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And now for something completely different. How many schools can boast 14 storeys of boarding accommodation and common spaces stacked high over 3 floors of classrooms and accessed via lift? DLD boarders luxuriate in (mainly) en suite single rooms with black out blind, a full wardrobe and loads of storage. ‘Premier’ rooms even have their own kitchens and a wetroom. The boarding common room has a view of the Shard. Forget Travelodge; think Double Tree by Hilton! Floors are separated by...

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What the school says...

DLD College was founded in 1931 and is one of the oldest independent colleges in London. In September 2015 DLD College London entered an exciting new phase of its life when it moved across London to a brand new, purpose built campus in the heart of London overlooking Westminster and the Thames River. Today, DLD College has around 500 students studying GCSE, A level, BTEC, International Foundation Programmes (IFP) or Academic Preparation Course (APC). ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2018, Irfan Latif BSc PGCE FRSA FRSC (40s). Educated at Emanuel School in south London, he went on to study chemistry at King’s College London, where he also did his teacher training. Taught at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Elstree, followed by stints as senior housemaster at Whitgift School, deputy head (academic) at Bedford School, and five years as head of state boarding school Sexey’s in Somerset. Born in Chelsea and raised in Clapham, he clearly relishes being back in the big smoke – it’s an exciting job in an exciting school in an exciting city.

Fond of the expression, ‘London is our classroom!’ During our interview, Irfan (everyone’s on first name terms here) rattled off, ‘We’re taking boarders to Wembley to watch the football tomorrow,’ ‘We’re going to see Hamilton,’ ‘After the Remembrance service we’re heading to the Imperial War Museum,’ ‘Our graduation ceremony [speech day] takes place in Committee Room 14 at the Houses of Parliament,’ ‘The library has a link with the London Library — we can get any book they need!’

The big news is that DLD College London is introducing year 9 in Sept 2023. This is the final step in the college’s transformation from crammer to full-fledged senior school. ‘It’s the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle,' says Irfan, bringing to mind the final infinity stone clicking into place in Thanos’s raised gauntlet.

In his free time, he likes spy novels, camping, trekking (he once led a school trip to Everest base camp) and cooking – ‘I’m a chemist and kitchens are my laboratory!’ Used to play and coach cricket and rugby. Married to a biology teacher and has two young teen daughters at London independent schools.


DLD is the only central London 14-19 college (13-19 from 2023) to offer boarding in the same building – so the demand is global, with 57 nationalities represented. Overseas applicants must have IELTS level 5 English. UK sixth form entrants require at least five 4s at GCSE (including 5+ in maths and English for A level study). Grade 7+ required for maths and sciences if they are to be studied at A level. In some cases, ambition and work ethic can make up for a chequered past. DLD is linked with sister Alpha Plus school, Portland Place, and a few children move up from there. Other day students from up to an hour away. Below sixth form, school report and interview - and for year 9 entrants (from September 2023) applicants do the bespoke online DLD Challenge – covers maths, English, VR and non VR.


Around 5-10 per cent leave after GCSEs. All sixth formers apply for uni although a few may end up choosing a different path. London destinations top the charts – Westminster, City, King's College, Queen Mary, University of the Arts (UAL) and increasingly UCL. A couple to Durham and one each to Imperial, LSE and Oxbridge most years (though none to Oxbridge in 2021). Strengthening links with North American unis, recently UCLA, NYU, Tufts, Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, University of Waterloo and Concordia University, Canada. A few study in Europe – Italy popular lately. No medics in 2021.

Latest results

In 2021, 62 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 56 per cent A*/A at A level (82 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 28 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 26 per cent A*/A at A level (54 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

A levels are still the main dish served here, though starters and side salads abound. Parents we spoke to praised the wide range: ‘DLD offers subjects that most independents don’t,' said a mum referring to media studies, film studies, graphics etc. ‘This is a creative school,’ agrees the principal, ‘but we’re also promoting STEM. It’s important, especially for girls.' We observed intense concentration in the small physics and chemistry lessons we witnessed. Five students did science EPQs in the most recent year, all achieving A*s. Maths strong — all those international students! — and some tackle A level maths in one year. There is also an 18-month A level course. The BTEC Diploma (worth three A levels) is offered in business, creative digital media production and, from September 2023, applied science and computer science. BTEC exams carried on even in the middle of lockdown, one of only a handful of schools in the country not to cancel them.

GCSEs are taught over either one or two years, but most come for the one year programme. Only 15 pupils in year 10 when we visited, so still some way to go before the college can claim to offer a full two-year GCSE experience. Subject choices are slender – film studies and economics, but no foreign languages, music, drama, DT, PE, RS, classics or computing. Some tempting BTEC awards (enterprise, performing arts, sport, and esports), each worth one GCSE, round out the offering (school says, ‘We are not looking to compare ourselves, we are unique and offer what others don’t’).

