King’s Ely Review

As well as being steeped in history, this co-ed day and boarding school is an excellent all-rounder school that has an excellent outdoor education scheme, an outstanding music and drama department, and an ambitious modern languages programme.
At a glance
School type
Private
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Excellent
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 18,000
Annual fees
GBP 11,109–23,664
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
1541
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr John Attwater
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King’s Ely
School type
Private
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Excellent
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 18,000
Annual fees
GBP 11,109–23,664
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
1541
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr John Attwater
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As well as being steeped in history, this co-ed day and boarding school is an excellent all-rounder school that has an excellent outdoor education scheme, an outstanding music and drama department, and an ambitious modern languages programme.

King’s Ely is a thriving independent school offering a breadth of opportunities that can bring out the best in students with a range of interests and abilities, from languages to drama, rowing to choral singing. It also offers overseas students a gateway to a British education through its strong international programme for 11 years and above, as well as a flexible boarding policy.

Located in a pretty cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, King’s Ely has a long history, it’s one of the oldest schools in England in fact. Founded over 1,000 years ago to educate boy choristers in Ely, the school is now a co-ed day and boarding school that has retained its close links with neighbouring Ely Cathedral (choristers still attend the school to this day).

It’s a large all-through school with 1,000 girls and boys, and around 80% are day students. There are around 350 students in the Junior school (seven to 12 years) and 490 students in the Senior school (13-18 years). There’s a good mix of students from overseas, coming from over 40 different countries; the school really celebrates this diversity and its foundation programmes for international students make King’s Ely increasingly popular with families coming from Asia and Europe.

The school also has its own nursery and pre-prep, King’s Ely Acremont, which is just a short walk away. Fairstead House School in Suffolk for children aged 0-11 has recently joined the King’s Ely family of schools.

The school talks plenty about the Spirit of King’s, an ethos that runs throughout the school and focuses on creating a ‘can-do’ culture. As a non-selective school, Ely is not focused solely on academic achievement (although GCSE and A Levels results are well-above average); it’s as much about finding your child’s individual strengths and supporting children with a broad range of abilities to achieve their very best. With the motto of Energy, Courage and Integrity, the school comes across as friendly and nurturing. It’s an excellent all-rounder school, but particularly strong in music and the arts; over a quarter of students typically go on to study a creative arts degree.

The school was rated Excellent in all areas following its ISI Inspection in November 2021. Inspectors applauded the school saying that “Pupils’ work throughout the school is beyond and well beyond age-related expectations” and “Pupils are culturally aware and show a keen appreciation, respect and support for the diverse nature of their school community and genuinely welcome the difference and richness this brings”.

Principal of the whole school, John Attwater, joined the school in 2019. He was previously Assistant Housemaster and Head of Religious Studies at Wells Cathedral School, Deputy Head (Co-curriculum) at Sevenoaks School, and Headmaster at King Edward’s Witley.

Curriculum

King’s Ely delivers a broad and balanced curriculum that is as creative as it is academic. Don’t come to King’s Ely looking for a pushy school. King’s Ely has a very creative outlook and wants its students to leave the school with more than just top grades. As Head of Senior Jonathan Shaw says, King’s Ely is “not an academic hot-house; outstanding results are achieved through inspiration, not pressure.”

Junior school students enjoy specialist teaching in science, languages, music, drama, art, design technology and games. From Year 7, Latin and Classical Civilisation is added to the curriculum. Students move between classrooms from Year 5, so they are well-prepared for the independence of Year 7, and in their last year of Junior (Year 8), students use many of the specialist facilities in the senior school to help ease their transition into Year 9.

The emphasis in design and technology is on solving real-life problems, and its state-of-the-art workshops and design studio are well-equipped with a 3D printers. In science, the school uses its links to Cambridge University to send students to a variety of workshops and lectures.

Students learn French from Years 3-5, followed by taster lessons in Spanish and German in Year 6. Language learning goes far beyond the classroom here, though. In the senior school, students can also take up the Language Challenge and develop research skills in French, German or Spanish.

King’s Ely also has strong links with partner schools in France, Germany and Spain, and has been officially recognised as an eTwinning School in recognition of its “outstanding contribution to international school collaboration”. It also has the British Council’s International School Award, a badge of honour for schools that do “outstanding work in international education”. Projects such as The Village, which sees students working with peers in Spain and France to create a unique virtual city, are not only developing linguistic skills, they are giving students that all-important experience of collaborating outside of traditional classroom subjects.

In the senior school, King’s Ely continues to offer a broad curriculum, once that caters to a broad range of interests at both GCSE and A Level. Subjects cover traditional, the new, and the creative, and include film studies, government and politics, business studies, economics, psychology, food science and nutrition, religious studies, and PE. Sixth formers can also take a two-year Diploma in Food Science and Nutrition instead of A Levels.

In the Sixth Form, students move into a dedicated sixth form centre, swap their uniform for suits, and take on a leadership role such as captaining sports teams, running a club or mentoring younger students. Many students take the Extended Project Qualification or an additional one-year AS course in mathematics, a language or Latin, and as the school says, Sixth Form is “much more than studying for your A Levels”.

There’s excellent support for students making choices for higher education, including an online mentoring service that shares the experience and expertise of parents, governors and alumni from the worlds of medicine, law, business and more.

There are no timetabled lessons on Saturdays, but many senior students spend this time playing sport for the school, in rehearsals for productions and concerts, helping at Open Events and attending trips. Class sizes remain small across the school, with no more than 15 in the Junior and 20 in the Senior school.

International programmes

King’s Ely has global appeal with its choice of international programmes for junior and senior students wanting to access a UK education. The junior programme for Years 7-8 prepares overseas students to join the full mainstream curriculum at King’s Ely Senior in Year 9, while a one-year IGCSE programme for students aged 15-16 prepares them for studying A Levels at King’s Ely or elsewhere.

