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Excellence, endeavour and discipline are the buzzwords of the Sutton Valence sports department and everyone expected to aim for their personal best. The top 30 per cent can be stretched and achieve A* and A grades, for others a C is a brilliant achievement. The school is small enough for everyone to know everyone else...

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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...

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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

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

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2009, Bruce Grindlay MA (Cantab) MusB FRCO (50ish). His family emigrated to Canada when he was 14 and he returned to England to take up an organ scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He started his teaching career at Bedford School, where he was head of chapel music and housemaster, before taking up the post of director of music at Christ’s Hospital in 2001. He is married to Elizabeth (Lilla), whom he met at Cambridge. She has a PhD in English from UCL, where she lectures, teaches some A level English and is in charge of the academic scholars. They have two children at the school, one of whom has been offered a place at Oxford.

They live in a house in the grounds, go to the theatre and opera whenever they can, and spend the holidays at their cottage on the north Norfolk coast or sailing in Cephalonia. Mr Grindlay is a keen cook and a Freeman of The Worshipful Company of Cooks (he doesn’t like to do things by halves), and is never happier than when cooking a big dinner party. He also cooks the Christmas dinner for the 100 or so support staff at the school. Rumour has it that he is also rather good at golf. He is tall and immaculately dressed and is ‘good looking and lovely,’ say several mothers; ‘he sets the bar high but he doesn’t frighten you with his intelligence – if anyone comes to see him with a problem, he always looks into it.’

He describes the school as ‘a community where individuality is cherished and where pupils have the opportunity to make better versions of themselves’. ‘Education is about improving outcomes – all have different starting points but it is the length of the journey they travel that matters – the community is the most important thing and all bring something to the table’. ‘A brilliant headmaster,’ said a pupil. ‘You see him every day and he always says hello and is easy to talk to.’ He has tightened up all areas of the school and it has grown by 20 per cent since he arrived and now operates a waiting list.

Academic matters

Twenty-seven per cent A*/A at A level in 2018, and 40 per cent of GCSEs A*-A/9-7. Some 25 subjects offered at A level with geography and business studies being the most popular. A wide range to suit different abilities including economics, psychology, media and film studies, sport and photography and can also offer Chinese and Russian. EPQ available. As well as the usual subjects, the school offers media studies, computing, photography, drama and sport at GCSE.

Impressive value added – something that the headmaster is particularly proud of. The improved results are partly due to pupils being made to realise they can do it and keeping them engaged. The top 30 per cent can be stretched and achieve A* and A grades, for others a C is a brilliant achievement – staff know the pupils well and so know what they should be aiming for; attainment and effort levels are reviewed half termly. Class sizes up to 18 in the junior years and as few as four in some A level classes.

The headmaster takes on one new young teacher each year for on the job training: they bring academic passion and energy and reinvigorate the staff room.

CV writing and interview skills part of the curriculum from age 11. Annual careers convention in lower years and all year 11s have individual interviews about their career aspirations – the head librarian has a masters in careers education. Plenty of help with UCAS forms - sixth formers attend a higher education convention at the University of Kent, lectures are offered on degree subject choices and extra support available for prospective vets and medics. The few not going to university are given help with job applications and interview technique.

Full time SENCo plus two full and two part-time teachers. Pupils either given in class support or withdrawn from lessons for small group or individual tuition and are helped to develop their own learning styles and coping strategies. About 190 on the register for concern but not many need extra help. All juniors take part in a study skills programme and all are offered help with stress, resilience and exam technique. About 40 need help with EAL and have 2-3 lessons a week instead of languages, unless close to native fluency, and can take an IGCSE in ESL and IELTS for entry to British universities.

Numerous opportunities for academic enrichment; the school has close links with the local section of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Debating and public speaking are particular strengths, pupils can take part in the Model UN, take courses in financial services and personal effectiveness and leadership, and join the philosophy club.

Games, options, the arts

Excellence, endeavour and discipline are the buzzwords of the Sutton Valence sports department and everyone expected to aim for their personal best. Some join the talented athletes' programme, others play for the fun and the exercise. Sport for all in major and minor sports and about two-thirds play in weekend matches. Higher up the school sport isn't compulsory but must take some form of exercise. Dance, aerobics and badminton popular among the less team minded. Pupils also encouraged to train as umpires and coaches. The school also has an equestrian team but you have to provide your own horse and transport.

