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Tonbridge School: a parents’ guide to Year 9 entry

School guide
Tonbridge School: a parents' guide to Year 9 entry

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Tonbridge School is a leading UK day and boarding school for boys aged 13–18. It was founded in 1553 and occupies a 150-acre site in Tonbridge, Kent, where boys learn and live in a combination of 19th century and contemporary buildings (recent additions to the school site include an exhibition hall and a £20 million science centre). Tonbridge School is one of very few single-sex boarding schools remaining in the UK.

The school’s motto, ‘Only Connect’, was inspired by the words of the former pupil and well-known author E.M. Forster. Tonbridge School aims to encourage creativity, confidence and compassion in its pupils while continuously widening access to ensure that as many boys as possible can benefit from its educational provision. Meanwhile, community and outreach engagement are central to life at Tonbridge; the school has strong partnerships with ten local primary schools in addition to secondary and special schools and charitable organisations across Kent.

Tonbridge School has an outstanding academic reputation and is highly respected both in the UK and internationally. The school offers 26 subjects, all of which have been inspired by the skills identified in The World Economic Forum as having the greatest future value – such as critical thinking, resilience and complex problem-solving. Pupils at Tonbridge consistently achieve some of the best exam results in the country; in 2022, more than 85% of A levels and 97% of GCSEs were A*, A or equivalent.

In 2021, Tonbridge School merged with The New Beacon Prep School, strengthening the connections between the two schools and expanding access to the senior school’s staff and facilities.

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Key information for Tonbridge School

  • Head: Mr James Priory

  • Address: Tonbridge School, High Street, Tonbridge, Kent, TN9 1JP

  • County: Kent

  • Admissions contact: Miss Rachel Hearnden – [email protected], 01732 365555

  • Age range and gender: 13–18, boys only

  • Number of pupils: 800

  • Open day date: mini open mornings for groups of 30–40 on 12th January, 4th February and 23rd February 2023, and main open events on 11th March and 10th June 2023. Register for an event on the school website

  • Overview of selection procedure: ISEB Common Pre-Test and school assessment (for provisional offers of places), school reference and school report

  • Registration closes: April 2023 for entry in 2025 (see more details below)

  • Assessment date: dependent on registration (but usually in Year 6)

Tonbridge School fees and financial assistance

The current termly fees at Tonbridge School are £11,689 for day pupils, and £15,580 for boarding pupils.

Tonbridge School offers Foundation Awards – means-tested financial assistance – to boys who show outstanding academic potential (often supported by musical talent) but whose parents might not be able to afford the school fees. Foundation Awards are awarded in March of Year 6 for entry in Year 9, and can provide up to 100% of fee-remission at Tonbridge in addition to support with the cost of school uniform, a laptop and school trips. Primary school applicants may also receive financial support to attend a prep school for Years 7 and 8. As a guide, boys from families with a pre-tax annual income of less than £70,000 are likely to receive the most financial support.

Further scholarships are awarded to boys in Year 8 (the year before they join Tonbridge School). Scholarships also ensure eligibility for a bursary up to 100% if there is enough financial need:

  • Academic scholarships: 21 awards of £2,000 and one award worth £4,000 (Ainslie Scholarship) for the top candidate

  • Art scholarships: 3 awards of £2,000

  • Design, technology and engineering awards: 3 awards of £2,000

  • Drama scholarships: 3 awards of £2,000

  • Music scholarships: 12 awards of £2,000, plus free tuition on two instruments

  • Music exhibitions: 6 awards of free tuition on two instruments (provided to candidates who come close to scholarship standard)

  • Sport scholarships: £2,000 (referred to as Cowdrey Scholarships)

Tonbridge School offers 10% fee remission to the third son (and any subsequent sons) of the same family attending the school. Boys who live within ten miles of Tonbridge Parish Church and whose parents have limited means may also receive one-third fee-remission through an award known as the Judd Foundationer Status.

