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St Edmund’s Senior School

It's time to put our spotlight on St. Edmund’s Senior School located on the outskirts of Canterbury. What did we find?

We have previously shared our insights about the Pre-Prep and Junior School at St. Edmund’s and now it is time to put our spotlight on its Senior School counterpart which is located within the same grounds of this historical school located on the outskirts of Canterbury.

WHAT? WHERE?

Let’s start with the facts. St. Edmund’s is a co-educational school which can take your children right the way through – starting with Pre-School (from the age of 3) right up to Sixth Form with boarding (full-time, weekly and flexi) on offer too. The School’s origins can be traced back to 1751 in Yorkshire before moving to St. John’s Wood (next to Lord’s Cricket Ground) and then settling in its current location in Canterbury with its stunning chapel built shortly after this time. St Edmund’s 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. 

The Senior School runs from year 9 to year 13 and sits within the same campus as the Junior School. From an aesthetic point of view, you are off to a good start as this is a site with buckets of beauty and charm. It helps that it is positioned at the top of St Thomas Hill in Canterbury, with sweeping views of Canterbury and the cathedral beneath, and then with endless playing fields and historic buildings, coupled with some cutting-edge new buildings, within the campus. 

Locals will know that Orlando Bloom went to St. Ed’s and so it has historically had a strong reputation for Performing Arts within the area and we are also told that it has the biggest non-professional stage in Kent BUT there is much more to be admired at St. Edmund’s, which we discovered on our visit. 

The school’s motto is ‘be all you can be’ which is a key selling point for the school as the ethos is about developing and enhancing the skillsets of its pupils, across a wide range of areas, and it helps that they have the premium facilities to match and to bring these skills to life. 

FACILITIES

This is a school which is constantly evolving to keep up with the times and to complement its historical surroundings, there has been plenty of investment over the years with the launch of the new academic hub, a state-of-the-art eco-building (opened in 2018) and there are further plans to double this in size with a plan for 15 more classrooms within the next year or so.

The theatre hall has also recently had a makeover and there is much more in the pipeline including a new sports complex on the horizon which will link to the existing sports hall and include a new indoor pool to replace the existing outdoor pool. The recently opened fitness suite has also been a popular addition to school life for the Senior School pupils.

The first service in the school’s 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 eat at staggered times. It’s a beautiful space too with all food 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. More on this later….

SPORT

You will be very impressed with 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, athletics, girls’ cricket and netball for the girls with fixtures against local and high-profile schools such as Eton and Charterhouse. 

The boys at St Edmund’s are strong football and hockey players experiencing much success in the local area and further afield and they also boast several district and county cricketers and tennis players who are at the top of their age group regionally. Football fans may also like to know that they have a link with Chelsea Football Club’s Foundation Department giving a talent pathway for the school’s more skilful players. The girls’ sport is equally as strong and the U14 netball team were unbeaten last season. There are some top-class players throughout the year groups and again, pupils play for the district and Kent teams and one of its sixth form pupils travelled to Belgium to run cross country for England.

There are some great non-team sports on offer too including horse riding, indoor climbing, golf, fitness, strength and conditioning, badminton plus basketball and ultimate frisbee are also available as additional options. Something for everyone! You get the impression that the education is about forming good habits for life and how exercise can be used to alleviate stress as well as the competitive element which is a very healthy approach.

It is also interesting to note that at Key Stage 4, GCSE level, pupils can opt to take the Cambridge National Certificate in Sport where they will learn about anatomy, physiology, injury prevention, improving personal fitness through appropriate training and diet, and the role of psychology in improving performance and this is ideal for those who wish to study sport and exercise science at a higher level in the future as well as at a Sixth Form level, they offer the Cambridge Technical Extended Certificate in Sport and Physical Activity with a more in-depth study of sport and associated issues.

The director of Sport here is Helena Millard, a former good for age marathon runner, and she has an accomplished team to help including two ex-professional cricketers (Chris Penn – former Kent county fast bowler – and Hartley Alleyne – former West Indies fast bowler) so plenty of skill and expertise here. 

ICT/DT/ART

We were very taken with the extensive facilities and options within the Art department and if you have any clever-handed children in this area, their skillsets will be in safe hands at St. Edmund’s. Students can study a wide range of creative disciplines here including Fine Art, Ceramics, Glass, Illustration, Photography and Textiles (plus take GCSE and A-Levels in these options) which will really bode them well for future careers in these fields. We were very impressed by the specialist ceramics studio and kiln, a photography studio, and a professional printing press so creativity has no limits here!

