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What says..

This is the kind of school where they really get to know your child – the good bits, bad bits and everything in between, consequently understanding what makes them tick and ultimately helping them reach their potential – potential which, as the strong academic results show, is generally excellent. Unpressurised, relaxed and big on extracurricular activity, this is also a school that’s great fun, with a friendly vibe, although as an urban school, it’s not huge on space…

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What the school says...

We are an academic school that welcomes creativity and believes in independent learning at all ages. We pride ourselves not only on our academic results but on the supportive and positive atmosphere in the School and the opportunities we provide for individual talent to flourish and find expression through the rich blend of academic and co-curricular opportunities on offer. ...Read more

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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head master

Since 2014, Mr Stephen Lehec, previously head of Aylesbury Grammar School. He joined Aylesbury as deputy head from Maidstone Grammar in 2006, becoming head in 2008. He has a history and English degree from Southampton and a PGCE from Oxford. Softly spoken (for a head) and personable, he works from an office so lush that it wouldn’t look out of place in an interiors magazine or, at any rate, a Heal’s ad. Not that he spends all his time there, with pupils telling us he’s ‘so much more hands-on than the last head.’ Teaches year 7 history (and was trying to find time to start teaching sixth formers too when we visited) and meets regularly with pupils across all years. ‘I never want to be the kind of head to say, “Remind me who you are,”’ he explains, with pupils clearly impressed with how much of an interest he takes in them. ‘He keeps us in the loop about everything that’s going on,’ added one. Meanwhile, staff praise his collaborative leadership style and his reshaping of the executive team that encourages more sharing and avoids anyone being able to say, ‘That isn’t my job.’ Parents describe him as ‘available’, ‘pragmatic’ and ‘open to suggestions’. ‘There’s no element of “Leave us to it, we know best",’ one told us. ‘He feels like a good set of hands,’ said another. Refuses to overpush academia at the expense of developing the whole child; it’s makes a nice change to meet a head who isn’t obsessed with league tables – although, interestingly, the school gets the results anyway.

Lives locally with his wife and two daughters (one at the school; the other still too young to attend) and is a keen football, cricket and tennis player, having coached teams up to county level – although the school itself remains his biggest passion. ‘If you asked my wife what’s my biggest interest outside of work, she’d say “work”,’ he laughs.

Academic matters

Strong results across the board - in 2017, 53 per cent A*/A grades and 82 per cent A*/B at A level; 87 per cent A*-A/7-9 grades at GCSE – although maths is the clear stand-out subject here, with pupils praising the brilliant teaching, and even those who say they aren’t mathematical find it hard to resist. A whopping four maths choices alone at A level. ‘We support people who want a bit of maths to supplement their qualifications right up to those wanting to study it at Cambridge,’ says the head. For both GCSE and A level, other popular subjects include English lit, sciences (where there’s a good gender split) and history, and the school also offers IGCSEs in maths, English, languages, and sciences. ‘We’re big on the facilitating subjects here,’ explains the head, ‘although lots of A level students also add on the likes of theatre studies, PE or politics.’ Pre-U in economics and 70-80 per cent take up of EPQ – often with pupils revisiting areas they gave up for GCSE, such as Italian. Some pupils yearn for cookery, although they do get the opportunity to cook at home and bring in the fruits of their labour for assessment and tasting.

Language department – an uplifting environment, with bunting made from European flags hanging from the ceilings - currently musters 15 languages, with year 7 pupils choosing two options from French, German, Spanish and Italian, plus Latin. In addition, there are options to do taster courses in everything from Mandarin to Danish and Russian to Polish. By year 9, pupils can pick up other languages more formally, with all students studying at least one language for GCSE and many studying more. Greek taught in collaboration with Tiffin boys. ‘Languages are fun here – it’s all about interaction,’ one pupil told us, with at least one lesson a week in the IT breakout area. ‘You also get lots of one-to-ones with fluent native speakers.’ IT very much embedded into learning here, with plenty of IT breakout areas across the subjects, many in full use when we visited. A little setting in maths and PE from year 7, ‘but it's more tiering than setting,’ says the head.

