Kimbolton School (Prep School), Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
Muddy says: A highly-regarded co-ed prep school on the Cambridgeshire border in a beautiful rural setting, known for its amazing facilities, extra-curricular activities and family-orientated atmosphere.
Kimbolton School’s Prep School is a selective, co-ed school in Cambridgeshire for children aged 4-11 on the edge of a rural village. It’s in a charming bucolic setting, sharing 120 acres of parkland with its senior school counterpart, which is housed in a rather impressive tudor castle. No castle for the prep pupils, but they’re not exactly hard done by – they’ve got a grand red brick Victorian building with large rooms on the western edge of the village, which is linked to the Senior School by The Duchess Walk, a beautiful tree-lined avenue within the grounds that Prep students use to reach the swimming pool and extra sports and teaching facilities on offer to them. There are just over 300 children in the Prep School compared to 750 in the Senior School and the Upper and Lower Prep teaching areas are united by a brand new entrance building, complete with a flexible new library and learning space and new visitor amenities. All students have access to all the school’s facilities.
Impressive in their own right, but helped further by the Senior School facilities next door. The school is a strong all-rounder option, perfect for parents who want their little ones to have the chance to try a whole host of extra-curricular activities, rather than honing in on one particular passion.
Arts and music are particularly strong and 64% of Upper Prep students take individual music lessons. The entire third floor of the building houses a light and lofty art/DT studio with its own kiln, and for jazz handers and musicians there’s also the Hunter Hall, an assembly hall with a fully-equipped stage, plus lighting, sound and projection system.
The other big selling point for this school is the sports facilities. Not only does it have access to the senior school’s full-sized astro turf pitches, and indoor swimming pool, but it has its own impressive grounds including fields, tennis courts, cricket nets, and a large indoor gym.
In terms of the building itself, a multi-million pound project to refurbish Aragon House (the Lower Prep building for ages 4-7) was completed in summer 2019. Pupils now have more fluid spaces that are bright, airy and modern.
With music such a strong suit, any budding Vanessa Mae’s will be identified straightaway thanks to the early opportunities for strings teaching, with after school clubs including Ministrings in Year 1 and Stringlets for Year 2. The school also has a strong reputation for its individual music exams with a 100% pass rate in ABRSM/Trinity music examinations.
Individually, Prep students do well in the sports too, with running, cross-country and athletics a particular strength (that’ll be all the stamina worked up going back and forth along The Duchess Walk!). The school wins regular awards and qualifications in these sports in regional and national competitions.
Most recently the school won the individual prize in the National Prep Schools Cross Country, while the team was 8th out of 60 schools. The U10 girls team won the East Anglian Prep Schools’ Cross Country Championships while the boys were second. The hockey team has a good record at succeeding in tournaments too, with the U10 girls winning the St Faiths’ Tournament and members of the current swimming team have qualified for national finals, achieving gold and bronze medals. And just to prove that the brainiacs can also get their moment in the spotlight, the school has recently won the regional general knowledge championship.
If you’re looking for an academically strong school, lay your hat down now. Kimbolton’s senior School is the third strongest school in the county (hot on the heels of The Perse School and The Stephen Perse Foundation). The school’s progress score (also known as value added) puts them easily in the top 5% of state and independent schools, in the top three HMC schools, and ranks them 22nd out of 742 independent schools nationwide. A lot of parents choose Kimbolton Prep for the fact that their child will progress into the Senior School and have one continuous academic journey. Parents also like the small class sizes. In the Lower Prep the class size average is 16 and in the Upper Prep it’s 18.
The school is selective, but like most schools now, in the admissions process they are looking beyond academic brilliance to how they fit with the school and the children most likely to thrive here. Children have to have a genuine desire to take part in extra-curricular activities including at the weekends, so mini Einsteins with no enthusiasm for anything other than maths probably wouldn’t fit in.
Nearly all prep students progress with their friends into the senior school, many gaining the scholarships on offer. The typical senior school first form is made up of 55% from the Prep School (the vast majority of the Year 6 cohort) and the remainder from around 30 other schools.
