Sevenoaks School A GSG School
- Sevenoaks School
- Head: Dr Katy Ricks
- T 01732 455133
- F 01732 456143
- E firstname.lastname@example.org
- W www.sevenoaksschool.org
- An independent school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 18.
- Boarding: Yes
- Local authority: Kent
- Pupils: 1,069; 352 full boarders; sixth formers: 437
- Religion: Non-denominational
- Fees: Day £21,591 - £24,516; Boarding £34,479 - £37,404 pa
- Open days: 2017: Saturday 17 June, Saturday 16 September, Saturday 18 November
- Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
- Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
- ISI report: View the ISI report
What The Good Schools Guide says..
Visitors might find numbers of events and activities almost overwhelming. Not so pupils, busily adding more, from coding to Middle Eastern Society, at a rate of knots. Others enter – and win - high profile competitions, one group snaffling £15,000 prize after developing app for autistic children. Overdoing things isn’t an issue, they say. Can mean hard choices – some pupils (reluctantly) give up drama in the sixth form, and school keeps watchful eye on the ultra-active...
What the school says...
Sevenoaks School (HMC) is an independent, co-educational boarding and day school, set in 100 acres on the edge of Sevenoaks in Kent.
Founded in 1432, Sevenoaks provides academic excellence with a strong pastoral and co-curricular emphasis and a global dimension inspired by the International Baccalaureate. There are around 1000 pupils, including international students from over 30 countries and about 350 boarders. We are a selective school, and welcome enthusiastic pupils ready to get involved in all the opportunities we offer.
Sevenoaks has a reputation for exploring new ideas. We have taught the IB for 30 years and were the first HMC school to offer the IB Diploma Programme exclusively. Between 30 and 50 students accept places Oxford or Cambridge every year and an increasing number go to American universities.
There is a strong emphasis on the co-curriculum and pupils are also involved in community service. ...Read more
What the parents say...
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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards
- Best performance by Boys taking Chemistry at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
- Best performance by Girls taking Chemistry at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
- Best performance by Girls taking Physics at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
- Best performance by Boys taking Mathematical Studies at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
- Best performance by Girls taking Mathematical Studies at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
- Best performance by Boys taking Geography at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
- Best performance by Boys taking Economics at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
- Best performance by Boys taking Chemistry at an English Independent School (IBO Higher level component)
- Best performance by Girls taking Chemistry at an English Independent School (IBO Higher level component)
- Best performance by Boys taking Physics at an English Independent School (IBO Higher level component)
- Best performance by Boys taking Design & Technology at an English Independent School (IBO Higher level component)
International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.
What The Good Schools Guide says
Since 2002, Dr Katy Ricks, 50s. Previously deputy head at Highgate School and before that posts at other top flight schools - St Edward’s Oxford, where was head of English, Latymer Upper and King Edward’s, Birmingham. Career choice clinched by first teaching role at St Paul’s School for Girls where became clear that that ‘talking to young people about literature’ was going to give her more satisfaction than research.
Elegant with penchant for vivid colours, she lays claim to purple handbag, and pink and grey study described in previous review as ‘minimalist’ (no change there). Married to academic (at King’s College London) and of course vastly intelligent (first from Balliol). Conversation is scattered with quotes - we were treated to Keats and Dr Johnson.
The first woman head in school’s history, has made this the place to be if you’re after consistently top, top IB results (GCSEs are equally amazing). Fiercely proud of the school and bursting with ideas, she’s engaging and charming – and disarmingly open about mugging up on previous Good Schools Guide’s description of her ‘infectious enthusiasm’ and ensuring it came across just as strongly this time round. It did.
Headship is ‘brilliant’, biggest perk being in charge and ‘making things happen,’ she says. Point of education is about ‘letting people feel free to be themselves in the best way that they can,’ and giving them means of creating robust moral and intellectual framework for themselves – qualities enshrined in IB learner profile. Some parents see her as a CEO type rather than a hands on head but pigeonholes are unhelpful, she says. ‘I’m simply myself.’ They describe her as impressive, something she’s aware of though feels ‘completely un-terrifying’.
