Kingscourt School, Catherington, Waterlooville
This bucolic, co-ed prep school near Petersfield with new, eco-built nursery is attracting a growing reputation for its family-oriented approach and beautiful surroundings.
A relative newcomer, the non-selective, co-ed, Kingscourt nursery, pre-prep and prep-school opened in 1995 in the small village of Catherington in East Hampshire. Tucked away just off the A3 between Petersfield (15 miles to the north) and Portsmouth (17 miles to the south) it has a small cohort of just 138 pupils aged between 2 years 9 months and 11. Kingscourt families come from Hayling Island, North Petersfield and surrounding areas like Denmead, Hambledon, Horndean, Rowlands Castle and East and West Meon.
Set in its own 25-acres and surrounded by beautiful countryside, Kingscourt’s stunning Georgian house was built in the 18th Century and originally home to Admiral Hood, mentor to Admiral Lord Nelson. Sympathetically converted into a light, airy classrooms set over three floors, ceiling-to-floor windows look out onto a beautiful garden, sports fields, idyllic woodland and meadow grounds, where it’s not unusual to find deer roaming.
Kingscourt has plenty of space, especially outdoors. Within the 25-acres are a beautiful walled garden and Forest Play area. Sports are played in the spacious pitches and playing fields, and year-round the all-weather multi-use games area (MUGA) with cricket nets. Not part of the school but just down the road, there’s a close partnership with the Catherington Equestrian Centre for extra-curricular riding lessons and the Andrew Simpson Watersport Centre, where children can take part in after-school sailing courses during the summer term.
Indoors, Kingscourt has a well-equipped music room and light, spacious classrooms with interactive SmartBoards. Along with classroom iPads, there’s individual laptops for children in Years 3 to 6. The new, eco-consciously designed nursery building is similarly well-equipped, with purpose-built indoor and outdoor play areas with STEM-focused games and resources, waterwall, play equipment and toys.
Pupils play a mix of team games such as rugby, football, netball, rounders, cricket and pop lacrosse. As a relatively small prep, obtaining silverware isn’t a huge focus but from Year 3, pupils can play competitively against other schools – Kingscourt is part of the Wessex League for rugby, football, netball and cricket.
Family fixtures are also a big part of the sporting calendar, with sporting festivals, football tournaments and a hotly contested fathers’ cricket match. The hugely popular, extra-curricular riding lessons are also a firm favourite with the older children. Reunited after a long lockdown in 2021, the children’s happiness at seeing the horses again was extremely touching. Swimming isn’t offered, so lessons have to be arranged privately but children can try out other individual sports like judo, gymnastics and fencing.
MUSIC + DRAMA
A strong and popular part of the curriculum, music lessons comprise a good selection of instruments like guitar, piano, flute, recorder, saxophone, cello, clarinet and drums. A few of the keenest pupils also give music recitals in lessons and assemblies. Private lessons start early here at Year 1 (earplugs at the ready), although take-up isn’t universal.
Less typically, there’s an extracurricular ukulele club, which the children absolutely love. During the 2020 lockdown, the music department got creative with virtual learning, experimenting with an online sound sequencer that went down a storm with the older pupils. Kingscourt’s senior choir is popular too and always well-subscribed. They regularly perform at seasonal events in school and in the community.
Most drama productions have been driven backstage by the pandemic but Kingscourt did manage to put on a virtual nativity play between lockdowns. A sweet treat for parents, mince pies were sent home for families to tuck into while they watched.
Kingscourt feeds a range of top selective independent and Ofsted outstanding-rated secondary schools in the area like The Petersfield School. All children sit common entrance examinations and are well-prepared for entrance examinations to a variety of independents like Churcher’s College, Portsmouth Grammar School, Ditcham Park, Boundary Oak, Portsmouth High School, St. Edmunds, St. John’s College and St. Swithuns. In 2020, most leavers secured places at Churcher’s and Portsmouth Grammar, with 10 achieving scholarships or extra awards from their chosen secondary schools.
FEES & SCHOLARSHIPS
Good value for the area and slightly lower than prep schools in Petersfield and Portsmouth. Tuition fees per term are £3,337 for Year R to Year 6. Nursery places are charged per session, with 15 funded hours per week.
Headteacher Amanda Bembridge has taught at Kingscourt for over 20 years across various subjects and age groups. Previously, she was at state schools and other Hampshire independents, including Rookesbury Park boarding school in Fareham (now closed).
A friendly, hands-on and well-liked authority, she goes out of her way to get to know all her young wards and their families personally. The school’s overarching aims are to instil kindness while growing pupil’s confidence and resilience, bolstered by small class sizes and a strong pastoral programme.
Head Amanda Bembridge also makes sure that parents are given lots of support as children move on to secondary level. She firmly believes that making a decision on this important next step at the point when the child’s personality is starting to shine through is a big advantage.
The brand spanking-new eco-built nursery has bags of indoor and outdoor space with floor-to-ceiling windows and views worthy of an upmarket spa hotel. ‘Caterpillars’ become ‘Butterflies’, with plenty of outdoor play and specialist lessons in gardening, music and Spanish.
Despite having their own standalone space, Kingscourt littlies are included in the school community. Nursery children eat lunch in the hall, go to school assemblies and team up with Reception for the annual nativity. There’s good early testing results too: in 2019, Kingscourt’s Early Years Foundation Stage GLD (Good Level Development) scored 87%, above national and county averages.
Not many schools have an equestrian centre right on the doorstep – which might just save you a whole load of money and mucking-out. Outdoor learning is a growing trend in schools in schools right now but has always been a big part of the curriculum at Kingscourt: as well as art, it’s not unusual to find maths games and science experiments being conducted around the school’s vast grounds.
Starting in the nursery, Kingscourt is also pretty unusual in teaching Spanish as its second language option, rather than the usual French. This could turn out to be pretty handy for future backpacking adventures around South America.
Before and After School Club runs from 7.30am – 6pm and is open to all age groups. Run on site, it’s provided by the independent, Ofsted Outstanding-rated Creative Kidz Childcare Ltd, which also runs a school holiday club for up to 50 weeks a year. Extracurricular clubs span a big range of interests and skills, from team sports like football and rugby to fencing, Lego building, wildlife spotting, nature club, rugby, gardening, running, chess, reading and computer code writing.
WORD ON THE GROUND
After long lockdowns, it’s hard to find a kid who isn’t giddy about school. So I took my chances with a Kingscourt keyworker’s child who had attended through lockdown for a potentially more balanced view. Like her home-schooled peers, she was incredibly upbeat about her lessons, ‘kind’ teachers and netball club. Parents were similarly enthusiastic, with repeated mentions of good pastoral care, caring teachers and a strong academic focus.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Kingscourt ticks a lot of boxes. A small school with a village feel, outdoor learning, horse riding and small class sizes, its academic focus continues to help pupils secure scholarships and their first choice of places at local selective independent senior schools like Portsmouth Grammar School and Churcher’s College.
Not for: It’s just off the A3 and well connected, but Kingscourt’s village location mid-way between Portsmouth and Petersfield might be a bit too off-the-beaten track for some families.
Dare to disagree? Personal virtual tours are available by appointment.
Kingscourt School, 182 Five Heads Road, Catherington, Hampshire, PO8 9NJ. Tel. 02392 593251. www.kingscourt.org.uk.