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Caterham School

What says..

It’s ‘learning and teaching’ here: learning comes first. School making pupils think for themselves (shock horror), encouraging ‘productive struggle’. Enrichment dovetails with all of it, pulling out those juicy bits that otherwise fall between the gaps. ‘Wellbeing is foundational – success follows,’ says school, which holds a National Children’s Bureau Wellbeing Award (‘there are 64 criteria: this is real, not glossy PR’). Very uncomplicated approach to inclusivity. Discipline similarly common-sense and modern: ‘Suspension is rehabilitating,’ says school, though they didn’t seem to us to be a particularly naughty bunch. A family-orientated school. ‘It’s a big school in a small valley,’ laughs one mum, ‘so you get to know each other well.'

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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

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2015, Ceri Jones. Educated at a Bradford comprehensive; thence to Cambridge for a degree in history and a football blue. ‘I didn’t get that ‘I’ve got to be a teacher’ thing immediately and probably didn’t appreciate just how much education transformed my life, but I loved history and I loved sport,’ – and we all know where that leads, don’t we? Off to Godolphin and Latymer, Bancroft’s, Caterham (as head of history). Eleven years at Tonbridge, latterly as second master, from where he was seconded to lead the Marsh Academy (a non-selective state academy in Kent). Then the big job at Caterham came up, and he was back for a second stint. Wife still at Tonbridge as head of politics; two daughters in their early 20s.

The son of a minister with a strong sense of vocation. Passionate about social mobility and access. Sitting in Surrey, Bradford peeps through now and then in a ‘bath’ or a ‘path’. Does his own journey drive him? ‘Whatever sector you come from, you come in to make a difference’, he tells us, ‘we all want the lives of children to be better.’

A clear vision and yet not too forceful about it; how refreshing. In fact, we could’ve listened all day as he shared his thoughtful, considered approach, in particular around the role of progress and tech in education: ‘Change brings uncertainty, and children need to feel comfortable with uncertainty.’ ‘AI brings opportunities to transform teaching and teacher workload.’ 'Each moral panic that comes along, we have a considered response to it – we mustn’t portray everything as a precipice.’ Sitting in his welcoming office, tiny cupcakes on the table and a view out over the valley, we couldn’t help thinking that everything would be OK with the world if only there were more people like Mr Jones. Gentle, straight-talking, authentic – sets the tone for children to be the same.

Parents rave: ‘He’s amazing,’ says one mum, ‘though I need to tone it down as my husband’s noticed my mention-itis.’ ‘The thing is, you can like a head but then realise they were just warm words on the open day; Ceri is the real deal.’ ‘His priority is making the experience better for everyone.'

As he approaches the end of his first decade, what’s next? ‘Caterham’s absolutely purring right now, it’s the moment to go to the next level.’ Campus development, curriculum reform, contributing to the national debate. Watch this space.


At 11+ or 13+, ISEB pre-tests, school’s entrance tests, day of ‘fun activities’. 13+ entrants can be assessed in year 6 for deferred entry (nice to have it in the bag); others in years 7 or 8. Places at 13+ are very limited. At 16+, school’s own tests and interview. Wonderfully wacky scholarship offering, including innovation and entrepreneurship, chess, dance alongside standard academic and co-curricular awards.

‘A few years ago, Caterham was looked at as the easier school, but now people turn down more academic options,’ says one parent. Not a fortress, though, and anyway it’s all relative: ‘We moved down from south-west London,’ says another, ‘and any competition is a breeze compared with what you get in Wandsworth.’ Joiners from 40 schools including Caterham Prep.


Durham, Bristol, KCL, LSE, Warwick popular. Growing interest in degree apprenticeships though few actual takers yet. Sixth formers have protected time in which to find out more about pathways, develop their portfolios or practise for auditions. We saw annual university fair, big names coming to sell their wares including Imperial, Bath, Newcastle. Two to Oxbridge and seven to medical school in 2022.

Latest results

In 2022, 90 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 70 per cent A*/A at A level. In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 79 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 62 per cent A*/A at A level (86 per cent A*-B)

Teaching and learning

It’s ‘learning and teaching’ here: learning comes first. School making pupils think for themselves (shock horror), encouraging ‘productive struggle’: ‘We expose them to enquiry, awe, wonder, but we don’t avoid the road bumps.’ Expect your child to experience failure in a safe and constructive context.

