Kent College Junior School, Canterbury
As the only independent school within East Kent to be placed in the top 75 within the 2020 Parent Power list by the Sunday Times, it was time for us to do our own digging on this forward-thinking school based on the outskirts of Canterbury.
Kent College Junior School can be found in the charming village of Harbledown, just a mile outside Canterbury. The school is located within 14 acres of English countryside so there is plenty of space for its 216 pupils to embrace work and play.
With a new Head, this progressive school takes on a bespoke tailored learning experience for each child that passes through its doors through its Accelerated Learning and GREAT Scheme. Plus it places a strong emphasis on nurturing its pupils’ talents as part of its Christian Methodist principles. Throw in some extensive and recently renovated facilities with a choice of over 80 after-school clubs and activities, and you have all the winning ingredients here for a leading Independent School.
Further music to your ears may be the fact that Kent College can accommodate your children from the age of 3 months to Year 6 (plus offers boarding from Year 4) and beyond if you want to extend the education onto the equally impressive Senior School (which was founded in 1885) positioned on a different campus within the city environs. There’s no need for more exams or to look elsewhere once you have ensconced your children here. Phew!
There’s plenty to like at Kent College as the school is the former home of the Victorian artist Thomas Sidney Cooper R.A., (it was purchased by the Senior School in 1945) and this home-away-from-home culture is very much part of the school’s charm and culture. The facilities are extensive and include tennis courts, swimming pool, Sports Hall, Music Studio, rehearsal rooms plus acres of playing area for the children during break time, which is one of the many winning aspects about the place.
Outside each classroom are rows of muddy wellies which the pupils are encouraged to bring and wear each break time and get back to basics and play in the woodland in front of the school, be it climbing trees or the giant Connect 4 games – it’s one of the best natural play areas that we have spied in our school travels.
The Dining Hall is another hero feature with its outdoor terrace overlooking the gardens below which must be lovely in the summer. Where possible, food is sourced locally including meat from Kent College’s own working farm and the menu can be catered according to dietary requirements – whether it’s vegan, gluten-free or lactose intolerant, they’ve got it covered.
Going forward, the new Head (from September 2020) has plenty of innovative ideas about how to enhance the school’s offering with a new performance studio planned plus a brand new indoor/outdoor Science block as well as a new athletics track on its way so this is a school that is constantly evaluating its facilities and looking to enhance and improve its offering.
Sport is a huge part of school life here with a busy schedule of sporting activities and fixtures on Saturdays. Its sports teams regularly feature in County and National competitions. Boys play football, hockey and cricket and girls play netball, hockey and cricket but there are plenty of other sporting options within its thriving clubs such as table tennis, basketball and gymnastics so there is something for everyone.
There are specialist cricket machines and nets and like the Senior School, the Junior School has the luxury of Rob Key, an English former cricketer who has also represented Kent County Cricket Club and is a former member of the England Test match and One Day International sides, to help with training as well as Sean Kerly MBE, an English former field hockey player, who is another sports specialist at the school. Daly Thompson even visited to put the students through a Decathlon training day.
Cross Country is also part of Kent College’s heritage with the departing Head’s wife, Kath Cater, being a retired international athlete. Regular Cross Country runs or athletic mornings are held within the school’s grounds with a variety of local primary schools participating (well there is a lot of ground to cover) plus local primary schools are invited to host their Sports Day at Kent College, which is a great way to connect with the local community.
The outdoor heated swimming pool is kept open during the weekend, and in the evenings, during the summer months so families can enjoy the benefits of the pool and garden after-hours with a swim.
And the proof is in the pudding that this expertise and hard work pays off with the boys U11 team having been National hockey finalists for the last three years, and the Girls U11 are the National Cross Country Prep Schools champions. There are also several individual National champions for Athletics within the midst plus the U11 boys have been winners of East Kent Soccer League 7 for the last ten years.
All children from Year 3 take part in the GREAT (Gifted, Really Enthusiastic, Able and Talented) Programme which enables them to increase their performance even further in their chosen area and is another good method of identifying your child’s hidden talents if academia does not come naturally to them. You can choose two curriculum lessons that are dedicated to the GREAT programme with specialist teachers and coaches, allocated areas such as Art and Design, Technology as well as Drama, Music, Sport, Academic Challenge and Test Practice.
The art block that currently sits in a dedicated space in the grounds will shortly become the Sidney Cooper Art Studio in the heart of the school and will blend with Design and Technology where practical and creative learning takes place developing problem-solving skills. Children can also participate in Robotics Club up at the Senior School (good for getting to becoming more acquainted with the school up there too) and they use robotics technology to design a vehicle that will help to combat the problem of plastic waste polluting our shores, with proposals sent in for a competition.
From Year 3, many lessons involve iPad’s as a function of teaching and much of the marking is made through the Google platform. Coding is also taught and pupils can sign up for Computing Club where they can use the Mac books in its ICT suite and use a variety of formats to produce their own work, as well as iPad explorers and Touch Typing Club.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Kent College is rightly proud of its musical reputation with its Choristers choir having reached the final of BBC’s Songs of Praise ‘Junior Choir of the Year’ three times in a row. More than three-quarters of pupils have music lessons, and the Junior Choir numbers over 90 children but there’s also an inclusive culture so everyone is encouraged and welcome to take part. The pre-school has access to four specialist music teachers which is very rare for that age group and gives you an indication about how much they rate this aspect of the school.
