Review: Kent College Prep (Pembury)
Looking for the best school for your daughter? KC Prep boasts great academic results while keeping down-to-earth and caring - and the girls really make the most of the stunning countryside setting. Form a single-line please!
Another updated review on the Muddy Guide to the Best Schools today, and it’s a goody – Kent College Prep in Pembury. I had a good look around a few years ago, and just recently went back to update my review. As always 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 shares grounds with the Senior School of the same name, and has a total of 133 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 (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 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.
Sport features strongly – dance and gymnastics in particular, alongside netball and swimming in lessons and clubs. There’s lots of opportunities for everyone to get involved.
Drama is popular and the older Prep School girls can take part in the 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. This is 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.
As well as The Early Year’s garden there’s an elaborate adventure play area for the older girls to play on during break times. Just because this is 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, girls 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 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. 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 is heavily subscribed. The faces of the Y6 girls I talked to lit up when they remembered they were off to disect pigs’ eyes after break.
Little ones can join the Prep School in the term of their third birthday. One of the biggest changes, since my last visit, is the 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 all the girls looked engaged and happy – keen to answer questions (who can get their hand highest in the air competition time) and polite.
Between 50 and 60 per cent of Y6 Leavers go on to the Senior School from the Prep, with strong 11+ results, the majority of the rest go on to the Grammar Schools.
The school has a good track record in the 11+ and also prepares girls for the entrance exams to other independent schools and runs a Familiarisation Day during the Y6 Induction at the beginning of the Autumn term. 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 2017 – before that he was Head of Pre-Prep at Sevenoaks Prep School. He clearly relishes his role, has a lovely approachable and kind manner with the girls and is full of enthusiasm and energy.
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).
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.
Girls 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 the girls 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. 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.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Care is available from 7.30am – 7.30pm should you need it, starting with Breakfast Club 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. There were 3 full boarders at the time of my visit and they seemed happily integrated. Flexi-boarding is a popular option with local children and costs £52 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.
Fees: 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. These prices are exactly in line with other top girls’ preps in the area and slightly less than some of the mixed preps.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Girls who are often better suited to a smaller, nurturing environment. Academic standards here are fairly high, without being at all ‘pushy’ – the emphasis is very much on a rounded education. As it shares the site with the Senior School, the prep girls 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 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?! Pop along to the Open Houses on Monday Mornings and Friday Afternoons to meet Mr Pears for an informal chat about life at Kent College Prep and a tour of the school. Alternatively you can visit the school at any time – contact the Admissions Team on 01892 820218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kent College Pembury, Old Church Road, Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 4AX, Tel: 01892 820218, kcprep.co.uk