Radnor House Sevenoaks is an independent school for girls and boys divided into a Nursery, Prep and Senior School on the same site so allowing children to transition through the school all the way from 2 – 18 years old (little ones can start straight after their second birthday).
Sitting in Sundridge, just outside Sevenoaks, you’ll find it in the grounds of what was once the site of the Combe Bank estate and, until recently, Combe Bank School. But in 2015, Combe Bank joined the Radnor House Group, becoming fully co-educational from Nursery to Sixth Form.
Recently this school has undergone more of a renaissance than any other school in the area. In our first review we described it as a ‘watch this space’ kind of place – well now it’s not only found its feet, but taking strides – with over-subscribed Open Days and a co-ed pupil base that has blossomed from less than 200 pupils in 2015 to 525 in 2022. And where it once was a girls-only school it now has a roughly 50:50 split throughout.
The Nursery, Prep and Senior School sit on the same site, but in different buildings with their own identity, enjoying the benefits of 30 acres of stunning scenery and all the opportunities this brings for sports and outdoor education.
The Senior School – pictured above – is found at the end of a sweeping drive in a Grade 1 Palladian House which celebrated being 300 years old in 2021, and is still looking mighty fine.
The Prep School, pictured below, is arranged around a handsome courtyard all housed within the old stable block of the original manor house.
There’s no lack of space at this school, and no lack of ambition to keep up with the top schools in the area in terms of facilities. On top of the existing 25m indoor swimming pool, sports hall and full indoor fitness suite, Radnor House is well underway in its significant School Development Plan, having recently built an impressive a STEM Building and a Performing Arts Theatre.
The school now has a shiny new full-size hockey astro-pitch, full-size sports pitches and a new Cricket Oval.
The latest areas of development are in the Prep School which are ready for Autumn Term 2022. The Prep School courtyard has been refurbished to provide a continuous flow provision between inside and outside learning.
The Pre-School and Reception areas now have a garden area with direct access to Forest School. The Prep also boasts a new Library plus swish new Technology Suite.
Interactive touch screens are an integral part of teaching in the Prep School and are used in all classrooms from Reception to Year 6. If the students progress to the senior school, they all get a school laptop in Y7 which they have full use of throughout their time at the school.
A couple of years ago Radnor invested heavily in its sports provision – as well as the new facilities the school recruited a top team of sports coaches to start the establish the reputation. Tom Butt, Director of Sport is a National League hockey player. Susie Wilson-Rowe, Director of Cricket is an international cricketer. Both the Director of Hockey and Director of Football have experience playing at top level…it’s an impressive line up.
Swimming is taught to all Prep and Senior pupils – and actually one of the few schools where Nursery years too have on site swimming lessons – in rotation throughout the year. The school’s strong swimmers will be invited to join early morning Swimming Squad – or for recreational enjoyment there’s After School Swimming Clubs too. The Director of Swimming has coached Olympic and World Championship competitors.
In keeping with the progressive approach at Radnor House, the school implements a gender equal approach to sport which provides all boys and girls with the same opportunities. As well as swimming for all, the main three sports played throughout the year in Games lessons and weekly fixtures are football, hockey and cricket by both the boys and girls.
These start out as mixed teams in the Prep and then Girls and Boys playing the same sports each term in the Senior School. Rugby and netball are also on offer – delivered in PE lessons and co-curricular clubs, alongside cross country, tennis, athletics and basketball. We like how this co-ed school is leading the way in this field (all puns fully intended).
At Radnor developing a love or art by trying out different media – from Textiles to 3D work – is encouraged, with pupils being able to select Art & Design as one of their GCSE options. At A Level both Fine Art & Photography options exist.
Particularly impressed to see that Art lessons involve not just painting, sculpture, textiles and ceramics but also graphic design, delivered in a purpose-built Graphic Design suite in the main school building. The curriculum includes animation, website design, film and photoshop. Lots of practical, real-world-relevant skills being learnt here.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Weekly music lessons feature in the time table from Nursery upwards. In the Prep, Year 1 all receive class violin lessons, taught through the highly-acclaimed String Babies system. As pupils move up the school they also learn recorder and keyboards and there’s obviously the usual options of private music lessons as well.
Older children also have the opportunity to be in smaller musical groups such as choirs, orchestras jazz ensemble and concert band – performing in numerous musical concerts throughout the year.
Towards the end of their time in the Prep School Year 5 & Year 6 pupils have a 2-week collapsed time-table in order to focus on an End of Year school production that they write and produce themselves. This is then performed at The Stag Theatre in Sevenoaks.
At the Senior School drama, dance and music are popular. There’s a new Performing Arts Suite, including this 200-seater theatre, pictured above, for showcasing productions.
There’s also a dedicated Dance Studio and everyone takes Music as a subject until the end of Year 9.
To meet demand and elevate this area further the school has appointed a new Director of Performing Arts who is starting in September 2022.
Here there’s a big focus on outdoor learning that feels genuine – pupils from Nursery to Year 3 enjoy Forest School as part of the weekly curriculum – staff talk convincingly about how it builds resilience and improves self-awareness and academic learning.
In the Upper Prep (Years 4-6) pupils continue to make the most of the outdoor grounds with weekly bushcraft and forest skills lessons. In the Senior School there are outdoor lessons every other week in Year 7 & Year 8 – and a brilliant scheme for those years called Lower School Award, which is a bit like an early Duke of Edinburgh Award for those early Senior School pupils (getting them out of their comfort zone) which feeds into Bronze D of E in Year 9.
