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Few walk away on exams results day with anything other than the a spring in their step – these hardworking, diligent, aspirational pupils do their parents proud year after year. Previous head worked hard to raise the academic profile of the school, with current head seeing his job as continuing on this trajectory while expanding wider opportunities. No hothouse – ‘I’m not here to turn it into a mini Winchester,’ he told us. One full-time and one part-time member of staff run the learning skills department. However, school is…

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What the school says...

Entrance examinations consist of: 11, 12 & 13+: Maths, English & VR. 16: Minimum of 8 grades (6 Bs & 2 Cs) or equivalent at GCSE, entry test and interview.

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Curricula

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

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

Performing arts specialist school

Sports

Polo

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2020, Gareth Doodes (40s), previously head of Dover College for five years. Before that, head of Milton Abbey in Dorset. Started his career at Taunton as a history teacher and then as a housemaster at Oakham. He has coached sport and has always been involved with drama and music; plays the piano and organ and has extensive choral singing experience. Also a Church of England lay minister of communion. Educated at Eastbourne College, where he was a music scholar; MA in modern history from University of St Andrews.

Dapper, dynamic and glass half full. ‘Lives up to his name – a real dude,’ said more than one parent (who could resist?). ‘Enthusiastic,’ ‘personable,’ ‘highly sociable’ and ‘finger on the pulse,’ we also heard. ‘Speaks to the students in a way that really resonates with them – they really look up to him,’ a parent told us; pupils concur, adding that ‘he wants to know everyone’ and ‘always asks us how he can improve the school, usually acting on what we say by the following week.’ Not bad for a head who joined during the pandemic – ‘Well, crisis is a great time to focus the mind on development and improvement,’ he muses modestly, though later admits, ‘It’s been a bit like driving a dingy while spinning plates and shooting crocodiles.’

Highly active on social media, giving Visit Worcestershire a run for their money with his Tweets alone in which he describes the area as ‘the friendliest and most beautiful of counties’ (his wife, Jessica, hails from here). Still teaches (year 9 history for three periods a week) – ‘I can’t understand headteachers that don’t,’ he shrugs. Relishes ithe family feel of the school – it helps that he lives on site. A keen cyclist and swimmer, he has two young children, Humphrey (‘Humph’) and Persephone (‘Persie’), both at King’s St Alban’s.

Entrance

About two-thirds of the 11+ intake (124 places) from the two prep schools, King’s St Alban’s and King’s Hawford, the rest from a 50/50 mix of independent and maintained schools. The number of middle schools in the area mean that 13+ is an increasingly popular entry point (24 places). Exams in maths, English and verbal reasoning (including for prep pupils). Around 20-30 join at 16+ - pupils need 6s at GCSE in the subjects they want to study at A level plus a cognitive abilities test and an interview.

Exit

Between 10-15 per cent leaves after GCSEs. Nearly all sixth formers go on to university. Exeter the most popular by far (‘perfect distance away from home, but easy to access by whizzing down the M5,’ says head). Others to eg Birmingham, Exeter and Loughborough. Growing numbers to Oxbridge – five in 2020, plus 13 medics. Others off to study interior design or gain an apprenticeship.

Latest results

In 2020, 72 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 60 per cent A*/A (85 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 66 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 41 per cent A*/A grades at A level (69 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Few of these diligent, aspirational students walk away on exams results day with anything other than a spring in their step. Previous head worked hard to raise the academic profile of the school, with current head seeing his job as continuing on this trajectory while expanding the extracurricular and fine tuning the pastoral offering. Means that despite the pressure at exam time, this school is never likely to become a hothouse – ‘I’m not here to turn it into a mini Winchester,’ he told us. Parents wouldn’t, however, recommend it for, as one put it, ‘anyone who isn’t edging higher than average academically.’