Pupils, particularly in senior years, say she’s both inspiring and approachable. ‘Barrier is still there but you feel comfortable to talk,’ thought one. Another praised seamless transition from ‘extremely personable’ English teacher to school figurehead as required, though she’s not heavy on the small talk – it’s straight down to business.
Does she feel it’s lonely at the top? Never. ‘In fact,’ she says, ‘bring on the loneliness.’ As to role models? ‘I’m my role model.’
No plans to move – she attributes rumours of itchy feet to sabbatical taken to finish PhD. Here for the foreseeable future - ‘A mover who became a lifer.’ After all, why waste all that accumulated experience? ‘You want to use it, that’s what it’s for … and make it beneficial for everyone else.’
The school feels smiley – and she is a very smiley head. Her pride and excitement in the school permeates the place. We felt it in everyone we met.
Not so much a case of getting down with these kids but scrabbling up to their level. Regardless of mother tongue, notable for gift of gab and desire to avoid muscular Christianity (or contortionist’s pantheism) in favour of secular education that builds curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. They leave, says school with ‘enlarged capacity for independent thought’ – and without, as far as we could see, acquiring swollen heads on the way out. This despite evident brightness starting early, year 7 packed with top of their year types – no surprise given school’s entry criteria: grammar school level or better (possibly a bit OTT, thinks Dr Ricks). ‘Other girls took five lessons to learn something; I took one,’ says typically bright 11 year old. Most pupils find flocking with similar high fliers an easy transition, though brilliance of plumage can be dazzling. ‘It was hard at first,’ said one recent leaver.
Being on the ball essential, what with just 45 minutes for breakfast and dinner (lunch is a more leisurely 90 minutes – though you’ll be packing an activity in as well) and not a place for the vague, thought parents: something that this reviewer, who’d never been whistled round a school with such friendly but single-minded efficiency, or written notes faster, can confirm. Unquenchable sense of purpose the norm. ‘A lot of people had very strong opinions about where they’d be in life in the next five or 10 years time,’ said ex-pupil. (And you can probably assume they aren’t thinking middle rank pootling with safe pension in Basildon).
But while spreading a little zappiness throughout, school doesn’t ramp it up to mind-blowing levels. Don’t sit exams early – why spoil the pleasure of discovery? Staff lay on homework with a light touch rather than trowel - if not necessary, won’t set. While around 10 per cent of pupils have some form of learning need, it’s mild only for dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome and visual impairment. Only exception is hearing impairment.
Curriculum - naturally – is robust. Three sciences from the off, second language added in year 8. Most teaching is mixed ability – maths and languages the exceptions - sometimes adjusted instead for gender balance. For years 10 and 11, formulaic in the sense that these very bright children have only to be shown the way to strings of A*/A grades at GCSE and it happens (92 per cent in 2016). Norm is 10, school teaching own English lit course to avoid dreary staples. (‘Nobody wants to do Lord of the Flies,’ said mother). Ditto for art, music, drama, history of art and technology and critical perspectives course. By sixth form, IB is natural extension of school’s way of thinking, most pupils revelling in mind-stretching approach that’s been their lot so far. It’s about ‘developing brain muscle so can frame an argument,’ said upper sixth English teacher leading typically lively, interactive lesson. Intellectual weightlifting produced 39.8 IB average in 2016.
Maximum class sizes sound large (24 to GCSE, 15 in the sixth form), but average is far lower (16 to age 16, and between eight and 10 in final years), with overall teacher to pupil ratio of one to nine.
Credit to Dr Ricks for staff team so strong that (unusually) parents and pupils couldn’t name a single weak area (inspection accolades agree). ‘Can go away and think about it,’ offered recent leaver. Stable core of middle management reflected in average staff age of 41, with 55 notching up 10 years plus. Inevitable turnover of younger mob to more senior positions elsewhere (around 10 to headships in recent years). Not an issue, think parents, as quality replacements are lining up to take their places (final year Oxbridge undergrad sitting bolt upright in waiting room on day of visit).
