after the needs of very bright children, clearly focused on a discipline they wanted to explore in ever greater depth. That is what the best academic independent schools have done for decades - grammar schools, too. So many bright children over the last forty or fifty years have had to hide their talents within our education system. Just this week a friend was telling me why she had been forced to move her eleven year old son from his school: he had been bullied from the moment he won a prize for doing well in a science test. I felt the Maths School could be the beginning of a great transition in the way we responded to the different talents our young people have.

I was just one of a number of dedicated governors, all guided by King’s College London which had the vision and generosity to provide the vital premises for the school on which everything depended. Of course King’s College London had form: they had established a school in 1829 when they first opened on the Strand, and that is the school of which I have been head master for over twelve years. We moved to Wimbledon more than a century ago, but I am glad to say the sentimental links with our founders remain strong, and I was delighted to be able to help.

Between us all as founding governors, we shaped the curriculum, the layout of the premises, and, most important of all, we appointed Dan Abramson as headteacher. In the early days, when the funding was very tight, I remember that he was also for a while effectively the school’s janitor, opening and locking up each day. I felt so guilty that I asked the governors at my own school if we could make a substantial payment to the Maths School to assist them with whatever needs the headteacher identified, and they immediately agreed. We still provide a governor from our staff, but we also know that Dan runs his school so well, he needs very little help from us.

This school is a magnificent success. I hope schools like mine, in the independent sector, if called upon to assist in any way, will do so with alacrity - perhaps as governors, by sharing facilities, or providing assistance with Oxbridge preparation, and so forth.

The more imaginatively that the UK’s schools can differ from each other, the more they can reflect the infinite differences between school children, so that their talents and aspirations can be alchemised into greatness, not suppressed and homogenised, the happier and more successful our country will become.

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About Andrew Halls

Andrew Halls is headmaster of King’s College School, Wimbledon and a founding governor of the King’s Maths School, Lambeth.