Years 7 and 8 follow broad curriculum including two modern languages and Latin. Ancient Greek introduced as an option in year 9. GCSEs include business studies, computer science, music, drama and PE. Psychology, politics, economics added in year 12; everyone starts with four A levels.

‘There’s an academic standard that you need to hit’, says one parent, ‘but nobody is made to feel stupid.’ Partly that’s their focus on neuroplasticity, which suggests that you can get better at anything with the right learning and tools. Year 7s get basic psychology: what is cognitive load theory? Which part of your brain experiences procrastination? How can physiology explain why you’re staring out the window?

Timetabled EDGE (Explore, Develop, Grow, Evolve) curriculum, which runs throughout, is about metacognition, big ideas and problem-solving. Pinches the interesting bits of business and entrepreneurship, iterative design, logic; pupils consider the dangers of GroupThink or how to navigate ChatGPT. An ‘Apple Distinguished School’, pupils receive both written and verbal feedback on their iPads (not for the tech-squeamish). iPads themselves no longer remarkable: ‘it’s not the end of innovation’, says deputy head of, erm, innovation, who continues to engage with exciting new ways of nurturing pupils’ digital skills, soft skills, social skills through EDGE.

Enrichment dovetails with all of it, pulling out those juicy bits that otherwise fall between the gaps. Programmes nurture a passion for learning, ‘Not just in academic scholars, we get plenty of sporty types too,’ even on a Friday after school. Juniors enjoy units of enquiry into medieval medicine or the Roman republic. Intermediate research prize for traditional 2,000-word written submission – shortlisted pupils give live-streamed presentation and Q&A, teachers roping in Oxbridge-professor-friends to ask tricky questions; academic shorts series shortlisted for TES prize during lockdown. Fortnightly Moncrieff-Jones Society has provided ‘platform for students to share their enthusiasm for science’ for 55 years; has its own Christmas lecture and formal sixth form speaker series. Speakers write up their talk for magazine, Quantum Ultimatum, printed on lovely thick paper. As sophisticated an operation as we’ve seen. Caterham’s own Medical Journal (also poshly printed) produced by Wright Society of budding medics, vets and dentists.

Learning support and SEN

SENCo assesses those requiring individual support as they join the school. Very accommodating. ‘It’s not just that she’s tolerated there; they actually celebrate people thinking differently.’ School ‘worked with us to find the best way to support her’. Fidget rings, exit cards, separate rooms for exams – will do their best to organise anything that helps your child to thrive. Focus on neuroscience within EDGE means children less likely to mask: ‘How brilliant is that?’, school says.

EAL department supports students ‘linguistically and culturally’ in small groups or one-to-one.

The arts and extracurricular

Oodles of opportunities from symphony to soul via close harmony, musical theatre, gospel. Around 35 per cent learn an instrument. Always a joy to see a couple of double bassists lurking at the back of a strings group. MAD Live is popular showcase of music and dance; Live Lounge performances more relaxed. Recording studio available, too.

Lively arts offering. Clubs in graphics, textiles and photography. Cat Among the Pigeons, the arts and humanities magazine, a rich collection of literature (optimism in Brontë) and art (punchy pieces involving face-masks, nudes, hamburgers, though not at the same time). One pupil won silver in recent ARTiculation competition, presenting on AI and algorithms in art (v Caterham). Metalwork, woodwork and CAD rooms ensure there’s something for everyone within the visual arts.

You’d be hard-pushed to find a school with more going on beyond the classic offering. On the menu you’ll find e-sports fixtures, flying club, a podcasting booth, Lovelace Coding Club – for girls who are interested in programming – and Lego Mindstorms robotics club, where younger pupils create humanoid robots and shooting scorpions. We were charmed by the inclusion in the speech day catalogue of the year’s best moment according to every pupil in the school. Entries included ‘hitting my first six’; ‘karaoke with my music class’; ‘playing Pointless in assembly’; ‘chicken curry’; ‘being an amazing cow whisperer on D of E’; ‘dissecting a sheep’s brain’; and ‘hanging out with friends at the second-year disco’. They’re pooped by the end of term: It can get overwhelming,’ one parent tells us, ‘when they’ve got winter nets, rugby 7s and a concert all at once.’ School anticipates these clashes and helps pupils prioritise, calling home if they’re worried that someone has too much on their plate.


