Kingswood Prep School and Nursery, Bath
Muddy says: Children can be children at this co-ed prep and nursery with Scandi-style facilities and more, set in 100-acre of parklands overlooking the city
A co-ed day and boarding prep school with reception and nursery, set in 100-acres of 18th century parkland in Lansdown, overlooking north Bath (the views are spectacular). There are currently around 360 boys and girls on the roll, aged from nine months (awwwh!) to 11 years. 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) 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 academic standards.
Along with the 1995 school premises (in their day, award-winning), there’s an array of brand new, 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, a discovery area called The Baines Family Learning Hub (below) and a nursery school.
Classrooms are large and light-filled (note the floor-to-ceiling windows), creating a blank canvas for whatever will be taking place there. Had a peep into the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, robotics and programming) room where the kids had been using vacuum formers to make chocolate moulds (nice). 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 Garden is the nursery for children aged from 9 months to three years, which opened in September 2018, headed up by Anna Ballinger.
It’s a little place of calm, with neutral colours, ergonomic furniture made from natural materials, lots of windows at kids’ 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).
The Swallows and Amazon-style woodland playground looks fun; a little further up there’s a spectacular tree platform and zip wire.
In the nursery, littlies enjoy free flow activities and sensory play with lots of music, songs, stories, artwork, construction (rockets were the thing the week I visited). From three upwards, specialist teachers come in for sessions – literacy/phonics, maths, science, Spanish, ICT – as well as dance, drama, gardening and yoga.
Across the whole school, every subject’s given equal attention, with music and the arts as highly valued as STEAM. 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 – I was shown around by a group of pupils who included a Spanish and a Russian girl).
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.
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.
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. Pupils were excited about not one but two Shakespeare plays at Christmas – one a modern version of Macbeth, the other a more trad take on Twelfth Night. 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.
Pastoral care is excellent. 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.
Unusually for a prep school, kids can board from the age of 7 at the High Vinnalls boarding house. I say boarding house but with just 20 boys and girls, it feels more like a (big) home, with two four-bed and two six-bed bedrooms, a lounge and a dining room (where they eat cooked breakfast every morning) and a lovely house mother (Lucy), who obviously has a great relationship with the boarders.
Full, weekly or flexi boarding, so they can sometimes have friends over for sleepovers – with audio books to send them off into a good night’s sleep.
There are around 60 lunchtime and after school clubs and activities. Robotics or archaeology anyone?
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.
It’s official: they’ve got some of the best hockey players in the whole of the UK – they’re the under 11s National Hockey Champions.
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). Flexi boarding when you need it. During holidays, kids aged 3 to 6 years can come along to the KPS Active holiday club (all sorts of sporty and arty-crafty activities) – and bring their friends.
In the nursery, half days start from £35/session (£7,875/year) and full days (8am–5.30pm) from £63/day (£13,905/year). The nursery’s registered for a number of hours of free nursery care for some 2 and all 3 – 4 year olds. Prep school fees: day pupils from £10,293/year; full boarding from £24,267; weekly boarding £20,385. Flexi boarding from £45/night. HM Forces discounts, sibling discounts.
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 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. Those who need full, half or flexi boarding from a young age (7) or excellent wrap around care.
Not for: hothouse parents.
Kingswood Preparatory School, College Road, Bath, BA1 5SD. Tel 01225 734460. kingswood.bath.sch.uk