Kingsley is Tardis-like, appearing to be much bigger inside than it appears from the outside. Whether walking through the doors of the main Senior School (the main house, Beauchamp Hall) or the smaller Prep and Sixth Form, you’ll enter a rabbit warren of corridors, stairways and classrooms, as well as a surprisingly large courtyard garden. There’s history around every corner; we loved the servant bells, main wooden staircase, and other period features.
During our tour of the school, Jon Farrington-Smith, the school's PR and Marketing Manager, tells us that "the door is always open at Kingsley". And it was. Walking through the corridors of the school, we saw open doors and received warm welcomes from everyone including the school nurses, head of pastoral care, PE and science teachers, and deputy heads.
There’s a huge sense of family and belonging across all parts of the school. Praise is heaped upon the “standout” Kingsley minibus drivers who are on first name terms with both students and their parents, and have a reputation for decorating the buses at Christmas, having karaoke en route to the sports pitches, celebrating birthdays and much more. As one parent says, “There’s no hierarchy here, which is a brilliant thing for anyone to take into life.”
There’s a mix of spacious specialist rooms and smaller classrooms across the school; when you consider that class sizes vary from two up to 20 students, it doesn’t feel cramped – instead it rather lends itself to the focus on individual learning here. Most importantly, the classrooms are stimulating and inspiring places to learn. From the themed play areas that flow into classrooms in Prep (we loved the summer holiday area complete with beach umbrella and sand in the pre-school) to the fancy dress and hieroglyphics for Egyptian Day in Year 5, teachers are putting plenty of time and effort into their classrooms. The very best example of this is a beautiful mural reproducing Van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms painting which was painted by Head of Art Ed Lax last summer on an art cupboard.
While Kingsley certainly has that lived-in feel, it is well-equipped with both traditional resources (sewing machines for textiles) and modern facilities (3D printers for product design). It feels well-designed for each year group – bright and colourful wall displays for Prep, inspirational posters of successful female leaders for Senior, and a more mature, university campus layout for the Sixth Form. In their own words, students sum up what makes the school special, with words including family, community, equality, happy, independence, home and support all written in chalk on a blackboard.
The school has successfully created the stress-free learning environment it so proudly claims to offer – the motivational posters on the walls in the Sixth Form common room are just one example of this. We also loved the cheery, modern cafeteria in the Senior school, with its cutlery stand refashioned from an old piano, bicycle hanging on the wall, free fruit station, and a water station with flavoured infused water.
Whatever your child’s talent, it is celebrated at Kingsley, (as Mr Farrington-Smith stresses, the case studies on its website are definitely not actors) and the school doesn’t expect all students to excel in the same areas. It is a school where parents can expect their child to discover new interests, push their boundaries, and have plenty of fun (the outdoor classroom, bug hotel and forest are hugely popular!). We were also impressed to hear that Kingsley runs its in-house marketing office as a design and media studio, which it uses to offer work experience for students studying design, marketing and photography.
We saw the school ‘in action’ during morning lessons at Kingsley. Year 2 students planning their own fairy-tale and Year 4s learning fractions; Senior students painting old leather boots in an art class and learning about rockets in science; a one to one A Level session with a Year 13 food student, and Year 12 politics’ students learning about the ‘first past the post system’. What stands out in each class is how confidently the students spoke about their lesson, the great rapport they each had with their teachers, and how relaxed and happy the classrooms were. The Kingsley girls are also some of the politest students we’ve met – every class we walked into, they would stand up to greet us with a cheery ‘good morning’.
It becomes very clear that Kingsley’s size is its strength. It’s a small school where more girls get more opportunities to represent the school in sport or the arts. It has the flexibility and resources to focus on individual needs; the school has designed a timetable around the swim training of one very sporty student who then received a scholarship to swim and study physics at a Florida university. It has also been able to offer tailored music tuition and one-to-one study support to another student who has since been rewarded with an offer for Oxbridge.
Mr Mercer-Kelly adds:
“Size is not holding Kingsley back at all. We have some extraordinary achievements for a small school, and it’s because we can give individuals these opportunities and nurture them. This partly comes from the curriculum, and partly from our flexibility and being able to work with external coaches and individual teachers to have specially adapted timetables that allow these students to flourish. If there’s a talent or a desire there, why wouldn’t be?
