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Sevenoaks School
  • Sevenoaks School
    High Street
    TN13 1HU
  • Head: Jesse Elzinga
  • T 01732 455133
  • F 01732 456143
  • E [email protected]
  • W
  • Sevenoaks School is an English independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 11 to 18, located in Sevenoaks, Kent. It educates over 1,000 pupils and was founded in 1432, making it the second oldest non-denominational school in the UK.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Kent
  • Pupils: 1163; sixth formers: 468
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Fees: Day £24,291 - £27,585 ; Boarding £38,790 - £42,084 pa
  • Open days: Virtual Event 13 March 2021, Open Morning 19 June 2021
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

Visitors might find numbers of events and activities almost overwhelming. Not so pupils, busily adding more, from coding to Middle Eastern Society, at a rate of knots. Others enter – and win - high profile competitions, one group snaffling £15,000 prize after developing app for autistic children. Overdoing things isn’t an issue, they say. Can mean hard choices – some pupils (reluctantly) give up drama in the sixth form, and school keeps watchful eye on the ultra-active...

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What the school says...

Sevenoaks School (HMC) is an independent, co-educational boarding and day school, set in 100 acres on the edge of Sevenoaks in Kent.

Founded in 1432, Sevenoaks provides academic excellence with a strong pastoral and co-curricular emphasis and a global dimension inspired by the International Baccalaureate. There are around 1080 pupils, including international students from over 30 countries and about 350 boarders. We are a selective school, and welcome enthusiastic pupils ready to get involved in all the opportunities we offer.

Sevenoaks has a reputation for exploring new ideas. We have taught the IB for 30 years and were the first HMC school to offer the IB Diploma Programme exclusively. Between 30 and 50 students accept places Oxford or Cambridge every year and an increasing number go to American universities.

There is a strong emphasis on the co-curriculum and pupils are also involved in community service.
...Read more

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International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.





What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2020, Jesse Elzinga, previously head of Reading Blue Coat School which he joined in 2016. BA in comparative religion from Harvard and MSt (as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar) from Oxford. The only student ever to go from his Detroit state school to Harvard, he was a three-time national champion rower at Harvard and Oxford, and then became a competitive cyclist, twice racing against Sir Bradley Wiggins at the British Time Trial Championships. He is also an Ironman triathlete and marathoner and since moving to Sevenoaks, he can be spotted in the early morning running in Knole Park.

His first job was teaching theology and philosophy at Whitgift, later becoming assistant head of sixth form, then moving to St Edward's Oxford as head of RS, where he helped to introduce the IB diploma. Director of studies at Harrow before heading Reading Blue Coat. Married to Elaina - they enjoy cooking, BBQing, travelling and they are Friends of the Royal Opera House and supporting members of England Rugby Club. They have three daughters and live in Sevenoaks close to the school.


At 11+, 80 places, same number again at 13+. For year 7 place, entrance tests in maths, English and VR, references, interviews and reports. Numerous local prep feeders. Rumour that state school entrants may be favoured if tie break for a place.

Applicants for 13+ entry take maths, English and VR tests in year 7, plus 40 minute group interview and reference. Unconditional offers made in June of year 7. Those at prep schools asked to aim for 70 per cent at common entrance (used for setting purposes). For sixth form entrance, when another 75-80 pupils taken in, tested in three proposed IB higher level subjects plus maths and English if not native language (high levels of fluency essential though can offer a session a week to 10 pupils needing short term boosters).


Vast majority (95 per cent) stay on into sixth form. Count down to UCAS form completion handled extremely well with teachers pitching their own degree subjects. Also ‘how to’ personal statement talks, coaching for US SAT tests and support if predicted grades don’t work out quite as planned – school has talked near misses on to foundation places at desired uni.

Many offers from highly prestigious unis here, there and everywhere – many to US and Canada, few to anything other than Russell Group or top international equivalents. ‘Work really hard to support them, in the end it’s what you pay them for,’ said parent. As a result, destination list tends to resemble a global best of higher education list: 28 Oxbridge places in 2020, plus 38 overseas including Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley, Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, UPenn, Brown and McGill. Fourteen medics, one vet and a dentist.

Latest results

In 2020, 94 per cent 9/7 at GCSE. Average diploma score of 40.

