The Kingsley School, Leamington Spa
Muddy says: "A small, vibrant and family-orientated day school for girls aged 3 – 18; and boys from 3 – 11 in the heart of Leamington Spa, celebrating its 135th birthday in September.
A thriving and academically strong independent day school originally founded for young women in 1884 by forward-thinking Rose Kingsley, the older daughter of Victorian writer Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies. It started off as Leamington High School for Girls originally located at 19 The Parade and moved into the main house, Beauchamp Hall, in 1922.
A much-updated version of this former Cotswold Stone Victorian mansion is the “the nucleus” of this warm, intimate school and feels more like a big family house. Beautiful original period features include the main stairway and a striking refurbished central skylight in the main hallway. The school has many quirky secret nooks and crannies – the extensive basements have long been a source of curiosity.
Across the road two red-brick period properties have been converted into a homely mixed sex Preparatory School housing 100 pupils and a stylish girls-only Sixth Form with a walled garden and basement gym. There are 340 pupils across the three sites with class sizes kept under 20.
Pupils really are “a name not a number” and small class sizes mean staff in Prep can plan around pupils’ individual interests, and sixth form girls can benefit from personalised teaching. There’s a mischievous sense of fun among teachers and staff who go the extra mile. On World Book Day they surprised students by arriving in fancy-dress – including the Headteacher as Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. They also go all out on Taster Mornings – completely transforming the school into themed-events such as the upcoming Kinglsey Time Machine with lessons set in Victorian classrooms and an environmental under-the-sea theme for Kingsley Blue Planet with an inflatable shark!
A continuous improvement plan across all three sites has this academic year seen the opening of a new Prep playground with trim trail and climbing wall, a Prep School Innovation Station for robotics, Lego and creative work, two new classrooms due to demand and a Cookery Corner. In Senior School there’s 3 new state-of-the-art science labs, a new STEAM room, art room and Sixth Form ‘Hub’ – a light and airy whitewashed café style area and study space.
The 3 bright new, modern science labs have ergonomically designed desk pods and are individually designed to meet the needs of each subject. The Physics lab, nicknamed ‘The Space Station’ has a unique desk configuration – the only one of its kind in the UK. The lower lab was swapped with the art room to create a new STEAM room for science, technology, engineering art and maths related activities. The school encourages more girls to break gender stereotypes and take up science-related careers working closely with The Smallpeice Trust and The James Dyson Foundation.
I was blown away by the art room where Head of Art Ed Lax spent last summer reproducing Vincent van Gogh’s 1890 painting Almond Blossoms on the art cupboard (pictured above)! The pupil’s art on display is of a very high standard. Every year there’s an Art Prize, this year’s – At Night – attracted a whopping 160 submissions! The attractive new Design & Textiles workplace was refurbished in 2017 incorporating a laser cutter, 3D printers and CAD software.
A lovely airy library with original Victorian ceiling roses, multi-purpose hall (theatre, sports hall, hall) and adjacent drama studio, 4 IT suites and dining area are also housed in the main building.
Outdoor space is limited at the main building to a pretty courtyard walled garden but close by the school has 17 acres of extensive playing fields, an athletics area, modern pavilion, 4 hockey pitches, 5 netball courts, 6 tennis courts and 5 rounders pitches in Sandy Lane – a short drive away by school minibus. I was told there are some big (secret – ssshhh!) plans in place for the coming years…so watch this space!
There are 11 Kingsley minibuses, driven by Kingsley’s own bus drivers, for pupils travelling as far afield as Solihull, Banbury and Oxford, in addition to several convenient public buses. The drivers add their own special touches to their buses and journeys, including birthday surprises and a best-decorated minibus competition each Christmas.
This is a selective school with well above the national average in GCSE and A-level exams and outstanding personal achievements. More than a third of students achieved 5 or more 7-9 (A-A* equivalent) grades at GCSE in 2018, with 23% achieving level 8 and 9 grades, and 11% achieving the highly coveted level 9 grade – five times the national average. Nearly 100% scored A*-C grades.
