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Exceptionally warm and caring - the kind of school where teachers know your child even if they don’t teach them. There are 26 grammars within a 25-mile radius so the last thing anyone around here needs is more of the same. Instead, King’s raison d'être is catering for a wide range of academic ability from average to Oxbridge, though a few parents felt ‘it’s probably not the first choice for the super academic’ and head says he’d ‘like to see more...

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What the school says...

The overwhelming characteristic of King’s Rochester is its warmth and friendliness, nestled in in the beautiful cathedral precinct of historic Rochester. As the Good Schools Guide says: “A tangible sense of community where everyone knows each other well...”

Founded in 604AD, King’s is the second oldest school in the UK and the world’s oldest Cathedral Choir School. It has evolved into an outstanding 21st century day and boarding co-educational School for ages 3 to 18. Located in North Kent, just 38 minutes by train from London, it benefits from high-speed services from St Pancras and direct services from Victoria and Charing Cross.

King’s Rochester has a strong reputation for maximising the potential of pupils. A wide ranging curriculum, and extensive co-curricular programme, allows greater choice for GCSE and A level options. In 2018, pupils achieved outstanding results at GCSE and a fifth of students achieved straight A*/A grades at A Level, securing them places at top universities, and scholarships to prestigious colleges.

King’s prides itself on knowing all students very well: pastoral care and links with parents and guardians have been graded as ‘Excellent’ in all inspections and it is this strength that makes King’s such a distinctive place to be.

We believe that independent thinking and a love of learning are just as important as great grades. To achieve this, we keep our class sizes small so that teachers know their pupils as individuals and can help each of them flourish. We encourage pupils to establish interests that stay with them for life, as well as learning the skills that will make them stand out in a fast-changing world.

Music is a huge strength and we are privileged to use Rochester Cathedral as our chapel. We hold seasonal concerts throughout the year in the Nave and the Cathedral Choristers are educated in our Preparatory School. Music Scholars go on to leading international conservatoires. Recent pupil success includes the BBC Young Chorister of the Year and an Oliver Award, and our brass section was commended by Julian Lloyd Webber.

Under the refurbished Vines Church is our Drama studio, equipped with digital sound and lighting. We are a proud RSC Associate School and our pupils have staged productions of Julius Caesar at the Marlowe Theatre and Macbeth at Dover Castle. King’s has a strong reputation for exceptional drama performances and recent productions of “Into the Woods” and “Les Miserable” have been in comparison with the West End.

Our coaches and many of our pupils play at County, National and International level. The King’s Rochester Sports Centre provides pupils with extensive facilities to train, in addition to playing fields, a heated indoor swimming pool and boat house, while the Paddock is regarded as one of the finest cricket fields in the country. All pupils play for a variety of games team and fixtures are held throughout the year.

The boarding community at King’s reflects the personal approach of the school. Boarding starts from age 11 and we have 65 beds across our two Boarding Houses, “St Margaret’s House” for girls and “School House” for boys. The small boarding community ensures a real family feel to both Houses which are comprised of both British and international students.

King’s Rochester is truly a community which enables individuals to flourish.
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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.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal of King's Rochester and Headmaster of the Senior School

Since April 2019, Ben Charles BA PGCE (40s). Previously second master (senior deputy head) at Portsmouth Grammar. He has been director of music at Chigwell and Millfield, and joined Portsmouth as deputy head in 2009. Music degree from Exeter and PGCE in music from Durham. As an experienced choral conductor and singer joining this most traditional of schools, you’d think his first public solo in the cathedral to parents and pupils would be suitably highbrow but ‘in fact, he burst into song with Reach for the Stars accompanied by a pupil on the banjo – it was epic,’ a pupil told us. Worked a treat at breaking the ice and making his mark and, given his quite reserved persona, must have knocked his audience for six. Has also won brownie points among pupils for introducing birthday teas (tea and cake in his office in your birthday month) and team of the week awards (‘for effort, not achievement, so the last winner was a hockey team, even though they lost the game - brilliant,’ said our guide). ‘The future will be rosy in his hands,’ thought a parent. ‘He’s young and modern, but not too young and modern.’ ‘It sounds silly, but I love the fact that he brought in a tiddlywinks competition – my son isn’t at all sporty and he just loved that.’ A head, it seems, who is full of surprises.

Save for a short-lived flirtation with the idea of a singing career, he only ever wanted to go into teaching. ‘Where else can you incorporate sport, drama and music into your working day and make a real difference at the same time?’ he says, reflecting his firm belief that learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom (has recently introduced drama and sport scholarships on the back of it). Doesn’t teach but plans to. Mammoth consultation of governors, pupils, parents and staff has culminated in some serious strategising with aims here and strands there, all of which trip off his tongue at record speed (the short version is that parents can expect the prep and senior to feel more seamless, as well as seeing more co-curricular, a bigger emphasis on wellbeing and outreach work and tapping into alumni, among other things).

