A guide to schools in Tunbridge Wells
The state secondary schools in Tunbridge Wells have consistently made it onto the list of the top achieving state schools in England, and the primary schools provide the perfect start to a child’s educational journey. Hence, it is very common for families to move to the town specifically for the schools. Unfortunately this means spaces are at a premium. Anyone planning a move to Tunbridge Wells with children from out of the area is likely to need help to understand the complicated schooling system… you could spend as long educating yourself about the education system as you would packing up the house! So here is an introductory guide which we hope you find useful.
What should you be looking for when house-hunting in Tunbridge Wells if schools are a key factor:
• Location, location, location! Not only will close proximity to the school of your choice make life easier for you as a parent and make the journey to school more enjoyable for your child, it can be a vital aspect in getting that school place in the first place. When deciding who to offer school places to, some schools in Tunbridge Wells require pupils to live within a ‘catchment area’ and more difficult still, that catchment area is different every year depending on other factors that the school take into account when looking at school applications (e.g. how many siblings have applied that year, or looked-after children who take a priority in place allocations). Claremont Primary school, whose places are highly sought due to their ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED, has been notorious for applying a very small catchment policy which in 2016 meant that only applicants living within 300 metres of the school, who did not meet any other eligibility criteria, were offered places (source: admissionsday.co.uk).
• St Johns is the prime area for house-hunting if school choices are driving your decision on where to live. Not only does the area have a selection of primary schools in walking distance, but it is also the hub for all the selective grammar schools plus the non-selective schools with the exception of Skinners’ Kent Academy (more information below). The primary schools near to St John’s Road were all graded ‘Good’ in their most recent OFSTED reports; being St Augustine’s RC school, Southborough CofE Primary, St John’s CofE Primary School and St Matthew’s CE School. It is worth knowing that, due to the close proximity of so many schools, the St John’s area is a nightmare to drive to and park near at school times so houses in walking distance are sought after.
• The area around Prospect Road, Bayhall Road which is catchment for St Peter’s CofE Primary school is a lovely place to live being in walking distance of the High Street, and the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre as well as Calverley Park and Dunorlan Park. The school is so desirable though that they had over 5 applications for each of their 20 places in 2017.
• New housing at Knight’s Wood is walking distance to the newly built Skinners’ Kent Primary School as well as being close to the cinema, restaurant and gym facilities of Knight’s Park and set in woodland. Similarly, new housing at Royal Wells Park in the centre of town is close to the Wells Free School which is popular.
Secondary School: things to consider
• Do you want a school that is unisex or co-educational?
• Do you prefer a school that is selective and only taking pupils that are the higher academic achievers or one that accepts all abilities?
• Is your child suited to a school that is super-selective where pupils will be drawn only from a pool of those with the highest academic capabilities?
• Do you prefer a school that has religious values at it’s core or a non-denominational option?
• Would you prefer an independent school with smaller class sizes and possibly better facilities?
The grammar school system
Kent has always maintained the system of schooling whereby only those pupils determined to be the more academically capable by means of testing (using the ‘11+ test’), are offered the opportunity of going to a Grammar School. Pupils in the final year of primary will be offered the chance to take the 11+. Sadly for those children who take it, it is sat in the first week back to school in September so the last precious weeks of the holidays can be ruined by revision and exam pressure if parents are not careful. There is a long-established system in Tunbridge Wells whereby schools and independent tutors coach pupils to pass the 11+, often commencing years before the actual test. A post on mumsnet in 2017 refers to pupils being tutored from Year 3! The government have tried to put in measures to make this difficult as the test results show that the system favours families who can afford to pay for extra help but it is still a hot topic in 2018 and so valuable for tutors that it will almost certainly continue. Having said that, passing the 11+ is a gateway to an enviable level of education at schools that consistently achieve high GCSE and A Level results, which the state provides:
Pupils who pass the 11+ can apply to the selective schools in Tunbridge Wells; Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys and Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School. A catchment area applies to applications for both. The Girls’ Grammar has historically been approximately 1.7 miles with the Boys’ Grammar being much wider. Open days and evenings are held in the Autumn term to show potential pupils around the schools.
Super-selective secondary schools
The Skinners’ School is classified as super-selective as pupils do not only have to pass the 11+ to be entitled to apply for a place, they will only be offered a place if they have passed it with a very high grade. For 2017 admissions, all boys offered a place had achieved over 369 points; the pass mark that year being 320. (To add further confusion to the 11+ process the required pass mark changes every year but that is a whole other topic requiring a blog in itself.) Skinners competes with the Judd School in neighbouring Tonbridge to educate the brightest boys in the area.
Non-selective schools in Tunbridge Wells
The non-selective options for schooling are also schools that perform at an outstanding level so should in no way be considered as a lesser option.
The only non-religious and non-selective school in town is Skinner’s Kent Academy which achieved an Outstanding in their last OFSTED report and whose results are on a continuous rise since becoming an academy in 2009.
Pupils who are practicing Christians have another non-selective school option which is Bennett Memorial Diocesan School and this has an Outstanding OFSTED report. Applicants must prove they attend a church regularly.
Pupils who are Roman Catholic can apply to St Gregory’s Catholic School which also has an Oustanding OFSTED report. Places are sometimes extended to non-RC applicants.
Independent schools are available in and around Tunbridge Wells for primary school and secondary school education. They have smaller class sizes, often have a longer school day and may have classes and/or sport on Saturdays, the standards of teaching are high. Primary options in town are Rose Hill on Coniston Avenue and The Mead School on Frant Road, both of which have a nurturing ethos and an excellent success rate at the 11+ . Rose Hill takes pupils up to the age of 13 to prepare them for the Common Entrance exam and access to further Independent school education e.g. Tonbridge, Bede’s, Ardingly, Kent College.
Finally, a bit of local knowledge can go a long way in school discussions so here’s some jargon for you to get acquainted with:
• Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys is often referred to as ‘Tech’. A reference to when it was the Technical college.
• Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Girls is commonly referred to as TWGGS, pronounced Twigs. Not to be confused with Tonbridge Grammar School which is abbreviated to TGS and pronounced Togs. Got it?
• Skinners’ Kent Academy was formerly called Tunbridge Wells High School and at one point, Sandown Court and is still referred to by these names, often with derision, but be aware that it is now a very different school.
More useful information can be found online at:
https://www.kent.gov.uk/education-and-children/schools masses of information plus the portal to register for schools and the 11+ test
http://www.kentadvice.co.uk/secondary-school-admissions/kent-secondary-schools.html extensive & independent advice from school advisor Peter Read who is also available for private consultations on school application appeals etc.
https://admissionsday.co.uk/blog/how-primary-school-admissions-work-kent advice from a parent who moved to Tunbridge wells and wanted to help others understand the school system