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King’s Hawford, Worcester

Looking for a dynamic and nurturing school for ages 2 - 11 with a special Swallows and Amazons feel? This co-ed Prep near Worcester has a fiercely outdoorsy offering with a strong academic record. Read our review here.

WHAT? WHERE?

King’s Hawford is a co-ed day school for ages 2 to 11 located on the outskirts of Worcester. Sitting pretty in a rural sanctuary of 24 lush acres of land it has a fiercely outdoorsy offering and a strong academic record. Adding to its strength, the school is also now part of the King’s Foundation, a stable of three schools including nearby King’s Worcester which combined cater for ages 2 -18.

King’s Hawford opened in 1955, there are now 270 pupils on the register and according to new head Jennie Phillips, who joined in April 2021, exciting expansion developments are afoot. Class sizes are nice and small – an average of 13 per class – whilst most year groups are made up of two forms. There are however currently three forms in Year 6 and other years could well follow suit in the near future, with some exciting building plans on the drawing board (more on that later).

If you want a school that parents vie to get into, take a good look at this place. There have been years in the past where numbers have been low, but that has been reversed. Perhaps driven by fresh energy at the helm, there are currently 25 children on the waiting list for Kindergarten, along with a 2023 reception that’s looking ‘enormous’. In short, it feels like it a school really on the up in terms of popularity, so if you are thinking of getting a place, apply early.

A fiercely outdoorsy school, wherever you look you’ll find children up trees, paddling on the canal, sketching on the ‘mound’ or bushcrafting in the grounds. During my visit pupils were happily climbing a cluster of small trees on their break and tending to the chickens (more on that quirk later).

Alongside this, academics are taken seriously here too and children do well. Since taking over Jennie has implemented a major curriculum review, replacing a previously pretty ordinary offering with purely subject-based teaching and a new, sharper focus on life skills. Now, every Friday afternoon you’ll find Years 3 to 6 doing some fascinating stuff, from creating their own school radio station to outward bound skills, cookery or learning a new language.

Since being absorbed into King’s Foundation, the school has been ‘smartened up’ with a brand new uniform (in a nice touch, the old uniform is being sent to children in Africa). It’s a natural feeder school into King’s Senior in the centre of Worcester – 95% of pupils continue to ‘Big King’s’ – and all three schools (also including King’s St Alban’s Prep) share facilities and expertise – which is a nice bit of extra value for your termly direct debit.

In terms of competitors, RGS The Grange is 5 minutes up the road, but King’s Hawford prides itself on a superior emphasis on outdoor and experiential learning. Also, being a campus style school, from Year 1 kids are taught early to be independent, having to move themselves around the school from one class to another.

Jennie has some solid ambitions for the school, one of which is to address oversubscription at the lower end. In due course the rubber-stamped plan is to expand into the head’s current house – which is on site next to the nursery and kindergarten – and convert it into a huge new area for Early Years, giving them a lot more space for extra pupils.

The school certainly has a tangible family feel to it as you walk around. The school’s founder – 97-year-old Mary Ann Garrad – still lives in a house on site and there’s even a grandchild of one of the very first 15 children here.

The buildings are a mix of mostly modern purpose-built, red brick low-rise buildings and the original Victorian building, housing Years 1 to 3. Pupils predominantly come from the local area (within 40 mins drive of the school).

FACILITIES

Sport

King’s Hawford is very sporty, achieving success at both regional and national levels. No one’s left languishing on the subs bench here. Instead, everyone is encouraged to take part and represent the school (A, B, C and D teams play on every fixture).

The Barn hall was built a few years ago and is a cavernous space that multi-tasks as an indoor sports hall, general performance space and assembly hall. In quirky King’s Hawford fashion it was opened, erm, by a horse! Grand National Winner Pineau de Rey, which is stabled nearby.

Top of Jennie’s wishlist is a new astroturf, currently pupils have to travel to a local one, but the cash for this has already been ring-fenced so it’s firmly in the pipeline.

Children have access to two large sports fields, one with an athletics track, and there is an indoor swimming pool which is heated throughout the year. Classes start young, aged two, and all year groups enjoy regular lessons which isn’t always common.

A lovely feature of the school is it sits slap, bang on the Worcester canal, with a mooring right off the school field – could it be more Swallows and Amazons?!

