The nursery headteacher whose past has shaped her pupils’ futures
SOME EDUCATORS teach to live, while others live to teach; Geraldine Maidment would fall into the latter camp, so fixed is she to the foundations of Annemount School.
The headteacher, who also owns the nursery and pre-preparatory in Hampstead Garden Suburb, is discernible throughout the school — in its celebration of arts and culture, in its jam-packed schedule of curricular and extra-curricular activities, and in the eyes of its 100 young pupils, who embrace her with arms outstretched whenever she pops into a class.
“The beauty of owning a school is you can be creative,” she says. “You have huge responsibilities as an educator, so the important thing is to have a good team around you.
“I love the creative side of my work — being with the children, being with my team, and thinking through the needs of each and every individual.”
Ms Maidment’s mark on the 80-yearold school has been indelible, and has been ever since she took ownership more than 20 years ago, in 1993, after the death of its founder and only other headteacher, Elsie Jamaiker.
At the time, with two young daughters at home, she had a clear idea of the kind of community she hoped to build.
“When I had my own children, I wanted to give them opportunities that would offer the same breadth that I grew up with,” she says. “But I didn’t want to drive them from pillar to post.
“What I wanted to do was bring experts to the school. So I brought the extras — languages, dance, drama, music — into Annemount.”
Ms Maidment’s focus on breadth of learning is something entrenched in her principles; she is brutally aware that things could have been different.
Born to parents who both fled from Eastern Europe just before the Second World War, she and her sister were raised to value education higher than anything else.
“My father went to a school in Budapest that produced a lot of Nobel Prize winners, but had to leave and come to the UK alone at the age of 17 because, as a Jew, he wasn’t allowed to continue his studies,” she says.
“My mother, who spoke many languages and was also a pianist, came to England in 1939 from a Jewish community in Munkacs in the Carpathian Mountains [modern-day Ukraine].
“She came as a domestic, and then ironed coats in a factory, before working in a Hungarian restaurant, where she met my father.”
Ms Maidment, 57, describes one specific event that shaped her mother’s outlook on life — and, in turn, has since shaped hers.
“Soldiers ransacked her suitcase before she arrived,” she says. “It made my mother realise that the only thing that matters is what is inside of you, because nobody can take that away.
“That is the fundamental message of my whole ethos: give everybody education, breadth and resourcefulness, and they will be able to go their own way.”
Raised in Northwood, she attended Northwood College, before moving to St Mary’s, and then on to South Hampstead High School in north-west London. Her father, who changed his name from Laszlao Soltesz to Lesley Stanley, was intent on “being inconspicuous, blending in and integrating”.
But she remained active in the community, attending cheder and youth clubs at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, and discovering a love for teaching while running Jewish prayers in her teens. In the school holidays, her parents would send her abroad to learn languages; she now speaks five.
AftergraduatingfromUCLinLondon, she worked for a brief time at Sotheby’s, but turned to teaching because “I realised I liked people more than objects”.
Fast forward to 2016, and her family’s experiences have made their mark on the administration of Annemount.
Why, for example, do so many of the school’s pupils — more than 60 per cent — play the violin?
“The violin has a very profound meaning for me,” Ms Maidment explains, as she opens a pint-sized, weathered violin case to reveal a treasured heirloom inside.
“Since my parents were refugees, we have no objects in our family from my grandparents’ past. But what we do have is this family violin, belonging to my grandfather’s sister, which my daughter learnt to play on.
“When you have to leave everything behind, the violin is something you can take with you.”
Ms Maidment is adamant that teaching children music and sports is vital for their mental development; she is determined to offer both of the highest calibre. The school’s violin teacher also teaches at the Royal Academy of Music, while her sports teachers are personal trainers from the Matt Roberts London gyms.
“With a violin, you are learning every single skill you could possibly need to study,” she says. “You are concentrating, listening, self-correcting, following instructions, sequencing, memorising, turn-taking, learning discipline and that practise makes perfect. Once you start learning a musical instrument, you gain all the focusing skills that you need to learn anything.”
A brief scan of a working day at Annemount, whose pupils range in age from three to seven, reveals a school that laughs in the face of the “bare minimum” approach.
Years one and two begin their lessons at 8.30am — to ensure that they can fit as much as possible into their timetable. French teachers, chess
Theonlything thatmatters is what is inside of you, becauseno-onecan takethataway
Geraldine Maidment with Annemount pupils