Dr Ricks shortlists all staff applications herself, exercising football manager’s eye for talent. Down to being ‘a curious, observant person if you put it nicely or, if you put it nastily, a nosey parker.’ Stand out staff quality she’s after? Personable brilliance. ‘If child was on a bus with this person for two hours, would they enjoy their company and be sparked by it?’
Games, options, the arts
Visitors might find numbers of events and activities almost overwhelming. Not so pupils, busily adding more, from coding to Middle Eastern Society, at a rate of knots. Others enter – and win - high profile competitions, one group snaffling £15,000 prize after developing app for autistic children. Overdoing things isn’t an issue, they say. Can mean hard choices – some pupils (reluctantly) give up drama in the sixth form, and school keeps watchful eye on the ultra-active, though approach, ladling on the encouragement rather than activating the brakes, is distinctly hands off. ‘If you feel you can cope, you probably will,’ says pupil. Latest initiatives are three institutes - teaching and learning, service and entrepreneurship and higher education and professional insight.
Lavish facilities the norm. For sporty, substantial outside spaces supplemented by great indoors of Sennocke Centre – just lapping its three tennis courts, pool and giant sports hall probably enough to meet daily exercise requirements. With some international pupils completely new to team sports, hasn’t been high profile area in the past, though recent successes - U14 hockey and U16 netball teams making national finals – could signal a change, achievements recognised by must-read authority, School Sport Magazine. Individual sports generally more popular - sailing especially so. However, numerous parents and pupils testified to star ratings for CCF, available from year 10, khaki-clad mob milling prior to drilling, rugged in tee shirts despite below zero temperatures on day of visit.
Performing arts impressively housed in The Space, with vast, acoustically advanced theatre that takes staging challenges in stride (pop up orchestra pit for Les Mis a doddle) and umpteen practice rooms for 750 weekly individual lessons. Very talented flourish (conductor Andrew Gourlay is a former pupil) with symphony orchestra, jazz band, gospel choir and song writing groups among many ensembles on offer, though ‘have a go’ spirit sees all abilities from virtuoso to enthusiast rapturously received when take to the stage.
Until eighth boarding house completed, sensible to book your place early – not easy to change to boarding later on and even sixth formers (house captains excepted) share rooms. Not that pupils mind, enjoying companionship and, according to one sixth former, preferring in any case to study in three-level, attractively nook-filled library, which like Sennocke Centre and practice rooms is open late. ‘Less distraction as you don’t have your stuff round you.’
Cleanliness comes as standard (a spot of stuffiness in one bedroom was nothing that open window or two wouldn’t solve), ditto entertainment (TV/DVD, Sky, snooker or table tennis, Wifi) and bulk deliveries of bread, fruit and milk (sensible refrigerated dispensers).
Considerable variation otherwise. Sixth formers have International Centre (boys) and International House (girls). Then there’s Lambardes, vintage low rise 1960s and home to around 20 year 7 and 8 pupils who board only if have older siblings at the school or live just out of comfortable commuting range. In contrast, there’s gorgeous Johnson’s, one of four houses for year 9 to upper sixths, hall all early 20th century Agatha Christie-whodunnit-style fixtures and fittings.
Some non-negotiables. No solo travel to more distant boarding houses regardless of age and, if late, with accompanying teacher. Youngest pupils have phones removed at night to begin with – and at any age if used after lights out (parents predictably thrilled that off this particular hook).
Otherwise, trust and flexibility dominate, from lockers (unlocked) to negotiated later bedtimes for older pupils if vital world events like US election intervene. ‘About compromise,’ says warm houseparent, who teaches ironing and cooking as university preparation, though washing happens, magically, off stage. House rivalry low key to point of invisibility – ‘Children have to compete with the outside world, they don’t need to compete with each other,’ is parent’s take on school’s philosophy.
No them and us between day and boarder, local or international pupils – ‘seamless,’ said pupil of integration between the two (national groups split up, factions/combatants eg Russia/Ukraine brought together). House events include Valentine’s meal (partners can be blind date, same sex, day or boarding pupils – one boy invited his best friend).
