The Best Secondary Schools in London: Your Ultimate Guide

Navigating secondary school choices in London can feel like a daunting task. With so many exceptional institutions dotting the city, selecting the right one can be overwhelming. 

Each school boasts unique strengths and teaching philosophies, whether it’s an academic powerhouse securing entrance to top-tier universities, an innovative hub pioneering fresh curricular approaches, or a nurturing sanctuary prioritising students’ holistic well-being.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll introduce the top ten secondary schools as ranked by the 2024 Sunday Times Parent Power Guide. We’ll also discuss the best London boroughs for secondary schooling and the schools with the most competitive applications.

So join us as we unveil London’s best secondary schools – and make choices for your child with confidence.

What are the best secondary schools in London? 

There are some truly fantastic secondary schools spread throughout London. In the latest Sunday Times 2024 Parent Power Guide (widely seen as the most authoritative UK league table), Wilson’s School in Wallington led the pack as the top state secondary. To help you explore the best schools in the capital, here is the complete top ten list.

The top ten state secondary schools in London

1. Wilson’s School (Wallington)

Wilson’s School in Wallington stands as a testament to centuries of academic tradition and excellence. Founded in 1615 by Royal Charter, it boasts a rich history steeped in educational heritage. 

This boys’ grammar school has consistently maintained high academic standards, carving a niche for itself among London’s esteemed institutions. Beyond academics, Wilson’s offers a vibrant array of extracurricular activities, nurturing well-rounded individuals ready to navigate the challenges of the modern world.

2. Queen Elizabeth’s School (Barnet)

In the leafy suburb of Barnet, Queen Elizabeth’s School stands as a beacon of scholarly excellence since its establishment in 1573. This distinguished boys’ grammar is renowned for its rigorous curriculum (going above and beyond the national curriculum), which has produced generations of high achievers. With a strong emphasis on STEM subjects, the institution fosters a culture of innovation and intellectual curiosity.

3. The Henrietta Barnett School (Hampstead Garden Suburb)

Established in 1911 (and named after the eminent social reformer, Henrietta Barnett), The Henrietta Barnett School has consistently upheld a legacy of academic excellence. 

Its selective admissions process ensures a cohort of motivated students eager to excel in their studies. But beyond exams, the school fosters a culture of holistic development, offering extracurricular activities ranging from sports to community service, empowering young women to become leaders of tomorrow.

4. St Olave’s Grammar School (Orpington)

Tucked away in Orpington (in the London Borough of Bromley), St Olave’s Grammar School stands as a bastion of academic achievement since its inception in the sixteenth century. 

Like all the schools on this list, this boys’ grammar school is renowned for its rigorous academic standards and competitive admissions process. With a commitment to nurturing well-rounded individuals, St Olavians are encouraged to strive for excellence, embodying the school motto: “To be, rather than to seem.”

5. The Tiffin Girls’ School (Kingston)

In picturesque Kingston upon Thames, The Tiffin Girls’ School epitomises excellence in education. Established in 1880, it has remained at the forefront of academic achievement, providing a nurturing environment for young women to thrive. 

From STEM subjects to the arts, Tiffin Girls’ empowers its students to explore their passions and realise their full potential, preparing them to make meaningful contributions to society.

6. Tiffin School (Kingston)

Situated alongside its counterpart, The Tiffin School for Boys has upheld a tradition of academic excellence and holistic development since its founding in 1880. 

With a focus on STEM subjects and humanities, Tiffin School offers a rigorous academic curriculum complemented by an “extraordinary breadth” of extracurricular activities. Here, young men are inspired to cultivate their interests, embrace challenges, and emerge as well-rounded individuals.

7. The Latymer School (Edmonton)

Nestled in the vibrant community of Edmonton, The Latymer School has maintained its strong roots in the local community since its inception in 1624.

This co-educational grammar prides itself on its inclusive ethos and commitment to nurturing the talents of all students. Expect a holistic educational experience that fosters intellectual curiosity and personal growth; embracing diversity and forging lifelong connections.

8. St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School (Finchley)

In the heart of Finchley, St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School stands as a testament to academic excellence imbued with Catholic values. Established in 1908, it nurtures the spiritual, moral and intellectual development of its students. 

With a rigorous curriculum complemented by a rich array of extracurricular activities, St Michael’s fosters a supportive environment where young women flourish academically and personally. 

