I happened to be in London on the day Kensington Palace announced William and Kate’s choice of school for Prince George: Thomas’s Battersea. This was a surprise. Odds had favored their choosing the primary school William and Harry attended, Wetherby, in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood.
This made sense, even beyond the family history, as Notting Hill is close enough to Kensington Palace to have made the school run easy. Notting Hill is also a charming, chic neighborhood full of white row houses, designer shops, upscale eateries, and Kate-friendly boutiques like Penelope Chilvers, Marie Chantal, Sweaty Betty, Emma Hope, Zadig and Voltaire, and Jigsaw. I once spent a lovely afternoon there, and could easily imagine Kate dropping George off, ordering a carrot ginger juice at Ottolenghi, and doing a bit of window shopping with her new mum friends.
Notting Hill Shopping & Street Views
The school news didn’t get much press after the first official announcement, beyond the information that Thomas’s Battersea is in a neighborhood nicknamed Nappy Valley, for its large population of young families, and that the school’s first rule is “be kind”. Media outlets were too busy covering the United Kingdom’s official break from the European Union on March 29th to satisfy my curiosity about royal family life. When the only extra article I could find was this one, titled Why I’m Glad My Son Didn’t Get Into Thomas’s, Prince George’s New School, I decided to walk over to Battersea and check things out myself.
Views of the exterior of Thomas’s Battersea
First of all, I was surprised by how far Thomas’s Battersea is from Kensington Palace. Google maps calls it a 25-minute drive, which could be even longer in early morning and late afternoon traffic. When I was looking for schools for my daughter, the piece of advice I got most often was to find a school within walking distance of our apartment, as it would make drop off, pick up, and playdates a million times easier. Obviously, Prince George will be driven to school, and I suppose being a prince makes spontaneous after-school playdates virtually impossible. Still, it’s a hike from Kensington Palace, and I wonder how Kate and William will feel about the commute in the future.
View from Battersea into London | View from Battersea Bridge
At least it’s a pretty drive. The main route from Kensington Palace will take George right past Kate’s single-girl apartment on Old Church Street and over one of two bridges. After the bridge, the first landmark is this statue, called In Town, a fitting sight in a neighborhood known for its family appeal. Then the royal car will pass the Royal College of Art (I wonder if Kate’s thinking about taking some classes…), the Co-operative Food Market, and restaurants like Bunga Bunga and Pizza Express.
Bunga Bunga | Royal College of Art
Almost immediately, the contrast between Battersea and Kate’s regular haunts–Kensington, Chelsea, and Belgravia–is obvious. Battersea is less polished and less elite. It is also much more diverse—both racially and economically. On my short walk, I saw students playing soccer on the residential streets, townhouses with somewhat unruly gardens, and women in bright hijab. To me, this is a good thing. George (and Charlotte) should spend time in neighborhoods that aren’t picture-perfect. Battersea isn’t gritty, in any sense of the word—it’s an ordinary London neighborhood, rather than a privileged one, and seeing it every day (if only out of a car window), can only be a good thing for a future king.
Images from the drive to Battersea
A quick peek at netmums.com reveals that Thomas’s Battersea is known for rigorous academics mixed with strong curricula in sports, arts, and drama—extras that aren’t prioritized at some other private schools in London.They are also known for their student-run Anti-Bullying Committee and their Personal, Social, Health, Citizenship and Economic Education (PSHCE) program, both of which I’m sure appealed to Kate and William. Two other notes parents make are that the school has a palpable, “zingy” energy and all students take ballet in their first three years at Thomas’s Battersea. The school also has a nursery program, which the BBC reports Charlotte will attend starting in the summer.
Images of Battersea Square
My curiosity about the school itself satisfied, I wanted to check out what Kate’s post drop off experience might be. Each morning during my visit to London, I saw mothers all over the city gathered outside school gates, chatting and heading off to exercise classes and coffee dates. Will Kate be able to do that? And, if so, where will she go?
The quick answer is: I’m not sure. Unlike Notting Hill, which offered a plethora of options, there appears to be only one small commercial square within close walking distance of George’s new school. It holds several charming cafes and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, but no retail boutiques, spin classes, or yoga studios. Perhaps Kate’s life won’t allow her to linger with parents after drop off, which seems like a shame.
Statue in Battersea | Gordon Ramsay’s Restaurant
There is much possible speculation to be done about this school choice. I wonder how much the neighborhood played into the decision. Did Kate and William choose Thomas’s Battersea over other schools in order to give Prince George a more diverse group of friends? Was it a calculated decision to avoid social climbers who had chosen Wetherby in order to get close to royalty? Does the lack of touristy amenities mean fewer crowds to deal with, from a security point of view?
I also wonder whether Kate and William considered the fact that George can attend Thomas’s Battersea until he is 13. The Thomas’s outpost nearer to them in Kensington only goes until age 11, when many kids head off to boarding school. Does that mean they want George close to home as long as possible, or that they are considering Eton, William’s high school, which starts at age 13? And how much did Kate’s much discussed “normal childhood” factor into their decision? Did she want a school that felt less glitzy and glamorous than the central London schools? Did William not actually like Wetherby?
I think it’s a safe to assume that the sports and arts curricula appealed to both Kate and William. And, given how close both of them are to their siblings, I’ll bet that the long commute will be made up for by the fact that George and Charlotte can attend this school together. One school will also, obviously, cut down on the effort and cost it takes to create a safe, secure space for the children.
If you haven’t read the letter that the head of St. Thomas’s Battersea wrote to the school’s parent body announcing Kate and William’s choice, it’s worth looking at. Its unpretentious, informative, welcoming tome may tell us quite a bit about why Kate and William chose this school in particular: they’ve discovered a place where they feel their children will feel at home.
“A statement will be made today by Kensington Palace announcing that Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have decided on Prince George’s next school. ‘In advance of that announcement, we are delighted to let you know that they have chosen Thomas’s and that from September Prince George will be a pupil at Thomas’s Battersea. This is clearly a significant moment for their family and most certainly for Thomas’s. Like so many parents, the Duke and Duchess have put a great deal of thought into the choice of their eldest child’s first “big school”. We are honoured that the aims and values of Thomas’s reflect those that Their Royal Highnesses would like for Prince George’s education. We are deeply conscious of the trust that they, like all Thomas’s parents, are placing in us and we hope very much to live up to their expectations. The Duke and Duchess have made it clear that they do not wish Prince George’s attendance at Thomas’s to change its aims, values or ethos in any way. They would like, as far as is possible, for him to enjoy the same education that all of our pupils receive and for them to join the school community as all of our new parents do.”
We will have to wait and see if we are treated to any photos released by the Palace commemorating George’s first day.