Tonbridge School term dates

The term dates at Tonbridge School for 2022–23 are:

  • Autumn term (Michaelmas): 31st August – 14th December 2022

  • Half term: 15th–30th October 2022

  • Spring term (Lent): 4th January – 22nd March 2023

  • Half term: 10th–19th February 2023

  • Summer term: 18th April – 1st July 2023

  • Half term: 26th May – 4th June 2023

The term dates at Tonbridge School for 2023–24 are:

  • Autumn term (Michaelmas): 6th September – 13th December 2023

  • Half term: 21st October – 5th November 2023

  • Spring term (Lent): 8th January – 21st March 2024

  • Half term: 9th–18th February 2024

  • Summer term: 15th April – 6th July 2024

  • Half term: 24th May – 2nd June 2024

Admissions process for Year 9 entry to Tonbridge School

Year 9 is the main entry point to Tonbridge School, with approximately 85 places available for boarders and 65 places for day pupils. Most boys join the school from UK prep schools, but boys from UK primary schools and international schools overseas are also invited to apply. Families usually visit Tonbridge when their son is in Year 4 or 5 to consider whether it would be the right school for their child.

1. Registration

Registration is the first formal stage of the admissions process. Boys who were born between 1st September 2012 and 31st August 2013 can apply for Year 9 entry to Tonbridge School in September 2026.

If you are ready to start your son’s application to Tonbridge, you’ll need to complete the online registration form and pay the £250 registration fee. The main deadline is mid-September 2023 (when your child has just started Year 6) – this is to ensure your child is included in the initial assessment process. Note that if you are interested in applying for a Foundation Award for entry in 2026, you are encouraged to complete your son’s application earlier than the main deadline – ideally in the summer term of 2023.

Once your child has been registered, Tonbridge will request a reference from your child’s current school.

2. ISEB Common Pre-Test & assessment afternoon

The next stage of the admissions process for Tonbridge School is the ISEB Common Pre-Test. You will need to register your son separately for this test via the ISEB website. Your son will only need to take this test once, regardless of how many schools you are applying for. The test is usually taken at your child’s current school or at a registered testing centre and should be completed by 1st December 2023.

If your son’s school doesn’t offer supervision of the ISEB Common Pre-Test, he will be invited to take the test at Tonbridge School in early November 2023. The school assessment will be taken on the same date.

Children who take the ISEB Common Pre-Test at their own school will be invited to take the Tonbridge assessment during the autumn term, either before or after they have taken the ISEB test.

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3. Offers

Unconditional offers

The top 60% of the cohort will receive unconditional offers in January 2024. If your child receives an unconditional offer, you will have until January 2025 (when your child is in Year 7) to accept this.

Boys who are eligible for a Foundation Award (a means-tested bursary) will be invited to return for a shortlist selection day in early February. This will consist of a short interview with a member of staff, and written papers in English and maths. Tonbridge will also request a reference from your son’s current headteacher to support his application.

Provisional offers

If your child receives a provisional offer for Tonbridge School, you will need to accept this January when your son is in Year 7. Candidates who have accepted a provisional offer will then take a second exam in March. This will consist of a short interview and two exam papers:

  • Maths: a one-hour non-calculator paper. This will be set on what the majority of Year 7 pupils will have learnt in maths, including the topics of number, algebra, geometry and processing data. About three quarters of the questions will be based on routine techniques, while the remaining quarter of the paper is designed to stretch candidates with more sophisticated, multi-stage problems.

  • English (writing): a 70-minute paper. Children should spend 25 minutes on Section A (persuasive writing), 25 minutes on Section B (creative writing), and 20 minutes on Section C (summarising a given text).

Approximately 50% of this cohort will then receive an unconditional offer of a place at Tonbridge. If your child is successful, you will need to accept the place by 1st June when your son is in Year 7. This is to ensure that waiting list places can then be released to other candidates.

4. Scholarship assessments

Children who have an unconditional offer to attend Tonbridge School will be invited to apply for a scholarship. Co-curricular scholarship assessments will take place in late January or early February when your son is in Year 8, while Academic scholarship exams will take place in April.

