United Kingdom / South East England / Kent / Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School Review

Tonbridge School is one of the top-10 all-boy public schools in the UK offering a mix of day and boarding places and situated on a 150- acre site on the northern edge of Tonbridge in Kent.
At a glance
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Excellent
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 35,000
Annual fees
GBP 35,067–35,067
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1553
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr James Priory MA (Oxon)
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
United Kingdom
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Tonbridge School
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Excellent
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 35,000
Annual fees
GBP 35,067–35,067
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1553
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr James Priory MA (Oxon)
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
United Kingdom
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Tonbridge School is one of the top-10 all-boy public schools in the UK offering a mix of day and boarding places and situated on a 150- acre site on the northern edge of Tonbridge in Kent.

Tonbridge School is one of the top-10 all-boy public schools in the UK offering a mix of day and boarding places and situated on a 150- acre site on the northern edge of Tonbridge in Kent. This academically selective senior school for around 800 boys aged 13-18 years offers a traditional British education up to GCSE and A Levels. Within easy access of central London (40 minutes by train), the school offers all the benefits of a countryside campus spread across 150 acres in Kent.

In academic league tables, Tonbridge consistently scores in the top five schools in the United Kingdom and is more expensive to attend than Eton and Harrow. The school is highly selective and adopts the standard Common Entrance route for admission at 13. However, this is balanced with genuine openness to those who have not followed a common entrance curriculum whether in the UK or overseas and provision of an alternative selection procedure that will “not disadvantaging international students.”

The school is resolutely international in outlook. 60% of boys’ board and around 80 students are drawn from overseas; across the school more than 35 nationalities are represented, with the highest percentage (9%) coming from Hong Kong and China. Notable Old Tonbridgians include the chairmen of Britvic, GKN, Vodafone, Waterstones, Woolwich, Vickers, Candover Investments and BP, authors including EM Forster and Frederick Forsyth CBE and members of the band Keane.

Around 17% of Tonbridge students leave for Oxbridge, but it is indicative of Tonbridge’s whole child approach that students also leave to study subjects as diverse as film production, golf management, popular music and television studies in newer universities and institutions. Tonbridge, rarely in the public school sector, has a dedicated full time Universities and Careers Advisor whose role is to help students meet their own potential and ambitions rather than those imposed by the school. The boys also have guidance from their housemasters.

There is a structured careers and higher education programme, which starts at the end of the Novi Year when boys are choosing the GCSEs; the main focus is in the Third Year and Sixth Form.

Tonbridge is a Christian foundation and Chapel plays an important and regular part of school life.

Tonbridge was rated Excellent in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality report (2014).

Curriculum

Tonbridge is a UK curriculum schools, and all boys sit I/GCSEs and A Levels in the upper school.the average class size is 20 in the lower years and 12 in the upper years; the teacher student ratio is 1:15.

Languages offered at GCSE and at A Level include Classical Languages (Latin and Greek) and Modern Languages (French, German, Mandarin and Spanish). The school performs well in both the arts and the sciences, and options include music, art & design, design and technology, and drama and theatre studies.

To support the arts, there is the EM Forster Theatre at the heart of activity and the award-winning refurbished Smythe Library, with a small outdoor amphitheatre. Science students benefit from the impressive facilities in The Barton Science Centre – a three-storey, £20million building with innovative classrooms, new laboratories and the latest technology.

n 2020, Tonbridge opened its Lower Hundred Cookery Classroom to support the Sixth Form life skills programme: 

The school has extensive SEN support and it is indicative of its commitment in this area that its Novi dyslexic students are themselves trained as Dyslexic Specialist Mentors to help in local primary schools. Two part time members of staff help students for whom English is an additional language.

Sport and the arts

Non-academic provision is outstanding and includes the 2008 landmark “School Centre” which led to Tonbridge being recognised as an official training centre for the 2012 Olympics. The £11M facilities includes a six-lane, 25 metre swimming pool.

Extensive music and drama facilities are supported by an outward looking Tonbridge Community Action programme that aims to involve every boy in community-related initiatives at some point in their education.

