Kingsley School, Bideford
This co-ed all-through school in Bideford, with an excellent Learning Support Centre, is warm, caring and fun above all; and with happy kids comes excellent results.
Parents may be gently nudged off the premises each morning, with a quirky ‘Kiss & Drop Ends Here‘ sign, but it takes more than that to stop a roving Muddy editor in her tracks. I hoofed it up to North Devon, to discover what goes on post drop-off at Kingsley School.
Kingsley is a small, single campus co-ed Boarding and Day school for kids aged 3-18, with integrated Nursery and Pre-School. It’s situated amidst 25 acres of playing fields, gardens and woods, high up in the maritime market town of Bideford, just a few miles from some pretty stunning surfing beaches in one direction and the wilds of Exmoor and Dartmoor national parks inland – enough fresh air for you?!
The buildings on campus are a mix of old and new and, while there are no sweeping driveways, the main School House is attractive and the views (including from the classrooms) are very pretty indeed.
The school’s ethos is to discover, nurture and celebrate the talents and achievements of all its pupils and I believe it when they say this isn’t a motto to which they merely pay lip service. With just 400 or so students, it’s an ideal setting for families who want their kids to benefit from individual attention and encouragement. Class sizes are small, averaging around 12 pupils and the staff all appear to know the names of each child, which is really lovely to see.
Kingsley is a Methodist School, but welcomes children of all faiths, or none at all – religion certainly isn’t forced upon the kids. It’s there for those who want to explore it, but otherwise its a subtle backbone, where the values are promoted throughout the day-to-day life.
On the face of it, Kingsley might not have an abundance of shiny, showy facilities across sprawling grounds (you wouldn’t want to see it all crammed in to such a relatively small school), but that doesn’t mean the kids miss out on opportunities and nor does the school feel out on a limb. There’s a great purpose-built theatre which the Drama and Music Departments make the most of and the school cast have performed on stage at the National Theatre, London. There is also a professional recording studio, where kids get the chance to write and record their own music, with plenty of opportunities for performing on stage. Kids are regularly shuttled to the local pool, so they’re ready to turn pro-surfers and the Judo Academy is linked to the University of Bath team (the only one in the UK).
While we’re on the subject of facilities, special mention goes to the chefs in the kitchen, by the way. I’m not sure if it was a fluke, but I managed to arrive in time for lunch, a roast with all the trimmings that’s almost worthy of its own post in the ‘Eat Out’ section. I’m not even joking!
Full of surprises, Kingsley is quietly gaining quite a reputation in sports, particularly the less celebrated ones. Gymnastics, handball, judo, and cross country squads all compete at national level and the school often hosts cross country events within its grounds, thanks to its varied woodland terrain.
In January 2017 Pete Last joined Kingsley, following his time at the prestigious Stowe School in Bucks and his appointment was clearly a popular one among both staff and parents. A really down to earth and instantly likeable chap, Pete has spent the last year or so getting his ‘feet under the table’, but isn’t afraid to dream big for the future. He wants Kingsley to be the ‘go to’ school in the region and is super-proud of the fact that they turn out well-rounded young adults: ‘we don’t just make good grades, we make good people’.
As part of the recruitment process, Pete was put under the spotlight against his opponents in a pupil panel. Asked by one student what he would be if he wasn’t a headmaster, his reply? A rockstar. Nuff said.
I wrongly assumed that, because Kingsley puts its nurturing ethos above everything else, academically it wouldn’t match up to its opponents. Not so – and that only goes to show that its values are genuine ones. On the contrary, despite its small size, Kingsley is standing tall against its more shouty equivalents in the region and the trend seems to be in students exceeding their expectations. Last year, 45% of its A-level students achieved A/A* grades, putting the school well above the national average. 100% of students passed Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology at A* or A grade, with some students going on to study at the more prestigious universities, including Cambridge.
