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The Kings School (Chester)

What says..

We asked the junior school children about all these great activities on offer. Each had a story of triumph to relay; dropping a cello on stage and getting back up, a scary football trial. Each grinned madly after, relaying their satisfaction at having mastered the skill or faced down their fear.  ‘The school gives them wings'...

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What the school says...

The King's School (Chester) is a high achieving school with a vibrant atmosphere. King's students are articulate, confident and valued by the top universities. Our students are phenomenally successful, with virtually all going to university. The extra- curricular offering is extensive with 140 activities from Passion4 Poetry Club to 'isms club and we offer over 26 different sports!

Entrance assessment to The King's School (Chester) at age 4 consists of play-based assessments, At age 7 consists of: Arithmetic, Written English, Reading & Reasoning. At ages 8-10: English, Arithmetic & Reasoning. At age 11: Maths, English, verbal and non-verbal papers and a short interview. Sixth-form entry (aged16): 7 A*- Bs at GCSE including 4 at A/A* and A*- A in subjects to be studied and interview. Some past papers can be downloaded from the school website. Financial considerations should not deter you from applying as some bursaries are available for Senior and Sixth Form study. Several academic scholarships are also available.
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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


Since 2017, George Hartley MA Cantab (geography), MSc (environmental science, Imperial College, London). Previously principal at Elizabeth College, Guernsey and prior to that head of sixth form at Berkhamstead School, having taught at Highgate School, Queen’s College, Taunton and Eton.

As well as academic strength, thinks ‘it is really important that the school has life and soul and fun’. Parents say that before his arrival King’s lacked personality, but now ‘he is bringing warmth back into the school’. One said, ‘it’s like he has lifted the lid off the school and shone a light inside’.

Mindful of the huge mental health issues plaguing teenagers everywhere, ‘a constant striving for perfectionism’, he wants to mix academic excellence with outstanding pastoral care. It's an educational elixir he hopes to deliver by helping students ‘learn in a way that is sustainable’: to take the undue pressure out of exams and introduce appropriately paced studying. He has started by scrapping end of year exams for years 7 and 8; to sit 17 exams over two weeks at the end of the first two years in secondary school, he suggests, is not beneficial to any student. No kidding. Put in that Gradgrind kind of way, you wonder why they weren’t scrapped earlier. Instead, he wants to use those crucial two years to help students revise more effectively, all the while being continually assessed behind the scenes to ensure everyone is on track academically. Assessments, he says, allow students to learn from setbacks in a ‘more humane way’ and ‘fail forwards’. By year 9, ‘they should each have a clear revision strategy and be able to handle the intensity of end of year exams’.

Perceiving student feedback as a very powerful tool, he has injected some oomph into the open forum and sought to foster a ‘have a go’ culture. 'When pupils remember this school, I want them to have a smile on their face’, he says. The school is no bubble, either; although on the outskirts of Chester, it is now collaborating with other key Chester institutions to put King’s at the heart of the community. One initiative is Saturday masterclasses (shared with a couple of state schools), offering a range of opportunities such as sculpting.

Parents say Mr Hartley attends every school performance (so that’s three helpings of Beauty and the Beast) and is always on the touchlines, ready to chat. What most impressed them, though, is his frequent presence in the junior school; the fact that he makes himself approachable, even doing reading sessions with the children. ‘He has the best interests of the child at heart,’ said one parent, ‘and the "new" [which we took to mean the Hartley effect] is permeating through the whole school’.

Head of the junior school since 2016 is Margaret Ainsworth LLB (Leeds) PGCE MEd, previously at Queen’s, Chester, who joined King’s in 2015 to head up Willow Lodge infant school before assuming overall responsibility for the juniors.

The move to Willow Lodge, she says, meant she got to set ‘the tone and ethos of the school’. By the time she became overall head, she knew exactly what needed doing, immediately increasing the extracurricular offering and opening up opportunities in sport so every child could represent their school at some level. They play, she says, ‘in a very supportive environment’. Parents love this. ‘They never get the door slammed on them’, one parent said.