Beyond the classroom

The school offers a wide range of co-curricular activities with competitive sports, clubs and societies, musical and dramatic groups, and the popular Combined Cadet Force. Boys are encouraged to participate in co-curricular activities at both House and School levels. There are more than 20 societies, including Junior Science, Beekeeping, Rocketry, Debating, Principia, Mahjong, Robotics and Conservation – the latter includes coppicing and looking after pigs. Bridge The Gap was started by boys at the school and is about diversity. 

Academic results 

In 2021, more than 87% of A Level grades were A*-A; more than 60% were A* and 58 students achieved straight A* grades. 22 boys received offers to Oxford or Cambridge university.

At GCSE level, more than 96% were A*-A (7-9) and nearly two thirds of the boys' results overall were Grade 9.

Leavers receive places at leading UK universities including St Andrews, Durham, Bristol, Exeter, Imperial College, LSE, Manchester, Newcastle, University College London, Southampton, Warwick and York. The large majority of leavers achieve their first-choice higher education destination. There's also a number of leavers studying at international universities including Berkeley, Columbia, Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, the University of Denver, the US Airforce Academy, Duke, Vanderbilt, the University of Toronto and Hong Kong University. 

Admission and fees

Most students enter the school at 13 and 144 places are available. Of these, there are around 85 boarding places.

The school is over-subscribed and registration is required three years prior to entrance. Tests and an interview must be passed on registration in Year 6 and Common Entrance exam or the Tonbridge Academic Scholarship exam passed to finally secure a place.

Overseas students and those not following a Common Entrance curriculum are given an alternative competitive final entry exam in November of the year prior to entry set by Tonbridge School in Mathematics and English only. Exams are held either at Tonbridge or at British Councils around the world or at the Academic Asia offices in Hong Kong. Importantly, Tonbridge looks at the whole child and potential when awarding places. Even in Common Entrance, whilst it requires an average 60% pass, this can be averaged across all papers taken to recognise those gifted in single areas of study. This is a very different, much more open, approach to that of the more strictly academically selective ‘hothouse’ approaches of schools like Westminster and St Paul’s.

Tonbridge accepts students to study in the Sixth Form and registration time reduces to one year in advance. Only around 20 places are available and admission is via UKiset assessment tests and passing final entrance exams in the four proposed sixth form subjects.

Tonbridge School is genuinely committed to widening access with the aim that “no boy who could benefit from a Tonbridge education is prevented from doing so because of an inability to pay the fees.” Currently 10% (compare 5% St Paul’s School) of the boys receive some level of means-tested support. 15 boys at the school have full fee remission and a further 15 receive over 80% fee remission. It is currently campaigning for funds to provide a further 24 Foundation Awards of 80-100% means-tested fee-remission. Tonbridge recognizes the benefits of welcoming students from all backgrounds to the student population and this ethos, together with its generous bursary provision, makes Tonbridge the most impressive of the UK’s premier public schools in paying more than lip service to broadening access.

Our view
For parents based outside the UK seeking a premier English boarding school education that focusses not only academics but also the whole child, Tonbridge is hard to beat. Unlike many of its peers it does not pay just lip service to inclusiveness, offers prestige, performs in the top 10 of all UK public schools in examination results, has special entrance routes for international students and scores outstanding across the board in its boarding, academic, leadership and whole child provision. Tonbridge is an exceptional, highly recommended school.

 

Strengths
• Academics
• Whole child approach
• Prestige

Weaknesses
• Over-subscribed
• High fees
• Limited sixth form places

Best for
• International admissions
• Gifted children in all subject areas
• Bursary provision

Not for
• Those seeking a co-educational education
• An academic hot-house

 

Fast Facts
• Boarding number: 462 pupils
• Day number: 340 pupils
• Sixth Form: 331 pupil
• Number of full time teaching staff: 139 (excluding visiting staff)
• OFSTED Boarding (2011): Outstanding
• ISI Rating Boarding (2014: Excellent
• ISI Rating Academics (2014): Exceptional
• ISI Rating Personal Development (2014): Excellent
• ISI Rating Leadership (2014): Excellent

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