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What says..

Friendly and relaxed atmosphere and solid all-round confidence-building credentials. Its idyllic setting and enviable sports and other facilities make it a popular alternative to more academically demanding senior schools in the south east. The socialising that goes on around regular after-school practices and fixtures also tempts even the least sporty to have a go. Foreign students – mostly from Germany and Asia - do not exceed nine per cent of the total and on the whole settle in well, though for some life in rural England is somewhat…

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What the school says...

Pupils have been inspired by the beautiful surroundings of Sutton Valence School since 1576. One of our greatest strengths is the relationship we foster between all of our community: staff, pupils and their families. By maintaining this triangle of communication between the School, the pupil and the parents we are able to achieve so much more for the children and to support them in exceeding their potential.
We offer a broad, challenging curriculum, flexibly delivered to suit the needs of all pupils, which is enriched by an outstanding range of co-curricular activities. The combination of outstanding teaching and consistent effort by our pupils brings enviable results; Top 10% of schools for value added at A Level.
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What the parents say...

My daughter attends this school and has done for three years. I can whole heartedly recommend the school based on our experience. It really feels like she had individual care, attention and support and that's not just on the academic side but all the other things which are equally important (especially to a teenage girl!) I was anxious, like any mother would be, when she first asked to start 'flexi-boarding' but it's proved to be the best thing for her. The hour's travelling at the start and end of the school day (three days a week) which is now saved is spent on her studying - music to my ears!

Commented on 15th Nov 2012

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2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Home Economics: Food at an English Independent School (GCSE Full Course)

Other features

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2009, Mr Bruce Grindlay MA Cantab (organ scholar) MusB FRCO (mid-40s). Came from Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham where he was director of music for eight years. Previously boarding housemaster and head of chapel music at Bedford School. Came in with desire to up the ante on discipline and academics and has succeeded in taking pupils and parents with him. Parents find him calm, personable and articulate, with his nose to the ground and swift to take action when needed. Pupils frequently pop by his office for advice or to tell of an achievement. Expectations are set high and all are challenged to do their best. ‘I’m not slow to remind pupils, or staff for that matter, that termly fees are the cost of a small Caribbean holiday.’ His wife teaches English in the sixth form and is completing a PhD. Two children, one here, the other a chorister at Westminster Abbey Choir School.

Head of prep since January 2017, Claire M Corkran, previously deputy head. Degree in education and RE from Homerton College Cambridge and an MEd in educational management and leadership from the Open University. Has been head of history at JAPS, senior teacher at the British School of Houston and assessment coordinator at Copthorne Prep before joining Sutton Valence in 2010.

Academic matters

In 2016, 91 per cent gained five A*-C grades including English and maths at GCSE (32 per cent A*/A). At A level 67 per cent A*/B and 41 per cent A*/A. Parents bridle slightly at the notion that it’s a school for the less academic. ‘The strong ethos that there’s a lot more to school life than exam results in no way means the bright aren’t stretched.’ The head highlights solid value-added scores; school moved into the top 15 per cent nationally for adding value at A level last year, equating to half to one grade better for each child than initial predictions, per subject. He emphasises that a pupil moving a D to a C is every bit as significant as another getting an A* and that its main focus is on producing confident all-rounders. Small class sizes and a caring, individual approach draw many.

ESL and other learning support staff commended for their kindness, patience and dedication with highly-rated SEN support in lessons and, by arrangement, during extra sessions, at times in place of non-core subjects. ‘Staff always happy to go the extra mile to help my son and, with such a broad intake, he’s never felt different or out of place.’ Popular subjects include geography, maths, business studies, art and design.

A few grumbles that problem areas, either in relation to particular subjects or pupils, come to light slowly, but once issues are identified, most agree action is swift and effective. The e-newsletter, information evenings and other recent initiatives are welcomed. ‘More of the same please. It’s great to now know when and what homework is being set and to be able to get more involved.’

Games, options, the arts

It’s easy to see why sport forms a major part of life at Sutton Valence. Playing fields stretch as far as the eye can see, there’s a track used by Olympic athletes, Astroturf hockey pitch, sports hall and hugely inviting indoor pool. The socialising that goes on around regular after-school practices and fixtures also tempts even the least sporty to have a go. The school fields several teams in hockey, cricket, netball and rugby. Some parents comment that inclusion comes at the expense of developing real excellence and that pupils would benefit from more specialist coaches, but several pupils play at county level and above in hockey, rugby and cricket and the website is brimming with team sport successes. Pupils excel in more unusual endeavours too – roller dance, small bore shooting, ballroom dancing, fly fishing and race walking being just some examples.

So much part of life here are CCF and D of E that there’s no great fanfare when pupils routinely go onto the higher levels, though their contribution to individual development and community spirit is emphasised. With his musical background, the head was always sure to encourage that side of things, though music has long been considered strong. Noticeboards are crammed with news of rehearsals and performances and the schedule of clubs and, along with, we're told, truly excellent drama productions in the plush Baughan Theatre, you're left wondering how pupils, parents and staff fit everything in. Little wonder flexi-boarding is such a popular option.