A strong advocate for the forest school dimension – Willow Lodge recently received the gold award from the Woodland Trust – Mrs Ainsworth is a fan of children learning without boundaries, learning about team building and risk taking. She exudes warmth, care, accomplishment and efficiency. ‘A well run ship’ one parent said. Another described her as ‘phenomenal’.

According to parents, both heads are out there greeting students each day, come rain or shine.


Into the Willow Lodge by play-based assessment. Junior assessments in small groups. Automatic entry from junior to senior school for those making sufficient academic progress, otherwise sensitive conversations with parents. The tracking is so good, Mrs Ainsworth says, that this rarely happens. External senior school applicants sit verbal and non-verbal reasoning, maths and English tests. Sixth form admissions by interview and GCSE results.


Almost all junior pupils move up to the senior school. Around three-quarters of sixth formers to Russell Group universities, including Bath, Birmingham, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle. Engineering, business and economics popular courses. Most years see some to Oxbridge (seven in 2021) and some medics (though none in 2021).

Latest results

In 2021, 82 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 80 per cent A*/A at A level (96 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 68 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 64 per cent A*/A at A level (86 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

While literacy and maths take centre stage from day one, this is soon expanded to include French, Spanish, PE and swimming and forest school sessions. Later, science, humanities, art and design and technology, music and drama are integrated. Specialist teachers are a blend of genders and age groups. The forest school, open to both infants and juniors, is a hugely popular part of the curriculum, allowing children to make dens, go tracking and, under supervision, light fires. Older pupils also get to go off site for this. Parents were fans: ‘they get to do amazing things’. Class sizes 22 max in infants, 24 in juniors.

Each term has a theme, picked up across the curriculum; at the time of our visit it was space, with the Mars landing a focus. Another was rain forests, where they studied use of palm oil and wrote a David Attenborough-style commentary. Rather wonderfully, the activities programme stitched into the curriculum also means that for one afternoon each week pupils try a new experience, from baking to cycling to archery.

In the senior school, a broad curriculum prevails through years 7-9. Around 90 per cent of students study at least one language to GCSE but only some eight per cent take one at A level. Academic standards are very high but one parent suggested that since Mr Hartley had ‘lifted the mood’, students were more motivated to work hard (less adolescent grumbles). Head is keen for teachers to incorporate different ways of learning into each lesson, perhaps an element of kinaesthetic or tactile learning. Interestingly, a pupil later told us that she had started to find biology ‘really interesting’ since they had started being asked ‘to do practical things’.

Girls are currently outnumbered in some year groups, but the school says there is no consistent trend between subject choices and gender. However, it may be worth checking on the situation in particular year groups.

Sciences, maths and economics the most popular and successful subjects - far fewer takers for humanities and very few linguists.

Learning support and SEN

There is a learning support teacher in juniors and parents are kept informed at every stage where issues are identified. Mrs Ainsworth says each child will get the support they need to thrive. One parent whose child had struggled in maths said the school had worked with him at lunchtimes, even pulling in a maths teacher who was also his football coach because they communicated well. They work on little weaknesses, was the parental echo; they see the whole child, and don't label them.

SEN seems very well catered for in seniors and all students go through a screening process. Mr Hartley says in 95 per cent of cases, the diagnosis is already identified when they start in the seniors. Describing the SEND department as ‘superb’, he adds, ‘they will use whatever strategies work, whether one-to-one or in groups’. He is clear the school does not see issues like dyslexia as ‘either a difficulty or a deficit’.

The arts and extracurricular

Clubs run the gamut from The Blazer newspaper (recently scooped a best school newspaper award), mindfulness, chess, world explorers to gardening (the infant school alone has 20 clubs). One parent described the music as ‘amazing’. Choirs (of all descriptions), orchestras and many performance opportunities including a summer concert and a winter one in Chester Cathedral. LAMDA on offer; two drama productions per year with opportunities to perform at Chester Festival as well as Shakespeare workshops. Guys and Dolls and Singing in the Rain recent productions which, from the photos, looked astoundingly professional. Every school year is involved in a production so even the shyest child adjusts, Mrs Ainsworth says. One visiting speaker, workshop or trip per term for everyone; these may include outdoor pursuits, museums or overseas to eg Barcelona.

