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In the senior school the atmosphere is purposeful and studious. We enter one of 12 fully equipped science labs. ‘Keep calm and love physics’ the sign on the door declares. Inside a lively practical on thermal decomposition is underway. Outside there is a relaxation area overlooking the biology pond full of coy carp. At GCSE girls can take either double or triple science and biology is one of the most popular subjects at the school with over half...

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What the school says...

Tormead is a leading UK independent school for girls.
We are very proud of our school and its ethos of encouraging each individual pupil to develop her talents to the full in a happy, caring and supportive environment. Our academic expectations are high and we value our students’ impressive record of examination successes and university places. We are equally proud of their many other cultural and sporting achievements and their varied contributions to the life of the wider community.

Tormead values individuality, celebrates diversity and encourages girls to be themselves, whilst emphasising equally the

value of tolerance, teamwork and collective responsibility. The academic pace offers stimulus and challenge, but is combined with an excellent range of extra-curricular activities enabling Tormead to offer a broad but balanced, progressive education.

Underpinning this is our wholeheartedly committed pastoral care of the pupils, allowing us to monitor carefully the progress and welfare of every girl. We work closely with parents to enable each girl to leave Tormead at ease with herself and ready to face with confidence the challenges of higher education and beyond.

We believe an important part of preparing our girls for the future is to ensure they are adept with the use of new technologies. To this end, we have embraced tablets into our curriculum with the deployment of a 1:1 iPad scheme for girls in Years 5 to 13. With the opening of our new premises in Autumn 2015, the girls benefit from innovative spaces to think, collaborate and reflect. This, coupled with an enhanced digital infrastructure, delivers an innovative, creative blend of modern technology with high standards of teaching.
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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

Head

Since September 2020, David Boyd. Grew up in Belfast, read theology at Oxford, did a PGCE at Cambridge and a masters in education and technology at UCL. Rose through the teaching ranks pastorally including 11 years at Abingdon School (eight as housemaster) and two establishing a new British International School in Hong Kong. Most recently deputy head pastoral at Latymer Upper School under David Goodhew who he cites as a mentor. Relaxed yet professional and very much at home in his spacious study furnished with leather chesterfields - the sun was beaming through the wall of bay windows during our visit.

Well-liked by pupils who say he is tuned into their needs and opinions. Parents concur he is ‘lovely’. One said, ‘You can’t fault his dedication, he’s been at every event this year.' Staff describe him as progressive and ‘a breath of fresh air’. Still finds time to teach RS - ‘It’s dangerous for head to stay behind a desk,’ he says.

Since taking post as Tormead’s first male head, he has re-branded the school - ‘no-one knew what a T inside a circle stood for,’ he explains. The new logo, a shield enclosing a trio of cowslips, denotes the prep, senior and sixth form elements of the school. The cowslips, (the Surrey county flower) represent new beginnings and symbolise mischief and adventure.

No plans for further big sea changes. ‘I won’t be sitting back, I’ll be adding value but there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bath water,’ he assures us. There is however an ‘exciting vision’ for the school premises and he promises we ‘won’t recognise the site in 10 years’ before deftly moving the conversation on.

Married with one young daughter, who he ‘can’t wait to start at the prep’, he admits to ‘pure escapism’ in his spare time - he enjoys Death in Paradise and is a sucker for a classic film. He starts quoting Casablanca and our time is up!

Head of prep since 2021, Nicki Fry. Studied English and drama at Exeter before embarking on a career in teaching peppered with travel. Then, after 14 years teaching at Tormead, she was perfectly placed to take up the headship when Mr Boyd, after much parental consulation, decided the prep needed its own dedicated head. Both heads work collaboratively to ensure a ‘united all-through experience’. ‘We are two distinct heads sharing one foundation.’ Taking a similarly measured approach to any academic change as her senior counterpart, she has overseen a huge regeneration of the prep site which delighted families returning after lockdown school closures.

