Kingswood School, Bath
The only school founded by famous Methodist John Wesley (but it's not too 'religious'), offers a good-all round education with excellent results and pastoral care to match
Kingswood Senior School is an independent, co-ed day and boarding school for 11–18 year olds in Bath. Founded by the Methodist John Wesley in 1748 to educate the sons of miners and then the sons of clergymen, the school was originally in Kingswood, Bristol. Moving to purpose-built facilities on the land of an eccentric millionaire overlooking north Bath in 1851, the school’s now grown to encompass a gaggle of buildings offering a whistle-stop tour through the architecture of the last 150 years, and is open to girls and boys of all faiths, and none.
There are around 840 pupils on the roll (just over 235 in the Sixth Form), with around 80 from around 30 different nationalities, making it one of the most culturally diverse independent schools in Bath.
Part of the Kingswood Foundation, the Kingswood Prep and Nursery School are on the same campus.
An education here is as much about academic achievement (of which there is a great deal) and the drawing out of each person’s potential, as the promotion of tolerance, open-mindedness and a sense of ongoing responsibility to society – hence the John Wesley quote mentioned by some of the pupils: ‘Do all the good that you can, by all the means that you can, in all the ways that you can….’
The school’s still firmly based on Christian principles – and is part of the Methodist Independent Schools Trust (MIST) – but it’s not at all holier than thou. It’s an outward-looking, inclusive, unpretentious, friendly place that consistently achieves excellent results (but isn’t shouty about it).
Modern classrooms sit alongside traditional science labs in the main teaching block. The Ferens building (1920s) looks every inch the traditional place of learning but with classrooms and labs kitted out with the latest tech (which is all there for a purpose, there’s nothing gimmicky). The contemporary Humanities block (2014), makes a striking contrast.
The Arts are strong. Tucked away in its own garden, the Art & Design building is mock Tudor on the outside but all airy, white-walled contemporary inside, with a traditional art studio for sculpting, painting, ceramics etc, a Mac suite, video room and a dark room. The annual exhibition of Art and Design Technology pieces created by pupils is a highlight of the year.
Alongside, the Music department has trad music practice rooms galore as well as a recording studio and a Mac suite to access GarageBand et al. There’s a professional standard, 450-seater theatre (you might have seen it on Question Time ?).
The large library in the main school building, where pupils can get on with work at tables, has a more relaxed area with armchairs at the back and light flowing in from another impressive stained glass window – quiet but not oppressively silent. Pupils are encouraged to use the space for study, quiet moments of reflection and as part of their morning tutor sessions.
The lofty dining room is straight out of Hogwarts with wood-panelling, boards listing previous headmasters and stained glass windows but pupils and staff sit wherever they like at the trestle tables – equality rules.
Whilst it’s a sporty school, with 57 acres of playing fields, astro turf, athletics track, tennis and netball courts and students complete at county, national and even international level, everyone’s encouraged to take part and valued for their contribution, whether that’s in the A team or the D. There are up to 30 teams selected each week. There are international sports tours every two years and teams regularly visit from abroad. It’s not just about competitive sports: the overall PE programme – and impressive selection of gym and Crossfit equipment – supports a healthy lifestyle for all pupils.
The large Sixth Form (around 235 students) is located in the Dixon Centre, with shared private studies, common room and three kitchens to cook up those late night Pot Noodles, to give a taste of what’s to come at university (though as the school will soon offer the Leith’s School of Food and Wine Certificate as part of the A Level offering, maybe it’ll be more than Pot Noodles?).
The brand new Association Cafe, with huge stainless steel coffee machine, freshly baked cakes, savouries and loads of space for students to work on laptops or chill with friends in between lessons, has a definite university vibe.
Selective entry. Once you’re in, the curriculum’s pretty extensive (over 25 subjects at the last count) and combines all the trads like maths, science, English, history and Latin (and modern languages) alongside computing, design and technology, psychology, drama and theatre studies and a Sports BTECH. 2021 results are excellent: 57% of all GCSE and IGCSEs were 9 and 8 and 77% 9-7; 63% of all A Levels were A* or A, 97% A*-C and an overall 100% pass rate. Most A Level pupils also do an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) based on their own interests. 90% move onto their preferred university, usually in the Russell Group.
Headmaster of Kingswood and Principal of the Kingswood Foundation, Andrew Gordon-Brown, arrived at the school mid lockdown in September 2020. Previously Head of Truro School (another MIST school), the South African taught Economics at Radley College, was Pastoral Deputy Head at Stoneyhurst, had a 12-year career in the City, took a Masters at Oxford – and he’s an Olympic rower, to boot.
Since joining the school, he’s overseen projects like the expansion of the Nursery facilities down in the Prep and the refurbishment of Westwood boarding house to accommodate Years 5 & 6 pupils and worked with the Senior Management Team to devise a new four-pillar vision statement for the school. In essence, these are: ‘Care for each individual’ (where each pupil feels that they are known and loved); ‘Educate for life” (preparing pupils with the qualities as well as the qualifications to enable them to thrive in the 21st century workplace); ‘Serving the community’ (offering opportunities to volunteer and working in partnerships with other Methodist schools); and ‘Living sustainably’ (does what is says on the tin). The idea is that all four pillars run though every aspect of the school like the words on a piece of Blackpool rock.
