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  • King's Ely
    Old Palace
    Palace Green
    CB7 4EW
  • Head: John Attwater
  • T 01353 660707
  • F 01353 667485
  • E [email protected]
  • W
  • An independent school for boys and girls aged from 2 to 18.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Cambridgeshire
  • Pupils: 1,006; sixth formers: 194 (109 boys; 85 girls)
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day £12,477 - £26,214; Boarding £27,843 - £38,655 pa
  • Open days: September, October, February, March
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

Music, as you might expect, is particularly strong here and is the heart of the school. It is a cathedral school with traditional choristers, who we were privileged to hear practising. There's also a girls’ choir age 11-16 which runs parallel with the boys', singing daily in the cathedral and performing all over the world. And there is the sixth form choir as well. Mention must go to the award winning...

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What the school says...

A friendly, well-balanced, caring community which is valued for getting the best from a broad range of abilities whether Oxbridge or average. Founded over 1,000 years ago, King's Ely enjoys an exceptional setting next to Ely Cathedral. Music is a special strength and up to 500 individual lessons are given each week in addition to timetabled music classes. The equivalent of a whole working day each week is devoted to sport, the unique outdoor pursuits programme (Ely Scheme) and creative and performing arts. There is a strong rowing tradition in addition to team sports - rugby, football, hockey and cricket - golf, basketball, squash and sailing are also available. Boarding is increasingly popular. The campus is a five minute walk from the station - Cambridge is only 15 minutes by rail - and there are mainline links country-wide. School buses run across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. ...Read more

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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.

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


Unusual sports

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.




What The Good Schools Guide says


Since August 2019, John Attwater. PPE at Oxford with intentions of joining the foreign office. On leaving university still not sure which direction to take so did a PGCE whilst teaching at Wells Cathedral School. Arrived at Ely from King Edward’s Witley where he was head. Very musical with great experience of chorister schools as a pupil and teacher; he was one at Chichester. Still very musical (‘I love singing') and plans to join school chapel choir ‘when we are allowed to sing again and if they will have me.’

Baptism of fire joining King’s as only one ‘normal’ term before dreaded lockdowns reared their ugly heads. ‘I can’t – or couldn’t – wander round the school as I could have ended up being a super spreader.’ Hence parents (and some pupils) don’t know him well yet but he’s acting as a cover teacher and supervises the EPQ in the sixth form so his presence is felt. ‘Communication has been good and consistent and we have been kept informed all the way through,’ said a parent. ‘I’ve been very impressed by him and he’s led the school through a very difficult time,’ remarked another. ‘He’s a thoughtful man,’ was one parent’s take – 'he’s quite quiet and softly spoken so some parents feel he could be more dynamic. I don’t agree. He’s a completely different character to the previous incumbent and is softly, quietly getting on with stuff which is great. I like that.’ Has plans to raise the profile of the school – ‘King’s is a bit of a sleeping giant sometimes perceived to be in a rural backwater, which is partly true but we are a short train journey from Cambridge so attract a diverse, cosmopolitan set of families who buy into our ethos and this is becoming more apparent every year and enhances the school.’

Parents like that he has children at the school, as do the heads of the senior and junior schools - ‘They are one of us, as well as being heads.’ Principal happy to have followed his chosen career path - ‘I would have made a terrible spy.’

Head of senior school since 2018, Jonathan Shaw. Arrived from Guernsey. Down to earth and welcoming, and appears to have a good rapport with pupils . ‘I like him; he had huge shoes to fill and wisely stood back and watched then gradually took control.’ He also teaches history, which parents like. ‘He’s a great public speaker, seems really switched on and professional and is modernising the school which is excellent.’ ‘He’s quite dry, is fun when he needs to be but keeps everyone in order.’

Head of junior school, Richard Whymark (apt name for a teacher). Has a high profile around the school and seems to be loved by all – ‘I think he’s fantastic and is the perfect junior head. He knows the children well and seems to be able to get the best out of them by making everything fun but setting firm boundaries at the same time,' said a parent.