Clearly has an eye for interior design, her office wouldn’t be out of place in a glossy homes magazine with its taupe walls and thick pile rug on the polished wooden floor. We sunk into one of the blush pink button-back velvet sofas, our eyes drawn to watercolours of otters and rabbits painted by recent art scholars and alcoved shelves displaying cards from the children. A silver starry tepee, beanbags and a basketful of teddies sit in one corner and a bookshelf of children’s classics stands in the other. Here lives her much coveted ‘sparkly jar of fabulousness’ from which children’s achievements are plucked and celebrated in assembly. ‘She loves glitter!’ one prep girl exclaims. Undoubtedly from the Miss Honey school of heads, she is warm-hearted, with a twinkle in her eye and boundless enthusiasm. There’s a shard of vulnerability too which informs her empathetic approach - ‘ I remember being full of self-doubt as a child, it took me years to build confidence,’ she reveals.
Staff and parents brim with praise. ‘She’s an absolute darling,’ one gushes before adding she is not all saccharine. ‘I’ve heard her dealing with things, she’s firm but fair’. Pupils adore her and appear totally at ease in her company. ‘Her smile makes you smile,’ one told us. Married with one daughter, she lives on the opposite side of the M25 in Kent. ‘I must love this place to do that commute,’ she quips.

Entrance

Main entry points are reception, years 3, 7 and 12 and usually follow a tour of the school and meeting with head. Informal assessments for reception and prep entry. Over-subscribed at reception where there’s just one form entry. From year 2, increases to two classes with up to 24 in a class. Head stands by larger class sizes saying they are ‘livelier’.

The majority just walk across the road to the three/four form senior after ‘unnecessarily stressful’ exams were replaced with robust tracking through upper prep years. ‘Very rare’ for those that wish to stay not to make the grade. For outsiders, there is an activity day, on-line assessments/ 11+ or ISEB common pre-tests and an interview. Occasional places further up the senior school - we hear a number of year 9s jumped ship from a nearby girls’ school post-lockdown. One mother said, ‘We’re thrilled she has been enveloped by the most welcoming group of girls and settled in so smoothly’.

Exit

Much anticipated new sixth form block opens in September 2022. School is hoping ‘cosy acoustic pods, new café and an inviting series of social spaces’ will entice more girls to remain at the school after GCSEs. Currently around a third leave in search of broader study options and co-ed environments. Those that remain do well especially in STEM subjects with girls regularly awarded national Arkwright Engineering scholarships. Ten per cent apply for Oxbridge - one went in 2021. Exeter, Bath and Loughborough also popular.

Latest results

In 2021, 89 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 79 per cent A*/A at A level (91 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 76 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 67 per cent A*/A at A level (87 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Has always attracted families seeking a good all-round school with strong pastoral roots. Now parents tell us they are assured it is ‘academically sound’ too. Could be in part due to the High Performance Learning educational framework school has adopted. This pedagogy-led philosophy empowers all students to perform at an advanced level whatever their ability.

Firm foundations are laid from the off through experimental and individualised learning. A small team of 16 prep teachers are lauded by parents who say, ‘the quality of teaching is incredible’. The early years approach is underpinned with ‘deep care’. Head talks of installing values, manners, aspiration and confidence alongside academic proficiency.

When we visit, reception and year 1 girls are scattered across the dedicated pre-prep block - some are focused on an RE lesson inside, others are drawing and practising their number bonds outside. ‘They can choose what activity takes their fancy,’ the teacher tells us. Later we creep into a year 2 class quietly writing about castles. Spa-like twinkly music plays in the background. There’s more buzz about a year 5 class creating mazes through coding. Tormead is an Apple Distinguished school. Class sets of iPads support learning from reception to year 4 while year 5 pupils upwards use own iPads; by year 7 they are used in most lessons. Cross-curricular approach to STEM subjects is supported with extensive enrichment opportunities. Annual Inquisitor Week, which brings the whole lot together, is ‘so much fun,’ according to pupils.

