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Parents say school does an ‘amazing job in supporting not just the child but the whole family’. ‘They go above and beyond’ and will ‘call out of school hours to check-in, to check parents are ok too,’ said one parent. ‘They genuinely care’. This extends to staff who, on a recent INSET day, made time for a walk in Knole Park. Every part of the school and grounds has pastoral care at its heart – for example...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2012, Luke Harrison BA (University of Surrey) PGCE (St Luke’s, Exeter) IAPS, previously teacher at Sevenoaks Prep (since 2001). He has also taught at Weald of Kent Girls’ Grammar (where he met his wife, Clare, now head of admissions and pro-active presence at the school) and at Kingston Grammar. A former pupil of the school.

Parents like that he’s always there at drop off and pickup, ‘an invaluable time to share information or raise concerns.’ They also praise his ‘openness,’ ‘honesty,’ ‘depth of knowledge,’ ‘expertise’ and ‘experience’. One told us, ‘He doesn’t hide behind emails,’ preferring to have a phone call or face-to-face meeting. ‘Someone you could go out for lunch or a drink with,’ reckoned another - and his relaxed, yet assured, nature certainly makes him good company. A ‘hands on’ approach, we also heard – perhaps helped by his love of drama. Staff feel inspired and empowered, telling us he ‘leads by example,’ and has made the senior leadership team more visible. This supports his non-authoritarian ethos and his desire to lead in a more ‘collegiate’ way. His gauge of success in leadership is ‘if it functions without me.’

While he would be well within his rights to blow his own trumpet, he actually has refreshing humility. He is keen to share ideas and resources with local schools, while students value his focus on relationship building – an ethos instilled by the school’s ‘Way of Life’ philosophy (a Tao of 10 ‘I ought to’ statements) - evident throughout school life. He could, in fact, be the poster boy for ‘The Way of Life’ – although we’re not sure he’d like the attention! Says he doesn’t compare the school to other schools or aspire to be like them. Also questions the notion of reaching ‘potential,’ preferring to encourage children ‘to become the best version of themselves’.

His electric guitar isn’t collecting any dust in his study and he’s eager for students to have a go if they express an interest. Exams were in progress close to his study, so we were unable to hear a rendition of ‘Take it Easy’ (he is an Eagles fan). Students say his Adele performance in last years’ Prep Idol ‘was great fun’.

Entrance

Main entry points: nursery, kindergarten, reception and year 7. Places are oversubscribed - names down at birth. Academically non-selective, but with taster days and informal assessment at all entry points ‘to ensure children can cope with curriculum.’ School prefers to meet prospective parents individually for a guided tour rather than through open days.

Exit

There’s a wealth of excellent schools in the area – students headed off to around 24 of them. Just over a third leave at 11+, approximately half of these to grammar schools (though note there’s no formal preparation for this in Kent schools and many parents organise tuition); the rest to local independent schools and overseas. Remainder leave at 13+, mainly to Sevenoaks, Caterham, Sutton Valence, Walthamstow Hall, Woldingham and Tonbridge. Others to Brighton College, Hurstpierpoint College, and even The Sylvia Young Theatre School. Parents say head’s experience and knowledge of the pupils means that he guides them to find the best fit and will visit schools further afield if required.

Our view

Nestled alongside the 1,000-acre Knole Park and set in 25 acres of playing fields, the original farmhouse is joined by spacious classroom blocks, dining room and impressive facilities for music, drama and sport (including large sports hall). Complete with a living wall, the school feels very much as though it belongs to the Kent’s landscape.

The pre-prep – which parents describe as being full of ‘joy’ - has a homely feel, with original quirks of an older building. The warren-like stairs and corridors lead to the upper level which houses what we thought was the best classroom in the school, with its dual aspect windows overlooking the grounds. Here, we were welcomed by the head of pre-prep (wearing a very snazzy Christmas bow in her hair - our visit coincided with festive headwear day!). The vibe throughout was calm busyness, with children moving freely between outdoors and indoor workstations. Reception and years 1 and 2 get specialist teaching (by prep school teachers and in the prep side of the school) in art, music, IT, science and PE. We noticed an eye-catching display of pasta dinosaur skeletons done by pre-prep children. Top Table Awards are celebrated for achievements like ‘choosing food never tried before’ – staff sit with children at lunch so can notice these small but significant details. Getting outdoors is in the DNA of pre-prep where ‘splash bottoms’ or ‘splashies’ are as much part of the uniform as the Sevenoaks Prep tie. Parents appreciate the large outside area with raised planting beds in addition to an allotment.

Years 3 and 4 use a dedicated adventure playground - an important part of the transition into prep where academics get more serious. Maths set in year 3 and all other subjects in year 7. Spanish joins French on curriculum from year 6. Specialist classrooms for years 6, 7 and 8. Historically, very low staff turnover but since the pandemic, plenty of new staff creating a healthy balance in experience and freshness. Head believes that staff should be ‘entertainers’ and we saw this for ourselves in a year 8 science class where pupils were on the cusp of discovering the secrets to fermentation with the help of a balloon! Waiting patiently for them to inflate over the test tubes - and unpicking why some were slow-burners and others peak too early - was clearly great fun. Recently, as part of a STEAM project, a racing driver alumnus visited and explored how Formula 1 is addressing sustainability and gender equality.