Worth shouting about is the level of learning support and pastoral care here, which is obviously a major strength. The school’s Learning and Development Centre (LDC) recently underwent a CReSTeD (The Council for the Registration of Schools Teaching Dyslexic Pupils) inspection and made the grade – making it the only school in Devon and Cornwall with this national recognition. Dyslexic students divide their time between specialist and mainstream lessons and seem to thrive.
The nursery and pre-school (taking babies from 12 weeks up to 4 years) is big, bright, clean and full of calm, contented small people – seriously, I don’t think I’ve seen such a serene setting, there’s clearly no danger of boredom.
There are a series of rooms designated for messy and sensory play, reading, sleeping and so on, while the outdoor spaces offer a mud kitchen, access to a forest school and plenty of space to play. There’s structure, but not at a stifling level.
Being so close to some of the UK’s best surfing beaches, of course watersports are popular, here. The littlies in the nursery get weekly swimming sessions at the local pool, so they’re fully ready to become surfing pro’s by the time they progress to prep!
Another unusual fact is that the head, Pete Last still teaches years 8-9 (RE and Geography), partly so he can lead his team confidently (‘I’m not asking them to do anything that I haven’t done’) and because he doesn’t want to give up what he loves.
But, for me, one of the stand-out features of Kingsley is its kids. I have never been to a school where every student I met, unprompted, went out of their way to chat to me at ease and tell me how much they loved being there – and that’s really saying something, for a school that bans mobile phones until the more senior years! There’s a definite feeling that everyone ‘has your back’ at Kingsley.
Fees are divvied up between bands, depending on the level of Learning Development Support required. Fees listed below are based on pupils with no additional support required. It’s worth knowing too, that casual boarding is available at £49 per night – ideal if you work away for extended periods and need that little bit of temporary additional care.
Pre-prep (Nursery and Pre-School): half-days £25, full day (inc. meals) £50 per day.
Reception per term: £1980.
Prep School Day pupils (years 1-6) per term: £2080 rising to £3345
Prep Weekly Boarders per term: £5580
Prep full boarders per term: £7,385
Senior School (years 7-13) Day pupils per term: £4220 rising to £4460
Senior Weekly boarders per term: £6995
Senior full boarders per term: £8945.
WRAP AROUND CARE
I had a peek inside one of the three boarding houses, where there is nothing unusual to report, really. I’d say the facilities are average and what you’d expect. When I visited, rooms were in the process of being refreshed with new beds and a lick of paint, which is always encouraging to see. Boarders are welcome from the age of 8 and the majority of boarders are from overseas, though not exclusively. One thing’s for sure, it’s a decent part of the world to live and grow in.
There are dozens of extra-curricular activities running until 5pm, from rock climbing to organic gardening, yoga to drama and debating. Beyond this, after care or Prep Club are options, until 6pm.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Kingsley is a winner among the grown-ups and the head has gone down a storm since his arrival, described by one parent as ‘a legend’! They are impressed by the care and attention provided to each and every student and the family feel that pervades. One parent told me that she feels the breadth of activities and facilities on offer is incredible for the size of the school and that the fees considering are really reasonable.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those wanting their kids to be nurtured, feel immediately at home and engaged in an all-round education. Kingsley is a fab option for those who have, perhaps, struggled in larger, more academically-driven settings. For parents, it’s perhaps more affordable than other independents in the region.
Not for: Kingsley prides itself on its inclusive and encouraging approach to all who come through the doors, but there is no sense of pomp and grandeur here and the school isn’t one of those knock out visions of elegance that screams exclusivity. If you’re keen on state-of-the-art sporting facilities, or your child is the next great classical musician, then you might feel slightly limited here (rock stars, on the other hand, step up!)
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Why don’t you pop along to the next Open Event on Saturday 9 March 2019 (9.30am – 1pm) and let me know your thoughts?
Kingsley School, Northdown Road, Bideford, Devon, EX39 3LY. Tel: 01237 426200