Kent College Prep, Pembury
Historically a girls' school with boys now joining in the Nursery there's exciting times ahead for this rural prep, in a stunning countryside setting. Boasting great academic results while keeping down-to-earth and caring - form a single-line please!
Another updated review on the Muddy Guide to the Best Schools, and it’s a goody – Kent College Prep in Pembury. I’ve had a good look around many times, as always part journo-nosing, part with a mum’s head on, and here’s the verdict…
Historically a girls Prep School which is now taking boys in the Nursery, (more on this here), for children from rising 3-11 years in a beautiful rural setting (80 glorious acres of it). Despite its tranquil surrounds, overlooking the Pembury countryside, it’s very accessible – being moments from the A21 and just outside Tunbridge Wells (5 minutes to the town centre).
The school shares grounds with the Senior School of the same name, and has a total of 130 pupils with deliciously low average class sizes. Most of the children are Day pupils, but Flexi, Weekly and Full-boarding are also available (more on this below).
The main building is purpose-built but sympathetically so to match the older Senior School – 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 that enjoy sweeping views of sheep grazing in fields. See pics here of a typical classroom (above) and typical view over rolling green fields (below).
The Prep has it’s own carpark, hall (for assemblies and smaller performances), sports court (for netball and tennis – see below), a smart school Reception area, music room and library.
On top of that pupils 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. There’s a smart astro turf (above), dedicated Sports Hall, and there are even plans afoot to give the indoor swimming pool a full makeover – to replace the current one with a 25 metre, 6 lane pool with separate spectator viewing and competitor seating as well as a first floor fitness suite (CGI image of pool planning below).
Sport features strongly with all pupils from the Early Years to Year 6 having regular timetabled PE lessons with a team of sports specialists. In addition, pupils in Year 3-6 participate in fixtures against other schools every week in netball, hockey, swimming, cross country, cricket, tennis and athletics.
There are sports clubs running before school, at lunch times and after school for pupils to attend, as well as martial arts and dance classes as extras. Gymnastics and swimming feature heavily with the academies offering sessions during the week and at weekends.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Both Music and Drama are popular here and the older Prep School girls can take part in the spectacular larger productions put on at the Senior School.
They also use their own hall for smaller shows, but if it’s a biggie – like the Nativity – that takes place in the impressive Wessex Theatre (named after, and opened by, the Countess of Wessex who is an ex-pupil) which seats a maximum capacity of 300.
Reception to Year 6 are currently being home-schooled and the Prep School is operating a live remote timetable across the whole school. In accordance with current Government guidelines children in the Nursery, those who are vulnerable, and children of critical workers can be in school. This may change as soon as new guidance and back to school guidelines are announced.
Little ones can join the Prep School in the term of their third birthday. In September 2020, for the first time ever, boys could also join in the Nursery. The school will continue this policy so every year boys will be introduced gradually, meaning by 2027 the school will be fully co-ed throughout.
Inside the rooms are light and bright and there is a wonderful outdoor play area that flows from The Early Years (Nursery and Reception) rooms (see below).
There’s so much space here and it’s all beautifully made from wood and soft spongey surfaces – pockets of space for imaginary play – with everything from huts, kitchens, sandpits, trim-trails, bikes…
I poked my head in several of the classrooms from Nursery upwards and the children looked engaged and happy – with the boys clearly fully integrated – all keen to answer questions (who can get their hand highest in the air competition time) and polite.
As well as the Early Year’s garden there’s an elaborate adventure play area for the older children to play on during break times. Just because this has historically been a girls school – it’s certainly not about all things pink and fluffy – taking risks (in a safe environment obvs) and building confidence is big here.
In the same vein, to encourage a sense of responsibility in the classroom, pupils are invited to be on the School Council from Y2 and selected by their peers. There’s also a Buddy system running throughout the years – Y6 are Buddied up with Y2, Y5 with Y1 and so on.
There are Captains of Arts, STEM, Humanities – the list continues and these rotate throughout the year – so again, encouraging girls to step up and boosting the confidence of everyone in turn that gets to shine.
The older girls I have met at this school tend to be eloquent with a sense of humour and fun (we like that on Muddy). And whether they are bold or shy they are all encouraged to make eye contact and perform a handshake on introduction.
Inter House competitiveness is everything it should be – fun and fierce. Also there’s no gender stereotypes – Science is popular here – and there’s a STEM Club after school which is heavily subscribed. The faces of the Y6 girls I talked to lit up when they remembered they were off to dissect pigs’ eyes after break.
