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Best event – by far, thought girls – is the annual fashion show, theme announced November, happens March. Themes range from film genres to ‘fear of being normal'. Parents praise quality of sports teaching - ‘exceptional,’ said one, while numbers representing school at national/GB level are currently round the 30 mark. OG Chemmy Alcott’s achievements continue (surprisingly, says school) to cast a long shadow. If you want the staff to bristle (they’re super loyal here), mention school’s former status...

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What the school says...

Surbiton High School provides an outstanding all-round tailored education for girls aged 4 to 18 achieving impressive public examination results and excellent value added. We promote the best in everyone, accomplished through providing a quality learning environment; where every pupil is encouraged to identify and develop their individual talents.

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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Rowing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Since January 2018, Rebecca Glover BEd, NPQH. 50s. Previously head for four years at Hull Collegiate School (also part of United Learning). Before that, was assistant and then deputy head of Tadcaster Grammar School, preceded by director of sixth form at Roundwood Park School in Herts. Originally a PE specialist – first post was as head of games at Hymers College in Hull, followed by head of PE at the Broxbourne School.

This is her first post in an all-girls senior school and she’s a convert. The volume is lower, not down to subliminal messages from the patriarchy, she thinks, just the inevitable tendency of boys to ‘go out and do rough and tumble fighting and shout at their friends across the corridor. Girls just don’t,’ she says.

One former pupil felt that predominance of ‘good girls’ could make it harder for more outgoing characters to fit in. Not at all, says Mrs Glover. ‘We have the ability to find the best in every girl, so if they are dramatic, artistic or musical we hone in on what their talents are.’ Pupils we spoke to agreed. ‘People aren’t looked down on for being loud,’ thought one.

Mrs Glover is unlikely to be proverbial new broom, felt parents. ‘No plans for broad, sweeping changes. What she wants to do is tinker with things to get that extra one per cent so we get better and better.’

Pupils who have had the chance to get to know her (normally towards top of the school) praise her interest in their plans. ‘Very friendly.’ Those who haven’t would like to. ‘Obviously she’s so new but I hope she gets to know us a bit more,’ said one senior pupil. She’s very visible at the younger end of the school, teaching year 7 geography and around out of hours.

While not ‘a slave to the step count’, she runs by the Thames at 6am most mornings. Sees parents along the way but is usually a dot on the horizon before they’ve finished their double take. She also competes in half and full marathons and has even introduced walking meetings with the two prep school heads. (Staff, asked how they’d characterise her, said they’d put on running shoes and race round the school.)

Stresses that success of the pupils isn’t just about results (good though they are) but added value (nearly a whole GCSE per pupil). She’s also focusing (with prep heads) on increasing community involvement, recently recruiting a member of staff to work on everything from supporting homeless charities to offering lectures. ‘It’s not about leasing the facilities but for people to experience things that they can’t elsewhere.’ Parents generally supportive as long as efforts aren’t diluted. ‘I think we want the focus to be here in the school,’ said one.

Felt to be settling in and ‘making a difference to process and communication,’ said parent. ‘A watcher and waiter whose style is yet to be fully unveiled.’ Two children, one attending the school.

Entrance

Average intake for year 7 is 144, via maths and English tests. Takes from 45 or so feeders from state and private sector alongside own prep. Too many to list but range from Bishop Gilpin CofE, Coombe Hill and Esher Church School (all state) to Holy Cross Prep, Hurlingham School and Kew College – every area, in fact, served by extensive school bus route (10-mile radius). Once registered, can sign up for ‘Who am I?’ sessions so registered pupils can have a taste of life at the senior school (don’t say what happens if still unclear). About eight join in the sixth form.

Exit

Have consistently lost around 20 per cent post GCSEs – most to co-eds or local colleges, but more are staying on. Over sixty per cent of sixth form leavers go on to study STEM subjects at university. Four to Oxbridge in 2020.

Latest results

In 2020, 82 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 71 per cent A*/A at A level (95 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 70 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 60 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

If you want the staff to bristle (they’re super loyal here), mention school’s former status as the runner’s up prize - home for those who don’t quite make one of the nearby super-selectives. Felt to be far less the case now. ‘Certainly driving the standards up,’ said a parent. School laments league table construction. ‘Parents don’t understand how they work.’ Points out that with their big pupil numbers and wide intake, bare percentages don’t give a sense of how individual child will do. ‘If you have a top achieving daughter and they’re here, they will do exceptionally well.’

