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  • The King's School
    Cadhay Lane
    Ottery St Mary
    Devon
    EX11 1RA
  • Head: Mr Rob Gammon
  • T 01404 812982
  • F 01404 815685
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.thekings.devon.sch.uk
  • A state school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 18.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Devon
  • Pupils: 1,094; sixth formers: 181
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted:
    • Latest Overall effectiveness Outstanding 1
      • Outcomes for children and learners Outstanding 1
      • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Outstanding 1
      • Effectiveness of leadership and management Outstanding 1
    • 1 Full inspection 28th March 2014
  • Previous Ofsted grade: Outstanding on 3rd February 2011
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report

What says..

As you approach the school you observe students criss-crossing the playground on their way to their next lesson and think, Gosh, what extraordinarily nice, happy-looking young people. Then the welcome you get in reception is warm and genuine. Within three mins max you feel perfectly certain that you are in an exceptionally good school. You’re right. There is huge pride in the school’s ‘diversity’. A student told us flatly, ‘You don’t need to go to a grammar school to succeed’. Nice place to live, Ottery, twixt moor and sea, where incomers aren’t given the silent treatment...

Read review »

What the school says...

Converted to an academy 2011.

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Excellent performance by Girls taking Geography at an English Comprehensive School (GCE A level)
  • Excellent performance by Girls taking Geography at an English Comprehensive School (GCSE)

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headteacher

Since 2016, Rob Gammon BSc PGCE. Educated at Enfield Grammar and Loughborough University: physical education, sports science and physics. Began teaching in 1997 in Lincs. Came first to King’s in 2006 as deputy head responsible for the school’s specialist sports college status. Left in 2013 to head up Robert Blake Science College, a struggling comprehensive in Bridgwater, which he raised in short order to Ofsted good status. Second coming to King’s, this time as head, 2016. Widely acclaimed, popular choice. Here is where he absolutely wants to be. Remains a keen sportsperson - a onetime pole vaulter, he now swims, runs, cycles and occasionally strings all three together in triathlons. Other interests outdoorsy. Keeps chickens. Lives in the catchment area. Three children, all at King’s.

When the Ofsted inspectors investigated Mr Gammon’s work in Bridgwater they fearlessly exposed ‘clear vision and relentless drive for further improvement’. They also noted that ‘all teachers are held firmly to account for the impact their teaching has on the progress pupils make.’ Which makes him sound, if effective, a bit like one of these martinet superheads we read about, the sort who carry with them a little cloud of fear. For sure, Mr Gammon ensures the classes run on time and students wear exactly the right uniform, exactly the right way, but his style is not command and control from behind a distant desk. He likes to get out and about and hear what teachers and students think. Affiliative is the buzzword he applies to his leadership style. Team building. Head coach. Approachable. He told us: ‘I take a great deal of time to talk to students, staff and parents in order to try and get to know them personally’. We can attest to this, having toured the school with him, and can also vouch for his stated aspiration to make his school ‘a community where students feel loved and cared for - in a professional manner: you’ve got to make sure the rigour is there and at the same time promote warmth and relationships.’ He added, ‘There is a culture of high expectations for all and I hope that I model this in my own professional and personal attitude and behaviour.’ We very much think he does. We like the way Mr Gammon feels about his school. We like his cheery openness and admin super-efficiency, for he seems to manage to do it all without the help of a PA. We queried him about below-par exam results in one subject and he didn’t blink or blind us with blather but in plain English described the staffing difficulty responsible - temporary, as it turned out. Candour in a head is a marvellous thing.

Academic matters

King’s is a comprehensive school. Actually, it’s an academy but retains the heart and mind of a comprehensive: it exists to provide a good education for every single boy and girl locally, regardless of gifts or calibre. This is as much about ideology as pragmatism. It’s the right thing to do, they believe. And it works. There is huge pride in the school’s ‘diversity’. A student told us flatly, ‘You don’t need to go to a grammar school to succeed’. There is unapologetic mixed ability teaching throughout except in maths: ‘You’ll find no bottom-set culture here,’ said the head. We cast about for evidence that some students as a result feel held back. Overwhelmingly no. ‘Well yes, once in a while,’ conceded the parent of very bright children. ‘Tough’ she tells them, ‘life’s like this’. Didn’t hold her eldest back from going to Oxbridge. Parents who fancy a more rarefied atmosphere where their brilliant child can spark off like-minded other children can check out the highly selective Colyton Grammar nearby. It’s an alternative. We wouldn’t say it’s any better.