9. Newstead Wood School (Orpington)

Established in 1957, Newstead Wood School has garnered a well-earned reputation for its high academic standards and supportive learning environment prioritising “warmth and kindness”. Here, young women are encouraged to explore their interests, embrace challenges and aspire to be the best they can be.

10. Sutton Grammar School (Sutton)

Since its founding in 1899, Sutton Grammar School has prided itself on a tradition of excellence and commitment to providing a well-rounded education. Here, young men are inspired to pursue their passions, push the boundaries of their knowledge and emerge as confident, compassionate individuals.

To explore more leading grammar schools in the capital and beyond, read out guides to the best grammars in London and the wider UK, as well as a complete list of grammar schools without a catchment area.

Which London borough has the best state secondary schools?

If there’s one borough in London with the best state secondary schools, it’s the borough of Sutton. 

Indeed, the borough of Sutton contains the town of Wallington, home to Wilson’s School (the best school in the entire country) as well as Wallington High School for Girls and Wallington County Grammar School

You’ll also find several other leading grammar schools in this distinguished borough, including Sutton Grammar School and Nonsuch High School for Girls.

Which area has the best schools in London?

As you can see from the list above, the top ten secondary schools in London are spread throughout the capital.

That said, South West London is famed as the area with the best schools in London.

It’s a historically wealthy area, meaning lots of schools have long roots in the local community. In addition, there are plenty of green spaces and room for beautiful school campuses. 

Within South West London, Kingston upon Thames and neighbouring Richmond upon Thames stand out for their density of exceptional schools.

As well as the Tiffin School and the Tiffin Girls’ School listed above, notable schools include The Kingston Academy, Grey Court School, Waldegrave School and Orleans Park School. These secondaries consistently achieve outstanding academic results and provide students with a diverse range of extracurricular activities, sports and arts programs. 

What is the hardest school to get into in London?

The London Oratory School is widely regarded as one of the most challenging schools to gain admission to in London. It’s a Roman Catholic school that describes itself as “trad but quirky”. 

With a highly selective admissions process and a reputation for academic excellence, the school receives a large number of applications each year. It generally receives about 1,000 applications for 160 places. As a result, competition for admission is fierce.

Similarly, Henrietta Barnett School is known for its rigorous entrance examinations and high demand for places – with over 2,000 applicants for around 100 places in recent years!

Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet is another example of a highly competitive school, with a significant number of applicants competing for a limited number of places due to its exceptional academic reputation and impressive alumni achievements. 

As a rule of thumb, the higher up our top ten list, the greater the prestige, and the greater competition for places you’ll face.

Private schools in London: a quick overview

If you’re considering private as well as state schools in London for your child, here’s a quick guide to the most prestigious institutions.

What is the most prestigious secondary school in London?

Although just outside London, Eton College is the most prestigious secondary school near the capital – attended by many leading London residents.

Founded in 1440, Eton boasts a long history of academic excellence and counts numerous British Prime Ministers, members of the royal family, and prominent figures in various fields among its alumni.

Within the M25, leading private schools like Westminster School and St. Paul’s School for Boys have also earned reputations for academic rigour, impressive facilities and a tradition of producing successful graduates.

To better understand their prestige within the London education landscape, read our guide to the best private schools in the capital as well as the best private schools in the UK.

What is the best private secondary school in London?

As ranked by the Sunday Times Parent Power League Table, St. Paul’s Girls’ School is the best private secondary school in London. 

In its relatively short history (dating back to its founding in 1904), the school has consistently maintained high academic standards and a commitment to providing an exceptional educational experience. 

St. Paul’s Girls’ School is known for its rigorous academic curriculum, supportive learning environment and emphasis on extracurricular activities such as music, drama and sports. The school consistently achieves outstanding exam results and offers students access to state-of-the-art facilities and fabulous clubs including feminist society, dissection society and improv club (to name just a few!).

What is the best private secondary school in the UK?

St. Paul’s Girls’ School is ranked the top private secondary school not only in London but also in the entire UK.

Renowned for its academic excellence, the school consistently achieves impressive results alongside small class sizes, experienced teachers and a wide range of extracurricular opportunities. 

The school’s genuine commitment to fostering intellectual curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills prepares students for success in higher education and beyond – making it a top choice for families seeking the best private education.

Are you applying to secondary schools in London for your child?

If you’re preparing your child for secondary entrance exams, our expert academic tutors can help. With a proven track record of securing places at the country’s best schools, we provide bespoke 11 Plus tuition, mock tests, academic consultancy services and more. Get in touch today to find out how we can help.