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Not surprisingly, perhaps, given that JCB headquarters is a near neighbour and significant local employer, science is a popular choice at GCSE and A level with large numbers for chemistry,  biology and technology. Sport has always been very strong. Top teams are regularly in regional and national finals, particularly rugby, but parents tell us there is a team and sport for everyone. This is a school that seeks actively to discover what a child is good at and there is a real sense of joy in the achievements of others, whether…

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What the school says...

Denstone College offers a rounded education where proper emphasis is given to academic achievement and high standards are a priority. At the heart of our educational approach is excellence in teaching and learning and pupils across the ability range benefit from fantastic educational facilities and highly qualified staff. In today’s competitive environment, universities and colleges are seeking evidence of intellectual appetite as well as top grades at both GCSE and A level. At Denstone, pupils learn what is needed to perform well in public examinations, but we also aim to inculcate a love of learning which will stay for life. We stretch our pupils, in terms of work ethic and intellectual ambition, helping them to achieve high grades and exceed expectations.
Ours is a rich, varied and stimulating learning environment where extra curricular opportunities and excellence in sport, music and drama abound. Standards are high and we provide close mentoring to ensure our pupils exceed expectations in and outside the classroom. What supports Denstonians in these efforts is an environment which applauds success, very good teaching by subject specialists, and a level of academic and pastoral mentoring that genuinely cherishes the individual.
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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2021, Lotte Tulloch. Previously deputy head at Sedbergh School, where she had also served as a housemistress and English teacher. Educated at Loretto School, Edinburgh, Ms Tulloch studied at the University of North Carolina on a Morehead-Cain scholarship. She returned to the UK for her PGCE and an MBA.

Unashamedly ambitious for the whole school – parents, students, staff alike say she has a very clear direction for everything and it is up, up, up. ‘A breath of fresh air,’ said one parent; another told us she was ‘getting rid of the rather dated, blokey feel’. She can ruffle feathers, we were told, but that is because she believes that for Denstone to reach the stars, there have got to be changes. Not that she started a revolution from day one, but staff say there is a sense of excitement about the future. Pupils say that the sports fixtures are better since she arrived and they love her assemblies. Her dropping into lessons is much appreciated, as is her turning up at a DofE camp. Manages to convey a strong set of values both through her assemblies and general presence around school. ‘She wants us to be determined and hardworking,’ pupils tell us, ‘and be humble when we succeed.’ Quite strict on running a disciplined school, Ms Tulloch has tightened up on expectations and standards. ‘Lovely, but can be scary,’ pupils say. The biggest development she has overseen in her first year has been bringing the prep school on site. This seems to have been very successful, with everyone telling us that it feels as though it has been there for ever.

When she is not fell running and completing marathons (she did the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara in 2018), she is engaged in another passion, music. She plays the bassoon and flute and enjoys choral singing.

Head of the prep since 2021, previously deputy head, is Tracey Davies. Degrees from Manchester (sociology and applied social studies) and Buckingham universities, she has worked in a range of state and independent schools, teaching right across the age range. Like Miss Tulloch, she is very enthusiastic about outdoor life, enjoying cycling and walking.


No academic selection for children who join in reception. Those who join the school later will undergo age-appropriate assessments. Main entry points are reception, 11+, 13+ and 16+. Some years have waiting lists.

To join in sixth form, there’s an assessment day in November before entry the following September. This day has changed a little from previous years and now includes a variety of activities, including a CAT4 assessment.


Virtually all junior school pupils move up to the senior school. Just under 30 per cent leave post-GCSE. From the sixth form, most progress to degree courses at a wide variety of universities. Leeds Beckett, Nottingham Trent, Bath, Liverpool, Sheffield, York and Leeds all popular. Courses range from mainstream academic subjects to drama and design, plus those reflecting the economics of the Midlands: agriculture with farm business management and aviation technology with pilot studies and management. In 2023, one to medical school and one to Oxbridge. Around 15 per cent go on to apprenticeships.

Latest results

In 2023, 42 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 33 per cent A*/A at A level (62 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 47 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 66 per cent A*-B at A level.

Teaching and learning

Relatively broad intake. High value-added scores indicate pupils are making more progress here than they would at other comparable schools. Not surprisingly perhaps, given that JCB headquarters is a near neighbour and significant local employer, science is a popular choice at GCSE and A level with large numbers for chemistry, biology and technology and some solid STEM results. Physics is taught in quite traditional labs and the sixth form lesson we observed had no girls, but we were assured that was just a quirk of this year’s timetable with other science groups being much more mixed. Head is keen to ensure that arts and humanities subjects are encouraged and have parity with STEM. A level results over the last three years show top performers are art, DT, economics, history, politics and Spanish. The school offers a BTEC in sport and EPQs are encouraged for those taking three A levels. Those for whom English is not a first language can take an international English language certificate.