The Wesleyan ethos remains strong; they try to achieve a balance between academic qualifications/achievement and humility, service, community, cultural diversity and inclusivity. For example, they offer ‘transformational bursaries’ (100% fees paid) and run a Sixth Form mentoring programme with local schools.
See the latest reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), equivalent to Ofsted in the state sector, here.
The school’s divided into seven Houses, six of which are actual physical boarding houses (the seventh, Upper, is for day boys), with boys’ and girls’ houses paired for friendly competition. Westwood is a day and boarding house for Years 5 to 8, with around 230 pupils over 4 floors with 21 tutors, creating a happy and secure place from which to transition from the Lower to the Senior School. From Year 9, each house has a selection of pupils from across the Year groups.
Tutors head up single sex tutor groups of around 12 pupils and touch base daily to provide pastoral support.
The school’s wellbeing programme has been greatly enhanced over the last year or so. The emphasis is on positive psychology – what positive wellbeing looks like, living in the moment/mindfulness, enhancing existing strengths, empathy, gratitude – as well as knowing how to identify problems and where to go for help or advice. Students also use AS Tracking, the mental health tracking tool,and complete self-assessments twice a year to highlight potential issues before problems develop.
They no longer have Head Girls and Head Boys but Heads of School and together with the Heads of Houses, they form the PR (from the ‘prefects’ room’), with around 60 prefects (from across Year 12 and Year 13) being involved in some capacity around the school. Pupils say that everyone knows everyone else to some degree, adding to the family feel of the place.
Pupils can choose from over 100 activities over and beyond the curriculum: the usual sports, music, drama, Ten Tors, Duke of Edinburgh – but also The Simpsons in German (Ja!), British Sign Language, Mandarin, script-writing, the Kingswood Repair Shop – and the school hosts an annual Model United Nations Summit.
There are six boarding houses each with a House Master or Mistress and a team of matrons and tutors who support the pupils every day. The buildings are a mix of age and architectural style, some of which are in the process of a revamp, most recently the timber-clad Middle House (very Grand Designs).
Years 7 and 8 boys and girls board together in big, rambling and newly reburbed Westwood. There’s lots of attention with 21 academic tutors with whom the kids meet every morning and 20 Lower Sixth prefects as buddies.
From age 13, pupils move into Summerhill, Fonthill and School (girls); Middle and Hall (boys). I had a nose around Hall and its amphitheatre-style seating for watching the plasma Sky TV in the common area – very cool. Most boarders are full but there are weekly and flexi options. Sixth Form boarders have their own rooms and many are en suite.
As the boarding houses are linked to the school Houses and have both day and boarding pupils, there’s no ‘them and us’ here.
Awesome school trips – sports, drama, curriculum-based – around the world, from the heights of the Himalayas to the heights of New York.
Pupils are encouraged to set things up and instigate stuff themselves – like a Sixth Form charity dinner.
There’s a weekly service in The Chapel, with whole school services in the theatre, with visiting speakers and lots and lots of singing (very popular with pupils).
BOASTY BITS & QUIRKS
The school regularly features as a top co-educational boarding/day school and has been ranked in the top 5% nationally for ‘added value’ (ie. the progress pupils make).
Students regularly win the prestigious Arkwright Engineering Scholarship – and judging by a quick peep, most of them have been girls.
This is the only school founded by John Wesley and the model for other Methodist schools worldwide.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents with pupils across the age range describe the school. Year 8 parent: it’s ‘stimulating, stretching, caring’, allowing pupils to flourish at the pace and in an environment that’s tailored to them. A Year 10 parent sums up the school as ‘ be the best you can, active and respectful of others…while there’s an honest goal of achievement, it’s set within a refreshing humility’. The supportive house and tutor system and the way the school listens to feedback from all quarters is also praised. An Upper Sixth parent reported that everything is synchronised for optimal performance – academic excellence, genuinely caring and dedicated staff, opportunities for pupils to diversify and grow in character – all within an inclusive and nurturing setting. I think they like it.
Pretty standard for a school of this calibre. Full boarding from £31,011/year; weekly boarding from £27,090/year; day pupils £17,232/year. Casual boarding from £61/night. Discounts for boarders in HM Forces (up to 20%); non-Forces siblings (10%). Bursaries and scholarships.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s got the academic chops but the atmosphere and approach – plus the arts, music, sports and other extra-curricular stuff – mean that the kids come out the other end as well-rounded and grounded nice people (with great results). Those who want the best of both worlds: it’s got a countryside feel but it’s on the edge of the city. A diverse school community.
Not for: Not those seeking academic success at any cost; the school offers a genuine all-round education, with community at the heart.
Don’t take our word for it ! Take a look at their virtual tours, contact admissions for info on arranging a personal visit or book yourself onto one.of their Open Events. Sixth Form Open Day Years 12 & 13 on Wed 28 Sept; Senior School Open Day, Years 7-13 on Sat 1 Oct.