Lives on site with wife Helen, also a teacher but currently taking time out to care for their three young children, the eldest of whom is at the pre-prep; he also has an older son from a previous marriage. He's a huge sports fan, particularly offering support to teams from his native city of Leicester. Also enjoys concerts and reading – currently dipping into four books (a good sign that he’s a multitasker): Bill Bryson’s The Body, a James Bond by Ian Fleming, a comedy by David Mitchell and a classic William Boyd.

Academic matters

There are 26 grammars within a 25-mile radius so the last thing anyone around here needs is more of the same. Instead, King’s raison d'être is catering for a wide range of academic ability from average to Oxbridge, though a few parents felt ‘it’s probably not the first choice for the super academic’ and head says he’d ‘like to see more aspirational thinking across the board’.

In 2019, 44 per cent 9-7 at GCSE. Art, music and English do very well. At A level, 31 per cent A*/A at A level (58 per cent A*-B), with particularly pleasing results in economics, DT, English and music. Strong on value added. Setting in maths, English and science. Pupils choose from French, Spanish or German (German is most popular as they learn it in nursery), with around half taking a modern language at GCSE. Small numbers do Russian. PE, classical Greek and Russian are among other subjects offered at GCSE and all take RS. DT, art and music are popular; IT numbers also expected to pick up thanks to new head of digital learning. Economics, government and politics and fine art feature in the 24 A level offerings and school won’t shy away from running a class for as few as three pupils – timetabling logistics must be a military operation. A quarter to a third do EPQ and school is currently working on developing its own equivalent – ‘research is key for university entrance,’ insists head. Watch this space too for a shift from all A level diet to the addition of a few vocational qualifications in sixth form.

Thumbs up from pupils for small class sizes (20 max for GCSE, 15 for A level), dedicated teachers (‘they really care’) and what they feel to be the strongest departments of economics, English and art. But universal thumbs down (and this goes for parents too) for the science department (dogmatic textbook teaching where you regularly have to stifle yawns, we gathered).

Classrooms, labs and other work spaces all fit for purpose but charming, tucked away library is depressingly under-utilised. Pupils told us, ‘Nobody really wants to bother with the walk,’ and ‘No teacher ever encourages you to go’. One even confided that she didn’t know there was a library ‘until I’d been at the school for a whole year’. Advice for university and beyond has been beefed up and is seriously good. We saw sixth formers working intently in a CV writing clinic and alumni are increasingly involved in providing advice, mentoring and work experience to current and former pupils, as well as help with interview practice and technique.

Team of qualified SEN teachers – mainly for mild dyslexia, although school accommodates those with greater needs where possible. Pupils assisted both in class and through withdrawals. ‘I’m dyslexic and got English intervention instead of having to do German and lots of support to get things like extra time in exams,’ a pupil told us, though one parent wasn’t convinced the support was quite up to scratch: ‘They’re left to their own devices a lot more than I’d have expected and it’s in stark contrast to the prep.’ Dedicated staff members available for EAL.

Games, options, the arts

Introduction of sports scholarships is reflective of school’s growing commitment to sport. Young, dynamic head of sport considered a great asset, but some facilities – notably the Alps sports fields and pavilion, a five minute walk away – are in need of an upgrade. King’s Rochester Sports Centre with adjoining Holcombe Hockey Club is a 10-minute walk or short minibus ride from the school. Free membership for King’s parents and open to the general public too. Strong on team sports – core offerings are hockey and cricket plus rugby for boys and netball for girls. Long success in cricket, with usually at least one match a day being played on the school field. U15 hockey team remains unbeaten and netball gets increasingly good results. Small size of school means most pupils get a chance to play fixtures. ‘My son’s in the fourth team and manages to get regular matches because they’re good at finding other schools with B to D teams,’ added a parent, although one felt the sport ‘is more geared towards boys’. Rowing from the school's own boathouse on the Medway near Maidstone – 18 boats and five large canoes. Swimming popular in 25m indoor pool, as is cross country. School very supportive of outside achievements eg many pupils represent Kent in cricket, play rugby through Saracens. And if you don’t like sport? ‘There’s no getting away with standing at the back trying not to get noticed, but not in a bad way – they really want to get you to like it,’ said a pupil. And anyway, there’s always the headmaster’s tiddlywinks.

