Muddy Best Schools
Read my review of the Prep School at Kent College, Pembury, the all-girls school set in a beautiful rural setting where pupils thrive and are free to be themselves
A new Muddy Guide to the Best Schools today, and it’s a goody – Kent College Prep in Pembury. I had a good look around a couple of weeks ago, part journo-nosing, part with a mum’s head on, and here’s the verdict…
An all girl prep school which takes children from rising 3-11 years in a beautiful rural setting (75-acres of it) overlooking the Pembury countryside. Despite its tranquil surrounds it’s very accessible – being moments from the A21 and just outside Tunbridge Wells (5 minutes to town centre). The school is found on the grounds of the Senior School of the same name, and has a total of 168 pupils with deliciously low average class sizes (never more than 18). Most of the kids are day pupils, but flexi, weekly and full-boarding are also available. The main building is purpose-built but certainly attractive enough on approach and anyway you’ll be too distracted by the stunning view down the valley to notice either way.
The prep is spacious and contemporary, with well-thought out light and airy classrooms. As it shares the site with the Senior School, the prep gets to benefit from the facilities. While it has it’s own outdoor space and buildings, including it’s own car park, a smart school Reception area, music room, library and hall the girls only have to walk a short distance to take advantage of the super duper extras the ‘big school’ has to offer. And that’s all good because Kent College has invested a lot in its facilities over the years, like this 20m indoor swimming pool (above), and a whopping great Sports Hall, opened in 2015, as well as the brand spanking new astro turf, pictured below. Oh, and don’t let me go forgetting 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.
Sport features strongly – dance and gymnastics in particular, alongside netball and swimming in lessons and clubs. Just because this is an all-girls school, that doesn’t mean out-doorsyness comes low down on the agenda. Forest School is part of the school culture, rather than a ‘thing’ to do – the prep school girls are outside in the beautiful grounds lots.
To encourage a sense of responsibility from the start girls are invited to be on the School Council from Y2 and selected after an application process which involves standing up and talking in assembly. There’s also a Buddy system running throughout the years – Y6 are Buddied up with Y2, Y5 with Y1 and so on.
As well as the kind of clubs you’d expect at a quality prep school (just about everything you can imagine, dance, sport and music related) there’s the more high-brow options of Philosophy or Debate Club – and the one I would have been all over, Magazine Club (just to be clear the club is for writing magazines, not reading them, silly…)
I’m given time for a Q & A session with a group of lovely, smiley Y6 girls who are all very eloquent and animated as we chat (all with a great sense of humour and fun – we like that on Muddy). They tell me that every year in May the Y6 prep school girls get to perform a big production in the Senior School theatre, this year it consists of lots of of scenes from different plays – the girls talk excitedly of various elements they are involved in like Grimm & Grimmer, The 12 Dancing Princesses and the Golden Goose.
Inter House competitiveness is everything it should be – fun and fierce. The girls inform me all about the K.C’s Got Talent auditions where you try out for the chance to represent your house (Celts, Saxons or Danes – mirroring the Senior School) in the Grand Finale. I hear how the Winner was a girl brave enough to do some Stand Up Comedy – mainly impressions of the teachers – now that takes confidence.
I like the way a single-sex school can free girls of gender stereotypes. Science is popular here. There’s a STEM Club after school which stands for Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths. The faces of the Y6 girls I talked to lit up when they remembered they were off to disect pigs’ eyes after break.
The Early Years (Nursery and Reception) have their own wing of the school with their own smartly designed outdoor play area. To the side of the school there are spacious grounds with an adventure playground and netball/tennis courts, all of which benefit from wonderful views over the Kent countryside.
I poked my head in several of the classrooms from Nursery upwards and all the girls looked engaged and happy – keen to answer questions (who can get their hand highest in the air competition time) and polite.
Academic results: In 2015 – 2016, 60 per cent went on to the Senior School from the prep, with the majority of the rest going on to the grammars or Sevenoaks School. 11+ results are very strong – 90 per cent pass rate and all of those got their first choice.