Year 9 opening in September 2023 – these students will do ‘thematic courses and interdisciplinary learning’ including a unique Urban School Project.

For older teens, DLD has plugged a gap in the market by offering ‘International Foundation Programmes’ — one-year courses which prepare international students for undergraduate study in the UK sans A levels.

Pupils give teachers high marks – ‘They’re so supportive,’ ’They have really interesting backgrounds,' ’They have contacts in the real world and can get business leaders and other interesting people to come talk to us,’ ‘There’s an understanding that this is a stepping stone to university — there’s lots of focus on preparing us for uni applications.’ Class size is kept to a maximum of 16, with most A level classes about 8-12. All are mixed ability.

NB The school gives broad brush exam results rather than details so it’s worth asking for specifics (both numbers taking and results) in your subjects of interest.

Learning support and SEN

Learning support is key in a school that prides itself on welcoming children who may not have previously thrived. College reports that 21 students currently receive support (seems low to us). Conditions include dyslexia, ADHD, autism, social communication difficulties, processing difficulties and health needs such as sickle cell and epilepsy. Can also cope with physical disabilities — lift access and the latest building codes make the site very well equipped indeed. There is even a hoist to enable access the swimming pool. Parents sang the department’s praises and told us the school excelled at arranging accommodations and extra time. All international entrants are timetabled for ‘academic English’ (DLD-speak for EAL) regardless of their level; all are assessed upon arrival.

The arts and extracurricular

The art is spectacular. DLD is a seedbed for aspiring graphic designers, fashionistas, photographers, illustrators, animators. There are two full art studios, a computer suite for graphics and a well appointed photography studio. We saw inspiring, thoughtful art, and a DLD student’s Junior Royal Academy entry was proudly on display when we visited. International foundation courses are offered in fashion management and in art and design.

Drama too is vibey, though the school lacks the facilities to mount full-scale drama productions. That said, there is a soundproofed film and TV studio with sound suite for media production (and drum kit!). We watched students in rapt concentration during a drama lesson in which Romeo and Juliet was being melded with Macbeth. No academic music or music tech, but music lessons and Alexander Technique are provided by visiting teachers, and there are spaces for music practice.

Activities, clubs and meetings run for an hour after the official end of lessons at 4pm. Over 50 on offer, and kids are encouraged to sign up for two including DJ’ing, public speaking, boxing, creative writing, MedSoc and Model UN. In this most urban of schools, we were amazed to find DofE all the way to gold (run by one of the houseparents).


Basement pool, gym and sauna (!) makes it feel more like a conference centre than a boarding school. Gym can be used any time before bedtime curfew. Pool times more restricted to avoid crossover with the uni/adult crowd. Weekly games afternoon for the younger children. Main sports are football and netball (plus some tennis) played at nearby Archbishop’s Park, in the lee of Lambeth Palace. Games fixtures against a few independent schools, as well as nearby Oasis Academy. The very keen can, of course, do sport outside of school on weekends. One parent of a former county team player told us, ‘He’s changed activities. Now he plays table tennis and football and has even started boxing at school. He’s in the play and does photography at lunch. There’s lots on offer.’


And now for something completely different. How many schools can boast 14 storeys of boarding accommodation and common spaces stacked high over three floors of classrooms and accessed via lift? DLD boarders luxuriate in (mainly) en suite single rooms with black out blind, a full wardrobe and loads of storage. ‘Premier’ rooms even have their own kitchens and a wetroom. The boarding common room has a view of the Shard. Forget Travelodge, think Double Tree by Hilton! Floors are separated by sex and age. Nearby Lower Marsh Street offers a local supermarket, coffee shops and street food, so no chance of feeling isolated up in the clouds.

Building owned by Urbanest which runs a clutch of student accommodation in the capital. Half the building houses uni students (only the basement pool and gym are shared). A Berlin Wall is said to operate between the two sides of the building, though sixth formers told us they did sometimes study in quiet areas on the ‘Urbanest’ side. Impressively the accommodation is open the entire academic year barring Christmas. This USP was a godsend for overseas boarders trapped in the UK during the first Covid lockdown. ‘I was running the school from the kitchen table at home,’ remembers the principal. ‘I did an assembly on Christmas morning!’ Boarders we spoke to were gushing with praise (although a few grumbled about traffic jams when almost 200 boarders need to get downstairs for 8.45am registration using two lifts…)

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1931 ‘to provide tuition for the entrance examinations to Oxford and Cambridge universities and to the British Civil Service,' DLD’s days as a retake college are but a distant memory. The College has changed ownership and moved campus several times and now occupies a boldly beautiful, circular office block near Westminster Bridge. Part of the Abbey College group since 2015, its sister colleges are in Manchester and Cambridge. A global sales team recruits for all three – almost all boarders are international. The Abbey DLD Group is owned by the Alpha Plus Group which is in turn owned by Delancey, a real estate investment firm. A homely, family-run school this is not.

