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Bushcraft course at beginning of year 8 when children spend several days camping in the woods. Staff on the look-out for leadership qualities and heads of school and prefects are announced afterwards. Children taught that they are part of a wider community and pupils’ charity committee an important part of school life – ‘it’s not just about raising money; kids spent some time at Age UK drop in centre’. Our guides felt that ‘friendship issues were sorted out quickly’ and they were ‘given more freedom than at other schools and that...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2012 Luke Harrison BA PGCE IAPS. Early 40s. An old boy of the school (along with three other members of staff), he was educated at Tonbridge and St Mary’s College, Twickenham (University of Surrey) where he read English and drama. Did his PGCE at St Luke’s, Exeter with his first job at the Weald of Kent Girls' Grammar, where he met his wife. He then taught English and theatre studies up to A level at Kingston Grammar. Joined Sevenoaks Prep in 2001, as he wanted the opportunity to get involved with all aspects of school life and had a brief to get drama back on track.

Married to Clare, a trained teacher who, among her many roles, is assistant head, in charge of admissions and teaches history to years 7 and 8 – ‘they work well together and are a very effective team,’ according to one mother. They have two daughters in the school. Considers the strong family and inclusive ethos a particular strength of the school and is always available to parents – prefers face to face meetings rather than emails - and will visit families at home if there are problems. High praise from parents, who say he ‘is a good communicator who is highly visible and approachable, and seems to care and understands what parents are looking for, and is open to new ideas’. ‘He knows the kids well and they respect him’. Parents also say he has a ‘great approach’ and they like his philosophy: ‘If a child is happy, everything else follows’ and ‘Kids need resilience, and while success is always celebrated, they must take risks and learn to fail’. ‘He has tightened things up and is on top of things,’ said one mother, but he feels that any changes are ‘evolution rather than revolution’.


Non-selective means a diverse group. Nursery takes children from 2½ years with intakes in Sept and Jan and build up sessions through kindergarten to be ready for full-time school in reception. Four children join in year 3 after a taster day and assessment in English and maths and an hour with the head of learning support. Another intake in year 7, mainly from local primary schools or those returning from overseas. Very rarely are there spaces at other times. Many children's names put down at birth and there are only places in reception if someone leaves. Most from nursery are guaranteed a place as long as the school feels they can cope with the curriculum. The emphasis is very much on ensuring that the school is the right setting for the child. No open days and parents always shown round by pupils ‘so they can see school as it is’. School wants happy parents and families always encouraged to look at other schools in the area before making their decision.


Up to half leave at 11+, mainly to the grammars and some to Sevenoaks. No specific tutoring for 11+ (Kent imposes strict rules against this) but, as well as ongoing maths and English lessons, there is a focus on reasoning skills in year 5. Many get outside tutoring as well. At 13+, alongside Sevenoaks, destinations include Tonbridge, Caterham, Sutton Valence and Eastbourne College.

All pupils are CAT tested and, as one parent commented, ‘the head is very good at helping parents with the choice of senior schools – it is always about what is best for the child’. A good handful of academic and music scholarships each year, including to Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, as well as the occasional art and drama scholarship.

Our view

Founded 1919 with six boys who were too young to attend Sevenoaks Grammar (now Sevenoaks School), the school moved to its present site in the 1960s and went co-ed in 1991. The original building is an old farmhouse just outside Sevenoaks, set in 20 acres of playing fields and backing on to the 1,000 acre Knole Park, which is used for nature walks and cross-country running. No grand central building but well-designed additions over the years including a large sports hall, also used for plays and assemblies, new classroom blocks and the architect-designed light and airy Oakery dining hall with drama and music upstairs. New ‘centenary centre’ currently being built to combine teaching spaces for science, humanities, languages, art, IT and maths, as well as a library. Latest addition is the centenery centre for subjet specialist teaching.

Pre-prep school is a self-contained unit with a warm friendly atmosphere a few minutes’ walk from the prep school and with its own hall, dining room and four new classrooms opened. All teachers and assistants are specialists in early years’ education and work in partnership with parents. One particularly charming touch is the twilight nativity play with live animals.

Children move from the pre-prep into the prep school in year 3 and are taught in year group blocks with their own classrooms; years 3 and 4 have their own playground. Class teaching for core subjects and specialist teaching for drama, languages, music, PE, ICT and games. Specialist teachers for all subjects from year 6, when children start to move classrooms for lessons. French taught from nursery and Spanish from year 6. Normally 20 per class but smaller groups in top two years. Informal setting in class from year 3, setting in maths from year 4 and setting in all subjects from year 7. Potential scholars in years 7 and 8, and those who need stretching, offered special sessions before and after school.

