In search of the world’s best schools, King’s Ely

18–JUN–2019 | Our partnership with one of the best schools, King’s Ely, started in 2017 when 20 of our youngest learners (8-10 year olds) from Italy attended the King’s immersion course. That education project turned out to be a great success! Consequently, in August of the same year, we were invited by the school’s senior management to get a personal feel of that historic school located in the equally historic town of Ely.

PRODIREKT young learners from Italy at King’s Ely

King’s Ely is located about 25km north of the city of Cambridge, an esteemed center of academia for more than 800 years. This is one of the oldest British schools. Founded in the 11th century to educate boy choristers at the adjacent famous Ely Cathedral, the school received a royal charter in 1541 from King Henry VIII to educate King’s Scholars, and has maintained strong links with Ely Cathedral ever since.

Ely Cathedral has centuries of close links with King’s Ely school
Ely Cathedral has centuries of close links with King’s Ely school (click on photos to enlarge them)

Over the centuries the number of students at King’s Ely has grown to almost 1,000 pupils and the school is now open to students of all faiths and of every nationality. Another advancement happened in 1970 when the school became co-educational (education for both boys and girls).

The small town of Ely was built on a mound which stands at 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level and, as a result, all approaches to the town reveal views of the imposing cathedral whose origins date from 1083. Subsequent building additions to the cathedral in the 14th and 16th centuries developed into the historic and elegant cathedral we see today.

King’s Ely was founded in 970 AD, making it one of the oldest schools in the world
King’s Ely was founded in 970 AD, making it one of the oldest schools in the world, though it was given its Royal Charter by King Henry VIII in 1541 (click on photos to enlarge them)

The main building of King’s Ely school also has an interesting history. Originally built as the official residence of the bishop at the cathedral in the 15th century, it has been extended in various architectural styles over time and had varied uses. In the first decade of the 21st century the building underwent a complete renovation and refurbishment to become the head office and administrative center of King’s Ely school. The elegant façade dates from the Georgian era but the inside of the building is a mix of modern and contemporary styles as appropriate for an educational establishment whilst retaining many period ceilings and fireplaces which have been restored to their former glory.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by senior staff of the school Alex McGrath, Head of Global Development, and Jane Formston, Head of Pupil Recruitment. Following an initial introduction and discussions, we were treated to lunch in the main dining hall, eating together with the students. The dining facilities are very good. The cost of food is covered by the school fees, all pupils receive breakfast and lunch, and boarders receive an evening meal. For international students, similarly, the fees cover everything regarding food. The quality of our lunch was very good and the meal choices cater for most dietary requirements.

King’s Ely’s Head Boy with Dejan Trpkovic, Managing Director of PRODIREKT
Thomas Keeling, King’s Ely’s Head Boy, with Dejan Trpkovic, Managing Director of PRODIREKT

After lunch, we were offered an opportunity to talk to Thomas Keeling, King’s Ely’s Head Boy (a senior male student who often represents the school on public occasions), who also took us on a campus tour. With his distinctive flowing red gown this Head Boy could have been mistaken for a university professor.

The school buildings are spread around various locations about the town of Ely but all within a few minutes’ walk of the main building.

We learnt that the school takes both boarders and day pupils in the age range from as young as 2 years old to 18 years. Boarders can start at the age of 7 and are accommodated in 4 buildings; 2 for boys and 2 for girls. We visited two of those buildings (houses) which have rooms shared by 2 or 4 students, with access to several bathrooms in each corridor. Older pupils can have individual rooms for sole occupation. Each house has a full time resident matron and the House Mistress/Master for each house lives on site.

In search of the world's best schools, King’s Ely
King’s Ely is consistently ranked by the Department for Education as one of the best schools when it comes to A Level results

The tour of the buildings included classrooms, the infants and junior school, a well-equipped gymnasium, indoor & outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts and extensive sports grounds for the traditional British schools sports of football, rugby, hockey and cricket. Other sports offered are golf, archery and rowing on the nearby River Ouse. A separate wing contained science laboratories. There are also language laboratories and computer studies facilities. Being a private school, the class sizes are small hence students receive more individual attention.

Thomas, the Head Boy, then showed us the tranquil gardens of the school and some interesting streets of the town of Ely as we passed from building to building. This particular boy had been at King’s Ely most of his academic life, starting as a boarder because his parents were living and working abroad. He now commutes by local train from where he lives. He told us about many after-school activities such as drama, music, dancing, several clubs & societies and the use of the various sports facilities after school hours.

ian lake prodirekt operations director with kings elys principal sue freestone 1
Sue Freestone, King’s Ely’s Principal, with Ian Lake, PRODIREKT’s Operations Director (click on the photo to enlarge it)

After the tour we met with the principal, Sue Freestone, to discuss international student business and the successful stay of the large group of our Italian students we sent to King’s Ely a few months earlier.  Ms Freestone gave us a summary of the school’s excellent results in UK examinations (GCSE at age 16 and A-levels at 18) and the high percentage of students going on to further their educations at the top universities. International versions of GCSE and GCE examinations are also taught for overseas students.

Finally, before leaving Ely, Alex McGrath gave us a tour of Ely Cathedral which has centuries of close links with King’s Ely school and is located directly opposite the main entrance of the school.  The historical features of the building are beautifully preserved and visitors must see the unusual Octagonal Tower, Lady Chapel, side chapels, the Nave, stained glass windows and medieval outbuildings used by the monks up until dissolution in 1539.

rowing is extremely popular and the school also has its own boat house next to cambridge universitys on the river great ouse prodirekt
Rowing is extremely popular and the school also has its own boat house, next to Cambridge University’s on the River Great Ouse

It was very interesting to learn that the jobs of almost 50% of the people who work in the town of Ely are in some way connected with King’s Ely school.

King’s Ely is consistently ranked by the Department for Education as one of the best schools in Cambridgeshire for value-added when it comes to A Level results. King’s philosophy is that learning is an adventure; students of all ages are encouraged to take risks in their learning, pushing themselves beyond the boundaries of their expectations, discovering more about the world around them, and, in so doing, more about themselves.

Although the school is steeped in heritage and history it is in no way old fashioned.  They learn from the past to pave a way to the future.

We have helped many families living all over the world with educational needs of their children. As academic specialists, we are always here to answer your questions and help you every step of the way to make that very important decision for your child’s future education. Contact us for a free consultation.

King’s Ely Visit – Photo Gallery

King’s Ely through the eyes of Principal


PRODIREKT is an internationally accredited and leading academic consultancy and education group, specializing in satisfying the needs of students coming from emerging markets to study abroad.

PRODIREKT’s academic consulting helps families and students find the most appropriate high school or university, confidently navigate the often complex application process, and in the end, gain admission to the desired schools/colleges.

PRODIREKT enables the individual and corporate clients achieve their objectives in international communication through the Verbalists Education & Communication Network, dedicated to language studies and professional training.

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