Given the exam results they achieve you’d have to say that the comprehensive formula is holding up rather well at King’s - calls for a market offering greater choice of schools are decidedly muted hereabouts. Exceptionally good value-added score places King’s in the top 17 per cent of schools nationally for those achieving grade 4+ in English and mathematics at GCSE. They do well by their disadvantaged students. And there’s a ‘challenge programme’ for the gifted and talented which hosts visiting speakers.

Up to GCSE the curriculum has something for everyone. Foundational academic subjects, English and maths in particular, especially well taught: 79 per cent got 9-4 in English and maths in 2018. Sciences notably strong, as are French and Spanish, all of them significantly above the national average. No weak areas. A leavening of hands-on subjects include food prep and nutrition. They like to talk about ‘achievement for all’ and they mean it with fervour. Head especially proud of ‘doing well by our boys’. He told us, ‘We encourage all students to believe that there is no ceiling for them’. In their GCSEs overall 23 per cent of entries got A*-A/9-7 in 2018.

Sixth form more academic. Head said, ‘It’s not right for everyone but we know what we do well’. Twenty-six subjects including BTec IT. Set sizes vary from low single figures to high teens. An ingeniously designed setup, attractive to those who don’t fancy the hugeness of Exeter College but want a pre-adult experience which also enables them to practise the school’s communitarian values. We like the sixth form centre a lot with its snazzy café, study room, IT suite and specialist classrooms - almost a school within a school. We also think highly of the head of sixth form.

He told us: ‘This is not just an exam factory’, which in many schools is a self-incriminating denial, but actually sixth formers here do plenty in the wider school community, organise a number of house events, eg music competition, and apply to be prefects - workplace-style interview for head girl and head boy. They labour and ask not for any reward save that of knowing that they done good because a spirit of above-and-beyond is pervasive here. Careers guidance happens in PSHE classes, highly rated by students. Individual support for the 30 per cent or so of students who want to sidestep university and crack on with an apprenticeship or the world of work.

Bottom line shows strength in all areas, from maths (attracting record numbers) and sciences, to English and history, and languages. In addition to main subjects you choose one other from a tasty range which includes extended project qualification - EPQ, silver DofE and a life skills course which includes cooking on a budget. In 2018 20 per cent of all entries achieved A*-A and 47 per cent achieved A*-B.

Special needs provision famous, making the school attractive to students outside the catchment area who have an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP). These students can name the school they want to go to, adding somewhat to pressure on places. Individual programmes for each student. Life skills room - a safe space for students with additional needs. Full range of SENs addressed. Focus on nurturing independence: the head of dept, also the school’s deputy head, told u, ‘We have no velcro teaching assistants or key workers here’. Exceptional dedication from these, who reeled off with pride marvellous successes, including a student now at university whose parents had been told would probably never speak. Parents very happy with level of communication with school.

Games, options, the arts

King’s was a specialist sports college in the days when specialisms were à la mode and, with a sporty headteacher, remains a sporty kind of place. The head told us, ‘Sport is right at the heart of what we do; it develops skills for leadership’. In addition to PE classes there’s a range to suit all sorts from keep-fit for those who aren’t much turned on by the team stuff. Girls’ hockey and boys’ cricket very strong. Other strengths: girls' cricket, football, athletics and cross-country. For students with disabilities there’s boccia.

By no means a superabundance of lunchtime and after-school clubs compared with some schools but what there is is well chosen and ample, said parents and students. Plenty of sport. Some exam support. General interest activities include writers’ group, coding club and school band. Daily mindfulness session. Sports leadership. Crochet. Some art to complement what goes on in the classroom, where results are commendable. Performing arts a bit thin - there are lessons in years 7-9 and a big biennial production. If a student wants to start a club the teachers will get behind them.

Lots of departmental field trips. Sixth formers can apply to go to India and work in a children’s home. Biennial trip to New York. Ten Tors. DofE. Your best insight: read the buzzy weekly newsletters archived on the school’s website and check out their Twitter and Facebook.