School’s description of qualities of successful pupils sound guaranteed to make them so rounded they could bounce into school each day. They will be ‘ambitious for themselves, focused, definitely happy pupils with a willingness to try things they haven’t tried before, take risks and learn skills for tomorrow.’

Substantial effort is put into getting them there – school was praised for finding potential role models who could help with work experience or advice on how to follow in footsteps. ‘Totally inspired by meeting credible woman engineer,’ said parent. ‘School goes a step further to give them that exposure to traditionally male-oriented careers.’

STEM subjects (studied at A level by about 40 per cent of pupils) consistently head the tribute list – with teachers who are ‘fantastic, phenomenal,’ said parent. ‘So good. They help you if you didn’t understand and give up their own time,’ said senior pupil. Physics (like other sciences, taught separately all the way from year 7) notable for ‘hilarious, amazing’ teacher. Maths ditto. The best staff command respect, tempered with humour and an ability to translate the toughest concepts in a way that ‘simples it down’ (as good a description as we’ve encountered).

Plenty of interesting add-ons elsewhere, like restoration of Victorian casts from Athens marbles by classics students, gently mouldering away in ICT suite, about to go on show to an admiring public.

It's all delivered by teachers, average age of 41, many long-stayers (55 plus have completed 10 years or over). Class sizes average 24 (smaller in GCSE and A level years). Teacher-pupil ratio around one to 13. Plenty of varied and imaginative teaching styles, says school, though classes we saw featured teachers out front, directing operations, girls impressively focused but cheerful, even in A level biology class covering respiration - ‘possibly the hardest lesson,’ said teacher.

Incentives include popular reading challenge (rewards include sweets and book vouchers) to encourage lifelong love of books (though plenty of keen pupils who probably don’t need much incentivising).

Disorganised have been helped by new app where all homework is uploaded by the staff – though textbooks are still available. ‘I use online in the classroom and paper textbook at home,’ said pupil. Also run ‘consolidation weeks’ during major events (like fashion week), an opportunity to catch up on work left undone ‘or anything they didn’t understand’.

Perhaps inevitably, academic success brings extra baggage in the form of tutors who are, says parent, employed by ‘a lot’ of families to help children pass the entrance exams. ‘Will be hard on that child as they may struggle without more tutoring,’ thought a mother. Head stresses that tutoring shouldn’t be needed, particularly given staff willingness to offer extra support (catch-up sessions run before and after school and at lunchtime). ‘We’re here for them - that’s part and parcel of what we are as a school.’ Parental anxiety, however, goes beyond any rational concern.

Learning support and SEN

For around 50 pupils with EAL, offer one-to-one support and differentiated lessons (all based on individual assessment). Support mild learning needs – majority SpLD related though also ASD, ADHD and ADD, visual, hearing impairment and physical disability – around 170 pupils currently supported.

Currently provide – but not limited to - one-to-one, group support, study skills and handwriting club. Nothing school won’t consider as long as child can keep up academically and is happy. ‘Will go to nth degree to make this work,’ says the head. On the rare occasions it doesn’t will involve parents at every stage.

The arts and extracurricular

All the add-ons you’d expect, including popular DofE at all levels (currently 170 takers), and a few more you probably wouldn’t. Best event – by far, thought girls – is the annual fashion show, theme announced November, happens March. Themes range from film genres to ‘fear of being normal’. ‘Many people’s highlight,’ said pupil.

Performance standards have shot up in recent years to concert pitch – staging production of Wind in the Willows in New Wimbledon Theatre to accommodate audiences. Have 30 visiting music teachers, 380 weekly instrumental lessons (rotating so miss something different each week) and 25 different co-curricular activities, from choirs (two a capella) to music theory support groups.

