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Three cheers for Thomas and John Tiffin, brothers and wealthy Kingston brewers who between them left £150 in the 1630s to invest in the education of deserving boys. Just one issue of fortnightly head’s newsletter (essential reading if you want a cross section of day-to-day life here) included the latest school trips (GCSE and A level art students to Venice, year 9 classics to Bath, year 7 to London Zoo), sporting success (cross-country) and performing arts, with ‘particularly active’ dancers doing their stuff...

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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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State grammar school



What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2015, Michael Gascoigne BA, 40s. Knows the school inside out – joined as history teacher after completing PGCE (Institute of Education) and training in some tough schools (think recreational chair-throwing). Subsequently became head of history here (1999), head of sixth form (2004) and deputy head (2009) – each promotion fortuitously happening just when was debating looking elsewhere (no coincidence, we suspect).

First generation in family to go to university, bursary to independent school firing career ambitions, though initially directed at policing or law. All changed when he took a temporary teaching post and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Humane, as articulate as his pupils (and that’s a big compliment), he’s a thoroughly likeable man who understands how boys tick and values his staff (he ensured teachers’ room got much needed refurb ahead of other deserving projects).

It’s no cinch. Constant pressure on budgets (spends a lot of time fundraising), and dealing with problems out of his control are the main downsides – as (occasionally) are the hours he puts in. Arrives at 7am and leaves whenever (‘wife would say it’s not early enough’). We’d suspect it’s often close to 12 hour day, plus Saturday mornings.

All so far outweighed by the good parts, headed by relish for challenges ahead. ‘No virtue in standing still,’ he says – putting it into action with three million pound building programme and forging ahead with plans to ensure school becomes an ever more influential local presence through outreach and collaboration. ‘A lovely guy, approachable, reassuring,’ was one parent’s verdict. Combines insider knowledge with at least one eye on future developments. ‘No shoe-filler,’ thought parent. ‘Has his own ideas and agenda.’


Entrance day could be a tourist attraction all on its own, Kingston streets packed with small boys and their parents queuing to get in. Same crowds turn up in Sutton and even Slough to try their luck at selective schools there, says head, so not as daunting as it looks.

Admissions now favour locals after considerable legal to-ing and fro-ing overturned previous cross-London (and further) free for all. Now there’s an inner priority area of within 10km of the school and an outer priority area extending 14km to Kingston, Wimbledon, Thames Ditton, Surbiton, Richmond, Hounslow. Better all round, says head, shorter journey times ensuring that more can enjoy the before- and after-school activities.

Also more places – now 180 year 7 places (was 120 just a few years ago) allocated in two-stage admissions process, each consisting of English and maths assessments, weighted so as not to disadvantage younger candidates, with some priority for those on pupil premium. Some occasional places in other years - new candidates only: those sitting but unsuccessful at 11+ can only try again for sixth form, when need (as do existing pupils) minimum five 7s and three 6s at GCSE with 9-7s in three desired A level subjects. Around a third of sixth form, now including girls, are new.

‘Didn’t think I’d get in,’ said pupil remembering the agonising wait after merry round of entrance exams. One family was poised to accept independent school place, knowing that fees would be a struggle. ‘Would have been the unluckiest boy in the school. Here, feel like the luckiest.’


Around five per cent leave after GCSEs. Post A level, vast majority to Russell Group and regular large contingent to Oxbridge - 16 in 2020, plus 22 medics. Also popular are Warwick, UCL, Imperial, King's and Bristol.

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

Rich balance of subjects from year 7 based on fortnightly timetable. Slightly more English in first year, separate sciences from year 8 but, impressively, keep up art and music as well. Latin for all, also religion and philosophy and fortnightly session on 21st century life. Everyone takes separate sciences, one language and (unusually for non-religious school) religion and philosophy at GCSE plus three options ranging from humanities to Latin and Greek, PE, dance (a rarity anywhere, let alone in maintained sector) and DT.

Sixth form choice of around 20 A level subjects – including those rarities, Latin and Greek (maths, sciences and economics consistently popular), plus games session and non-examined enrichment course (with Tiffin Girls). Class sizes (average of 30 to end of year 9 dropping to 24 in GCSE years and 16 in the sixth form) no barrier to exceptional results. In 2019, 75 per cent of GCSEs graded 9-7; 59 per cent A*/A at A level (84 per cent A*-B).

