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  • The King's School Canterbury
    25 The Precincts
    Canterbury
    Kent
    CT1 2ES
  • Head: Mr Peter Roberts
  • T 01227 595579
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.kings-school.co.uk
  • The King’s School Canterbury is an English independent day and boarding school that educates over 800 boys and girls aged 13 to 18. Located in the city of Canterbury, Kent, it was founded in 597 AD and it is claimed to be the oldest continuously operating school in the world. A mainstream independent school with a linked junior school.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Kent
  • Pupils: 853; sixth formers: 373
  • Religion: Church of England/Christian
  • Fees: Day £27,495; Boarding £37,455 pa
  • Open days: 13+ March, June and October. 6th Form: October & April
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report
  • Linked schools: The Junior King's School

What says..

‘You have to want to learn’, we were told by multiple parents and there’s no doubt the pursuit of academic excellence is at the heart of everything here, although co-curricular activities are given equal weight and as such pupils have an astonishingly busy day - one of the first lessons they learn is how to plan their time to include both. ‘You never stop,’ said one, while another added, ‘Everyone finds a passion here’ – and in the true King’s way, that could just as easily be kite surfing, chess or accordion playing as rugby or dance (or perhaps all five). Stunning William Butterfield designed library (1848) is centre of academic life with ...

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What the school says...

Headmaster Peter Roberts writes

At the heart of a Kings education is the dual pursuit of academic and extra-curricular excellence. The self-discipline, intellect and wide-ranging interests that such a pursuit engenders are highly prized in our modern global society. The quality of the teaching and the breadth of the activities outside the classroom mean that the lessons learnt and the skills acquired stay with the pupil for life.

I would identify as an essential feature of this process, the way that it does not matter if your passion is sport, music, acting or chess (to make a random selection of the plethora of opportunities for young people at Kings). All pupils also share the importance of working hard towards academic excellence.

That all this takes place in such a beautiful and historic context with the support and guidance of a talented and dedicated staff explains why I am so proud and enthusiastic about leading this fine school.
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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.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2011, Peter Roberts MA PGCE (50s), previously head of Bradfield College for eight years. First in history from Oxford followed by a PGCE at London Institute of Education. Started teaching career at Winchester as head of history, then also as master in college.

You can bet your bottom dollar that any descriptions of him will include the word ‘eccentric’, which, a parent told us, ‘suits King’s perfectly’ - ‘through his ability to be fun and himself, he seems to permit everyone else to be themselves too, with all their idiosyncrasies.’ Indeed, this is not a school that’s afraid of characters, and it has a certain edginess where quirkiness and difference are celebrated. Always immaculately dressed, he is known as ‘the head man’ among pupils who say he is a ‘highly intelligent’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘non-authoritarian’ school leader. Attends every play, recital and concert and even the matrons’ meeting, describing his job as ‘vastly enjoyable.’ Teaches the Shells (year 9). ‘Great at networking but not everyone’s cup of tea’, was the general consensus among parents, ‘and perhaps not the most polished of public speakers’, said one, but most agree that once you get him on his own, ‘his interactions with individuals are absolutely on the ball’.

He feels the school ‘gives a strong sense of belonging, a realisation that King’s helped to make them [the pupils] what they are’ and ‘this creates the wish to give something back in return’ and sees the atmosphere of the school as ‘like a massive confidence-building machine’. Expects very high standards from the children at every level. Each week the Robertses invite 16 different pupils, one from each house, to lunch in their private dining room.

Married to Marie, an elegant and accomplished Frenchwoman who was head of department at two large state schools and, in addition to playing an active part in school life (mainly pastorally), is also a harpist. They have three daughters. They enjoy spending time in France where he sails, and they both practise calligraphy and paint watercolours - helping to uphold the renaissance ideals of what is technically the oldest school in the country.