In addition to a composer and writer in residence (if Armistice centenary poem read in assembly by year 9 pupil laureate to anything to go by, quality is extremely high), there’s also an entrepreneur in residence who’s passed round the year groups, sparking ideas for doing interesting things with money. (Strict limit on cake sales as rather too popular.) Every pound raised gets a house point, with enough keen as mustard types ‘to carry the waverers,’ said pupil. The highlight is Enterprise Day which celebrates world-changing innovations including year 8’s bookmark with camera to enlarge the words.

Year 10s partner other local schools to explore crowdfunding. All part of creative agenda, recently recognised by TES award, designed to boost the imagination as well as raising squillions (well, thousands, anyway) for good causes. Good works include fundraising for Kilimanjaro Young Girls in Need with fundraising and visits - teachers about to visit to share expertise.

Sport

Sport once better than academics. Now, however, ‘they’ve improved the academic quality but allowed the sporting girls to shine,’ said parent. While it remains a big part of life here, sixth formers can choose eg spinning class, boxercise and yoga - ‘good to relieve tension,’ said one – and pupils reckoned you’re ‘not looked down on’ if it’s not your thing. Even the J and K netball teams get occasional matches if not a full calendar. Inclusion recognised by recent TES award. ‘Testament to our approach,’ says school.

Sports successes range from hockey to rowing as well as skiing and gymnastics. Parents praise quality of teaching - ‘exceptional,’ said one, while numbers representing school at national/GB level are currently round the 30 mark. OG Chemmy Alcott’s achievements continue (surprisingly, says school) to cast a long shadow. ‘Foundations of the ski team have come from her success,’ said mother. Olympic-level gymnastics have also (literally) taken off – though landed successfully again.

A lot of sport (not skiing) takes place a couple of miles down the road in Hinchley Wood where vast acreage of playing fields on site extends to woodland and a hill (site for popular annual dads' and kids' camping fest and is an antidote to the urban siting of the schools).

Carrots include de luxe trips: Barbados for netball, Argentina for hockey – with added bonus of life lessons in ‘learning to handle… money' - and, a first, Porto (football). Lots of high-quality wins in all these areas and others.

Only niggle is amount of parental involvement required. One mother felt that many of those playing in top teams at school would also be involved in outside clubs – commitment required isn’t something everyone has time, or desire, to do. ‘What you want is to give everybody the opportunity to try and to play at least at a social level. I think they’re doing that with netball and hockey. With other sports, they’re not,’ said one.

Ethos and heritage

Founded 1884 by the Church Schools Company (now United Learning), the first school in what would subsequently grow into an educational behemoth, with 70 state academies and 12 independent schools.

If this were a Monopoly board, this chunk of Surbiton would all be in school colours of green and silver. Senior girls’ school growth mainly linear, though former Assembly Rooms (venue for assemblies, concerts and lunches – older girls encouraged, though not compelled, to bring their own) are on the other side of the heavily calmed road (20mph zone).

Architecture ranges from bland to the revamped sixth form block and pleasant main building, where most of the lessons take place. It’s smart and tidy, accessorised with assorted proofs of school achievements including an impressive trophy cabinet and glossy photographs of school life.

The layout is generally a doddle (helped by hotel-style numbering), bar a couple of classrooms accessed by own staircase – older pupils step in to redirect baffled year 7s at the start of every school year. Attractive courtyard with two fountains at the back and the venue for some productions also enjoys the sounds of cheerful play from younger prep boys’ playground.

Antidote to overwhelming tidiness, as so often, is provided by art department, with excellent natural light (can see Hampton Court from its big windows), entrance marked by stack of canvases, works pleasingly varied. ‘No house style,’ points out member of staff – though there is – literally – one: a cardboard house like a stage set, each room peopled by different characters. Potters have own kiln, photographers a mezzanine floor and own dark room.

Radiates sense of being happy in its own skin, pupils ditto, helped by easy care and smart uniform. Apart from school’s insistence on a blazer in the sixth form (‘am sure 95 per cent would prefer not to wear one but it’s not a battle we’re going to take on,’ said one), feel they’ve got off lightly compared with friends in other schools handicapped (sartorially and possibly literally) by ankle-length skirts.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

School carefully tempers rise in expectations with impressively thought-through approach to mental illness. ‘To say it doesn’t happen is naïve,’ says the head. ‘It definitely is an issue in lots of schools and we’re no different to any other highly academic girls’ school.’