Around 50 full boarders with twice as many weekly or flexi boarders; around nine per cent from overseas. Lots of space, friendly faces and homely touches. ‘Often think my children would prefer to live there, and on the various occasions when it suits us too the school has always done its best to accommodate,' said one parent.

One of the boarding house matrons in no way resembles the dragon poster she pins on boys’ dorms to remind them to tidy up. Not sure that a dragon would have such a keen interest in every child’s welfare either. Day, full, flexi or occasional boarders, it’s clear staff keep tabs on pupils and do their best to develop a joint approach to overcome homesickness or other issues, most of which are minor. Visits to local preps to put future pupils’ fears at bay are also not unknown.

Background and atmosphere

At the core of a small village in Kent, in beautifully kept grounds, gracious old buildings house pleasant and at times grand communal areas and well-equipped classrooms. On a clear day, though, there’s a danger it’s all overshadowed by the breathtaking view of the Weald to the south. Main site separated by a short distance from the prep school (and junior mixed boarding house). Most staff live on site or nearby. ‘A happy and relaxed local community - what better place for my child to learn and grow?’

Perhaps that accounts for its longevity. It’s one of the country’s oldest established schools, founded by William Lambe in 1576. In 2010 over 1000 attended a ceremony in Westminster Abbey, a fitting location given the school’s strong Christian ethos, to mark the centenary of becoming part of the United Westminster Schools Foundation.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Head has impressive recall of pupil names and goings-on and has got the prefects, parents and pupils almost universally on side in introducing somewhat tougher discipline. Nothing too draconian, ‘tough love’ is its basis. Correct uniform, orderly lunchtime queuing/clearing up and, at the prefects’ initiative, the use of pleases and thank yous are all in hand. Head also sweetened pupils up with a fresh system of rewards to acknowledge even small individual contributions and achievements.

Pupils and parents

Other than real non-conformists, most likely to feel at home here. ‘No one thing defines you. I’m not a bit like my siblings but we’ve all found things to get our teeth into here.’ Pupils are described as nice, normal and confident without arrogance. Many parents both work and are a mix of local businessmen/entrepreneurs, farmers and city workers. Foreign students – mostly from Germany and Asia - do not exceed nine per cent of the total and on the whole settle in well, though for some life in rural England is somewhat of a culture shock. Head would like to see a more vibrant PA but, even though most UK families are based in the south east, he may face an uphill battle as many travel quite a distance to get to the school. This can be an issue, especially in bad weather, and makes flexi and occasional boarding popular options (which younger full-time boarders can find unsettling). The school runs buses and a few sixth formers drive – some in rather flash cars.

Alumni include journalists Robert Fisk and Ben Brown, Ashley Jackson, GB hockey player, opera performer Kathryn Choonara and Sir Rustam Feroze, gynaecologist.


Entry into nursery to year 2 is non-selective. For entry to years 3 to 6, assessment with the director of studies involving reading, spelling, maths and non-verbal reasoning to ascertain the child's academic levels.

Senior school entrants come up from the prep school and an assortment of other local preps and primary schools. At 11 the school sets its own entrance exam. There’s usually a waiting list but a number drop off having secured places at local grammars. Smaller intake at 13 when a CE mark of approximately 55 per cent is required. State school applicants must pass the school’s exam. The 25 or so students entering sixth form from outside need at least five GCSE passes at B grade or above. Most international students come in the sixth form and also sit a language exam.


Some 60 per cent of prep school pupils to the senior school, 30 per cent to local grammar school and rest to other local schools. About 10 per cent leave after GCSEs, most going to local grammars. Almost all sixth formers go on to higher education – popular destinations include Loughborough, Oxford Brookes, Exeter, Bournemouth, Nottingham, Reading and Bath. One medic and one to Oxbridge in 2016.

Money matters

Academic (11+ and 13+), art, DT, music, sports and drama (at 11+, 13+ and 16+) scholarships and the Westminster scholarship (to those obtaining five GCSEs at A*) available. Worth up to a maximum of 20 per cent of either boarding or day fees. Also offers bursaries and reductions for Forces families.

Our view

Friendly and relaxed atmosphere and solid all-round confidence-building credentials. Its idyllic setting and enviable sports and other facilities make it a popular alternative to more academically demanding senior schools in the south east. Can suffer perhaps from being labelled the non-academic alternative. 'That old chestnut,' says one parent. 'Obviously needs to market itself better. Put all your kids there. It's got lots to offer any child.'

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Special Education Needs

The whole staff are accustomed to teaching pupils with mild dyslexia. Support and special lessons are provided as needed by a small Learning Support Department of qualified specialists. Communication between this department and mainstream teaching is good, and it is happily accepted that children sometimes develop an especial confidence in Learning Support Staff.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
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

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