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Co-ed really works here. The boys aren’t loutish, and the girls aren’t cliquey. More than anything, they’re just themselves. ‘For me, it’s the most natural environment,’ observes the head. The key note here seems to be approachability. One sixth former thought the best thing about Caterham was ‘the relationship between staff and students – I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re incredibly supportive.' Dual approach to sport: elite athletes go onto the Caterham Programme...

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What the school says...

Our mission statement at Caterham School is 'to provide an education for life in a Christian environment as the finest co-educational school in the country' and we feel ourselves to be firmly on the path to achieving that aim. Excellent A-Level results have positioned us as one of the top co-educational independent schools in the UK. All students progress to university with 85% going to one in the 'top tier'. Caterham School is, however, about much more than just academic excellence. We strive to develop the pupil as a whole person thereby helping to prepare them for life at university and beyond. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Excellent performance by Boys taking Latin at an English Independent School (GCE A level)

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Mr Ceri Jones (40s). Attended Nab Wood Grammar (now the Samuel Lister Academy) in Bradford, which had already turned comprehensive by the time he started, then read history at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge. Went into teaching straightaway because he loved his subject. Began his career at Godolpin & Latymer, then Bancroft’s, then joined Caterham as head of history. Left to take up post as housemaster at Tonbridge, where he stayed for 11 years. During that time he rose to become deputy head, and was seconded to run the Marsh Academy in the Romney Marshes. Returned to Caterham because he liked the quiet confidence of the students – ‘they were all very different, very assured, but not arrogant.’ Married to Kay Moxon, head of politics at Tonbridge, and they have two daughters.

Unlike many heads we meet with similarly glittering credentials (he has a masters in educational leadership), Mr Jones impresses as a very human headteacher with his feet firmly on the ground. With his kindly energy and soft-spoken manner, he is clearly popular with parents. ‘An excellent head, and a very clear and intelligent thinker,’ said one; ‘he is definitely a doer, and we can all see positive changes and improvements.’ ‘We really appreciate that he’s passionate about education being holistic, and not all about academic achievement,’ said another. Manages to fit in some football in his spare time (he played for Cambridge), still teaches A level history. Runs the Accelerate and Access Foundation, a charity which helps bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the south east.

Has no wish to change the ethos and values of the school, but is a skilled moderniser – he introduced the policy of issuing all Caterham students with iPads.

Academic matters

Impressive. In 2016 nearly 79 per cent A*/A at GCSE, and at A level 85 per cent A*/B and 57 percent A*/A, putting it comfortably in the top 100 independent schools in the country.

Class sizes in first three years around 20-24, dropping to 15-20 for GCSE teaching and usually 8-12 for sixth form. Broad curriculum, with core subjects supplemented by Latin, philosophy & theology, computer science, 3D design, all the usual creative arts, and a good modern languages offering: French, German, Spanish, and, from year 9, Italian.

We particularly liked the Davey Building, home to the science departments, which had a real buzz about it. A biology teacher clad in brilliant pink lab coat and blue trainers saluted us with great good cheer, thoughtfully cradling the departmental mascot, Buffy the bearded dragon, as jazz drifted out overhead. The skeletons in the labs wore Jack Sparrow headscarves, and it really did seem refreshingly unstuffy.

Lessons universally praised as lively and interactive. ‘My daughter has been inspired by the teachers' love of their subjects,’ wrote a mother. ‘The teaching standard is of the highest quality at Caterham,’ wrote another; ‘our son has blossomed in all subjects, making his choices for GCSEs even harder.’

The key note here seems to be approachability. One sixth former thought the best thing about Caterham was ‘the relationship between staff and students – I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re incredibly supportive and happy to give up their free time.’ School introduced iPads for all its students in 2015, and is formally accredited as an Apple Distinguished School. Parents approve. ‘The iPad use for school communication for the children is excellent, both for homework and for keeping in touch with what is going on in school,’ observed one parent. ‘I was sceptical at first, but have been proven wrong,’ a father was happy to admit. ‘I’ve seen how it allows the students to embrace technology as a great medium for learning.’

Full-time SENCo (here called the assistant director of learning and teaching), aided by two teaching assistants, offers support to the 15 per cent or so of pupils who need it – dyslexia, processing difficulties, the occasional high-functioning autistic student - mostly in a classroom setting. ‘There is one-to-one support, but it’s not the bulk of what we do. Otherwise I’d become a crutch, and we want them to be independent,’ commented the SENCo, whose office was decorated with reassuring posters of celebrities with SEN – Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham and the like. This is an academically selective school, however, and they were keen to stress that it’s unlikely to be suitable for pupils with more than mild difficulties.