And not a question of taking the best, shoving on to academic conveyor belt and letting them off again at the other end (though with the prizes coming thick and fast, from Arkwright Scholarships to 99 boys gaining gold certificates in Junior Maths Olympiad or the Junior Kangaroo and year 13s winning the Student Investor Challenge – top out of 10,000 teams - they probably could). Progress 8, new government assessment tool, puts school in top five per cent for the value it adds between year 6 and year 11 – so complacency certainly isn’t the order of the day.

Staff stability helps (20 on the books for at least 10 years - average age of teachers is 40 and 44 for all staff) – though recruitment as problematic here as anywhere else in London: property prices mean ‘move out in droves’. Magic ingredient is school itself. ‘There’s an attachment that grows on you,’ says Mr Gascoigne. Some churn is healthy - ‘don’t want all staff to be here for years and years’ - but with most teachers leaving for senior posts elsewhere, controllable, so new staff can learn in an experienced department.

Subjects generally organised by corridor (and door colour – though with pea green for geography, dark green for physics and something between the two for biology, it pays to mug up on pantones). Doesn’t take long to work out where you are, say pupils and in any case, there are plenty of clues, like the helmet (‘Norman,’ said tour guide, authoritatively) in history office and pickled lobster-like creature (‘a crayfish – has flatter and wider tail’) outside the science rooms, though guide voiced slight disapproval at location – ‘out of place, should be biology when this is clearly chemistry.’

School catches boys in magic few years between arriving packed with enthusiasm and ideas and losing it to adolescent cynicism, says head. One boy arrived in sixth form with a fascination for fungi. ‘Not the usual thing but we knew he’d love it here.’ Helps to be proactive about trying new things, we were told by pupil, though come as you are and you’ll be accepted. ‘Here it’s cool to care about knowledge,’ agreed school insider. Certainly true of tour guides, thrilled to be here, erudite and delightfully tickled by oddities of school life – the mystery bricked up door ‘to nowhere', the religion and philosophy office - ‘strangely placed as the classroom is downstairs’.

To teachers with the right approach (and parents struggled to find any without), they’re a dream audience. Homework is ‘about right,’ thought pupil – neither excessive nor inflicted with a heavy hand. Instead, teachers will guide rather than lead, mention for example that there’s a test coming up and leave the boys to make the connection.

Ability to suck up facts may be profound (it certainly impressed us) but these boys don’t tolerate dull teaching. ‘It might sound naughty,’ said one (it doesn’t, honest), ‘but if I’m sitting in physics being lectured on the forces acting on a ball falling from the sky, I’m likely to be less interested than if I’m looking at a cross-section of a cell’ (they build their own from plaster of Paris and plasticine and they’re awe-inspiring). Head agrees. ‘It is not good enough to sit at the front and feed them facts. You need to know your subject, and to encourage them always to ask questions – that’s how they learn.’

Learning support and SEN

Perhaps unsurprisingly, few pupils have statement of SEN – just 0.2 per cent, a tenth of the national average. That said, school caters for range of learning needs – though at 31, numbers are still low – ranging from hearing and sight problems to specific learning needs and Asperger’s. Support comes via TA plus part-time additional needs literacy specialist who helps boys with dyslexia or organisational issues.

The arts and extracurricular

Breathtaking. Just one issue of fortnightly head’s newsletter (essential reading if you want a cross-section of day-to-day life here) included the latest school trips (GCSE and A level art students to Venice, year 9 classics to Bath, year 7 to London Zoo), sporting success (cross-country) and performing arts, with ‘particularly active’ dancers doing their stuff at half time during the Four Nations rugby final at Olympic Park and working with the Royal Ballet and Ballet Rambert. Year 8s learn capoeira, a couldn’t-be-better fusion of dance and martial arts. Pirouettes have never before packed such a punch.

Sign up for the choir and pupils could end up performing with world-class orchestras - Mahler’s third with the LSO, Stravinsky with the LPO and Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House in just the last few months, plus choir tours all over the place, as well as appearing on the Blankety Blank Christmas special hosted by David Walliams. They’re not blasé, though can be tiring. ‘Came back from Royal Opera House and fell asleep in my uniform,’ said one veteran.

Timetable helps, with music, drama and dance allocated six periods between them in year 7 – more if you add on games – and equal to science or maths. Means school ‘can grab you early,’ said parent, who’d seen son suddenly (and unexpectedly) blossom into a talented singer. ‘Everyone’s got something different to them,’ said one.

