Kingswood Prep School and Nursery, Bath
Children can be children at this co-ed prep and nursery with Scandi-style facilities and more, set in 100-acres of parklands overlooking the city
An independent day prep school with reception and nursery, for girls and boys aged from nine months (awwwh!) to 11 years, set in 100-acres of 18th century parkland in Lansdown, overlooking north Bath (the views are spectacular). There are currently around 468 children on the roll if you include those coming in for sessions and half days in the nursery. Surrounded by trees and plenty of green space to run around in, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re deep in the countryside but the school’s just a short stroll from the city centre.
Part of the Kingswood Foundation along with Kingswood Senior School (further up the hill; you can read our review here), founded by famous Methodist John Wesley back in 1748. His belief that Christian values were as important as education continues at the school to this day but it’s more about fairness, respect and compassion – you’ll see ‘Be kind, be kind, be kind’ on the walls – rather than hymns and prayers; you don’t have to hold any religious beliefs at all to come here. It’s an unpretentious, down-to-earth, happy place, renowned for its pastoral care as well as its high academic standards.
Along with the 1995 school premises (in their day, award-winning), there’s an array of cedar-clad, minimalist buildings – very Scandi – set in a little woodland glade.
These house classrooms for Years 5 and 6, an art room, a large hall and a music room (both with soaring ceilings – the acoustics must be awesome), music practice rooms, an area with a library called The Baines Family Learning Hub (below), and STEM classrooms above.
Classrooms are large and light-filled (note the floor-to-ceiling windows), creating a blank canvas for whatever will be taking place there. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, robotics and programming) is big here. A couple of very articulate pupils proudly showed me a recent project – an escape room where they had to find clues to put together a micro bit and solve Scratch codes – as well as some exciting DT projects. Other techie stuff like 3D printers, Green screen, Tinker CAD is also at the ready. Children as young as two come to the ITC room to start to have fun with coding.
The nursery, headed up by Anna Ballanger, takes children from nine months to four years. It’s proved so popular that it’s now located in two buildings – a purpose build beautiful wooden building for the under threes and a newly refurbished pre-school building. This allows for separate classes for babies at each stage of development (non-mobile, mobile etc), toddlers and four new pre-school rooms.
Class sizes are reassuringly small in upper pre-school with up to 12 children and two adults per class, ensuring the children are very ready for Reception when they leave.
The nursery is a little place of calm, with neutral colours, ergonomic furniture made from natural materials, and lots of windows at children’s’ height.
Each age group has its own dedicated room, some are interconnected, and all have access to their own outdoor space. You’ll be delighted to know that children help lay the tables for lunch, clear up any spills, tidy up – and are welcome at my place any time. There’s stuff to explore and play with – age appropriate toys, slides water tables, cushions – but not overwhelm. Babies have a cosy sleep/quiet room with stars gently sparkling on the ceiling (zzzzzz).
All children enjoy the fantastic grounds. The Swallows and Amazon-style woodland playground looks fun; and there are acres of wild flower meadows to explore.
The Secret Garden, a fab forested area hidden away to one side and accessed though a little wooden door behind the drama studio, really is secret, with a wooden yurt, a couple of huge parachute tipis, a mud kitchen, woodland seating around fires, giant red acorns to sit on and tents for outdoor learning and fun.
There’s a dedicated Forest School leader for sessions, and the children have a morning each week at Forest School from 18 months of age.
All the usual sports as well as aquathon (swimming followed by running), triathlon and fencing. Everyone’s encouraged to try out different sports and take part in some form of activity – it’s not just about the sporty kids.
In the nursery, littlies enjoy free flow activities and sensory play with lots of music, songs, stories, artwork, construction (space was the thing the week I visited). From three upwards, specialist teachers come in for sessions – literacy/phonics, maths, science, Spanish and ICT – as well as dance, drama, gardening and yoga.
Across the whole school, every subject is given equal attention, with music and the arts as highly valued as STEAM, which incidentally is excellent.
The new Science teacher is hugely inspirational and passionate about engendering pupils with a love of science and curiosity about the world. She talks of building ‘science capital’, helping pupils discover how science in all its forms relates to their own everyday lives and experience. Science lessons are a generous 90 minutes, always practical (they’d recently been dissecting owl pellets and reassembling the skeletons found within), fun, creative and cover some serious scientific ground (she’s got her Year 5’s discussing Stephen Hawkings!). The result? Everyone absolutely loves Science.