Dr Emma Margrett (pictured above) is Head of the Prep School – an experienced head, she’s worked at several well-reputed local schools, including Mayfield, Benenden and St Edmund’s Canterbury (where she was Head of the Junior School).
Passionate about pupil mental health, musical theatre and ballet – she loves the performing arts and singing – so encourages all children to get involved. Kind, knowledgeable and down-to-earth, parents report that she’s a highly approachable head.
There are currently 192 pupils in the prep with a 50/50 split girls and boys. Children can start their Radnor journey from Nursery where the atmosphere is warm and nurturing and runs from two to four years old. Then it’s one class entry from Reception to Year 3 and two class entry from Year 4 – Year 6 (with a maximum class size is 20).
Specialist teaching is part of the weekly timetable, including PE, French, Music, Performing Arts, Forest School and Swimming (from Nursery age remember, pictured above).
There’s a strong sense of single identity and a family feel here – which is no doubt why so many children transition from the Nursery to the Prep and then right up to Sixth Form.
As it shares the site with the Senior School, the Prep enjoys all the benefits of those facilities while having a smaller, friendly setting of its own. Plus there’s the other attraction of the seamless transition from Prep to Senior school (without the need for an external exam).
On average 80% of children move from the Prep School to the Senior School. Others apply to grammar schools or might move for a single-sex option.
The classrooms, especially after the recent refurb, are smart, light and airy – yet really it’s the external space which sings here. Beech Walk is their bespoke play space set in the heart of wooded grounds. Pupils walk from Prep to the playground via the secret woodland pathway which gives a magical feel to playtimes.
George Penlington took over as Head of the Senior School in 2019. A calm and congenial leader, with New Zealand roots, he’s also a keen sportsman so keen to further strengthen the the school’s co-curricular programme even further.
Year 7 is the key admission point at Radnor House Sevenoaks Senior School – and a further 10 places available in Year 9, so some movement there. There are a total of 60 places available for girls and boys – so with 30 typically moving up from Year 6 each year, there are approximately 30 places available for external candidates.
This geographical area is awash with large, highly selective schools with both the local grammars and the independents not offering the same bespoke, smaller-class size offering as here – so Radnor is forging a new path.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a focus on academic rigour at Radnor, and bright children will be challenged in all the best ways. But the most important thing here is that pupils are rounded and happy – and for parents in this area it offers a refreshing new choice.
The usual scholarships are offered here – including Art, Drama, Sport, Academic and Music. Scholars meet with the relevant Department Head twice a term to ensure pupils are getting the most out of the enrichment opportunities available to them.
This school vision is underpinned by four key values which are central to life at Radnor House: Excellence – Perseverance – Courage – Respect. They don’t just talk the talk though. When moving up into the Senior School pupils can actually apply for scholarships in these four key areas, which is a interesting new concept.
The structure here – with Fraser Halliwell as Head of the whole school, then George Penlington Head of the Senior School and Dr Emma Margret Head of the Prep School – means that the school has a comprehensive leadership team allowing for focused direction while uniting the two schools.
PARA ON FRASER HERE
USP & QUIRKS
They really do seem to walk the talk on the whole pupil, parent and teacher collaboration here. For example, once a year parents are invited in for a full 45 minute session with Form Tutors during which their child will do a presentation on themselves and how they are finding school – celebrating any sucesses but also allowing for any trouble-shooting areas to become apparent.
They will then all work together to plan the best way forward for the year ahead. With children of my own at Secondary school I think this is a great idea – jumping on small issues, before they become big ones is key – much better than five minutes on Parents’ Evenings or the disconnect of emails.
From Year 7 to Y 11 the school employs Vertical Tutor Groups which encourages children to build strong bonds across the year groups – a system that has been really shown to work well connecting pupils with informal mentors and role models in higher years who they know will be looking out for them.
Nursery from £68.50 for full day (£43 for morning session with lunch included); Reception £4,110; Year 1 & Year 2 £4,690; Year 3 £4,930; Year 4 to Year 6 £5,305.
Lower School (Year 7 & Year 8) £6,735; Middle School (Year 9 to Year 11) and Sixth Form (Year 11 & Year 12) £7,250. So putting this prep at the good value for money end of the scale compared to other schools in the area.
WORD ON THE GROUND
It’s a rare and wonderful thing to witness a school reinventing itself from scratch – and any initial period of parental hesitation surrounding this school seems to have well and truly passed. Radnor House is a progressive school and as a result attracts those kinds of teachers and parents alike.
A lot of the families here are open-minded, entrepreneurial, London commuters (often all three!) and – with no boarding facilites – local. Parents talk of lack of pretention and a huge sense of community. When I visited the school was in the process of organising no less than 11 events – from a Summer Art Exhibition to a 1920s-themed ball for parents. A sense of belonging is key.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Ideal for families who like the idea of one seamless transition from Prep to Senior School – although plenty join in Year 7. Parents looking for an all-round education for their child; those who want an outdoorsy, idyllic country school and an intimate setting that can focus on individual care and attention.
Not for: Those who are looking for a strongly selective school or those who want the badge of a long-established school name and reputation (this school is about looking to the future). In the past Radnor might not have been the first choice for hugely competitive kids/families while the sports side was developing – but this is no longer the case with those top coaches onboard.
GO SEE FOR YOURSELF: Contact Radnor House Sevenoaks to sign up to the Senior School Open Day in October or the Sixth Form Open Evening in November or the Prep School Open Morning in March. Full details here.
Radnor House School, Combe Bank Dr, Sundridge, Sevenoaks TN14 6AE, Tel: 01959 563720, radnor-sevenoaks.org