St Edmund’s Nursery, Pre-Prep and Junior School
If you are looking for a co-educational school with the prestigious wow factor, then St. Edmund's is possibly the one for you. Pencils at the ready!
If you are looking for a co-educational school with the prestigious wow factor, then St. Edmund’s is possibly the one for you. Perched at the top of St. Thomas Hill in Canterbury, with sweeping views of Canterbury and the cathedral beneath, this is a School with tradition and grandeur.
The School’s origins can be traced back to 1751 in Yorkshire before it moved to St. John’s Wood (next to Lord’s Cricket Ground) and then settled in its current location in Canterbury with its stunning chapel, built shortly after this time.
You might also be happy to hear that St. Edmund’s can take your children right the way through as it starts with Pre-School (from the age of 3) right up to Sixth Form with boarding (full-time and weekly) from Year 7.
For those of you not already in-the-know, the School took over the education of the Canterbury Cathedral choristers in 1972 and became co-educational in 1982 before the School was re-founded in 1996 as fully independent.
St. Edmund’s is well-known for its Performing Arts reputation, not least helped by the fact that Orlando Bloom was a former pupil here, and the rumour goes that it has the biggest non-professional stage in Kent. The fact that it educates and cares for the choristers of Canterbury Cathedral, who benefit from the same teaching and resources as its other pupils, also contributes to its performing prowess.
However our nosey round saw that there is a whole lot more going on here to develop and enhance the skillsets of all its pupils, in all areas, and help them grow to ‘be all they can be’ which is the School’s encouraging and inspiring motto.
A real USP for St. Edmund’s is its historical setting and esteemed surroundings which make you feel clever even on arrival – so that is a good start. There has been plenty of investment over the years such as the new academic hub, a state-of-the-art eco-building which was opened in 2018, and there are further plans to double this in size.
The theatre hall has also recently had a makeover and there is much more in the pipeline including a sports complex which is due to open in Spring 2021 which will link to the existing sports hall and include a new indoor pool to replace the existing outdoor pool.
We can also share with you – HOT OFF THE PRESS – that St. Ed’s will be launching a new outdoor education site, from September 2020 onwards, making full use of its extensive wooded areas on site and this will be weaved into the curriculum. Think fitness trails, outdoor leadership skills, expedition techniques… so good for all age groups.
The first service in the afore-mentioned chapel was held on Sunday 6th June 1858 and over 160 years later, it is still at the heart of school life and is regularly used by all year groups for assembles, recitals, Harvest Festival, Christmas Carol evenings as well as performances for the local community.
The dining hall is also a hub of activity where all year groups, from Nursery right through to Sixth Form, eat (at staggered times) which is great for encouraging table manners from a young age. It’s a beautiful space too with all taste buds and dietary preferences catered for, with fresh soups, baked potatoes and salads served every day (alongside the dish of the day).
As well as the six tennis courts, astro-turf, cricket pavilion and 62 acres of land, you will also find a huge medical centre resembling a mini hospital as well as a Leith’s accredited cookery school on campus. This is the only school in Canterbury to have one and this is where your children can learn how to cook a three-course meal if they stick on for the Senior School. Oh yes please.
You’ll be very impressed by the stunning setting of sports grounds with some of the playing fields overlooking Canterbury and the cathedral as well as the cricket games played out in front of the old school buildings – a picture perfect English scene.
Looks aside, it’s also a great place to identify and nurture talent with football, hockey and cricket as the key sport for the boys and tennis, hockey and netball for the girls.
Alternative sports such as fencing, trampolining and archery are also on offer as well as horse riding and golf at local clubs. Rugby is one of the few sports that they don’t cover but Touch Rugby is a thing with England Touch Rugby star, Connor Hughes, a current pupil at the school.
Football fans may also like to know that Chelsea Football Academy trains twice a week at the school with one session exclusively for St. Ed’s and the other for the community, so you are in very safe hands.
The Director of Sport here is Helena Millard, an accomplished marathon runner , and she has an excellent team to help including two ex-professional cricketers (Chris Penn – former Kent county fast bowler – and Hartley Alleyne – former West Indies fast bowler) so it should come as no surprise that the school has a strong reputation for cricket.
Its tennis reputation is growing too with Ben Barnes at the helm and one of its pupils, in Year 9, is currently one of the best tennis players in the country and is known for beating Sixth-Formers at neighbouring schools.
The beauty of having the Pre-Prep and Junior School on the same site as the Senior School means that from an early age, children are inducted into a wider range of subjects such as DT which is housed alongside Art in its own dedicated building. ICT is taught from Year 1 in its separate area and in Year 6, one third of the year is devoted, in turn, to Art, Design and Technology.
We particularly liked the old Gym with its vaulted ceilings where many of the pupils have their work displayed and there are regular Masterclasses with professional artists and ceramicists right the way through from Pre-School to Senior School so a 360 approach all round.
