Kent College, Pembury
Read our updated review of this all-girls Senior School that boasts an impressive ‘Value Added’, extra-curricular and pastoral offering – while achieving excellent academic results too.
KENT COLLEGE SENIOR SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, PEMBURY
Kent College was my first all girls’ secondary review on the Muddy Best Schools Guide. And when I first looked around it headmistress, Ms Julie Lodrick, had only just joined the school. Now three years on, I was keen to update my review, so I went for another nose around, sticking my head in classrooms, chatting to the girls – hell, I even tried the lunch (very nice, thank you for asking.) So what did I find?
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 around 400 day and boarding pupils aged between 11 – 18. Just outside Pembury, and only moments from the A21, this school has a countryside setting and yet remains very accessible.
Having long enjoyed a reputation for being very caring and nurturing, in recent years KC has also experienced 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.
They announced their best ever GCSE results this summer with over 60 % of grades being the new 9 – 7 and at A-Level nearly 75% of grades were A*- B. 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 school is 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.
In the grounds there’s the usual tennis, netball courts, pitches for athletics and cricket (so popular with girls now – no one plays rounders any more), as well as a cross-country track, fitness/gym and dance studio. There’s an indoor 20m swimming pool – okay so not Olympic size – but big enough to train a Y6 pupil to win gold at the IAPS Swimming Gala (above).
The school has recently undergone an ambitious Sports development project and there’s evidence of this everywhere. From the new Sports Hall, (above) to the All-Weather astroturf pitch (below). And I’ve heard word of a fair flock of Sports Scholars joining in the last couple of years.
But the school is quick to point out you don’t have to be games-mad to get involved and keep active here – in fact one of KC’s big missions is to get all girls enjoying activities of their own choice (more on this later). As well as the usual sports clubs there’s trampolining, archery, horse-riding and fencing. No one is getting bored any time soon.
MUSIC & ARTS:
The Susanna Wesley Library & Arts Centre is one of the newer 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.
Music is big here too – not surprising when you learn that headmistress Ms Lodrick studied Music and was a Director of Music in her early career. She’s a big advocate of the creative arts and music – even linking music to maths (it’s a fact, even Einstein agreed) – and if you’re interested on reading more about this click here.
It’s probably not possible to find someone more devoted to their subject than long-standing head of drama, Mr Ashton, who has been at the school for some decades. Both the Senior and Junior productions are BIG news here – with the older girls taking on meaty subjects, like The Parable of the Banished (pictured above) and the Y7 – Y9s doing a spiffingly good stab at Daisy Pulls it Off (pictured below).
Larger productions like these (sometimes 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.
FOOD TECH & TEXTILES:
The Food Tech department is good – girls work towards a Leith’s catering award and the school boasts a Junior Masterchef Winner!
Textiles is taken seriously – 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.
The school is producing impressive academic results 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 top grades in both GCSEs and A Levels.
But we live in a county with great all-girl grammar schools, so why pay the fees? Well here’s the rub. 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 has one of the highest rates for Value Added in the country – and the actual highest in the UK for English. (Here, on average girls achieve at least one grade higher across all subjects at GCSE than predicted on entry.)
Headmistress, Ms Julie Lodrick, was appointed in January 2016 and brought with her freshness and real modernity.
What’s more her background is strongly artistic – as already mentioned 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. 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, ready the Muddy Review here.
USP & QUIRKS:
Definitely a USP is the Outdoor Learning at KC. led by a specialist-trained, Head of Outdoor Education, Mrs Davidson. This includes a quite exceptional outdoor obstacle course, called the Confidence Course, that’s probably the biggest of its kind in west Kent, if not the whole of the county.
And the girls are encouraged to use it on extra-curricular days, after school and clubs. There’s walls, balance beams, a postman’s walk, monkey bars, a bouldering wall, zip wire and 30ft abseil tree (see pics above and below). Weeeeeeeee!
Also, less of a quirk and more the unique defining factor that underpins every element of life at K.C, is the Methodist school ideology (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 international nature of the school also brings a cosmopolitan outlook.
Another USP of this school is their brand new initiative called Sport and Wellbeing – the brain-child of Director of Sport, Mrs Hughes.
Basically every single week, each year group has an afternoon – in addition to the PE already on the curriculum – where they can enjoy a physical or wellbeing activity of their own choosing. I’m talking Outdoor Adventure (on that zip-wire!), Team Sports, Welly Walks or even Yoga, Fun Choir or Climbing Wall (the list goes on).
I hate to gush when I do school reviews, but I’m going to come clean now and say I’m a massive advocate of this scheme. In my years as a journalist I championed the This Girl Can campaign and am painfully aware of the huge drop off in physical activity in girls when they enter Secondary School.
This is not about being super sporty – just healthy and happy. In the UK a mere eight per cent of girls aged between 11 and 18 get enough physical activity – exactly half the figure for boys. I know, shocking, right? So, yup, well done KC (I’ll leave it there, but will have to write a separate piece on this me thinks).
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: In-line with girls schools in the area. Day pupils in the senior school pay £7,200 per term, Sixth Formers £7, 700. Weekly boarders pay £8,998 and full boarders pay the buttock-clenching £11, 473. Flexi-Boarding (supper and breakfast included), £52 per night. Scholarships are available.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: If you want to bring out your child’s academic potential without an exam factory environment (or you don’t believe in tutoring them to within an inch of their lives) then you’ll love the Value Added here. 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 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.
Not for: Clearly you’ll be opting for single-sex education here, and even the Sixth Form remains all-girl, unlike some other independent or State schools in the area that accept boys in the older years. This is not, nor has it ever been, a jolly hockey sticks kind of school – so if you want pomp and ceremony definitely look elsewhere.
Have a look for yourself: Join the Senior School Virtual Open Morning on Zoom to meet the Headmistress and Deputy Heads every Thurs until Oct 15th OR meet the Headmistress and Deputy Heads plus have a tour of the school, activities and the chance to meet the pupils virtually on Sat 3 Oct 9:30 – 11:30am.
They are also offering individual School Tours on Weekdays at 9am, 11am, 2pm and 3pm throughout September. Appointment only and Covid guidelines will apply. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to book.
Sixth Form Information Evening is Thurs 8 Oct, 6-7pm. Kent College Sixth Form is unlike any other Sixth Form in the area, they offer an entirely bespoke and broad timetable of 28 A-Level and 2 BTEC options. Join them on Zoom to meet the Headmistress, Head of Sixth Form and Heads of Department. Just email email@example.com to book.
Kent College Pembury, Old Church Road, Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 4AX, Tel: 01892 820218, kent-college.co.uk