With 180 acres to play with, it’s no wonder the list of facilities is as long as a lax stick: we’d never come across a school with not one but two gyms (‘standard’ and ‘performance’ – sadly we know where we’d fit in). Major sports are rugby, hockey, cricket for the boys; netball and lacrosse for the girls; tennis and athletics for both. Sports centre undergoing further transformation when we visited and will include a dedicated PE classroom, sports rehab room and a café. Proper sprung floor in the dance studio.

Predominance of girls’ lacrosse ‘made me think twice’ says one mum, ‘because she prefers hockey, but actually it’s been loads of fun learning a new sport together, and everyone’s had a chance in the A team’. Hockey is significant and growing says school; they are current London champions. Parents hope that girls’ cricket is going to grow, particularly now that incoming cohorts from Caterham Prep have played all the way through (RIP rounders).

‘All-encompassing’ approach from the off, with school running as many teams as they can. ‘Obviously the U14Ds don’t get as many fixtures as the A team, but nor do they want them’, says one mum who’s pleased by the lack of ‘that pedestal, A-team, alpha thing.’ Judo, archery, fencing, taekwondo, synchronized swimming available for those less keen on mud and mouthguards.

Team performances vary year to year, as is often the case in a co-ed school where numbers are limited, ‘Put it this way: they make it out of the group rounds and then they lose at some point in the knock-outs,’ one parent tells us. Invite-only Caterham Athlete Programme (CAP) focuses on extra strength and conditioning, nutrition, sports psychology; every member has a mentor monitoring performance and workload. Healthy habits encouraged: sport hear about fitness, not image: ‘Pupils appreciate the need to be strong, not thin,’ school says.


Just under 20 per cent board, of whom 70 per cent are from overseas. Currently full or weekly, though from 2023 school will offer half-weekly boarding (two or three nights a week). Girls in Beech Hanger, nestled behind sports centre a short stroll from senior school; junior boys in Townsend, overlooking sports fields and woodland, whilst seniors are in Viney, within main school building. Table football, consoles, board games galore in houses. ‘Wonderful’ matrons ensure that their charges feel like it’s a home-from-home; tailored wellbeing programme covers all the usual, ‘Including about personal hygiene: who else is going to teach them these things?’

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1811 by one Rev John Townsend to educate the sons of Congregationalist ministers – a niche market, clearly, and the school subsequently opened its doors to laymen (1890) and girls (1995). Started life in Lewisham but made the move to Surrey in 1884 (a well-trodden path), settling happily into a collection of Victorian buildings that stretch along the Harestone Valley.

There’s no missing Caterham’s clear set of values: pastoral care and wellbeing underpin everything; technology and tradition can work effectively together and, indeed, enhance one another; education is about curiosity and critical thinking rather than exam success. How do those big ideas manifest day-to-day?

Classrooms and corridors buzz with productive chatter and pupils seem relaxed. ‘Study buddy’ scheme pairs year 12s with 7s and 8s for weekly meetings. We saw them revising chemistry together, playing Uno, discussing recent censoring of classic Roald Dahl, ‘Sometimes the boys’ll play pop darts, but we do encourage the relationship to be purposeful,' school says.

Staff exceptionally friendly, we found: ‘When we arrived for the open day, we couldn’t believe how nice the guy doing the parking was,’ says one parent who was thus sold before she’d got out of the car. A community-minded school, Caterham founded East Surrey Learning Partnership to facilitate the sharing of expertise and resources between local schools. SaturdayPlus scheme provides extension sessions for primary school children, breaking down preconceptions about selective schools.