The school has a good track record in the 11+ and every year around half the leavers go onto the local Grammar Schools, with the rest of Y6 moving up to the Senior School from the Prep.
A requirement of the Senior School is that girls must be able to sit ten 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.
And on the subject of next steps – what sets this school apart is the pretty impressive Value Added. What’s ‘Value Added’? I hear you cry. Well it stands to reason that a school which only accepts the highest achieving students will get the highest exam results.
Much more impressive is the school where a pupil comes out with a higher grade than they were predicted – and this is measured with ‘Value Added’. KC Senior School has one of the highest rates for Value Added in the country (it’s in the top 5 schools in the UK) and the actual highest in the UK for English.
On average girls achieve at least one grade higher across all subjects at GCSE than predicted on entry. So lots of positives worth keeping in mind if you’ve got a daughter that might one day go onto the Senior School.
Mrs Salli Hall stepped into the role of Head of Prep at Kent College in January 2021. As the previous Deputy Head of Prep, Mrs Hall brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, and is a familiar face to many.
She’s really warm and friendly – calm and approachable too – no doubt just the right kind of head for instilling a sense of confidence at this highly formative age.
And hot-off-the-press news, Mrs Hall has exciting plans to continue developing the Prep School (more on this here). With her clear passion for the Prep, plus strong established relationship with both staff and pupils, it seems there’s exciting times ahead.
USP & QUIRKS:
Definitely a USP is the Outdoor Learning at KC. Being outdoors is an essential part of the curriculum here – and they have one of the biggest Forest Schools in the local area.
Pupils regularly learn and play outside exploring the woods, overcoming the challenges on the Confidence Course (an outdoor adventure course complete with swinging on tyres over a lake), having fun in the Mud Kitchen (pictured above) or building dens from items found on the woodland floor.
Whether they turn out to be a G.I. Jane or more a Private Benjamin doesn’t matter – it’s all fun, self-esteem-building stuff.
They cook over campfires, climb trees and learn survival skills. Forest School is part of the school culture, rather than a ‘thing’ to do – the Prep School pupils are outside in the beautiful grounds lots.
An exciting plan in the pipeline for the prep is to bring the outdoor learning provision indoors. So, in time, everything from the classrooms to the curriculum will reflect the philosophy of forest school and bridge the gap between that more informal type of learning, to the more formal, classroom type learning.
Also, there’s going to be a big focus on further developing the Nursery offering here. The Prep is currently looking at how they could provide more year round provision and how wrap around care could facilitate the busy lives of parents.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Care is available from 7.30am – 7.30pm should you need it, starting with Breakfast Club (£6.70 with breakfast) and then after school, up to 5.30, (free of charge). There’s after school care for EYFS and KS1 or Homework Club for KS2 followed by the option to join in the Boarder’s Tea, all of which can be arranged on an ad hoc basis, which sounds pretty darn useful for working parents.
Flexi, Weekly and Full Boarding are all available from the age of nine. Flexi-boarding is a popular option with local children (Flexi-boarding taster days for new pupils are held throughout the school year). Girls can Flexi-board from one night up to 3 nights at a time and costs £50 per night, including supper and breakfast (cheaper than a pizza and babysitter!)
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.
From £3,310 per term in Nursery & Reception; £4,083 for Y1-Y2 and £4,985 for Y3 – Y6; Full Boarding is £8,998 per term (Y4 and above). These prices are pretty competitive compared to some preps in the area.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Children better suited to a smaller, nurturing environment. Academic standards here are high, without being at all ‘pushy’ – the emphasis is very much on a rounded education. As it shares the site with the Senior School, pupils also get to benefit from the facilities – so opportunities for sports and the creative arts abound. Perfect for bringing the full potential out of your son or daughter, in a relatively down-to-earth atmosphere (kind and caring rather than pony club-tastic).
Not for: Well things are moving away from single-sex education here, so if you specifically had that in mind from Nursery, then this is not the school for you. Although co-ed at this age, and then single-sex at Secondary, may be the perfect combo – and the Senior School remains all-girl.
See for yourself: Please contact the Admissions Department for further information. Current restrictions mean that they can offer one-to-one Zoom meetings with interested families, who will be invited to visit when possible. Please call 01892 820218 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kent College Pembury, Old Church Road, Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 4AX, Tel: 01892 820218, kcprep.co.uk