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Kent College, Pembury

What says..

There is an ethos of industriousness, collaboration and celebrating individual talents within the creative arts. Our guides were bursting with pride about friends’ achievements. The Countess of Wessex 200-seat theatre sees some serious action with two slick productions a year – some of them double cast from senior and junior for maximum participation and ‘all-hands-on-deck’. We observed dance showcase preparations, where...

 

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What the school says...

Kent College ensures every student succeeds above and beyond their potential, as shown by our outstanding value-added results which place us as one of the top schools in the country. Both academically and creatively (in music, drama and sport), we nurture, support and encourage our students to thrive. Our flexible and personalised offer allows every student to follow their own path in life and excel. Our ethos of kindness, community and inclusive nurturing – alongside excellent teaching and learning, a flexible curriculum and fantastic facilities – are the key to success for our students. ...Read more

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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.

International Study Centre - school has a linked, international study centre for overseas students wishing to improve their English.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2022, Katrina Handford, previously senior deputy head at Nottingham Girls’ High School for six years, the last one as acting head. She wouldn’t have been ‘tempted away’ easily, she admits, but knew Pembury was special – she’d worked there for five years before that, first as a history teacher, then in leadership roles in the sixth form and pastoral care. Describing it as ‘a very special school’, she explains how the original Kent College, established in Folkestone in 1886, was recognised as ‘the most forward-looking school of its time’. She is adamant to honour this founding ethos by producing outward looking global citizens. Her previous work mentoring girls suffering from abuse and leading the Nottingham branch of the Women’s Equality Party also inspires her to help turn out caring members of society. As do her roots in the Methodist church.

Parents describe her as ‘visionary’ and approve of her aim to drive the school forward by raising academic standards, nurturing global citizens and striving in seeing the good and doing good in everything. She gets the pupils ‘ready for the real world’, they told us. Pupils really enjoy her PSHE lessons, commenting that she’s ‘human’ and ‘always smiling’.

Softly spoken, with a gentle and relaxed demeanour, she put us instantly at ease in her bright and organised office. ‘We match!’ she exclaimed as we compared shades of colour choice (although her taste is much more stylish). It’s hard to imagine her with sledgehammer in hand but her ‘fundamental belief in stepping outside the comfort zone’ recently found her doing just that. Having volunteered to help build a National Trust coast path, she spent time collecting and smashing stones on the east coast of Scotland. She also recently set herself a challenge to learn to ski – ‘It’s so hard,’ she admits. It is this gung-ho approach that wins hearts and minds among pupils, parents and staff alike.

Entrance

Gently selective – school looks for average ability or above. Most join in year 7 (where a third of the cohort join from prep) and year 9. Entrance exams (including creative writing task for year 7), plus interview, group work and reference from current school. All entrants considered for academic scholarships. About 25–30 per cent from state primary schools. In the private sector, feeder preps include Sevenoaks Prep, Derwent Lodge, St Michael’s and Granville School. A few places available in sixth form, where candidates need six grade 4s at GCSE, including maths and English, plus some subject-specific criteria (eg grade 7s in maths and sciences if these are to be studied for A level).

Exit

Around a third leave post-GCSEs. Almost all sixth formers to university, over half to Russell Group. Bath, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford Brookes and Warwick all popular. Courses vary widely - criminology, psychology, archaeology, accounting and finance, law etc. Leanings also towards fashion design, textiles, media studies and international relations. Occasional medics, and students to Oxbridge, although none in 2023.