Teaching and learning

Not so much a case of getting down with these kids but scrabbling up to their level. Regardless of mother tongue, notable for gift of gab and desire to avoid muscular Christianity (or contortionist’s pantheism) in favour of secular education that builds curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. They leave, says school, with ‘enlarged capacity for independent thought’ – and without, as far as we could see, acquiring swollen heads on the way out. This despite evident brightness starting early, year 7 packed with top of their year types – no surprise given school’s entry criteria: grammar school level or better. ‘Other girls took five lessons to learn something; I took one,’ says typically bright 11-year-old. Most pupils find flocking with similar high flyers an easy transition, though brilliance of plumage can be dazzling. ‘It was hard at first,’ said one recent leaver.

Being on the ball essential, what with just 45 minutes for breakfast and dinner (lunch is a more leisurely 90 minutes – though you’ll be packing an activity in as well) and not a place for the vague, thought parents: something that this reviewer, who’d never been whistled round a school with such friendly but single-minded efficiency, or written notes faster, can confirm. Unquenchable sense of purpose the norm. ‘A lot of people had very strong opinions about where they’d be in life in the next five or 10 years time,’ said ex-pupil. (And you can probably assume they aren’t thinking middle rank pootling with safe pension in Basildon.)

But while spreading a little zappiness throughout, school doesn’t ramp it up to mind-blowing levels. Don’t sit exams early – why spoil the pleasure of discovery? Staff lay on homework with a light touch rather than trowel - if not necessary, won’t set.

Curriculum - naturally – is robust. Three sciences from the off, second language added in year 8. Most teaching is mixed ability – maths and languages the exceptions - sometimes adjusted instead for gender balance. For years 10 and 11, formulaic in the sense that these very bright children have only to be shown the way to strings of 9-7 grades at GCSE and it happens (87 per cent in 2019). Norm is 10, school teaching own English lit course to avoid dreary staples. (‘Nobody wants to do Lord of the Flies,’ said mother.) Ditto for art, music, drama, history of art and technology and critical perspectives course. New Middle School Diploma for years 9-11 records co-curricular and skills based learning. By sixth form, IB is natural extension of school’s way of thinking, most pupils revelling in mind-stretching approach that’s been their lot so far. It’s about ‘developing brain muscle so can frame an argument,’ said upper sixth English teacher leading typically lively, interactive lesson. Intellectual weightlifting produced 39 point IB average in 2019.

Maximum class sizes sound large (24 to GCSE, 15 in the sixth form), but average is far lower (16 to age 16, and between eight and 10 in final years), with overall teacher to pupil ratio of one to nine.

Staff team so strong that (unusually) parents and pupils couldn’t name a single weak area (inspection accolades agree). ‘Can go away and think about it,’ offered recent leaver. Stable core of middle management reflected in average staff age of 41, with 55 notching up 10 years plus. Inevitable turnover of younger mob to more senior positions elsewhere (around 10 to headships in recent years). Not an issue, think parents, as quality replacements are lining up to take their places (final year Oxbridge undergrad sitting bolt upright in waiting room on day of visit).

Learning support and SEN

While around 10 per cent of pupils have some form of learning need, it’s mild only for dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome and visual impairment. Only exception is hearing impairment.

The arts and extracurricular

Visitors might find numbers of events and activities almost overwhelming. Not so pupils, busily adding more, from coding to Middle Eastern Society, at a rate of knots. Others enter – and win - high profile competitions, one group snaffling £15,000 prize after developing app for autistic children. Overdoing things isn’t an issue, they say. Can mean hard choices – some pupils (reluctantly) give up drama in the sixth form, and school keeps watchful eye on the ultra-active, though approach, ladling on the encouragement rather than activating the brakes, is distinctly hands off. ‘If you feel you can cope, you probably will,’ says pupil. Latest initiatives are three institutes - teaching and learning, service and entrepreneurship, and higher education and professional insight.

Performing arts impressively housed in The Space, with vast, acoustically advanced theatre that takes staging challenges in stride (pop up orchestra pit for Les Mis a doddle) and umpteen practice rooms for 750 weekly individual lessons. Very talented flourish (conductor Andrew Gourlay is a former pupil) with symphony orchestra, jazz band, gospel choir and song writing groups among many ensembles on offer, though ‘have a go’ spirit sees all abilities from virtuoso to enthusiast rapturously received when they take to the stage.