Low staff turnover but enough to ‘freshen things up’ – good combination of consistency and new blood, most in their 30s and 40s; most who teach at the top end of the school are secondary-trained subject specialists. School has introduced Singapore Maths with an emphasis on mental arithmetic. ‘It gives the children a deep understanding and is not just about learning by heart,’ says the very enthusiastic maths teacher who gave us a demonstration. Maths Challenges popular and school does well in inter-school competitions. Geography quizzes each week and children are expected to keep up to date with news and know what is happening in the world. Recently refurbished science lab used by years 6-8 - masses of practical work, and we saw some fine models of energy-saving houses and watched some splendid erupting volcanoes. Emphasis on creativity and fun (but no games) in ICT lessons and children taught coding and programming.

One full-time and one part-time SEN teacher, mainly for mild dyslexia and dyspraxia; support in lessons or small groups and some one-to-one help, but ‘don’t want to make children feel different’. Teachers always on look-out for problems and children screened from reception upwards. EAL offered – children mainly taken out of class and are encouraged to celebrate their own culture and background.

Sport for all and puts out as many teams as possible - rotates players in Cs and Ds to make sure everyone can play in a match. The usual sports: football, rugby, cricket for boys and netball, hockey and rounders for the girls. Judo and fencing also popular and archery offered in years 7 and 8. Gymnastics club set up and lots of children are members of sports clubs outside school. ‘It’s not too competitive, kids want to do well and be part of a team but it’s not all about the glory,’ said one mother.

One hour a week of music for all and most try out an instrument, even if only the recorder or triangle. Vibrant music department with lots going on: rock band, orchestras, string quartet, brass groups and the 80 strong choir. Drama part of the curriculum, annual plays for each year group and all children encouraged to take part.

Good range of lunchtime and after-school clubs include judo, tennis, gymnastics, street dance, fencing and archery. Lots of outings and visits to help bring learning to life with an emphasis on learning through experience – some local and some further afield eg history trip to Bayeaux and the WW1 battlefields and a moving memorial service at Ypres.

Bushcraft course at beginning of year 8 when children spend several days camping in the woods. Staff on the look out for leadership qualities and heads of school and prefects are announced afterwards. Children taught that they are part of a wider community and pupils’ charity committee an important part of school life – ‘it’s not just about raising money; kids spent some time at Age UK drop in centre’. Social entrepreneurship project after common entrance when children are given £10 by the Rotary Club to set up their own business and turn it into £100 or more. They have to design spreadsheets and a business plan.

Strong pastoral support aims to help parents and children alike and all treated with ‘empathy and understanding,’ said one mother. Good food with plenty of choice served in the Oakery dining hall, which was opened by Gary Rhodes and which our guide referred to as the ‘restaurant’. Children sit in year groups with teachers and kitchen staff keeping an eye on healthy eating. Healthy lifestyles encouraged and discussed in lessons and reinforced by helpful messages on the dining room wall.

Top two years help run the school and have different uniforms with badges and ties for positions of responsibility. All year 8s become a prefect at some stage but have to earn their position. Coveted Oak Award given to those who play a particularly active role in the school community. Our guides felt that ‘friendship issues were sorted out quickly’ and they were ‘given more freedom than at other schools and that ‘personal responsibility makes people more organised’. School finishes at 4pm but many opt to stay till 6pm and do supervised prep (wraparound care now also available for nursery and kindergarten pupils till 6pm).

Most families live within about 15 minutes of the school and are mainly commuters, local professionals and medics – some very wealthy, others who require bursaries. Most are incredibly supportive of the school. Increasing number of double income families but also some stay at home dads. About eight per cent foreign nationals. Headmaster says he tries to ‘get away from the elitist feel, and it is the broad spectrum which attracts parents’. ‘A real mixed bag,’ said one parent; ‘all abilities, walks of life and family dynamics.’

Social events committee, with reps from each class, organise coffee mornings and nights out for parents as well as the Christmas bazaar, summer ball and family day – some purely for fun, some to raise money for charity. ‘The school is very supportive of parents and it is a great way to make new friends – we are allowed to picnic in the grounds and use the tennis courts and treat the school as an extension of home.’ Notable alumni include Ian Walker (yachtsman), Mike Conway (racing driver) and Daniel Collings (journalist).

The last word

‘The school is very nurturing and really looks after the kids,' said a parent. ‘It is very inclusive,’ concluded another, ‘and particularly supportive of high flyers and underachievers.'

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