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The Good School's Guide

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headteacher
Since 2013, Lee Hunter, previously deputy head at Tiffin Girls’ for 16 years where he ‘could
have happily stayed forever’, but felt a new challenge and position was a natural next move.
Educated at Campion Grammar School, which he attributes to his success at Cambridge
where he read natural sciences. PGCE at Durham, followed by his first teaching post in a
‘truly comprehensive comprehensive’ in Durham where his pupils ranged from children of
pit workers to the affluent. Thence to a small British School in Milan as head of chemistry for
three years, followed by a further three at RGS High Wycombe as assistant head of science.
Quite a sportsman in his day – still chuffed that he competed in the Essex 800m final: ‘I
didn’t come anywhere near being placed, but I’m very proud I got through to the final.’ No
surprise, then, that pupils say he has friendly banter with them over football team
allegiances – ‘a nice touch,’ say parents. Loves a school trip as ‘you get to see a totally
different side to pupils and them of you’. Pupils say he was a ‘blast’ on their recent visit to
Gambia – ‘funny, relaxed and kind’, even switching to first name terms. Teaches maths or
science, with chemistry his ‘thing’, believing it’s the best subject to wow and engage pupils as
it’s ‘truly practical’.
Retiring in December 2024, where he looks forward to packing his backpack and ‘just going’
off for two years. ‘I have so many plans but maybe I’ll start with Chile and take a cruise to
Antarctica.’ We think this sense of curiosity and adventure will be his legacy – perfectly
captured in the school’s commitment to the DofE, CCF and overseas trips.

He will be replaced in January 2025 by Ben Pennells, currently deputy head at St Lawrence
College.
 

Entrance
Academically selective, with candidates requiring a pass in the 11-plus Kent test for the 150
places in year 7. Between 20-25 appeals each year, of which around 10 are successful.
Catchment is roughly an eight-mile radius, although some pupils travel from further (eg
Whitstable or Herne Bay). Around 30 feeder state primaries and a few from local
independents, notably Northbourne Park, Wellesley House and St Faith’s.
Around 25 new joiners in sixth form, when candidates (and this is the same for existing
students) need six GCSEs at grade 6, with at least a grade 5 in English and maths (and there
are some subject specific requirements on top).
 

Exit
Around 30 students leave after GCSEs – some don’t get the grades, others go elsewhere to
do BTECs or subjects not offered here, and a few gain scholarships at independent schools.
About 80 per cent to a wide range of universities including Aberystwyth, Brunel, De Montfort
and Loughborough. A third to Russell Group – recently Bristol, Durham, King’s College
London and LSE – but school says this isn’t the ultimate goal for all, with pupils encouraged
to find the best uni for the course they want to study. And they do, with an impressive
variety of subjects, with a particularly large cohort going into engineering: aerospace,
automotive, construction, mechanical, chemical and electrical, plus the more niche subjects
of concept and comic arts, games design and computer games technology. A handful go
directly into employment and some join apprenticeships – recently the merchant navy
(there’s a local base). A few degree apprenticeships each year, recently to the Cabinet Office
and Jaguar. One to Oxbridge in 2023, plus one medic.
 

Latest results
In 2023, 34 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 28 per cent A*/A at A level (56 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the
last pre-pandemic results), 38 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 22 per cent A*/A at A level (51 per cent
A*-B).
 

Teaching and learning
Pupils describe it as an ‘academic’ school – ‘you have to expect to work’ – but parents feel
the pressure is ‘about right’. ‘Responsibility is on the child to keep up and organised, which is
good in the long run,’ felt one, acknowledging ‘that can be quite a shock in year 7’ – although
this is helped by buddy system for maths and literacy, including morning sessions which
‘give a really good boost’. Due to funding shortfalls (and the absence of boarding pupils
since 2020), some subjects have been streamlined or dropped (eg Mandarin). Absence of
food tech a gripe for some pupils.

The school follows the traditional EBacc route, with both French and Spanish studied in
years 7-9, and at least one chosen for GCSE. Pupils approve, saying they ‘enjoy its utility’ in
life. Setting in maths and science at the end of year 9. Triple science is standard (combined
occasionally taken). History the most popular non-core option, attracting three-quarters of
pupils. Geography also gets good take-up, with pupils describing the department as
‘engaging and relaxed’.

In Sixth Form, all take three A levels (four isn’t viewed as necessary or helpful). Around 25
pupils do an EPQ, the rest participating in fortnightly lectures on subjects such as
epistemology, linguistics, mental health and, apparently, ‘a random one on child murderers!’
Twenty subject options including psychology and sociology, with three classes of each.
Politics. business and economics ‘have exploded’, we heard, and get some of the best results
in the school. The new Sixth Form centre, with recently introduced silent study area, is
proving popular – ‘So nice to have our own space away from everything,’ said one pupil.

Good careers advice, with all year 12s attending the annual Canterbury university fair.

