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Few walk away on exams results day with anything other than the a spring in their step – these hardworking, diligent, aspirational pupils do their parents proud year after year. Previous head worked hard to raise the academic profile of the school, with current head seeing his job as continuing on this trajectory while expanding wider opportunities. No hothouse – ‘I’m not here to turn it into a mini Winchester,’ he told us. One full-time and one part-time member of staff run the learning skills department. However, school is…

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What the school says...

Entrance examinations consist of: 11, 12 & 13+: Maths, English & VR. 16: Minimum of 8 grades (6 Bs & 2 Cs) or equivalent at GCSE, entry test and interview.

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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

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.

Performing arts specialist school

Sports

Polo

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

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2020, Gareth Doodes (40s), previously head of Dover College for five years. Before that, head of Milton Abbey in Dorset. Started his career at Taunton as a history teacher and then as a housemaster at Oakham. He has coached sport and has always been involved with music and drama. Also a Church of England lay minister of communion. Educated at Eastbourne College, where he was a music scholar; MA in modern history at St Andrews.

‘Lives up to his name – a real dude,’ said more than one parent (who could resist?). ‘Enthusiastic,’ ‘personable,’ ‘highly sociable,’ ‘finger on the pulse,’ ‘amazing on communications,’ we also heard. Not bad for a head who joined during the pandemic – ‘Well, crisis is a great time to focus the mind on development and improvement,’ he modestly muses. Very much a glass half full kind of chap, he was positively bursting with energy and drive even on our Zoom (no mean feat to display quite such dynamism online) and he is also highly active on social media, giving Visit Worcestershire a run for their money with his Tweets alone in which he describes the area as ‘the friendliest and most beautiful of counties’ (his wife, Jessica, hails from here). Still teaches (year 9 history for three periods a week) – ‘vital to keep a hand in and a great way to get to know pupils really well,’ he says.

A keen cyclist and swimmer, he plays the piano and organ and has extensive choral singing experience. Has two young children, Humphrey (‘Humph’) and Persephone (‘Persie’), both at King’s St Alban’s.

Entrance

About two-thirds join from the two junior schools, King’s St Alban’s and King’s Hawford; the rest from a mix of independent and maintained schools. Parents say the transition is smooth, with the school going out of its way through the pastoral structure to ensure everyone quickly feels part of the community.

Entry is primarily at 11+ (124 places) but the number of middle schools in the area mean that 13+ is also a popular entry point (24 places). Exams in maths, English and verbal reasoning for both. Around 20-30 join at 16+ - pupils need 6s at GCSE in the subjects they want to study at A level plus a cognitive abilities test and an interview.

Exit

Between 10-15 per cent leaves after GCSEs. Nearly all sixth formers go on to university and many get into the top ones. Exeter the most popular by far (‘perfect distance away from home, but easy to access by whizzing down the M5,’ says head). Others to eg Birmingham, Bristol and Loughborough. Growing numbers to Oxbridge – five in 2020, plus 13 medics. But head is insistent that’s not what defines King’s, with those going off to study interior design or gain an apprenticeship (both regularly feature) ‘considered equally successful’.

Latest results

In 2020, 72 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 60 per cent A*/A (85 per cent A*/B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 66 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 41 per cent A*/A grades at A level (69 per cent A*/B).

Teaching and learning

Few walk away on exams results day with anything other than a spring in their step – these hardworking, diligent, aspirational pupils do their parents proud year after year. Previous head worked hard to raise the academic profile of the school, with current head seeing his job as continuing on this trajectory while expanding wider opportunities. No hothouse – ‘I’m not here to turn it into a mini Winchester,’ he told us. Parent reckons, ‘You don’t have to be ultra-bright – although they do have very bright pupils – but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who isn’t edging higher than average academically.’

Highly committed teachers – in no small part thanks to the historic boarding aspect of the school, whose legacy includes a strong academic tutor system and sense of duty from teachers that extends well beyond the regular school day, with most undertaking clubs and extra tutorials at weekends. Exacting in their expectations, but evidently wanting children to enjoy the process of learning, this lot walks the walk, not just talking the talk, when it comes to their individual subjects: there are passionate mountaineers among the geography staff and a physics teacher spent time at NASA (his space suit hanging proudly at the back of the classroom) and more recently founded King’s Radio so the pupils now even have their own radio station. Staff are idiosyncratic, each eccentric in their own way, which makes for spellbinding lessons, though one parent felt ‘there’s more staff turnover than I’d like to see – usually they go because they’re promoted, which is lovely for them and says a lot about the school, but it’s a shame for us.’

