Review: Junior King’s Canterbury
A well-established day and boarding prep school for boys and girls. Rich in history yet awash with up-to-date facilities and innovative teaching.
The Junior branch of the oldest school in England, Junior King’s Canterbury, is a day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 – 13. Driving down a busy suburban street on the approach, I found the school hidden away by turning down a peaceful side road and immediately relaxed when I turned into the lane and heard the river flowing by, then the school appears before you.
This school is brilliantly positioned – and we don’t just mean because the foodie superstar pub Fordwich Arms is just up the road. The immediate setting is rural, yet you’re near the vibrant town of Canterbury, it’s an easy commute into London to the north and you’ve got the Kent coastline in the other direction.
Sitting in 80 acres of stunning grounds – that’s a lot of space for the 353 pupils – with the River Stour running around the periphery, this is a well-established school. It was founded back in 1929 and was opened by Rudyard Kipling as he was good friends with the former owners, Lord and Lady Milner.
The school and surroundings are steeped in history yet the school prides itself on its swish facilities and innovative teaching.
The new Herbert Music School was opened in January 2016 and there are continual plans to update and evolve the school – including talk of an indoor pool. Currently there is an outdoor pool on campus, which is heated and used in the summer months.
However, even though the new buildings are remarkable, what went down well with Muddy was how homely the environment still felt. Pupils refer to their ‘rooms’ rather than ‘classrooms’ and the teaching ethos of ‘we are not going to teach you – we are going to learn together’ supports that nurturing and homely scenario that you find throughout the school.
Let’s be honest, Junior King’s has a great reputation in this department and it’s easy to see why – the school boasts a sizeable 22 acres of land dedicated to just sport including the usual rugby, football, hockey, lacrosse, cricket, athletics, and rounders.
You will also find a lofty number of 11 tennis courts (including 2 grass), a new astro-turf, grass athletics track with event facilities, state of the art sports hall and 24 practice cricket wickets. Wow, I feel puffed out just writing about it all.
If you have a sporty kid on your hands, they will be well looked after at Junior King’s. It was heartening to hear however that all kids are encouraged to play – and the school also has D (for Development) and E (for Emerging) teams so everybody gets to have a go – if they want.
Junior King’s also has a wonderful Nature Trail and is an accredited Forest School which is undertaken up to Year 2 if you have a budding Sir David Attenborough in your midst.
MUSIC AND ARTS
Around 350 one-on-one music lessons take place on a regular basis here. There’s choirs and opportunities galore for the musically minded – with the Chapel Choir being only open to the Y6 – Y8 pupils and requiring an audition.
Canterbury, with its cathedral and musical tradition, is of course the perfect place to hone these talents. And the school regularly offers masterclasses and workshops with professional musicians to encourage talent at the school.
The school recently received the Artsmark Gold Award, awarded by Arts Council England, to recognise the high quality of the schools teaching and ability to inspire young people through arts and culture – so something they are rightly proud of.
Drama takes place in the Barn Theatre (in the old tithe barn) and there is a dedicated Creative Arts programme at the school with recent productions including Year 7 productions of The White Feather and The Government Inspector performed at St Mary’s Hall as part of King’s Week, the annual Arts Festival held each year since 1952 at The King’s School in Canterbury.
Further productions have also included Mary Poppins Jr (Years 5 &6) and Revolting Rhymes (Years 3&4) . There is also the opportunity, as you might expect, to do Speech & Drama exams working with LAMDA and Trinity.
All Pre-Prep pupils (from Nursery to Year 2) participate in Dance classes as a way of encouraging co-ordination, creativity and performance skills so the aspiring actors out there can be spotted from an early age.
Currently around 20% of pupils board, which they can do from Y5. The school has a capacity for 50 boys and 40 girls – although numbers are down at the moment on the girls side in particular. The housemaster to the boy boarders is also the PE teacher and there are footballs and golf bags galore. No one’s getting bored here anytime soon.
In the girls’ house there are some lovely touches, like the ‘Secret Angels’ scheme – where each girl pulls one name out of a hat. Throughout the year they must bestow small secret acts of kindness on the person whose name they pick (a little choccie on the pillow, or polishing their shoes – that kind of thing) which really helps to create a home-from-home atmosphere.
As you can imagine in this day and age, there are all the appropriate safeguarding issues in place when it comes to mobile phone usage and all phones are collected 15 minutes before bedtime and stored with the housemaster or housemistress until the following morning.
Weekends for boarders are fun-packed – with regular activities arranged – everything from Bubbleruns to paintballing. For day pupils there’s also the option of flexi-boarding which can really benefit the pupil when it comes to blending more into school life.