Games, options, the arts

Strong on all fronts, and superbly well-resourced: almost the first thing visitors see as they approach the school is what impresses as a Wembley-sized brand new Astroturf. Dual approach to sport: elite athletes go onto the Caterham Programme, where top-class coaching pushes them to their limits. But everyone is encouraged to have a go, and the school works to ensure that no one is left out. Rugby, hockey and cricket are the main sports for the boys, lacrosse, netball and tennis for the girls, and school has invested heavily in the coaching and facilities for these. It struck us as a rather traditional delineation, but the girls we spoke to liked it, praising the ‘community feel’ of lacrosse - something we couldn’t remember about the game, frankly, so it’s good that times change. There’s also sixth form girls’ rugby, synchronised swimming in the school’s own magnificent pool, and a myriad of other exciting things to try, from horse-riding (the school has its own equestrian team) to judo, archery, golf, fencing – etc. Splendid sports hall the size of an aircraft hanger is open to the public, and the English hockey regional training team uses the facilities here. The Wildcats Adventure area, a woodland paradise of treehouses, ropes and zipwires, looked like every child’s dream.

Performing arts has its own thriving centre. Drama has upped its game, with the opening of a new dedicated studio theatre in 2016 supported by full-time theatre technician - who also runs the Humphries Theatre, the large multi-purpose space across the foyer - with a strong team of tech enthusiasts drawn from the students. Annual shows for both senior and lower school pupils - ‘I don’t think I can count the number of things I’ve done in the drama department!’ beamed a stage-struck sixth former. Recent productions include Grease, Les Misérables and Our Day Out. Lots of other things going on, including a trip to Edinburgh in summer 2017. Fabulous new air-conditioned dance studio – ‘Dance is big here,’ confirmed a male student, who praised the way the school encouraged both boys and girls to get involved. Annual MADLive dance performance showcases the students’ achievements. Music department is lively and busy: orchestras, ensembles, concerts, choirs, and lessons on almost any instrument you can think of.

As you’d expect, visual arts are well-resourced, and we liked the textiles area – a pleasure to see sewing machines in a school in this day and age. However, the work on display, whilst stylish, didn’t strike us as particularly inspired or visionary – perhaps there just isn’t much creative angst at this down-to-earth, affluent school - and it’s probably no coincidence that the only negative feedback we received concerned this part of the school’s provision: ‘I would pick out art as an area of weakness,’ wrote one parent, bluntly.

D of E and CCF are flourishing, and there are dozens of extracurricular societies catering for every taste. Of particular note is the Innovations Centre, where pupils can play and experiment with all things digital and robotic, and home also to the film club, where pupils have access to their own Green Screen room and Mac editing suite for creating special effects.

Boarders

We thought the boarding pretty special. Houses are comfortable, spotlessly clean, light, modern in feel and attractive. In addition to everything you’d expect, girls’ boarding house boasts a beautiful dining room with oak panelling and a rather lovely Positive Message Tree in the corner, which could have been tacky but simply wasn’t. The boys are housed in equal comfort, and are about to get their own kitchen. Bedrooms are for four or two students in the lower years, then single rooms for lower sixth formers and single with ensuite for those in their final years. Good number of live-in staff, and a team of matrons are on site from 7.30am until 10pm.

Nearly 90 per cent are full boarders, mostly international students who do the IELTS (English language learning) programme on Saturdays. Weekly boarding introduced in 2016, and is attracting UK families – numbers small at present, but school hopes to grow them. However, now offers boarding from year 9 only (previously from year 7). Lots of trips and things to do – and a nice leisurely 10am breakfast on Sundays. The boarders we met struck us as a thoroughly happy and well-adjusted lot, and, as a student confirmed, ‘the boarder and day pupil relationship is really good.’

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1811 to provide a boarding education for the sons of Congregational Ministers – William Wilberforce was one of the school’s first governors. Moved to its present lovely site in the wooded Surrey North Downs in 1884. Even then the school was a forward-looking place. The main building, a beautiful late Victorian red-brick and terracotta affair, was the height of modernity for its time, with the heating being provided by circulating warm air through the Hare Stone Tower, now long gone. The school maintains its links with the United Reform Church – bursaries are available for children of URC clergy – but now describes itself as ‘multi-faith’ and welcomes children of all faiths and of none.