These international programmes have small classes of 8-12 students, a focus on subject-specific language and vocabulary development and offer the opportunity to board at the school and mix with students in the main school in sport and co-curricular activities.

Sport and the arts

Drama is outstanding, and students with a love for the arts will certainly benefit more from the rich experiences offered here. The school rolls off an impressive list of musical theatre productions, contemporary and classical studio pieces, academic showcases, open mic nights, Trinity Speech and Drama showcases and attendance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And a glimpse of the trailer for its recent Lion King production offers a teaser of the incredible talent, facilities and passion for the arts here.

There’s a fantastic Arts Quad with large light-flooded art rooms, a modern dance studio, recital hall, blackbox studio, and a fully rigged Hayward Theatre theatre in the senior school; the prep school has its own drama studio. Students have the option of studying fine art, textile design and photography at both GCSE and A Level; there’s also a one-year GCSE Art and Design for international students. Other arts options include drama and dance at GCSE and drama and theatre at A Level.

Music is another strength. Many students play and sing here, in one or more of the many choirs, ensembles and orchestras. The school is renowned for being a choir school; there are two cathedral choirs (junior boys and senior girls), and a prestigious choral scholarship programme in the Sixth Form. But, while the school was set up as a choir school, it has become a hub for music of all genres. There are ensembles that tour across Europe, individual instrumental and singing lessons, and many chances to perform in and outside of school.

King’s Ely offers the usual array of sports at both Junior and Senior level; rugby, tennis, football, cricket and hockey, as well as athletics, basketball, cross-country, dance, gymnastics, keep fit, swimming, tennis and volleyball. Students play at District, County, Regional and even National level in a variety of sports, and have been highly successful nationally in rowing, hockey and equestrian sports.

From Year 8, students can opt to take up rowing, which is hugely popular here and the school performs particularly well. It has its own boathouse on a beautiful stretch of river just a short walk from the school. Sports facilities include a full sized Astroturf complex with floodlights, a sports hall, heated swimming pool, cricket nets, seven tennis courts and over 50 acres of grass pitches.

Beyond the classroom

The school’s outdoor education programme, the Ely Scheme, is one of its strengths. Part of the core curriculum for all Year 9 students, the Ely Scheme develops teamwork and resilience through indoor and outdoor activities include rock climbing, kayaking and mountaineering. It’s unique in that it’s led by selected and trained student instructors. This is run in addition to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at all three levels. There’s also a wide choice of clubs and societies held before school, at break, lunchtimes, after school and in the evenings.

King’s Ely encourages its students to be independent and caring. There are whole year group residential trips from Year 4, leadership roles from an early age (every Year 8 student is a ‘buddy’ to a Year 3 child for a year), and plenty of whole-school and house-based charity work.

Academic results

2021 GCSE: 65% of grades were A*-A, 84% A*-B, and 94% A*-C.
2021 A Levels: 69% of grades were A*-A, 89% A*-B, and 96% A*-C.

In 2021, every student in the A Level cohort of 89 students went on to university, studying a variety of 60 different courses with well over half going to a UK Russell Group university including Durham, York, Exeter and Warwick; five students received a place to Oxbridge. The highest number of students are studying a social sciences (32%) or STEM (26%) degree.

Definitely worth a mention is the school’s outstanding results in the arts. Highlights include 100% A*-B at GCSE music; and 100% A at AS Level music; 100% A*-B at A Level drama and theatre; and 84% achieving a 9-7 grade in GCSE drama.

The school has a proven track record of academic success, but it has won plenty of recognition in other areas too. The boys’ acappella group – The King’s Barbers – has released a commercial CD and won the National Youth a Cappella Competition; its Ugly Youth production received a 5* review at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival; and it won the British Rowing Senior Championships in 2019.

Boarding

There are around 200 boarding students at the school, and accommodation is offered in six single-sex boarding houses, separate boarding houses for children on a choral scholarship, and one mixed house for Juniors; with its painted ceilings, vaulted undercroft, grand fireplaces and wooden panelling, this one looks quite Hogwarts-like!

The school offers full, weekly, flexi boarding options, and the flexi option is increasingly popular with families as we are seeing up and down the country. Led by housemasters and housemistresses whose families live with them, the boarding houses have a very family feel; regular inter-house competitions add to the community spirit here.

Boarders are kept busy at weekends with trips and social events and walking the house dogs is always a popular activity!

Campus and facilities

Located in the rather charming Cambridgeshire town of Ely, and next door to the very majestic city cathedral, the school boasts beautiful architecture and modern facilities. Its town centre location and historical setting is convenient, beautiful and wonderfully traditional. 

The close proximity and excellent relationship between the prep and the senior school means that all students here get to use the senior schools’ arts and sports facilities. The nursery and pre-prep at King’s Ely Acremont (ages two to seven) is in a Georgian building while the junior school is housed in a modern 1980s building with play areas.

The cohort of around 170 Sixth Formers have their facilities in the Old Palace including study areas, a gym and a café for lunchtimes.

Admission and fees

A large number of day students come from across East Anglia. Key entry points are at Nursery, Reception, Year 3 or Year 9, and all students from Year 3 upwards sit a test and interview.

Annual fees range from £11,109-23,664 for day students (Reception-Year 13); boarding is from £25,017-34,245 (Years 5-13).

In Year 9 and Year 12, scholarships are available in academic, STEM, music, drama, art and sport (offering a maximum 10% reduction in fees). There are funded places for 24 boy choristers, who receive 40% off day fees, as well as choral and organ scholarships for Sixth Form students.

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