Latest results

In 2023, 51 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 30 per cent A*/A at A level (66 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 62 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 37 per cent A*/A at A level (72 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

The absence of academic snobbery (where only trad subjects and top marks are seen to matter) and respect for a well-balanced education mean the average pupil thrives in a calm, industrious and broad-ranging environment. But there’s ‘no limits’ for academic achievement, with the brightest stretched accordingly, we also heard. Bespoke timetables guarantee chosen subjects in GCSEs and A levels, masterminded by the deputy head (AKA ‘the wizard timetabler’). GCSEs include drama, dance, classical Greek and textile design. French, German and Spanish all on offer but not compulsory. Food technology and Latin particularly successful while business, drama, geography, history and art are most popular. Three or four A levels selected from the usual menu, with ancient Greek, classical civilisation, film studies, government and politics, music technology and sociology also on offer. BTECs in computing, dance and physical education are popular.

Classes of maximum 20 in the lower years, set in English, maths and science from year 8. We dipped into a maths class for year 7, where drawing right-angled triangles proved easier said than done for one pupil who said she was ‘having a moment’ - after some good-humoured banter with the teacher, she was back on track. In a year 10 business studies lesson, EAL pupils were presenting business models – thankfully, unlike The Apprentice, instructions kept clear and simple with masses of encouragement. It was all very serious in food technology while making soda bread - not a frivolous floured handprint in sight. The Leiths certificate popular in sixth form.

Parents feel there could be more STEM opportunities – that the school ‘should be a trailblazer for putting young talent into that space’. Lucky for them, a director of STEM is starting soon, hoping to raise the ‘steminist’ profile. ‘What are you doing to meet the challenges facing the future?’ staff are all asked, which has led to revisions of schemes of work but ‘without reinventing the wheel’. A good spread of levels 8 and 9 across subjects such as biology, computer science and further maths would indicate success.

‘KC Honours’ mandatory in sixth form - includes an EPQ, work experience and community work. The careers teacher probes deeper to understand ‘where an idea comes from’ and ‘where it might be going’. The timetabled session each week ‘keeps pupils on point,’ say school, which – along with the use of Unifrog - helps secure the best possible outcomes for life beyond KC.

Learning support and SEN

SENCo and two assistants (all full-time) recently carried out a study on girls with dual exceptionality – all part of their approach to championing career development where ‘we’re all learning’ to ensure the 20 per cent on the SEN register with mild to moderately complex needs fulfil and, where possible, exceed potential. Three EHCPs when we visited. Centrally based department in newly refurbished suite.

Team collaborates with subject teachers, notably in maths, science and English. A new programme for supported learning aims to help pupils with self-motivation and managing learning obstacles in the long-term. Includes International Dyslexia Software (used both in and out of school), touch typing and ensuring pupils have a maths, science and three literacy-based lessons a week. There’s also a focus on transferable skills for pupils as they move up the school.

Parents say the team has ‘scooped up’ their children and ‘turned their life around’ – pupils’ self-esteem and confidence being the most obvious transformation, with previously ‘introverted and shy’ pupils signing themselves up for ‘all sorts’ now. One parent told how their once school-refusing child would now ‘rather be in school than have a day off’. That the school ‘keeps it simple’ and ‘being available’ is key, we heard.

The arts and extracurricular

There is an ethos of industriousness, collaboration and celebrating individual talents within the creative arts. Our guides were bursting with pride about friends’ achievements. The Countess of Wessex 200-seat theatre sees some serious action with two slick productions a year – some of them double cast from senior and junior for maximum participation and ‘all-hands-on-deck’. We observed dance showcase preparations, where pupils were braiding hair. ‘You’ll nail it, you’ve worked so hard,’ said one girl as part of her pep talk to another pupil. ‘It’s always amazing,’ we were told – as testified by photographed scenes from previous performances displayed in the fabulous glass-encased foyer. Most recently, gender-neutral Amadeus, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera and The Secret Garden.

High-quality music provision is led by a professional opera singer, with top professionals coming in to share expertise. The department nurtures a diverse curriculum. Up next is a Mozart Mania (everything from The Magic Flute concert performance with costumes from Hamilton to Taylor Swift) delivered by an 80-strong choir of staff, parents and pupils – aims to prove that ‘anyone can sing’. Chamber choir (auditioned), senior choir, junior choir and school orchestra all perform regularly. Year 7 form a band. Pupils rave about the new recording studio ‘with lights and everything - very cool!’ Double figures (just) for GCSE music, usually a handful or so at A level. Recent music trip to see Tosca.