A new timetable system of longer, 50-minute lessons, has gone down well and the teaching staff are widely praised by pupils for providing interesting lessons and extra help when required, including extension classes and one-to-one tutoring. Not that the pupils are expected to give up oodles of their time. ‘Far from it, teachers are really understanding that we have busy lives,’ one told us. Indeed, despite the great results, this is clearly no academic hothouse. ‘There’s no sense of underachievement or failure if pupils don’t get top marks,’ said one parent. ‘The ethos is more about encouraging and enthusing pupils,’ said another, whilst a third told us, ‘They seem to find individuals' talents that often the kids themselves didn’t know they had.’ Lots of professional development opportunities to help attract and retain the best teaching staff, and pupils report a mixture of strictness among staff. ‘Some are really laid-back, whilst others will pick up on everything.’

Learning support department helps those on the dys strata, mostly mild, a few moderate. Learner profile compiled for all children seen by educational psychologist or specialist teacher – school a great believer in constant monitoring and tracking to ensure progress. Lots of laptop users and open to those with aural/visual impairment – ‘so long as they can cope with the site.’ One parent, with a child who unexpectedly became partially sighted, told us the school has been ‘magnificent.’ ‘It was bolt from the blue for us and for them when she got this curious genetic condition, but they quickly assessed what they’d need to do to support her and to ensure she didn’t stand out. They’ve been absolutely amazing.’ Head wishes parents would be more honest about SEN at the time of applying to the school. ‘Historically, a lot of prep schools and parents have hidden it, which is ridiculous as we could have been more helpful in supporting them if we’d have known,’ he says.

Games, options, the arts

Sport, once seen as very separate to academia, is now seen to complement it and as such, there is more celebration of successes in assemblies and more house competitions and fixtures. Hockey, rowing and, most recently, cricket, are the three strongest sports here. The school has also boosted netball and football, once considered the poor relations. Good gender split (the school’s best cricketers were female when we visited), with netball the only sport played only by one gender and even that is being redressed, with the school considering using handball as way of getting more boys into it. Other sports – of which there are 25 options by sixth form - range from spinning classes to sailing.

The rather unfortunately-named Cage (two onsite courts with soft surfaces) is actually well-loved by pupils, along with the school gym; although some sport takes place on the Fairfield – a field across the road from the main site, which is also used by Tiffin and maintained by the Royal Borough of Kingston – most sport takes place off-site at Ditton Field, a 22-acre facility a bus ride away that boasts six football pitches, three cricket, two hockey, eight tennis and netball courts and a separate boathouse on the Thames. A few grumbles from parents that there isn’t more sport on site, although they quickly catch themselves sounding spoilt – this is London, after all. Pupils particularly love Ditton Field (‘What’s not to love? It’s a fabulous open space right on the river, by Hampton Court,’ said one), with pupils also enjoying the various other sporting venues used by the school, including St Mary’s University and Hampton Court for Real (Royal) Tennis.

Plenty of sporting accolades, with 20 international level girls and boys at the school, and five currently playing at international level. Traditionally, the school comes in the top five schools nationally for hockey and amongst one of the best co-ed schools for rowing in the country – particularly good for a co-ed school, where they only have half the potential numbers of single sex schools. Around 80 per cent take up among pupils for Saturday and after-school sports.
Music a source of huge pride and joy, although it’s seen by some, including the head, to have historically spread itself too thin, with too big a range of functions, so watch out for some more honed evening performances in the future. Three orchestras (beginners, junior and senior), four choirs (first year, juniors, seniors and chamber – which had recently sang at the Vatican when we visited), along with plenty of quartets and quintets from guitar to saxophone. Excellent facilities and around 250 private music lessons a week, many of which take place in the colourful contemporary pods, located in a school courtyard. ‘Music tech is amazing,’ added one student. ‘You get to actually produce music from the word go.’

Drama outstanding, with an exceptional performing arts centre and professional staff from a theatre background, along with visiting actors (Samantha Bond’s daughter Molly Hanson, a former KGS school captain herself, when we visited) helping with everything from LAMDA exams to drama school applications. Incredibly polished performances, including annual senior, middle school and junior plays, with at least 30 different parts – for example, Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London, for which they used proper airline seats on stage and filmed 500 minutes of scenes around London that were used for background. ‘My son has really found his feet, thanks to the drama here – his confidence has grown immeasurably,’ one parent told us.

Art and DT also excellent – masses of workshop/studio space, and we drooled over brilliantly conceived and executed works of art, both 3D and paintings, much of which you’d pay good money to hang on your walls. Professional quality furniture made by GCSE class, perspex clocks and clever ceramics make you want to get your hands gummy. The list of national awards, prizes and achievements fills several pages – not surprising, as this really is university standard, where no art forms are shied away from, including life drawing.