DT also gets the thumbs up from us and we are told that the students have manufactured a wide- range of intricately made items that have a purpose and use in the real world. We are talking electronic reward charts which encourage healthy lifestyles, contemporary grandfather clocks, and sustainably designed go karts plus part of the GCSE and A-level brief was to make prototype products which make a difference to people in the wider community. This led to the creation of a sustainably designed and manufactured Vespa-inspired rollator which has improved the life of a client with Dwarfism and Cerebral Palsy so some great community-led projects too.

In terms of IT, St. Edmund’s offers Computer Science at GCSE and A-Level and skills shared can range from learning how to build a computer from scratch, configuring the hardware as well as essential programming techniques. It helps that the school is in close proximity to the University of Kent and there are local and national STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) partnerships so there are regular visiting speakers (in a non-Covid 19 world) and you will also find computer-themed clubs throughout the year school years and regular participation in competitions such as the Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award, and Cyber Discovery challenges.

MUSIC & DRAMA

If you are looking for a drama department with a WOW factor, this is the school for you. As we have mentioned, the school has always had a strong reputation in this area and rightly so with many pupils having gone onto leading drama schools and the National Youth Theatre. Its’ strong reputation is also down to its staff with their impressive professional credentials.

For instance, Howard Sykes who trained at one of the country’s leading drama schools and worked as a professional actor for many years and he also spent 15 years at RADA working with the likes of Gemma Arterton, James Norton and Taron Egerton. There is also Lisa Jayn Gordon who has studied her craft both in London and New York and before St. Ed’s signed her up, she choreographed commercial theatre productions and musical theatre workshops, so a professional approach all-round. 

Pupils can opt to study Drama formally through both IGCSE and A-level pathways but there is also a real element of pleasure in performing too and encouraging all pupils to extend and express themselves, through this creative medium. Casting is open to everyone and there are plenty of performances to take part in including the Shakespeare Schools Festival, school productions as well as the Festival on the Hill, the school’s annual arts festival. We also hear that there is an ever-popular Strictly St. Edmund’s… 

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.

There are the facilities to match too with a dedicated rehearsal and teaching space equipped with the latest music software, dedicated practice rooms, a recital hall, music technology suites and a music studio. Within the teaching staff, you will find a healthy mix of musical interests to ensure that all tastes are accommodated and nurtured. One of their famous alumni is the international concert pianist, Freddy Kempf, and they also represent the school in music competitions and ensembles such as the National Youth Orchestra, National Children’s Orchestra and the Kent Youth Choir.

ACADEMIA

Let’s talk results. In 2020, 45% of pupils earned A-A* grades (an increase from 29% in 2019) and its’ pass rate improved to 100%. 76% of grades awarded were A*-B (an increase from 59% in 2019) and 50% of Extended Project Qualifications were A or A*. All Upper Sixth pupils seeking to go to university in October 2020 also gained places. For GCSEs, 45% of pupils earned grades of 7 to 9 (A or A*), 87% of pupils earned grades of 5 to 9 (A*-B) and the overall pass rate (grade 4 – 9) increased to 98%.

As we know though, academia is not just results-driven. At St. Ed’s, you can expect hands-on care with good teacher/pupil ratio and 12-18 pupils for an average class size. As we garnered from our conversation with the Head, the focus on education here is preparing the pupils for jobs within the 21st century and equipping them with the right skillsets as well as a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning. 

This is evident with subjects such as Film Studies for the pupils to get their teeth into as it gives them the chance to flex their analytical muscles on film material. Industry-standard editing software is available and the Head of Film Studies is also an assistant university lecturer and we were most impressed to learn that the students have also attended BFI Masterclasses on documentary film making with leading documentarist Nick Broomfield and some former pupils now work with major film studios. No stuffy and traditional learning here! 

THE HEAD

Edward O’Connor is the Head of the Senior School at St. Edmund’s and he has had an atypical journey to this role having started his career in the international finance sector in London after reading History at Cambridge which seems to be a real benefit and plus point for his teaching approach as he truly recognizes what skillsets are required of the students when it comes to the ‘real world.’ Ed switched to teaching in 2000 and joined the school in 2013 as Deputy Head so he was a natural fit for the role and our moles tell us that he is well-liked by staff (and pupils) and we certainly liked how approachable and smiley he is – someone you would trust to look after your children’s welfare but still keep that element of fun throughout. 

It is evident from our chat with Ed about how important the school’s reputation for outstanding pastoral care is in terms of a key component of the school’s success.  If the students are happy and settled and feel secure within their learning space, it is his belief that this will only add value to their learning journey. This is why the peer mentoring programme 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 other members of the 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.  Ed’s own daughter is at the Senior School and has embraced this mentoring programme so he can see first-hand the benefits as a father and headmaster. 

The ‘Be all you can be’ motto is utilized by the leadership team to develop every aspect of its pupils and encourage them to develop vital qualities such as leadership experience, inter-personal communication, the ability to work in teams and empathy for others so you really like there is a well-rounded approach when it comes to looking after your children from an academic and pastoral point of view. 