There’s no let up on pace here with the extra-curricular side of things either – just when the Year 6s thought they could take a break and relax before taking their first steps in the castle grounds as a Year 7, in their final term, they undertake the Year 6 Challenge – team-based activities including bushcraft, outdoor pursuits, team building, problem solving and outdoor education.
LEARNING IN LOCKDOWN
When schools closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown, Kimbolton quickly switched to online learning with children completing varied and imaginative tasks, then submitting them for feedback. In nine weeks well over 60,000 written and recorded comments were exchanged between pupils and staff.
The timetable wasn’t just academic though. Acknowledging the realities of parents trying to work alongside their children, the school adapted to include sessions such as ‘Get Active’ and ‘Helping Hands’ so that children would stay fit and assist around the home.
Philip Foley is in his fifth year as Headmaster of the school, having moved specifically to the area from the West Midlands when he heard Kimbolton had an opening. He’s very personable and clearly loves his school and has made some significant changes since his arrival – expanding lessons from single to doubles so students can really get into the subjects and combining year groups in sports lessons so that children can get to know others in the year above or below and so that staff have more timetable space for academic lessons.
Days at Kimbolton can be usefully long if you’re a working parent. The school runs Kim Club which starts home-from-home-style care at 7.30am with breakfast (at an extra charge). The after school club resumes at 4pm for the Prep pupils and runs until 6pm with the usual smorgasbord of fun activities and sports. Kim Club is also close to the tennis courts and playing fields so in the summer, the children can play outside. At both the Senior and Prep Schools, there are supervised homework sessions, too. If you can’t make the journey yourself, the school’s bus service (run by the village’s coach company) covers three counties and serves only Kimbolton pupils. Even the youngest children use it regularly.
Holidays are also covered (great for those struggling with spreadsheets and childcare) – in the first two weeks of the summer holiday there are Sports Weeks for children aged from 8 to 13, while during some half terms the school’s professional sports coaches organise sports camps for 8 to 16 year olds, which offer intensive training in a particular sport. The swimming pool also runs crash courses in swimming either on a group or one-to-one basis during the holidays.
Giving the kid a voice is more than lipservice here – the children are invited to take part in a survey each year to bring up anything they are happy or unhappy with, the results of which are seriously discussed by the leadership staff.
Careers advice and guidance starts very early here, from Year 1 onwards, with parents and professionals invited in to discuss their careers in front of the students. It all sounds a bit grown up on paper, but the most recent focus was on real-life superheroes, featuring jobs like paramedics which, let’s face it, will be fascinating for little ones.
Almost a third of the Prep School’s staff are male, which is unusually high at this age range, but a good quirk considering the boy/girl student ratio is pretty much equal.
Great manners from the kids – when I visit, every class stands up as we enter the room, they held doors open for me and also said hello as I passed them in the corridor.
Pretty standard for independent schools in the county. Lower prep (age 4-7) is £3105 per term (lunches £195), which works out at £9900 per year. Upper prep(ages 7-11) is £4295 (lunches £205), which is £13500 per year.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Pastorally excellent is the feedback from parents, who delight in their happy, confident (but not precocious) kids. The current parents I’ve spoken to chose the school for this particular reason – the desire to have normal, polite and well-adjusted children, as well as the fact that they can dash off to work feeling comfortable knowing their child is well-supported and that as parents they can easily approach teachers with any concerns. The proof is in the classroom – every room I visited (even the reception class) the students were completely at ease talking to their teachers and offering up their opinion.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for a superior all-rounder option with excellent pastoral care for their little ones who love to join in, have an opinion and want to focus on their music and sport. Ideal for parents who like the convenience of single school education – most children here will move onto the Senior School.
Not for: Nervous, needy and shy children who don’t like joining in might find the everyone-participates environment a bit overwhelming. The timetable is pretty fast-paced too, with many academic classes and activities to get through each day, so stamina is essential.