A boy's House is very much the focus of his daily life, and provides a community within the school to which he relates particularly closely. Although each House has its individual character, there is an even spread of abilities and talents throughout the Houses, and boys in any one House represent a fair cross-section of the whole school.
There are seven boarding Houses and five day Houses, each with a complement of about 65 boys. The House system at Tonbridge retains a traditional strength and encourages the loyalty which grows from security within a close-knit community of manageable size. There is a full range of inter-House competitions, at junior and senior levels, throughout the year. Notable among these are the House Music, Art, debating and general knowledge competitions, and the House Leagues in the main sports, which offer a particular opportunity to those who do not play in the major school teams. There are also House plays and House concerts. The great majority of boys naturally find a number of ways in which they can contribute to the life of their House, and such participation is warmly encouraged.
Parents are invited to express a preference for a particular boarding or day House after their son has received an unconditional offer of a place at the school, usually during Year 6 or Year 7. Whilst a number of parents express no preference, leaving the allocation to the Headmaster in consultation with the Director of Admissions, others will state a preference for up to three houses.
The individual House lists for entry in any given year open in March some two and a half years in advance of the date of entry, about eight weeks after the first tranche of unconditional offers for that year is made. Parents are encouraged to visit two or three Houses and Housemasters during that eight week period to inform their preferences. Candidates may only be registered on House lists when the offer of an unconditional place in the school has been accepted, and a firm decision between boarding and day has been made.
Brothers and sons of Old Tonbridgians will be given priority allocation to the house of their brother/father, when that preference is expressed in advance of the house lists opening.
Central to the life of the boarders is their Matron, who plays a critical role in managing the day to day running of the House and helping the Housemaster with the pastoral care of the boys.
Matrons get to know each boy really well, assisting with day to day practicalities, offering comfort and support when boys are unwell or may need emotional support. They arrange and support a variety of House events and activities and make time to watch sporting fixtures, competitions, concerts, plays and other events that are important to the boys.
Accommodation in the Boarding Houses is arranged to provide a largely communal life for boys in their early years, underpinning the development of a cohesive and supportive friendship group, and then increasing personal space and privacy as a boy becomes more senior.
The Houses also contain common rooms, changing rooms, and small kitchens for the boys' use. There are extensive gardens, and some Houses have their own tennis court or football field. Each boarding House has its own dining room, kitchen and domestic staff, and boarders take all their meals in their own Houses during the week.
On Saturday evenings and Sundays the boarders from all Houses meet together for more informal meals in the Orchard Centre.
There is accommodation for some Sixth Formers in six Senior Student Houses, each under the supervision of a resident member of staff. Many boarders in the Sixth Form experience living in a Senior Student House for one or two terms.
A Senior Student remains a member of his House in all other respects (and takes his meals with his House), but Senior Student status gives a greater degree of independence and offers the opportunity for long periods of uninterrupted study.
Day boys benefit from the extended days and boarding ethos of the school, with access to facilities and events which take place after the formal school day has ended. The richness and diversity of experiences offered means that each boy can further their existing interests and develop and nurture new ones through participation in the extensive co-curricular life of the school. The Day Houses remain open to the boys into the evening and become a familiar and cherished home base from which to experience life at the school.
The Day Houses have common rooms for each year group, study rooms, games rooms, and changing rooms as well as outside spaces for games and relaxation. The Housemaster’s family accommodation is either part of the Day House or is immediately adjacent. Each Day House has its separate dining room either within the House or in the Orchard Centre, and day boys benefit from eating together each day, just as the boarders do.