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‘The pace of teaching is really challenging, but teachers are super supportive’, one student told us, ‘they really care about how I’m doing’. Legendary music department bustles with ambition and energy. Lots of drama and dance on timetable and off. Performing arts curriculum ‘deliberately broad’: everybody dances and acts. No spoon-feeding here, and students are all the stronger and more engaging for it. Not a scrap of entitlement; just nice, well-rounded teenagers who are…

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What the school says...

Entrance criteria for Tiffin School is as follows at age 11 - English and Maths tests. No interview, takes top 180 by results (age-weighted). Age16 - Meeting with Head and Head of Sixth Form. From 2017 the minimum qualification for entry is 8 GCSE grades with an average grade of 6.625 (equivalent to 5 grade A's and 3 grade B's at GCSE). The applicant must have a grade A or A*(or the equivalent grade – 7, 8, 9) in three of the four subjects s/he wishes to study in the Sixth Form.
Converted to an academy 2011.
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School associations

State grammar school

Sports

Rowing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headteacher

Since 2015, Michael Gascoigne BA (50s). History and politics at Sheffield; PGCE at IoE. Joined Tiffin in 1993 as a history teacher, later becoming head of history (1999), head of sixth form (2004) and deputy head (2009). Softly spoken and immediately likeable; no in-your-face ego, but a calm approach coupled with huge respect for staff and pupils. ‘Hardworking’, parents say, and good company; ‘he inherited a school with fantastic kids but some crumbing buildings’, and ‘has achieved wonders’ transforming the site.

Office overlooks the well-kept garden. Family photos on his desk (both children have now left school) alongside Alex Ferguson’s enormous autobiography, the inspiration for that morning’s assembly. Frank and open when discussing the school (no marketing spiel, thank goodness), particularly on co-education - ‘schools have to change and evolve: education is a competitive business, especially in London’. Kingston ‘largely a single-sex set-up’, but applications to Tiffin’s newly co-ed year 12 suggest that lots are keen for a mixed sixth form. ‘Our biggest question before the first open evening was, will they come?’, head of sixth form tells us, ‘but we were astonished at how many turned up’.

Mr Gascoigne has overseen ‘deliberate move away from reasoning to English and maths tests that we write ourselves, to minimise any advantage that tutoring could bring’. First boys recruited in this way have just done GCSEs, ‘and they’re our strongest cohort yet’.

Major changes to the physical environment, too. ‘We constantly think about our next development, creating something that’ll stand the test of time.' 'We haven’t built cheaply’, he adds - and it really shows, with facilities now second to none.

Entrance

Two stage testing process in English and maths. Total of 1600 pupils sit the notoriously competitive entrance assessments; 180, from over 100 primary schools, will take up places. The 10-kilometre Inner Admission Area ‘means kids get involved before and after school without a long journey to worry about’, says head. What about tutoring? ‘If you’re an able student, you will be able to tackle our tests and shine in them’. According to parents, most boys likely to have had some extra help; no surprises there though.

Around 1100 applications for 80 places at sixth form; successful candidates have outstanding GCSE predictions. Eighty per cent of year 12 joiners are girls, ‘not through quotas but because they demonstrate astounding academic quality’. Makes for an amusing dynamic - ‘sometimes we feel like the newcomers leave us behind,’ laughs one sixth form boy, ‘the girls might label you a goon if you’re not on top of things’.

Exit

A handful leave after GCSEs, to local colleges or on scholarships to independent schools. Most popular university destinations include Warwick, UCL, Imperial, Bristol. Strong Oxbridge record, historically more to Cambridge than Oxford.

Excellent support with personal statements; lots of help for those considering apprenticeships or gap years.

Latest results

In 2020, 80 per cent 9/7 at GCSE: 63 per cent A*/A at A level (86 per cent A*/B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 75 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 59 per cent A*/A at A level (84 per cent A*/B).

Teaching and learning

Year 7s thrown into a broad, stimulating timetable from the off. 'My son was in awe, a little possum in the headlights,' said one mum. Latin plus either French or German (allocated randomly – parents would rather they had the choice). Separate sciences from year 8. Dance, music, art, DT all taught separately. Maths set from year 8. Class size is up to 30 in year 7, dropping to 25 at GCSE and 20 in sixth form.

‘The pace of teaching is really challenging, but teachers are super supportive’, one student told us, ‘they really care about how I’m doing’. ‘They teach you way beyond the exam, really stretching you,' said another. Maths department singled out as particularly brilliant though quality seems fairly consistent across subjects.