We visited the school during exam season, when classes featured everything from biology bingo to mix up maths. Students lapped up these innovative revision techniques and the teachers addressed them with warmth and sensitivity - none of that last minute stress that permeates some schools at this time of year. Teachers are committed not just in the classroom but outside of lessons too, with all expected to be part of a strong academic tutor system as well as to run at least one club, a legacy from the school’s boarding history. Some show an appetite for their subjects well beyond teaching – there is a professional mountaineer among the geography staff and a physics teacher spent time at NASA (his space suit hanging proudly at the back of the classroom) and more recently founded King’s Radio. Each is characterful in their own way, making for some spellbinding lessons, though one parent felt ‘there’s more staff turnover than I’d like to see – usually they go because they’re promoted, which is lovely for them and says a lot about the school, but it’s a shame for us.’

Setting in maths from year 7; English and languages from year 8. French, Spanish and German all taught by native speaking teachers on a carousel from year 7. All take 10 GCSEs, including a language and separate sciences; approximately 40 pupils take 11. History, geography, music and classics all popular. Latin and classical civilisation available. Core subjects do particularly well; art also on an upward curve. At A level, all pupils start with four, with most dropping to three at October half term. Largely traditional subjects offered at this stage, though psychology has recently been added. Business, history, maths and sciences get the biggest numbers. Good value-added scores. Fifty per cent take-up for EPQ – a student told us how his was on how to sift out false accusations within the legal system; another was doing hers on whether abortion laws should become more flexible.

Ongoing assessments for all and there is a particular drive to ensure that the scholars are strong academic role models for the rest of the school. Sixth formers appreciate the one-to-one careers sessions: ‘OVs come back to do talks too and there’s lots of range – lawyers, financiers and even racing car drivers,’ said one. Good structured response to the pandemic, we heard – including easy comms with teachers ‘who were available throughout the day.’ One parent felt that ‘coasting can be a bit of a danger unless you keep an eye on it – support is there for the top and bottom but those in the middle can occasionally get missed.’

Learning support and SEN

Learning skills department, run by one full-time and one part-time staff member, offers one-to-one and small group sessions at no extra charge. No EHCPs and school is keen not to over-promise, with most needs confined to mild dyslexia, ASD etc. Study and revision skills, exam techniques, language skills and problem-solving all on offer. ‘They’ve been brilliant, explaining exactly what we need to do and they seem to know just how to talk to our son to get the best from him,’ said a parent. Probably not a site for a permanently physically disabled child – too higgledy-piggledy, not to mention those seemingly endless steps.

The arts and extracurricular

Music, as you’d expect, is outstanding. An impressive 20 practice rooms in the townhouse style music centre are filled with peris teaching all manner of instruments and there’s every type of ensemble, choir and orchestra you can think of including four chamber choirs. Brace yourself for the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end when you hear the elite one in action. Values the classics, but repertoire extends well beyond, with cheery head of music equally quick to enthuse about (and show us framed pictures of) more modern musicians. Students rave about performing in College Hall, the old monastic refectory dating in part from the 12th century. Termly open mic night, biennial music tour and three musicals every year – all popular. ‘I have five – yes, five – organs to choose from,’ said a sixth former, seemingly still awestruck. Pupils regularly gain university choral and organ scholarships and places at conservatoires.

GCSE drama (a popular course, as is the A level) students were so engrossed in their small practice groups when we visited the black box studio that they didn’t notice us. Three full-scale productions a year, plus additional showcases – ‘never disappoints, always out of this world,’ lauded a parent. Most recently, Made in Dagenham was performed in the 300 seater theatre and (we like this) involved plenty of students not studying drama on curriculum. Reasonable take-up for LAMDA.

Renowned art department fizzes with creativity. Includes grand exhibition space used by students and visiting artists. Graphite drawings and fish sculptures made out of recycled materials were cited among younger year groups as their favourite projects. Pre-U art available in sixth form – these students have their own studio space, akin to university art school. No one student we watched at work had a remotely similar style – ‘We like them to go off in their own direction, whether that’s wacky abstract or meticulously life-like,’ the art teacher told us. Results for this and GCSE exemplary. Ceramists, printmakers and photographers are on the teaching team and there are weekend workshops. ‘My children aren’t that good at art but I’ve been so shocked at what they’ve got out of them that if they’d chosen to have done art GCSE I’d have had complete trust in them,’ said a parent.

