The King’s School, Canterbury
It may be the oldest school in the UK, but how does this boarding and day school, located within the esteemed surroundings of Canterbury Cathedral, measure up to its fellow counterparts? Muddy took a nose around on your behalf…
In terms of making a good first impression, you are off to a solid start with King’s as the main school site is situated within the Precincts of Canterbury Cathedral – a World Heritage Site. The oldest school in the UK accolade is dated back to 597 when it was founded by St. Augustine and was then re-founded as The King’s School during the reign of Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries.
You have a beautiful juxtaposition with King’s School as many of these ancient buildings (complete with cloisters for that extra-traditional atmosphere) are mingled with the bustling city of Canterbury which is where you will find many of the boarding houses as well as sporting facilities.
Traditionally, King’s has always had a reputation as a high-achiever school but one of our stand-out points is the school’s focus to unearth the individual ‘gifts’ when it comes to each pupil’s hidden talents – even if it is not within the core subjects. The school invests much time and thought into their Admissions process as they recognize that if it all came down to pure Academics, they would miss stars within other fields.
Location wise, the school is sitting pretty as it is within walking distance of Canterbury West (fast train to London is just under an hour) and Canterbury East station so day pupils can easily independently travel to school and boarders can go to and fro from London, as well as the international links as you are 15 miles from Ashford International.
Starting from Shell (equivalent of Year 9), the school has approximately 860 pupils and just over a third come from Junior King’s and the remaining intake come from a wide range of London, Kent, Sussex and southern prep schools and primary schools. Admission policy is Common Entrance exam and an interview with pupils from Junior King’s also taking the CE to define the right set. There is also another big surge of incoming students for the Sixth Form as about 50 join the year with entrance by competitive exam/interview and a minimum of seven 6s at GCSE.
It should come as no surprise that the facilities match the school’s prestigious surroundings and there is no room for complacency as there is plenty more on the horizon. They are particularly excited about the forthcoming Science building which is due to completed by the end of 2022 which will be housed within The Mint Yard and will boast seven new Physics laboratories, dedicated Science research space, an auditorium alongside refurbished Biology and Chemistry laboratories. There is a big focus on encouraging attracting boys and girls to medicine at the school so these shiny facilities will help spread that word.
Acting talent will be able to tread the boards at the refurbished historic Malthouse which is a 334-seat theatre plus art, dance and photography studios. Music is a huge part of King’s rich history and performance spaces range from the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral to the school’s own 820 seat concert hall, and there are three recital rooms, all with Steinway pianos. You will also find two Mac based technology suites, as well as an industry standard recording studio.
The sporting facilities are also second to none with a current project expanding its fencing space within a new indoor sports facility at the School’s Malthouse site – this new installation will be unique to any school in the UK and will be mean that King’s is within the top three fencing venues in the UK.
A new day house also recently opened in a historic Grade II listed building and fun fact, it is where the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang racing cars were built but is now a contemporary space for non-boarders to study and socialize in between classes.
Fencing aside, students have the benefit of three sporting sites including 22 acres of multi-purpose sports fields plus rowing and sailing at Westbere Lakes, as well as partnerships with nearby clubs such as Canterbury Cricket and St. George’s Sandwich. There are over 100 sports to choose from so students have their pick of sports to excel at (from shooting at its own Shooting Range to Horse Riding at nearby Rooting Farm as well as Kite-Surfing) alongside the typical sporting staples.
The school has had national representatives within athletics, fencing, hockey, rugby, shooting, skiing and table tennis and Mark Ealham, former England international cricketer, is part of the Sports teaching team as well as Jon Williamson, England Rowing Team manager for 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, so you are in very safe hands. Impressive alumni include Millie Knight (Paralympic Downhill Skier) who carried the Team GB flag at 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games and national sporting treasure, David Gower, was a former pupil at King’s.
Super Saturday is a regular fixture with local co-education schools and King’s is known for its ‘GREAT tea’ according to one parent so you can expect some good social interaction with fellow parents as well as some top sporting moments to watch from the sidelines.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Music and Performing Arts is a strong area at King’s with Canterbury Cathedral being a truly inspirational setting to hone that craft. The school is renowned worldwide for the quality of its Music and they have 52 academic, instrumental, and singing teachers who deliver 650 music lessons per week.