Co-curricular opportunities – which range from knitting to foreign language film club and from philosophy to debating club - fill a 40-page booklet, with many parents saying this is what gives Kingston the edge. Most pupils do at least one a day, with one telling us, ‘I set up a new club myself – the economics society.’ School usually open from 7am, with last staff leaving as late as 10pm. ‘This school allows you to be the person you want to be and I think the clubs are a big part of that,’ said one pupil, who said his passion for rowing has been supported throughout. ‘Teachers’ involvement in extracurricular activity is second-to-none,’ points out the head. ‘My biggest problem is telling them to hold back so they’re not completely exhausted by the end of term.’

Masses of trips, with the school taking full advantage of all the theatres, galleries and cultural events the capital has to offer, along with national residential trips and international residentials to the likes of Iceland (geography), Rome (choir) and Gibraltar (netball) just in one half term, and many others such as South Africa (hockey), Sri Lanka (cricket), China (cultural exchange) Utah (skiing), New York (art and drama) every year or two. Plenty of languages exchanges every year. A hardship support fund seeks to assist those in need.

Background and atmosphere

Whatever you do, don’t put the school’s postcode in your satnav (which takes you to the back of the school, where there’s no entrance) and even when you do find the front, be warned there’s no parking on site (although, thankfully, there are good public transport links). But despite the metropolitan location that’s a nightmare to get to, inside the school you quickly forget you’re in the midst of Kingston’s tarmac tangle, thanks to the relaxed, welcoming and buzzy environment. 'Honestly, you barely even notice the sounds of ambulances and traffic, if at all,' one pupil said.

The original building is an attractive, well-kept, old-fashioned looking grammar school (with a school hall of the ilk your parents would be familiar with), whilst newer, modern buildings provide plenty of bright, airy spaces to learn, with particularly impressive science labs. Good café for sixth form, with TV, stereo system, drinks and snacks (and always someone playing chess, apparently). Space isn’t lavish here, by any means, though what they’ve got has been used wisely and it is less cramped than some of its central London peers. The next big project being planned is a multi-million three or four story building to include new changing rooms, space for engineering and art studios, bigger dining facilities (currently quite tight), additional library space and galleries with a real wow-factor – with the school hoping to build by around 2019-20.

Pupils – who wear white shirts and grey uniforms in years 7 to 11 (business dress in the sixth form) – look cheerful, both in lessons and during breaks, when they spill out into the various outside areas, including Fairfield during summertime. 'Yes, there’s all the lovely “p” words – purposeful, peaceful and so on – but first and foremost this school is happy. Pupils like coming to school,' says the head, and pupils agree. Strong student voice, with recently reformed school forum changing the likes of the lunch queuing system through to mobile phone rules. Renewed catering means take-up among year 9s (when, traditionally, pupils have moved to packed lunches) is now 95 per cent and is still popular in the sixth form when students are allowed out of school for lunch if they wish. Good home/school IT links. Fabulous sixth-form development offices - a one-stop shop for exams officer, careers advice, head of sixth form and more.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘It’s ridiculously caring here,’ says the head – a bold claim by anyone’s standards, but pupils and parents concur. Good system of heads of year, form tutors and heads of house - ‘they get to know you really well’ – along with a robust buddy, prefect, mentoring and house system that encourage friendship across the years, and plenty of positions of leadership among pupils, including older ones mentoring younger ones. ‘I always say that, “If we don’t catch you in the wash, we’ll get you in the rinse,” because it really is the case that if anything is bothering anyone, we have enough systems in place both to notice and to help,’ says the head. Bullying and stress minimal. ‘They’re quick to pick up problems and keep parents in touch. It’s in the culture of the place,’ said one parent.

Discipline scarcely an issue here, with non-verbal and verbal warnings, misconduct marks, summons to head of year and occasional after-school detentions generally all that’s needed – although head has excluded pupils for a day or two occasionally, for the likes of foul language and misuse of mobile phones. ‘We need to show we won’t tolerate these things on the rare occasions they do happen,’ he says.