A thirst for music is contagious here, even when it comes to hymn singing, say pupils – ‘you mumble them under your breath when you join, but by upper years everyone loves getting stuck in,’ said one. The prep is a cathedral school so the choristers (age 8-13) are part of the school and the chapel is Rochester Cathedral. Choir trips all over the place and they had just made a CD when we visited. About half learn at least one instrument, several up to grade 8, and there are plenty of choirs, orchestras and ensembles, a wind and jazz group. When we visited, a few pupils were in the Kent County Youth Orchestra, one was in the National Youth Orchestra, three were in the National Training Choir, one played in the Junior Guildhall every Saturday and a number go on to study music most years, two recently to conservatoires (Guildhall and Birmingham Conservatoire). All classical, although head is keen to shake things up a bit to expand the contemporary offering which currently includes the popular termly open mic night and even more popular annual house music competition.

Pupils we met reckon ‘it’s the best art department in the country’ and although that may be stretching things a bit far, it’s bloomin’ good, with photography, sculpture and fine art offered – product design particularly popular and pupils often go on to art college. Facilities are spacious and well equipped and there are plenty of exhibition-worthy pieces lining the walls to inspire (or intimidate). Our favourites included a huge black canvas with floating pink cuboids and a remarkably good self portrait done with oils and pallet knife (more great examples to be found in the head’s office). No shortage of freedom of expression, then, and the head of art prides himself on not even knowing the exam board syllabus – ‘I know how to teach them how to be artists and designers, embedding a firm foundation of skills, then I let them fly’.

One major drama production per year – alternates between a musical (eg Titanic) and a more serious play (eg Macbeth). Plus plenty of smaller ones – for instance, sixth formers recently performed a re-contextualised version of Jane Eyre. One pupil, who was about to embark on her LAMDA grade 8, couldn’t get enough of this department, literally leaping to the middle of the blackened studio and talking us through a flip chart that she’d used in her last lesson to produce and perform a short piece about bipolar. ‘The teaching is so good – they really spend time on the techniques, then let you run with it, keeping a watchful eye,’ she said.

Clubs a bit thin on the ground unless you’re musical or sporty, according to parents (pupils we met reckon they’re too busy for them anyway), although debating and chess are popular and ballet gets take-up throughout the school, some up to grade 8. No student led clubs, though, or a single society. Lots of trips and outings, open to all – we loved that our guide was going on a classics trip to Rome and Pompeii ‘even though I haven’t done classics in years’. Ski trip sells out ‘within about 20 minutes’.

DofE popular and 10-15 do gold each year. CCF offered in all three services - compulsory for the first two years and many keep going. A charity is chosen by pupils each year, currently a local children’s hospice, for which impressive amounts of fundraising are achieved – and there are plenty of other good works, eg upper sixth boys had done Movember, raising £2k for men’s charities.

Boarders

Capacity for 65 boarders – 24 girls in St Margaret’s, an attractive white Tudor home in the grounds of the prep (although only just over half full currently); the rest, all boys, in School House, a refurbished Victorian redbrick about a 10-minute walk away nearer the senior school campus. About half come from overseas – some 14 different nationalities, although Chinese dominates, and school admits there is ‘work to be done on integration’. Start off in small dorms (three max in boys; two max in girls), and sixth form and most of fifth form have their own room with ensuite bathroom. Girls and boys eat and do weekend activities together, but otherwise keep to their separate houses. Each run by resident housemistress/master and house tutors, at least one of whom is also a resident.

Both are homely, with two common rooms in the girls’ house and three in the boys’ – handy if older ones want to watch a 15 rated movie. School sports facilities available every evening. Always something organised at weekends eg shopping, theatre, London Eye, ice skating, Go Ape, go-karting. Some have a more personalised timetable eg one girl does riding, another tennis lessons.

Mobile phones allowed, but not during prep and handed in at bed time (except for sixth formers); wifi stops at 11pm. Youngsters taught how to wash up, sew, use washing machine etc – all good practice for uni, with girls’ house hoping to soon get a hob and oven so they can add cooking to the list. Food unpopular – ‘When we say we want better food, they give us fancy stuff that reads like some ridiculous Parisian menu, but we just mean we want the classics like spag bol done well,’ said one pupil – although the menu we saw looked appetising with everything from curry to fish and chips to pork chops.

Background and atmosphere

‘The whole thing’s nuts – it’s absolutely wonderful,’ exclaimed the head, producing a recent photo of senior pupils dressed to the nines in all the regalia they dig out for high days and holidays – various coloured gowns, silk scarfs, ties, boaters and even canes, according to their specific leadership roles. Like the head, you get the impression pupils don’t take it too seriously (who could?) but they lap it all up nonetheless, with our guides taking time to explain it all in great detail. Bottom line is they are fiercely proud of being part of a school with such history and that forms such a central part of the community.