Academic matters

‘You have to want to learn’, we were told by multiple parents and there’s no doubt the pursuit of academic excellence is at the heart of everything here, although co-curricular activities are given equal weight and as such pupils have an astonishingly busy day - one of the first lessons they learn is how to plan their time to include both. ‘You never stop,’ said one, while another added, ‘Everyone finds a passion here’ – and in the true King’s way, that could just as easily be kite surfing, chess or accordion playing as rugby or dance (or perhaps all five). ‘I think of it as a David Gower school – everyone knows he’s a great cricketer, but they probably don’t know he was a keen musician and actor when he was at King’s,’ says head. School claims pupils are ‘clever enough to get into the London day schools, but choose to come here, often precisely because of our rich programme’.
In 2018, 57 per cent A*/A at A level, 73 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE (IGCSEs for two-thirds of subjects). Expect a fast-paced academic environment which parents say ‘is not for wimps’, although pupils say teachers are ‘good at picking you up if you’re struggling’ and it’s not as if anyone takes silly numbers of GCSEs, with majority taking nine or 10 including a creative subject like art, drama, IT or music (art and music are the most popular non-core GCSEs). Strong results across the board, with chemistry, Spanish and maths the shining stars. Good numbers of girls doing physics. Astronomy GCSE is available, as are many languages (most taught by double linguists, able to build up those wanting to go on to study languages at university) including Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin (minority also do Japanese and Russian and school will accommodate any others if requested). Most subject combinations are possible, even if some have to be taught outside the timetable. School always looking at ways to stretch the most able and curriculum constantly adapted. Pupils told us strongest departments are English and science but felt ‘history and drama are on the weaker side’.

Offers 28 A levels (including geology and, most recently, psychology), including seven at Pre-U, and advanced extension awards in most. Strongest results in English, maths, French and art, with most popular including economics, maths, biology and chemistry. Pupils encouraged to think about their broader academic profile and alongside A levels there are enrichment subjects such as critical thinking, perspectives on aesthetics, globalisation and science and EPQ (we met a pupil who’d done theirs on 18th century France and another on Cornish history). Careers advice starts in the first year on a drop-in basis and fifth form have timetabled careers periods to help with A level choices and beyond.

Setting in maths, sciences and languages from the off. About six per cent need extra help, mainly for mild dyslexia, in The Hub, and any pupil can ask for help with study skills. Wouldn’t suit anyone with bigger difficulties. EAL for a handful of pupils but all must be fluent on arrival.

Stunning William Butterfield designed library (1848) is centre of academic life with a hushed and studious atmosphere and combining the best of the old and new with 30,000 books, along with periodicals, European newspapers and DVDs – they even have dogs to stroke around exam time. This well-staffed library is a great source of pride and open every day until 10pm and at weekends, although pupils told us they ‘wish we didn’t have to wear school uniform as it makes the library less inviting when you’ve got a free period’. Somerset Maugham and Sir Hugh Walpole both left their personal libraries to King’s.

Games, options, the arts

Acres of playing fields about 15 (head insists, with a wink, that it’s 11) minutes' walk away as well as a modern sports centre incorporating pool, indoor courts, climbing wall, café and gym – more akin to a posh private leisure centre. A democratic approach to sport means most pupils get to represent the school in matches, if they want to. Top performers are rugby, rowing, cricket and fencing (boys) and hockey and cricket (girls), with girls’ lacrosse and swimming also on the up. School has produced several international fencers. But parents told us of ‘a general lack of oomph in sport’. One said, ‘You’re not playing to the highest level here – more Eastbourne than Eton and occasionally Tonbridge at rugby, but even then our A team will play their B team, so if your child is terribly sporty, you might feel disappointed.’ However, the emphasis on ‘fitness, health and fun’ and the sheer breadth of sports mean most people find something they enjoy, though pupils curious as to why they can’t do ‘more co-ed sports, including lacrosse’. Sporting trips all over the world.

Long tradition of excellent music and anyone involved is definitely awarded ‘cool status.’ Fab new junior music school opened in 2016 and new performing arts centre in former Victorian malthouse in 2019. Symphony orchestra plus numerous bands and ensembles; the pupil-run jazz club is particularly popular. Plenty of choral groups, from the Crypt Choir which tours annually, most recently to Rome, to the choral society which is open to anyone who enjoys singing, including parents and staff. Pupils were preparing to play Brahms’s German Requiem in the cathedral when we visited, without a professional in sight. Drama both on and off the curriculum, with plenty of performances and regular theatre trips to London, although pupils feel drama ‘could be improved’. Busy art department housed in 12th-century priory has a different artist in residence each year. Photographic studio and pottery centre opened by old boy Edmund de Waal.

