This day and boarding school in Surrey takes an innovative approach to teaching to GCSEs and A Levels with a curriculum that is strong in technology, science and independent thinking.
Founded in 1811 to provide a boarding education for the sons of Congregationalist ministers, Caterham has been co-ed for over 35 years. It has an adjoining Prep School on the same campus, and there are 1,250 students across the entire school (300 in Prep and 950 in the Senior School). While the majority of students here are day students, there is a small boarding community.
Here’s a school that is praised by parents for treating students as individuals not numbers, and focuses on the wide-angled success of its students, not just end of year exam results. This is most evident in its Learning to Learn ethos, which focuses on helping students build skills that allow them to be more self-directed, independent learners. It’s also a forward thinking school that is recognised as a leading school for its application of technology in teaching and learning.
Headmaster Ceri Jones joined the school in 2015. He was previously at Tonbridge School for 12 years and describes himself as passionate about innovation in education, evidenced in the school's (award-winning) focus on digital learning. Mr Jones still plays a very active role in the whole school and teaches history at A Level every week.
The school was rated Excellent in its most recent full inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) in 2019. Inspectors said that, "Pupils’ use of technology in their learning is widespread and effective, reflecting the school’s investment in new learning" and "Pupils demonstrate study skills of a very high order and are very confident in their work. They display strong evidence of independent learning, seen in the range of research projects undertaken pupils of all ages"
Caterham's approach to learning and teaching centres on developing independent thinking and lifelong learning skills. Students are encouraged to “think about working ‘smart’ rather than simply working ‘hard’”, and they receive regular feedback on Learning Habits such as focus, participation, curiosity, initiative, self-organisation and perseverance.
The school’s Learning to Learn programme focuses on making students better learners. In the First and Second Years, students follow the school’s EGDE (Explore, Develop, Grow, Evolve) syllabus with lessons from metacognition to note-taking, presentation skills to problem solving. As they move up the school, they learn more about memorising, motivation and self-organisation.
Caterham says that “Children are not spoon-fed answers, rather they are encouraged to rely on their own skills and knowledge to try and work out possible solutions.” There are several examples of how the school is doing this. A Student Lead Learner Programme trains Sixth Form volunteers in coaching and mentoring skills, and then pairs these ‘study buddies’ with younger students to assist in academic work. There are also Independent Research Project competitions across different year groups.
All students study a core curriculum in their first two years of mathematics, English, science, humanities, two modern languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian), Latin, philosophy and theology, art, music, 3D design and computer Science, as well as lessons in PE and Games. There’s then plenty of choice when it comes to GCSE and A Level options, and the school constructs timetables “around pupils’ choices and not the other way around” and aims to run any course where there is sufficient demand. While this can’t guarantee that every child can always study their first choice of subjects, it does highlight the school’s flexible approach to offering as many options as possible.
The school’s science department deserves a special mention; housed in the new Davey Building, lessons are held in state-of-the-art, science laboratories. After-school clubs including the CSI Club (Caterham Science Investigators), Astronomy Club and Summer Rockets Club help to get students involved in hands-on science and explore the worlds of chemistry, physics and biology beyond the classroom walls.
Caterham’s curriculum is broader than academics alone. In the Sixth Form, there’s a non-examined ‘Forum’ programme, including lectures and seminars on topics such as drug abuse, sexual health, and safe driving, and lessons in areas as the Art of Public Speaking, Leadership (Practical and Theory), Coaching, App Making. In all year groups there are timetabled lessons in wellbeing, and the school takes learning outdoors with timetabled lessons in bushcraft and orienteering skills, and sessions on its high ropes course and climbing wall.
Technology is embedded across the school and it is formally accredited as an Apple Distinguished School.
The school says it has spent the last decade bringing technology to the fore. Every student is now given an iPad “to prepare them for the world as it will really be when they leave school”, students learn about coding, web design and other digital skills in their first two years at the school as part of a Digital Creativity Curriculum, and are then prepared for the digital world by taking a digital inquiry course alongside their A Levels. Computer Science is now offered at GCSE and A Level – and both are extremely popular.