Sometimes spark a new idea (one year 8 boy, initially reluctant to try dance, had already reached post-GCSE level; another had done 15 nights on stage at the Royal Opera House). But it’s not just the conventional who flourish. ‘If they want to learn the sitar or electric guitar or bongo drums then teachers let them,’ said parent. ‘The point is that they realise that the pleasure out of music is performance.’ Top singers may end up as choral scholars but first year string players, scratchily delivering first orchestral performance, will get equal levels of applause.

‘We encourage participation way beyond the lessons - school is not just about simply collecting the certificates,’ says the head – and pupils praise resulting diversity. Trips are vital part of the process – and not just educationally. ‘Playing pool in the evening changes things, you see boys in a different light,’ says the head. And while missing lessons does create practical issues, school’s view is that benefits outweigh need to catch up later.

In a day that stretches well beyond either end of official hours (dance rehearsals starting at 6.30am were the earliest we discovered – though choir, drama and sport require similar commitment) boys’ ability to manage all their interests and academic work on top can be a worry to parents. Some, naturally organised, learn self-management early. But even the borderline chaotic somehow get through. ‘My chronically disorganised son coped because he really wanted to do it,’ said parent.


There’s something to impress wherever your eye, or ear, falls, from art (surreal paper scissors and screwdrivers, mounted on clock mechanisms and ticking away the hours - message, if there is one, too deep for this reviewer), to rugby - 16 teams – almost a quarter of all pupils, who regularly give independent sides a drubbing - and rowing. Saunter through nearby Canbury Gardens of a Saturday and you’ll often see boats waiting to be launched and some of the 100 boys involved warming up with a few laps by the bandstand – one of the few state schools to offer it at all, let alone on this scale.

Other sports – cricket (main summer sport), basketball, badminton, tennis, cross-country and athletics – are also available and to equally high standards.

Ethos and heritage

Three cheers for Thomas and John Tiffin, brothers and wealthy Kingston brewers who between them left £150 in the 1630s to invest in the education of deserving boys. Canny investment in land by executor did their memories proud, though it wasn’t until the late 19th century that eponymous school was finally opened (original site now home to local primary). They moved to current location in 1929, acquiring 30 acres of playing fields in Thames Ditton in 1948 (now owned by the old boys to kybosh any thoughts by rapacious governments of cashing it in for housing). Became voluntary aided, converted to academy in 2010 and are currently keeping close eye on opportunities created by potential expansion of grammar schools.

We don’t doubt that J and T Tiffin would be chuffed with what their legacy has achieved. Behind the public persona of the horribly packed and inevitably anonymous open days is a warm, friendly school that’s hard to leave. Many don’t – or not for long. In quick succession we met retired deputy head, now back as a governor and unofficial archivist (school can trace every old boy since 1880) and former pupil, now a PE teacher here. ‘Feels like home,’ he said. ‘I’ve even used my house key to try to get into the sports hall.’

Warmth extends to the admin team who keep cool while staying on top of copious amounts of lost property, from Tupperware packed with spectacles to the many missing bags – ‘boys pick up the nearest one if worried about being late.’ Jumpers ditto.

Pupils notice and respond. Helpful, caring teachers are ‘best thing about the school,’ said one, who had successfully mounted campaign to get a school corn snake (sadly on study leave – or serpentine equivalent - on day of visit). ‘Wasn’t dismissed as a silly idea.’ Head finally gave blessing - once proper care plan had been presented and agreed.

From head’s formal garden with sundial and homely bird feeders (lovingly tended by gardening parent) to cricket pitch, and MUGA surface which… ‘is a pitch,’ says head (amid in the swirl of jargon about multi-surfaces, G4s and suchlike, all you really need to know), site is greener and bigger than partial views from the three streets (and modern flats) that frame it would suggest. (Art rooms, appropriately, provide best panoramic view.)

Definitely has its architectural moments, from historic - attractive 18th century listed building housing classrooms, uniform shop and IT (marked by dainty china figurines) - to last century (1990s art and DT block). There’s also cutting edge modernity in attractive two-storey circular learning resource centre, bookcases radiating out from central desk and complete with spiral staircase inside (sixth form only) and sedum roof (outside).