Over 100 clubs and societies including rock climbing, mixed netball, scuba diving, CCF and yoga. DofE gets good take up, with 50 per cent achieving silver and gold awards. Over 70 trips and excursions a year including St Ives for art, Italy for ski trips, South Africa and France for sports trips. School has its own outdoor education centre in Wales. Strong charitable focus - links to the Himalayas, providing educational and medical resources, plus local outreach work. Parents and pupils disappointed there’s no food tech on offer.

Sport

No tour of King’s would be complete without a visit to the eye-catching boathouse whose tall glass walls jut out over the river which edges the school. Even on the miserable blustery day we visited, the views were striking, though wind and rain had forced students to train inside – all done with great gusto (and very hi-tech equipment). Rowing is a defining feature of the school, with the close-knit community creating mates for life among students well beyond their year groups – ‘doesn’t matter if you’re 11 or 18,’ said one, while parents also form firm friendships. GB rowers produced on a regular basis. Plush sports centre with sports hall, climbing wall and gym where a full-time sports strength and conditioning coach runs the Athlete Development Programme and helps rehabilitate young players who get injured – ‘brilliant for me after I got concussed,’ said our rugby playing guide. Extensive playing fields across the river are prone to flooding – head is addressing it and the school are adept at ensuring that fixtures, training and games aren’t impacted. Indoor six lane 25m pool much appreciated. Highlights of the sporting calendar are annual showdowns against rival RGS Worcester at The Superball (netball played at Worcester University’s indoor arena), a rugby clash at Worcester Warriors’ Sixways Stadium and a football match at Sixways Stadium – local contests which attract a whopping 6,000 spectators.

Main sports are rugby (great results), football, cricket (school now features in the top 100 cricket schools) and athletics for the boys and hockey, netball and athletics for the girls, with mixed sports including athletics, cricket, equestrian, swimming and netball clubs. ‘Incredibly pressurised if you’re in the A team – you have to commit to every match no matter what’s going on at home,’ we also heard, while another parent reckoned, ‘the sport can be a bit elitist so if you’re really good at sport and excel you get pushed but you can get a little bit lost if you can’t be bothered.’ Keen sportspeople represent the county and there have also been national successes. Dance, taken by both boys and girls, benefits from a dance studio with sprung floor. Strong on equestrian – school currently has 16 NSEA members representing them.

Ethos and heritage

The 16th century foundation, originally the choir school, nestles behind Worcester Cathedral and is centred around College Green. For such a city centre site it is extraordinarily well hidden from view and feels like its very own village, with each converted townhouse – plus a few new builds - a subject specific department. Buildings range from 12th century to 2016, with each century having produced its own architectural gems – the overall effect is one of great charm; tradition shoulder to shoulder with the contemporary. A special place to grow up and learn. The classics and Latin departments are housed in the medieval Edgar Tower, accessed via a romantically precipitous spiral staircase – the ascent is worth it just for the views over Worcester. Library is fabulous – light, bright and spacious (over two floors) with a book club for every year group and an enthusiastic librarian who does a grand job of promoting reading for wellbeing.

Wherever you walk, the cathedral tower is in sight. ‘The cathedral is the beating heart of our school and we are constantly reminded of hope and a strong spirit, as well as having an important place in history,’ says head. ‘Difficult to explain, but very magical,’ we heard more than once, with parents repeatedly telling us that the close links with the cathedral give a certain feel to the school that goes well beyond a religious heritage. Although no longer a boarding school, the strong house system and rich extracurricular life remains, as well as the way students are encouraged to develop a sense of service to the wider community.

