Skip to main content

What says..

Bethany is a mainstream school with a specialist learning support department and about 30 per cent receive some sort of help. As part of the wide range of abilities, there are some very bright pupils have floundered elsewhere but thrive in this small nurturing environment. The arts are a particular strength, with a specialised programme for scholars. The music department has been...

Read review »

What the school says...

Children today must be prepared to enter a world of technology and innovation - a world that moves at considerable pace. Bethany School is the perfect environment for your child as he or she journeys through secondary education. With careful nurturing and guidance it is our aim to equip them with the skills, knowledge and confidence that will prepare them for life in a changing world.

The environment at Bethany is that of a vibrant and caring community, which creates a supportive platform from which your child can learn and progress. We encourage each and every child to think critically, question incisively and solve problems with growing independence. Beyond the classroom, we offer a vast array of extra-curricular activities to develop and challenge each pupil. Fun, enthusiasm and adventure are important parts of the Bethany experience.

The happiness and emotional well-being of our pupils lie at the heart of every decision we make.
...Read more

Do you know this school?

The schools we choose, and what we say about them, are founded on parents’ views. If you know this school, please share your views with us.

Please login to post a comment.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2010, Francie Healy. A graduate of Trinity College, he remained in Dublin to teach in an inner-city school before moving to Bethany as a maths teacher in 1989, subsequently progressing to head of IT, director of studies, academic deputy, houseparent then deputy head. He doesn’t, however, plan to stay quite as long as two previous heads who are buried in the grounds!

‘Jovial, upbeat and down to earth,’ according to one mother who didn’t even realise who he was when he first became headmaster. Does two duty days a week and enjoys chatting to pupils in the lunch queue, often joining a table at mealtimes. In fact, he is known for chatting to everyone – ‘sometimes nonsense and sometimes serious,’ laughed a pupil, ‘and he always seems to know what we are doing’. ‘Very visible, friendly and welcoming,’ reckoned a parent; ‘the children love him, even his terrible jokes.’ Discusses GCSE options with pupils before their parents.

Says kindness, tolerance, courtesy and respect are the key values of the school and ‘the child is at the centre of every decision we make’. Believes in looking for the positives even in a negative situation. Children are encouraged to find something they are passionate about and to take part even if they are not very good – small roles can always be found in the school play for enthusiastic actors. ‘If we identify strengths, a child’s confidence will increase. Children must be given strategies to deal with difficult subjects and must be able to see the point of them.’

Lives on site with his wife Frances, who teaches English at the school; they have three adult children. No longer teaches (not enough time) but takes PSHE lessons when he can. Enjoys walking, reading and sport – ‘more watching than playing nowadays,’ especially football as a self-confessed ‘Manchester United nut’.

Entrance

Mostly into years 7 and 9, with all applicants assessed in non-verbal reasoning, reading comprehension, creative storytelling, maths and spelling. ‘Assessments, not tests,’ stresses the head. Maths and English assessments for those going into year 10. All have a ‘chat rather than an interview’ with the head as he believes it’s the best way to learn more about a child and look at the overall picture – ‘Can we do right by this child?’ is at the crux of it, he says. For sixth form entry, applicants need five 4s at GCSE with a 6 in subjects to be studied at A level (with some flexibility); international students sit papers in subjects to be studied at A level. All must submit reports and references from current school and details of any SEN.

Exit

Around a third leave after GCSEs. Some to the grammars they didn’t get into at 11+, others to FE colleges or apprenticeships. About 90 per cent of those staying on go to university. Sussex, Oxford Brookes, Leicester, Nottingham, Queen Mary University of London, Aberdeen and Harper and Keele Veterinary School currently most popular. Variety of subjects – anything from biochemistry to civil engineering and from sports management to computer animation. Several every year to art and drama schools. Very few to Oxbridge. Sometimes a few overseas – most recently to Culinary Arts Academy in Geneva, Switzerland. One or two to degree apprenticeships with numbers increasing each year.

Latest results

In 2023, 33 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 27 per cent A*/A at A level (61 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 32 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 29 per cent A*/A at A level (56 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Bethany is a mainstream school with a specialist learning support department and about 30 per cent receive some sort of help. As part of the wide range of abilities, there are some very bright pupils have floundered elsewhere but thrive in this small nurturing environment.

Twenty subjects offered in sixth form, either A levels or BTECs, including economics, photography, media studies, business studies, drama and politics as well as the traditional subjects. No pressure to take the ‘right’ mix of subjects and pupils are free to take three creative subjects if that is where their strengths lie. The EPQ is also offered.