Academic scholarships

Candidates will take a selection of exam papers over the course of three days in April when they are in Year 8. They should take 9 compulsory papers (two English papers, one maths paper, two science papers, one history paper, one geography paper, one French paper and one Latin paper) and at least 2 optional papers (from a list of maths, music, art, divinity, French, Spanish, Greek, Latin and another language – if requested and approved at least six months before the exam). All candidates will also have an informal interview.

Co-curricular scholarships

  • Art: candidates will be asked to prepare an artistic response to a given theme before the assessment (this will form the basis of the interview discussion). In addition to the interview, they will have a set amount of time to complete a practical artistic task.

  • Design, technology and engineering: candidates will need to send a portfolio of their work, demonstrating skills in sketching and graphic, ICT and/or Computer Aided Design, and/or photos of 3D models, to Tonbridge before the assessment day. They will have a 15-minute interview and will complete a design and a practical assignment.

  • Drama: candidates will take part in a practical group workshop and perform two contrasting monologues from published plays. There will be an additional academic assessment including an interview with the head of drama and a written paper. They will also be encouraged to bring a portfolio or scrapbook of their involvement in theatre.

  • Music: candidates should be able to offer a main instrument of Grade 5–6 standard. Boys will perform two contrasting pieces on their first instrument, and another piece on another instrument if offered (or voice). They will also have tests on sight-reading, aural awareness and musical initiative, and a separate written test including theory and an essay question.

  • Sport (Cowdrey): candidates should be able to display sporting excellence and sportsmanship in at least one of rugby, cricket, hockey and football. Candidates must be proposed and recommended by their current head (parents cannot make an independent application). The assessment will consist of individual and team sports games, fitness and leadership events and a short interview with senior staff.

How to prepare for 13 plus entry to Tonbridge School

Entry to Tonbridge School is highly competitive and can take years to complete, from initial consideration to receiving an offer. If your son is applying to Tonbridge, he will be assessed across the Key Stage 2 curriculum and beyond, in addition to having interviews with senior staff at the school.

Exam preparation

All candidates applying to Tonbridge School for Year 9 entry take the ISEB Common Pre-Test. This is an online adaptive exam which takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete. Questions span four subjects:

  • English: 40 minutes available. The content covers reading comprehension and SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar).

  • Maths: 40 minutes available. Pupils are tested on Key Stage 2 maths, which includes number and place value, calculations, fractions, decimals and percentages, measurement, geometry, and statistics.

  • Verbal reasoning: 30 minutes available. Candidates are tested on their logic and comprehension, including problem-solving techniques, trial and error skills, the ability to work logically, the ability to recognise suitable solutions, and knowledge of vocabulary and definitions.

  • Non-verbal reasoning: 36 minutes available. Pupils will be asked to analyse 2D figures and diagrams and look for patterns, and manipulate 3D figures and diagrams to visualise them in different ways.

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Interview preparation

As well as academic tests, many candidates applying for entry to Tonbridge School will have an interview with a member of staff. This is a common practice at independent schools, as it can provide a more holistic insight into your child’s abilities and interests. However, even informal interviews can still be daunting for many 10 and 11-year-olds!

Atom Tuition offers online mock interviews with experienced tutors who are specialists in the private school admissions process. A one-hour session consists of a 30-minute interview, a 10-minute break, 20 minutes of feedback and a follow-up report.

These mock interviews are an ideal opportunity for your child to:

  • Encounter typical private school interview questions

  • Learn and practice techniques that will serve them well in the real interview

  • Develop their conversational skills and storytelling style

  • Demystify the interview process and know what to expect

  • Reduce any anxiety and feel confident for the real interview

One mock interview, including one-to-one feedback and a follow-up report, costs £115 (or book two mock interviews for £200). Book a mock interview today and give your child the benefits of expert guidance and a confidence-building experience.

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