Lavish facilities the norm. For sporty, substantial outside spaces supplemented by great indoors of Sennocke Centre – just lapping its three tennis courts, pool and giant sports hall probably enough to meet daily exercise requirements. With some international pupils completely new to team sports, hasn’t been high profile area in the past, though recent successes - U14 hockey and U16 netball teams making national finals – could signal a change, achievements recognised by must-read authority, School Sport Magazine. Individual sports generally more popular - sailing especially so. However, numerous parents and pupils testified to star ratings for CCF, available from year 10, khaki-clad mob milling prior to drilling, rugged in tee shirts despite below-zero temperatures on day of visit.


Sensible to book your place early – not easy to change to boarding later on and even sixth formers (house captains excepted) share rooms. Not that pupils mind, enjoying companionship and, according to one sixth former, preferring in any case to study in three-level, attractively nook-filled library, which like Sennocke Centre and practice rooms is open late. ‘Less distraction as you don’t have your stuff round you.’

Cleanliness comes as standard (a spot of stuffiness in one bedroom was nothing that open window or two wouldn’t solve), ditto entertainment (TV/DVD, Sky, snooker or table tennis, wifi) and bulk deliveries of bread, fruit and milk (sensible refrigerated dispensers).

Considerable variation otherwise. Sixth formers have International Centre (boys) and International House (girls). Then there’s gorgeous Johnson’s, one of nine houses for year 9 to upper sixths, all early 20th century Agatha Christie-whodunnit-style fixtures and fittings except from the two new ones. No longer offers boarding to years 7 and 8. Newest boarding house, Aisher, opened in 2019 for 60 middle and upper school boys.

Some non-negotiables. No solo travel to more distant boarding houses regardless of age and, if late, with accompanying teacher. Youngest pupils have phones removed at night to begin with – and at any age if used after lights out (parents predictably thrilled that off this particular hook).

Otherwise, trust and flexibility dominate, from lockers (unlocked) to negotiated later bedtimes for older pupils if vital world events like US election intervene. ‘About compromise,’ says warm houseparent, who teaches ironing and cooking as university preparation, though washing happens, magically, off stage. House rivalry low key to point of invisibility – ‘Children have to compete with the outside world, they don’t need to compete with each other,’ is parent’s take on school’s philosophy.

No them and us between day and boarder, local or international pupils – ‘seamless,’ said pupil, of integration between the two (national groups split up, factions/combatants eg Russia/Ukraine brought together). House events include Valentine’s meal (partners can be blind date, same sex, day or boarding pupils – one boy invited his best friend).

Around three-quarters of sixth form boarders stay on at weekends (it’s half or so in other years). Home clothes allowed though if inappropriate will be ‘sent home at the boarder’s own expense…’ (not a regular occurrence).

Sunday excursions enjoyable if not cutting edge (a liking for Laser Quest definitely useful), but a welcome change from frantic pace of life in the week. School prefers parties for younger pupils when hosted out of school to be alcohol-free – and provides useful hints and tips including checking water bottles for vodka - though sensibly stops short of laying down law (impossible to enforce, we’d have thought).

Ethos and heritage

Given awe-inspiring prospectus – fabulously well written, slightly tongue in cheek self praise in vignette form – school could have work cut out just living up to it. For the most part, succeeds – triumphantly, even if tiny imperfections (like smeary bin in visitors' loo) are the more jarring by comparison. And though it comes with over 500 years of history – was one of the earliest secular school foundations in the country - and literary references in works by everyone from Daniel Defoe to Charlie Higson, isn’t weighed down by it, with plenty of space, physical and philosophical, to let in plenty of fresh thinking and the odd bit of quirkiness.

‘Wonderfully happy location,’ thought pupil. Good for the area, too - Sevenoaks’s biggest employer, owning substantial chunks of the high street (all pupils must use underpass – severe sanctions if they don’t). Waitrose – appropriately – marks the boundary line. Most of 100-acre site, which backs on to Knole House, isn’t visible from the road, though year 7s and 8s initially operate on a smaller scale for registration and break while are finding their way round the school’s: ‘30 buildings, 107 classrooms, 14 sports pitches, 12 lawns, six ponds and thousands of trees.’ Latest additions to bump up the numbers are science and technology and IB global study centres.

