Kingshott School, Hitchin
Muddy says: This innovative prep school has outstanding facilities, offers a dynamic curriculum and certainly isn't afraid of change
Kingshott School is a co-ed prep school with just over 400 pupils aged 3-13. Minutes from the A1(M) and just off the A road that links Hitchin and Ware via Stevenage, the school is well located for pupils living in and around the main towns of the North Herts area and unsurprisingly, most come from within a 15-mile radius.
Places are prioritised for siblings or those with family connections to the school, then they are allocated by registration date. Some years are oversubscribed and have a waiting list, so it’s best to register as early as possible if you’re keen.
Whilst it doesn’t feel as countrified as more traditional schools, Kingshott does have 23 acres of green space, including four sports fields, a floodlit Astroturf pitch, four tennis and four netball courts, a covered swimming pool (used from Easter to October), a fabulous tree house (which became the stage for an al fresco performance of Peter Pan last year) and wooden climbing frames dotted around, too.
The main school building is being continually renovated, with plans to move the dining room and D&T lab into the old gym, which is currently an unused space – a luxury that not many schools can afford, but one which allows Kingshott the flexibility to constantly adapt and improve, and it’s a school which really feels like it’s racing ahead in terms of innovation.
Take the Robinson Building, which was a new addition for 2015. Admittedly I found this big contemporary block with its flashes of bright orange a little incongruous sitting alongside the quaint original school building, but inside the facilities are just fabulous.
This state-of-the-art teaching facility has nine vibrant and spacious subject classrooms which double up as form rooms. They all have funky signage outside and arty backdrops inside, based around their subject themes, which help set the tone for the lessons, and I’m sure it’s far more engaging for the kids than staring at a blank wall. There’s also an impressive art studio flooded with light, a dedicated music room and four private rooms for individual lessons, a drama studio, a seriously well-equipped science lab with its own technician, an ICT suite, plus a food tech kitchen worthy of MasterChef!
Then there’s the shiny new multi-million pound sports hall and drama facility, which opened in September 2018. Built from money bequeathed by a former Headmaster, it’s quite something, particularly for a prep school. There’s tiered retractable seating for spectators and the hall is used for badminton, netball, tennis, football, hockey, trampolining and cricket.
When there’s a production the whole space can be converted into an all-singing-all-dancing theatre with the addition of a stage and some blackout curtains. Check out the full transformation here. There’s even a snazzy audio-visual suite, where the kids can learn what goes on back stage with industry standard equipment.
Amongst this year’s plans are a new Learning Resource Centre, where the kids can go and study solo, with a view to encourage more independent learning, particularly in Years 7 and 8.
The two-storey Middle School building was opened in 2008 and houses Years 3 to 5. However they are starting to outgrow it, so Year 5 are mainly taught in the Upper School building now. Middle School has its own science lab which means the resources are age appropriate – Year 5s can acquire a Bunsen burner licence to ensure they’re ticking all the safety boxes when they’re in the Upper School lab.
There are plans to create an eco garden just outside the Robinson Building. The pupils came up with the ideas that they wanted to include – a pond, a biome, bug hotels, composting facilities and raised planters for each age group. There’s also a Kingshott Eco Committee who meet every two weeks. They recently took part in a project which involved planting 95 saplings (donated by the Woodland Trust) on the school grounds.
D&T is taught from Year 3 and upwards. The kids showed me the wind-up cars they’ve been making to study kinetic energy. Apparently they made boats earlier in the year which they’re going to put to the test in a race in the swimming pool. Incidentally it’s a salt water pool, which is apparently better for the children’s skin, and it’s not just used for lessons, but post-exam parties and inflatable obstacle courses, too – sounds like a good way to let off steam.
The science teachers are both secondary trained so they are able to offer a simplified GCSE curriculum to Upper School pupils, and the science lessons are very hands-on, so it’s not just chalk and talk. The microscopes are A-level quality and the department is due to invest in some new high tech data recording equipment (just don’t ask me what it does!)
Kingshott has ditched Latin lessons (don’t all gasp at once), but the feeling was that the children would benefit more from learning Spanish (which is taught from Year 6) and Chinese, which is (as of very recently) available to the pupils, so something had to give. This might well jar with traditionalists but Kingshott is dedicated to moving with the times.
On that note, ICT lessons include Lego coding, creating music with Garage Band and making films using Chroma Key technology, where the kids can superimpose themselves onto any background (a ‘green screen’ in the movie world) – how about being a newsreader on TV? They’ve even been doing live web chats with schools in China. It’s a brave new world…
Mr Mark Seymour joined Kingshott three years ago from Winchester House School in Northants. Dead against ‘teaching to the test’, Mr Seymour believes that if they have the right teaching any child can sit an exam and take it in their stride. He is all about future-proofing kids, and giving them the problem solving skills, creativity and ability to apply their knowledge in the real world, both immediately and in 20-50 years time, when they’ll be in the workplace.
This is his third headship, all of which have been at co-ed schools, and he vividly remembers the positive impact of the transition of Haileybury School from boys’ to co-ed, which happened during his 21 years there. Ok, so we know boys and girls learn differently – the research says so – but teaching them together means the kids learn to accommodate each others’ views and are stretched in different ways, so whichever camp you sit in (co-ed or single sex) it’s swings and roundabouts.
The challenge is to keep the children at the school all the way through to 13 and Mr Seymour knows that this means he has to present parents with a pretty special package from the moment they set foot in the school grounds. He must be doing something right though as there’s a high conversion rate from initial visits to enrolling.