Alumnae an interesting bunch (in a good way). Angus Deayton (vintage ‘Have I Got News For You’); Professor Nick Hart (saved Boris Johnson when he had covid); actor Chuk Iwuji (The Split); Stephen Bonarjee, who founded the Today programme; Will Moy, CEO of

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘Wellbeing is foundational – success follows,’ says school, which holds a National Children’s Bureau Wellbeing Award (‘There are 64 criteria: this is real, not glossy PR’). Wellbeing curriculum includes emotional literacy, helping pupils develop ‘nuanced’ understanding of their feelings and empowering them to consider why they are feeling that way. ‘Everyone is tooled up, though of course we do crisis management too’: parents describe ‘fantastic’ counselling. ‘The difference between dropping her at school now and at her prep school is huge – she is so much happier’. ‘In three years, I have never heard of any unkindness’, said another ‘astounded’ mother.

Boarding element means medical centre is proper. Most buildings have lifts and most spaces are thus accessible to those with mobility impairments.

Parents impressed by how proactive the school is: ‘Whenever I’m worried about something, I can email the form tutor and I know he’ll be on the case,’ ‘Her head of year was on the phone to me within a week when she was struggling.’ ‘They noticed his lack of appetite and contacted me about it, how do they do that in a school of 1000 kids?’ Uniform as ‘inclusive as possible’, says school, ‘We’re just allowing pupils to be the humans they want to be.’ Voice for Change are school’s young activists: ‘We let them explore within boundaries.’ Very uncomplicated approach to inclusivity. Discipline similarly common-sense and modern: ‘Suspension is rehabilitating,’ says school, though they didn’t seem to us to be a particularly naughty bunch.

Food ‘really good’ (clever them for having the PA in for an annual lunch, giving parents the chance to tour the kitchens too), though length of the lunch queue a common gripe. ‘We’re practical about food – it’s fuel, they need it.’ Café, open throughout the day, serves hot drinks and snacks to pupils, parents, staff and the occasional reviewer in search of a flat white.

Pupils and parents

Lots local, others from as far as Sevenoaks and Tonbridge (where Caterham competes with the grammars), Horsham, Dorking, Epsom. Significant contingent down from London. Fifteen coach and minibus routes in all compass directions. Do check whether your route is covered by late buses, allowing them to stay for extra-curriculars. No Saturday school, and school days are day-school-length rather than boarding-school-length, but with ‘all the benefits of boarding like amazing pastoral teams, nurses, that sort of thing’, parents say.

A family-orientated school. ‘It’s a big school in a small valley,’ laughs one mum, ‘so you get to know each other well.' Day pupils known to hang out at school on a Saturday, when the whole family can use facilities through sports memberships: ‘We’ll go to the swimming pool, kick around on the Astro, get a sandwich in town.' Otherwise, it’s bowling, sleepovers, perhaps a train up to London. ‘I’m just so pleased they’re not hanging out on Clapham Common with a bottle of Baileys,’ says one relieved ex-Londoner. Relaxed friendships between boys and girls. Naturally some relationships as pupils get older – we enjoyed the Old Cat wedding photos in the magazine – but pupils don’t grow up too fast.

Caterham Connected is school’s answer to LinkedIn – alumnae, parents and friends of the school use it to stay in touch and sort work experience. ‘Lots of lawyers and bankers, as you’d expect,’ say parents; ‘good chunk’ of dads at coffee mornings as well as on the touchline. PA busy and school ‘works really hard to create events, there’s lots you can get involved with’ (but don’t have to). Hilarious lockdown photos in the magazine of quiz nights and caveman fancy dress; recent Fawlty Towers evening was fun (Manuel didn’t mess up any orders, we hear) and upcoming summer ball sold out.

Money matters

Scholarships, awarded for exceptional talent, worth up to 30 per cent fee remission. Transformational bursaries (up to 110 per cent) are means-tested. School works closely with Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation charity, recently hosting their national conference.

The last word

You can tell a lot about a school from its match tea. What’s the spécialité de la maison here? ‘It’s coffee and a bacon sarnie,’ says one parent, ‘nothing fancy, but totally delicious and exactly what everyone’s after.’ That’s Caterham in a nutshell: a school which doesn’t rely on snazzy snacks to impress because its strengths speak for themselves. Dynamic teachers, inspiring leadership, happy teenagers and a whole valley to run around (or fly drones) in; throw in the odd bacon bap and you’ve got exactly what modern parents, and children, are looking for. Spot on.

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

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
English as an additional language (EAL)
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

Who came from where

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