Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School



Name: Toby

Secondary school: Tonbridge School, 2009-2014. Day boy.

University destination: University of Cambridge, Natural Sciences (Biological)


  1. What is your first memory starting your school?

Walking down the path towards my day house with my parents. I couldn’t conceal a beaming smile from my face; Tonbridge had a great reputation in the area and it was very exciting to be able to start. Surprisingly, nerves weren’t too high.

I also recall the deep, resonant voice of my tutor saying to us Novi (first year) that it is a ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos at Tonbridge, so I braced myself for what was to come.


  1. What is your best memory from your school?

Very fond memories of the Biology and Religious Studies (RS) lessons. I particularly remember my biology teacher saying ‘Lads, if you ever make your millions, don’t buy me a Ferrari, buy me a forest!’ and also encouraging the hugging of trees at different times of day to appreciate the expansion and contraction of the trunks as more/less water flows up them. The debate-friendly environment of RS lessons was great; there was a diverse set of opinions and no ‘cancel culture-esque’ silencing of subsets of opinions, meaning healthy discussions occurred; topics ranging from whether the Sermon on the Mount was a factual event or narrative device, to abortion and euthanasia!

Also, playing Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’ at the house music competition and coming 4th place in the cras (cross country run) in my final year, having come 186th in 2nd year – good trajectory of improvement, there!!


  1. What is one thing you would like to change about your school?

I would make it co-ed. Life is co-ed, so I think it makes sense to be brought up in an environment that is a true representation of life. School is meant to be about preparing children for adult life, after all!


  1. Any fancy traditions?

Regular chapel service. A compulsory recital of ‘Mad Rush’ by Philip Glass on the organ once per year. Lined paper was called ‘block’. Prefects are called ‘praeposters’ or ‘praes’ for short. Final day of the year was ‘Skinners’ Day’; there was a lot of hype and a lot of horrendously coloured blazers worn!


  1. How was the academic support?

Great. The supply exceeded the demand. Pursuits periods were on Mondays and Fridays and were a 1 hour period where teachers were at their desks and anyone could check in with them to ask questions about topics they were struggling with. If students were on top of work, these could be used to chill and ‘recharge the batteries’ before the final push of lessons until the end of the day. Most teachers were very approachable, so you could ask them at the end of lessons for clarification and the time could be arranged. University and Careers support staff, talks, extension classes; there was great breadth and depth to the support.


  1. Is your school a religious school?

Yes and no. There was some bizarre cognitive dissonance going on. About 4 days per week we’d file into the chapel before lessons and sing hymns and receive a speech, usually by a Christian chaplain, which would often end along the lines of ‘..and this is why God loves you’. But then we’d file off into a rather secular education environment, with the school having a strong STEM competency and many teachers being atheist. So I’d say the school is ‘traditionally religious’ but is, in practice, secular. Despite being an atheist, I actually enjoyed the religious services and hymn singing; it was part of the experience!


  1. What was your favourite co-curricular achievement while at your school?

It would have to be playing that Hendrix song on guitar in house music. We didn’t win, but we got a standing ovation, and it was my first time playing guitar at the school, so it was a nice ‘breakout statement’!


  1. How much emphasis is placed on Oxbridge as a university destination?

A solid amount. Of course, their reputations precede them. At the start of Lower Sixth, there was an Oxbridge talk which about half the year group attended in my year. They are actually very clear to point out that the admissions process is very tough and it may be the first academic hurdle that we may actually fail; they don’t sugar coat it. For those that choose to go for it, they offer personal statement advice, admissions test assistance and a couple of mock interviews (although more help can be obtained for those proactive students who seek it.) Of a year group of 160, about 20-50 may get offers.


  1. Do you keep in touch with the school, now you have left?

Yes! I continued to train at the school gym for many years after and I worked at the school for a summer / Easter holiday job. I also attended an alumni event and occasionally bump into teachers around Tonbridge and have a quick catch-up.


  1. Did you ever have a detention at your school?

Once, for missing the bus to conservation club. I hoped to use it to get ahead with homework, but I was given work to do, instead.


  1. What are the pastoral support options?

Teachers, housemaster, tutor, school counsellor, on-site clinic called ‘the san’. Boarding houses also had matrons and other staff, I believe.


  1. Bonus: If your school were represented as a song, what song would it be and why?

It would have to be a classic song that you can’t really go wrong with. Maybe ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen. Or the hymn ‘Jerusalem’.