At A-level over a third of all grades were A*-As, nearly two-thirds of grades were A*-B and 82% A*-C. 75% of girls gained places at their first-choice universities, with the remainder gaining places at their second-choice destination. The university destinations for recent leavers are varied from Law at Leeds and Liverpool; Medieval and Modern Languages at Cambridge, Dentistry at Bristol, English at Cardiff, Music at Edinburgh, Marine Zoology at Newcastle, Fashion with Marketing at Southampton and a Pharmaceutical Apprenticeship at Boots PLC.
ISI inspectors awarded Kingsley the top rating of excellent for eight out of nine categories including quality of academic and other achievements to the effectiveness of leadership.
MUSIC + DRAMA
Strong. Performing arts form an integral part of the curriculum with big productions last year including Aladdin (Prep) and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (Senior School) directed by professional London-based actor and director Antony Law, who treats the girls like a professional company.
Reflecting the head’s passion for Shakespeare a cast of Year 7, 8 & 9 pupils collaborated on A Shakespeare Soiree earlier in the year and pupils participate in the RSC’s recently launched online Live Lessons for schools. There are Prep and Senior School choirs, a swing band, Cantus Amoris – a small chamber choir, orchestra, ensembles and a wide range of instrument lessons offered from Prep to Sixth Form. The senior choir were honoured to recently be chosen to perform with Warwick Symphony Orchestra and the Ladies of Coventry Cathedral Chorus at Warwick Hall, alongside Gaynor Keeble and conducted by Roger Coull. Impressively the Music Department has won an ISM Gold award for consecutive years in recognition of music exam results. Kingsley’s consistently ranked amongst the top schools in England for music. Individual achievements include a Year 10 who has been accepted into the Junior Royal Academy of Music for oboe studies as well as securing a seat in the National Schools Symphony Orchestra, and a Year 10 flautist who attends Birmingham Conservatoire every Saturday.
Everyone here is encouraged to join in and hockey, netball, athletics and skiing are strong with the school holding its own against bigger schools in the county. The School’s Under 16 Ski Squad were crowned English Schools’ Ski Champions in 2018 and Best New Team in the British Schoolgirls’ Races, finishing first and second at Aiglon College Ski Cup in Switzerland. In athletics, the Junior girls are the County Combined Events Champions 2019 (hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and 800m), including a first-place individual finish; Year 10 District Rounders Champions and came third in Warwickshire School Games Indoor Rowing Finals.
Individual success includes that of Year 11 student Rebecca who became Coventry Sports Awards Amateur Sportswoman of the Year after winning first place at Swim England Midlands’ Under 19 Open Water qualifier and seventh in the Under 16’s National Open Water competition. Year 12 student Rebecca was nominated as Coventry Sports Awards Professional Sportsperson of the Year for swimming and Year 10 student Emily, the 2015 British Champion, as Coventry Sports Awards Amateur Sportswoman of the Year for rhythmic gymnastics. Many girls are also competing at county level, including cricket, swimming, synchronised swimming, rowing, football, gymnastics and a Wasps netballer
Impeccable manner! As I was shown around the senior school classrooms by marketing & PR manager Jon Farrington-Smith pupils stood up to greet us – every time. I felt like royalty!
Last September, Kingsley joined the Round Square network of more than 200 schools in 50 countries bringing a new international dimension to the school. IDEALS including Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service) reflect the school’s ethos. Sixth Form girls have already attended international conferences in Belfast, Montreal and global conference in India is planned for Oct 2019. In Montreal, girls reported one of the most memorable activities was a ‘disparity dinner’ where students were given random cards determining where they sat. Some sat on the floor with rice and water while others enjoyed a three-course dinner – highlighting the inequality that exists in the world. The girls were so inspired by this that they are rolling out the activity to other students across the school during assemblies.
Pastoral care is strong. A month-long wellbeing programme kicked off the year with Senior School and Sixth Formers being given wellbeing passports which included a timetable of form time, break time and lunchtime activities from yoga and Tai Chi to knitting, crocheting, and floristry workshops with Kineton florist, Flower Thyme. And during the 2019 exam season staff have been running 8.40am Mindfulness sessions. All teaching staff take part in pastoral activities, plus there’s the ‘Sky Room’ – a retreat for learning support/wellbeing; a qualified school nurse and qualified Wellbeing Counsellor, complete with her much loved therapy dog, Scooby.