All do bronze DofE in year 9 and about a quarter achieve gold before they leave. CCF is part of the curriculum in year 9 – all three services but army by far the most popular; can learn to fly in the RAF and take a BTec in leadership as part of the course, and the shooting team does well at Bisley. About 10 per year take part in the Young Enterprise scheme.

Not surprisingly, given the headmaster’s musical talents, music has gone from strength to strength. About 200 learn an instrument and there are a number of formal and informal concerts. The chapel choir is a central part of the school community and has sung evensong at Canterbury, Cologne and Winchester cathedrals and performed at the Pantheon and St Peter’s in Rome, and top singers can attend a masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music. Large variety of musical groups including the chamber orchestra and string ensembles and quartets, several pupil-run rock groups and there is a suite of computers for composition. The band has accompanied Jools Holland, toured Paris and Disneyland and played in concerts with the Gurkhas and several pupils are in the Kent county youth orchestra.

Drama at GCSE and theatre studies at A level, and several achieve gold in the LAMDA exams each year. A junior and a senior play each year – either a big musical or something more serious.

Art housed in a beautiful old church in the village. Everyone introduced to a range of different styles when they arrive and ‘you are given the freedom to create what you want in DT,’ say the pupils.

Numerous trips and visits throughout the year have included sports tours to South Africa and Canada, a camping and trekking expedition to Morocco, a ski trip to Italy and a visit to the Neeja Modi School in Jaipur, Rajasthan as well as CCF trips to Belize, Brunei and Malaysia and DofE expeditions.

Boarders

Boarding for three or four nights a week is popular and a godsend to working parents. ‘You always have the same bed and can change nights,’ said a pupil. Four boarding houses: junior boys and girls live in a large residential house a few minutes away and are housed in five small dorms, all with ensuite bathrooms, and there's a small five-a-side football pitch. ‘It‘s like a large family,' said a pupil – 'we all eat supper together in the kitchen and then have to do supervised prep before free time’.

Two senior boys’ boarding houses of about 55 each and a girls’ house of 44. Younger pupils share, whilst upper sixth have their own study bedrooms and all can use the school’s facilities at evenings and weekends. The girls’ house is below the main teaching blocks and must have one of the best views in Kent.

Saturday morning lessons and afternoon sport for all, and movie nights, pizza evenings and kitchen cook ups are organised for the full boarders. All houses have a houseparent and a team of tutors and house prefects and new arrivals are teamed up with a buddy so there is always someone to talk to and ‘matron is like a second mum,’ said one girl.

Background and atmosphere

The school was founded by William Lambe, a London clothworker, in 1576 and the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers ran it until 1910, when it was transferred to the Westminster School Foundation (which also includes Queen Anne’s Caversham, Grey Coats, Emmanuel and Westminster City School). Girls were admitted in 1983 and it is now fully co-ed. They have recently opened a prep school in China.

Built into the hill just above the village of Sutton Valence and with wonderful views over the Weald of Kent, the Virginia creeper clad main buildings, including a lead clock tower, dominate the skyline. Surrounded by immaculate lawns and flower beds and the acres of playing fields stretch out on top of the hill – it can be pretty windy watching winter matches. The Lambe’s library, formerly the school dining hall, contains 11,000 books ranging from first editions to kindles and DVDs. Four day houses alongside the boarding houses, and the co-ed junior house for years 7 and 8 where children can find their feet before moving into the senior school at 13+.

House based charity work is overseen by the chaplain. The school has close links with Maidstone’s Gurkha community and raised £60,000 to rebuild a school in Nepal flattened by an earthquake.