Reputation aside, the school stresses that they work cooperatively and collaboratively with their students and there are lots of different choral opportunities – from orchestral, rock and pop as well as jazz so something for everyone.
The school has 200-220 leavers each year and 10% of those go onto conservatory/music schools as well as drama school and dance school so creative professions are encouraged at King’s as much as the University route.
The Malthouse theatre is a fantastic addition to school life, opened by Joanna Lumley MBE, not only the 334-seat theatre but also the dance/drama studios and state of the art changing rooms. The Marlowe in Canterbury has also hosted King’s productions in recent years so drama kings and queens will thrive here.
There are extensive ICT/DT/Art Facilities at King’s – Blackfriars, an ancient Dominican refectory, is the home of the Art Department and a wealth of artistic disciplines such as painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, and textile design are on offer here. There are two multi-purpose studios and a textile studio, the ‘Cleary Gallery’ for hosting exhibitions, and a departmental library/tutorial room.
Many pupils go onto study Art Foundation and Fine Art at a later stage. Photography is a popular subject, and they recently hosted The King’s School Oscars with students submitting films about how the pandemic had affected them so lots of creativity in this area.
Regular visits are also paid to London galleries and to other venues. Overseas trips are also arranged, a Biennial trip to Venice with another European city each year in between. We also like their Artist-in-Residence scheme, which gives an insight into the working methods of professional practitioners.
From an ICT point of view, there are three fully equipped computer rooms. All computers have a variety of programming IDE’s supporting a range of programming languages, with other software to support the computing courses. The department also makes use of programmable robots, and programmable electrical circuits to enhance pupils’ programming skills while also offering the satisfaction of seeing programs in operation.
The department also offers a range of extra-curricular activities, including robotics and cybernetics which involve pupils programming Raspberry Pi robots to complete set missions. The department is also supporting an exciting project in which pupils are programming a Raspberry Pi to control a Quadcopter using GPS technology. The department also offers programming support in which pupils can take on challenging Java/python projects to extend their knowledge beyond the curriculum.
You will also find a purpose-built Design and Technology Department on St Radigund’s Street, where there are two specialist workshops and two design studios, which embrace electronics, engineering, and the general working of metals, woods and plastics.
For the headline results, you need to know that out of 200-220 leavers each year, 70% – 80% students head off to either Oxbridge or Russell Group Universities and 35 or so go to top US Universities. However, as we know King’s also focuses on the wider picture and alternative career paths. Some have gone on to learn the techie side of production at Malthouse theatre, others have gone direct into Arms Services, and some have gone straight into Computer Science related roles and we hear one ex-pupil is making a name for himself within the Bitcoin Industry so entrepreneurship is celebrated!
2020 A Level Results (and we all know what an incredibly tough year that was) were the highest ever at King’s but cannot be directly comparable to previous years since no exams were set and the grades were Centre-Assessed but in 2020, 87% % scored A*-B and 29.8% achieved a A*. 98% of the I/GCSE results were awarded as (9-1) grades in 2020 with under 2% remaining as A*-E.
There is a Learning Enhancing Department, known as The Hub, which helps students with their learning journey with the emphasis on EVERY pupil reaching their full potential. The Extended Project is also possible as an addition to A-Levels and is designed to support pupils with their research, analysis, evaluation, and presentation skills.
Peter Roberts MA PGCE, who is in his 50s, has been at the helm since 2011 having previously been head of Bradfield College for eight years. He has got the academic prowess to lead the school (First in history from Oxford followed by a PGCE at London Institute of Education) but he also has the likeable factor and has a good sense of humour as well as known for being a little eccentric at times.
King’s appealed to him as not only is it a statuesque and historical cathedral school located in the heart of Canterbury, but he felt that the kudos here was different from other schools due to the ‘happiness and community’ factor running throughout the school. His mission is to find a ‘rainbow of talents’ in each child recognizing that some are inherent, but some just need the right opportunity to discover them and with the wide-ranging subjects and facilities on offer, King’s is incredibly well equipped to find them.
Former pupil, David Gower is an embodiment of this ‘rainbow of talents’ as not only he is a world-class cricketer, but he credits his musical support at King’s (he played the clarinet and sung) for helping his confidence and paving the way for his later broadcasting career.
Mr. Roberts states that the aim is to teach the pupils to be ‘not slow in coming forward – not arrogant nor any sense of entitlement but with a strong mind and this will equip them for life’s challenges ahead.” The desire to create a ‘confidence building school’ gets a big tick from the Muddy team.