Each modern language merits own room off long corridor, the world in miniature, while English scores paved courtyard with baby olive trees and silver birch – a grove in the making – just needs own Muse. In the meantime, plenty of inspiration from works of art dotted around, many by teachers and former pupils. One orange sculpture is featured in nuts and bolts parent handbook, together with similarly toned handbag. Possible reimagining of lost property cupboard? ‘Probably to give sense of scale,’ thought sensible guide.

All well worth a look given that one talented sixth form artist (product of satisfyingly messy art room, complete with artist in residence and pile of larger than life-size clay busts) recently flogged one of own works for £1,000…

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Copers will thrive. ‘You shape up pretty quickly,’ said parent. Big on nurture in year 7 but given pace of life here, in other years best to get with the programme pronto. Plenty of help around. Daily meetings with tutors reckoned to be a good safety net, staff normally quick to respond to parent queries. Counsellor also well used – sometimes making appointments difficult but school is planning more.

Robust but not unkind sanctions for eg alcohol misuse. For drug use, possible that might be allowed back but would have to agree to random testing for remainder of school career.

Commonsense advice issued on everything from pocket money allowance (keep it sensibly low to avoid ‘over-reliance on material goods’ – nice thought, though we can’t help wondering if that boat has already sailed – even recent lower school cake sales raised over £1,000) - to cases of bullying: rare, according to school surveys, but acknowledged to rear head now and again.

School sensibly quotes examples of nastiness: ‘You’ve got no friends, you’re fat/gay…’ and urges telling at all times. One parent agreed that unkindness happens but room to escape the tormentors helps. ‘You can breathe here,’ thought pupil. Minor problems tend to work themselves out, school on the whole reserving its energies for coping with more serious problems - has fair share of mental illness including eating disorders and self-harm. ‘Very on the ball,’ thought mother.

Parents are also expected to behave. Don’t expect leave to remove children in term time without a very good reason (weddings or funerals might just about hack it but little else). And as for taking unilateral decisions to run holiday of lifetime into first few days of term? No way. ‘School holidays are fixed at the absolute maximum consistent with good learning,’ says school. In contrast, an empty school is the goal at exeat weekends though pupils ‘in real need’ can stay.

One parent felt that a bit more approachability ‘would make it a better place for parents and allow better communications.’ Emails felt by several to be a bit too abundant (about 10 a week, more at start of term, thought parent) and hard to prioritise. Rethink is underway, says school.

Pupils and parents

Has always been cosmopolitan, first international pupil arriving in the 18th century. Currently international 175 pupils from Australia to Azerbaijan, Serbia to Singapore, Malaysia to Moldova – greater proportion further up the school, plus 70 expat families. Walls of vast dining hall serving quality food that even Italian tour guide, initially sceptical, was happy to endorse, decorated in a sea of flags representing every pupil nationality.

Sizeable numbers of local-ish families (Kent, Sussex and accessible bits of Surrey plus some Londoners). Can join popular parents’ choir. Friends’ organisation, recent innovation, going great guns with monthly drinks and cultural excursions.

Some parents reckon that small proportion of pupils – Londoners in particular - afflicted by sense of entitlement. Absolutely not, we were told, indignantly. ‘We’re grounded, also there’s so much cultural diversity.’ School’s down-to-earth outreach programme (two pupils diligently sorting stock in local charity shop, medics putting in time at local school for the disabled) doubtless helps.

Money matters

At least five full bursaries at 11+ (may trickle up to year 9 if funds permit), some partial bursaries and offer of temporary support if difficult times strike existing pupils. Scholarships of up to 10 per cent.

The last word

Exhilarating, immersive education that’s ideal for intellectually voracious, organised, go-getting types. Less so for those in search of a more gentle voyage of self-discovery.

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 believes that the community is enriched by its ability to attract a variety of pupils, with varied talents and backgrounds. Being an academically selective school, we aim to attract applicants of high academic ability who are willing to be involved in the wider life of the school. The school is only able to admit those for whom the school’s resources, reasonably adjusted where appropriate, would be able to secure academic success and educational fulfilment. Parents are encouraged informally to discuss the feasibility of their child attending Sevenoaks with the Director of Admissions, the Sixth Form Registrar or the Pastoral Deputy Head. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
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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