Lots of new buildings, all of them practical and most of them tasteful, and astonishingly well-equipped and extensive outdoor areas – playing fields, woods, bridle path, you name it. With 200 acres to play with, space is not an issue, and the students move about with an air of confident purpose, smartly dressed in their businesslike uniform. Co-ed really works here. The boys aren’t loutish, and the girls aren’t cliquey. More than anything, they’re just themselves. ‘For me, it’s the most natural environment,’ observes the head, and everyone we spoke to agreed. Students work hard, but are encouraged to play hard too and take advantage of the many opportunities on offer. ‘Both my children find the school environment positive,’ wrote a mother, ‘and it’s been a place where we’ve seen them develop. We cannot ask more from a school as we watch our children grow into young adults.’

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Universally praised for being a caring place that nurtures the whole child, and this is shown in lots of small ways rather than anything obvious. One such that impressed us was that boarding house prefects are there simply to support the younger students, not to discipline them – the house staff do the latter, so relationships between older and younger pupils remain friendly. Students appear confident without being arrogant, ready to have a go at anything, and really did come across as keen to serve the wider community. Behaviour throughout is lively but courteous.

Across the school, the words that kept coming up were ‘approachable’ and ‘welcoming’. ‘An unstuffy, happy school where the children do really well without being highly pressurised,’ was one parent’s verdict. Another wrote, ‘There have been a couple of occasions when our circumstances have meant that the children needed some extra care and I found the school and staff incredibly helpful, and very swift and ready to offer and provide sensitive and genuine care for them.’

Form the top down, the school seems to have got the work-life balance right, and the result is a sane and kindly place where people have room to look about them. ‘The school leadership at all levels seems genuinely to be on the watch for pupils in need of support and then deliver this in a sympathetic manner,’ wrote a parent. A member of staff commented, ‘People are nice to each other, because we’re given the time to be nice to each other. We’re valued by both leadership and parents. It’s busy here, but we’re not pushed to the limit.’

Pupils and parents

Parents are a grounded lot, mostly dual-income and working hard to give their children a Caterham education. Supportive of the school, and very much involved, turning out in great numbers for sporting fixtures and other school events. School works hard to include them, running a lively programme of talks – Revise Like A Champion was aimed at parents wanting to help their children - and putting at their disposal an amazing hospitality suite complete with terrace overlooking the playing fields. Pupils are level-headed, proud of their school, very happy to be here.

Entrance

Around 90 places at year 7, a third of which go to children coming up from the junior school. Others come from a range of local schools, both state and independent: The Hawthorns, Hazelwood, Oakhyrst Grange, St Mary’s C of E Junior School, Sevenoaks Prep, New Beacon School, Copthorne School, etc. Fifty additional places in year 9 to pupils coming from preps, either via year 6 deferred entry or standard year 8 route. Some additional places available in the sixth form, but almost everyone stays on, and, very commendably, the school doesn’t weed out: the threshold of six Bs at GCSE (or numerical equivalents) is ‘a discussion point, not an ultimatum’.

Exit

A very small number after GCSEs, mostly for financial reasons. After A levels, the overwhelming majority to university, with over 80 per cent getting into their first choice; 14 to Oxbridge in 2016. A Study Abroad evening was recently offered for students looking to go overseas (including the USA). Vocational courses also becoming increasingly popular, and the head is currently in discussion with at least one high-profile financial company about apprenticeships.

Money matters

About a third of pupils on some form of financial assistance. Bursaries of up to 100 per cent available for pupils from low income families. Academic scholarships at 11+, 13+ and 16+ can be worth up to 50 per cent of fees. Broad range of 25 per cent scholarships offered in specific areas: sport, music, drama, science, art and design, all rounder and boarding.

Our view

A traditional yet innovative school offering all that’s best in modern independent education, both day and boarding, without putting its students through the mill. ‘Caterham’s one of the best schools in the country already,’ the head told us proudly at our meeting. We’re inclined to agree.

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Special Education Needs

Caterham School is a high achieving, academic school from which most pupils go on to the universities of their first choice. Pupils with mild Specific Learning Difficulties are catered for individually by qualified specialist staff. The SEN provision we provide depends on a pupil’s Specific Learning Difficulty having been formally diagnosed; it ranges from 1:1 support to group support within the classroom. All subject staff are kept informed and up to date with effective learning and teaching strategies and are skilled at coping with pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties. Nov 09.

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 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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