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‘We wanted to have the sort of college that we ourselves would have liked. We wanted a holistic education, where the arts were as important as academic subjects. We wanted a co-operative, self-motivated style of learning. And we wanted to know everyone’s name.’ Parents agree. ‘I have nothing but praise for Candida,help writing a narrative essay and the atmosphere she creates in the school is so positive,’ commented one.
In 2018, 20 per cent A*/A and 50 per cent A*-B grades at A level. At GCSE 76 per cent A*-C/9-4 grades. Impressive the essay club results for a school that doesn’t select on academic ability.
Biology and maths are offered at A level, but as you’d expect, the arts and humanities dominate, along with economics and business studies and an excellent range of languages (take-up for Italian is high)
Nearly 30 subjects on offer to sixth formers, and it’s possible to do entirely art-based options: we met a student who was revelling in being able to study fine art, graphic design, photography and fashion/textile design. ‘My previous school could only offer me art. This is brilliant!’
Since 1994 school has taken students into years 10 and 11 in response to parent demand. It provides both a conventional two-year and an intensive one-year GCSE course, the latter offering a lifeline to able students who have nonetheless struggled in more academically pressurised environments. In September 2018 the first year 9s joined the school: just one small cohort of 10 pupils when we visited. Pupils said they appreciated the very high level of individual attention they received and seemed glad to be here.
The sixth formers here are clearly very happy. They relish the freedom to think and develop for themselves and the emphasis laid on a collaborative approach, describing the sixth form experience as a ‘proper step between school and university’. ‘You force yourself to do a lot of work – and you end up accomplishing more.’
Once the school was a sixth form college almost exclusively offering specialist arts teaching. Over the decades it’s evolved into a more general provider of non-selective education at 13+ with a particular emphasis on the visual arts.
The main building in Englands Lane is a former Victorian dairy: still flanked on all sides by grey and beige brickwork, its interior is a honeycomb of small corridors and classrooms. The cobbled main courtyard is the first thing people see, and it really is rather special. […] ‘I fell in love with the school as soon as I saw it!’. ‘The feeling at Fine Arts College is always welcoming, and I’m really loving being here,’ was another comment.
The school is run on mutual respect, and Candida Cave is proud of how well the students respond to this. Those who arrive exhausted and discouraged from different school environments quickly find their feet. Parents and children alike told us that this was a kind and accepting place. ‘Bullying is non-existent here.’
Everyone has a personal tutor whom they see every week for at least an hour. There are fortnightly reports so students can see how well they’re doing, and consistently low effort grades will swiftly result in interventions, including (for sixth formers) being made to drop a subject if they’re clearly not trying at it. Anyone who is more than 10 minutes late for a lesson isn’t allowed to join it until they’ve made the work up in a study space outside the classroom, ‘so I’m never late!’ commented a student; ‘it’s been really effective for me.’ Said another, ‘It’s a good idea, because after all, it is distracting when people are late.’
‘It’s 100 per cent better than my last school – there’s no ordering about, just freedom and an ethos of mutual respect.’
Mostly, but not exclusively, British students, drawn mainly from a local radius, but some coming from as far away as south London, Essex and Watford. Many are seeking an alternative to boarding, selectivity or just the conformity required at a large school. Parents are relieved and grateful that they’ve found the place. ‘My child is really happy there, and enjoying life so much more.’ Some international students, particularly post-GCSE.
Alumni include artist Robert Fry, actors Orlando Bloom and Helena Bonham-Carter, and guitarist and singer Johnny Borrell.
A haven of culture, creativity and kindness amidst the tumult of north London selective schools, and a route to success for those who have been disheartened hitherto. ‘I’ve had a really good time here, and I’ll be sad to leave,’ said a year 13 girl, and of the boys added, ‘It’s a really nice community. I actually don’t mind getting up in the mornings and going to school. And I’ve never said that before.’
You can read our Good Schools Guide review in full here.
CANDIDA CAVE IS WHAT ALL PARENTS DREAM OF IN A TEACHER, BUT THINK THEY'LL NEVER MEET