Strong sense of community with whole school chapel service every Monday and a weekly headmaster’s assembly where sports results are read out and achievements celebrated. Leadership opportunities in all year groups and younger pupils take part in a leadership course and help out in prep school and in village community projects, whilst lower sixth take part in a community service programme. Positions of responsibility are keenly fought over and lower sixth have to write a letter of application for prefect positions and are interviewed by the headmaster. The prefects wear gowns and the Sutton Valence Blue – a dark blue gown - is awarded to those who make a major contribution to school life.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The school is small enough for everyone to know everyone else and prides itself on picking up any problems quickly. Each house has a houseparent and house-based tutor groups which meet daily. These are arranged vertically so that year groups get to know each other and sixth formers can act as mentors and role models, and tutors are the first point of contact for parents. Needle sharp inter-house competitions, plays and quizzes, as well as celebrations, generate house loyalty.

Zero tolerance on drugs and pupils sometimes put on a contract (including random testing) if drug use suspected outside school. Vaping not allowed. School promotes the philosophy of growth mindset which encourages pupils to believe that they do not have a fixed ability and therefore create glass ceilings for themselves, but that with perseverance and encouragement they can improve. ‘Once confidence comes, children achieve more than they ever thought they could,’ says the headmaster.

School is very aware of mental health issues and pupils can talk to the two counsellors or the school chaplain, who is kind and down to earth, and school has set up a new mental health strategy ‘can I have 10 (minutes)’. Pupils can choose a member of staff they feel comfortable with and talk to them at any time. The usual cyber problems – social media issues generally happen outside school but parents are given guidance on how to manage them.

Pupils and parents

A 60:40 boy girl ratio - would like to be 50:50 but lose a lot of girls to the single sex grammars. A stable nine per cent from abroad. Others from a 20 mile radius including a number of Gurkhas. A network of school buses brings children from Ashford, Hurst Green, Hawkhurst, Kings Hill, Sevenoaks, Tenterden and the edge of Tunbridge Wells.

Eclectic bunch of parents – lots of City workers and entrepreneurs, first time buyers and local farmers – generally down to earth, hard-working types. Some struggle to pay the fees and others are very rich – it is not unknown for a pupil to be given a sports car for their 18th birthday. The headmaster describes the pupils as ‘charmingly confident but not arrogant, self-disciplined with a desire to please,’ and his prefects as a ‘ministry of talents’.

A very sociable school with an active PTA and ‘there always seems to be something going on – which is great if you have just moved to the area’, said a parent. Busy Old Suttonian Society with 4,500 members worldwide who hold regular reunions and an annual dinner, and offer advice and mentoring to current pupils. Well known Old Suttonians include: journalist Robert Fisk; GB hockey player and gold medal winner at Rio 2016 Susannah Townsend; BBC journalist Ben Brown; England cricketer Mark Benson; actor Peter Polycarpou; and painter Terence Cuneo.

Entrance

Main entry points are 11+, 13+ and sixth form but will take pupils into other years if there are spaces. For 11+ tests in English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Children at prep schools are expected to take common entrance; others, including those from abroad, can take school’s own tests. New sixth formers will need a minimum of five GCSEs at grade 6 plus an interview. Foreign students have to pass an English exam. The school is on the radar of heads of local preps eg Wellesley House, St Ronan’s, Marlborough House, Dulwich Prep, St Michael’s Otford, Sevenoaks Prep and the New Beacon

Exit

Most sixth formers go on to higher education to study a huge range of courses. Bournemouth, Bristol, Exeter, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford Brookes and UWE currently popular; others to Glion, Switzerland (hotel management), Bocconi University, Italy (economics) and University of Delft (aerospace engineering). About 20 per cent leaves after GCSEs either to go to state schools or because they are not A level types and want to take BTecs and NVQs elsewhere.

Money matters

Academic, music, drama, art, sport and DT scholarships – those who do well in the entrance tests are invited to sit the scholarship exams and prep schools can put pupils forward for 13+ scholarship. The Westminster Scholarship available for sixth form. Bursaries are at the discretion of the headmaster and can be applied for via the bursary committee.

Our view

Now very much a first choice school which has grown in size and reputation under its inspirational headmaster. Can accommodate a wide range of abilities from the very bright to the less so and all are tolerant of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. ‘It embraces all types’, said a mother, 'and you can try everything, don’t have to be pigeonholed and the school is determined not to be a sausage factory.’

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 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
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 Y
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

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