Breadth of language options with German, French, Latin and Spanish offered through the prep years. Critical thinking is taught from year 1 and evident when we meet with pupils. One year 6 girl politely challenges a question we pose, offering a confident, coherent, and impressive counter point. Watch out Westminster.

In the senior school the atmosphere is purposeful and studious. We enter one of 12 fully equipped science labs. ‘Keep calm and love physics,’ the sign on the door declares. Inside a lively practical on thermal decomposition is underway. Outside there is a relaxation area overlooking the biology pond full of coy carp. At GCSE girls can take either double or triple science and biology is one of the most popular subjects at the school with over half of the sixth form studying it at A-level. The pupils we talk to rave about the teacher who ‘makes it so fun by using relatable emojis’. ‘He dissected a sheep’s head in assembly once,’ adds another over lunch.

Girls choose two out of the three modern languages at year 7 when classics is also introduced. Classical Greek is available at GCSE. There is no requirement to take a humanities subject at GCSE so ‘very creative students who intend on a career in the arts can specialise early on’.

In English texts ranging from Shakespeare plays to Greta Thunberg speeches are studied. School follows the King’s College ‘Let’s Think in English’ programme which develops inference, deduction, and analysis skills. The senior library is vast and during our tour several girls are in here studying independently. A display of ‘Women Who Thought it First’ and ‘Women Who Ruled’ books caught our eye. ‘It’s like heaven for me in here,’ our guide says pointing out the postcard style book reviews girls have plastered over the floor to ceiling windows. ‘Everyone will find their book eventually,’ she enthuses and in here we don’t disagree. Sixth formers act as mentors to younger students listening to them read for half an hour each week.

Minimal homework – school advises a maximum of 20 mins on each piece. ‘There’s more to life than homework,’ points out one girl. Instead, there are independent study sessions and daily subject surgeries where students can catch up or delve deeper into topics. The Beacon Programme extends the academic curriculum offering girls opportunities to undertake challenges, adventures and portfolios on topics of their interest. Parents say their girls are ‘treated like students not children’.

Learning support and SEN

Team of five specialists support 100 girls with mild needs across prep and senior school. Mainly dyslexia or processing issues. Head of department says, ‘We are central to the school and embraced. There’s no shame to needing learning support at Tormead’. Pupils can be referred by teachers, parents or even themselves. After initial assessments, a plan is put into place and as girls get higher up the school they are encouraged to set their own targets. Most receive a weekly half hour lesson with a specialist which parents pay for. Subject teachers help girls use the strategies they learn in class. There’s ‘fluid and ongoing’ contact with parents plus a termly report.

The arts and extracurricular

Not a school for shrinking violets judging by the lower prep rehearsal we stumble upon. Girls are singing their hearts out as if on a West End stage. A year 2 pupil plays the piano effortlessly as quite the jolliest teacher conducts proceedings. It’s a rousing introduction to performing arts at Tormead, which the brochure understates as ‘lively’. From reception there's a host of performance opportunities from class assemblies, nativities and year group plays to the annual house poetry competition. LAMDA is offered across both prep and senior years and Disney sing-along club sits alongside chamber choir, orchestra and jazz band on the co-curricular menu. Dancers can enjoy ballet, street dance or tap, while those with two left feet might prefer art, judo, M-Tech, Lego, coding, Mindstorm robot, minibridge or chess clubs.

In the senior school there’s even more co-curricular choice -from knit 'n' stitch, mosaic and painting and drawing clubs to forensics, genetics, dissection and astronomy. There’s the feminism society, Muslim prayer, Christian Union, debating and past times club, plus yoga, cooking for university and programming. The list goes on. One parent described the choice of after school clubs as ‘insane’.

Curriculum music and drama for years 7-9, soon to move from bi-weekly to weekly. Resplendent in a hoody emblazoned ‘Tormead Drama’ in sparkly silver text, the head of drama is also itching to expand the already impressive roster of annual upper and lower school productions, house drama competitions, lunchtime Glee, drama and technical clubs.

