The New Beacon
THE NEW BEACON SCHOOL, SEVENOAKS
The New Beacon is a day school with flexi boarding for boys aged 4-13 that sits in 21 acres of smart grounds, tucked away in the leafy suburbs of Sevenoaks, North Kent. With the best way to teach boys at the heart of every decision the schools makes from Pre-Prep through to finding the right fit at senior school, this is a great offering for anyone interested in a single-sex education for their son(s).
OMG, where to start? The school grounds are pristine, with cricket pitches, a flood-lit astro turf pitch, a astro-turfed adventure playground and an indoor swimming pool. As you’d expect from a smart boys’ prep there’s a real variety of co-curricular activities from fencing and a rifle shooting range on site to sailing which is offered just up the road at Chipstead Sailing Club where the school owns several dinghies.
And there are still further plans to improve the school’s offering – including expanding the current swimming pool into a 25m mammoth so it’s up to competition standard/dimensions. Technology is strong here too – from the Mac-based media centre to the well-equipped music department with enough keyboards to allow a class of boys to all compose their own symphonies should they wish.
The original brick building is now over 100 years old and has been added to over the years – the latest architectural addition being the slick New Beacon Centre, which boasts a cleverly designed tiered theatre that can unfold into 300 seats for performances. You’ve got a Science Centre, DT & ICT Centre and Music & Art Centre – basically I’m not surprised to learn that the facilities are used a lot by other schools and the local community because it’s all going on here. The New Beacon Centre has a large open plan area upstairs overlooking the school grounds and those beautiful sports pitches (hello, afternoon teas in the warmth while watching the sports match outside).
Wrap around care:
There’s Before and After School care available between 7am and 6.30pm for Day pupils. Flexi boarding is also a popular option – helping working parents fill in the gaps where needed. The school can accommodate up to eighteen boys a night, boarding part time from Monday to Friday. Boys bring their duvets from home in big storage bags, pictured above, and stay for the odd night (there are no full-time boarders). Currently just over forty boys board during the course of any one week, with some doing one, two, three or four nights. Spaces are booked at the beginning of the academic year because it fills up fast.
The New Beacon is regarded as one of the main feeder schools for Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, which gives you an idea of the academic standards here. Just last year, (2017) 11 Scholarships were won, 6 of which were to Tonbridge School. Admission into Reception is non-selective. After Y3 evidence of a boy’s work and progress will be taken into account before a place is offered through previous school reports.
Any prospective pupils spend a day at the school during which there will be an assessment of his potential – but this does not mean that boys with learning difficulties won’t be offered a place, it’s more about making sure the school is the right fit. There are 3 support teachers on hand in case your child struggles and 32 boys currently attending the school receive specialist support for everything from English as a second language to dyslexia.
ISI report: Click here to see.
This year it will be exactly a decade since Headmaster, Mike Piercy, took over the helm at The New Beacon. Walking around the school with him I can tell he has the requisite amount of gravitas and respect required to run an all-boys prep school, but it’s equally obvious that the boys are very relaxed and happy in his company. Boys move freely around the school, they don’t have to sit still as statues. No stern words for the untucked shirts – just a wry smile and a nod is usually enough. Mr Piercy teaches English to Y5 boys keeping him in touch with his pupils. He’s confident and in control, but clearly caring too – I bet there’s not many a situation he couldn’t calmly deal with, including managing the odd pushy parent!
For the younger boys the school is divided into Pre-Prep (Reception to Year 2) and Junior School (Years 3 – 4) both housed in separate buildings with their own secure environment and identity but use of the main school facilities when needed. Classrooms are bright and interactive and they have access to the lovely astro-turfed adventure playground.
USPs & Quirks:
Have a son? Close your eyes and think – what would he like? All learning in flexible 20 min – 60 min chunks to maximise attention span? Tick! Hands-on, practical assemblies where you get to try out experiments, rather than listening to some old bore droning on? Tick! Outside learning? Tick! (woodlands school is starting in the spring). A snake? Tick!! The New Beacon has all these things. Meet Fizz the school pet snake who lives in the Science block.
Not surprisingly sport is strong here, but what’s really interesting is the other stuff. Research suggests that just as girls are more likely to take up science at an all-girls school, boys in an all-male environment are far more likely to pursue the subjects normally dominated by girls. And that sense of liberation and not conforming to stereotypes is definitely the case here. Performance arts and music are big at The New Beacon. No one gets teased for sticking on a wig and a lick of lipstick to play a female in the school productions – in fact those roles are the most sought after I’m told. And looking at the art, females are again well represented (see some examples that I spotted on display, below).
Worried nevertheless that all this boyishness might be too much for your little darling? Well you’re the one that knows your child best. Personally I can vouch that my son, who is at a mixed-sex school, would chew his right arm off to go here. He’s already told me his deepest darkest secret is that he loves to sing. But he would never, ever in a million years be seen dead in his school choir.
Boys love to sing in the choir here. LAMDA exams have a big uptake. The Concert Band is full – and many go on to graduate into Big Band higher up in the school. Drama and musical theatre are super popular. When I ask (the boys directly) what happens when it comes to auditioning for the female roles they all answer unanimously: ‘We all put our hands up to volunteer! Those parts are the most popular!’ I kid you not.
Word on the ground: Take a quick glance at the school website and you’ll see the words ‘achievement’ and ‘excellence’ regularly popping out at you, which falls in line with the school’s long-standing reputation as an academic school possibly a bit pushy and for high achievers. The problem is when a school gets a reputation it sticks even if it’s largely unfounded.
I spent a full day nosing around The New Beacon, I personally know children that have attended the school and teachers that have worked there and the inside track is actually that the school is very nurturing and has a warm, inclusive ethos. I also had long chats with lots of the current pupils during my visit and I’m happy to report the kids I met were not only polite to me but also to each other and the right side of confident without being arrogant. They spoke very freely (I ask a lot of questions) happy in their own skin kind of thing. I wouldn’t rule out the likelihood that there are some pushy parents who send their kids here and have high expectations for their academic path and success (but aren’t they everywhere?).
Fees: These start at £3,675 for the Pre-Prep, rising to £5,090 in the Senior School – so roughly average for a prep school in that area.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s hard to know a boy this place wouldn’t suit. It has the facilities and playing fields of a country school, but happens to be in the suburbs of Sevenoaks. It’s academic enough for the pushiest of parents but the style of teaching and huge amount of sport and extra-curricular activities mean the kids have a ball too.
Not for: This school is all about what’s best for the boys. When a new teacher is recruited the questions is – will they be good at teaching boys? Learning is designed into 20 – 60 min flexible chunks – the optimum time apparently for a male brain to focus on one thing. On the whole boys love practical teaching and competition. Both are postively encouraged here. So if you want your son to experience the realities of co-educational learning and how to sit perfectly still this school might not be for you. Also it’s a fairly large school at around 400 boys so not for you if you’re looking for a smaller setting.
Dare to disagree: Oh be my guest! There’s an Open Day on Fri 9 Feb, from 09.30-11.30am. Click here to book or for further details.
The New Beacon School, Brittains Lane, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 2PB, Tel: 01732 452131, newbeacon.org.uk