BOARDING

There is an option to board at St. Ed’s from Year 7 with a total of 25 nationalities taking advantage of that facilities including pupils from Europe, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Mauritius, Nigeria, North America, Hungary as well as Russia and Ukraine so a diverse crowd. You 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 activities such as canoeing on the River Stour and shopping at Bluewater etc…

WiFi is turned off at night and whilst 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, these rules are more relaxed come Senior school and the phone policy is done on a trust policy which is a great way to prepare them for adult life within a controlled environment.

QUIRKS

As we have highlighted, St Edmund’s School enjoys a strong reputation in the arts, and since 2017 they  have presented 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, 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. 

We have already alluded to it but we love the fact that St Edmund’s is one of the few schools in Kent (and the only one in Canterbury) to partner with Leith’s School of Food and Wine, and the space is immense. From Year 9, your children can learn how to cook a three-course meal and we say a big hooray to that. As well as the hands-on approach, they also learn a solid understanding of nutrition and food provenance which can inspire them to a wealth of jobs suitable for the 21st Century world. 

If they are feeling inspired, there is also the Sixth Form Leiths course which is a qualification that provides the skills to be a competent chef, enabling students to cook for any occasion and any number of people. Besides cooking, pupils benefit from a weekly theory lesson and spend time with a Master of Wine and for those who wish to take their interest further, progression routes include the Leiths Introductory Certificate of Food and Wine; degree and diploma-level study at university; and  careers in catering and hospitality, retail, nutrition, product design and manufacturing, and food technology and science so all options covered for any foodie-fans. 

ANYTHING ELSE?

If you live within the vicinity of Canterbury, you would have spotted the distinctive St. Edmund’s buses which can scoop up children (from Year 7 so you are good for Senior School) from far and wide including Ashford and Dover which is helpful to know if you thought the location was a barrier for entry. 

To support the school’s approach to helping students reach their potential in the ‘real world, they have dedicated Careers and Progression staff who provide ongoing guidance to pupils throughout their time at the school. Students can take part in Morrisby Testing programme and subsequent careers advice, an excellent work experience programme in Year 10 and expert advice and support throughout their university application process plus there is a lunchtime lecture series which often includes speakers talking about careers options to inspire the next generation. 

We also liked the sound of the after-school clubs on offer – ranging from the delicious (international cuisine, cake decoration) to the practical (first-aid, money management) and the skillfull (debating, handball) so there are plenty of extra-curricular options to enjoy.  

FEES (per term)

Full boarding: £12,533

Weekly boarding: £11,682

Day: £7,220

You can apply for a scholarship in 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. You will also find means-tested bursaries are available and charity places can be appointed, depending on the situation.  

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

You can’t just rely on our word, of course, so we did some digging too with some of the pupils and parents to give their insider viewpoint as well. The theme that keeps coming through what the students have to say about St. Ed’s is that they rate the ‘community’ aspect of the school with one pupil telling us, “Everybody knows each other, it’s very personal and individual, and this doesn’t stay inside year groups. I’m very good friends with multiple sixth-form-pupils and also I happen to have a few junior school friends.” Trips to destinations like Finland or Rome have got the big thumbs-up as well as the more local excursions such as Canoeing, Paintball and Bouldering for the boarders.

School food also scores highly with the regular theme nights being a hit as they get to learn more about the local culture of the country, as well as sample its food and we love this feedback too, ” My favourite school dish would have to be the burgers. There’s just something about them that makes everyone happy and helps us to get through the rest of the day. I will forever remember the happiness on people’s faces as they yell “its burger day” when they enter the dining hall.”

Many are hoping to go onto University following St. Edmund’s with one student telling us that he has his eyes set on on joining The United Nations. The parents are impressed too and the pastoral care scores highly on their agenda when it comes to rating St. Ed’s and how any concerns are dealt with very quickly and the communication throughout the school is excellent.

The following feedback also speaks volumes about the school and its approach to teaching. “The thing I adore the most about at St. Edmund’s is the passion, enthusiasm and engagement from the teachers. There is an energy which gets picked up by the children and results in enthusiasm to learn. The teachers make learning fun. For example, my son has never remembered anything on the Periodic Table – until Periodic Table Bingo!”

THE MUDDY VERDICT

GOOD FOR: If you are looking for a school that will seek to find that unique talent in your child, this is the one for you. Plus, it will also suit those with creatively minded children as well as the sporty lot plus it is an inspiring place to be.

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.

St Edmund’s School Canterbury, St Thomas Hill, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 8HU, Telephone: +44 (0) 1227 475600, info@stedmunds.org.uk

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