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What says..

This is one of two preps that feed the senior school (all three make up the King’s Foundation), the other one being King’s Hawford. St Alban’s, traditionally more academic than Hawford (‘the pace is fast,’ confirmed a parent), also appeals to families for its location (‘both city centre and next to the senior school where many of us have older children'). The link with the senior school is a further draw. ‘There’s a culture of wanting to do well, right through the school’, we heard, though one parent...

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What the school says...

Education is about far more than academic learning, although that is still our primary purpose. At King's St. Alban's we aim to develop the whole child, encouraging each girl and boy to explore their capabilities, find fresh challenges and discover spheres in which they can excel.

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2016, Richard Chapman (40s). Previously senior deputy at King’s since 2007 (the insider knowledge is not lost on parents). Educated in the Midlands (Solihull School, where he was head boy) and read economics at the University of Bristol. His mum was a headteacher, his dad a deputy head and while both warned him not to follow in their footsteps ‘mainly so I could earn more money’, the vocation took hold one Saturday afternoon when he was 22 and working as a trainee manager at M&S – ‘My manager told me I’d sold fewer apples than the week before and I realised I really didn’t care.’ Balanced early teaching posts with a stint as a semi-professional rugby player and was head of sixth form and coach of the 1st XV at Warwick School before joining the King’s Foundation.

Fast talking and spirited. Something of a competitive edge too, keeping the school on its toes. ‘He’s the third and by far the best head in my view and his leadership is exactly what I want for the school,’ lauded one parent. ‘Fresh,’ ‘modern,’ child centric,’ ‘never static’ and ‘big on the academics,’ remarked others. We had the sense that he gets as much enjoyment from watching pupils let rip in the playground (which they really do – we lost count of the balls and hockey sticks flying around at breaktime) as learning in the classroom and he has one of the fullest teaching timetables we’ve come across (maths, games, rugby and Wednesday afternoon activities – mostly to year 6). His favourite part of the week is celebration assembly on Fridays when a huge range of the children’s achievements at all sorts of different levels are applauded. ‘My son did some charity work and he really embraced it, even though it was all done out of school,’ one parent told us. ‘Very kind,’ ‘sets a really good example’ and ‘a great teacher,’ said pupils.

Last time we met him, cricket was his big love, though he spends more time watching than playing it nowadays, with road cycling his latest obsession. ‘Midlife crisis struck not long after the Good School Guide’s last visit when old school friends said, “That’s it, we’re getting road bikes!” and I’ve covered over 4,000 miles in the last year alone.’ Lives on site with his wife and two teenage sons, both at King’s.

Entrance

Nursery from age 2 on a first come first served basis. For reception up to year 3 assessment involves spending some time being observed in the classroom. From year 3, entrance tests in verbal reasoning, English and maths, which normally take place in the spring term for September entry but the school will arrange for individual testing at other times of the year. Typically, there are three forms in years 5 and 6 and two in the younger years. Usually around 16 pupils per class in pre-prep and 20 in juniors.

Exit

Over 95 per cent to King’s senior school (located on the same site), many with scholarships (15 in 2021). The few that leave do so for geographical or financial reasons. ‘Only one child to our local competitor in the last three years,’ says head with visible pride (that competitive streak again). Parents praise the transition – senior teachers come over to do assemblies and some teaching, parents get to meet the head and pupils become increasingly familiar with the facilities as they edge closer to year 7.

Our view

If you want to experience the culture of King’s St Alban’s in a nutshell, just talk to the receptionist. ‘She’ll find a solution to every problem, she’s ultra-friendly and kindness rules – and that pretty much sums up the school,’ said a parent. Turns out they’re spot on, and there was certainly no shortage of big-heartedness and a can-do attitude among pupils we met too.

The school was originally a traditional prep starting at 7 years old. In 2009, it bought up a pub over the road, bulldozing it to create a light, bright pre-prep complete with school hall which doubles up as dining room. In 2013, it snapped up an adjacent house to extend pre-prep and in 2019 opened the nursery where – as with the junior school – every bit of space is imaginatively used, and that goes for the outdoor activity areas too. The school has its own chapel and multicoloured library, and no day goes by without at least one class using some of ‘Big King’s' facilities whether it’s the theatre, 25m indoor pool, sports hall or dance studio. Juniors share the senior school dining hall too – we enjoyed a tasty roast dinner with them.

This is one of two preps that feed the senior school (all three make up the King’s Foundation), the other one being King’s Hawford. St Alban’s, traditionally more academic than Hawford (‘the pace is fast,’ confirmed a parent), also appeals to families for its location (‘both city centre and next to the senior school where many of us have older children'). The link with the senior school is a further draw (‘they share facilities, plus senior children are on tap to help and inspire them via things like reading and running events,’ said one mother). ‘View both, then decide,’ advises head.