We asked the junior school children about all these great activities on offer. Each had a story of triumph to relay: dropping a cello on stage and getting back up, a scary football trial, playing the tiger in Jungle Book. Each grinned madly after relaying their satisfaction at having mastered the skill or faced down their fear. ‘The school gives them wings,’ a member of staff said; ‘they will have a go at anything’. 'I love the Improvisation club,' said one, 'cross-country,' another, ‘the cool science experiments,’ piped up his neighbour….the list went on. These are interesting, interested (and well-mannered) children.

Some 25 music clubs in seniors, and every type of choir and band from madrigals to jazz cats, with around of a third of pupils throughout the school involved. Heaps of drama clubs, with glossy productions from Shakespeare to Nicolas Nickleby; a few take drama to A level.

In the senior school, enrichment sessions are part of curriculum and range from academic (philosophy, debating) to skills (life-saving) to creative (animation). One pupil relished thinking skills where they had been asked ‘what is a point?' Others enthused about costume design or debating. A mass of clubs from to Polyglots to Random Acts of Kindness. Numerous competitions, such as science Olympiads and TEdX. Trips to eg CERN, Iceland, the UN, battlefields. Pupils particularly liked the adventure trip to Aberdovey, having enjoyed the challenges. DofE and CCF popular.

Of course opportunities come at a cost; one parent mentioned that some of these great trips – in particular a rather fabulous football tour – cost a mighty amount of money. To be borne in mind in these cash-strapped, uneven times.


All the usual sports in the junior school, plus more offbeat sports including fencing and dodgeball. Senior sport is strong for both sexes; all the usual suspects on offer (netball, football, hockey, track and field, cricket et al) plus taikwando, water polo, lacrosse. Mr Hartley is keen to ensure everyone gets chance to represent the school, at whatever level. Parents welcome this, one saying that previously there had not been ‘enough sport for all’. Around 170 in the rowing club, some of whom go to achieve great things at Oxbridge or nationally. 2021 Recent improvements to outdoor sports facilities includes new all-weather pitch and MUGA (Multi Use Games Area).

Ethos and heritage

Willow Lodge, the purpose-built, self-contained infant school, is all wood-cladding and eco touches. The library had terrific displays dotted around, a life-sized igloo and a large papier mâché version of War Horse when we visited. Classrooms were a riot of colour with an outside play area, complete with friendship bench, a stage and a fantastic forest area with mud kitchen, veg growing and willow caves.

The bright, modern junior school boasts the swanky ‘learning centre’, opened in 2015, which houses the library, science labs, ICT room, art studio (wonderful displays of African forms and birds caught our eye). Overall, it gives off a vibe of a well-equipped, stimulating environment. It has its own playing fields, playground and little cricket pavilion. It shares many senior school facilities, including the theatre and swimming pool.

The corridors of the senior school, also stimulating, are lined with displays from book covers to thought-provoking questions: ‘Is it possible for a person to be entirely fulfilled by technology?’ Top notch facilities, great theatre and, like the junior, the excellent library at the centre. The DT room displayed various prestigious design prizes and wonderful gadgets, from iPad chargers to ingenious lighting. The recently refurbished sixth form centre has a nicely grown up feel with a little café and lots of study rooms.

A flash new sports centre is due to open in 2019. Students seemed very excited about pools, cafes, dance studio, ergo room….. just a little desperate for it to open.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

This has assumed much greater importance under the new regime. Juniors have assemblies on friendship issues and pastoral concerns are monitored at weekly staff meetings. Plenty of staff around at break times. Parents say the emphasis is on ‘kindness, warmth and care’. The classes are mixed up each year, which ‘felt quite hard at first but we soon realised they really knew what they were doing,’ said a parent. The result? Less dependency on one group of friends. Another parent said, ‘The junior school breeds self-esteem and independence, all very carefully planned’.

Mobile phones are not allowed in school. Increasing responsibilities such as election to the school council (posters, badges, campaigns, it’s all taken very seriously). The senior school house system was recently overhauled; pupils keep the same house tutor throughout, and groups have been halved in size to 12.

There is a school counsellor and 18 members of staff have so far completed the ‘mental health first’ training; other teachers and older students sport the turquoise badge of anti-bullying mentors. Sixth form prefects act as ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ to year 7s.