Parents say the head is ‘protective of his staff’ and ‘looks after them well’. They include a
healthy mix of ‘lifers’, younger teachers and a few NQTs – we could hardly tell the difference,
with the happy ship attitude. Classes are on the large size (mostly 32) – but can drop to 15 at
A level. Pupils seem unphased – ‘It is what it is, the teaching is still good.’ We too noticed
skilled class management – for example, in geography where sixth formers were confidently
presenting volcano projects in an unpressured and convivial atmosphere. Lots of challenge
throughout, say pupils – ‘Don’t settle for an 8 when you can get a 9!’ is a common refrain,
apparently. Plenty of hands-on learning, eg year 7 making diagrams of motte and bailey
castles in a history lesson.

Displays are impressive, eg ‘Will the Wantsum Channel reform in the future?’ (locals will
understand), plus measuring sea level rise and impact in Sandwich Bay. We also enjoyed an
exhibition on Much Ado About Nothing, whereby students had come up with their own
headlines such as ‘Chaos at Royal Wedding’ ‘White Dress to Black Suits’ and ‘Wedding
stopped in grooms fit of rage’.
 

Learning support and SEN
Parents describe learning support as a ‘breath of fresh air’. Twenty per cent of pupils are on
the SEN register, mainly for autism, ADHD, hearing impairment, dyslexia and dyscalculia,
overseen by an experienced SENDCo, plus a specialist teacher, intervention teacher and
three LSAs, who are said to have made a ‘significant impact’. As in all schools, we’re told SEN
needs are exponentially growing, and the school has been keen to tackle this head on with
support groups, a counsellor and tapping into outside agencies eg Mind Jam. New
introduction of a coffee morning for parents with pupils with SEN proving especially
popular: ‘I realised I’m not going crazy, that I’m not on my own,’ said one grateful parent.
Lots of staff training, eg recently on dyscalculia, and parents say they are generally sensitive
to individual needs, eg not making a fuss or publicly humiliating pupils who might find
tidiness challenging – instead reminding the whole class of expectations. After-school
homework support twice a week and Lego therapy offered at lunchtimes. Passes available
for student support room, plus interventions for maths and reading every morning for 15
minutes. Two EHCPs on our visit. For those with sensory issues, the school’s pared down
décor is helpful, we heard.
 

The arts and extracurricular
Music is ‘fantastic’, say pupils. The department has a welcoming feel (helped by drumming
to Coldplay as we entered!), with a few practice rooms (including the ‘Room of Rock’), plus a
main studio and music tech room with 24 Apple Macs. ‘You don’t have to be good on an
instrument, that’s why I like it,’ said a pupil. The talented and good-humoured director of
music was repeatedly name-checked – ‘manages to keep all abilities making music,’ said one
parent, and single-handedly too. From a curriculum lesson all on the xylophones playing a
groovy Fur Elise (with drums and electric guitar accompaniment) to the 'elastic band'
stretching out the climax to ‘Aint no Mountain High Enough’, the music coming out of the
department is both shoe tapping and infectious. Ensembles include three ukulele groups,
jazz band, brass group, orchestra, School of Rock band, chamber choir and rock choir. GCSE
music popular, but no A level.

Art department has three studios (including an exclusive sixth form space) where some pop
art style pieces currently hold court. We saw year 9s embark on work inspired by the
Uprising of Madrid painting, surrounded by lots of precise perspective work. Over 40 pupils
take GCSE and 15 at A level. Both praise the supportive and relaxed atmosphere and
appreciate the background music. Pupils speak fondly of DT housed in two large workshops.
 

Drama is ‘finding its feet’, following a bit of a wobble due to funding issues. Collective hooray
at its re-introduction on curriculum for years 7 and 9 (currently not for year 8). Around 30
take GCSE and eight at A level. One large production a year – recently, A Christmas Carol,
which apparently saw some ‘surprising’ debuting talent. A Midsummer Night’s Dream also
went down a storm. Lovely drama studio space, with a prominent Greek theatre display.

Faces light up at the mention of CCF – not for the drills, pupils stress, but for the ‘running
around screaming in woods with guns’. Every year, some 20-30 achieve DofE gold, an
impressive feat. Societies are largely run by sixth formers, eg history, with its ‘fascinating
presentations’ on pupils’ interests. ‘You get to just totally immerse yourself in what you love
and share passions,’ said one pupil, ‘we all have so much respect for each other’s
knowledge, I’ve learnt so much.’ Clubs mainly sport based, including golf, basketball and
table tennis. Chess and the Manwoodian editorial team also quite popular, with CAMEO
(come and meet each other) a lunchtime club for pupils to hang out, chat and play board
games (or whatever rocks their boat).

In the year leading up to our visit, there were 12 residentials including Barcelona and
Naples, although it was the recent return party from Gambia that was hottest on everyone’s
lips – ‘literally the best two weeks of my life’, ‘humbling’, ‘culturally so different’ etc. Next up,
a sports tour to South Africa.
 