Oodles more activities, continuing into sixth form, from academic societies with visiting speakers to mountain biking, cryptic crosswords, debating and the Model United Nations. Pupils told of us of clubs in Japanese cooking club, Sanskrit and even pole vaulting, plus student-run Jewish club (‘popular, not least because of the food’). CCF gets decent numbers and community work and volunteering are central to school life - often part of DofE (around 20 golds are awarded annually), but which also include teaching science and, more recently, music, in local primary schools.

The famous King’s week at the end of the summer term is the highlight of the year and is a festival of music, drama and dance with events being staged in all corners of the school every day for a week – parents and friends come bearing picnics, with every B&B and hotel in Canterbury booked out for the duration. ‘It’s a garden party for all involved and there’s something going on until 11pm every evening.’ Expect Shakespeare, classical concerts, jazz, house harmonies, a Chariots of Fire dash round the green, serenade in the cloisters at sunset, poetry slams etc, all culminating in Commem Day and the leavers’ ball. ‘The sun’s out, exams are over, jazz is playing, vintage bikes are everywhere and you’re sitting with your friends – it doesn’t get better than King’s Week,’ said one pupil.

Boarders

School says it offers ‘family-based’ boarding, insofar as it’s seven days a week, ‘but you can get off the bus along the way’ – in other words, go home when you want. It’s never empty at weekends, though, and some won’t take all exeats, with school often having to suggest parents come for a weekend to Canterbury instead of trying to tear their offspring away. Six boys’ and seven girls’ houses (latest, Lady Kingsdown, for girls, opened in 2018) – three are day, the rest boarding, with some bigger than others to cater for 50:50 boy:girl ratio. Half the houses clustered round the cathedral and the other half across the road on the St Augustine site where they have their own dining hall. Pupils generally have a preference for one or the other and the most popular houses get booked up years in advance. All in a variety of architectural styles from the 13th century Meister Omers to 21st century Grange, some have received a much-needed recent refurb. Small dormitories for younger children and individual study bedrooms for sixth form. Huge praise for housemasters and housemistresses, described by parents as ‘deeply pastoral’, although one felt ‘there could be more consistency in how houses deal when it comes to discipline’. Large and popular social centre open for the whole school during the day and for sixth formers in the evening.

Background and atmosphere

Set in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral (which pupils can visit any time – ‘it’s so calming’, one told us) and part of a World Heritage Site, this has to be one of the most inspiring settings for a school. Founded in 597 when St Augustine arrived in Canterbury and then re-founded as The King’s School during the reign of Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries - not many schools can produce a list of headmasters going back to 1259. Beautiful ancient buildings and cloisters and immaculate gardens with the busy city life going on just beyond the gates. Pupils enjoy the contrast and the fact that the city with its shops and cafés is on the doorstep.

Latest additions include girls’ boarding house and day house and the school has also acquired Beerling Hall by the Marlowe Theatre, now their art block, and has refurbished the historic Malthouse as a performing arts centre. Next up is a brand new science building, ready in 2020. Dining facilities have been extended to include three options. ‘Food is amazing here – everyone gets particularly hyped on chicken night and I’ve never seen more of an opera than when they got rid of spicy goujons,’ a pupil told us. Took girls into sixth form in 1970s and went fully co-ed in 1990. Former pupil Michael Morpurgo said, ‘King’s is like a university designed for younger people.’ Some parents feel it’s best suited to more robust children although one pupil told us her sibling was ‘really quite shy and loves it’.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Ultra-smart, traditional uniform - pinstripes, wing collars and a jacket, and a brooch for the girls. ‘They tried to modernise and take away the brooch, but we were having none of it,’ one girl told us, although girls do now have the option of trousers. Monitors, known as Purples, wear striking purple gowns with huge pride; one told us they are regularly stopped for photos by tourists. Woe betide pupils whose incorrectly worn uniform is spotted by the Beadle, usually found lingering around the entrance in his top hat and tails – sharp (often loud) words will ensue.