The stunning setting

Children get to take out colourful kata-canoes which sit in a shed nearby (a whole class fits in three boats) during supervised outings. The school has even considered buying a narrowboat (how unique would that be!).

The kata-canoes

The clubs and activities offered change each term (the usual assortment) but nearly all of them are fee-inclusive which is good.

MUSIC & DRAMA

The aforementioned Barn is a great space for music and drama playing host to a wide variety of performing arts from informal music concerts and dance showcases to fashion shows and whole school productions.

Dance classes take place in the purpose-built Cobb room, a space that features full-length mirrors and special flooring, so if you have a mini ballerina or Billy Elliot on your hands they will love it here.

King’s Hawford has also scooped an Artsmark Gold Award from the Arts Council of England – only a handful of schools have achieved this around the UK. The director of music is a trumpeter so they have a full set of trumpets, amongst a huge array of other instruments. A high percentage of 85% of children learn at least one musical instrument here, which is pretty impressive.

The school has an orchestra and there is also a string group, a wind band, a guitar group, a jazz band, as well as a junior and senior choir to get involved with. Indeed music is taught as a specialist subject from Reception. In recent years children have had the chance to compete in annual music festivals such as Worcester Competitive Arts Festival (WCAF) and the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts (CFPA) in addition to numerous informal concerts.

Other subjects

The IT department also stood out for me, more than just your usual rows of computer screens, it had a state-of-the-art green screen which the children were doing newspaper reports from around the world, which looked great fun. And Science is well catered for here too, there is a large, dedicated lab which all years can use. During my visit one of the teachers showed us a giant wasps’ nest she’d brought in from home which would was going to be used as a topic for a lesson.

Huge wasps’ nest

Love languages? The language department was extremely fun-looking and vibrant, with the unique offering here that three-year olds get an introduction to German.

WHAT ELSE?

A big red bus! Yes, you heard us right. King’s Hawford Library is a big, red double decker bus. This is certainly a Muddy review first, and shows how adept this school is at thinking outside of the box (no space inside? buy a bus!). As it has wheels and an engine you don’t need planning permission, so it’s a genius solution to space-finding (costing around £40,000 to buy).

We loved this idea, inside it’s a magical space kitted out with shelves brimming with books, fully climate controlled and furnished with comfy nooks for reading. Jennie even has a proper old fashioned ticket machine (we mean, how cool). Unsurprisingly the kids love library time, and the unusual setting works wonders for turning the kids into bookworms, especially great if you have a reluctant reader.

LITTLIES

The Nursery and Kindergarten were a hub of colour, activity, noise and industry – a very happy place – but obviously slightly bursting at the seams. As mentioned above, expanding the current offering is a priority for the Head. Currently intake is at two years old, but there are plans to take babies too from 6 months old as soon as a new ‘baby room’ can be built.

As pupils turn four they head up to a ‘Transition Room’ to help them bridge the gap between Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2. This is a small but cosy space tucked away in the attic of the house.

The Transition Room

As for the older kids, the provision is set in the older, original Victorian building, with each year room snaking off individual floors. So nothing super-modern perhaps, but it’s got bags of character. When I visited all of Year 3 and 6 were out on a Covid ‘firebreak’ but fully immersive live lessons were taking place to keep the kids engaged – from a lively spelling test in English to a full HIT workout in PE!

Although Year 6 were away when I visited the classroom they learn in is lovely – spacious and featuring large bi-fold doors which open right out for a great hybrid indoor/outdoor learning experience.

FOREST SCHOOL

Outdoor learning is at the heart of everything at King’s Hawford and it has been awarded Gold by The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, held by only thirty-five schools nationally. You’ll find a dedicated outdoor classroom for themed activities and there are lots of trips and residentials, where kids get to camp out, set up own tents and do their own cooking.

There are two Forest School areas, the main one being a large, self-contained glade with towering trees and filled with various fantastic ‘activity’ stations. Being located just off the main road (one of the convenient features of the school) you can hear cars in the distance, but the forest school is so immersive you hardly notice. All of the children were having a glorious time from digging for nature ‘treasures’ to making hedgehogs out of twigs, teddy bear picnics and a very fun swing. And it’s not just the littles who get all the fun, pupils up to year 6 get taught bushcraft here too.