Around three-quarters of sixth form boarders stay on at weekends (it’s half or so in other years). Home clothes allowed though if inappropriate will be ‘sent home at the boarder’s own expense…’ (not a regular occurrence).
Sunday excursions enjoyable if not cutting edge (a liking for Lazer quest definitely useful), but a welcome change from frantic pace of life in the week. School prefers parties for younger pupils when hosted out of school to be alcohol-free – and provides useful hints and tips including checking water bottles for vodka - though sensibly stops short of laying down law (impossible to enforce, we’d have thought).
Background and atmosphere
Given awe-inspiring prospectus – fabulously well written, slightly tongue in cheek self praise in vignette form – school could have work cut out just living up to it. For the most part, succeeds – triumphantly, even if tiny imperfections (like smeary bin in visitor’s loo) are the more jarring by comparison. And though it comes with over 500 years of history – was one of the earliest secular school foundations in the country - and literary references in works by everyone from Daniel Defoe to Charlie Higson, isn’t weighed down by it, with plenty of space, physical and philosophical, to let in plenty of fresh thinking and the odd bit of quirkiness.
‘Wonderfully happy location,’ thought pupil. Good for the area, too - Sevenoaks’s biggest employer, owning substantial chunks of the high street (all pupils must use underpass – severe sanctions if they don’t). Waitrose – appropriately – marks the boundary line. Most of 100-acre site, which backs on to Knole House, isn’t visible from the road, though year 7s and 8s initially operate on a smaller scale for registration and break while are finding their way round the school’s ‘…30 buildings, 107 classrooms, 14 sports pitches, 12 lawns, six ponds and thousands of trees.’ Latest planned additions to bump up the numbers will science and technology and IB Global Study centre.
Each modern language merits own room off long corridor, the world in miniature, while English scores paved courtyard with baby olive trees and silver birch – a grove in the making – just needs own Muse. In the meantime, plenty of inspiration from works of art dotted around, many by teachers and former pupils. One orange sculpture is featured in nuts and bolts parent handbook, together with similarly toned handbag. Possible reimagining of lost property cupboard? ‘Probably to give sense of scale,’ thought sensible guide.
All well worth a look given that one talented sixth form artist (product of satisfyingly messy art room, complete with artist in residence and pile of larger than life-size clay busts) recently flogged one of own works for £1,000…
Pastoral care, well-being and discipline
Copers will thrive. ‘You shape up pretty quickly,’ said parent. Big on nurture in year 7 but given pace of life here, in other years best to get with the programme pronto. Plenty of help around. Daily meetings with tutors reckoned to be a good safety net, staff normally quick to respond to parent queries. Counsellor also well used – sometimes making appointments difficult but school is planning more.
Robust but not unkind sanctions – suspended 40 pupils in 2014 for misuse of alcohol on school trip. For drug use, possible that might be allowed back but would have to agree to random testing for remainder of school career.
Commonsense advice issued on everything from pocket money allowance (keep it sensibly low to avoid ‘over-reliance on material goods’ – nice thought though we can’t help wondering if that boat has already sailed – even recent lower school cake sales raised over £1,000) to cases of bullying – rare, according to school surveys, but acknowledged to rear head now and again.
School sensibly quotes examples of nastiness: ‘You’ve got no friends, you’re fat/gay…’ and urges telling at all times. One parent agreed that unkindness happens but room to escape the tormentors helps. ‘You can breathe here,’ thought pupil. Minor problems tend to work themselves out, school on the whole reserving its energies for coping with more serious problems - has fair share of mental illness including eating disorders and self-harm. ‘Very on the ball,’ thought mother.
Parents are also expected to behave. Don’t expect leave to remove children in term time without a very good reason (weddings or funerals might just about hack it but little else). And as for taking unilateral decisions to run holiday of lifetime into first few days of term? No way. ‘School holidays are fixed at the absolute maximum consistent with good learning,’ says school. In contrast, an empty school is the goal at exeat weekends though pupils ‘in real need’ can stay.
One parent felt that a bit more approachability ‘would make it a better place for parents and allow better communications.’ Emails felt by several to be a bit too abundant (about 10 a week, more at start of term, thought parent) and hard to prioritise. Rethink is underway, says school.