Pupils and parents

Mostly from a three mile radius (although increasingly from Clapham and central London), so at least they probably know how to navigate Kingston’s surreal road system. That said, over 95 per cent of pupils come by bus, train, bike or walk. From over 150 primaries - some 60 per cent from state schools. Parents are a mixture of the predictably wealthy types and those who bend over backwards to afford it. School encourages plenty of parental involvement and there’s a thriving parents’ association. We found the pupils quietly ambitious and confident. ‘You get the occasional princess type who has the best of everything, but you get that in all independent schools. In the main, the children here are grounded and pleasant,’ said one parent.

Notable former pupils include Edward Gibbon (The Roman Empire one), RC Sherriff (of Journey’s End fame) Michael Frayn, Jonathan Kenworthy, James Cracknell, Andy Sturgeon (imaginatively roped in to help with the reshaping of the school’s landscape), 2012 Olympic gold medal rower Sophie Hosking and the founders of Not On The High Street, Sophie Cornish, and Hotel Chocolat’s Peter Harris, as well as Ian Fortune, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (RAF version of the VC) for safely landing his Chinook with injured soldiers on board after being shot in the face through his helicopter windscreen in Afghanistan.

Entrance

The main entry points are 11+ and 16+ with some spaces available for 13+ entry. There’s also an option to sit a 10+ deferred entry examination in year 5 to secure a place in year 7 (for which over 200 sit the test for around 20 places offered). More or less equal number of boys and girls. Interview seen as important - the school looks for potential, not just academic achievement, and it also helps weed out the overly tutored. Even at interview stage, the school is blind to whether the pupil goes to a state or private school. ‘Unless, that is, they turn up in their straw boater, which some do,’ says the head, smiling. Around 1,000 sit the 11+ test, with 360 interviewed, from which up to 250 places are offered for the 125 or so places they could fill. ‘We’re well aware people have more than one iron in the fire,’ says the head, with lots of parents deliberating over issues such as, ‘Do I go for Tiffin, which is free, or Kingston Grammar for its reputation?’ School works closely with the feeder schools – especially at 13+, so as to not to encourage unrealistic applications. For external 16+, entry involves sitting exams in the A level subjects opted for, followed by interviews. Some 20-30 external offers are made every year.

At year 7, five forms of 20-25 pupils, dropping to an average of 16-18 in GCSE groups and to single figures for A level groups. ‘I’m not convinced smaller class sizes necessarily affect outcomes, because good teaching should work in any size class, but it does mean we get to know the pupils better,’ says head.

Exit

Around 80 per cent stay on into sixth form, for which pupils need an A-B/9-6 grade average in their GCSEs including A grades in their chosen or related subjects and A* in maths. Post A levels, 98 per cent go to university, 10-15 per cent after a gap year, with over 70 per cent going to Russell Group universities and an annual sprinkling to Oxbridge – seven in 2017. ‘We actually get quite a few pupils turning Oxbridge places down, for example to go to Royal Veterinary College or Imperial to study medicine,’ says head (three medics in 2017). Top destinations include Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham, Exeter, Manchester, London, Warwick, Durham, Southampton, Leeds – and a few to art and drama colleges. Biggest range of courses you could imagine, with maths, science, history and humanities among the most popular.

Money matters

Scholarships typically worth 10 to 50 per cent of fees available at all entry points and awarded on results of tests for academic scholarships and application and assessment for art, drama, sport and music. Bursaries worth up to 100 per cent of fees also at all entry points and means-tested – with the school aiming to fill 5-10 per cent of places a year this way. Worth a serious look if you are local, clever and strapped.

Our view

There’s no shortage of good schools in this area, all with their particular highlights, but this stands out for being relaxed and friendly, with an underlying buzz that seems to get pupils willingly and happily doing their best. ‘There’s a kind of intimacy about it that makes it the kind of school you wish you’d been to,’ said one parent, whilst every single pupil and parent we spoke to, bar none, raved about the fact that the school really understands each child and what makes them tick. We found the extracurricular offering also stands out. Indeed, the ethos is all about developing the whole person, not just getting them through academic exams. A school that really lives up to its motto, ‘Work Well and Be Happy’, this is a place that sets young people up for a fantastic future.

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Special Education Needs

All pupils are screened on arrival and may be added to a register of those requiring special attention from subject teachers, who will receive detailed advice on how they can help pupils appropriately in class. If necessary pupils are withdrawn from a lesson weekly to have a special class with the SEN teacher, either individually or in a pair/small group. Pupils are allowed to use laptop computers should this be deemed necessary by an educational psychologist. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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