Twenty-one subjects at GCSE or equivalent including computer science, hospitality and catering and media studies. Science is taught in well-equipped labs and is offered either as a single award or as three separate subjects. The school gets involved in the Big Bang Fair, a STEM-based project, and usually sends a team to the finals in Birmingham – quite an achievement for such a small school. All pupils take food technology in years 7-9 and sixth form offered a cooking course to prepare them for independent living at university. All year 7s are introduced to Mandarin and can continue this as an option – eight to 10 students take Chinese GCSE with impressive results.

Project-based learning in years 7-9 – pupils are divided into groups and given tasks to solve which cover several disciplines. For example, they might be asked to cost, design, make and market a pizza for a blind person. All pupils have laptops and there is a team of technicians to support them.

High expectations from teachers who are used to teaching a range of abilities in a class and can offer different learning styles and different ways of doing things. The staff, many of whom have been at the school for a long time, are a loyal and committed team, we heard. Average class size in GCSE years is 12-13, smaller in sixth form. Setting for core subjects. Progress as well as achievement is celebrated and pupils are encouraged to take risks and make mistakes and to learn from them. Pupils can stay at school to do their homework in the library, a godsend for working parents. Sixth form have their own sixth form centre with dedicated study areas.

Proactive careers department organises an annual careers fair as well as talks from visiting speakers and visits to external careers fairs and events. Much trouble is taken to make sure that the pupils choose the right course for them.

The school was very quick off the mark during the pandemic and face-to-face remote learning was in place from the start, helped by the fact that all pupils were already familiar with Microsoft Teams.

Learning support and SEN

The school has been CReSTeD registered since 1994 and its primary specialism is dyslexia, but learning support is woven into all aspects of school life. Those with mild difficulties have one lesson a week in small groups and those with moderate difficulties have three lessons a week instead of Spanish or French. The school does not give learning support outside lessons because, as one parent put it, ‘The kids work hard and need a break.’ About 25 pupils have EAL support and are taken out of French or Spanish.

The arts and extracurricular

The arts are a particular strength at Bethany, with a specialised programme for scholars. The music department has been been re-energised and about a third of pupils now learn an instrument and music technology is increasingly popular ‘because it is fun’, according to one pupil.

Busy drama scene with annual whole-school and junior plays, as well as GCSE and A level productions and LAMDA exams. New performing arts centre due to be completed in 2024. Performing arts events every half term, both formal and informal, and anyone who wishes can take part. The aim is to bring pupils out of their comfort zone by incremental steps until all are confident to stand up in public. Annual festival of scholars celebrates achievements across the board from drama, music, art, DT, sports and academic, with canapes provided by the food scholars.

Impressive art, with a wide range of options including ceramics, photography (the school has its own dark room) and textiles which are popular with both boys and girls. They take part in thought-provoking art projects like the UN competition on sustainability and climate change and ‘only the rich profit from war’. A number of students move on to top art schools each year. Thriving and well-equipped DT department including a 3D printer, a MIG welder and a small forge. Very enthusiastic teacher who allows pupils to choose their projects – when we visited the A level students were refurbishing a Morris Minor.

Lunchtime and after-school activities every day. ‘Everyone loves activities as they are so much fun,’ our pupils guides told us. Optional for sixth form but most take part. Huge choice from symphony orchestra, chess, life saving, golf, biking in Bedgebury forest, cake decorating, academic enrichment, and the high ropes – the list goes on. Team-building activities across year groups enable different age groups to get to know each other and provides leadership roles for sixth form. They might be asked to prepare a meal or put together a public speaking presentation and it is all about the team and not personal glory.

Bethany is an accredited DofE centre and about 20 pupils achieve gold each year. Extensive programme of international trips and expeditions, including an exchange programme with a school in mainland China, IT trip to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, business studies visit to New York, geography trip to Iceland, art to Rome, as well as adventure holidays to South Africa and the Himalayas.

Sport

Whole-school games afternoon each week as well at least two games lessons and other sports sessions during activities. All have a chance to play in a team, not just the crème de la crème. Although not known as a super-sporty school, Bethany holds its own in matches against other schools and keen hockey players can join the Marden Hockey Club. Good variety of individual sports and school has a climbing wall and new indoor poo,l as well as a dance studio and fitness suite. Pupils increasingly health conscious as they get older and all sixth formers take part in the Body for Life health and fitness programme.

