Formerly Ashford School for Girls, Ashford Senior School is now a thriving co-educational day and boarding school welcoming students from 24 countries across the world and set in the heart of Ashford city centre. Let’s take you on a tour so you can discover more…
When it comes to location, Ashford School wins a lot of prizes as the school, located on East Hill, is very centrally located for all major transport links and is just 7-minute walk from Ashford International Train Station. The town is also very well connected with bus and cycling routes to encourage a more autonomous journey into school and students can also take advantage of the school shuttle bus service, which travels between the Prep and Senior School if you have children transcending both schools. Granted you don’t have lashings of luscious of green countryside around you, but you can be guaranteed that your children will leave feeling independent rather than cooped in on a restricted campus.
There is a blend of the old with the new as the school’s history goes back to 1898 when it was first launched as a girls’ school, before moving to its current premises in 1913 and was home to injured soldiers during the Second World War so it has historical significance too. Today, Ashford School looks after 460 pupils with 98 boarders (there is capacity for more) with a 50/50 split between male and female students.
There is a real synergy between the Prep and Senior School, and it should come as no surprise that 75% of Prep pupils move up through the school even with good selection of Grammar schools within the area. Most of the local Grammars (bar one) are single sex which also works in the school’s favour if you are looking for a co-educational school.
Our tour of Ashford Senior School follows our review of Ashford Prep School which really excels in stunning and up-to-date facilities and your immediate impression may be that the Senior School falls short in comparison to its junior counterpart as it does not have the luxury of the same extensive space with one parent telling us they think of the facilities as ‘shabby chic’ but they also think that the ‘excellent education, teaching quality and pastoral support’ surpasses this factor.
Once you dig a bit deeper, you will soon discover an indoor swimming pool, fitness suite, dance studio, 4 tennis courts, sports hall and a full size floodlit Astroturf pitches on site (as well as access to Prep School’s sport facilities) not forgetting an all-encompassing performance area with Brake Hall and The Octagons – two octagon-shaped rehearsal and classroom spaces – as well as an extensive Art department including an Adobe Creative Suite for film and animation plus in 2013, it became an all-Steinway School (one of only 18 in UK) so there is the right backdrop here for your kids to excel in – whatever floats their boat.
Boarding facilities are currently undergoing a refurbishment and the Simpson Hall, with a beautiful atrium where the student flock to for down-time and ‘the best cookies and smoothies’ according to one student, is a recent addition to the school. We particularly liked the recently developed library, set over 3 floors, which has a full-time careers advisor dedicated to helping students find out their preferred path. Sustainability plays a big part in school life and the aim is to be plastic free by the end of 2022 and they are already paperless, so a forward-looking approach is very much in place.
The strong sports reputation at Ashford Prep School continues at Ashford Senior School and there an increasing number of pupils who compete at County, Regional and National level. Hockey is a major sport here, as well as netball for the girls, and rugby is on the up but take note footie fans as football is not on the curriculum.
Swimming is also a strength (the pool opens at 6.30am for Swim Squad) plus biathlon, triathlon, athletics, tennis as well as cricket for girls and boys. The school also has the benefit of facilities beyond its own grounds and makes use of excellent sports facilities in the area. The school also offers BTECH in Sport as well as P.E. for GCSE so students can push their passions further with an academic qualification as well.
MUSIC & DRAMA
If you are keen performers or musicians in the family, they will be in very safe hands. Opportunities for performance are second-to-none, with a full programme of concerts, recitals and other events taking place throughout year, in close co-operation with Ashford Prep School’s musical team.
Pupils can take individual lessons in a wide range of instruments and After-School clubs and bands, range from Jazz bands to a full Orchestra. There’s also a talented choir and senior orchestra ensembles for the recorder, flute, cello and guitar.
On our visit, auditions were in full swing for Annie which is a full-blown musical production which will take place in the 350-seat auditorium. It is very much an all-school affair with opportunities beyond acting too with lighting, choreography, make-up, costume, and special effects roles too. Drama lives beyond the school with students regularly taking part in festivals and competitions and several their students have also recently auditioned with the National Theatre and LAMDA is a popular additional subject throughout the years.