Relocation of the prep has put a focus on the possibilities for a whole-school curriculum now that both schools are on the same site and the timetables of the junior and senior schools are being aligned. Emphasis is on keeping breadth in the curriculum up to 16. Integration of the schools is going smoothly and the physical expansion is also well underway with the completion of a new floor for the prep school that will greatly enhance facilities for creative arts and science as well as a new boarding house for years 5 to year 8. Well-lit, inviting study spaces, particularly the library, encourage pupils in to work independently.

In the sixth form, there is a timetabled LIFE programme for all, aiming to develop skills in leadership and innovations. It includes work on finance, communication skills and economic understanding. Sixth formers tell us it is relevant and enjoyable.

Prep is a ‘wellies and waterproofs’ school, the head tells us, and it certainly makes the most of its lovely surroundings. There are a number of qualified Forest School teachers, a huge outdoor classroom and fun facilities such as a zip wire and a tree house. Pre-prep has its own spaces outdoors. The juniors had just had a willow workshop before we visited and the large construction that resulted will shortly be displayed in the entrance hall, already a vibrant area.

Learning support and SEN

Standardised national tests start at year 2 and individual support is available if appropriate as pupils progress through school. There are dyslexic-specialist teachers and the learning support department offers appropriate help for any one at any time. This is in addition to the ongoing work by classroom teachers where small class sizes allow for a great deal of tailoring of the curriculum to meet individual needs.

Overseas pupils can participate in additional lessons leading to an internationally recognised English Language Certificate.

The arts and extracurricular

As with so much about Denstone, sport and the arts are doing an excellent job, but the school’s reputation for these is not as widely recognised as it should be. In the senior school, all of year 8 are involved in annual plays which the sixth form write. Thus, the drama bug catches them early and it is the school’s boast that the rugby players stay involved in plays and musical performances as they go through the school. An orchestra, annual musicals, rock bands, sax groups and show choirs as well as the chapel choir.

The range of extracurricular opportunities is huge, with over 30 clubs in prep and a similar variety on offer in the senior school. There is timetabled space for these each afternoon. Years 7 and 8 take part in a twice-weekly carousel of activities that include rock climbing, taekwondo, dance and debating.


Sport has always been very strong. Top teams are regularly in regional and national finals, particularly rugby, but parents tell us there is a team and sport for everyone. As well as the major sports of rugby, hockey and cricket for boys and netball, hockey and tennis for girls, there are other opportunities – for example, lacrosse, football, golf, climbing and athletics – as well as a well-equipped gym. One parent said that her un-sporty son had suddenly discovered javelin and is loving it. Some concern expressed by parents over limited opportunities in girls’ sport, particularly in the summer, but these seem to be being addressed. Doubtless the newly appointed (female) director of sport has these matters high on her agenda.

Despite the fact that Denstone has a reputation as a strong rugby school, we got no sense that one sport was more important or valued than others. However, Denstone rugby is steeped in history with a number of former internationals dating back to 1909.


Hybrid day and boarding schools dream of day pupils converting to boarding and Denstone is achieving this. Boarding is being extended down the age range, much to everyone’s delight, and facilities have recently been reorganised to accommodate growth in numbers. There is a vertical girls’ house for those from year 9 to year 13 as well as the boys’ houses and a new (2023) junior co-ed house for ages 7-13. Most of the rooms are university-style singles or doubles, with some spacious rooms for younger pupils accommodating four. Though the corridors are a little institutional in feel, the bedrooms are all delightfully personalised and the common rooms have facilities such as ping-pong. Refurbishment is going on in the existing areas.

Full, weekly, termly (taster), part-time and casual boarding on offer. The weekly option secures a bed which can be used for up to five nights per week. The termly option is a special offer given for day pupils who would like to try boarding for a single term. Part-time boarders stay for two nights per week as agreed with their head of boarding house; with this they become a member of the house and boarding community, whilst also being able to spend the majority of the week at home. Casual boarding is charged per night and is for day pupils who need to stay over for the odd night. Many parents take advantage of this option when a pupil’s evening commitment at school makes the day particularly long.

Boarding numbers vary at the weekends but sport fixtures keep most around on Saturdays and there are plenty of trips available for those who don’t just want to recharge batteries on Sundays.