Music department is bolstered with up to 20 peripatetics offering tuition in all manner of instruments to around 300 girls. Singing is ‘big’ here as is jazz. The annual jazz band tours to Europe are ‘the best fun ever’ and their return post pandemic much anticipated. Department admits its biggest challenge is to ‘attract girls when there are so many other opportunities vying for their attention’. To help inspire maybe there are pianos everywhere. We count at least four in random locations on our tour.

Art rooms appear a little sparse with little work on display but there are some striking pieces strategically placed across communal areas particularly.

Sport

Huge department (six full-time and five part-time teachers plus specialist coaches) is headed up by a straight-talking ex-commercial manager for Marks and Spencer, who fell into teaching after helping out with PE at her own children’s school. ‘I was always sports mad and loved imparting skills so decided to get qualified and teach,’ she told us. Has applied athletic rigour to the department, putting programmes in place to track development of every student in every sport. Hockey and netball remain the team sports of choice with school fielding some 26 teams in netball. Cricket on the up and two pupils represented the county in cross country at the last ESAA. In addition, Tormead is the only girls independent school in Guildford to offer rowing. What about those girls who aren’t sporty? ‘We just don’t allow that to happen,’ she asserts. With over 26 different sports on offer we believe her.

Gymnastics is the piece de resistance, and Tormead is arguably the leading school for it in the country. One of only four schools with a fully sprung gym floor, it proudly hosted the ISGA U15s event recently, where it pretty much swept the board.

Facilities on site include a huge multi-sports hall and swish new fitness suite which boasts an array of specialist strength and conditioning equipment, and some of the biggest dumbbells we’ve ever seen at a school. Pupils are currently bused out to the nearby Surrey Sports Park to swim and play on Astro pitches. There’s a palpable sense of frustration across the entire school community that their ambitious plans to develop a shared home sports ground with a local state school have recently been refused by the council. Head models supreme resilience to the decision and is insistent, ‘I will see it through whatever it takes’.

Ethos and heritage

Founded with a handful of pupils in 1905 under the leadership of the ‘enigmatic’ Countess Zola Waloska, school moved across town in 1915 to Tormead House – named because the family that owned it came from Torquay and the house stood in a meadow. Residential streets have since popped up around it. The 10 acre site is a few minutes walk from Guildford town centre. ‘There’s no rolling vistas, it’s an inner city school but all the better for it,’ said one parent.

The entrance hall in the homely prep is welcoming with an open fireplace and magical Peter Pan themed mural winding up the staircase wall. Upstairs classrooms are large, bright and colourful. One is strewn with banners and balloons, and birthday greetings to a teacher scrawled on the whiteboard. There’s a newly refurbished science lab now equipped with gas taps for experiments and a DT room. A small library is visited weekly by all classes except year 6 who choose their library books from the senior school library. Downstairs a small hall opens onto a decent sized playground with a huge wooden climbing trail, an outdoor classroom, a small wild mindfulness garden and some fun astro turfed slopes with rope swings. The reception children have a dedicated play area that’s a cross between Teletubby land and the Science Museum with a warren of tunnels covered in bright green artificial grass. Hand pumped water features provide an introduction to water pressure experiments.

Across the road is the senior school. More contempory in design, it’s a compact campus but facilities don’t fall short. There are fully equipped DT rooms, kitchens and science labs. Ample outside space and rather fancy sports block. A large auditorium with tiered seating and high-tech sound and lighting system plus sizeable music classroom with a central grand piano surrounded by top of the range Apple Macs and numerous smaller practice rooms close by. At the base and heart of the main building is a vast glass topped dining hall. Surrounding it on two levels are spacious well-resourced classrooms off super wide corridors. No chipped paintwork, everything is bright and white - the feel is slick and professional, rather than flash. One parent said, ‘they are constantly spending money on the place’.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral care is top notch. ‘We’ve had the people and systems in place for years but continue to invest heavily rather than rest on our laurels,’ says head. A dedicated team of six comprising school nurse, two in-house counsellors and pupil support officers work out of the school’s central wellbeing hub dealing with matters from friendship fall outs to severe safeguarding issues.