Boarders

Strong family feel throughout the school and no more so than within the boarding community. There are about 45 full boarders who are mainly international or children of ex-pats, as well as 35 weekly boarders and a small number of occasional boarders. No Saturday lessons but a programme of weekend activities and outings. Saturday activities are compulsory for years 7-12 and upper sixth are encouraged to learn to manage their own time in preparation for university.

Four boarding houses including a co-ed sixth form house where all have their own ensuite rooms. Houses all have their own individual styles; they all have kitchens and common rooms and are run by live-in houseparents. Boarders can use some of the school facilities in the evenings and prep is supervised for younger pupils.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1866 by Joseph Kendon, a Baptist minister, the school still has a strong Christian ethos and a resident chaplain but welcomes all faiths and none, with the mantra to treat others as you would like to be treated. Whole-school chapel once a week for each key stage with a headmaster’s assembly and house assemblies and tutor meetings on other days. The school is set on a rambling rural campus three miles from the nearest village and children are ferried to and from school on a network of minibuses from as far afield as Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, Tenterden and King’s Hill.

Each year group chooses a charity to support and raises money throughout the year – the highlight is the whole-school charity walk each September. Pupils also visit old people’s homes and hospices to cheer up residents.

Good food with plenty of choice and a salad bar. The school council is the vector for any complaints and ‘they really do listen’, said our guides. All have to wear uniform until GCSEs and sixth form must dress smartly as if they were going to the office.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘Children feel supported and know who to talk to and staff are genuinely interested in the pupils,’ said one parent. ‘There is a kindness about the school that permeates everything,’ remarked another. All teachers have a pastoral role managed by the head of year who reports to the pastoral deputy head. Twice-daily pastoral meetings continued online during the pandemic in addition to lessons. There is also a school counsellor whose hours can be increased as necessary. All teachers have received training on Everyone’s Invited, mental health first aid and dealing with cyberbullying, and issues are dealt with quickly. Parents and pupils are invited to talks from outside experts. There is a strong community feel and good inter-year mixing, helped by the vertical house tutor groups.

Clear policies implemented swiftly and fairly with a zero tolerance of bullying and a philosophy of ‘punish the act not the child’. Random drug testing is used when appropriate and drugs dogs come in once a term – none have ever been found but it acts as a deterrent.

Pupils and parents

Broad mix of families, many of whom make great sacrifices to send their children here. Parents share the school’s holistic approach and must buy into the philosophy. In a county where the grammar schools cream off the brightest, many parents are attracted by the size and know that their children will be nurtured and supported and their strengths channelled.

Lots socialising among the parents including barbecues, quizzes, the summer fete and the music festival, and there is an active Friends of Bethany School group. Loyal and supportive parent body who say they feel involved, even if sometimes their children receive news and information before they do!

About 10 per cent of pupils are foreign nationals, mainly from Hong Kong, Nigeria, Spain and China. A handful join in years 7 and 8 but the majority arrive in years 10-12.

Money matters

A range of scholarships for entry into years 7, 9 and sixth form valued at between 15 and 25 per cent. Means-tested bursaries of up to 50 per cent for current parents and 30 per cent for new parents. Consideration given to how much a pupil can contribute to or gain from a Bethany education. In addition, there is a 10 per cent fee reduction for children of armed forces families, children of the clergy and siblings of existing Bethany pupils

The last word

A small rural school with a personal touch. While not the obvious choice for academic, confident all-rounders, it caters for all academic levels and particularly suits children who might get lost in the hurly burly of a bigger school. Summed up by one mother who said, ‘I was delighted to find a school where my child is happy at last – once a child is happy everything else follows.’ There are still more boys than girls and although this is evening out in the lower years, it is worth checking with the school about a particular year group.

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

Bethany School runs a mainstream curriculum for all pupils, with a well-incorporated and long established Dyslexia and Learning Support (DLS) department catering for the needs of children of average or above average ability who have dyslexia or similar special needs. Pupils are taught in small groups by specialist teachers. In years 7 - 9 the DLS lessons take place when other pupils are studying French. In years 10 and 11, the lessons take the place of one GCSE option. In the sixth form, individual or paired lessons are arranged during pupils' private study periods. All of our classroom teachers have experience of teaching dyslexic pupils, so the teaching approaches in all lessons are sympathetic to those with dyslexia. At Bethany we are proud of all of our pupils and of the rich contribution they make to the life of the school community.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia Y
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
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

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.