There are more than 70 extra-curricular activities and clubs on offer from Prep to Sixth Form, ranging from Duke of Edinburgh and World Challenge, a new cricket club, Lego & K’nex building, Fitness Club to rock-climbing, British Sign Language, Chinese, Yoga and even a Hula Hoop Club. The dedicated librarian runs book clubs, recommended reading lists and creative writing workshops. One was led by Letter from a Lighthouse author Emma Carroll who encouraged the girls to write biographies celebrating inspirational girls and women, in the style of a book she edited, Make More Noise, commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK. Trips range from outings to the theatre to an art and Spanish trip to Barcelona, geography trips to Iceland and American West Coast, and a choir tour of Tuscany.
Kingsley was proud to have been shortlisted for two prestigious TES Awards this year, including the Creativity Award for the Prep School Creative Curriculum, and Marketing Campaign of the Year for their clever Be the Best Version of Yourself campaign based on the school motto, Esse Quam Videri. Their in-house marketing office is run as a design and media studio and offers practical learning experiences for students interested in design, photography, journalism and video. The team produces a stylish glossy bi-annual magazine 1884 – with high production values and quality editorial providing lots of great articles bringing to life school for parents and pupils alike. In addition, the team were also proud to win the Independent School Parent Highly Commended Award for Video Production. In 2018 Kingsley won the Business and the Community award at Leamington Business Awards for its work as an active member of the local community, promoting and supporting charities, schools, local businesses and the Rotary Club, and its intergenerational partnership with a local care home.
Take a look at last year’s Christmas video here – Kingsley’s version of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas. The festive season is a big deal at Kingsley and the annual much-anticipated video – a tongue-in-cheek take on popular mainstream Christmas TV ads – attracted 15k views over social media! It’s not only a real viral success, generating a huge buzz but creates a sense of pride and ‘what’s next?’ among students.
I haven’t come across a revamped dining room quite like the one at Kingsley before – the catering staff took it upon themselves to come up with the cool design mixing brightly coloured walls with quirky features, including a cutlery stand made from an old piano, a bicycle suspended from the ceiling and an upcycled cupboard created into a hydration centre with different flavoured infused water. Chef Gavin, a former restaurateur, has introduced meat-free Tuesdays, reduced throwaway plastic and paper by two thirds and reusable water bottles have been issued for all pupils Next up the catering team are creating a recycling station in the garden…
In memory of Rose Kingsley’s vision, the whole school celebrates Founder’s Day every September with an assembly led by the current Head girls and a lunchtime ice-cream for everyone. To celebrate the school’s 135th birthday the circus is coming to Kingsley on Mon Sept 23 2019 – featuring clowns, acrobats, magic and aerialists! There’s also going to be a garden party and art exhibition on Sat July 6, alongside the annual prize-giving ceremony at the end of term.
Girls need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at A*-C to enter. They can choose from 26 subjects, including Photography, Classical Civilisation and Fashion and Textiles. The head has extended an invitation to support an additional number of Trinity School students.
Facilities include a Common room, private study areas, art studio, ICT suites, well-stocked careers library, a new kitchen facility for food, science and nutrition students, and the Hub – a light and airy whitewashed café/study space – which opens out onto the lovely sixth form walled garden. An oasis of calm.
Down in the basement, there’s a well-equipped fitness suite, which is popular with the girls.
Every year the Head Girls and Sixth Form Leadership Team raise money for two charities of their choice– this year its Mind and the BHF. Last year £3,429 was raised each for Leamington-based Guide Dogs for the Blind and Myton Hospice through dress-up days, sleepovers and a Rose Ball – resulting in a super cute black Labrador puppy being named Kingsley. Girls receive support from a UCAS tutor guiding them through uni applications and every two years there’s a Futures Fair, which this year welcomed more than 50 companies including Aston Martin, Codemasters, solicitors, music producers and the armed forces.
