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Kingham Hill School, North Oxon

An idyllically placed co-ed, non-selective secondary school with a Christian ethos and strong academic results, set in 100 acres of Cotswolds countryside.

WHAT? WHERE?

Kingham Hill School in Kingham near Chipping Norton is an idyllically placed co-ed day and boarding school with a strong Christian ethos, a couple of miles outside Chipping Norton in North Oxfordshire. Driving up the sweeping drive is kind of like entering a village in its own right with pretty Cotswold houses around the various greens – it has the slightly unreal, cinematic feel of a Richard Curtis movie (just add snow and Hugh Grant).

There, 346 kids from 11-18 years roam in 100 acres (yes, you read that right) of handsome stone Victorian buildings, playing fields and woodland. The school welcomes children of all abilities into classes that average 15, so your child will get plenty of attention here.


FACILITIES

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Clearly there’s oodles of space (the staff need a golf buggy to get around – I’m not even kidding), but there’s also a cricket square, pavilion and nets, tennis courts, floodlit astroturf pitches, an assault course and a fantastic pool, fitness suite , dance and drama studio. There are horses in the stables too.

Newish investments have been a fabulous library to the tune of £1.5m opened in July 16 and a £4m Maths and Science building that opened the previous year.  The big new calling card though is a £6.2m brand new Sports Hall, still being built when I visited in Oct 2019, and due to be officially opened on 23 Jan 2020. It’s huge and includes a climbing wall, squash court, changing rooms and a whizzy viewing platform. Then the old sports hall will be converted into a 200 seater performing arts centre with all the bells and whistles you’d expect. In short, you’re not going to grumble about facilities here.

The final thing on the new build menu is an Upper Sixth House – a dedicated space for that crucial interim year between leaving school and starting university. Not currently past the planning stage but I’ll keep you posted.

 

ACADEMICS

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Kingham Hill once had a reputation for average-at-best academic results, but Nick Seward’s headship over the last 11 years has seen teaching standards and exam results hoiked high, despite a proudly non-academically selective admissions process – this year (2019) Kingham Hill was the highest ranked school in Oxfordshire for value added scores (the difference between what the student is expected to achieve, based on prior achievement scores, and what the student achieves in the current year) as well the No. 2 school in Oxfordshire for progression at A level (DfE, 2019).

A level results for 2019 saw 45% A*-A and 71% A*-B. Great results by anyone’s standards. GSCE results included 49% 9-7 (A*-A). So anyone worried that Kingham Hill’s non-academic admissions policy affects teaching quality should relax.


SPORT 

A cohort of 346 is always going to be challenge with sports teams, but Kingham Hill takes sport seriously, both competitively and as a learning process. A new initiative this year has seen rugby become compulsory for all boys as lessons in team building and leadership – though relax helicopter parents, if they’re more goggle-glasses than brick-house, they can choose tag instead.

Girls’ sport in particular has been giving a big boost in the last few years – hockey is the headline sport for them with specialist coaches drafted in and cool incentives like the Barcelona hockey tour. Aside from the headline sports, kids can take part in the likes of zumba, cross-country, swimming and tennis.

 

SIXTH FORM

I was introduced to six Sixth Formers to have a chat about their school life. But to get to the dirt I had to firstly boot out the teachers from the room. Except it turns out there’s no dirt at all bar the occasional complaint about computer use being denied after 10pm. The kids here seem genuinely happy and well-balanced – they all went on about kindness and community, which is clear cascade from the headteacher and also the overt Christian ethos of the school.

There seem to be real efforts to help Sixth Formers prepare for the real world with ‘business wear’ as the own-clothes uniform, special dinners where the Sixth Form choose and budget the menu, and a Sixth Form bar where the kids can go for a sensible drink (just the one!) on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with the teachers or headmaster serving behind the bar.

 

BOARDING

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There are 7 boarding houses, and they’re all small in terms of numbers – the school prides itself as being very family-oriented, and pastoral care is one of Kingham Hill’s calling cards. They’ve decreased the number of pupils per house (25 to 35 max in each house) and increased the adult support, with each boarding house having two house parents, three tutors and a rolling internship scheme for recent graduates acting as role models before going on to PGCE.  So that’s six adults to each boarding house – not much chance of your child slipping through the cracks.