Background and atmosphere

This is a venerable school. Founded 1335 as a choir school, became a grammar in 1545, a comprehensive in 1982 and an academy in 2011. Of its former days not a wrack survives, not a ruinous oratory, not yet so much as a fragment of stained glass. Its best side is its early and very ordinary C19 bit. Survey the school as you emerge from your car and your first impression is of a common-or-garden comprehensive.

Second impressions tell you everything you need to know in microcosm. As you approach the school you observe students criss-crossing the playground on their way to their next lesson and think, Gosh, what extraordinarily nice, happy-looking young people. Then the welcome you get in reception is warm and genuine. Within three mins max you feel perfectly certain that you are in an exceptionally good school. You’re right. What’s the secret?

Partly, longstanding culture. Mr Gammon must fill big shoes because the school’s established corporate personality is his inheritance from his highly successful predecessor and ex-boss, head for 12 years and flag bearer for the school’s comprehensive values: ‘I do not like selection in any way whatsoever. We are totally inclusive here and that is something we are proud of. A school has a responsibility to its community and should be the hub of it.’ Because it comes so close to this ideal, the school has been able to attract really good teachers and support staff. Nice touch: on its website the school lists teaching staff and support staff by department alphabetically, so between careers staff and cover teachers you find cleaning team. None of the usual us and them. We asked around why the school is so darn nice. Everyone told us, ‘It’s always been like this’.

Not that it sits now in a state of self-satisfied stasis, because a school rapidly rots (from the head down) if there’s any slacking. As Mr Gammon observed, ‘even "nice kids" can be hard work if they are not on board’. Not that they are all preternaturally nice, they’re normal and they number a few of the usual suspects - lead swingers, refuseniks - about whom Mr Gammon spoke with affection and humour. A student told us, ‘The teachers push us to achieve the most we can rather than trying to make us into different people.’ Mr Gammon added, ‘They know the students well enough to be able to guide them when they go off track’. So let’s hear it for a really strong team of teachers; we enjoyed and were impressed by every one we met. A parent told us, ‘They try to find everyone’s talent and help them to achieve in that’. Academic students here learn to take a rounded view of achievement. A parent told us what a great learning experience it was for her daughter when an unprepossessing lad suddenly emerged as a great chef. Mr Gammon’s principal criterion when appointing new teachers is to identify ‘a passion for young people’. Parents, we learnt, respond to how much the teachers care for their child and, in few cases, ‘get their act together’.

Mr Gammon has focused on how his students feel about being at school. So the campus has been secured and a pedestrian cut-through cut off. Benches have been installed in the playground to impede hurtling and enable calm conversation. There are tubs of shrubs and flowers. This is not cosmetic, it is very clever. In these days of shrinking budgets and clamouring priorities it is money well spent. There are some tired-looking buildings and some fine new ones, latest being the dining hall, which fits Mr Gammon’s feelgood brief to a T, new sixth form café and IT suite. Sports centre shared with the community.

A crown jewel of the school is its parliament - its student voice. Each house elects reps to this consultative body from all year groups, who then elect leaders. On behalf of the school community the parliament addresses staff and governors on matters of concern. They’re effective: one of them told us, ‘Our needs become their priority’. They interview all candidates for teaching posts. They advise on development projects. They’ve even addressed a secretary of state for education. They're very proud of their school and its values. They impressed upon us that ‘if we weren’t as diverse we wouldn’t have such a great school community’.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s father was headmaster of King’s. His precocious son attended and, in his own estimation, ‘soon outstripped all of my age’. Sir Walter Raleigh may or may not have come here, it’s hard to pin down. More recently, Jo Pavey, long-distance runner, definitely did.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

There are four houses (all named after men) and your house is where pastoral care is based in a tutor group which is vertical by age. Aside from the formal pastoral structure care is, in Mr Gammon’s words, ‘all about depth’, meaning that everyone plays a part in how a student feels when they’re at school. PSHE is passionately taught. ‘Well-being,’ we were told, ‘is at the heart of the school; students must feel good about themselves in order to learn’. We saw that borne out. Student members of the school's national award-winning Respect group train the staff on issues of diversity. There is rigour: a system of strikes and incremental intervention including partnership with parents - ‘our relationship with parents is central’. Low level disruption is not tolerated. Exclusion is rare but every student knows that there is a clear boundary. There are rewards, eg the Fab Fifty students with the most house points who win a non-uniform day. Those involved in, eg, health or anti-bullying wear coloured lanyards so that others can approach them. Phones? ‘We don’t want to see them.' Elegant. Uniform? Rules for wearing it are so ingeniously thorough that there’s no room for ‘misunderstanding’.