Part of the Foundation of Rochester Cathedral, the school was founded in 604 AD at the same time as the cathedral and re-founded under Henry VIII in 1541 when the monastery at Rochester was dissolved. Right next door is the Norman castle and Charles II spent his first night in England at Restoration House on his return in 1660, while Queen Elizabeth I is rumoured to have stayed at Satis House (now the school administration building). In total, there are a whopping 26 buildings (we were glad we wore flats) from the medieval cathedral to Georgian, Victorian and 21st century, with St Margaret's Street running down to the high street. An unexpected and peaceful oasis in the middle of the bustling Medway towns. One of the few co-ed independent schools in Kent which offers a seamless education from 3-18 years.

There’s plenty of the traditional – standing up in class when we walked in (well, sometimes), calling teachers sir and miss, no trousers for girls and ‘absolutely no dodgy haircuts’ (as one parent put it). But overall, it feels a forward looking school and there’s certainly no shying away from dealing with modern day challenges - we walked in on not one but two PSHE classes on porn.

‘More healthy food please!’ is not a plea we hear too often in schools, but it’s loud and clear among pupils here, who say healthy options not only cost more but are few and far between in both Bob’s café and the refectory. ‘And please can they go cashless!’ add parents. Grumbles too about lack of lockers. Surprisingly few moans about the sixth form common room, though, which is basically a bog-standard computer room with nowhere to chill out.

Former pupils known as Old Roffensians and are hugely supportive. They go on to follow a variety of careers and include surgeons, musicians, authors, artists and poets. Alumni include Prof Sir Derek Barton, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, John Gummer, former Conservative cabinet minister, Pete Tong, Radio 1 DJ and Matthew Walker, professional cricketer.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Exceptionally warm and caring - the kind of school where teachers know your child even if they don’t teach them. Concerns are shared quickly among staff and pupils look after each other too, including those in prep – our sixth form guide did weekly peer mentoring there. Size of school helps (‘means you pretty much know everyone’), as does vertical house system (two boarding houses, plus four day houses, although one girl boarder felt a bit short changed on eg sports day and house music, with a mere 14 in her house). Strong Christian ethos; the cathedral is the centre of school life and the service held four mornings a week is a period of quiet reflection before the day begins. But all faiths and backgrounds welcomed and pupils said, ‘it’s even fine to be atheist, you just have to respect the religious traditions’. Chaplain trained as an independent listener and there’s a visiting counsellor, although shame it costs extra (means pupils can never self-refer). Mental health training for all staff. If there are difficulties at home, pupils can come and board for a bit to take the pressure off.

Pupils and parents

Over half of parents are first time buyers, although conversely there’s a number of families where several generations have been King’s educated. Not a wealthy area and many make huge sacrifices to send their children here. Lots are dual income. Parents and pupils are down to earth and grounded, with a refreshing lack of sense of entitlement. Accents far from affected. While not unworldly exactly, there’s a charming naivety and wholesomeness about the pupils – you get the sense they are allowed to be children, yet they also thrive on the independence they get from navigating a school based in the heart of a city. Some come from the Medway towns and villages, others as far as SE London and Bromley, Whitstable, Sevenoaks and Maidstone. ‘I travel an hour to get here,’ we heard from several pupils; parents must be grateful for the high speed train and extensive minibus service. Good ethnic diversity, largely thanks to the international contingent. Parents say they feel involved but some say communications from the school could be better.

Entrance

Broad ability intake but children are expected to be able to take nine/10 GCSEs and three A levels (a few do four). Almost all move up from the prep school where summer exams are taken mainly for setting purposes. Entry from other schools at 13+ via common entrance or school’s own tests; pretesting in year 6 now also available. Occasionally spaces in year 10. For entry into sixth form, candidates need five GCSEs at grade 5 or above and 6+ in subjects to be studied at A level.

Exit

About 20 per cent drop out rate post GCSEs (reasons are mainly financial, seeking more vocational courses or they just want a change); most places are filled by external applicants. After sixth form, vast majority to university. Durham, St Andrews, Exeter, Bristol and Coventry currently popular, with others to Bournemouth, Brighton, Hull, Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton. Hardly anyone does the same course, although music production, ancient history, archaeology and art are trending. Two to Oxbridge in 2019, plus one vet.

Money matters

Offers sports, academic, music (including organ) and (most recently) drama and art scholarships worth up to 30 per cent of fees which can be topped up with means-tested bursaries up to 75 per cent of fees. Discounts for clergy, Forces families, siblings and staff. Head adamant not to increase fees – ‘I’m keenly aware of how hard people work to send their children here.’

Our view

An antidote to the plethora of Kent grammar schools, this is a non-selective school with a warm family feel and an excellent pastoral and spiritual backdrop. Located in the shadows of the cathedral, it’s a special place to grow up and seems to inspire lifelong loyalty among pupils.

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

King's School is co-educational with selective entry and a wide range of ability. It is the School's avowed aim to satisfy the educational needs of all the children on the roll, regardless of ability. As part of this responsibility, we seek to identify children with special needs and to make suitable provision for them. 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
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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