FEES & SCHOLARSHIPS
On the reasonable end of the independent school price scale. Reception to Year 2 (including lunch) £3,533; Year 3 – 6 (including lunch) £4,115; Years 7 – 13 £4,418 (lunch is extra at £185 per term for Years 7 – 9, and available for Year 10 & above). Kingsley offers means-tested bursaries and scholarships for academic excellence, art, drama, music, and sport, plus Sixth Form scholarships in art, drama, fashion and textiles, music, sport and photography.
Heather Owens’ first-floor office is filled with vases of cornflowers – the school emblem – and even has cornflower wallpaper. She joined Kingsley in September 2010 and still has to pinch herself. The former ISI inspector originally came to Kingsley as a parent for her daughter’s LAMDA exams and fell in love with the ethos and warm atmosphere. When the Headteacher’s job came up she jumped at the opportunity. Her daughter attended Sixth Form.
Growing up in Yorkshire, Ms Owens first came to Warwickshire as a 16-year-old on a theatre trip to the RSC in Stratford upon Avon and was so impressed she said: ‘one day I want to live here’. Her wish came true! A self-confessed lifelong lover of Shakespeare ever since she went on to study English and Drama at Hull University – where poet Phillip Larkin was the university librarian. After a PGCSE at Sheffield Uni teaching posts included Assistant Head/ Head of English at Kendrick School, Reading, for 10 years, an Ofsted & ISI inspector and three years as Deputy Head at King Edward VI Camp Hill Grammar School for Girls in Birmingham. Prior to teaching her most unusual job was as an air hostess!
What’s nice here, in the Head’s opinion, is that the senior girls all root for each other and there’s a really positive ‘can-do’ attitude from the girls. She thinks being small is their biggest strength – as they can tailor the girls’ curriculum to meet pupils’ interests and can give them a personalised education – “names not numbers”.
Kingsley’s well-established creative curriculum was shortlisted for a TES Independent School awards 2019. Benefits of being part of a through school mean children are taught PE and specialist curriculum areas with qualified teachers. There’s a new ‘Innovation Station’, space for robotics, Lego and creative work and ‘Cookery Corner’ for use by all for Creative Curriculum, as well as two new Prep School classrooms due to huge demand.
The Prep has a tailor-made outdoor classroom and every Friday Foundation and Reception children spend the day in Forest School. Foundation pupils are paired with a Kingsley ‘Big Brother or Sister’ in Year 5 who share stories and escort them to lunch. One of the highlights of a recent Light and Day topic was ‘A Day in the Dark’ – staff blacked out windows creating a world for the children to play with glow-in-the-dark playdough, fluorescent paint, water lit water trays and UV torches.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The Prep in partnership with St Peter’s School, offers a daily breakfast club from 7.30am – 8.30am where a light breakfast is served, and after-school club until 6pm (5.30pm for children under 8). Children are also supervised from 8am on the prep playground at no extra cost.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Mums I spoke to love the friendly community and have been impressed by the school’s inclusive learning environment. They say what particularly stands out above other schools is how fully supported girls are in whatever their passions in life are – their hobbies, future ambitions, and aspirations. The school really knows its students and provides support and encouragement when needed. One mum said she has two very confident girls who are growing into independent and ambitious individuals. Another said the best feature about the school is the warm, positive and professional regard teachers hold the children in. Kingsley may be a small school, but parents reaffirm it has a big heart and an army of dedicated teachers who go the extra mile to prepare them for their exams and future life.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Children who thrive in a smaller environment with personalised teaching and one-to-one tuition. Parents who care about the academics but a good option for those who resolutely don’t want to hot-house their kids. Music, drama and sport are covered off well for a school of its size. Also good for parents who like the proximity to buzzy Leamington Spa town centre with all it has to offer and the convenience of through education for girls.
Not for: Children who are hard-wired to be super-competitive or who like to be part of a bigger year cohort might find the cosy nature of this school a bit confined. And if you’re not sure about single-sex education in Senior School/Sixth Form.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Have a look for yourself at the Senior School Open Evening on Thursday July 4, 5pm – 7pm.
The Kingsley School, Beauchamp Hall, Beauchamp Avenue, Leamington Spa, CV32 5RD, Senior School Tel: 01926 425127; Prep School Tel: 01926 425993