Kingham Hill School, Oxon
Could this non-hot housey school with happy pupils and happy parents be the perfect fit for your offspring?
And we’re off! The first school to be reviewed on the blog and we’re slippping over the border into Oxfordshire – thank you Muddy Oxon! And hello Kingham Hill School! where’ve you been all my life?
Kingham Hill School in Kingham near Chipping Norton is an idyllically placed co-educational school with a strong Christian ethos, set in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. Just over 300 kids from 11-18 years roam in 100 acres of Victorian and 21st-century buildings, playing fields and woodland. The school welcomes children of all abilities into classes that average 15, so there’s plenty of attention lavished.
Oodles of space for starters (the staff need a golf buggy to get around – seriously!), but also a cricket square, pavilion and nets, tennis courts, floodlit astroturf pitches, an assault course and a fantastic pool, fitness suite , dance and drama studio. There are horses in the stables too, but they’ve drawn the line at a helipad (joke).
New investments have been a fabulous library to the tune of £1.5m opened in July 16 and a £4m maths and science building that opened the previous year. And, not so much a facility as much as a great addition, is the fab music teacher, a former Oxford organ scholar who’s already shaking up the choirs and ensembles.
Kingham Hill School has historically not been regarded as a strongly academic school, but slowly the Head has been recruiting staff to suit his vision to shake up this aspect of the school, and over the last two years it’s has had some bonza results, culminating last year with its rating in The Daily Telegraph as ‘a top small independent school for A Level results’ with 65.4% of A level students gaining A*-B; and 45% gaining A*-A. For GSCES, it’s 61.3% A*-B, and 33.7% gaining A*-A. The average pupil gains at least one full grade more per subject at important examinations than initially predicted when they join the school.
There are 7 boarding houses, and they’re all small in terms of numbers – the school prides itself as being very family-oriented, so it’s a max of 37 pupils per boarding house with a fulltime houseparent and deputy. I had a sneak around quite a few of the houses and they’re very pretty outside – all that Cotswold stone – and fairly typical inside with super shiny leather sofas and pine-style beds in rooms. Each house has its own private garden.
I had a long meeting with head Nick Seward and he seemed super lovely. Very smart and self-deprecating and witty, with a real academic pedigree, having come from Magdalen School in Oxford, he’s been in the hot seat for almost nine years and during that time has overseen the investment in the library and science block, acted as Grim Reaper to the teaching old-guard, developed an ambitious plan for more new development, including a new sports hall for 2018/19, and knocked off Saturday school, not wanting children to ‘flog through another six lessons’ when they should be relaxing after a busy week. I liked him a lot.
Quite a few actually! There is a bar for the Sixth formers on campus, with Nick himself as landlord – seriously! It’s all perfectly legal and it allows the pupils to drink in a safe environment, and has to be better than kids smuggling tequila into dorms, right? There’s an American Program running at the school, the only British school in the UK that does so in conjunction with the US State Department. It’s ostensibly so that US pupils can study in the UK whilst meeting US educational requirements, but the upshot is that the British students can study elements of the US curriculum too.
More you say? OK, there’s a Combined Cadet Force that is compulsory for all children in Y9 where they undertake basic training, such as drill, command tasks, weapon training, fieldcraft and map reading. And it’s also worth mentioning for the quirk-factor that driving up the sweeping drive to Kingham Hill School is kind of like entering a village in its own right with pretty Cotswold houses around the various greens – it has the slightly unreal, cinematic feel of a Richard Curtis movie (just add snow and Hugh Grant), but it’s also strangely charming, adding to the friendly, safe vibe at the school.
The school day starts at 8.30am and children can stay for after school activities until 4.40pm, although parents can drop children off at the day houses from 8am and they can stay on site to do their prep until 6pm, free of charge.
Fees per term are £5,320 rising to £6,075 for day pupils and £7,595 – £9,290 for weekly boarding (Sun night to Fri morning). Full boarding stars at £7,885 rising to £10,200. Day pupils and weekly boarders can stay over ad-hoc for £46 per night. Music lessons and dance/speech/drama lessons are extra.
Word on the ground:
Happy parents at this very inclusive, non-hot-housey school. The head is popular and the parents I talked to dismissed the idea of Kingham not being academic enough and it’s easy to see why – 70% headed off to their chosen unis, including LSE, Imperial, University College London, Queen Mary’s, London & Southampton in the last year.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Parents who are looking for an all-round education for their kids. The school is small in numbers so children are known and cared for well. There are good travel connections – Kingham station is only 3 miles away and links straight to Paddington in just over an hour – it’s about 30 minutes to Oxford too. There’s good dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia provision here if your child needs some extra help.
Not for: The Christian ethos is strong, so you’ll either love or hate that element of the school. My own sense was that it’s about Christian principles being followed – tolerance, forgiveness, etc rather than anything more evangelical. Being in a gorgeous 100 acre site in the Cotswolds, there’s a slight Kingham Hill ‘bubble’ that’s more rural idyll than real life so again that’s a case of personal preference.
Dare to disagree? The next open day is 19 June from 11-2pm. Or you can arrange a private visit anytime by calling 01608 658999.
Kingham Hill School, Kingham, Oxon, OX7 6TH. kinghamhill.org.uk