Growth mindset for each individual child lays at the heart, encouraging the process of learning and the skills needed to learn, not just the outcome (though the outcomes are usually excellent). Languages: French, Spanish, German – it helps when you’ve got native speakers in the class (the school’s renowned for its multi-cultural population).
Most pupils move up to the Senior School, which is selective, at the end of Year 6, with a fair number of pupils gaining scholarships across the board.
Headmaster is the jovial, very approachable Mark Brearey, formerly at Millfield School. His aim? To see children bounce through the gate every morning with smiles on their faces, children who run around, jump off things and learn how to access risk – as well as become involved with school life and work hard. The focus is on building independence and self-belief (not arrogance), respect and kindness for others, all of which helps to fulfil potential and achieve academic excellence along the way. Parents – you can drop in any time, no need to make an appointment with Sir.
See the latest reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), equivalent to Ofsted in the state sector, here.
Pastoral care is excellent. Kindness lies at the core of everything here. There’s a focus not only on how to succeed and ‘do things right’ but how to manage when things don’t go well. They use AS Tracking, the mental health tracking tool, whereby older pupils complete self-assessments twice a year, which can highlight potential issues before problems develop. A traffic lights system also flags up any issues. In Year 6, children meet weekly with wellbeing mentors to help with transition up to the Senior school and to talk through any issues or worries. Everyone takes a part in the school community, with all older children becoming monitors for something. Each year children raise money for a different charity they’ve chosen themselves.
It’s a musical school, with all pupils involved in some way. Each week there are over 200 different music lessons, from the electric guitar to the harp and everything in between. Choirs sing at Bath Abbey and take part in the O2 Young Voices (the largest school choir concerts in the world).
Drama is also big – what starts as role-play in the early years, becomes fully-fledged theatre further up the school. There’s a new drama studio with matt black walls (soon to be clad with full-sized mirrors) and professional theatre lighting. The school works with professional arts organisations like the Tobacco Factory Theatres (one of the UK’s leading theatrical venues) and the prestigious Bath Festivals. LAMDA and ESB (English Speaking Board) activities and exams.
Sitting alongside the curriculum for Year 6 pupils is the new Kingwood Baccalaureate, which involves creating a portfolio focusing on growth mindset goals like resilience and co-operation; a community-based project (eg, a beach pick, teaching someone new skills); a presentation on a topic of choice; and a series of enrichment lectures (outside speakers, parents, etc) to broaden horizons.
Co-curricular activities – before school, at lunch time and after school – change termly, and currently range from Ultimate Frisbee, though fencing and judo through to mindfulness.
Kids eat most of their meals in an 18th century mansion called Summerhill which was designed by the architect of Bath’s famous Royal Crescent. And the grub? Ooh, it’s lovely! say the pupils.
They’ve got their own kiln.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The nursery’s open 50 weeks of the year, from 8am – 6pm, so super convenient for working parents. In the Prep, you can drop off for early morning breakfast club as early as 7.30am, kids can stay for supper or later (get that pesky homework out of the way at school). During holidays, kids from Reception to Year 6 can come along to the KPS Active holiday club (all sorts of sporty and arty-crafty activities) – and bring their friends.
Fees per term 2022/23: In the nursery, half days start from £34/session (£4,995/year for three sessions) and full days (8am–5.30pm) from £69/day (£9,585/year). The nursery’s registered for a number of hours of free nursery care for some 2 and all 3–4 year olds. Reception to Year2 £3,783/term; Years 3 & 4 £4,459/term and Years 5 & 6 £4,529/term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents find the school welcoming and the staff genuine – firm but fair and approachable – and say they take as much care over pastoral issues as academics. Children are encouraged to try first and not be afraid to ask for help when needed. Parents appreciate the wrap around care, the open door policy – and the fact that their kids love coming into school each day. Creative arts, music, STEAM, sportsmanship science are all highlighted.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: parents who want their children to enjoy being children, yet still get a good all-round education with masses of opportunities to try new things, build independence and confidence within a relaxed, inclusive atmos. Taking children as young as nine months is a bonus. The wrap around care is excellent.
Not for: hothouse parents.
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Kingswood Preparatory School, College Road, Bath, BA1 5SD. Tel 01225 734460. kingswood.bath.sch.uk