Children can start aged 2 in the nursery and continue their schooling until 18, and more than a handful do. Most continue through Acremont with the odd one 'kindly' removed before. Very unusual for pupil not to continue to junior, or indeed from junior to senior, but if felt necessary parents are well aware of what is coming. Not an academic hothouse but potential spotted and all pupils expected to be able to cope and to be aiming for university education; informal testing takes place. ‘We like to be as broad a church academically as we can be,’ says head. Large intakes at ages 7, 11,13 and 16 – works well as this is when major moves happen within the school anyway. Automatic entry into senior school from junior; scholarship exams sat and entrance exams for external children. Large contingent arrive in sixth form – grades 6 in the A level subjects studied are needed, either from local state provision, single sex independents and quite a large overseas cohort.


Around a third leaves after GCSE (and very few indeed before that), mainly lured to Cambridge sixth forms which are a short train ride away and free, with others seeking a change of scenery having been at the same school since they were 2. Principal wants to slow post 16 leakage and new location in the Old Palace is helping – not many can resist being taught in the bishop’s old home. Virtually all go to university. The theatre, arts, fashion and music well represented with places at St Martin’s and many other arts’ schools in recent years. Many to Russell Groups. Exeter, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Durham, Warwick, Manchester and the London universities all popular. One medic in 2021, and five to Oxbridge. Two overseas in 2021 – business management at Hong Kong and hotel and restaurant management at Cesar Ritz College, Switzerland. Gap years not that common, possibly a sign of the times; apprenticeships barely mentioned.

Latest results

In 2021, 65 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 69 per cent A*/A at A level (89 A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 56 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 34 per cent A*/A at A level (58 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Every parent we spoke to impressed with teaching skills, commitment and diligence of staff. ‘They really do seem to care.' Staff seem to know children well and are able to bring out enthusiasm, aptitude, participation and diligence.

Acremont is based across town in a beautiful Georgian mansion within large gardens. Children learn through play initially and the likeable head drums ‘independence and development’ in from day one. Children expected to stand on their own two feet early including organising themselves and putting their own shoes and coats on. This grounding and early learning stands them in good stead for progression to the junior school.

Pupils set from year 4 in maths and English with science and languages - French, German and Latin - following in the next few years. Academic rigour built throughout time in juniors so by the time pupils head to the senior school they are more than ready for academic pressures ahead. ‘We are kept informed throughout our child’s school life and we know if a bad report is coming; the school say they have failed if we are not prepared and it rarely comes to that,’ said one parent. ‘What I like is that effort is recognised, it’s not just the academic superstars who get all the credit.’ International students from year 6 on the ESOL team, very much integrated into the school when English is good enough.

All pupils closely monitored, high fliers encouraged but those less able brought along at own pace too; and those coasting are quickly spotted and brought back on point. All parents happy with progress, communication and outcomes. ‘They know the children, help them realise their potential and seem to be able to do it kindly with very little apparent pressure.’ Don’t be fooled though - expectations are high. Two or three sciences taken at GCSE, split about half and half. Two languages offered, plus Latin at GCSE. School quickly adapted to lockdown remote teaching and ran a full timetable during the second one. All parents, whatever their views on home schooling (and they vary hugely), commended the school on its outcome and felt that their children had been able to keep up with their education. ‘Remote teaching is difficult but they did the best they could, and it was successful.’ Real life teaching that we saw showed engaged enthusiastic pupils. Lessons seemed to be pretty relaxed with lots of rapport between teachers and pupils, mutual respect too.

Sixth form housed in the Old Palace. The Long Gallery is the common room, plenty of quiet areas for private study. Helpful staff easily accessible and all parents spoke of ‘great UCAS advice, support and help.’