In English, students have the freedom to take a multi-media approach alongside traditional essay writing. Last year a student recorded an interview with a war poet. But it’s maths that students pull out as the most ‘fun’ subject, saying they are also encouraged to ‘take risks’. That there’s often ‘more than one way to arrive at the same answer,’ pointed out one. ‘Digital creativity’ very much part of the curriculum - last year, four students reached the second round of the Bebras Computer Challenge. Logical thinking in pre-prep and coding clubs are popular.

A calm, pleasing SEN room for group and individual support is in the main building; the ‘Willow Room’ is in pre-prep. Parents say there is ‘thinking outside the box’, for example ditching the weekly spelling test for some to make time for ‘word study’ instead. Parents value the ‘honest an open conversations’. The new SENCo believes that ‘in an ideal world no one would be in here’ and works towards more inclusion, upskilling staff to enable this.

‘Physical literacy’ and developing a ‘good relationship with fitness for life’ are school buzz-phrases. While ‘you’ve always got the buy-in from the sporty kids,’ the mission here is to extend this to all. A revamped curriculum, with the inclusion of minority sports, has almost doubled the amount of PE and games time for prep. Team fixtures: girls’ hockey and netball; boys’ football and rugby. Mixed cricket in the summer. Girls’ rugby and football available as clubs. Considering Knole Park on the doorstep, it would seem almost rude not to do cross country - and the school has fervently embraced this (it hosts the annual Thomas Trophy for over 300 runners from 15 independent and state schools). What the school lacks in sports facilities (notably a pool and hockey Astro – children currently travel to Hollybush by minibus for the latter), ‘it gains in enthusiasm,’ say parents and doesn’t distract from high achievement. Pre-prep head, also an experienced swimming teacher, particularly values swimming: lessons begin in reception and years 1 and 2 swim all year round, culminating with a year 2 swimming gala. One parent was particularly impressed with the approach towards a reluctant swimmer, saying that the school’s input ‘turned it around’.

A range of instrumental lessons on offer. There are two orchestras: the Acorn (beginners) and the school orchestra (grade 2+). Main choir with up to 50 members, plus a chamber choir for older ones, and staff choir (going ‘full-on Bublé’ for this year’s carol concert). ‘The children are learning to be musicians not just learning music,’ the music teacher told us. The creative arts faculty is well resourced - perhaps not ideal that music and drama share the same room, but there are plans to address this. Infectious enthusiasm and the encouragement to ‘just try it’ almost saw us heading straight back to the head’s office to have a go on that electric guitar! In drama, every child participates in at least one production a year. We watched an engaging rehearsal for the upcoming ‘The War of the Worlds’.

Superb art, with well-resourced, well-used and spacious studio. We watched a year 5 class working on their totem poles, evaluating their group pieces. The collaborative spirit of the school was summed up when we asked a pupil what they would have done if they didn’t all agree - ‘Together we would have made it work,’ they decided.

Significant roles and responsibilities from year 8. Students organise house competitions, engaging the younger children and creating a healthy competitive spirit. Very popular auditions for the house choir competition where ‘anything goes’ – these auditions resemble the ‘X Factor’, we were told. Prefects lead for everything from eco committee (recently awarded the Eco School Green Flag with distinction) to wellbeing. Active school council - students feel suggestions are given consideration: ‘Mr Harrison hasn’t actually said no to a school dog… yet.’

Decent vegetarian pie, one of three options, served at lunch alongside a fresh and vibrant salad bar. Children’s suggestion for improvement: ‘to have background music’. Parents recently appreciated samples given out at a recent school pickup - the courgette cake was a hit.

From pre-prep up to year 6, pupils get one lesson per week in Forest School - several tinies couldn’t wait to tell us about their magic soups and willow stars. It is a perfect platform for resourcefulness: willow needs coppicing locally, so it’s repurposed here; the last of the bumper crop of pumpkins from the allotment assigned to potions in the mud kitchen. Bushcraft week at the beginning of year 8, a practical embodiment of ‘The Way of Life’

PTA has an active core, organising social and fundraising events to engage the whole community (Grandparents Day included). Issues or comments raised in the online parent form are followed up quickly, we heard. Busy car park is an example – resolved by staggering pick-up and drop-off. The ‘contentious issue’ of food has been addressed by the recent formation of a Food Committee (involving staff, pupil and parent reps).

Parents say school does an ‘amazing job in supporting not just the child but the whole family’. ‘They go above and beyond’ and will ‘call out of school hours to check-in, to check parents are ok too,’ said one parent. ‘They genuinely care’. This extends to staff who, on a recent INSET day, made time for a walk in Knole Park. Every part of the school and grounds has pastoral care at its heart – for example, after we dodged the impressively civilised Nerf War lunch club and walked past a game of footie, we noticed the bird hide on the edge of the wood: ‘A quiet space to just sit, listen and watch’.

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries available.

The last word

No school motto, but this isn’t a school that needs a label. Standing confidently as one of the champion trees in the area but set apart by its integrity and humility, it has also managed to inject the fun back into learning through energetic and inspiring teaching.

Special Education Needs

Who came from where


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