In prep girls tell us they can turn to their form tutors or, for the less forthcoming, there’s the class worry monster where pupils can deposit any concerns. Senior girls said, ‘We feel very connected to teachers, there’s no divide. It’s like they understand what it’s like to be in our shoes’. A mother added, ‘I love that there are simply no dramas.’

Standards of behaviour are high and girls appear to have much pride in their school. Very few sanctions required. A pupil told us there is 'so much to do that we don’t have time to mess around’. Charity work is encouraged in all year groups and sixth formers tell us they love mentoring in local primary schools.

Resilience is steadily developed through the years. Girls in prep are comfortable with making mistakes and head is proud that ‘our girls don’t crumble at an Oxbridge rejection’.

Perhaps due to the town centre location of the school, Tormead is a more ethnically diverse environment than many other independent schools in Surrey. The atmosphere is inclusive. There’s an LGBTQ+ committee and one pupil tells us that ‘lots of girls change their names and identities, people adapt and respect that’. Head has recently introduced a new gender-neutral uniform. ‘We now allow trousers and guess what, the sky hasn’t fallen in,’ he reveals. A recent talk on the legal consequences of drug taking had clearly hit home with the girls we spoke to. ‘There are loads of talks on consent too,’ added one.

Pupils and parents

Parents speak of perils of living in Surrey bubble and while the epicentre is probably not a million miles away, pupils speak of increasing horizon-shifting volunteering with charities such as RISE, Brighton based domestic abuse charity. ‘Every member of the 6th form volunteers locally, at care homes and local schools,’ says school.

There's official blessing to attend climate change strikes and sustainability is a growing issue - water bottles now in use throughout the school, trying to reduce portion sizes at lunch time (kitchen waste here, as elsewhere, is significant).

Girls are authentic, articulate and encouraging of each other. They respect their teachers and want to learn from them. We are impressed with the maturity of prep pupils and the smiley dispositions of the sparky seniors we meet.

Most are local and whilst there is a school bus for those beyond Guildford and its surrounding villages, parents like that older girls can build independence by getting the train or walking to school themselves. They also appreciate the extensive wrap around care – pupils can be on site from 7.30am to 6pm. Active Whats App groups are ‘constantly pinging’ but is ‘immensely helpful if you are running late because everybody helps each other out’.

'All schools spout the “we’re like a family” rubbish, but here it truly is,' said a parent. Two tell us they are going on holiday with other Tormead families this summer. ‘The girls are just gorgeous, they are kind and all look out for each other,’ one says. True to form one prep girl - who we are assured by school is ‘absolutely not rehearsed’ - tells us, ‘We get more than an education here, we get friends, love, encouragement, support and a family for the rest of our lives’.

Money matters

‘Excellent value for money,’ according to parents. School generous with scholarships though they only knock 10 per cent off fees and are reviewed annually. Limited entrance and hardship bursaries also available.

The last word

From the website to the windows (self-shutting) this is a slick school. And beyond the aesthetics it has academic substance and true soul. A warm and welcoming environment with a town centre edge that makes for grounded girls who want to achieve.

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

Tormead is academically selective and its students do very well in public examinations, but the school is particularly proud of the achievements of its dyslexic students, many of whom achieve high examination honours. Two such former students recently obtained Oxbridge firsts. Dyslexic students in both Junior and Senior school are taught in mainstream timetabled lessons, but are also supported by a team of specialist SEN teachers who meet them for weekly sessions. There is some flexibility in offering tailored programmes for students with other special needs such as moderate auditory or visual impairment, diabetes, epilepsy and cystic fibrosis.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
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
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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