The school has opened an Innovation Centre that runs a number of different clubs to develop technology skills outside of the curriculum, including cyber security challenges, app-design competitions, Lego robotics, VEX robotics, and a girls-only coding club. And, most recently, it launched a Family Philosophy Friday when parents can “enter a virtual classroom and engage in debates with their children”.
The school says it was able to make the switch easily and almost instantly to online learning when all England schools closed due to Covid-19 because it already had the technology in place and in use.
Caterham provides many opportunities to play competitively and at house level with the most popular sports being rugby, hockey, cricket, athletics, lacrosse, netball, tennis, swimming, badminton, football, pentathlon, basketball, golf and cross country.
Its sporting programme is supported by modern indoor and outdoor facilities including an Astroturf pitch, 25m indoor swimming pool, five netball courts and a fully equipped double sports hall. There’s a Caterham Athlete Programme (CAP) for the school’s most able athletes,
Music and drama are fully supported through timetabled lessons, extra-curricular clubs, termly performances and art, music and drama events. Choral singing is an important part of the Caterham School music department, there’s a wide choice of individual instrumental and vocal lessons, and the annual programme of student plays includes Spanish and Greek productions. Music is offered at GCSE and A Level
Most lessons and performances take place in the school’s Centre for Performing Arts which includes a full size theatre (The Humphreys Theatre), small ‘black box’ style theatre, performing space (The Deayton Theatre) and dance studio.
In 2019, ISI inspectors found that: “The quality of their creative and aesthetic work is outstanding, as heard in the very high level of musicianship in rehearsals, and seen in the variety of accomplished artwork on display through the school. The creativity of the pupils is supported by the excellent facilities and resources provided by the leadership and management of the school.”
There seems to always be something going on at Caterham. The programme of extra-curricular activities includes a long list of sports, music and drama groups, and clubs and societies ranging from archery and fencing to kit car, chess and synchronised swimming.
Students can join the Combined Cadet Force, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, the school’s charitable fundraising events are steered by charity committee consisting of Sixth Formers, and its first TEDx event was streamed live from the school in 2021.
Caterham has a record of academic excellence in both GCSE and A Level exams, and it remains in the top 100 independent schools in the country.
In 2020, 70% of all A Level results were A*-A grades and 91% of all grades were A*-B (in 2019, 62% were A*-A and 86% A*/B). In GCSEs, 40% of all grades were the top Grade 9, and four out of every five grades issued was Grade 9, 8 or 7 (in 2019, 79% were Grades 9-7).
11 Caterhamians were offered places at Oxford or Cambridge University, and 98% secured university places across Oxbridge, Russell Group and the top 10 UK universities, including for medicine and veterinary courses.
Caterham offers either full or weekly boarding, and there are three single-sex boarding houses located on the school campus. Staff living on campus, which can help to creative a friendly, close-knit community.
There are no Saturday lessons at Caterham, so students have the freedom and time to either return home (if day or weekly boarders) or take part in the programme of sporting and social activities for full boarders.
Located in the Surrey Hills, Caterham has a 200-acre campus where students move between Victorian buildings and modern, purpose built facilities. It’s a spacious campus with sports fields, a high ropes course and an outdoor learning centre, as well as a science complex, Sports Centre with indoor pool, fitness centre and sports hall, a new Performing Arts Centre with theatre, the Maggs Library and a dedicated digital Innovation Centre.
It’s 20 miles from London, Caterham Railway Station is a 15 minute walk away from the school, and the nearest airport (London Gatwick) is 20 minutes away.
Caterham is a selective school and key points of entry are 11+, 13+ and 16+; most students join in Year 7 from Caterham’s Prep and other local state and private schools. For entry into Year 7, students sit ISEB Common PreTest exams in English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning in the latter part of the Autumn Term of Year 6; successful applicants will then be invited for an interview followed by a day of activities at the school including the 11+ exam.
All 11+ and 13+ day students are automatically considered for academic scholarships but specific application forms are required for other scholarships.
If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.
Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information