Art department lives above the open-plan library. ‘I’m here mostly for the photography, it’s the best there is,’ one pupil told us. We were drawn to humorous year 7 posters about the local area. Excellent textiles department, where we chatted to a pupil about her ambitious A level project. GCSE textiles pupils make the costumes for school productions.

Sports clubs popular - netball, hockey, cross country etc – but there are plenty of more niche ones too, eg best of sisters/soroptimist, Lego club, music tech, Latin fusion dance, Christian club, engineering club, Taylor Swift club and songwriter club. Plenty to ‘tap into curiosity’, say parents, and pupils we met were keen to opt in. ‘Why wouldn’t you?’

Sport

Sterling effort by school to engage girls beyond 16, with ‘keep them active’ ethos hugely successful. Even those with a hatred of team sports get stuck in - ‘There are so many other things you can do.’ All helped by a new kit for comfort (in consultation with focus groups), more options, better timetabling and mentoring. Sport and wellbeing intrinsically linked – pupils told us about a forthcoming wet ‘welly walk’ for charity, another about a pupil-led ‘couch to 5km’. School does well at the more elite end too, with school supporting three international and 50 club players in sports including Taekwondo, football, cricket, netball, hockey, gymnastics and swimming. All sports scholars (scholarships highly sought-after) meet once a week with their mentor to help plan and organise commitments (sometimes down to ensuring a packed tea has been provided). Exclusive sport practice evenings every week are a hit with pupils, not least because no other department is allowed to poach them for a rehearsal or practice. So it’s hands off years 7 and 8 for anything other than sport on Monday, for example. Cricket has replaced rounders - ‘much better,’ say pupils. Two sports halls, a floodlit Astro, and soon to be opened six-lane, 25-metre indoor pool, among the impressive facilities.

Boarders

Homely houses – one each for juniors and seniors – accommodate the 70 or so boarders. Three-quarters are full boarders, the rest weekly and flexi (latter popular for sports practice evenings and performance week, apparently). Students slot in easily, we heard. Junior boarding, above the main manor house, is sympathetically decorated (mostly lilac) to complement the traditional wooden floors and Victorian high ceilings. Clean and clutter free, with house plants and the odd pom-pom string. Flexi boarders always have the same room and, if possible, the same bed. Two spacious yet cosy lounges with facilities to make toast. Plenty of activities, eg movie nights and craft evenings – with a space on the noticeboard for comments and suggestions. Senior boarding similarly homely, with soft lighting, fairy lights and foosball (can get competitive when they have tournaments, we were informed). Notices translated into Spanish and Mandarin by pupils to welcome those from overseas – apparently they ‘gasped’ when they saw it and ‘were really touched’. We spotted a handful of students hard at work in the house’s IT suite. Two kitchens (one colour coded and exclusively for those with allergies) and a washing machine and dryer for any extra personal laundry. A plethora of trips and activities at weekends but the most exciting, say pupils, is the Asda weekly shop!

Ethos and heritage

The leafy drive through the school’s 75 acres of stunning countryside leads you to the red-brick Victorian manor house - the face of the school since 1939 but not the whole picture, thanks to more recent add-ons. The campus has an authentic feel of a Methodist school where good order is respected and everyone seems to be purposefully engaged.

Lunch choices sometimes ‘too flamboyant’, we were told – a hot topic on parent WhatsApp group. But Chalkboard Friday is a hit, where pupils make recommendations for Friday lunches. The sweet and sour chicken, served by very friendly catering staff, was delicious.

Recent overhaul of uniform has gone down well. Sixth form wear ‘office appropriate’ dress including trousers, dresses, jackets, shirts - even plain trainers and DMs allowed. Other pupils in PE kit when we visited, and all said they felt comfortable.