MUSIC & DRAMA
This is a very strong area for St. Edmund’s and all its pupils are involved in music in some shape or form – whether it is professional choirs, termly concerts, house singing competitions, regular lunchtime concerts, school musicals, a Carol Service in Canterbury Cathedral, individual music lessons as well as participation in its very special St Edmund’s Festival which takes place at the end of each school year.
St Edmund’s is the home of The East Kent Children’s Orchestra, a community ensemble of 40+ players, and Music is very much part of the curriculum, until Year 9, so all musical talents are well nurtured here!
Your kids won’t be disappointed with the drama element with its impressive new 350-seat theatre space with a West End standard lighting rig and professional actors and writers such as Mark Sell and Howard Sykes (from RADA) in charge of the Drama department with a recent production of Oliver, including a total cast of 80, being a recent highlight.
Drama is available to all Junior School pupils and is taught in the timetable for one hour each week by these subject specialists. Dance (ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap) has also come on hugely at the school helped by the fact that there is a newly sprung dance floor.
There is an entrance examination for all pupils but you can breathe a sigh of relief as once you are in, you are in and no more tests – even if going from the Junior School to the Senior School which will be music to many parents’ ears. As well as the entrance examination, which is a line of testing to determine streaming groups rather than a hardcore examination, there is also a meet and greet with the prospective pupil and family with the Head of the Junior School.
It is this interview that really matters as it is a conversation between the pupil and the family with the school to identify if the pupil has the potential to access and benefit from the School. With such a welcoming vibe throughout the school, and its staff, do not be daunted by this scenario as it is more about determining the right academic path for your child.
Within this part of Kent, there are some very good grammar schools so you can imagine that many parents are lured away by the other options. This year, however, only five people took part in the Kent test, with all of them passing, but only two pupils decided to leave which is quite telling about the School from a pupil and parent’s perspective.
French and Spanish are both taught with the French Department staffed by two French native speakers, thus ensuring that the language is taught and learned in its cultural context as they play classic French yard games, role play, and pupils act out short plays in French. There are also frequent day and residential trips to France as it is so close.
There is also a PSHEE programme in place which is designed to ensure the children’s wellbeing, and to provide them with the skills and aptitudes they need beyond their academic life.
I have heard good things from a SEN perspective, thanks to the Head of Educational Needs who was put into place eight years ago, and the whole of the teaching staff responds to individual learning styles so they can all identify how to support children.
A training programme was launched for staff to learn how to manage children with symptoms such as ASD and dyslexia and give them the confidence and skills to perform to their best ability. This takes place from 3 to 18 years old and has been a big cultural change in the community of St. Edmund’s.
Andrew De Silva, the new Head of St. Edmund’s Junior School, starts in September 2020. Andrew joins St. Ed’s from Fair Oak Junior School in Hampshire, where he had been the Head Teacher since September 2016.
Canterbury, and its musical reputation, is a familiar setting for Andrew as he read education at Christ Church University, where he sang in the Chapel choir as well as singing occasionally with the Cathedral Choir in Canterbury, so the musical side of things here is a natural environment for him already. Another string to Andrew’s musical bow is the fact that he was a professional singer in the cathedral choir in Winchester, which means he is in a very strong position to support the choristers as well.
Even although we met remotely, (due to the aftermath of Covid-19), Andrew’s energy and passion for the job is palpable and he readily admits that his favourite word is ‘awesome’ and it seems that he will bring a positive and spirited boost to the Junior School especially as he believes that ‘school should be fun in the eyes of a child’.
Plans are already in place at the school with walls being knocked down to create a Corridor of Curiosity as well as other sensory-led initiatives designed to get your children thinking.
Interestingly, Andrew’s interview process for the job at the school also involved meeting the parents of pupils which shows its commitment to finding the right candidate for the job. This will be his first boarding school gig, but this does not faze Andrew as he boarded as a child and his son (who will be joining Year 2) is already dreaming about the ice cream restaurant available for boarding pupils as his family will live close by.
Andrew firmly believes that a boarding school environment should not be just a ‘home away from home’ environment as it is different and can add so much to your child. While it is important to provide a nurturing family habitat, the School’s provision is also about keeping the children busy and engaged with activities that would not be readily available at home so it has the additional benefits.
There is an option to board at St. Ed’s from Year 7 with a total of 25 nationalities taking advantage of the facilities, including pupils from Europe, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Mauritius, Nigeria, North America, Hungary as well as Russia and Ukraine so a diverse crowd. Prospective parents might also like to know that there is flexi-boarding available where pupils can stay for one or two nights so they can get a taste of boarding and it could benefit you with some babysitting!
The dorm-bed facilities for that age group are housed in the older part of the school and we were particularly taken with the girls’ dorm with the vanity tables. There are plenty of excursions for pupils to occupy themselves at the weekend ranging from canoe trips locally as well as trips to London to see art galleries and theatre as well as local shopping at Bluewater etc…
WiFi is turned off at night and the Junior School members have their phones taken away in the evening to ensure that they are not glued to their phones and are engaging in the great social spaces around them but these rules are more relaxed come Senior school and the phone policy is done on a trust policy.