As with any modern London office block, entrance to the building is via secure swipe card. Once inside the modern, whitewashed, minimalist decor, with all the latest tech, feels more like a university of the future than a school for teens. The spacious atrium, complete with grand piano and bedecked by flags of the world, sets the stylish tone for the rest of the building and serves as a gathering hub – assemblies and school meetings by day; table tennis and films by night. First and second floor classrooms encircle this central space. The splendid ‘global kitchen’ feels like any trendy London cafe, and we can vouch for the deliciousness of its fare. Opens on to a patio with basketball court, table tennis and seating — delightful to have access to this outdoor space in the heart of London.

Has a ‘Bedales in the City’ feel – at once informal, alternative and purposeful. No uniforms, goes without saying, and teachers go by first names. Several parents used the phrase ‘leap of faith’ regarding their decision to choose it over more traditional sixth form options. ‘But we’re so glad we did,' said the parent of a boy who had been in private schools from the age of 4. Brilliant for fostering independence: ‘Previously he was in a private school bubble. Now he’s on a train into central London on his own — he loves it’. Pupils say the ethos is ‘very chill’. Some parents spoke wistfully of the lack of coffee mornings, class WhatsApp groups, or a hands-on PTA. ‘You can’t really pop in and talk to teachers, not that there’s been a need to,’ added one. ‘I haven’t met any of the international parents,' noted another, ‘nor the head!’ (School points out, ‘Online parents evenings means even more international parents are engaged’.)

All students must now be present for the start of the school day at 8.45am – this is new and drew grumbles from every single pupil and parent we spoke to (‘It’s rush hour with peak fares and pointless if your first lesson isn’t until later in the day’). The principal is aware but sees it as a necessary ‘year of pain’ as the college moves towards becoming a full-blown 13-19 school. ‘Change is hard,' he recounts. ‘When I first arrived, kids were allowed to smoke!’

Former pupils include actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge, novelist Martin Amis, owner of the Evening Standard, The Independent & London Live TV channel Baron Evgeny Lebedev.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Diversity – of nationality, language, religion, race – is deep in the college’s DNA imbuing it with a charmingly idealistic vibe reminiscent of United World Colleges. The principal is the inclusion and diversity lead for the Boarding Schools Association and co-founder of the ISC’s Inclusion & Diversity Group. All the parents we spoke to singled out the international composition of the school as one of its biggest strengths.

Bullying not a problem – this is the place kids flee to after being bullied elsewhere! GCSE pupils can only go out in pairs and must be back in the boarding house by 9.30pm. Sixth formers can stay out until 10.30pm. ‘I had to expel a few kids for drugs when I first got here; now they get it,’ says the principal. Occasional alcohol incidents – ‘They learn from their mistakes.’ Wellbeing centre is based in the heart of the school. There is a school counsellor and a nurse, plus a life coach visits once a week to help students (and staff) with goal-setting. Housemasters/mistresses oversee the academic and pastoral progress of boarding and day children all of whom are members of one of the school’s five houses named after tube lines eg Jubilee and Piccadilly.

Pupils and parents

Around 40 per cent from the UK, 60 per cent international – and no plans for this to change. The international population has been weighted towards the EU and Russia in recent years, and we wonder how the Ukraine invasion has affected numbers (school says: ‘still on track with expectations’). UK students mainly come here from independent schools — who else could afford the fees?

Money matters

Fees for the standard A level course will set back international families around £60,000 per year. British boarders pay less, and day fees are actually lower than some well-known London independents. Ten Alpha Scholarships are awarded each year, to a mix of UK and international applicants, each worth 50 per cent of fees. ‘It’s massive,' one scholar told us. The college is ‘keen to get kids into ‘G5’ unis,’ explained a student. ‘It’s part of the package they’re selling’. The scholarships help achieve this by attracting some very bright buttons indeed. In addition, Alpha Plus funds three 100 per cent bursaries for local children.

The last word

Ladies and gentlemen, may we introduce you to 21st century boarding in the heart of London. This is one of the most unique and exciting schools in Britain: urban, modern, forward-looking and undeniably cool.

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

DLD has two specialist teachers to help students with moderate dyslexia and other learning difficulties. Students with SEMH would require an assessment, other difficulties accepted, pending resources and need.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyslexia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
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 Y
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 Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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