Muddy Best Schools Guide: Bethany School
BETHANY SCHOOL, GOUDHURST
What? Where? Bethany school is a wonderfully rural, independent secondary school for pupils aged 11 – 18 in Goudhurst, near Cranbrook, in the picturesque Weald of Kent. A non-selective school, which is big on pastoral care and space and small on class sizes. It’s a co-educational school with 345 kids (242 boys, 103 girls – used to be a boys school but number of girls is increasing), in a very sizeable and stunning 60 acres of grounds.
The school is a mixture of some historical period buildings intermixed with more modern bricky jobs all set in a very lovely scenic setting with more space per child than almost any other secondary school you’ll ever come across.
Last year (2016) the school celebrated 150 years since it was founded and yet it remains rather a hidden gem in terms of its public profile. If you have heard of it you may well think of Bethany as a school for children who need extra learning support, as this seems to be a largely held misconception. Bethany is actually a mainstream school which just happens to have an excellent specialist learning support department. As the Headteacher puts it: ‘The school has in many ways been a victim of its own successes. We were pioneers in educational support and now we’re known for it but that shouldn’t be what defines us. We provide a good all-round education and teaching approach that would benefit any child.’
The school has benefited from some heavy investment in recent years, including a heated indoor swimming pool (opened by Rebecca Adlington OBE herself, no less); a swanky new fitness room (complete with running machines, rowing machines and exercise bikes)…
… and a new brand spanking new Sixth Form Centre (below). This is an extension of the Sixth Formers’ house (which accommodates both boarders and day pupils) and contains a rather swish kitchen, café zone and TV snug – there was even a chessboard in full use when I visited – praise be!
As is often the tradition at independent schools, everyone does sport and alongside the usual team offerings (including astroturf and tennis courts of course) there’s basketball, badminton and table tennis to choose from.
There are compulsory activities four afternoons per week. Teaching finishes at 3.40pm, and after a 20 minute break, children go to activities which finish at 5pm. The wide range of options includes the likes of chef’s school, bushcraft, horse riding, sailing, model making, symphony orchestra, life saving and pilates.
Bethany is a school that cultivates creativity. There are specialist rooms for art, textiles, music and drama. And this huge Design Technology space, below, which has been the birthplace of many exceptional works of art, such as the rather stunning convertable chess table (below) – where can I put in my order?
Creative subjects are incredibly popular here. Drama and Dance GCSEs are available. Photography, Textiles, Art, Craft & Design are all A Levels that are positively encouraged. There’s no requirement at Sixth From to stick to the traditional academic subjects and taking three creative subjects is absolutely fine. The work on display in the Art Department is of an incredibly high standard – intelligent, bold and original.
Last year 73.7 per cent of Sixth Form pupils achieved A*- C grade at A Level. With a very similar statistic, 73.35 per cent, for pupils achieving A*- C grade at GCSE. This is pretty good when you consider the non-selective nature of the school and the density of grammar schools in the area, which obviously cream off the top achieving pupils age 11.
Around one-third of pupils receive support for specific learning difficulties, and 45 foreign nationals have English language support.
Mr Francie Healy took over as Headteacher in 2010 after starting at the school as a maths teacher, falling in love with the place, and working his way up. He is very friendly and personable – full of anecdotes about his pupils past and present and recalls every single name with ease. He’s clearly passionate about education, telling me: ‘Our specialism is the child. You cannot understand the child unless you know the child. Happiness is so important and at the heart of everything we do as well as encouraging pupils to have the courage to be themselves.’ He is clearly a real believer in the school and everything it stands for so it’s no real surprise when he tells me his own three children have all passed through the school. As we walk around the children are relaxed, yet respectful, in his presence.
Bethany encourages originality, so does quirky rather well. There’s an arial adventure area for a start (well, did you have that at your school?!). And my personal favourite, the Science Technicians, (pictured below in wigs), who were full of fun and projects for promoting learning as enjoyable – I left the science department carrying a kit containing all the ingredients for growing cress heads with my children when I got home!
In Y7 it’s £5,265 per term, (£8,140 for Weekly Boarding, £8,780 for Full Boarding) and this goes up to £5,830 per term for Y9 – Y13 (£9,015 for Weekly Boarding, £9,915 for Full Boarding) so the fees here are about average.
Word on the ground:
Bethany is a very caring and flexible school, that has the pupil at the heart of every decision made. The timetable fits around the pupil, rather than the other way round. For example those on full learning support are not expected to study a language. Others who don’t have an aptitude for languages are free to choose an alternative subject for GCSE. Unlike some local grammar schools there is no requirement here at Sixth Form to stick to the traditional/academic subjects.
One Mum I know whose son has dyslexia said that unlike other schools the extra support here is built into every element of the learning, so her son doesn’t even notice he’s receiving it. For example all of the pupils have a laptop or iPad, so use of these in lessons is no big deal. All classes are small – so they all get uber-attention!
Another ex-Bethanian, a family friend of mine (now in her twenties), didn’t need any extra help academically but ended up finding her feet at Bethany after leaving a larger all-girls’ school where she had been struggling a bit.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: From creative thinkers to bright dyslexics, this school would suit anyone looking for an unpretentious, friendly school that takes a very individualised approach, all set in idyllic surroundings. The small numbers are great for kids who might get lost in a bigger school and thrive on individual attention. Those who want exceptional pastoral and academic support, including pupils with Special Educational Needs.
Not for: Bethany’s relaxed ethos and non-selective cohort might not suit tiger-parents. Super sporty or highly academic kids who thrive on the competitive treadmill.
Dare to disagree? Go see for yourself – the next Open Morning is 10am, Sat 4 Feb, contact the school office for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bethany School, Curtisden Green, Goudhurst, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 1LB, Tel: 01580 211273, bethanyschool.org.uk