My West London Life

Mrs J Mackay


Mrs J Mackay, head teacher at Hawkesdown House, on the education system, what it takes for a busy school head to unwind, and the recent change of becoming co-ed after a long history of all-boys prep schooling.

Hawkesdown House has historically been an all-boys prep, but we hear you’re becoming co-ed. What has sparked this change, and how do you think the school will change with it?

Hawkesdown is indeed becoming co-ed and at the same time extending its provision to 11. In my time as Headmistress here, I have come to appreciate how many parents have very real concerns about the pressure on children, and on families, concerning the prep school exam stage. There are many ways of providing excellent education, but with the increasing preference for co-education at these young ages and the desire of so many for a continuum of schooling through to 11, we feel that this is the right change for our school.

With the addition of girls, it will be lovely for Hawkesdown that families can bring brothers and sisters to the school together in their early lives. The benefits of becoming co-ed are many.

How does Hawkesdown House differ from other prep schools in the area?

Hawkesdown House is a highly nurturing school that values each pupil’s unique qualities. We place great store on academic achievement, and our recently departed year threes have won places at the most prestigious and academically selective London day schools, I feel it is our innovative and passionate investment in the children’s well-being and pastoral care that makes us special. I am proud of our pioneering work on developing psychological resilience and the ability to thrive in whatever environment they choose to go into in later life.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to education?

It has been said: ‘Passion is the driving element of purpose. When one is possessed with it, labour is not revealed as toil – it is revealed as love.’

Imparting knowledge and skills with passion, challenging the mind and the imagination and providing a safe place to learn so that our

children can access the very best opportunities and experience lies at the heart of life at Hawkesdown. This has a huge and positive impact on the pupils’ approach to learning and strengthens their relationships with everyone in the school community. We encourage the children to conscientiously and willingly take that big or little step forward in their learning, followed by the next step, until the goal has been reached. Children thrive in their learning when their academic, physical, emotional and social needs are met. This is what drives us at Hawkesdown.

What age-range does Hawkesdown House teach?

We are moving from being a boys’ pre-prep school (ages three to eight) to a co-educational school through to 11 beginning with our Nursery class.

Are you a boarding or day school?

We are a day school, though I’m sure that having the chance to sleep over would be something the children would love.

What are your favourite things about the school and why?

From the first moment I walked into the School I knew that this was the place I was meant to be and I put this down to the School’s energy and warmth. The children and staff adore being here and the family-feel is something I treasure. In these precious years for children, we want them to have access to the best opportunities and experiences, we actively listen to them; we pick them up when they fall and we encourage them to find the joy of learning inside school and out.

If you could create an education system for the future, what would it look like?

I have always liked the Finnish model of education and its repeated success in international education rankings suggests that it works. There competition is combined with the importance of cooperation. The education is research driven and experimental with excellent results.

What are your favourite things about the area, both personally, and in terms of what it offers your pupils?

Kensington is a leafy part of London with some of the most beautiful parks and museums on our doorstep. With spaces and attractions such as these it offers a variety for children this is unparalleled. Our children are often out and about in our local community, visiting the market to practice calculating change, investigating Fair-trade products in local shops and making pizzas in our favourite Italian restaurants. For myself, I have lived and worked in and around London for the majority of my career – spanning 22 years. The city is buzzing, yet the pockets of calm can be found and we know where they are. Why go anywhere else?

What do you do to unwind?

I am a voracious reader and will never travel, even on short distances, without a book. My husband and I are also frequent visitors to the theatre and need little excuse to visit the West End or our local theatre in Windsor. I ran the London Marathon in 2017 and whilst I in no way keep up the level of training needed for this, I do enjoy a jog on a sunny day.

Do you have any funny stories from your time in education?

Many, too many. Children see the world with innocent eyes and the marvel as they discover new things is always a joy. Often is it a child’s blossoming understanding of spelling routines that go a little astray that are a source of merriment to their teachers. One recent tale comes from a Year Three boy who had volunteered to speak to some visiting Nursery Heads at our school. When asked what was the best thing that had happened this year, he excitedly replied, ‘The Leaver’s camping trip – and we haven’t even been on it yet!’ It just goes to show how much these trips mean to children.

Is there a subject you feel is often overlooked by the current education system, and that pupils would benefit from if more time were given to it?

Failure! Being unafraid to fail and then try again is an outstanding quality that serves one well in life and is often overlooked in this highly competitive education system. I have enjoyed reading the work of Richard Gerver, a former head teacher and a passionate voice for cooperation in education and in business. Connecting the educational community with creative thinkers from all strands of life can have a profound impact. So rather than one subject being overlooked, it is the connecting of them that is important. At Hawkesdown we offer academic rigour paired with a creative curriculum and we will be exploring and developing this further as we go through to 11.


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