Compulsory modern foreign language at GCSE. Most take separate sciences though some opt for combined science, allowing them to add computer science (introduced in the face of considerable parental pressure). Religion and philosophy no longer compulsory. Ancient Greek available but only if they’re taking Latin, a combination affectionally known as ‘Gratin’ (‘it was either that or Leek’, muses former head of classics).

Maths, physics, chemistry are biggest A levels, though STEM leaning comes from home, rather than school – in fact, school has specialist status in performing arts and languages. ‘Phenomenal’ art department supports those interested in architecture or design. Girls are in every class, suggesting that subject choice is not too gendered. ‘It’s so nice to be surrounded by people who also love their subjects’, one sixth former told us. ‘Moving into sixth form was a big shift, but it’s amazing having the time to study in the library’, said another. Majority take up opportunity to write a Tiffin extended project (the school does not offer the EPQ). Sixth form facilities are due to be further developed soon.

Homework well-managed and meaningful. Some parents surprised by how little there is; leaves plenty of time for clubs and (whisper it) just chilling out, both of which the school thinks are important. Most parents delighted that sons and daughters get such good results without the need for blood, sweat and tears: ‘the last thing I want is my 11 year-old chained to his desk.’

Chromebooks recently introduced and have been well embedded. Students have a grown-up approach to them, looking slightly baffled when we asked whether anyone uses theirs to be naughty. As a result, ‘going into lockdown was fine’, parents told us, with lots of support for mums and dads managing online learning from home.

Learning support and SEN

SENCo, TAs and therapy assistant support those with everything from specific learning needs to hearing problems and ASD, though only for 50 students across the school need it. Part-time literacy specialist helps boys with dyslexia or organisational issues. One parent praised the ‘sensitive and subtle’ support that the school had given her son. Very few have EAL assistance.

The arts and extracurricular

Legendary music department bustles with ambition and energy. When we visited, Tiffin Boys’ Choir and the Tiffin Children’s Chorus (involving local primaries) were performing La Bohème at the Royal Opera House; all in a day’s work for singers who’ve featured on Madonna’s latest album, recorded tracks for Tim Burton’s ‘Dumbo’ and been conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican. They even featured in the latest Batman film, spending two weeks on set – sadly not in LA but on an airfield outside Bedford, laughs the director of music. New mixed chamber choir sings challenging sacred and secular repertoire. Oratorio choir, accompanied by orchestra, gives parents and staff members the opportunity to perform too. Excellence and participation finely balanced. Having a go is key; every new boy sings a short solo in his first week, to audition for the choirs and break the ice.

Instrumentalists busy too - symphony orchestra, swing band, wind band and chamber orchestra among ‘15 or so other ensembles’. A quarter take individual music lessons. Brass band performing in the playground when we visited to inspire younger boys starved of musical performance during lockdown - ‘It’s what year 7s aspire to’, we hear. Wind band rehearsal was our highlight - a roomful of teenagers practising their Stevie Wonder medley on a Friday morning would always get our toes tapping, but their rendition of ‘Superstition’ oozed such style and panache that we were humming it for the rest of the day. Music groups have toured China, Australia, Portugal and Italy; English cathedrals during covid. Excellent take-up of GCSE and A level music.

Lots of drama and dance on timetable and off. Performing arts curriculum ‘deliberately broad’ - everybody dances and acts. Our year 10 guide raved about the dance offering – recent work included interpretations of Black Lives Matter. One mum described how her son, who’d been wary of dancing in year 7, ended up performing at Wembley before a major football match. Lots get involved in major drama productions – ‘They really, really love it’, says one parent – both on stage and behind the scenes with lighting, costume etc all designed and executed by students.

Tiffin’s limited budget necessitates the ‘get up and go’ that students demonstrate; a proactive culture in which students do things for themselves. There’s simply not the staffing to run all these clubs, so they just get on with it. Hugely successful debating society, at least 100-strong, is entirely student-led. Year 13s were in when we visited, after A levels, to run lunchtime concerts, speak to new joiners, fly model rockets and do the gardening. Tiffin Broadcasting Network gives budding journalists the chance to eg film sports day using a drone – marketing material that other schools might fork out for but here they’ve spotted a better way of doing things.

‘There’s so much going on,’ said one, ‘that sometimes it’s hard to decide whether to go to English study group or feminist society or volleyball’. These boys and girls never stop. Too much pressure, we wondered? ‘Grades at 16 and 18 are not sufficient evidence of a great education’, said the school, ‘so how do you challenge boys and girls who have so much more to give?’. Committed staff allow it to happen - 'We have state money, and staff who turn out on a Saturday morning to run the rugby team aren’t being paid extra to do that’. Almost half of teaching staff volunteer to run sports teams in their spare time.