Most performances are held on the stage within the Sports Hall but pupils can also use the fancy new Great Hall up at the Senior School, which is a state of the art professional theatre which can seat up to 600 guests, at full capacity, but also neatly works for smaller intimate performances and social events. It was opened with a big fanfare with a production involving 350 pupils on the stage at the same time (that should give you an indication of the sheer scale of it), written by the Executive Head, Dr Lamper and the Chaplain at the Senior School.
The clubs also incorporate a wide range of performance disciplines including Film & Fun, Pop Choir as well as Drama, Dance and Orchestra, so lots of different ways to nurture your child’s enthusiasm and talent.
As you would imagine from an Independent School, the class sizes are small to allow teachers to give individualised attention to each child and within the Early Years, they aim for an adult/pupil ratio of 1:4 rising to 1:5 and 1:8 for Years 1 and 2 and in Years 3 to 6, class sizes average around 15/16 pupils.
There is a non-selective admissions policy throughout the Junior and Senior School with approximately 85% going onto the Senior School each year. This year, 16 pupils took the Kent Test and they expect most of those pupils to pass but in general, a large chunk remains with the Kent College system as once you have embraced that individual approach to learning, it must be hard to consider leaving it behind.
The school initiated its Accelerated Learning Programme in 2014 and even from the early years, you can see how the children are separated (in a really natural and non-divisive way) according to their development to allow them to learn at their own pace and this is constantly reviewed to ensure that children are moving up when they are ready. Classrooms have been cleverly modelled to help with this with inter-connecting doors used within the space to create two individual learning environments for the pupils.
Where possible, subjects are taught creatively, and they make full use of the grounds to conduct some of these lessons with pupils in waders in the pond for an interactive science lesson. French and Spanish are the two foreign languages offered and the school believes that ‘every child is unique’ and deserves the best possible support.
There is a dedicated SEN centre at the top of the school and pastoral meetings are regularly held between the staff to share learning and practises so they can adapt their teaching to each individual child. On good authority, we are told that the support in this area is second to none and this is continued to throughout the Senior School so if you need help in this area, this could be the school for you.
Simon James took over the reins from Andrew Carter in September 2020 as Head of Kent College Junior school since Andrew retired after 20 years as Head at the school. Simon is in a good position to lead the way as he was the Deputy Head, as well as leading Business and Economics at the Senior School for a number of years alongside running a Boarding House.
Simon’s two young children are at the school and our tour was a fact-filled mission around the campus and his passion for its unique approach to education is hugely infectious. He states, the success of the school is born from the teachers’ vocational passion to do all the good they can for every individual child, ultimately providing the awe and wonder to learn and prepare their pupils for an exciting, dynamic and challenging future. Simon credits the teaching team at the school and the can-do culture that has been instigated throughout the school and tells me they how still learn from each other about how to adapt their teaching approach and environment to consolidate each child’s learning experience.
There is a homely aspect to the boarding community (available from Year 4) at Kent College Junior School with the option to do full-time boarding, weekly boarding or the odd occasional night, which works well for those who are after a more flexible approach. At present, 13 pupils are boarding (80% boys) and there is plenty laid on at the weekends to keep everyone happy and occupied such as weekend trips to London, excursions to Thorpe Park or Disneyland Paris plus local fun at the school’s own farm, riding stables and the local ice-skating rink.
The rooms are contained within the upstairs of the original house which adds to the cosy family atmosphere, further helped by Mr Guri, the Junior School House Parent who cares for the boarding community, and allows the children to thrive in a caring and challenging environment. Day pupils are often heard to plead with their parents to let them board for the night so they can join in the fun as events such as Bonfire Night, Chinese New Year and summer BBQ’s which are celebrated in style throughout the year.
As we mentioned, one of the additional selling points of the school is that your child can start their education journey from as little as three months in the Garden Cottage Nursery Lodge as The Lodge was opened in February 2018, and was formerly the gatehouse to the estate. This has now been refurbished to be a homely environment for babies and toddlers, with a dedicated and all-weather learning area. The Lodge accommodates up to 12 babies and toddlers at any one time, and dream coracles and sleep mats are used using for those needing a nap during the day. There is a separate parking area for those just using the Lodge and the Cottage (opened in September 2018 and for the pre-school crowd) so parents don’t need to get involved in the drop-off system for the Infant and Junior School.
It’s an idyllic setting for the pre-schoolers within the Cottage as it overlooks the school grounds and neighbouring fruit orchard, and they have their own all-weather play area. Drop-off can be from 7.30am and for the parents that can’t stick around for daily updates, they can monitor their child’s progress via the app, Tapestry which keeps a track on what their child has been up to during the week.
15 hours of FEE funding is available from the age of 3 and uniform is a requirement from the point of joining Pre Reception (which helps prepare them for the big school). Alongside the teaching staff, there is a French specialist who will visit and help your child expand their language repertoire!