Emma Károlyi has been at the school for two years now – going into her third. She cut her teeth as a deputy head at a prep school in Scotland before taking the helm at Junior King’s where she moved with her family in 2017. She has a son (17 years old) and daughter (15 years old) at The King’s School, Canterbury where her husband also teaches French – so furthering the strong ties with the senior school.
Emma told me that she thinks that one of the unique selling points of Junior King’s is that they ‘help pupils find their niche at the school and allow them to fly with it’ which is a hugely encouraging attitude to have in place.
She is smart, approachable and calming. And I believe her when she says that the thinking here is that if the kids are happy and encouraged, they will try and achieve more. This was contrary to my expectation of Junior King’s where I assumed it was more results driven – although they do achieve those results – but it certainly doesn’t seem to be overly pushy or academic.
Little ones can start here in the term they turn 3. They have the staff (3 adults) and space to take up to 24 kiddies in anyone session but there’s usually way less than this – only 8 the day we visited but it’s normally somewhere around 18.
The little ones are encouraged to do at least 3 sessions per week to get familiar with the settling and have an established routine. And with specialist teachers on hand offering Dance, Music, French and Forest School – why wouldn’t they want to stay longer?
The little ones also wear school uniform at this stage and eat lunch in the main dining hall so they are starting to help you turn them from the toddler stage into the young little adult era with support with table manners etc…
There was a Pirate theme going on in the Nursery when we visited and I enjoyed watching the accompanying swashbuckling adventures going on in and around the ‘pirate ship’. Junior King’s works with FEE (15 hours only) which might be helpful to know when thinking about budgets.
USP & QUIRKS:
This is a thoughtful school which shows this in lots of meaningful little ways. Every week on Thursdays, a different year group will visit Highland House, a local retirement home and there are some lovely photos dotted around of the pupils on these visits rubbing hand creams onto some of the residents’ hands. Here children don’t just wear a badge on their birthdays, they get to wear their own clothes to stand out so everyone can really make a fuss of them.
Animals can be found all around giving the school a wonderful cosy atmosphere. From Inca, the school dog, that greeted me at the desk in the school office (there were humans in there to greet me too, you understand), to the rabbit hutch near the Nursery and Bertie, the tortoise, in his home outside some class rooms in the Pre-Prep.
There’s a big international element to this school – more diversity than you’d get in your average Kent prep which is a wonderful thing. This reflects the city of Canterbury – lots of families relocate to this area from abroad or London as there are great commuting links.
This diversity is encouraged with a selection of bilingual books in the library and special events like International Day. There’s even a club for parents to help talk them though the intricacies of teaching phonics to their kids – which is complicated enough for us parents, and even more so when English is not your first language.
Also most prep schools have a long list of brilliant clubs – but there’s an exceptional offering here – no doubt the result of having a big boarding fraternity. As well as the usual, there’s everything from frisbee to school magazine club and horse-riding to sailing.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Children are dropped off between 8am and 8.30am coming straight into the library to choose a book and we are told that it is a staggered drop off from 8am so no fights in the car park here for the best spot which makes for a stress-free morning.
Plus there is a 6pm final departure time for day children if you need to stretch it out with plenty of fun activities to keep them occupied.
The fees for 2019/20 are as follows:
Boarding – £8825 per term
Day (Years 4 to 8) – £6430 per term Day (Year 3) – £5790 per term
Means-tested bursaries available from year 7 for up to 100 per cent of the boarding fee.
WORD ON THE GROUND
It’s always important to get the parents’ viewpoint too so I quizzed a friend of mine who has two sons at Junior King’s what she particularly liked about the school and she said that a big selling point for her was the ‘genuinely caring and extremely kind staff who know and care for pupils really beautifully plus masses of really fun sport’ which appealed to her two boys.
With such a high number of pupils moving from the prep to the senior school, parents are very aware of what they are buying into here. A seamless educational journey from those very Early Years right through to A-Levels, should you wish.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Parents looking for a supportive and nurturing environment where kids could pretty much explore and excel in anything that they wanted to do as the range of activities on offer is endless. Plus they have the facilities and staff to help your child hone their academic skills as well and prep them for the next step into King’s School, Canterbury if that was right path for them.
NOT FOR: Hard to think of a flaw here but the price point of the fees might prohibit some people when comparing the cost to smaller independent schools in the area. And on that subject – it’s not a tiny school so it may not suit those who would thrive in a smaller setting.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Oh be my guest! Go see for yourself at the next Open Morning on Sat 12 October 2019.