“It’s a misconception that a small school can hinder your opportunities; in a way, you have more. When it comes to the sports team, for example, you have a chance to be captain, far more so than in a larger cohort where you have to compete to get to the top. Here you have more chances to be represented in everything.”
What makes parents send their child to Kingsley? When speaking to a group of mums and dads with girls in the Prep, Senior and Sixth Form, it’s not that it’s a single-sex school – although this is seen as a significant benefit. Instead, parents heap praise on the school for being ‘happy’, ‘nurturing’ and, most importantly a ‘can do’ school.
“My daughter came to Kingsley from another prep school and the difference here is that they make things happen. The girls have a ‘can do’ attitude and they have Kingsley Kindness. There’s a positive, ‘making things happen’ culture at Kingsley, and the confidence that gives the girls is phenomenal. They make you believe in yourself.”
Another parent, a former Kingsley girl herself, beams with pride that her daughter has followed in her footsteps.
“Kingsley brings up girls who are employable and grounded. They learn the soft skills that are so important. They are given the support needed to gain confidence and grow academically. And whether your child is a high-flier or someone who needs to work harder for it, Kingsley finds the right level of education for everyone.
“The school’s kind and caring community is the same today as it was when I was at Kingsley. The building is the same, the feeling is the same. My daughter is happy to come to school because it’s so friendly here and she’s so proud of being a Kingsley girl.”
James Mercer-Kelly is new to Kingsley, arriving in January 2021 from Wycombe Abbey School where he was Senior Deputy Head; this is his first headship. He’s been a teacher for 18 years, having worked in both the state and independent sectors – and is truly passionate about teaching. Mr Mercer-Kelly is a strong believer that school is about more than just academic; it has to be an holistic education, he says.
“School is not just about collecting grades. That’s obviously part of it and they are an important passport, but education is a pathway where you build life skills such as problem-solving, presentation, and interpersonal skills. If you just finish school as a talking textbook, you won’t be employable. “
He has a genuine enthusiasm to help prepare children for life’s challenges. It’s a passion that stems from his own education, when he moved from a state school into the independent sector after being awarded a bursary for King’s Worcester.
“Coming from a humble, single parent background, this opportunity transformed my life; I joined the choirs, the Duke of Edinburgh, and had the opportunity to take part in science competitions. It made me passionate about education because I saw how committed and nurturing my teachers were.
“I now want the interactions I have to make a transformative difference in the lives of students here.”
Mr Mercer-Kelly may only be into his second term at Kingsley but he has quickly made a positive impression on parents. As one parent tells us, Kingsley is known for its approachable heads and the appointment of a male head for the first time seems to be the right fit.
Drawn to Kingsley by its ethos and values, Mr Mercer-Kelly says “it feels like I’ve come home.” Praising the school’s community, he says:
“It’s not a veneer, it’s authentic here. The school is genuinely nurturing. Everyone spurs each other on, which comes from the Kingsley Kindness.
“There’s a difference about the Kingsley Confidence our students have; it’s a confidence that has come from a place where they have been encouraged and supported. Everyone is cheering them on rather than having to elbow their way to the front to make their voice heard.”
Having worked in all-girls schools for the past 18 years, Mr Mercer-Kelly is a strong advocate for single sex education, and as a former science teacher he wants fewer barriers to science in all-girls’ schools. “There is a definite place for all-girls schools they remove unnecessary distractions and anxieties, and students have the opportunity and confidence to try things that are less stereotypical.”
Having moved from a large school with 2,000 students to one with less than 350 you definitely get the sense that Mr Mercer-Kelly is enjoying life in a smaller school. And he’s certainly making the effort to be visible.
“I like to be out there as much as I can and to be an active part of the school. It’s a bit sterile to always be stuck in the office. My weekly lesson with the Year 12s is a highlight of my week. I went into the profession because I’m passionate about helping students find those lightbulb moments, the time when they suddenly get it.”
He also welcomes the new partnership Kingsley has with the Warwick Independent Schools Foundation, and all the opportunities for collaboration that this brings. He’s very clear – Kingsley will not become another King’s High School, something parents are relieved to hear. “I want to retain the ethos that we have here while looking at the best ways to collaborate through musical and sporting opportunities, for example.”
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