Nursery is a delight, with animated littluns lapping up the activities and social aspect. Some had had so much fun they’d taken themselves off for a power nap in the sleeping room. In pre-prep, teaching is mainly topic based. Think Tudors, Florence Nightingale, Great Fire of London - makes for some super displays. On the day of our visit, pupils had been baking banana bread, swimming over at the senior school, playing maths games and belting out a catchy numbers themed song in French. Over in juniors, where teaching becomes more subject focused, we watched a geography class learning how to show height on a map and an IT class creating a Shakespeare themed online newspaper. A French class was learning vocab via dominos (‘All well and good, except that none of them knew what dominos was – I had to teach them that too!’ smiled the stunned teacher) while another class were learning about the rainforest (‘Turns out our books are quite out of date and they do, to the pupils’ great relief, wear clothes now!’ whispered another chirpy teacher). Forest School onsite, though this is probably not the school for a very outdoorsy child.

The small class sizes, enhanced with TAs (one in each class in pre-prep, plus two more across the junior school), ensure informal assessments are ongoing and any learning concerns are picked up. Subject specialist teaching in music, French (from reception), science, art, games and PE – and nearly all teachers run at least one club ‘so they know what makes the children tick, seeing them not in just, say, English but also climbing club.’ Setting in maths in years 5 and 6. Debating now on the agenda to stimulate new intellectual channels for the children. ‘The teaching is amazing – I’ve been delighted with the way they’ve given my child a foundation to springboard to senior school,’ said a parent. ‘There’s a culture of wanting to do well, right through the school,’ voiced another, though one parent felt that some teachers could do more to prevent coasting – ‘My child could do better if pushed a bit more,’ said one.

SEN provision from age 2 under watchful eye of SENCo. Parents are kept firmly in the loop, as are teachers – means that intervention can be mainly classroom based, although a few children have additional small group sessions (and occasionally one-to-ones) outside normal class time at no extra charge. ‘No stigma and all ultra-efficient,’ said a parent. Also in the main fee package is wrap-around 7.45am-6pm care (run by matrons and TAs) if parents need it – ‘It was the dealbreaker for us,’ said one of many dual income families (‘that’s another difference with Hawford which is more “old money”,’ reckoned a parent). Clubs – 36 at last count – are mostly run by teachers and include everything from swimming and philosophy to science, drama and karate. Pupils said they’d like a basketball club.

While the parental perception is that Hawford is the sportier of the two King's preps, a St Alban’s parent told us, ‘They’ve done wonders for my sporty child – he plays cricket for county now and the school really helped with that – and they’ve also exposed my less sporty child to a range of sports and really given him a chance too.’ Another, who’d moved her daughter over from a state primary, said she was doing ‘sports she’d never have done and is itching to join after school clubs and looks forward to the matches.’ The school has had national successes in swimming and netball, with cricket also a strength and played by both boys and girls. The children get taught by senior school sports coaches, plus the prep’s own, though some parents feel girls’ coaching could be improved. And if you’re dead set on a school with all sports facilities onsite, forget it as the city centre location means it’s a short walk to the extensive fields and a short mini-bus ride away to the Astroturf (though there is a 25m pool and two sports halls on site).

The choristers (from year 3 upwards) have a full timetable with long days but they seem to relish it. Music features prominently for others too – all but one of the pupils we met learned an instrument, most off the back of being introduced to their instrument at school. ‘Music teaching is so engaging – it’s more about getting them to enjoy it than insisting they race through the grades,’ said a parent. There are several different music groups and choirs from the cathedral and senior school regularly come to perform. ‘In the more informal concerts, you get everything from a four-year-old plonking a few piano keys to someone that wouldn’t look out of place at last night of the proms,’ said a parent. Drama on curriculum from year 5 and as a club throughout and art comprises everything from clay work to textiles, with the class we watched converting portraits to anime, taking great care with their huge eyes and tiny mouths. An architect comes to do an annual workshop. Creative ConneXions is a big deal - this combo of dance, poetry and singing involves half a term’s preparation and a theme such as children’s literature or the beauty of change. For years 5 and 6, Wednesday afternoons are given over to activities, fixtures and PSHE. This allocated time has also been good for community links too, with the school having built a partnership with eg a local care home. Trips galore, a particular favourite being year 6’s visit to Normandy. And King’s has an outdoor education space in Wales which the pupils visit at various stages – a much-anticipated adventure.

Not a school where you’re expected to ‘bring in endless cakes or dress up for World Book Day,’ said a parent. But you are invited to class assemblies and at the start of every academic year, there’s a curriculum evening. Parents appreciate the school’s conscious work on developing character. In the lower years, reading records go home daily. BBQs, picnics, cocktail parties and discos etc for parents who want to socialise, although one parent told us, ‘It’s not quite as sociable as it could be because the chaos of parking in a city centre means there’s not a lot of opportunity to stand around chatting’ (school says parking is now much improved).


No head boy and girl – school prefers leadership opportunities for all. Pupil voice bigger than ever – includes all students being invited to comment on ‘What makes an excellent lesson?’ Mindfulness is taught to year 5s and 6s, which the school believes has led to a calmer learning environment. All teachers receive mental health first aid training and the school works with the foundation’s clinical child psychologist. School dealt with lockdown well, say parents – ‘They were as on it pastorally as academically – my child’s class teacher has even rung up on a weekend to check up on her and work’s been marked on a Saturday lunchtime,’ said one.

The last word

A happy, city centre school best suited to an academic child. Excels at celebrating individuality. ‘My child went from someone who put her hands over her ears in pre-school to coming here where, six months in, she’s oozing confidence – it has completely changed her for the better,’ said a parent.

Special Education Needs


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