The house system incubates all the values the school holds dear: healthy competition, leadership, throwing yourself into everything and being a community-minded good egg. There are lots of inter-house competitions from silly to serious, and students abundantly relish the rivalry. Everyone wanted to tell us about the house dance, 15 mins of choreographed knees-up created and directed by sixth formers. Huge fun of exactly the right sort.

Pupils and parents

Nice place to live, Ottery, twixt moor and sea, where incomers aren’t given the silent treatment as can happen further west. People move here for the community spirit and, in droves, the school, which has added a good 10 per cent to house prices. Some parents move here for the brilliant SEN provision. A parent whose child has autism described it as ‘a fantastic experience’. Pupils mostly from five local feeder primaries.

Exactly the sort of ‘nice’ area where you expect higher standards, but some 10 per cent come from backgrounds of rural poverty and are eligible for pupil premium funding. At the high end are parents who could easily afford to go private but see no need and not one of these could explain to us why those who do, do. Makes no sense to us. Some well-off parents, in gratitude, make financial donations for specific purposes. The school has strong communitarian values and plays a leading part in the life of this area. Livewire PTFA (the F stands for Friends).

Entrance

The school is oversubscribed, so you need to live in the catchment area. Admissions criteria as per customary local authority procedure. Brilliant induction process - a whole week in school at the end of the summer term so you feel you belong when you arrive.

For sixth form, looser geographical constraint. You need five 4s at GCSE and a proven ‘capacity to achieve on your chosen courses’. Open evening or tour. Report and interview. ‘We do the homework.' A tad less stringent than Colyton. Competes also with Exeter College and Exeter Maths School. Distinctive culture and lifestyle, more personal, you’re less on your own.

Exit

After GCSE a wodge - around half - departs to pursue vocational courses at Exeter College. After sixth form, 70 per cent to university; 30 per cent to apprenticeships or work. One to Cambridge in 2018.

Money matters

All Devon schools have for years suffered from below average funding and King’s receives less even than the average for Devon. If King’s were in Birmingham the school’s income would be boosted by a million pounds a year. Impressive therefore to see how far they make a little money go. School has its own charitable fund (Foundation and Jubilee Trust) to support less well-off students and worthy enterprises. Gifts amount to less than £1,000 a year so there’s probably scope to encourage more philanthropy.

Our view

Does exactly what all parents wish their local school would do: provide a first-class education for everybody. All good schools inspire strong admiration. King’s is a good school. Of these, a small fraction inspire strong affection. King’s is one of these precious few.

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

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Interpreting catchment maps

The maps show in colour where the pupils at a school came from*. Red = most pupils to Blue = fewest.

Where the map is not coloured we have no record in the previous three years of any pupils being admitted from that location based on the options chosen.

For help and explanation of our catchment maps see: Catchment maps explained

Further reading

If there are more applicants to a school than it has places for, who gets in is determined by which applicants best fulfil the admissions criteria.

Admissions criteria are often complicated, and may change from year to year. The best source of information is usually the relevant local authority website, but once you have set your sights on a school it is a good idea to ask them how they see things panning out for the year that you are interested in.

Many schools admit children based on distance from the school or a fixed catchment area. For such schools, the cut-off distance will vary from year to year, especially if the school give priority to siblings, and the pattern will be of a central core with outliers (who will mostly be siblings). Schools that admit on the basis of academic or religious selection will have a much more scattered pattern.

*The coloured areas outlined in black are Census Output Areas. These are made up of a group of neighbouring postcodes, which accounts for their odd shapes. These provide an indication, but not a precise map, of the school’s catchment: always refer to local authority and school websites for precise information.

The 'hotter' the colour the more children have been admitted.

Children get into the school from here:

regularly
most years
quite often
infrequently
sometimes, but not in this year


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