Strong Christian tradition, with main school services held in the cathedral, but different religious and cultural backgrounds welcomed. Mental health is a key focus pastorally – everything from reformed PSHE programme to talks from outside speakers to mindfulness and this is a Stonewall school, championing LGBT rights. Children have a healthy respect for each other and are generally self-regulating regarding bullying; honesty and integrity are highly valued. Several staff/pupil committees to ensure all have their say and we noted respectful communication between staff and pupils – this, together with mixed-aged tutor groups and trained older pupils mentoring younger ones, ensures good interaction between year groups; day children and boarders also mix well. ‘But please can we stop this silly expectation that you have to have a date for lunch, which involves organising meeting them first,’ said one pupil. ‘It’s a pain logistically and sometimes you just want to chill out alone, so us Purples are starting to go alone to set a trend.’ Strict rules and punishments regarding drugs, alcohol and parties and children know where they stand. Around half a dozen temporary and one or two permanent exclusions every year.

Pupils and parents

Popular with locals, London and county sets alike, plus Foreign Office and expat families and increasing numbers from abroad. About 20 per cent foreign nationals, with a 25 per cent cap. Doesn’t really produce a type but pupils are articulate, well-rounded and appear to genuinely to relish others’ achievements. Charming, undeniably posh and among the most confident we’ve seen, pupils also have a glint in their eye reflecting a sense of fun and have a huge sense of ownership over their school. ‘King’s pupils are not slow in coming forward,’ smiles head. We heard tales of parents arriving at the school in a helicopter, but pupils assured us not everyone is so well-heeled and we saw for ourselves an ethnic mix.

The King’s Society, a cultural, social and educational society for parents and friends, comprises over 300 families. Old boys and girls include potter and writer Edmund de Waal, astronaut Michael Foale, Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Christopher Marlowe and William Somerset Maugham, supermodel Jacquetta Wheeler, Olympic silver medallist and world champion rower Frances Houghton and Anthony Worrall-Thompson.

Entrance

At 13+ by common entrance. School assesses and interviews those who have not been prepared for CE. Occasionally spaces in year 10, when applicants take school’s own exam. Just over a third come from Junior King’s who go through the same process as everyone else; rest from a range of 110 Kent, Sussex and southern prep schools and London day schools (‘we try to work collaboratively with all of them so that our assessment accords with the way they prepare pupils for seniors and common entrance’, says head). Pass mark is 60 per cent but school likes to keep families together and takes an enlightened view if someone is borderline. It is also possible for pupils to take an entrance exam to Junior King’s at 11+ which would guarantee entry to the senior school, although they would still have to take CE for setting purposes.

About 40 join at sixth form with entrance by competitive exam and interview in Nov before entry with minimum of seven 6s at GCSE, with some A levels requiring a higher grade in same or related subject at GCSE - also required of current pupils, although school insists ‘there is no cull – almost all our own pupils get a high level than they need’.

Exit

Very few leave after GCSE, usually due to family relocating. Vast majority of sixth formers depart to top universities – 19 to Oxbridge in 2018, with UCL, Exeter, Edinburgh and Durham all popular. Increasing numbers to American universities (two to UCLA and two to NYU in 2018) and usually around five to 10 to music college, drama or art school. Languages, sciences and economics/business management most popular degree subjects recently. Occasionally, degree apprenticeships.

Money matters

Twelve King’s Scholarships. Ditto with music scholarships and around three to five in art, DT, dance and sport, all with a rigorous selection process and worth up to 10 per cent of fees. Three or four sixth form scholarships awarded for outstanding performance in the sixth form entrance exam. Greater emphasis on bursaries – the King’s foundation has been set up to fund both scholarships and bursaries and allocates over £2 million a year. Parents means-tested annually and can receive up to 100 per cent of full boarding fee.

Our view

Thriving academic school in exquisite surroundings steeped in history, with highly motivated pupils who are hungry to learn and where there’s very little room for slack and never a dull moment – rarely, in fact, even a moment to stand still, such is the busy programme of engaging activities.

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

The school caters very well for those with mild levels of learning difficulty but it is not in a position to provide continuous extra teaching for those with significant difficulties. Specialist teachers work with individuals on a one to one basis.

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

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