Compared to RGS, the school’s main competitor, King’s is perceived as the ‘old money’ option but we found nothing stuffy about it. Parents, teachers and students speak of the exceptionally warm relationships that the school generates. ‘There’s a competitive edge, but that’ no bad thing,’ said one parent. New ‘more practical’ uniform being phased in; sixth formers now allowed brighter suits. Food could be better (range and quality), we heard, though we couldn’t fault our roast beef and lemon posset.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral support praised for being prompt and discreet; extends to whole family and counselling is proactively offered if considered it could be of benefit – a far cry from schools that expect pupils to ask for it and even then have long waiting lists. Strong chaplaincy and, most recently, a school psychologist who produces a weekly mindfulness publication (came into its own during the pandemic). Head says he takes ‘her lead around mental health both for staff and pupils – I’m a great believer that you can’t get it right with the pupils unless you get it right with the staff first.’ The head’s own emotional transparency is not lost on parents and pupils – he told us how ‘I just went into my office and wept’ after hearing of how some families had been affected during the pandemic.

Past boarding structure is a huge boon pastorally. Years 7 and 8 operate as a slightly separate group with a form structure; then, when pupils enter year 9, the full house system kicks in. This means that the school can use the early years to build a sense of belonging and identity amongst all the children, who enter not only from the two preps but also from a lot of other feeder primaries. Parents confirm that younger pupils are very happy to share concerns with sixth formers as well as staff.

The detention system nips most misbehaviour in the bud although there are one or two temporary exclusions per term – generally for repeat minor misdemeanours than big offences. Only one permanent exclusion in recent years, though one parent told us the odd student slips quietly away probably by mutual agreement. ‘Hotter on bullying than they used to be – important as it does happen, but it’s stamped on straightaway,’ said parent. Plenty of leadership opportunities, but some parents say they go to the same few pupils in sixth form.

Sixth formers told us about ‘Change the Narrative,’ a student led forum that discusses issues such as sexism, LGBTQ+ and periods, making recommendations (eg free sanitary products) where necessary. ‘There are no taboos here.’ An alumni post on Everyone’s Invited alleged that measurements were taken of girls' skirts by asking them to ‘kneel on the cathedral floor just to check’ but no staff, students of parents had ever heard of this – ‘I can’t imagine anything like that!’ said one mystified student.

Pupils and parents

The demeanour of senior pupils is the clincher for many parents choosing to send their offspring here. Polite and chatty, they have an air of feeling comfortable with themselves and the world. ‘There’s definitely a King’s mould, although the mould evolves,’ reckoned one parent. Strong on loyalty, with former pupils flocking back to support existing ones (several, for example, volunteered to supervise classrooms during online learning when teachers were isolated at home and teaching from there).

Parents range from the well-heeled country set to those in professions, plus quite a few with business start-ups. Growing number of bursaries is widening the socio-economic mix slowly but surely. Families come from increasingly far and wide – south of Birmingham all the way round to Gloucestershire and back across. City centre location means no shortage of transport links and there are school buses with multiple pickups. Ethnicity more mixed than it used to be but reflects the Worcester population rather than that of the wider West Midlands. Communications aimed more at the pupils than parents – ‘it’s all part of the drive to make pupils more independent, which is a big thing at King’s and very much approved of, but it does mean that important things can get missed sometimes such as GCSE and A level options which we’d like to have been more involved in,’ said one parent.

Money matters

Academic and music scholarships at 11+ and 13+, with leadership awards at 16+. Both new entrant and hardship bursaries are available up to 100 per cent of fees, with up to 90 pupils generally getting bursary funding. The school aims to provide 40 fully funded places by 2041, their 500th anniversary.

The last word

A highly regarded yet down-to-earth cathedral school with a strong sense of community, loyalty and tradition. Particularly good for a child who is academic and/or musical. Polished, ambitious and caring, an aspirational school that wears its heart on its sleeve and is all the better for it.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

The school takes seriously the importance of catering for pupils who have identified special needs. There is a new Learning Skills department run by a trained expert assisted by another specialist. All pupils are screened on entry. The department works very closely with partoral staff and helps to monitor and interpret academic progress. Pupils are rarely withdrawn from lessons but receive extra help from trained staff in a variety of ways during lunchtimes or after school. The school also has a Special Needs Coordinator who is a member of the English staff and liaises with teaching staff. 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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