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The existence of a kindergarten, a primary academy and four prestigious, over-subscribed and interconnected independent day schools within a couple of miles of each other in a southern corner of inner London is the result of good luck, hard work, vision and tenacity. Initially, brought about by practical circumstances, Thomas’s was a kindergarten in a dusty church hall. Its development into the outstanding group of schools and services that it is today is the direct result of one family’s determined search for a broader, kinder and more creative approach to education.
Joanna Thomas, an actress, married her husband David, a Gurkha officer, in 1962. They lived in the Far East until David left the Army in 1969. In 1971 Joanna was given a main part in a serial on Granada TV, which took a year to complete. In order to help juggle finances to pay for their young children’s primary education and to be able to afford childcare for their youngest son, two year old Ben, Joanna set up a kindergarten in a local church hall in Pimlico.
Six years later, the success of the kindergarten and the strong demand for London day schools of quality encouraged David Thomas to give up his job with an American bank and to join his wife in founding a school for older children. Joanna and David sold their family home, moved with their three children into a two bedroom basement flat and, with the proceeds, took a short-term let on a building in Cadogan Gardens. After just three weeks and some intensive decorating, the first Thomas’s prep school opened its doors to eleven pupils and two teachers.
From the outset, Joanna and David were determined to create a school environment that achieved three key aims: high academic standards, an emphasis on the arts and plenty of sport, reflecting both their personal and professional interests.
In less than four years, and now known as ‘Thomas’s’, the school had more than 200 children. It expanded into two buildings in Cottesmore Gardens, just south of Kensington Gardens, to create Thomas’s Kensington.
The Preparatory School at Cadogan Gardens needed more space and the freehold was acquired for the former Sir Walter St John’s Grammar School in Battersea. The school, which became Thomas’s Battersea Prep School, moved to its extensive new premises and the leasehold buildings in Cadogan Gardens were sold.
With an increasing demand for places, the freehold was secured for the former Clapham County Girls’ School in Broomwood Road and the new Thomas’s Clapham opened.
Thomas’s Kindergarten, Battersea was started in the crypt of St Mary’s Church educating 45 children aged from two to four years old.
Thomas’s Schools Foundation (TSF) was launched at the Royal Albert Hall. The charity had two areas of focus: to identify, develop and support educational activities for children in local primary schools; and to provide funding for bursaries for children to attend a Thomas’s school.
Thomas’s Kensington was provided with its own dedicated Lower School facility through the acquisition of Lady Eden’s School in Victoria Road W8. The existing buildings in Cottesmore Gardens were refurbished and now house the Preparatory School.
Thomas’s acquired a twenty year lease on substantial school buildings formerly owned by the London Institute for the Chelsea College of Art and Design in Hugon Road SW6. The school, which has overlooked South Park since 1894, was completely refurbished and Thomas’s Fulham opened.
In 2007 the Principals established The CAIRN Trust as a UK registered educational charity dedicated to ensuring that children in rural Nepal are given the opportunity to gain an education.
The facilities of Thomas’s Kensington were further improved through the purchase of the buildings of the Prue Leith School of Cookery in St Albans Grove W8, then converted into a purpose built theatre, a gym and a dining room.
Discussions began in response to an approach from New King’s Primary School. These led to the establishment of Thomas’s Academy, a state-funded primary school on New King’s Road.
After 25 years taking school ski trips to the same small resort in Upper Austria, Thomas’s purchased a 70-bed hotel on the mountain to create Thomas’s Daheim, now the location of week-long residential trips for pupils and an extensive outdoor learning programme.
Thomas’s Schools Foundation and the CAIRN Trust merged to form Thomas’s Foundation, a charitable incorporated company which seeks to live out Thomas’s values in the world through four core projects: Foundation bursaries, community partnerships, Thomas’s Academy and the CAIRN Trust.
Thomas’s announced the purchase of an educational site in Putney Vale, which is home to Thomas’s Senior School and offers unique access through a doorway to Wimbledon Common. The campus provides excellent Science, Art, and Design & Technology departments, as well as Outdoor Education and Sport facilities.
Putney Vale Senior School welcomes pupils up to Year 11. This is Thomas’s inaugural GCSE cohort and marks a milestone in Thomas’s educational history. Thomas’s has also purchased Atlantic House in St Albans Grove, Kensington, with renovation currently underway. When works are completed Thomas’s Kensington Lower School on Victoria Road and its Preparatory School in Cottesmore Gardens will be consolidated into Atlantic House, a building which has been in educational use since 1870.