Benenden

Logo of Benenden

Pupils Info

Gender – Girl's School
Age range – Age 11 - 18
Number of pupils on roll – 548 Pupils

Characteristics

Average Class Size: 16
Boarding School
Oxbridge Entrance Percentage: 13%
£32,400 p.a.
A* to B at A-Level Percentage: 96%

SUMMARY

Nestled in the Kent countryside, surrounded by 240 acres of beautiful parkland, manicured gardens, sports fields and a 400 year old forest Benenden seems to offer everything typical of a traditional, upmarket all-girls’ boarding school. However behind this conventional veneer is a school that is in many respects much more progressive, dynamic and cutting-edge than its competitors. Founded in 1923 by three school mistresses, Benenden was established to be a ‘happy school with personal integrity and service to others always in mind, where everybody would be given the chance to follow her own bent’. Ninety years on, the school remains in line with these original ambitions. With a huge variety of subjects and extra-curricular activities readily available, the school has stayed true to its vision of individuality. Their strong focus on developing the girls’ hearts as well as their minds is commendable. Since 2000, Headmistress Claire Oulton has led the way energetically. She cuts an impressive figure; previously she taught at Charterhouse and was the headmistress of St Catherine’s, Bramley. Retiring after the Easter term of 2014, she will leave behind an impressive legacy with Benenden’s reputation amongst pupils and parents at an all-time high. Let’s hope her replacement, Samantha Price from Godolphin, will continue to drive this school in the same direction.

Background and Reputation

On the surface, Benenden appears to be the quintessential Home Counties all girls’ public school. Don’t be put off by their slightly uninspiring website; we think it’s an exciting, progressive, modern choice for parents looking to educate their daughters in a balanced, happy environment. While some traditional girls’ schools are weighed down by a culture and ethos that have no relevance in the modern world, Benenden is forward-looking, energetic and dynamic in their approach to education. Accepting, but not subservient to the ‘old ways’, Clare Oulton and her staff have made the school a bastion for the ‘common sense’ approach. She talks repeatedly of her desire to teach the girls how to be ‘confident, compassionate and courageous’ and this shines through when talking to the pupils. The girls we spoke to were confident, without being arrogant; affectionate, without being gushing; and bright, without being conceited. They talked intelligently and affectionately about the place and, unlike most girls of their age, refrained from peppering their sentences with unnecessary and irritating uses of ‘like’ and ‘you know’! The girls really are the school’s best form of advertising and as a testament to their success, Benenden is wildly over-subscribed; ok, maybe it’s not quite Eton in this respect but lists do often close three years ahead so don’t underestimate this little place.

Academic and Exit Results

The 2013 results, in A-level and GCSE, were truly impressive. 79 per cent of the girls passed their GCSEs with A* and A’s alone and 71 per cent passed their A-levels with A* and A’s. It is with a maternal pride that that Clare Outlon congratulates them. You get the impression that the staff work incredibly hard to get the best for the girls and their futures not because they want to improve their position on league tables but because they genuinely care that they should achieve their full potential. As a result, the girls have great relationships with the young, enthusiastic teachers; “aside from obviously wanting to get into university, I want to do well in order to make my teachers proud. They’ve invested so much time and effort in getting me where I am, I wouldn’t want to let them down on the day” remarks pupil A. When girls miss a grade, the school makes every effort to persuade the university to take them regardless. This supportive and caring approach is surprisingly hard to come by. They boast an excellent modern languages department and, since 2007, all girls in years 7-9 take two of French, German, Spanish or Mandarin. They arrange a multitude of foreign trips and exchange programmes to support this and the results are clear – eighty one per cent A*/A at GCSE in modern languages. For those who aren’t linguistics, a new science centre has just opened, with state-of-the-art labs, specialised project labs for a-level work, a 100-seat lecture theatre and a large display atrium.

Social and Pastoral

All girls live in one of ten boarding houses. There are six junior boarding houses (ages 11-16), and four senior houses (16-18). The junior houses are homely, though arguably a little squashed (with up to seven in a dorm) but they all claimed to love it. No doubt there is a lot of giggling after lights- out. “I didn’t think school was supposed to be this much fun. At first, I was nervous about coming (took 13+) as most girls start two years earlier, but everyone was so friendly and I love my house”. New girls are assigned ‘house mothers’ (someone in an older year) as well as a ‘big sister’ (a member of the sixth form) who contacts them before they even arrive to welcome them into the Benenden fold. The ‘big sisters’ are encouraged to invite the younger girls to tea in the sixth form centre and this tradition not only benefits the younger girls but encourages the sixth formers to become considerate and caring. The sixth form houses are very well kitted-out with immaculate kitchen areas (each shared between ten girls), single study-bedrooms, large airy communal common rooms and computing facilities. The school is keen that sixth form should provide a halfway house between school and university, preparing the girls to become more independent and self-reliant. When students reach the sixth form, they are assigned a personal academic tutor who will guide them through academic choices and university applications. Always keen to involve the parents as much as possible, they will set up meetings towards the end of U5 or beginning of L6 to discuss higher education.

Sport, Art, Music and Drama

Sport is a central part of life at Benenden; this cannot be overstated. While lacrosse is the main focus of their attention (and they have a very strong team to prove it), there are lots of other options including ballet, riding, table tennis, golf, pilates and, would you believe it, rugby. Keen that everyone should have the chance to play, they have C and D teams as well as the A and B in lacrosse, netball and tennis. Inter-house matches are also a highlight of each term. In 2007, Helena Bonham-Carter opened the new theatre complex (including dance studio) and since then it has seen a number of excellent productions – plays, musicals and dance performances. There are opportunities for any girls who don’t want to take to the stage to develop technical skills in theatre design, costume design, sound, lighting and makeup. No one is left out. They have great design and technology facilities (rare in an all-girls school) in which pupils are taught hands-on crafts often making practical, useful objects out of wood, metal, plastic etc. The art school has light and airy studios. Music holds a privileged place at the heart of Benenden with activity in the Music Department each day from early until late. There are 400 individual music lessons each week which involve over two- thirds of the school, a full class teaching timetable and a wide array of ensembles, ranging from the Chamber and Chapel Choirs and Folk Club to numerous string and wind ensembles and rock groups. The School’s symphony orchestra, Hemsted Forest Youth Orchestra (HFYO), welcomes advanced local students to complement Benenden’s musicians. Performances abound both in and out of the School in prestigious venues such as Canterbury Cathedral, St John’s Smith Square, St Martin-in-the-Fields and Notre-Dame in Paris. Benenden has a strong tradition of attracting and nurturing outstanding Music Scholars who not only take the lead within school, but who also forge their own musical paths via additional study and ensemble work. In addition to links with the junior departments of the London conservatoires, girls are frequently involved with The National Youth Orchestra, National Children’s Orchestra, the Rodolfus Choir and the Eton Choral Courses. Commissions, world premieres, concerto workshops with professional orchestras, master classes and lectures all contribute to the school’s burgeoning music programme.

Extracurricular

There’s plenty going on after school and during the weekends; from cultural programmes, lectures, outings, socials including ‘dinners and discos’ and sporting events there’s lots on to keep the girls busy. But fear not, Benenden is not one of those places that locks your daughters away until the end of term – they are firm believers in family life and so despite all the weekend activities, the encourage those who can to go home, ideally taking a friend, for a good old Sunday lunch.

Contact

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