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Has introduced the Adventurous Learning programme that is all about taking people – staff and children alike – out of their comfort zone and challenging in all areas, personal as well as academic. It might be trying something new like speaking in front of the whole class and then the whole school. A very tech savvy school – radio voting handsets have proved popular and effective – children text answers to the screen anonymously, useful for shy children but also means there is no chance of a snooze at the back of the class...

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What the school says...

Whatever the starting point at Ashford School we have high aspirations for your child. Through our adventurous approach to learning our aim is to ensure your son or daughter is articulate, confident and fluent with excellent social skills and a secure moral framework and, at the end of their school career, gains a place at one of the world's leading universities.

Our parents choose us because of our: welcoming, inclusive ethos and happy children; focus on helping each child make progress with high quality, expert teaching leading to excellent results; excellent boarding and weekly boarding; strong leadership which sets out to delight; rich programme of music and drama; huge range of visits and expeditions, and extensive co-curricular activities that help to develop key personal characteristics; strong team sports for boys and girls and value for money. We are just 37 minutes from London by train and benefit from rapid access to the continent via Eurostar. The London airports are all within 90 minutes and we run a bus service to the surrounding towns and villages.
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What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2005, Mr Michael Buchanan (50s) BSc PGCE NPQH. Educated at Downside and King’s College London, where he read physics and trained as a teacher. Previously spent 10 years at Highgate School in north London, where he left as principal deputy head. Part of his brief there was to bring in co-education, and he has done a similar job at Ashford with great success. Previously head of sixth form at Royal Grammar School, Guildford. Businesslike and charming, he has a passion for physics, sport and choral music – he is a highly experienced, lead ISI inspector. ‘Very approachable and a good communicator and you know who is in charge’, according to one parent. Still teaches and referees sport when he can. Married with two daughters who attended the school; his wife works for a bank in London. He says the whole family felt welcomed from the moment they arrived at Ashford.

He is a ‘very good motivator’, according to one former pupil, and has introduced the Adventurous Learning programme that is all about taking people – staff and children alike – out of their comfort zone and challenging in all areas, personal as well as academic. It might be trying something new like speaking in front of the whole class and then the whole school. He ‘wants children to develop as self reliant all-rounders who have a sense of responsibility, compassion and teamwork and the resilience to cope with adversity’. He also wants pupils to take responsibility for their own learning and to feel able to make mistakes. Likes every sort of success to be rewarded and feels that learning should be fun. Head and staff lead by example: Mr Buchanan has taken up the euphonium and 40 teachers have taken up other musical instruments to remind themselves what it feels like to be a pupil.

The school has grown by over 150 since he arrived, helped by the massive building boom in Ashford and the fast rail link to St Pancras. He is gradually replacing the ageing school buildings at the same time as driving the rise in academic standards.

Academic matters

Broad intake, results improving year on year. In 2016, 71 per cent A*/B and 46 per cent A*/A at A level; at GCSE, 48 per cent A*/A. Particularly good results in science and maths. Everyone takes separate sciences from Year 7. All students learn two languages chosen from Spanish, German and French; German most popular. Pupils from abroad also encouraged to take GCSE in their first language eg Chinese or Dutch. Good range of subjects at A level including Chinese, business studies, psychology, textiles, sports studies and drama. In sixth form Russian, German and Spanish offered as a business language (basic language skills, mostly conversation). Very accommodating timetable and school willing to offer a subject to only a handful of students. Digital literacy programme for year 7. A very tech savvy school – radio voting handsets have proved popular and effective – children text answers to the screen anonymously, useful for shy children but also means there is no chance of a snooze at the back of the class as everyone has to participate. Pupils set by ability in core subjects but there is plenty of flexibility and children can be moved up or down mid term if appropriate. No plans to introduce the IB.

Loyal team of teachers who love the challenge and freedom to innovate and are encouraged to use their initiative. Headmaster likes to recruit those with outside experience who can offer something different. Good mix of old hands and NQTs – school runs a leading and innovative graduate teacher training programme. Biology teacher won a UK top teacher award and also organises the school’s rock festival, AshBash. A new higher education advisor has recently joined the team to help with UCAS forms and beyond – he was previously a university admissions tutor. The Oxbridge Club provides extra coaching in problem solving and analytical and critical thinking. Lots of language exchanges and trips that help bring learning to life and ‘take school work into the real world,’ according to one happy father. A level physicists visit CERN.

Some 35 pupils with SEN ranging from organisation skills to severe dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and school can support children with physical disabilities, ‘The teachers really go the extra mile for a child who struggles – nothing is too much trouble’.

New International Centre for 21 11-16 year olds offers a one-year intensive English language course.

Games, options, the arts

Good sports facilities also include two gyms as well as a fitness centre and dance suite, indoor swimming pool and all weather basketball court. Cricket played at the local club a few minutes' walk away and a new sports centre opened in 2013 with Sport England specification. Boys’ sport now fully developed and there are senior first teams in rugby, hockey and cricket, but fixtures still a bit sparse as other schools are a ‘bit slow to twig that Ashford boys are actually rather good at games’. Teams maintained into sixth form and everyone has to take part in a physical activity at least once a week. Yoga and exercise classes popular, especially with the senior girls, along with street and jazz dance and personal survival. Strong house loyalty and everyone expected to take part in house events.