Sport

‘Participation, progression, performance’ is the mantra. On a typical day in the summer term, 60 year 7s had arrived at 7am to play cricket in the nets - ‘That’s a culture that depends on kids and staff participating’. Cricket is big – the school is in the top 100 nationally. We were charmed to see small boys dragging improbably large cricket bags wherever we went.

Rugby is the other big sport here with 24 regular teams (‘We struggle to find other E teams to play’). Decades of expertise in rugby means coaching is outstanding. Until now, sporting talent has been funnelled this way, but team football now being introduced too. Rowing also very successful, unusually for a state school. Canny use of resources makes this possible - 'We’re much more commercial than we used to be in the way that we operate’. Profit from summer camps ‘recycled’ to fund rowing; outside organisations rent the sports facilities almost every night.

Not much space onsite, though what’s there is used well, and there’s more space at Grist’s playing fields, opposite Hampton Court. New pavilion and astro pitches in the pipeline. New onsite sports centre houses fitness studios, changing areas and gym which puts swanky private facilities to shame: even better, every gym session is structured by a full-time health and fitness coach, ‘so we don’t get boys doing their biceps in front of the mirror or mindlessly pumping iron’.

Further options for girls’ sport in development, though parents really pleased by girls’ engagement with sport already: rugby and netball teams both have a full fixture list. Students can request new sports clubs and the school will do their best. Mixed volleyball club led by year 12s has been a hit. Students play regular fixtures in badminton; throw in tennis (school provides ball-boys to Wimbledon), cross country and table tennis, and everybody has their niche. Regular international tours with hardship funds available to those who need financial support in order to join.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1638 by Kingston brewers John and Thomas Tiffin, who left £150 to educate ‘some honest poor man’s son’. For 200ish years the charity funded scholarships for children to attend local schools, before Tiffin School was born in 1874. The boys moved to the current site in central Kingston in 1929. Nowadays it’s a stone’s throw from shopping galore at the Bentall Centre and decent lunch options for sixth formers who want to stretch their legs.

Despite its location in a comfortable suburb, students and staff here are totally unspoilt. ‘We learn as much from the students as they do from us’, teachers tell us, and the respect is mutual. There’s space for everybody at Tiffin, and individuals are ‘treasured’. Whether a chess player, Rubik’s cube devotee or member of horticultural and dendrology society (‘they decided that was cooler than just gardening club,’ chuckles the deputy head), every individual is celebrated. Socially, the environment is safe - it’s cool to do well, much to the relief of the articulate, amusing pupils. ‘They can be openly clever,' said one mum, whose sons ‘love being in geek mode’. It’s not intimidating though - ‘they’re bright boys but they’re not all Einsteins.’

House rivalry plays a huge part in school life - now eight houses (up from six) ‘to give more opportunities to take part’. With 20 events each year for every age group, everybody takes part: contract bridge, debating etc all available competitively. Lovely lack of cynicism amongst students - our year 10 guides were very keen to explain the leaderboards dotted around the school.

Pupil numbers have grown (‘why take 150 when you could take 180?’, says Mr Gascoigne), whilst new priority admissions area has added to camaraderie and cohesion amongst pupils. We found an unusual maturity about them - not in a boring, old-before-their-time way, but in a streetwise, head-screwed-on way. No spoon-feeding here, and students are all the stronger and more engaging for it. The school expects the same attitude from parents: ‘if you want to micromanage your son, this is not the school for you’, says one. Not a scrap of entitlement, just nice, well-rounded teenagers who are grabbing every opportunity thrown their way.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral care ‘amazing’, says one mother - ‘Teachers have looked after my son brilliantly’. No sense that kindness plays second fiddle to results - ‘children are children, they can easily approach their teachers or form tutors if they’re worried about something’. Heads of year ‘very astute and carefully chosen’. School quick to call home with concerns, but there’s an open door to parents too. Praise too for warm, welcoming, good-humoured office staff who help new year 7s find their feet - ‘Don’t worry, we’ll look after him’, they told one worried mum.

Sports department recognises body image pressures from social media; switched-on approach to diet and nutrition is finding its way into the PSHE curriculum too. Pupils rave about the food in bright, clean dining hall (newly built in 2018), a convivial place to hang out and tuck in.

