This all-through, co-ed West Devon school has one of the UK’s strongest student swim programmes, an enviable reputation for its outdoor education programme, and 100% pass rate in the Common Entrance exam.
Located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park between Exeter and Plymouth, Mount Kelly is a day and boarding school for girls and boys aged between 3 and 18 years.
With just under 600 students, it is smaller than many public all-through schools, which helps to create a close-knit community on campus; this, coupled with small class sizes, means that students can expect a high degree of personalised learning. Far from having the limitations of a small school though, Mount Kelly has a sweeping campus with some seriously impressive sporting and outdoor facilities. If you are looking for an education where your child can be kayaking or hiking in the great outdoors in between a well-established and creative curriculum, then Mount Kelly needs to be considered.
Formed in 2014 after a merger between two prestigious public schools (Kelly College and Mount House School), Mount Kelly offers a high standard of academic teaching. It has a track record of 100% A-level pass rates and 100% Common Entrance success – and its results are improving year on year. As a non-selective school, there are no rigorous entrance exams. But, while Mount Kelly has a more relaxed admissions policy than many other UK public schools, its results prove that it is offering the right learning environment with teachers who can help students of all abilities to thrive and achieve high results.
Yes, it’s not the most centrally located or easily accessible school in the UK, but the combination of a strong academic education with unique opportunities for an outdoor education could persuade you to overlook that (plus, the drive through the Devon countryside to get there is a pleasure in itself). And, once you’re at the school, its secure, caring environment will help to make what may at first be an unfamiliar environment for your child feel like a second home – particularly if they are boarding. Mount Kelly places a strong emphasis on pastoral care, and a 2015 Independent Schools Inspectorate Report stated that,
“Staff know their pupils extremely well and respond to their individual needs, strongly supported by the efficient systems to share information.”
Mount Kelly was rated Excellent in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality report (2015).
Teaching at Mount Kelly starts with the UK’s Early Years Foundation Stage at nursery, when students are taught within a standalone, purpose-built facility, where high quality resources are used extremely well to create an interesting environment for learning.
Mount Kelly follows the International Primary Curriculum in Years 1 to 4 to deliver science, history, geography, RS, art, design and technology, PE, and music. This is a comprehensive curriculum based on the English National Curriculum, with references to the UK Key Stages 1 and 2 and to the IB (International Baccalaureate)) inquiry-based approach to learning. It takes a very creative, thematic approach to teaching and encourages students to research and ask questions about what really interests them. Core and other subjects follow the English National Curriculum and the Common Entrance curriculum through to GCSEs and A Levels.
From as young as 3 years, students have specialist teaching in French, design and technology, PE, and music; as students move up through Prep (Years 3 through to 8), specialist teaching increases and children continue to be supported by a personal form tutor.
In Years 7 and 8, the curriculum is focused on preparing students for the Common Entrance exams. These exams, which are taken in the final term of Year 8, are required by many of Britain’s top prep and independent schools, and are renowned for their rigorous syllabus and breadth of subjects. Mount Kelly students sit Common Entrance exams in English, maths, and sciences, and work towards sitting exams in history, geography, and Spanish. The school boasts a 100% pass rate in the Common Entrance and, as a non-selective school, these results are a testament to the strength of teaching here.
In the secondary school, Mount Kelly offers a range of GCSE courses and more than 20 A Level subjects, which are enhanced by the option of BTECs in applied science, sport, or the arts. In sixth form, the school’s Beyond the Curriculum programme helps to develop public speaking skills, offers university and employment guidance, and teaches higher level learning skills such as revision and research.
In line with many public schools, Mount Kelly has an extended school day that runs from 8.30am until 4.30pm, and until 5.15pm in College. This afternoon is divided between lessons, extra-curricular activities and clubs, weekly swimming and games sessions – and completing homework assignments. In Years 3 to 6, the timetable also includes prep classes for the Common Entrance. Although this may prove to be too long for some students, others like to have the additional time for after-school activities and daily homework – and working parents of day students can enjoy a later pick-up time.
There are many opportunities to explore all aspects of the arts and sport at Mount Kelly – it has the facilities, the specialist teachers, and the time within a seven-day boarding programme to do this. Where the school really excels, though, is in both swimming and singing. The College Chamber Choir stands out as the flagship ensemble of the school; the choir, which competes internationally every year, won the Barnardo’s School Choir of the Year in 2020. And Mount Kelly is very well known for its world class coaching facility for swimming and its elite training programme; with alumni who have competed at the last five Olympic and Paralympic games, and as one of only two independent schools in the UK with a 50m pool, the school rivals Millfield School when it comes to competitive swimming.
In the 2020 GCSE results, 50% of all grades awarded were 9 - 7, almost twice the national figure, and over 99% of all students were awarded 9 - 4. Almost 20% of Mount Kelly students scored 8 or 9 in five or more subjects. There was also another year of strong A Level results: 44% of exams were graded A*- A and 89% were A*- C.
While Mount Kelly is easily outperforming UK averages, it is not at the top of the exam results league table or having the highest number of Oxbridge students. It needs to be remembered that this is a non-selective school, so if you are looking for a school that can really grow your child’s academic potential, this should be considered.
Life outside of the classroom takes full advantage of the school’s location – and with Dartmoor on its doorstep, students can camp, kayak, hike, climb, and explore to their heart's content.
The majority of students are involved with at least one of the following: the Combined Cadet Force, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Marathon, or the Ten Tors Challenge. A highlight of the Mount Kelly calendar is the Shackleton Programme: once a month, students take part in challenging outdoor pursuits and other activities such as sailing, first aid, conservation projects, climbing, navigation, and water safety. There’s also an optional Saturday School Programme for all day pupils, a Learning Outside the Classroom programme that uses all the facilities of the school’s truly amazing and well-resourced on-site Adventure Centre, and students even have the opportunity to try their hand at offshore sailing in Mount Kelly’s very own boat, Olga.
Mount Kelly is successfully balancing the structured with the unstructured, a rigorous academic timetable with the freedom and time to explore the campus’ Sunny Slopes, Adventure Playground, Stable Yard, Sports Hall Playground, and Jungle, to name a few. Buddy schemes between older and younger year groups help to promote strong relationships between students; there are many opportunities to take on positions of responsibility, including positions such as student head of house and head of boarding.
Spread across a 150 acre-site, facilities include a sports pavilion, two swimming pools, climbing wall, squash courts, gym, art studios, design and technology workrooms, and music theatres. Outdoors, the school has a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and sports pitches, as well as an outdoor adventure centre with a high ropes course and a shooting range.
Students can board from Year 3, and approximately 50% of students are boarders; there are weekly and full boarding options. There are dedicated boarding houses for prep, college and sixth form, and Mount Kelly’s boarding facilities provide as much for the wellbeing and interests of children outside of the classroom as within.
Annual day fees range from £7,410 for nursery to £18,000 for Years 9 - 13; full boarding fees are £19,500 for Years 3 - 4 increasing to £31,410 for Years 9 - 13.
For overseas students, Mount Kelly opened its first international school in Hong Kong in 2017, and there is a feeder system in place for students wanting to study in the UK beyond Year 8.
• Elite swim programme and strong choir
• Outdoor activities
• Non-selective admission
• Those seeking a single sex education
• An examination hot house education
• Anyone looking for a city-based/urban education
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