Its twin has now emerged, home to a stunning new dining hall, with five new classrooms and an IT suite up top, replacing the previous incarnation housed in a vintage Portakabin. Food is more than a match for the new surroundings: sweet and sour chicken and pasta with basilico sauce among the highlights.

Outside, careful design with smaller footprint will add more playground space with glassed windows even offering reflections of the 14th century Lovekyn Chapel, the oldest building in town (though they don’t own it – rather to their relief given the costs of upkeep). Means more streetside appeal for this distinctly average patch of Kingston - so a public benefit.

Though money is invariably tight (and tighter here than many assume), careful juggling ensures it goes where most needed. Yes, a few tatty staircases could do with a paint job but the displays are bang up-to-date, performance spaces are many and varied and even the gothic-windowed, red-curtained old style school hall also has thoroughly modern lighting rig. While Macs reign supreme in IT, spick and span food technology room stays well up to temperature and DT, still offered to A level (one of the only local schools to do so) remains beautifully dovetailed, nobody’s complaining.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

School can’t take on all the weight of world’s anxieties, says Mr Gascoigne. Pressure to succeed - ‘not unique to selective schools,’ he points out - that flows down from management to teachers and pupils isn’t helpful but can be overemphasised – and certainly the pupils we saw seemed notably uncrushed and extremely cheerful.

He sees social media demanding instant response, impossible to switch off, as a greater contributor to anxiety. School works with mental health worker who’s in school for a day and a half each week and includes drop in system. ‘We can’t solve every mental health problem but can do best to help,’ he says.

Merits for good work, contributions to lessons, attitude and helpful acts (in that order) more sparingly awarded after year 7. Lead to certificates, presented in assembly. Best of the lot is head’s certificate (platinum) though it doesn’t come along often. Dark face of the coin, demerits, treated with caution by teachers.

While there will always be the odd behavioural issue and very occasional exclusion (for normal offences), it doesn’t happen often. Most other difficulties (occasional missing laptop key) are caused by overdoing the joie de vivre that’s inevitable consequence of considerable freedom. IT rooms, with prefect supervision, open at break, for example. ‘Boys are not yet the finished product – will make mistakes, do things they shouldn’t do. We’re ultimately training them for independence and maturity in the real world,’ says Mr Gascoigne.

There’s much talk here of levels of happiness. Competition kicks in early – brilliant for bonding. Houses have recently increased from six to eight with rise in pupil numbers - one year 8 pupil, who’d moved as a result, initially very torn, though now wearing new tie with great pride - though form competitions, starting early in year 7, are also hard-fought. ‘We sung [sic] our hearts and souls out,’ writes first year pupil in newsletter of inter-form singing competition held within weeks of joining the school.

Pupils and parents

You find generations of local families who have come here, as well as fair share of celebrities, more tending towards performing arts and sport than straight brainbox, Nobel-winning fame as you might possibly expect.

Big hitters (literally in some cases) include sportsmen Alex Stewart (cricket) and Rob Henderson (rugby), as well as artist John Bratby and Jonny Lee Miller, an ex-husband of Angelina Jolie (probably happier being noted for starring role in Elementary). School is mounting major drive to round up alumni (especially the successful City types) and encourage them to do their bit for support.

Many current families need no urging. Joining the PTA is a good way to get in the swim and there are also subject-specific spin-off groups fundraising for rugby, rowing and – probably the busiest of the lot – music. Each has own little community – ‘Have got a whole load of new friends,’ said one mother.

Main ethnic groups are white British, Indian and Asian. Area isn’t immune from deprivation and school argues good case for looking beyond official government tally of disadvantaged pupils based on free school meals. If assessed based on other measures - postcodes, social class and levels of education (significant number of parents didn’t go to uni, for example) - school’s intake broader than it appears. Keen to broaden mix still further, in line with government thinking – possibly through changes to admissions policy. Definitely a case of watch this space.

Money matters

Asks for voluntary donation – if possible £520 a year per child, to some a chunky sum. Understood that won’t be affordable for everyone – pay what you can. Over the years, it’s funded goodies including new labs and cricket nets – and there’s also (discreet) help with uniform costs and school trips for those in need.

The last word

Engage, inspire, excel, is the motto. It’s more like a check list than an exhortation. Delivers ‘well rounded, well read, normal human beings,’ said a parent. ‘It’s an independent education provided by the state and we are very fortunate.’

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
English as an additional language (EAL)
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:

most years
quite often
sometimes, but not in this year

Who came from where

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