School has ‘a very strong line on respect for everyone’. Fine to be gay – lots of sixth formers have come out – and when we visited, during Pride month, the school was emblazoned with rainbows, some boys even wearing rainbow facemasks. School ‘did some preparation with the boys before the girls arrived’, though integration seems to have been natural - ‘We used to meet girls outside school anyway’, unfazed pupils tell us. In fact, as the first generation of girls picks up their A levels, deputy head tells us that ‘when I look at old school photos [without girls], it just looks weird’. Mixed working party provides forum for concerns about ‘lad culture’, though both boys and girls told us that this is not an issue.

PSHE ‘very good’, parents tell us, and a useful platform from which to have difficult conversations. Form tutor – unusually, tutors stay with their group from year 7 to year 11 – keeps a close eye on wellbeing. Sixth formers talk to year 11s about managing time, staying healthy etc. School ‘monitors attendance like nothing else, they practically send out a search party within two hours’, says one mum who conceded that it did the trick with her son.

‘Business casual’ dress code for sixth formers has been easier for boys to interpret than girls, but reforms have been made following discussion with students. Refreshingly straightforward (read: affordable) uniform for the rest, including a house tie.

Tight disciplinary system, though we didn’t see it being challenged. Merit and demerit system motivates students effectively (‘my son got a demerit for only having one sock in PE; you’d have thought the world was ending’). Boys do not grow up as quickly as at other London schools: parents comfortable that there are not the drug or alcohol issues found elsewhere.

Pupils and parents

Pupils come from a variety of backgrounds. Most are white British, Indian subcontinental or south-east Asian, but there is no dominant group - ‘very multiracial, very modern Britain’, one mother tells us. Some are well-off, others are not; some chose Tiffin over prominent independent schools but for many, paying fees was never an option. Everyone is aspirational - as one mum put it, ‘Pupils work hard, so the school attracts that sort of parent’. Parents describe themselves as ‘very grounded - it doesn’t matter where you come from, we want our children to do well and make good friends.’ Active PTA organises social events and concerts. No glossy social scene though - ‘Don’t expect a decent glass of Chardonnay’, one mum warns, ‘as the school is more focused on educating teenagers than providing a private members’ club for their parents.'

Prominent displays in reception of bus maps and advice about cycling - these are local families. Most boys get to school under their own steam, in part because busy working parents are keen that they do so; those we spoke to recognised that this is about their teenagers developing independent skills and getting ready for what comes next.

Alumni include sportsmen Sir Alec Stewart (cricket) and Rob Henderson (rugby), as well as actors Jonny Lee Miller and Gethin Anthony and entrepreneur Samir Desai, founder of Funding Circle.

Money matters

Voluntary donation of £30 a month to bolster funds – parents give what they can but there’s no naming and shaming of those that can’t.

The last word

We met caring, intelligent young men and women, a testament to their teachers’ passion and creativity. Results here go without saying but co-curricular is also soaring. In fact, we were blown away by what Tiffin offers on a tight budget to ordinary, talented boys and girls - a top-notch school made all the nicer by the modesty and humour of staff and pupils. ‘I just can’t believe my children’s luck’, said one mother, and we’d have to agree that for the right boy or girl, this is a magnificent school.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

The school currently has 4 statemented students, one with Speech & Language needs and three with Asperger's syndrome. These students are supported by a team of two part time LSAs. In addition we have one support teacher who concentrates on Literacy. The latter supports students with dyslexia and dyspraxia within her 1.5 days per week. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Interpreting catchment maps

The maps show in colour where the pupils at a school came from*. Red = most pupils to Blue = fewest.

Where the map is not coloured we have no record in the previous three years of any pupils being admitted from that location based on the options chosen.

For help and explanation of our catchment maps see: Catchment maps explained

Further reading

If there are more applicants to a school than it has places for, who gets in is determined by which applicants best fulfil the admissions criteria.

Admissions criteria are often complicated, and may change from year to year. The best source of information is usually the relevant local authority website, but once you have set your sights on a school it is a good idea to ask them how they see things panning out for the year that you are interested in.

Many schools admit children based on distance from the school or a fixed catchment area. For such schools, the cut-off distance will vary from year to year, especially if the school give priority to siblings, and the pattern will be of a central core with outliers (who will mostly be siblings). Schools that admit on the basis of academic or religious selection will have a much more scattered pattern.

*The coloured areas outlined in black are Census Output Areas. These are made up of a group of neighbouring postcodes, which accounts for their odd shapes. These provide an indication, but not a precise map, of the school’s catchment: always refer to local authority and school websites for precise information.

The 'hotter' the colour the more children have been admitted.

Children get into the school from here:

regularly
most years
quite often
infrequently
sometimes, but not in this year


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