The nursery is a lovely, self-enclosed area and a total hive of activity. Learning here is very free-flow with a mix of child-initiated play and more structured learning. First thing, the children gather in the green room – a quiet space where they can also come for some chill out time or a siesta – to find out what they will be doing that day.
The day I visit some children are sitting at tables drawing wildflowers, one boy is learning about frogspawn in the pond life corner, others are sloshing paint around, while one group is building a zoo and a couple of girls are playing doctors in the small world area. It feels fun and relaxed but also surprisingly calm – all the kids are fully engaged with what they are doing.
Independence is encouraged early too, and each child is given their own porcelain cup to use at snack time – there’s a café style snack bar where they can help themselves to healthy options like fruit – and they are responsible for washing these up, too. Very grown-up!
Outside is a play area which is used by pre-prep too, but play times are staggered so the younger kids aren’t overwhelmed. Then at the front there’s an outdoor classroom, so children can meander in and out as they please and choose which activities they’d like to try. There’s a water painting area, a track for driving cars around, construction toys, a mud kitchen, a sand tray and outdoor desks for crafting.
The nursery, takes a max of 36 ‘rising fours’ per year and has been open since 2010. Sometimes children are split into two groups of 18 for PE or drama, which are taught by specialists, and French is also being introduced as a specialist subject from September.
Currently nursery is compulsory for five mornings a week, but this is set to change from September to be fully flexible to work around parents. The only stipulation is that the children do at least five mornings a week after the Easter holidays to help them transition into pre-prep.
The Rowan Building which is used by Reception to Year 2 won an architectural award when it opened in 2004, and it seems to work pretty well for its purpose. In a horse shoe shape, the reception classes overlook the self-contained courtyard, then the Year 1 and 2 classrooms are behind those.
They have their own library and a hall which is used for PE and parental assemblies – there’s a pretty lively PE session going on in there during my visit. There’s also a separate classroom called the Rainbow Room which is dedicated to cooking, music, drama and after school clubs.
In pre-prep there are three classes per year with a maximum of 18 in each and the children have the same specialist teachers as the older pupils. The mornings are reserved for maths, English and other core subjects, while the afternoons are more relaxed with arts and crafts.
Each class studies the same topic at the same time but each teacher interprets them differently and learning is very cross-curricular. In one Year 1 class they are writing letters about The Great Fire of London, while there are fiery marble paintings displayed outside the door of another.
Tech plays a big part, too and the children have the use of laptops and iPads in their own classrooms which means they don’t have to trek to the ICT room to use them, and if they’re doing a computer presentation on Australia for example they find it helpful to be able to look around their class displays for inspiration.
All children do cricket, hockey, tennis, swimming, badminton, basketball, trampolining, cross country and athletics, with the addition of rugby and football for boys and netball for girls. Kingshott’s strongest sports are rugby for boys and hockey for girls, but pupils have also qualified for national competitions in athletics, swimming and cricket, too. Everyone is encouraged to have a go (teams range from A to F) and as well as trying to be the best they can be, Kingshott pupils are also taught how to win with modesty and lose with grace.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Around two thirds of Kingshott pupils learn at least one instrument, so above average of the schools I visit. Almost all Year 1 and 2 pupils learn the recorder, then move on to other instruments from Year 3. These include piano, strings, guitar, woodwind and brass. And singing is popular too. The House Shout – a House singing competition – was coming up imminently when I visited.
There’s Lion King fever in the air, thanks to the upcoming performance of the Disney classic. The day before my visit, there was a trip to see the theatre production in London and even the teachers were wide-eyed with enthusiasm about it. The drummer from the West End production also visited the school and the kids have attended Disney workshops in preparation for the big show in June. And to fuel the performing fire, Kingshott offers LAMDA courses on an individual and group basis.
Over the last two years the list of scholarships and awards have included seven academic scholarships, four sports scholarships, three combined sports and academic scholarships and three music scholarships, as well as individual scholarships in golf, D&T and STEM. These are for next schools including Bedford Boys’, St Albans, St Francis’ College and The Perse to name a few. Kingshott has close connections with these and others such as Bedford Modern, Haileybury and Queenswood.
There’s a gargantuan Wellingtonia tree outside the Headmaster’s study which is just begging to be climbed – and the kids are actually let loose to do just that, within reason that is… look closely and you’ll see a white line drawn out on the trunk marcating how high they’re allowed to go. It’s good old-fashioned fun with modern-day boundaries.
Also, how about this? The school follows a PSHEE programme but has taken ownership of it by re-naming it SHEEP as the children found the acronym tricky to remember. Going to a SHEEP lesson sounds much more fun we reckon!
Breakfast club starts at 7.30am and, as of September, after school clubs will be extended to 6pm across all age groups (including nursery).
£2,030 – £4,375 per term for 2019/20 so good value compared to other private schools nearby.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Kingshott’s tagline is ‘where tradition meets innovation’ and while there are elements of the old-school vibe still here it’s undoubtedly a school that predominantly looks forward and at what can be improved or developed to prepare its pupils for the future.
What’s clear is that the kids love it here. There are no dreary classrooms – they have light, colourful spaces to enjoy and access to better facilities than many secondary schools. It’s about quality teaching in line with current thinking, core values and outstanding facilities here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents ready to embrace the modern facilities and innovative approach to independent schooling, and those who believe their child will benefit from consistency in their education from nursery to age 13.
Not for: Those who are set on sending their child to a very traditional school in a quiet rural setting, or are resistant to change.
Dare to disagree: Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself. There’s an Open Morning on 3 May. Call admissions on 01462 432 009 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Kingshott School, St Ippolyts, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG4 7JX