Lots going on in the drama department from house plays and speech and drama recitals, lower school productions and the spectacular whole school summer musical. Active junior drama club as well as technical drama club for those who prefer to keep out of the spotlight. Drama a popular option at GCSE and also offered at A level and school prepares pupils for speech and drama and LAMDA exams. Vibrant music and art departments: head of music is a colourful character who has transformed the musical life of the school; numbers participating have shot up, as has the standard. Tuition on most instruments available from the bassoon to the organ and school has two Steinway pianos as part of the Steinway schools programme. Lots going on: concert band, chamber music groups, string quartet, rock bands, string ensembles, community orchestra. Concerts every three to four weeks. Head wants music to be ‘about performance and enjoyment’ with plenty of opportunities for showmanship from ‘teatime tootles’ in the atrium to singing in Westminster Abbey.

Fabulous textiles and ‘big and bold’ approach to art; several go on to art foundation courses each year. A group of pupils recently designed a stained glass window for a church in the Holy Land and were then invited to install their work in situ. Another group made some wall hangings for the local hospice. ‘We do random and different things and let it all come out’, says one pupil.

Huge range of clubs and activities, from Lego robotics to cooking and debating – something for everyone and all have to take part until sixth form. Strong debating team has represented the school at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions’ competitions and taken part in the European Youth Parliament at the Foreign Office. Amnesty group won an award for ‘Best Fundraising Event in UK Schools’ with their ‘Dare to be Different Day’. CCF popular and about 12 pupils complete their D of E Gold each year.

Boarders

Boarding from year 6 (bussed over to junior school) but very few in this age group. Boarders well supported and cared for; they are also allocated a house and are not allowed back into their boarding houses during the day, which means plenty of interaction with day children. Lots of boarders’ activities and birthdays always celebrated. Houses recently refurbished; sixth formers have en suite bathrooms. Six houses, each led by a head of house, a teacher who oversees academic progress and personal development of each child. Children from abroad spend the first weekend of term with a day pupil – helps integration. Close liaison with parents and tutor and regular progress reviews. Lots of leadership opportunities running house events and activities, from community work to the house play. No lessons on Saturday mornings but time devoted to sport, rehearsals and activities – day children always happy to come in and it means the boarders are kept busy.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1898 with the aim that the pupils should play an active role in the life of the town and with an emphasis on ‘training and development of character’, the school moved to its present site in 1913 and became part of United Learning in 1999 (a group of 31 schools). This brought a welcome injection of cash resulting in new buildings springing up all over the place. Senior school is at the foot of the High Street, approached by a narrow lane and enclosed by high red-brick walls with lawns and greenery stretching down the hill. It’s a green oasis in the middle of busy Ashford and quite difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. Extensive rugby and cricket pitches are a short walk away. It’s an international and friendly community – pupils are expected to engage with school life, and head says he ‘does not want passengers on board and expects everyone to take part’. Good food, cafeteria style, lots of choice and healthy salad options. Brightly painted Atrium café a popular meeting place, also open to parents at pick up and drop off time.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Strong pastoral care via house system; everyone is allocated a house on arrival as well as a specialist tutor; new joiners in year 7 also have a sixth form mentor.

Pupils and parents

About 70 per cent day children from as far afield as Maidstone, Sittingbourne and Cranbrook (minibus service). Very few weekly boarders so room for growth here. Families from a broad social spectrum; parents have high expectations and are encouraged to get involved and be part of the community. Twenty per cent foreign nationals, over 24 nationalities and particularly popular with Chinese, Germans, Eastern Europeans and Nigerians – school takes care that no nationality dominates. ‘Ashford is very good at taking kids of any type and getting the best out of them’, says a parent, ‘and I like the way the school takes trouble to develop the kids’ characters as well as the academic side.’

Entrance

About 60 per cent come up from the prep school, others from local primaries and prep schools eg Sutton Valence, Dulwich and Spring Grove. Wide ability range – some very bright, others who struggle, but all must have the ability to pass at least six GCSEs. Almost automatic entry from prep school but must be within the academic range. Children joining from other schools sit assessment tests in English, maths, science and non-verbal reasoning and take part in a team building exercise. Preference given to siblings where possible. A further 15 or so join at 13+ via school’s own tests. Sixth form entry tested in proposed AS subjects and must have six GCSEs A*-B or equivalent, plus English proficiency test if appropriate. Lots of foreign nationals come for sixth form as well as several each year from local state schools.

Exit

A few leave at 13+ – no coaching for CE but good relationships with other local schools; around a third depart after GCSEs. Sixth formers to a huge range of different institutions from Russell Group (two-thirds) to modern, including a smattering to Oxbridge over the last few years (two in 2016, plus two medics): broad minded higher education and careers advisor takes huge trouble to guide right student to right course.

Money matters

Academic, music, art, drama and sports scholarships offered – usually 10-30 per cent of day fee. Means-tested bursaries for children of clergy, mostly Anglican but will consider other Christian denominations. Twenty per cent discount for Forces families, discounts for siblings. Church Schools Foundation Assisted Places assessed on a combination of academic ability and financial need, worth up to 85 per cent of fees – offered to those entering in year 7, 9 or sixth form. Short-term emergency bursaries available.

Our view

A forward-looking school with a strong international contingent which is going from strength to strength, benefitting in part from the huge growth of Ashford town. The school has ‘changed beyond belief in the last eight years’ and appeals to a wide range of families with its strong pastoral care and adventurous learning programme.

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Special Education Needs

Learning support is provided to pupils on the basis of individual assessment and need by our own Learning Support Teacher. Where additional support is required, private lessons are arranged with one of our peripatetic teachers. These lessons are charged as an extra.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
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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