While one parent felt that pastoral care here is ‘a little tougher than in the prep schools’ (strict drugs and drinks policy – but no unscheduled departures under Mrs Glover’s watch so far), staff are impressively aware of pressure on pupils and make it their business to get to know as many as possible, even creating a bespoke app to memorise names and faces - there’s even a league table.

School has opened a well-being centre and makes seeking help easy. Pupils can self-refer to school counsellor (one of team of three), for example, whose office is tucked away so suitably anon, concerns taken further only if it’s a safeguarding issue. ‘Ninety per cent of the time it’s just that the girls need someone to talk to,’ says head. ‘We are very good at referring girls before it becomes critical.’

School also ensures that teachers don’t crumble under the pressure themselves. From a no email day every term to staff yoga, staff make well-being something ‘we do for yourself and try to instil in others’. Even the staffroom chocolate drawer can remain (almost) untouched. ‘Sometimes just opening it and walking past is enough,’ says saintly teacher.

May not have all the answers, but doing best to be responsive, think parents. Bullying won’t ever disappear but – even if it takes time – there will be someone to go to. ‘A couple of members of staff were really lovely and really helped me out,’ said pupil. ‘From then on, I felt there was always someone I could talk to.’

Pupils and parents

A nice place to be a parent, with strong friendships formed early, sometimes lifelong. Girls ditto. ‘End up with a very close community [who] go on holidays together,’ said parent. Social media, including WhatsApp used to organise socials including annual ball, auction and Christmas Fair.

Perception from one parent was that extensive smartening up has done wonders for marketing clout. ‘Attracts a better calibre of student and brought up the profile of parents.’

Smartness doesn’t however extend to elaborate pre-school cosmetic preparations. ‘I’d say the time I get ready in has become less and less,’ said pupil. ‘Now I have maximum sleep… you’re not having to impress everyone.’ Parents agreed. ‘I’m lucky if mine brush their teeth,’ said one. ‘You don’t have that handbag culture here,’ confirms a teacher. ‘There’s no show of wealth and I don’t think they appreciate showiness.’

Energy on status and appearance thus saved appears to be usefully redirected – on day of visit, queues were forming by a row of static bikes, goal to ride 4,500 miles: distance to the Tanzanian school they’re fundraising for.

Generally felt to attract down-to-earth families, so un-precious that may (we were told) even play down their wonderfully talented offspring rather than big them up.

Most UK born with English as a first language – small number of international students (mostly Asian). Former pupils cover the range from politicians (Nicky Morgan MP and Baroness Liz Sugg) to skier Chemmy Alcott and Radio 1 DJ Mollie King.

A roughly equal split between working and stay-at-home mothers, a few ladies who lunch types, many others having to think hard before parting with thick end of £1,500 a month out of taxed income. ‘Have to be very convinced you’re doing the right thing.’

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries for year 7 and sixth form entry, including help for existing pupils who couldn’t stay on post-16 without financial help. Will also provide emergency financial support (for bereavement or ‘emergency situations’).

Scholarships, worth 20 per cent, cover the usual suspects (academics, music, sport) and also drama, art and photography.

The last word

Large, successful, but easily underestimated school has moved slowly but surely from back-up option to first choice. One notch down on the pressure and several up on the support makes it increasingly the smart choice for ambitious, busy and down-to-earth families.

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 learning enrichment department provides a wide range of support services to students from years 7 to 13. All students are screened early in year 7 and individual assessments are carried out as required any time during years 7-13. Spelling and reading comprehension booster groups at year 7, learning skills programmes across all years, and smaller study skills groups, including a sixth form 'on track' study guidance service, meet the needs of many students with mild specific learning difficulties. Individual or small group tuition is offered to those who may need more intensive support. Specialist EAL tuition and adjusted programmes are available for students for whom English is an additional language and the school has a Korean mentor. Gifted and talented students are identified and a range of programmes are in place to meet their needs. The school ethos is one of embracing a pupil's individuality, helping her to grow in self-confidence and self-worth and to achieve her potential. Those pupils with additional learning needs are no exception and are supported in a caring and practical way.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
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

Who came from where


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