Alumni include the Duchess of Edinburgh, Sophie Wessex; GB swimmer Suki Brownsdon; and former editor of the Today programme Sarah Sands.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Weekly wellbeing afternoons encourage pupils to let their hair down and have fun with their friends. Pilates, badminton, yoga and boxing all popular, although the list is so extensive that we felt we needed a wellbeing rest to digest it. Full-time non-teaching pastoral care trio are always on hand and especially focused on the tops and tails of the day when they check in and chat with pupils. Awareness too that lunchtime is a key time to identify issues and pick up on eg concerning eating habits or changes in behaviour – includes working closely with manager of the new catering company. Two school counsellors, and a robust buddy system. ‘It’s not okay to just be okay,’ pupils agreed, and they feel they support each other. Parents say pupils are good at ‘noticing if someone has a need and is struggling’.

Pupils ‘make difference normal,’ said a parent. We were struck by how open they talked about neurodiversity – always good to see. Successful ‘time out’ system whereby anxious or struggling pupils use a time out card to communicate with the teacher, and one pupil told us she uses headphones when things feel overwhelming. A very real sense of acceptance. Pupil voice taken seriously, and sixth formers approve of the new Ivy House initiative (where they discuss things like being a child of divorce): ‘We discuss issues in a way I would never have done before, and I really do go away and think about it - it’s changing the way I look at things.’ Sixth formers with top leadership roles take responsibility for aspects of the school including equality and diversity, boarding, eco, wellbeing - and even interview the new head.

Pupils grimace at the word ‘rules’. Here, it’s all about ‘expectations’. Any untoward behaviour normally gets sorted out quickly, they told us, and certainly before it reaches sanction level (ranging from a blue slip detention to permanent exclusion, although latter unheard of). Pupils say they ‘self-regulate’ but that they feel comfortable ‘calling out’ bad behaviour.

Pupils and parents

Pupils are self-assured and mature, with a have-a-go approach. ‘We don’t take ourselves too seriously,’ one was quick to point out. They appreciate the single-sex environment. Parents feel it allows them to ‘grow into themselves’. Overseas students – about a quarter of the pupils – bring ethnic diversity, mainly from China, Hong Kong and Spain. Hard-working parents from ‘all walks of life’, mostly professionals who appreciate the ‘forward thinking and compassionate environment’. More money swilling around in senior than prep, we heard, though parents believe the school is a ‘great leveller’ and that nobody ‘gets too big for their boots’. Parents’ association for the senior school organises events for parents which continued even during the pandemic with online wreath making, wine tasting and baking. Active WhatsApp group particularly helpful for new parents.

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries and Methodist bursaries, both up to 100 per cent. Scholarships in music, art, sport, drama, dance and academic, with up to 10 per cent of day fee remittance.

The last word

If you’re looking for an injection of optimism, it’s right here: bold, courageous and resilient learning where the message emblazoned on the school minibuses - ‘We Are The Future’ - really does apply to these pupils, who we felt are more than ready to ‘smash the world’.

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

We believe no student at Kent College should see learning challenges as fixed or insurmountable, and our supported learning is a programme of study to ensure all students with learning difficulties are able to access the Kent College curriculum. Alongside practical assistance, this programme uniquely encourages self-belief and independence. A package of highly focused skill development is delivered in a structured programme within the timetable. Students work closely with a set of key staff including specialist SEND teachers and subject teachers to refine their skills, learn new strategies and embed their learning ‘toolkit’. Across all year groups we offer essential study skills, including exam techniques, learning to touch type, and familiarisation with additional learning support software. Students are taught in small groups in timetabled supported learning lessons at no extra charge. The range of skills progresses through the year groups and these lessons enable our students to access the curriculum across all subjects with the confidence and knowledge they will excel in their chosen field.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
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
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 Y
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 Y
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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