Art gets the big thumbs-up from us – five teachers, each with a different specialism, lead the lessons and the Artist in Residence scheme allows students to witness first-hand the creativity process and artistic techniques of a working artist. During our visit, Royal Academy exhibited artist Sophie Bedingham Smith, best known for her dramatic representations of the Kent landscape, was in residence and students commented on how inspiring it was to have somebody of that calibre in their midst.
The Head of Art is a former pupil (and we talked to a few other staff members who were also former pupils which speaks volumes about the school as a positive place to be) and we loved how wide-ranging the options were – digital and multi-media is incorporated within the programme, live models come in from Sixth Form, pottery on offer and there is a dark room too for photography. In a pre-COVID world, the art tours to Edinburgh, Rome, Venice, Madrid and Berlin have been immensely popular so they are looking to resume them as soon as possible.
Design and Technology and Product Design are part of the GCSE and A Level course and there is lots of crossover with Science and Maths. The annual STEM days in Year 8 and 9 allows pupils to explore real world engineering challenges.
From an IT perspective, each pupil has a Microsoft Surface Laptop Go and as part of its extensive co-curricular programme, there is a Coding Club and a Cybersecurity Club with one pupil even travelling to the USA for the US Embassy-funded Future Cybersecurity Leaders Exchange Programme, so the world is your oyster in that department.
In terms of admissions, a series of entrance papers are set (tailored to Sixth Form when that time comes) and after an interview process, offers are made and the papers are used to set the students rather than deny them.
The school has a very strong reputation for Science and Maths, and we particularly liked the fact that there is a female-heavy teaching department for Physics which has created great role models for female students picking their subjects. The Physics trips to Iceland (and such like) might have also played a part in its popularity!
There are 3 or 4 forms per year and class sizes are not too big, not too small – averaging 18 pupils (for Years 7-11). The average for A Level is 10 students.
If it is the nitty gritty results, you are after, the three-year average (2018-2021) for Year 11 exam results are: 96% of all grades were 9-4 (A*-C), 86% of all grades were 9-5 (A* to B) and 47% of all grades were 9-7 (A*-A). For Year 13, the three-year average (2018-2021) are as follows: 48% A*-A, 74% A*- B and 89% A* – C.
In 2021, 54% of pupils gained a place at a Russell Group University, 26% gained a place at a UK top 10 University, 77% gained a place at their first choice and 10% gained a place at a World top 10 University.
Michael Hall has been Head of Ashford School since August 2018, having come from Bedford Modern School where he was Head for eight years. He is a great role-model for the students as he is an all-rounder who enjoys cycling, rugby, swimming and is musical too, plus is very approachable and likeable so ticks a lot of boxes on the parents and pupils’ front.
Michael has led the development of the school’s main pillars: Celebrating Individuality, Optimising Potential, Academic Rigour and Adventurous Learning which are highly visible throughout the school and embedded throughout the curriculum and have been designed to enhance the school’s innovative approach to teaching. Michael continually refers to the high standard of his teaching staff and it’s evident that it is a close team behind the scenes.
According to Michael, Ashford School pupils are ‘calm but purposeful’ and one of the key strengths of the school from Michael’s perspective is its calm environment which is clear during my visit even when we pop into Home-Economics class and there was a fierce competition to produce the best Christmas chocolate log.
Michael’s mission is to enhance technical side of the school as, as he says, the ‘basic fibre of the school is very good, but they always want their education technology to be ahead of the curve as even at the start of the first lockdown, the team did not miss a beat when it came to implementing the necessary structure needed to help their pupils during home-schooling.’
Michael is keen to stress that they do not want to create elitist students but those who will make a valuable contribution to the world and the school’s role is to enhance their talents and empower them to achieve their goals. Judging by how many students pro-actively put their hands-up to talk to us about the school, I would say that they are moving in the right direction on this front.