The school has a good track record in the Kent Test and also prepares girls for the entrance exams to other independent schools and runs a revision course during the summer holidays. A requirement of the Senior School is that girls must be able to sit nine GCSEs and three A levels, so occasionally it is decided that the senior school might not suit a particular girl. Parents are always kept closely informed of their daughter’s progress, so this is always very much a joint decision.
Perhaps not suprisingly the 2016 ISI inspection reported this as an ‘excellent’ school – read the report here.
Mr Nik Pears took over as Head of the Prep School in January this year – before that he was Head of Pre-Prep at Sevenoaks Prep School. He is clearly relishing his new role, has a lovely approachable and kind manner with the girls and is full of the enthusiasm and energy that a new appointment brings. He lives on the grounds with his wife, son and daughter. He and his family eat with the boarders 3 – 4 times a week (his daughter attends the school and gives a lovely wave when we enter her classroom). Nik’s the exact opposite of the crusty old Headteachers that were all the rage when I was at school and I’m not surprised to learn he spent some years working in the music industry prior to his career in education. No doubt his helps his approach feels fresh and dynamic. Having said that, I don’t get the impression he plans on making any sweeping changes but rather to build on the school’s existing successes.
I’m delighted when Head, Nik, says: ‘Just because we’re a girls school doesn’t mean everything has to be pink and fluffy’ – too right. And testament to this is his plan to make the currently disused pond (hidden in the trees behind the main building) a feature in the schools’ facilities (see below). It’ll all be cleaned out and tidied up first of course. I’m thinking sun loungers and mocktails by the clubhouse but I think what the school has in mind is more pond dipping and kayaking…
He’s also keen to show me the outdoor Confidence Course, pictured below, apparatus includes zip wires and rope walks over the lake, an abseil wall, monkey bars, postman’s walk, scramble net and many others. If I chose to send my daughter to an all-girls school this is definitely the kind of environment I’d want for her. Whether she turned out to be a G.I. Jane or more a Private Benjamin doesn’t matter – it’s all fun, self-esteem building stuff.
Also, 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. The prep holds onto this believe as much as the Senior School with great emphasis on compassion, respect and emotional wellbeing and a strong sense of community that encompasses everyone.
Wrap around care:
Care is available from 7.30am – 7.30pm should you need it, starting with Breakfast Club (which is free) and then after school, up to 5.30, (also free of charge). There’s Homework Club followed by the option to join in the Boarder’s Tea all of which can be arranged on an ad hoc basis, which is very useful for working parents. Flexi, weekly and full boarding are all available from the age of 9. Only 2 full boarders at the time of my visit but they seemed happily integrated. Flexi-boarding is a popular option with local children and costs £48 per night, including supper and breakfast (way cheaper than a babysitter when you do the maths!)
Fees: From £3,046 per term in Nursery & Reception to £4,587 for Y3 – Y6; Full Boarding is £8,280 per term. These prices are exactly in line with other top girls’ preps in the area and slightly less than some of the mixed preps.
Word on the ground: I know a number of people with girls at this school and without exception they’ll talk your ear off about how nurturing the school is. They love it. ‘Warm and welcoming atmosphere’ is a phrase used a lot. Another thing I hear is that individuality and acceptance is key. As one Mum said to me: ‘Girls at Kent College are free to truly be themselves’. With top facilities the opportunities are there for the taking. What’s more, girls are proud to come here. They are also aware of how lucky they are and the importance of kindness.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Girls who are better suited to a smaller, nurturing environment and a classroom free of boys. Academic standards here are fairly high, without being at all ‘pushy’ – the emphasis is very much on a rounded education. Oportunities for sports and the creative arts abound. Perfect for bringing the full potential out of your daughter, in a relatively down-to-earth atmosphere (kind and caring rather than pony club-tastic).
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. Especially if you like the idea of going right through to the Senior School too – where even the Sixth Form remains all-girl.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Prep School Summer Open Morning, on Thurs 27 April, 9.15am – 1.00pm. For more info and to book, click here.
Kent College Pembury, Old Church Road, Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 4AX, Tel: 01892 820218, kcprep.co.uk