Muddy Best Schools Guide: Kent College, Pembury
KENT COLLEGE SENIOR SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, PEMBURY
So this is my first all girls’ secondary review on the Muddy Best Schools Guide. And I’m going to come clean from the start here. Kent College was my old school – yup I’m a K.C. girl – Respice Finem and all that. When I started the school, age 11, my father was in the United Nations, peace keeping in a country where there was no local Secondary School to go to, so I had to board too. Meaning I spent a lot of my childhood here. So does that make me biased in my review? My Mum suggested quite the opposite (well, I wasn’t always the, er, angel I am now)! Either way we’ve all heard it said – different schools for different kids, right? So when I spent an entire day noseying around recently I was looking at it both as a journo and a parent – what kind of child would suit this school and why?
Kent College – or K.C as it is known locally – is an independent Prep and Secondary School for girls (aged 3 – 18). The Senior School has 442 day and boarding pupils aged between 11 – 18. It’s set in a rural 75 acres, with sweeping views, and beautiful grounds that somehow manage to fit in so many buildings and facilities while still feeling compact and cosy. Just outside Pembury, and only moments from the A21, this school has a countryside setting and yet remains very accessible – or at least it will be when they finally finish those road works! The school has a reputation for being very caring and nurturing, which was certainly of upmost importance to my parents, living so far away. That hasn’t changed. But in recent years it has seen something of a Renaissance, both in terms of investing in a pile of stonkingly good facilities, and a real rise in impressive GCSE and A Level results, (perhaps I used to bring the average down?). The last Sixth Form obtained 100% pass rate with 3/4 of the girls achieving A*-B grades. And this is from a school that prides itself on placing as much emphasis on personal growth and extra-curricular activities as it does academic studies.
The Susanna Wesley Library & Arts Centre is one of the brand new buildings and it’s fairly impressive. There’s a reception desk, full-time librarian, over 11,000 fiction and non-fiction books (yes, I counted) and 18 computers and 15 laptops. I think it’s a brilliant strategy to link books and art together like this – in an ‘artistic space’ way – recognising that reading is also a creative exercise. Upstairs the Art Department is comprised of three large and light-filled studios which include separate working areas for GCSE and A level pupils. Anyone taking Art A Level gets an allocated individual working space for the duration of the two year course.
The school is currently undergoing an ambitious Sports development project. Alongside the existing indoor swimming pool is a brand spanking new Sports Hall, (above), opened only last year/2015. In the grounds there’s the usual tennis, netball courts, pitches for athletics and rounders (or rugby and football too, for those that wish), as well as a cross-country track, fitness/gym and dance studio. And any week now the much-anticipated All-Weather Pitch will be completed – E.T.A. by Oct half term 2016. As well as the usual sports clubs there’s trampolining, archery, horse-riding and fencing. No one is getting bored any time soon.
The Food Tech department is good – girls work towards a Leith’s catering award and the school boasts a Junior Masterchef Winner! The textiles department is also strong. K.C. hosts the annual Young Fashion Designer UK competition in which ten local judges from the fashion industry select the winners. It’s a popular competition, open to pupils from schools across the country, and attracts hundreds of entrants every year.
When I was in Sixth Form, K.C. got a talented new, enthusiastic drama teacher, Mr Ashton. Around 25 years later he’s still there (stop doing the maths about my age) – as energetic as ever and now heading up seven members of staff – and has taken this department from strength to strength. After successful tours to America the school now has a national reputation for theatre arts and represented the UK at the first ‘International Student Drama Festival’ in Athens.
Performances are staged every term in the intimate Studio Theatre which can seat up to 70 people. Larger productions (often in collaboration with boys schools) are staged in the £1m state-of-the-art Countess of Wessex Theatre (she’s an ex-pupil and re-opened the theatre in 2012) which seats a maximum capacity of 300.
The academic results: The school is producing increasingly impressive academic results in recent years and now has a reputation for consistently high standards (it goes without saying 100 % exam pass rate). This summer the school has just celebrated its highest ever A* rating, in both GCSEs and A Levels. While well-publicized studies have found that Secondary school-aged girls can lack confidence in maths and science the chemistry teacher reassures me there’s no evidence of that here.
Headmistress, Ms Julie Lodrick, was newly appointed this January (2016) and brings with her youth, freshness and real modernity (here she is above centre, in the crowd of celebrating Sixth Formers, and above right). She is the kind of role model you can definitely imagine your girls aspiring to. What’s more her background is strongly artistic – she trained as a singer before moving into schools as Head of Music. She’s also done a turn as a House Mistress at a previous school, so is experienced in the exceptional pastoral skills that role requires. She passionately believes in single-sex education – but is quick to point out this does not have to mean a single-sex upbringing (watch this space for my post on this interesting subject). She has a reputation for being kind and approachable while thoroughly efficient.
There’s a prep school for girls, aged 3 – 11, on the same site, which shares many of the senior school facilities.
Less of a quirk and more the unique defining factor that underpins every element of life at K.C. This is a Methodist school (pupils can have any faith) which basically means that kindness, tolerance and a huge appreciation for just how lucky you are is the practical ethos running through everything. This is not, nor has it ever been, a jolly hockey sticks kind of girls school. The international nature of the school brings a cosmopolitan outlook, the humbleness of Methodism doesn’t allow for haughtiness.
On the subject of quirks, there’s also a new outdoors obstacle course, called the Confidence Course, that includes walls, balance beams, a postman’s walk, monkey bars, a bouldering wall, zip wire and 30ft abseil tree. Weeeeeeeee!
Wrap around care:
As well as all the many, many extra curricular clubs, there’s Breakfast Club available from 7.30 (for a fee) and After School Care until 5.30pm every day (free of charge) – pupils can stay later (for a fee) and have supper at the school. There are around 70 UK and international boarders plus many more flexi-boarders (anything from 10-20 per week).
Word on the ground: ‘Confidence’ is a word that gets mentioned a lot – this school teaches girls to be open-minded and believe they can do anything, but that they should be thoughtful of others too. There’s a big, but subtle, sense of being appreciative of their own privilege – perhaps something that’s rarer than it should be at independent schools. Mums I have spoken to with girls at K.C. were very happy with their daughter’s achievements academically but said they didn’t feel the school was too ‘pushy’ in this area.
Fees: Now here’s the rub. Fees have risen to reflect the facilities which puts it at the higher end. Day pupils in the senior school pay £6,400 per term, Sixth Formers £6, 900. Weekly boarders pay £8,000 and full boarders pay the usual buttock-clenching £10, 200. Scholarships are available.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Obviously perfect for anyone that thrives on performance and creative arts – although the variety of extra-curricular opportunities means it would be almost impossible not to find something to enjoy. Sports is getting really strong here too, but being sporty or competitive is by no means a prerequisite. The school doesn’t produce a ‘type’ – girls are still very free to be who they want to be. What makes K.C unique is the philosophy underpinning the school – a practical outlook and kindess towards all others. And an appreciation of what you have.
Not for: Well clearly you’ll be opting for single-sex education here, so if you don’t think that would suit your daughter, this is not the school for you. Even the Sixth Form remains all-girl, unlike some other independent or State schools that accept boys in the older years.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Senior School Open Morning on Sat 1 or Tues 18 October, and as ever, let me know your thoughts.