The Nursery at St. Edmund’s contains three huge rooms, interlinked, with plenty of space for play, art and craft and learning. Many of the children emerge from Nursery being able to write their name and a good level of Maths too.
All pupils eat lunch in the main dining hall, wear the Pre-Prep School uniform, plus they play alongside the other Pre-Prep pupils in the playground, so they learn how to interact with other children (and table manners) from an early and impressionable age. This age-group also took part in Forest School and will surely embrace the new Outdoor Education site come September.
As we have highlighted, St Edmund’s School enjoys a strong reputation in the Arts, and since 2017 they present an annual public festival showcasing creative excellence from a HUGE variety of acts including none other than American vocalist and musician, Curtis Stigers (who did performance workshops for students during the school day prior to his performance), saxophone sensation, Jess Gillam, as well as cookery demos, jazz performances and gospel workshops. This is open to the general community as well as parents and pupils at St. Edmund’s so a much-anticipated fixture in the diary each year.
As you might expect, St. Ed’s is very strong when it comes to pastoral care and well-being. We like the sound of its peer mentoring programme which was launched last year where pupils from Year 11, 12 and 13 are trained by dedicated professional team to learn how to listen and give advice to the younger members of the Junior School.
So, you have someone on-site who is trained to talk to you about your problems, who also recently remembers the sometime stressful times of school life, plus there is a friendly face to smile at you in the crowd, should you pass them on campus.
For those of you worried about getting there, you will see that the local St Edmund’s buses cover a huge ground going to Faversham, Ashford and even Deal and Dover to scoop up pupils to take them to school from Year 5 if their parents are waiting with them and Year 7 (they can be on their own).
The extra-curricular clubs also give you a good flavour of the school and St. Edmund’s does not let you down in this department with 30 different activities for the masses including LEGO, Archery, Martial Arts, Gardening, Spanish, Cake Decorating, First-Aid and Debating to name but a few. Fun fact – the Comedy Club is led by the School’s Bursar. Now that already sounds like the start of a good joke….
WRAP AROUND CARE
St. Edmund’s excels itself in this area especially since it launched its new Game Changer service at the beginning of the year which, for Pre-Prep, offers a 7am start (with breakfast!) through to 6pm so perfect if you are looking for that longer day in a really structured yet very fun environment. For the Junior School, they can be dropped off at 7.30 through to 5.30pm.
FEES (per term)
Pre-Reception (5 full days per week): £2,632
Year 1 & 2: £3,736
Year 3 & 4: £5,196
Year 5 & 6: £5,273
Years 7 & 8: £5,367
Boarding – Full-time £9,311 per term (from the age of 11)
Boarding – Weekly £8,485 per term
Alongside Means-Tested Bursaries, the usual scholarships are available (Academic, Sports, Music and Drama) from Year 7 and Art scholarship from Year 9. There is also nothing to stop your child applying for two scholarships in different fields if they are gifted in many areas.
Originally founded to provide a free education for the fatherless sons of the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, St Edmund’s also accepts applications from sons and daughters of the clergy, to whom a 25% discount is offered.
WORD ON THE GROUND
We managed to chat to some of their students, from Year 6 and 7, about what they really think about the School and what it does best. It was good to hear how one girl’s favourite subject is DT as she has an ambition to be an engineer one day and therefore is benefiting from the amazing facilities here, as well as the supportive staff. Mental Maths was also mentioned as a favourite subject as they tell us it is a fun way to learn how to handle challenges. The overriding take-away from the pupils was how friendly they perceive the staff to be which is a HUGE positive factor when it comes to a happy learning environment.
Some of the clubs were mentioned too as highlights, including the Vlogging club, whereby a camera was recently taken on a recent school trip to the Science Museum and they edited the footage afterwards. Handball Club also came up highly in their estimations as it was an opportunity to learn a new sport plus a great experience to train for a competition.
Trips wise, the annual skiing trip is apparently ‘legendary’ and recent hockey and football trips to Holland were a big success – on many levels! One boy tell us, ‘It was one of the best trips ever, not least because we won 6 nil in our first match when I was in goal’ The trip was also combined with a visit to a theme park and water park plus bowling so an action-packed adventure amidst the matches.
The parents have plenty of the feel-good factor too with one mother telling me that the reason that she chose St. Ed’s for her daughter was due to the ‘wonderful sense of community and teachers who have such a lovely rapport with the children that they often find themselves going over and above in order to meet individual pupil’s needs.’ She recognized that they also ‘push the creativity inside and outside the classroom’ and she loves the ‘pastoral nature of the school and my child is thriving in its kind and caring community.’
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: All-rounded pupils who are looking to excel in extra-curricular pastimes such as Music, Drama and Sport as well as benefit from the close interaction with its dedicated teaching staff.
NOT FOR: The ethos here is about helping your child ‘be all that they can be’ rather than pushing them to the max so the School is not for those who have a pre-conceived journey planned for their child as they don’t make a child fit the school; they make the school fit your child.