Learning support and SEN

All pupils screened for dyslexia in years 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9 so very few slip through the net. Around 20 per cent of students monitored or supported for potential SEN. Mild to moderate dyslexia, dyspraxia and ASD all included. Unusual for individual lessons but available if needed. Lots of specialist support in small groups. ‘We are often unaware of the extra help that is being given to our child during the term as it’s so subtle; but it’s really effective.’ Support for learning and studying skills available too and SEN department well used. Subject clubs available for those ‘invited’ and invitation expected to be taken up – ‘it makes it a lot more subtle, the extra help on offer,’ said one parent. Pupils happy to go to clubs to help plug the gaps at their own pace.

When we visited, 74 students were using the ESOL department including 40 on specific programmes such as one year GCSE courses for international students. The aim is for them to become part of the main school curriculum once their English is strong enough.

The arts and extracurricular

Music, as you might expect, is particularly strong here and is the heart of the school. It is a cathedral school with traditional choristers, who we were privileged to hear practising. There's also a girls’ choir age 11-16 which runs parallel with the boys', singing daily in the cathedral and performing all over the world. And there is the sixth form choir as well. Every sort of band and ensemble you can think of, and more - includes chamber music. Mention must go to the award winning King’s Barbers, an acapella group made up of ex-choristers. Nearly 300 pupils learn an instrument, including drums - good job there are plenty of rehearsal rooms - we enjoyed hearing a trumpet lesson on our tour. Rehearsals and lessons continued over Zoom during lockdowns so no one lost out.

King’s is renowned for its arts education and many parents are attracted by this. A tour of the art department was testament to this, with skilled artwork on display - fine art, sculpture work, photography etc and then there’s DT and textiles and don’t forget cookery. Most pupils participate in some way. Drama productions also spoken of with awe. The non sporty child is allowed to shine somewhere, it doesn’t have to be on the playing field. Clubs and societies galore, not just musical - you think of it, it’s more than likely that they do it.


Not traditionally renowned for sports but gaining traction and other schools are sitting up and noticing. First XV rugby unbeaten last season. New principal investing heavily in better facilities including new Astro turf and covered tennis courts. We liked that the games’ mistress had her dog with her supervising some practice sessions. Open air (heated) swimming pool well used from April to October and climbing walls found dotted around the place. Lots of space and pitches and less obvious sports also encouraged. Every child will find something active that they can enjoy.

One of the main sports at King’s is rowing. From year 8 pupils can participate and many do. It’s not all about winning, but they are very good at that. The enthusiastic but less apt equally encouraged to get out on the river. There’s a strong rowing community and the school has their own boat house at the forefront of the river community on the Great Ouse. The King’s tyros can observe the Cambridge elite teams who have a rather more shiny boathouse just up the river. This year the boat race was held on their patch and it’s encouraged even more participation. ‘I like that my daughter can get out on the river and enjoy being at one with nature, alongside the swans and ducks and just taking it all in, enjoying the peace - and she gets to compete to a high standard as well.’

The Ely Scheme is well supported. This is a leadership scheme led by older pupils for the year 9s involving lots of outdoor activities, team building, creative thinking and challenges. Develops into DofE, also popular.


Starts aged 7. Junior boarders housed in two medieval houses within the cathedral grounds along with girl choristers in a separate house. A popular matron looks after the boy choristers and caters for their every need. They are made to feel special 'because they are' but parents speak of them also ‘being grounded.’ Flexi boarding now allowed, with local choristers able to nip home overnight when evensong duties allow. Flexi boarding popular with all other boarders. Pupils move to senior houses for years 9-11 and then to separate sixth form houses.

Boarding houses clean and tidy with older pupils encouraged to be independent. The station is down the road and it’s easy to hop on a train to Cambridge or London. Most rooms are shared even in sixth form. Good facilities for cooking, lovely outside space and plenty of sofa space. Boarding increases further up the school with a larger international cohort joining. School proud to be host to 42 nationalities (including Welsh).