There are thirteen boarding Houses which are dotted around the city of Canterbury which is another of the school’s perks as students start to embrace that independent living and it helps them to mentally prepare for the next stage of life after school. The Houses range from historic buildings full of character to more modern additions to accommodate the increasing demand to board! The common thread between all the Houses is the desire to ‘create a Home from Home’ and one parent tells us ‘The King’s School is a traditional boarding school and although our children are away from home, I do feel like we have a connection to the school and what is happening in their lives. The staff are always quick to respond and extremely supportive.”
It’s 50:50 in terms of boy:girl ratio when it comes to boarding so you know that your child won’t feel in a minority if they board, plus they twin boys and girls’ boarding Houses for plays, concerts and social events so the weekends are packed full of activities. One boarder tells us that ‘Sunday brunch is by far the best meal at King’s. The hash browns are unbeatable. It’s not at all a surprise that there is a whole school dash from the Cathedral to the dining room after Sunday Matins.”
We have heard a lot of good things (parents and pupils alike) about the famous King’s Week at the end of the summer term which is a festival of music, drama and dance with events being staged in all corners of the school every day for a week. The Head tells us that many parents put this festival at the top of their social agenda, and everyone brings picnics so they can enjoy these (mainly) alfresco performances across the school.
Every B&B and hotel in Canterbury is booked out for the duration and you can expect a HUGE range of cultural delights – from Shakespeare plays and jazz recitals right through to poetry slams. As Mr. Roberts tells us, “It is a FUN part of year and whilst you will be blown away by the talent, it is also not designed to be intimidating as everyone is encouraged to participate and perform.”
They are rightly very proud of their Pastoral Care as they have outstanding Pastoral Networks where the focus is on Listening and Encouraging. The Mental Health team is impressive when it comes to counsellors, and they have a Senior Chaplain on site to also help support the students. LGBT, diversity and equality issues are all subjects brought into an open and safe space with a focus on creating well-rounded and open-minded individuals.
‘Community’ is a word that we often heard throughout our visit, and it is evident that they are looking to create students with successful careers in a huge range of careers but also with a big emphasis on being supportive and kind which is music to our ears.
Saturday Smarties is a prime example of the community messaging here as King’s open their Science facilities up to local primary schools (Year 5) to 25 schools in East Kent. Its music scheme, Sounding Out, also provides free instrumental lessons to children in primary schools in the city of Canterbury.
Day pupils (per term) – Shell: £8,375; Remove & Fifth: £8,830; Sixth Form: £9,300
Boarding (full time) – £13,285 per term
WORD ON THE GROUND
The proof of the pudding is obviously what the parents and pupils have to say so we did some digging. As we suspected, there is a recurrent theme as one pupil tell us, “One of the amazing things about King’s is that it allows us as pupils to be independent whilst also supporting us to better ourselves; this is not only done so academically but also through our extracurricular activities. King’s is renowned for its high academic success, but for me, our school is so much more than that, not only have I excelled in my chosen subjects, I have also taken up drama and continued with ballet whilst also playing lacrosse twice a week.”
The parents echo that thought too, “Our children left prep school thinking they were terrible at sport, having a love of the arts and feeling academically competent. King’s has nurtured and developed them in all these areas. They have discovered new sports, that they enjoy. Their artistic talents have been developed beyond our expectations and the excellent teaching supports them both when they are struggling as well as thriving.”
We were also impressed with the aspirations of some its pupils as one pupil tells us, ““I have a passion for both sustainable development and conflict resolution so would love to be in the foreign office, working in some of the most dangerous yet interesting countries. I find development fascinating, especially the correlation between aid, tribal culture, and development. Hopefully, I will be making a real and sustainable difference in the world one day.” Seems all that confidence-building really does pay off!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: It works for all-rounders as well as those who have not found their inner talent as the staff will ensure that each student feels individually important to the fabric of the school. It will also appeal to those who appreciate inspiring architecture and long-standing tradition alongside a 21st Century approach to Education.
NOT FOR: The fees can alienate some parents from the get-go and if you are after a bespoke school with small year groups for your child, you may need to look elsewhere. As the school is not all one campus, it might not be right for those who need more hand-holding.
King’s School, Canterbury, CT1 2ES, Tel: 01227 595501, firstname.lastname@example.org, kings-school.co.uk