Kingswood School, Bath
Muddy says: 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 800 pupils on the roll (239 in the Sixth Form), with around 80 from over 25 different nationalities, making it – deliberately – the most culturally diverse independent school in Bath.
Part of the Kingswood Foundation, with the Kingswood Prep and Nursery School on the same campus. (Read our review.)
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 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.
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?).
Large library in the main school building, filled with pupils getting on with work at tables, with a more relaxed area with armchairs at the back and light flowing in from another impressive stained glass window – quiet but not oppressively silent.
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.
Around 57 acres of playing fields with astro turf, athletics track, tennis and netball courts.
Sixth Formers are 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.
Selective entry. Once you’re in, the curriculum’s pretty extensive (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. 2018 saw record GCSE and IGCSE results, with 43% A* or 9/8 and 68% A*/A or 9/8/7 . At A levels, 76% of all grades were A*-B, over 90 % at A*–C, with the vast majority of students moving onto their preferred university, usually in the Russell Group. Looking to widen curriculum out to include BTEC in subjects like sports and IT.
Headmaster of Kingswood Senior School and Principal of the Kingswood Foundation, Simon Morris came to the school as the Head in 2008 after taking a modern language degree, working briefly in the financial sector and then in schools in Warwick, Cambridge and Surrey. He talks about the importance of wellbeing and good mental health in an all-round education and key to confidence, high achievement and being ready to go out into the world and make a difference. Aims for pupils to be ambitious but unpretentious and grounded; aware of privilege but not superior. The school’s inclusive, deliberately multi-cultural, part of the local community and the wider world.
Whilst it’s a sporty school – 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. Up to 30 teams selected each week. International sports tours every two years; visiting teams from abroad. 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 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. Housemaster/mistresses and teams of tutors meet with pupils very regularly to provide pastoral support.
Head girl and boy, deputies and heads of houses form the PR (from the ‘prefects’ room’), with around 60 prefects 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.
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, Kingswood radio station – and a youth climate summit conference (are you listening Mr Trump?).
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.
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).
There are six boarding houses, 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 and rambling Westwood. As this is the transition from prep up to the Senior, there’s lots of attention with 18 academic tutors 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). 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 ensuite.
As the boarding houses are linked to the school Houses and have both day and boarding pupils, there’s no ‘them and us’ here.
BOASTY BITS & QUIRKS
Rated as ‘excellent in every area’ in the latest Independent School Inspectorate (ISI) inspection. 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.
Hosts Bath International Schools Model United Nations.
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 6th 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 £28,581/year; weekly boarding from £24,969/year; day pupils £15,884/year. Casual boarding from £57/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.