Sport
Staff of four teach mainly hockey, cricket and netball to both genders (girls also play
rounders to secure as many fixtures as the boys). Football is on the up, but rugby is going
through a ‘development stage’. Outside activities also celebrated, eg district cricket or
cheerleading, approve pupils. On our visit, there was loud cheering from the sports hall for a
high jump competition – complete with drum rolls for those all-important final jumps. ‘We
like to win,’ say pupils, but they added that it’s no great shakes if they don’t, ‘and lots of
people like sport just for fun’. Sports leaders not always the super-sporty – getting involved
by taking times and recording is equally valued. Everyone’s looking forward to the new
Astro.
 

Ethos and Heritage
Founded in 1563 by Sir Roger Manwood as a Free Grammar School to educate the
townspeople of Sandwich. On present site since 1895, where the Victorian redbrick building
is tucked away on a leafy peaceful residential road in the charming cinque port of Sandwich.
The classic polished wooden floors, beautifully kept grounds and the manor-house-esque
Grange (the old boarding house, now the sixth form centre and additional classrooms) all
give a sense of grandeur – ‘It has a private school feel to it,’ approve parents. In the main
building, the cheerful library with a mezzanine study area is impressive: ‘It may sound
boring but it’s really fun being a student librarian,’ said one pupil – so popular, word has it,
that the librarian is running out of badges!
Uniform is smart – all wear ties and blazers over a light blue shirt, with plaid skirts for girls
(trousers an option) with all the usual moans at the long length. Still, pupils seem to resist
the call of the skirt roll. Sixth form ‘more in line with the modern workplace’, so students
wear anything from the full suit and tie to chinos, shirts and trainers. ‘But not so far as
joggers or jeggings,’ the head points out.
Food, say pupils, is ‘ok – it’s canteen food’ but ‘a bit expensive’. We enjoyed roast turkey in a
friendly and buzzy environment, with separate staff tables.

The Charity Committee is industrious, recently organising lunches for 100 local elderly folk
who were also serenaded by the ukulele band. They also ran the initiative, ‘Wear purple for
Porchlight’ (a local charity for the homeless). Vertical house system, with names chosen by
the pupils to represent important aspects of the school’s life: Atlas (global outlook),
Carmathen (school’s evacuation town), Founders’, Stour (local river) and Ypres (in
remembrance of OMs). ‘We are quite competitive with house points,’ pupils laugh, with
competitions ranging from spelling bees to photography. The Old Manwoodians are a big
part of school life, frequently attending events and instrumental in fundraising.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline
‘Brilliant’ pastoral care, say parents – a ‘selling point’ of the school. They told us the school
keeps a subtle eye on things without being ‘over the top’, and that there ‘isn’t one size fits all’
approach. Pupils concur, saying the pastoral team ‘has our back’. There is a dedicated and
centrally-based pastoral room next to the library, and pupils talk openly about going there
at lunchtimes; some see the school counsellor, others just hang out with friends. PHSE
taught fortnightly, covering anything from alcohol and drugs to safe sex and consent.
Discipline has evolved – CCTV cameras recently installed. ‘No one will nick your stuff if you
leave your bag around now.' Approach to discipline is on building up trust and working with
pupils rather than ‘come down hard’ or ‘supressing personalities’, according to parents, and
pupils generally respect this. Good relationships with form tutors help, and parents
appreciate ‘heads up’ in ‘real time’ rather than any bad news coming as a shock or when it’s
too late to step in. Detentions for the usual misdemeanours, and a handful of suspensions
or ‘managed moves’ for offences like vandalism.
Parents say pupils are ‘encouraged to be themselves’. We spotted a Black Lives Matters
display in the humanities department, and heard that EDI is a focus in years 8 and 9,
including as part of their junior diploma on British values. No LGBQT+ society at present.
Pupils wondered whether the school is perhaps too Christianity focused but it celebrates all
faiths – we overheard a conversation between the head and a pupil about the Koran.
 

Pupils and parents
Pupils are polite and courteous, with a few cheeky chappies thrown in (in the best possible
way). Families are mostly affluent locals or Down from London’s, with this neck of the woods
now fashionable among this crowd. Many are professionals, but not exclusively so – with
around 10 per cent pupil premium (larger than at most grammar schools). Many feel it isn’t
as ethnically diverse as it could be, but school insists it is reflective of the area. Pupils say
travelling by bus from the more rural locations can be frustrating, getting into school too
early, but admit that ‘it’s a good time to catch up on homework’. The school is keeping a
keen eye on travel options as local bus networks revise timetables. The active PTA recently
organised a fashion show and a movie get-together at the local independent theatre for the
new year 7s (while parents hang out in the bar!).
 

The last word
A grammar school providing a ‘solid grounding’, as one parent put it, while encouraging
pupils to seek experiences outside the east Kent bubble. Pupils leave already one step
ahead in their individuality and aspirations.