Setting in maths from year 7; English and languages from year 8. French, Spanish and German all taught by native speaking teachers on a carousel from year 7. All take 10 GCSEs, including a language and separate sciences; approximately 40 pupils take 11. History, geography, music and classics all popular. Core subjects do particularly well; art also on an upward curve. At A level, all pupils start with four, with most dropping to three at October half term. Largely traditional subjects offered at this stage, though psychology has recently been added. Business, history, maths and sciences get the biggest numbers. Latin and classical civilisation all available at both GCSE and A level, as are politics, computing and drama/theatre studies. Good value-added scores. Around 60 per cent take EPQ.

Pupils are meticulously monitored through regular formal and informal assessments and there is a particular drive to ensure that the scholars are strong academic role models for the rest of the school. School was ‘unbelievably quick at adapting to online lessons – it was pretty much seamless,’ thought parent, though one felt that ‘coasting can be a bit of a danger unless you keep an eye on it – support is there for the top and bottom but those in the middle can occasionally get missed.’

Learning support and SEN

One full-time and one part-time member of staff run the learning skills department, which offers a range of one-to-one and small group sessions on a case-by-case basis at no additional cost. Some find that half a dozen lessons - typically covering study and revision skills and exam techniques – do the trick; others benefit from a longer period of lessons covering eg language skills and problem-solving. Additional support from external agencies is rare, but available. However, school is keen not to over promise – no EHCPs and generally nothing more than mild dyslexia, ASD etc. Possibly not a site for a permanently physically disabled child (too higgledy-piggledy).

The arts and extracurricular

Music, as you would expect in a school with close links to a cathedral, is outstanding. A large number of pupils learn instruments and there are long lists of ensembles, choirs and orchestras on the timetable board. Brace yourself for the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end when you hear the elite chamber choir sing, though a parent reassured us there are ‘also concerts where you wince quite a bit – it’s not just about putting forward the best, which is exactly how it should be.’ Nor is music here all about the classics, with polyphony and reggae celebrated in equal measures. School has a variety of venues for concerts including the wonderful College Hall, the old monastic refectory dating in part from the 12th century. ‘Music is a fun environment and not seen as nerdy like it is in some schools – the music teachers have a real laugh with the kids,’ said parent. Even the organist has managed to make his instrument ‘trendy,’ we heard.

Drama ‘superb’, according to parents – there’s always excitement and anticipation afoot for the big annual musical. ‘Never disappoints, always out of this world,’ lauded one. Most recently, Made in Dagenham, which was performed in the 300 seater theatre, with more minor productions in the smaller black box theatre. A nice touch is that older pupils can and do get involved even if they’re not studying drama, though it is popular at GCSE and A level. Reasonable take up for LAMDA.

Pre-U art available in sixth form – these students have their own studio space, akin to university art school. Results for this and GCSE exemplary. The whole department fizzes with creativity and there are more than a few gasp-worthy examples around the school to stop you in your tracks, as well as some inspiring exhibitions.

Head claims school ‘has an almost American feel in terms of the sheer number of clubs.’ CCF, DofE, Model UN, dance club and an annual Jaguar Land Rover activity to build a 4x4 provide a flavour. Lots of trips, both domestically – the school has its own outdoor education centre in Wales – and overseas. Strong charitable focus too - there are links to the Himalayas, providing educational and medical resources, and there’s local outreach work more locally. No food tech on offer, though – parents wanting their offspring’s culinary prowess to extend beyond beans on toast during their university years will need to fill this gap at home.

Sport

One of the defining features of the school is rowing. The close-knit community seems to be a bubble all of its own – and that’s just the parents. As for the pupils, they make mates for life often well beyond their year groups – ‘doesn’t matter if you’re 11 or 18,’ said one. GB rowers produced on a regular basis. The architecturally exciting Michael Baker boathouse (also in demand of small concerts and other events) juts out over the river which edges the school and, across the river next to the Worcestershire County Cricket Ground, there are extensive playing fields. Other games facilities include a national standard sports hall, indoor climbing wall and gym. Main sports are rugby, football and athletics for the boys and hockey, netball and athletics for the girls – ‘all have an excellent standard of coaching but it’s very gendered,’ groaned more than one parent, with one explaining that ‘it means that boys, like my son, who hate rugby have no opportunity to play hockey and girls never get a look in with rugby.’ Another parent warned that ‘it’s incredibly pressurised if you’re in the A team – you have to commit to every match no matter what’s going on at home.’ Keen sportspeople represent the county and there have also been national successes. Rugby does particularly well. Cricket on the up – now features in the top 100 cricket schools. Dance taken by both boys and girls (so they can get past the gender stereotypes, then) and benefits from a dance studio with sprung floor.

Ethos and heritage

The 16th century foundation, originally the choir school, nestles behind Worcester Cathedral and the heart of the community is College Green. For such a city centre site, it is extraordinarily well hidden from view, and that may partly explain why it feels like a world of its own. Buildings range from 12th century to 2016, but it is by no means the hotch-potch that it sounds. Each century has produced its own architectural gems and the overall effect is one of great charm; tradition shoulder to shoulder with the contemporary. The classics and Latin departments are housed in the medieval Edgar Tower, accessed via a romantically precipitous spiral staircase. The ascent is worth it just for the views over Worcester.

