With its spot-on location in the centre of London’s Clerkenwell, Dallington is a pocket-sized, family-run primary school that puts creativity at its heart and where pupils of mixed ages learn alongside each other in bright, open-plan classrooms. It was founded by visionary head Mogg Hercules in the 1970s and is overseen today by her daughter Abi. Childhood is celebrated, individuality embraced and small pupil numbers mean that one-to-one attention is second to none.

Near Barbican Tube, Dallington sits cheek by jowl with a very commercial part of London, and its cool design-studio feel belies a gentle but purposeful interior. With its super-convenient location, most families walk or scoot here, although there’s also a strong parental delivery fleet of electric vehicles.

Head

The incredibly likeable New Zealander James Griffiths is at the helm here. He graduated in primary education before completing a masters in educational leadership, and he also did a stint as a general assistant in a paediatric ward where he supported both children and families, so he is almost certainly the safest possible pair of hands in all respects for his young charges. His love of teaching is almost tangible, as is his desire for every child to leave here confident in their ability to hold their ground academically and emotionally at the next stage. ‘Childhood is so precious,’ he notes, and drawing pupils into their own education and lighting fires within every individual is far more important for him than prescribed methods of learning or unimaginatively restrictive topic areas.

Titles on his bookshelf such as The Girl who Never Made a Mistake, All The Ways to Be Smart and I Am Not a Label are testament to his laser focus on the individual and the importance of embracing making mistakes while you learn. Pupils here are children, not units to be examined, assessed or ‘prepared’. Make no mistake, he firmly believes in academic rigour but pupils learn from their teachers and each other in a very holistic and creative way.

Free of the constraints of a big school, Dallington can constantly and gently assess pupils all the time, re-evaluating where they might need support or challenges at every turn, and having the flexibility to adapt to changes immediately.

James likens the evolution in teaching and learning at Dallington to the process for roasting coffee beans. It used to be thought that to make good coffee, every bean needed to be exposed to the exact same predetermined temperature and procedure. But experts now know that different beans need to be roasted differently to generate the best flavour and outcome – and children are just the same. Find the process that suits each individual human coffee bean and help them to ‘leave with a Iifelong learning habit and an understanding of their own and others’ passions in a context of working relationships honed from engagement, fun and play’.

Admissions

This is a hugely inclusive school, which is reflected in Dallington’s non-selective entry policy. Places are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and numbers are currently on the rise. It’s a totally co-ed school, but at present there’s a slightly larger cohort of boys.

Academics and senior school destinations

The school has a very integrated approach to learning, with topics intertwined in different subject areas to reinforce and broaden learning opportunities by echoing them throughout the day.
Class sizes are small and there’s a very relaxed approach to learning in mixed-year groups where necessary or beneficial, so that children benefit from the expertise of one particular member of staff or learn at their own pace and level irrespective of age. Staff are very open to new approaches and the school’s founder, Mogg Hercules, would be delighted to see that her philosophy of ‘making children feel like they are teaching me’ is still very much in action.

Each of the school’s five storeys has two classrooms, which are spacious and bathed in light pouring in from double-aspect windows.

Pupil resources are located together on one floor, and there is art literally everywhere – which illustrates the emphasis placed here on the creative process. Creative writing too is championed, as are reading and the performing arts as gateways to self-confidence.

Pupils fly the Dallington nest to a wide range of destinations in the private and state sectors. Recent leavers have headed to Stoke Newington School, Northbridge School, Portland Place, Francis Holland, Queen’s College and Camden School for Girls, to name but a few.

Co-curricular

Dance, drama and music feature on the curriculum every week, and pupils are continually encouraged to act, dance, sing and play at every opportunity. Dallington uses a wonderful quote from the classical pianist Glenn Gould to encapsulate its reasoning for placing such a value on the creative arts: ‘The purpose of art is the lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.’ And once you know this, the Dallington penny drops. The school’s location also allows children to absorb the culture on their doorstep, with topic-based residentials and regular trips to the Wigmore Hall, Globe Theatre and the Barbican.

Pupils have two PE sessions a week focusing on coordination, core strength, balance and hand-eye skills. Football, cricket, netball, tennis, rounders, hockey, tag rugby and basketball are all on offer, and there are even a handful of local fixtures on the agenda. Children from nursery also attend gymnastics lessons, and older pupils (Years 5 and 6) can give kayaking a go in Shadwell Basin.

Clubs and activities form a wider part of pupils’ enrichment and take place after school, with a termly selection of options ranging from board games club and crafts to Lego robotics and football.

School community

They’re a tight-knit bunch here – the school’s relatively small size means that staff and pupils (and parents) all get to know each other very well. There’s a sizable number of overseas families (many children speak English as a second language) but regardless of diverse geographical roots, it’s a community united by its belief in Dallington’s ethos. There’s a first-name policy throughout and pupils don’t wear a uniform, making the whole place feel very home from home. Adults are crucial positive role models, and the ‘no judgement’ atmosphere where mistakes are an integral and inevitable part of learning results in a very open and honest environment devoid of pressure and limiting conformity.

And finally….

This lovely school has created an extreme juxtaposition: a village primary-school vibe in the heart of London and a wondrous alternative to the assessment-driven culture that often fails to accept or nurture the unique qualities of every child. Its founder’s motto of ‘value your own worth and understand the difference in others’ is a sentiment that would change the world if we were all a bit more Dallington.

Fees and bursaries

Day fees per term

  1. Nursery………………..£4,420
  2. Reception……………..£4,420
  3. Year 1……………………£4,900
  4. Year 2……………………£4,900
  5. Year 3……………………£5,390
  6. Year 4……………………£5,390
  7. Year 5……………………£5,560
  8. Year 6……………………£5,560

Transport links

Public Transport

  • Nearest London tube station: Barbican
  • Nearest London Overground station: Old Street