We spoke to mature senior school pupils; one described mental health issues ‘as common as any other injury you see’. Another talked about addressing friendship issues she had encountered a few years previously. They were aware of the online facility where they could share any concerns and, in these gender-sensitive times, conscious that ‘banter’ was not always a good thing. Parents, too, seemed very aware of the increased pastoral emphasis; one suggested the school suffered locally from the perception that it was concerned only about academic results. ‘And it’s not, it’s all genuinely about looking after the child,’ he said.

Parents praised the phased-in smooth transition from junior to senior school.

Pupils and parents

Parents a mix; some privileged, most hard working two-income families who prioritise education. One junior parent described the parent body as ‘very warm and doting on their children’. As any school, one hinted, there will always be competitive parents and those who sign their child up for anything that moves. Senior pupils' career aspirations included becoming a vet, a doctor, working in aviation, ‘something with sport’.

Communication good: weekly junior school newsletter; Firefly app allows senior school parents to override adolescent monosyllables and see what’s really going on.

Money matters

Currently around seven per cent receive a bursary; school fundraising to increase this to around 20 per cent.

The last word

A fantastic, vibrant and friendly environment in which your child can attain high academic goals while nurturing their interests and passions, whatever they may be.

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

The King’s School has good provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities and the whole school department is led by the Director of Learning Support. Children identified or diagnosed with a learning difficulty will be added to our special educational needs register and an IEP (Individual Education Plan) will be written specially for each child. The role of the IEP is to ensure that every teacher is fully aware of the child’s needs, and to provide guidance on how they can adjust their teaching methods to ensure that he or she can make good progress. Children who need more specific support can access group and 1:1 support sessions which run on a weekly basis. Older children studying at GCSE and A level can book in for ad-hoc 1:1 support sessions with the LS team as and when they need them. If a child has been awarded an EHC Plan or Statement of Educational Needs (Wales only) from the local authority, then the King’s School will work closely with the LA and hold annual reviews as required. The Learning Support team is very much part of the whole school and does not work in isolation at any point. Regular liaison with both academic departments and the pastoral teams takes place. The Learning Support team also works closely with class teachers, form tutors, school nurse, school counsellor, examinations officer, senior leadership team and safeguarding lead. The school also has working relationships with external specialist providers including a dyslexia specialist assessor, educational psychologist, and speech and language therapists. The school does not pay for external diagnostic assessments or specialist 1:1 provision. In compliance with the Equality Act 2010, the King’s School will not discriminate on the grounds of disability. As an academically selective school, every child applying for a place will be required to sit an entrance test before the offer of a place is made. If your child has a diagnosis of a special educational needs then the school can provide access arrangements such as extra time in the entrance test. This will be organised by our Director of Learning Support who will contact you directly to discuss the most suitable options. If your child has particularly significant needs and/or an EHC Plan/Statement, then the Director of Learning Support will invite you into school to discuss your child’s needs in more detail. The School may also make contact with your child’s current setting to find out more about the provision currently in place. The aim of this process is to encourage an open discussion between yourselves and the School so that we might determine whether or not the King’s School has adequate resources to meet the needs of your child. If your child is moving to King’s from another school, the Director of Learning Support will liaise directly with the SENDCo and class teacher at the child’s current setting. If the child is starting in the sixth form, a copy of the ‘JCQ Form 8’ will be required for the purpose of applying for access arrangements. For children with special educational needs moving through the school, having a ‘whole school’ approach to SEND provision helps ease the transition process. The Learning Support team works closely with parents, the child and class teachers to make sure the transition is a smooth process. The King’s School is fully committed to training all staff in several areas of special educational needs and disability. Regular training sessions and workshops are run internally by the Learning Support team at several times throughout the academic year. The school also arranges for external trainers to come into school to provide specialist information on a range of specific learning difficulties. This has included sessions on dyslexia, working memory, social stories, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD/ADD, brain injury, visual impairment and speech impairments. In addition, members of the learning support team are committed to attending regular external training sessions run by recognised professional bodies including the British Dyslexia Association (BDA), NASEN, PATOSS and the University of Chester.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
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 Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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