Ethos and heritage

This is a cathedral school and one of the oldest in the world founded in 970AD. Its relationship with the cathedral is symbiotic. Ely, in the heart of the Cambridgeshire Fens, is a very pretty rural market town completely dominated by the Ship of the Fens which can be seen for miles across the flat landscape. But despite this remoteness there is a regular train service to and from Cambridge, London and Norfolk so the traditional rural community is interspersed with more cosmopolitan outsiders, and this is reflected in the school too. Because of the domination of the cathedral in the town, the school has the same effect - a benign one with townspeople enjoying and accepting the pupils, staff and parents around the town. Initially it feels as though the school sits entirely in the shadow of the cathedral, but it doesn’t. It is spread, sprawled really, over 75 acres within the centre of the town and it is beautiful architecturally ranging from the ancient incorporating the Georgian era with modern additions fitting in well. This includes the junior school which is a stand alone building. There are large outside spaces, beautiful gardens and one of the oldest London plane trees in the country can be found in the Old Palace gardens. Look closely and you will notice that it’s aided by a few supports (‘It’s not falling down on my watch,’ says principal). Pupils eat in the monastic barn. The tiny school chapel managed to survive the beady eye of Oliver Cromwell, who was born in the town.

The ecclesiastical background of the church is felt throughout the school. It’s a friendly, caring place with all pupils, whatever their background, buying into the ethos. Parents appreciate this - ‘it’s a caring, friendly school,' we heard. The tranquil atmosphere and time spent in the cathedral and the school’s chapel, is reflected by the pupils. But it’s not all clerical gowns and organs - it’s a dynamic place.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘This is not a school of angels’ said one parent. ‘But they seem to be on top of discipline with miscreants dealt with quickly and fairly.’ Discipline initially dealt with at house level and is usually sorted there. A wellbeing department (new bigger one on the way) well used with both male and female counsellors available, used by staff as well as pupils; it’s viewed as quite normal to avail of their services. The school seems to be a very accepting, tolerant place with individuals allowed to flourish and be accepted for whoever they are. All parents agree, ‘it’s a kind school’ was said by them all. Many parents chose the school because of its pastoral reputation. ‘What we like is that King’s invests in the whole child, not just the academic side which makes for a much more rounded child.’ Barber shop acapella group set up to help ease choristers back into more normal life and also to help them cope with maturing voices. Tutor groups in the senior school are single sex with hopefully the same tutor all the way through so they get to know the pupils well. One parent thought this slightly odd as the school is co-ed but agrees it works well. It means that girls and boy groups can be spoken to separately when relevant. Girls on Board approach used to help girls navigate toxic relationships, a similar one for boys to be introduced soon. ‘The loud confident types can dominate in the common room,’ said one parent referring to the sixth form ‘but the school are aware of this and listen to the silent majority too.’ Another more outspoken parent said ‘the witches covens are dealt with’ which quite amused us but good to hear.

‘It’s a stupid head that says there is no bullying in their school,’ the head told us, and he is well aware of the latest ‘toxic masculinity’ furore - 'Measures are in place to do the best we can.’

Pupils and parents

Traditionally a school for East Anglian farming families, professionals from the town and choristers. This is still true today with many second generations, or more, in attendance. But improved travel links, particularly rail, means that at least half the pupils are now from out of area. A large contingent come daily from Cambridge with many children of medics and the IT and bio industries in attendance. These parents are buying into the ethos of the school and the more rounded education in preference to the academic hot houses in the city. More parents are commuting to London daily and good rail networks from King’s Lynn and further afield mean a large cohort come from Norfolk. ‘There’s a wonderful mix of cultures and religions which is great for the kids,' said a parent - seems to work, with all gelling well.

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries on offer of up to 110 per cent of fees. All choristers receive scholarships including boarding fees. Academic, music, sport, art, STEM, drama and choral scholarships available.

The last word

Pupils are privileged to be educated in such beautiful surroundings, although of course they won’t realise this until long after they have left. The tranquil atmosphere seems to be absorbed by osmosis and turns out well rounded, likeable individuals who attain academically but who also realise there is more to life than just results. Parents like and appreciate this and are sailing towards the school in the shadow of the Ship of the Fens and the safe harbour she offers.

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

SENCO and Learning Support Assistant see individuals and small groups before, during and after timetabled day.

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

Who came from where

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