We love the encouragement to get out and play during the breaks and embracing those wonderful moments of childhood, plus of course the chance to get ‘muddy’ with parents telling me that they love the fact that they pick them up from school knowing that they have had a really good run about during the day.
We mention it within our review of the Senior School but a very charming and community spirited event is Kent College’s annual Carol singing at Moat Farm where pupils from Junior and Senior school, plus parents and teachers, congregate to sing carols and hear nativity readings set amidst a real-life stable with goats, lambs, horses and piglets watching on with fairy lights and tinsel to really set the scene.
The recently renovated changing rooms within the Sports Hall also got a big Muddy stamp of approval with inspiring words written across the walls made from a collage of British sporting greats in action. Special shout out also needs to go to Moat Farm, which is part of Kent College’s wider campus. Children can spend time with a wide array of farm animals or learn to ride and look after horses at its own riding school which can be incorporated into the sports’ programme which you don’t find at many schools.
Kent College is lucky to have a resident author within its midst, Lucy Strange, who teaches English at Kent College, and has just had her second children’s novel published, Our Castle By The Sea. Lucy regularly runs author workshops at the school so any budding writers in your family will be recognised here and inspired by Lucy’s books plus a new programme at the school library is about to be implemented to encourage children to read more.
You may also scream Hallelujah at the fact that there is a KC Holiday Club, run by Kent College staff, during school holiday weeks, which covers a wide range of activities so the kids don’t feel like they are being bundled into school during holiday time and you have reliable cover during the long school holidays.
Charity plays a big part at Kent College with regular events hosted throughout the year in aid of charity with the last Christmas Fayre raising £20,000 and there’s even a Junior Charities Club. The school raises money for Farms for City Children, Sir Michael Morprgo’s charity and the staff at KC also work for free to host events for charities such as Porchlight, Kent’s largest charity for homeless and vulnerable people.
Lastly, it’s also known to be a really social school with plenty of fun events throughout the year for parents to feel involved including a big party with a marquee in the summer, get togethers for the grandparents who often play a large role in their grandchildren’s lives as well as discos – for all ages!
WRAP AROUND CARE
Kent College has this in spades and pupils can start their day from 7.30 with the option to stay until 6pm plus the occasional boarding and supper clubs should you need to extend your working day at short notice. The clubs each evening run from 4.00pm – 5.00pm and 5.00pm – 6.00pm and you can choose for your children to complete their homework in a supervised room each evening which means that their time at home is family time to be enjoyed rather than an extension of their school day.
FEES (per term)
Pre-Reception (5 Full days per week): £3,561
Year 1: £3,677
Year 2: £3,699
Year 3: £4,722
Year 4: £5,240
Year 5: £5,383
Year 6: £5,444
Boarding – Full-time £8,748 per term
Boarding – Weekly £6,948 per term
Boarding – Occasional £50.00 a night
WORD ON THE GROUND
We met up with a group of Year 6’s who were eager to share their thoughts about the school with the food listed as one of the best things about school life with chocolate chip shortbread getting a special mention alongside themed dinners for Halloween and such like.
Sports tour and school trips also got the big thumbs up with a tour of the North and BBC being a highlight for one child and a raft building and kayaking adventure holiday in France getting the most kudos from another. There was much sighs and excited anticipation at the thought of a school skiing trip when you get to Senior School so there’s lot to occupy them beyond the academic side of things.
The buddy system was also talked about as a positive aspect of school life whereby you are partnered with another child from another year to help them intergrate with each other. The Ramble for Countryfile Children in Need which was held after its Harvest festival Service on the trails that lead out from school to include panoramic views of the city was also talked about as a recent highlight at the school, especially as the pupils got to hang with students from all age groups.
Parents are a mix of local (with school buses going up to 30 miles away to help with travel arrangements) and international (if boarding) and one cites the ‘small nurturing environment with a variety of opportunities for your children to experience and thrive in’ as one of the driving factors for choosing Kent College. Another commented that, ‘I like how the subjects are linked to an individual child’s ability which encourages those who excel whilst looking after those who need more input. As a parent I have been welcomed and actively encouraged to participate in all aspects of school life. There is a definite focus on improving the confidence of children in sport and drama at a young age with hockey, netball, cross country and regular drama performances being held throughout the year. The beautiful grounds also offer an idyllic setting for a child to develop.”
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those looking for a well-rounded school with plenty of space and opportunities for the pupils plus a bespoke and hands-on approach when it comes to education. Due to its proximity to Canterbury and wrap-around care, it’s also a very good option for those working in London and in need of a local school that will accommodate the long commute.
NOT FOR: It’s hard to evaluate who the school would not suit as it caters for all abilities but the cost will be prohibitive for some, and the facilities are maybe not as swish as other prep schools within the area but there is lots in the pipeline to upgrade its look without compromising on the homely quality of the school which is a key winning point.
Kent College, Harbledown, Canterbury CT2 9AQ, +44 (0)1227 762436, firstname.lastname@example.org, kentcollege.co.uk