The boarding houses are in the main lovely stone cottages, though be prepared that they’re not particularly flash inside. Shiny leather sofas, wood-effect beds in rooms, table football and the like. Each house has its own private garden.

 

THE HEAD

I like Nick Seward a lot. Very smart and self-deprecating and witty and now with added beard since I last met him, he has real academic pedigree, having come from Magdalen School in Oxford, he’s been in the hot seat here for almost 11 years and during that time has overseen the investment in the library and science block, acted as Grim Reaper to the teaching old-guard, developed an ambitious plan for more new development,  knocked off Saturday school, not wanting children to ‘flog through another six lessons’ when they should be relaxing after a busy week.

Interestingly he’s not a fan of AS Tracking (technology that identifies kids who might not be happy or thriving) nor the idea of the ‘progressive’ child-centered learning – he believes teachers should be seen as the experts, and stand up and teach, not discuss for hours. I have some sympathy with that view actually and I’ll leave you to debate at leisure!

 

QUIRKS

Oooh, quite a few I’m pleased to say! Clearly the Sixth Form bar, with the headmaster as landlord is a master-stroke for starters. But Kingham Hill is the only British school in the UK that also has a US State Department Program running at the school, with 10-15% of US students at the school at any one time. It’s ostensibly so that US pupils can study in the UK whilst meeting US educational requirements, but the upshot is that the British students can study elements of the US curriculum too.

There’s a Combined Cadet Force that is compulsory for all children in Y9 where they undertake basic training, such as drill, command tasks, weapon training, fieldcraft and map reading. Then there’s Tucker, a tuk-tuk that delivers tuck shop goodies to the pupils and is used for refreshments at sports matches – tea, sandwiches, cakes even the occasional glass of Pimms. Now that’s genius.

You want more? Well, Nick Seward’s obsession with motor-racing has taken hold with a school motorsport team. There’s a fleet of 7 karts, and twelve times a year he takes a team around the country in National School Karting Association races. Yes, apparently it’s a thing. And finally – arguably most importantly – Kingham Hill School has a charitable aim of offering places for 12 vulnerable children per year – the current head boy and rugby first XV player, previously homeless and living on the street as a child, has been in the papers recently as a poster-boy for the scheme.

 

WHAT ELSE?

 

WRAP-AROUND CARE

The school day starts at 08.30am and children can stay for after school activities until 5pm, although parents can drop children off at the day houses from 8am and they can stay on site to do their prep until 6pm, free of charge.

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FEES

Fees per term are £5965 rising to £6795 for day pupils and £8130 – £10435 for weekly boarding (Sun night to Fri morning). Full boarding stars at £8450 rising to £11450. Day pupils and weekly boarders can stay over ad-hoc for £46 per night. Music and dance/speech/drama lessons are extra, with the exception of Y7 & 8 both of which receive free music lessons.


SCHOLARSHIPS

Juicy! You’ve missed the deadlines for scholarships as they’re at the beginning of January, but if you’re looking to apply for next year, it’s worth knowing that some scholarships are fully funded, and there are also means-tested places to those from 50% – 75% fee remission.


WORD ON THE GROUND

Happy parents at this very inclusive, non-hot-housey school. The head is popular and the parents I talked to dismissed the idea of Kingham not being academic enough and it’s easy to see why – 87%  headed off to their chosen unis, in 2018 to Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, London School of Economics, Queen Mary, Warwick, and York.

 

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Parents who are looking for a pastorally strong, all-round education for their kids. The school is small in numbers so children are known and cared for well and there’s a pervading ethos of kindness and consideration that is genuine and, I’d say, unusual.  There are good travel connections – Kingham station is only 3 miles away and links straight to Paddington in just over an hour – it’s about 30 minutes to Oxford too. Gazillions of bus options locally too. There’s excellent dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia provision here if your child needs some extra help.