The outdoor classroom

ACADEMICS

King’s Hawford is academically selective, but only gently so. Entry into Years 1 to 6 is by informal assessment where pupils are invited to the school to spend a day, they take part in a range of activities during which they complete tests.

Pupils here come out far above the national average, with half of 2021’s Year 6 cohort (15 pupils) winning scholarships to senior schools, mostly to King’s Senior but also specialist music schools or sporty schools or places like Millfield.

In terms of lessons, in Science a new Hamilton Trust teaching scheme has been implemented which removes often repetitive topics with a more experiential, curriculum, the day I visited lung capacity was being taught, with models and lots of hands on experiments, an interestingly senior school-style approach.

TECH ETHOS

Pupils have access to tablets throughout the school day should they need them. The school doesn’t describe itself as particularly ‘techy, indeed two years ago there was actually no IT at the school, but that has now transformed, and Jennie’s keen to build on that. There is now a new Head of Digital and ipads are provided up to Year 5, with other pupils are asked to bring in their own tablet.

THE HEAD

Jennie Phillips joined King’s Hawford in April 2021, following seven years as a Head at Haberdashers Monmouth Schools in Wales. Hailing from Oxford originally she is new to Worcestershire so it’s a real shot of fresh energy for the school. I get the sense from her of real excitement at being in a new place (she has even recently joined Worcester Rowing club – handy for the canal!) and an eagerness to

Vivacious and chatty, Jennie comes across as an incredibly friendly Head. With a daughter at King’s Senior School, she also lives on site, which is increasingly rare these days particular for a non-boarding school Head. But it means she is part of the fabric of the school, always on hand to greet parents in the mornings and help with out of hours activities.

QUIRKS?

The King’s Hawford menagerie! Another Muddy first, we have never visited a school that has its own mini-zoo before. The school counts amongst its residents a flock of 30 racing pigeons that fly around the rooftops daily, cock-a-toos, two seven-year-old tortoises, one hamster and a gaggle of seven chickens that free range around the grounds.

When I visited there was a huge aviary with budgies too, but these were recently rehomed. But I hear there is a brand new hen house currently being built by the groundsman. All of the children get to look after the animals, taking it in turns to let them out and feed them.

Hawford Activity Badges; the school has an innovative programme open to all of pupils from Reception to Year 6 where they complete tasks in order to achieve merit badges, these seem really popular with the kids.

PASTORAL CARE

Parents are kept closely informed about their children’s wellbeing and are able to make daily contact with the class teacher. The Form Tutor is at the heart of the care system here and is always available to pupils and parents alike. Older children help younger pupils in the playground and also undertake additional responsibilities around the school, plus, a school nurse is available throughout each school day.

I spotted a ‘Worry Box’ in one of the covered playtime spaces here, there are four all over the school, which children can post in if they have any worries.

There is also a four-house system (Bredon, Kinver, Clent, Malvern) which has a mentoring system for the younger children.

WRAPAROUND CARE

There’s good full-time provision here so it’s a great choice for busy working parents. Children can be dropped off from 7.30am, and there is a breakfast service for children arriving before 8.00am. There is supervised care at after-school clubs every day until 6.00pm. There is also the addition of Holiday Club throughout the school holidays which offers year-round nursery care.

MOBILE PHONE POLICY

Mobile phones are not permitted in school or in lesson and must be handed in to the school office in the mornings if brought in.

ISI REPORT

Find the ISI Report for King’s Hawford here.

FEES

Fees in Reception start at £2,661 per term, progressing to £3.058 in Year 2, £4,496 in Year 4 and £4,789 in Year 6.

MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Put it top of the list if you have an outdoorsy, sporty or dance and drama-loving child. Little go-getters will excel here, but it’s also great for the quieter type who needs bringing out of their shell slightly.

Not for: Any child who doesn’t like dirty knees, a vehemently indoors type might struggle, but the sense of community and camaraderie might change that, you never know. Anyone needing boarding, this one is for the day-schoolers.

Dare to disagree? Take a look for yourself at the 2022 Open Day, taking place on Saturday 12th February 2022.

Contact www.ksw.org.uk, tel 01905 451292 or email the team to arrange a private tour by head Jennie Phillips at hawford@ksw.org.uk.

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