There are two boarding houses with Alfred House (for boys) and Brabourne House (for girls) and many weekly boarders come from London since it is so conveniently placed with transport links plus flexi boarding is an option if you need a night here and there. The Head tells us that they are looking about how they can integrate the boarders more within the school community so that is one to watch. Boarders enjoy the freedom of getting to know the town (Amici’s is the restaurant of choice apparently) and mobile phone usage is not restricted (for non-boarders as well as boarders) as they trust the pupils to use them responsibly which enhances the students’ independent streak.
Boarding refurbishment was underway during our visit, so our research was a little restricted in this area, but the common rooms have plenty of games and comfy sofas, so it is a home away from home of sorts. As you can imagine, pupils are also kept busy with School sports fixtures on Saturdays and organised trips including London and the seaside, go-karting, ice-skating and even gliding.
Students start to wear Business Suits for Sixth Form as a subtle nod to the fact that they are moving towards the end of their school career. There is a sixth form transition programme in place which is designed to help students in their final stages of the GCSE programme and to explore their future and A Level option.
The extra-curricular programme widens in terms of interesting options including the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), an English Literature Society, international and national Science and Maths competitions (Olympiads), Ceramics and Animation classes, a Medics Society, Art trips, a Physics trip to CERN, language exchanges, Philosophy and Ethics conferences, CREST awards, charity organisations, partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s schools’ project, a Science society, Senior Drama society so extra passions can really be explored.
There is a community side to proceedings too as some Sixth Formers go out to local primary schools within the local area and help out with Maths and other core subjects.
We don’t think you can beat this quirk for a school even if it was a fair while ago. In 1992, a science experiment designed by four girls from Ashford Senior School flew on the Space Shuttle on flight STS-47 having won a competition organised by Independent Television News. They are rightly still very proud of this association.
It’s essential that we mention Health & Wellbeing as this is a large component of the school. The Health Centre is based in the middle of the campus and is open to pupils and staff between 8am and 6pm, with a dedicated Wellbeing Team on stand-by and two rooms where pupils can take time-out. Activities such as Yoga and Mindfulness are available, and The Head is keen to showcase that mental health is not a taboo subject and encourages staff to showcase their vulnerable sides too by leading Assemblies around these topics.
This is also a school with ‘community’ at its core and the school’s facilities are accessible for others within Ashford with the swimming pool open for local use and Amateur Dramatic groups in the area also use the Hall for their Pantomimes too.
FEES (per term)
Years 7 – 13 £6,098
Full Boarding £12,926
Weekly Boarding £8,925
Occasional Boarding (subject to availability) £75 per night
WORD ON THE GROUND
It’s always our Muddy obligation to dig a bit deeper beyond the official tour and our local intelligence tells us that parents like the ‘less flash and monied feel’ about Ashford School in comparison to its local private school counterparts and the fact that is has more of a diverse approach because of its charitable foundation structure. The smaller and more secure environment has also been commented on as a positive point and the fact that academic children can flourish there or be nurtured if they need the extra support – whatever the brief is, the school delivers.
We probably had the record number of students pro-actively chat to the Muddy team and spill the beans about the school – without staff present – which is impressive in itself as they were so chatty and confident in sharing their thoughts. Extra-curricular activities were mentioned as highlights including and several students said that he liked the fact that the school ‘gives you all a go when it comes to Sports’, and they want you to leave ‘with a passion for sport’ so no elitist attitude on that front. Many of them mentioned that the school was ‘supportive and caring and everyone knows everyone’ and burritos/fajitas score highly on the food front. It was raised that they would like to see more of a synergy with boarders and day pupils and the wheels are in motion on this front, so this is a school where pupils’ voices are heard.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those who are arty and creative as this was a particularly strong feature of the school.But would also suit all-rounders as all passions are well-catered for and there is the staff capacity to nurture hidden talents too.
NOT FOR: If you are looking for a glossy school set on a campus, this is not the one for you. And whilst if offers boarding, we would position it as a day school with boarding option rather than a boarding school.
Ashford Senior School, East Hill, Ashford, Kent, TN24 8PB, ashfordschool.co.uk, +44 (0)1233 625171