Not for: The Christian ethos is strong, so you’ll have to accept that aspect of the school to go. My own sense was that it’s about Christian principles being followed – tolerance, forgiveness, etc rather than anything more evangelical. Being in a gorgeous 100 acre site in the Cotswolds, there’s a slight Kingham Hill ‘bubble’ that’s more rural idyll than real life, though I’d also say large efforts are being made to step past the movie set campus into the real world too.

Dare to disagree? There’s a Sixth Form open evening on 21 November 2019, 6pm – 8.30pm. Or you can arrange a private visit anytime by calling 01608 658999. The next full school open days are Sat 1 Feb and Sat 30 June 2020.

Kingham Hill School, Kingham, Oxon, OX7 6TH. Tel:01608 658999.

9 comments on “Kingham Hill School, North Oxon”

  • Keith F Targett January 6, 2017

    As a former pupil, father of a former pupil, brother to three other former pupils and – now retired Kingham governor of 16 years standing an incredibly accurate portrayal of a very special school. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Bekki Oribello January 11, 2017

    Kingham Hill is an amazing school. My American children went there while my husband was stationed in England with the USAF. Many of the students were Americans from the AF base. They have a great American Studies program that these kids attended and many were able to Graduate from Kingham with a US diploma along with their GCSEs. My son included. Most of the teachers and staff have a great heart for their students, and will do whatever necessary to make even the most difficult kids have a good experience there. When we first started at KH, Mr. Seward was fairly new, and he had a 10 year plan in place that promised to make the school into the best in the country. 9 years in, he has done just that! I appreciate everything that my boys got out of Kingham Hill, and I have no doubt that anyone who chooses to send their kids there will feel the same way!

    Reply
  • David Nock April 26, 2017

    I went to Kingham in the ’70’s and loved it’s idiosyncrasies, it made me.
    My son is there now and flourishing in the class room as well as on the sports field. They work in a very collaborative way and get the most out of pupils by treating them as grown ups, instilling into them modern day drive and ambition coupled with established ethics and care. It seems to be doing the trick!

    Reply
  • Keith F Targett April 26, 2017

    A comprehensive, accurate and excellent description of an exceptional school.

    Reply
  • Tim Lofts February 2, 2018

    As (yet another!) ex-pupil, I can but endorse the other comments already made. I most certainly would not have become the person I am without the influence of Kingham Hill.
    The most staggering thing to me is that, 50 years on, it has somehow managed to retain its core ethos of ‘care of the whole person’ rather than simply chasing academic measures.

    Reply
  • Hanna February 3, 2018

    As one of the exchange student students coming to Kingham for a term in the 10th grade I feel extremely blessed to have this experience in my life. Coming to Kingham my English was close to zero and self confidence did not even exist. Kingham made me a stronger, more independent women who happend to fall in love with netball and all the quirks of Britain. Altrogh being a former student of a German boarding school as well I find myself talking about Kingham when it comes to “the good old times”. Sadly our time has been before internet etc and it turned out quite hard to stay in touch with my Kingham folks. I hope to talke part in some alumni festivities in the future (pls invite the Torgelow kinds 😀 ). I am now a C2 level English speaker and student at a top English speaking university thanks to my time at Kingham.

    Reply
  • Linda Read April 10, 2019

    My father attended your school as a young man in 1915. His name was George William Tanner. My sister and I remember coming in the summer holidays and swimming there and watching cricket. Happy days. Is there any record of our dad and his brother John I wonder. John was the groundsman and head gardener for many years after he left as found his love of horticulture. He also kept the plantation copied I remember. Dr Linda Read (nee Tanner)

    Reply
    • Nanci Austin April 28, 2019

      Hi Linda, we’d love to help you find out more about your father and his time at KHS. Could you please get in touch with me through the development office at the School? Hope to speak soon.

      Reply
  • Charlotte Meakin April 28, 2019

    As a former pupil, I couldn’t have asked for a more rounded, special and valuable education. Since leaving Kingham, I have achieved more than I could’ve wished for and I am thankful to my education at Kingham for that. Kingham will always hold a special place in my heart.

    Reply

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