Pupils and parents
Has always been cosmopolitan, first international pupil arriving in the 18th century. Currently international 175 pupils from Australia to Azerbaijan, Serbia to Singapore, Malaysia to Moldova – greater proportion further up the school, plus 70 expat families. Walls of vast dining hall serving quality food that even Italian tour guide, initially sceptical, was happy to endorse, decorated in a sea of flags representing every pupil nationality.
Sizeable numbers of local-ish families (Kent, Sussex and accessible bits of Surrey plus some Londoners). Can join popular parents’ choir. Friends’ organisation, recent innovation, going great guns with monthly drinks and cultural excursions.
Some parents reckon that small proportion of pupils – Londoners in particular - afflicted by sense of entitlement. Absolutely not, we were told, indignantly. ‘We’re grounded, also there’s so much cultural diversity.’ School’s down-to-earth outreach programme (two pupils diligently sorting stock in local charity shop, medics putting in time at local school for the disabled) doubtless helps.
At 11+, 80 places, same number again at 13+. For year 7 place, entrance tests in maths, English and VR, references, interviews and reports. Numerous feeders including Granville School, St Michael’s School, Sevenoaks Prep, Holmewood House, Solefield School, Walthamstow Hall Junior School, New Beacon, Russell House, Amherst Junior School, Derwent Lodge, Blackheath Prep, Hazelwood, Hilden Grange, Yardley Court, Dulwich (DPSC), Cumnor House and Vinehall. Rumour that state school entrants may be favoured if tie break for a place.
Applicants for 13+ entry take maths, English and VR tests in year 7, plus 40 minute group interview and reference. Unconditional offers made in June of year 7; high-fliers invited to take scholarship exam in May of year 8. Those at prep schools asked to aim for 70 per cent at common entrance (used for setting purposes). For sixth form entrance, when another 75-80 pupils taken in, tested in three proposed IB higher level subjects plus maths and English if not native language (high levels of fluency essential though can offer a session a week to 10 pupils needing short term boosters).
Vast majority (over 95 per cent) stay on into sixth form. Count down to UCAS form completion handled extremely well with teachers pitching their own degree subjects. Also ‘how to’ personal statement talks, coaching for US SAT tests and support if predicted grades don’t work out quite as planned – school has talked near misses on to foundation places at desired uni.
Many offers from highly prestigious unis here, there and everywhere – 10 to 15 per cent to US, Canada currently very popular, few to anything other than Russell Group or top international equivalents. ‘Work really hard to support them, in the end it’s what you pay them for,’ said parent. As a result, destination list tends to resemble a global best of higher education list, 29 Oxbridge places in 2016 plus Ivy League, McGill (Canada), Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Hong Kong, ETH Zurich, University of St Gallen, Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, teamed with list of solid gold subjects (sciences in abundance, 14 medicine and vet science places in 2016).
At least five full bursaries at 11+ (may trickle up to year 9 if funds permit), some partial bursaries and offer of temporary support if difficult times strike existing pupils. Scholarships of up to 10 per cent.
Exhilarating, immersive education that’s ideal for intellectually voracious, organised, go-getting types. Less so for those in search of a more gentle voyage of self-discovery.
Special Education Needs
The school believes that the community is enriched by its ability to attract a variety of pupils, with varied talents and backgrounds. Being an academically selective school, we aim to attract applicants of high academic ability who are willing to be involved in the wider life of the school. The school is only able to admit those for whom the school’s resources, reasonably adjusted where appropriate, would be able to secure academic success and educational fulfilment. Parents are encouraged informally to discuss the feasibility of their child attending Sevenoaks with the Director of Admissions, the Sixth Form Registrar or the Pastoral Deputy Head. 10-09
|Condition||Provision for in school|
|ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder|
|Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders|
|CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia|
|English as an additional language (EAL)|
|Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory|
|Has SEN unit or class|
|HI - Hearing Impairment||Y|
|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|
Careers intervention used by this School
|Future Foundations||McKinsey Leadership Academy: practical work skills, networking, leadership etc etc|
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