Ethos and heritage

As you gaze at the college from the long drive leading up from the small village of Denstone, there is a sharp contrast between its austere Victorian Gothic exterior and the green pastures and rolling hills of rural Staffordshire. Sitting in more than 100 acres of grounds, the 19th-century college building is a monument to the unflinching principles of the Woodard founders of 1873. Woodard schools were to be ‘assured, unchanging and victoriously dynamic’ and the Denstone exterior speaks to the ‘assured and unchanging’. Once inside the doors, it is the ‘victoriously dynamic’ that you encounter via the school’s bustling environment. Corridors are wide, there is a lovely sense of space and light, and rooms in the Victorian building, such as the library, have been opened out and furnished in a light, modern style. The chapel is, appropriately, the biggest space in the school. It has the high wooden vaulted ceilings and stained glass that are associated with uplifting experiences and everyone says hymn singing is awesome. Formal Eucharist each Friday evening to which parents are invited on a house-by-house basis. Christian values remain at the school’s core, but are not obtrusive.

This is a school that seeks actively to discover what a child is good at and there is a real sense of joy in the achievements of others whether you are speaking to pupils or parents. Niche interests are nurtured; pupils are encouraged to try things outside their comfort zone and teachers will model this behaviour from time to time by trying something new themselves. Sixth formers mentor younger children and the house system (six houses), with its many sports and cultural inter-house activities, encourages the ages getting to know each other. Focusing on others is promoted through charity work. ‘We want the children to be participants not spectators,’ we were told.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents speak very highly of the pastoral care and say that staff pick up on problems even before parents notice anything is wrong. One told us that when they had to have a sudden operation, the school were wonderfully supportive not only of the child but the family, giving very regular updates on how the child was coping.

Sanctions are clear and well understood and any misbehaviour is dealt with immediately. The head of discipline is described as ‘formidable’ but also nuanced in his approach. Parents tell us that the school genuinely wants young people to learn from their mistakes.

Like many schools, Denstone has reviewed its wellbeing curriculum. As pupils travel through the school, work on consent, gender and sexuality is developed and the school is working to link the PSHE curriculum more between the senior and junior school. Issues around consent are introduced from reception. This is a school which boldly claims a world-leading approach to PSHE and wellbeing. The full-time member of staff who leads this is at the cutting edge of research, speaking at conferences and the co-author of various papers on the topic. PSHE is not an add-on, as you find in some schools, but is integral to the whole curriculum and guides the themes in other areas of school life such as tutorials, assemblies and external speakers.

PSHE pupil ambassadors available to talk with pupils each fortnight. Mental health first-aid courses are offered for sixth formers. Staff tell us pupils are increasingly confident talking about issues around sexual matters and it was pleasing to hear that boys are starting to call each other out over any incidents of inappropriate behaviour.

Pupils and parents

While we noticed a lot of smart cars dropping children off, as with similar schools there is in fact quite a range of parental backgrounds. The surrounding area has neither picture-postcard villages, nor is it particularly wealthy – it’s very much grounded Midlands. JCB’s huge factory complex is nearby, set, like the school, amidst farming country, and families come from both, plus nearby Uttoxeter. A lot of parents here have made a choice they didn’t expect to – they would not be regarded as ‘typical’ independent school parents, but are determined to give their children the opportunities they never had. ‘From the first open day, I attended, I never felt out of my depth.’ Parents are encouraged to be as involved in the school as they can. Regular house socials offer informal opportunities for staff to listen to parents’ wishes and concerns.

Pupils struck us as pleasantly confident. They feel known as individual young people, they have opportunities as they go through the school to take on leadership roles, and they tell us that ‘it is cool to get stuck in’. There is an increasing interest in student voice so there is regular feedback from the pupils about their experiences of all aspects of school life.

Money matters

Relatively good value. Affordability was cited as an attraction compared with other options. Scholarships for sport, academic and artistic excellence come with a bespoke programme around the special talents but no financial discounts. Bursaries are rigorously means tested.

The last word

Though not an ancient institution holding fast to its traditions, Denstone certainly has its history. We found this to be a school that is up and coming and fleet of foot, well prepared to grow organically and showing flexibility in the face of our fast-changing world. It is perhaps typical of Midlands institutions generally in that it tends to downplay its huge strengths, but this is set to change with a new head who is determined to put Denstone’s name on everyone’s lips.

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 learning support department aims to help pupils achieve to the best of their ability in curriculum subjects and to equip them with learning strategies which will benefit them beyond their time at Denstone. It provides help to a range of pupils from first to sixth form and the vast majority of pupils succeed academically up to A Level and continue on to university.

Who came from where

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