The sense of a British cathedral tradition is in the air. ‘The cathedral is the beating heart of our school and we are constantly reminded of hope and a strong spirit, as well as having an important place in history,’ says head. ‘Difficult to explain, but very magical,’ we heard more than once, with parents repeatedly telling us that the close links with the cathedral give a certain feel to the school that goes well beyond a religious heritage. Although no longer a boarding school, the strong house system and rich extracurricular life remains, as well as the way pupils are encouraged to develop a sense of service to the wider community.

Compared to RGS, the school’s main competitor, King’s is considered by most in the area as the ‘old money’ option, but we found nothing remotely stuffy about it. Parents, teachers and students speak of the exceptionally warm relationships that the school generates. A school with a heart and soul, and a strong sense of community.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

We heard tale after tale about how the school had shown support for the whole family where appropriate, as well as how counselling was offered if it was felt the child would benefit – a far cry from schools that wait for pupils to ask for it and even then have long waiting lists. Pastoral care is also praised for being prompt and discreet. Strong chaplaincy appreciated and, most recently, a school psychologist who produces a weekly mindfulness publication (which came into its own during the pandemic). Head says he takes ‘her lead around mental health both for staff and pupils – I’m a great believer that you can’t get it right with the pupils unless you get it right with the staff first.’ The head’s own emotional transparency is not lost on parents and pupils – he told us how ‘I just went into my office and wept’ after hearing of how some families had been affected during the pandemic.

The aforementioned past boarding structure is a huge boon pastorally. Years 7 and 8 operate as a slightly separate group with a form structure; then, when pupils enter year 9, the full house system kicks in. This means that the school can use the early years to build a sense of belonging and identity amongst all the children, who enter not only from the two junior schools but also from a lot of other feeder primaries. Parents confirm that younger pupils are very happy to share concerns with sixth formers as well as staff. Pupils all spoke about how much they appreciated really getting to know well students in other year groups. While many schools use the house system to stimulate competition, the heart of the system at King’s seems to beat around the importance of relationships – though of course the competitions are there too.

More carrot than stick when it comes to behavioural management, although school is firm when it needs to be, with a tiered detention system and one or two temporary exclusions per term – generally for repeat minor offences than salacious big ones. Only one permanent exclusion in recent years, though one parent felt ‘there are times when parents and school come to an agreement that the child may be better off elsewhere – better for both parties.’ Bullying minimal and clamped down on speedily. Plenty of leadership opportunities, but some parent grumbles that they go to the same few pupils in sixth form.

Pupils and parents

Pupils are unpretentious and amiable, at ease in adult company and with an air of feeling comfortable with themselves and the world. Many parents told us it was the demeanour of senior pupils that had clinched their decision to send their offspring to King’s. Former pupils flock back to the school, sharing all sorts of experiences and expertise with present pupils (several volunteered to supervise classrooms during online learning when teachers are isolated at home and teaching from there). Parents include everyone from the well-heeled to professionals and those with business start-ups through to those who need the bursary support to keep children there. ‘You do get some yummy mummies, but just as many rock up in running stuff or jeans and wellies,’ said parent. Families come from increasingly far and wide – south of Birmingham all the way round to Gloucestershire and back across. City centre location means no shortage of transport links and there are school buses with multiple pickups. Ethnicity more mixed than it used to be but reflects the Worcester population rather than that of the wider West Midlands. Communications aimed more at the pupils than the parents – ‘it’s all part of the drive to make pupils more independent, which is a big thing at King’s and very much approved of, but it does mean that important things can get missed sometimes such as GCSE and A level options which we’d like to have been more involved in,’ said parent.

Money matters

Academic and music scholarships at 11+ and 13+, with academic scholarships and leadership awards at 16+. Both new entrant and hardship bursaries are available up to 100 per cent of fees, with up to 90 pupils generally getting bursary funding. The school aims to provide 40 fully funded places by 2041, their 500th anniversary.

The last word

A highly regarded yet down-to-earth cathedral school that can’t fail to charm, at the same time as being a go-to school for ambitious parents. For us, it’s the warmth that is its USP. This is a school that wears its heart on its sleeve and is all the better for it. ‘Couldn’t be more caring if they tried,’ summed up a parent.

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 school takes seriously the importance of catering for pupils who have identified special needs. There is a new Learning Skills department run by a trained expert assisted by another specialist. All pupils are screened on entry. The department works very closely with partoral staff and helps to monitor and interpret academic progress. Pupils are rarely withdrawn from lessons but receive extra help from trained staff in a variety of ways during lunchtimes or after school. The school also has a Special Needs Coordinator who is a member of the English staff and liaises with teaching staff. 09-09

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 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

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