Greetings from sunny Oxfordshire!
As we finally welcome warmer weather back to the UK, this month we visited a school that’s slightly different from our usual fare of distinctly British boarding schools. We went to the village of Thorpe, just southwest of London, to visit The American School in England, also known as TASIS. TASIS brings together the best elements of American and British education into what we think is a brilliant, unique hybrid. Read on to find out more!
TASIS logo on red brick
TASIS’ location is pretty hard to beat, both in terms of its accessibility and its looks. The school is spread across the village of Thorpe in Surrey, a county that borders southwest London.
Winding around pretty country lanes complete with Victorian street lamps and red phone boxes, Thorpe — and TASIS’ campus itself — is a picturesque mix of Tudor wood-framed houses and 20th century buildings.
The school and its extensive grounds are split across the main lane through the village; teaching is done on the north side of the campus, while accommodation and communal areas like the dining hall are mainly based on the south side. With pristine lawns rolling down from an elegant main building to a large lake, if you didn’t know otherwise, you might think TASIS was a beautiful country house hotel in upstate New York rather than a school!
New England feel: red brick and wooden arches on TASIS' beautiful campus
Given this bucolic Little England atmosphere, It’s almost impossible to believe that TASIS is only a 30-minute drive from the outskirts of London, or about an hour into the centre. Regular trains from nearby Staines also take only 45 minutes to get into central London. And as you might expect from a school that’s influenced by both sides of the Atlantic, Heathrow airport is just 10 minutes away by car.
Green as far as the eye can see
What (we think!) TASIS is all about
Founded by Mary Crist Fleming in 1976, The American School in England is part of the TASIS group, a collection of international schools that include the world-renowned TASIS in Switzerland, and whose success has led to the opening of new schools in Portugal and Puerto Rico. However, although the schools are part of the same group, each has its own, distinct identity.
For TASIS England, that’s a unique, cross-Atlantic one. With its beige-trousered uniform, smart preppy campus, and “semester” academic year structure, TASIS has a distinctly US feel to it — yet within the recognisable framework of British boarding school life. As an art teacher at TASIS told us: “I think it’s kind of a marriage… We’re celebrating the best things about American education but in a setting steeped in British history.”
A peak into TASIS' beautiful art department
In day-to-day life at TASIS, that means a school where a liberal, personalised approach to education — with both the International Baccalaureate and the American Advanced Placement curriculum on offer — is provided alongside the usual jam-packed extracurricular and cultural schedule of a British boarding school.
Teaching is dynamic and classes are small; students’ individual interests and every wish are catered to with specialist teachers or coaches; boarding is laidback and encourages an independent, adult mindset; the international community hails from 61 different countries; and yet TASIS’ pupils are also exposed to centuries of British culture and traditions, and benefit from the extensive facilities and grounds that British boarding schools are renowned for.
It is, no doubt about it, the best of both worlds!
Economics on tarmac - TASIS is academically strong!
TASIS is not a particularly academically selective school, but it still boasts strong results. In 2021, the average IB score was 36, while the average Advanced Placement result was 3.9.
All students at TASIS take the American curriculum up until Year Ten, at which point they’re free to choose between the US Advanced Placement programme or the IB. But whatever their choice, the influence of an American approach to education is evident on both sides of the curriculum. Assessments are done consistently throughout the school year, rather than left to exams at the end; classes are small, with an average of ten pupils in the senior school; and lessons are dynamic — held outside, or heavily referenced around hands-on national and international field trips.
Electrifying physics - seen in one of the school's science labs
TASIS also prides itself on being a “Yes” school: any specialist academic interest or subject can be catered for. For example, the school regularly brings in external teachers for languages such as Latin, Japanese and Arabic — alongside the standard offer of Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian and Mandarin — and appoints on-site support teachers to monitor the progress of these bespoke arrangements.
A diverse set of subjects, including strong creatives!
Another selling point is the specialist support TASIS can offer pupils wanting to apply to US universities. Unlike many British boarding schools, which flounder at the sight of US applications or tell pupils to get specialist external help with them, TASIS is a registered ACT and SAT testing centre, and has a number of specialist staff on-site who are able to prep pupils for these exams. Thinking about pupils’ next steps also begins very early on at TASIS; a dedicated university and college counselling centre receives pupils for advisory sessions up to four years before their graduation.
Lots of things to do outside the class-room: 3D printing for anything from electri cars to architectoral models
Extracurriculars at TASIS tend to be more typically American or international than British — and sport is a headline act. Those that find themselves uninspired by the traditional British boarding school spectrum of rugby, cricket, hockey, and netball will be drawn towards TASIS’ sporting offering. Baseball, basketball, soccer (football), tennis, lacrosse, volleyball, martial arts, cheerleading and modern dance are all hugely popular, and celebrated in a US-style sports hall with team flags draped down the walls. (More esoteric options such as horse riding, golf, and sailing are hosted at facilities in the local area.)
Next to English classic sports like rugby, TASIS offers the American classics like lacrosse also!
Each sport is offered to boys and girls, and there are teams for those who “just take part for fun” as well as “Varsity” teams for those competing at a national and international level. Many students’ also compete outside of school; current pupils play football for Chelsea and Arsenal academies, others are part of professional basketball teams in Surrey, and it’s common for high-level tennis coaches to be brought in to stretch the exceptional players.
A state-of-the-art gym
TASIS’ facilities are state of the art and all provided on-site; in the gym, treadmills and other equipment are routinely replaced or upgraded each year. As the head of admissions told us: “Kids are really lucky here, every kind of facility or equipment that they need, they get.”
Seen in the school's art department - hugging!
Arts and music are also highly valued at TASIS, and the school’s attitude towards its art department is a perfect example of how TASIS’ American culture leads to a more modern, adult approach to education. Art teachers at TASIS are not just “art teachers” but consider themselves “teaching artists” — all of them are practising professional artists, who not only teach pupils art theory and techniques, but demonstrate and discuss what it means to be a working artist in the modern world. This professionalism is also shown towards the students themselves; TASIS has a permanent exhibition gallery where pupils’ work is displayed alongisde that of their teaching artists.
View onto one of the beautiful boarding houses
TASIS’ boarding community makes up about a third of the school’s 640 pupils, and is split between eight boarding houses, with around 30 pupils in each house. The majority of that community are from English-speaking countries, such as the UK, the US, Canada, or Australia, while the remaining 40 per cent speak English as a second language. (There are currently around 20-25 German pupils at TASIS.) Most sleep in double rooms, with some singles and triples, and nationalities are intentionally mixed up — it would be very rare to have two pupils from the same country sharing a room.
Cozy - a two-bed in one of the girl's boarding houses
Again, the American influence (or update) to the traditional confines of British boarding school life is felt strongly in TASIS’ boarding community. Rules, for example, are fairly relaxed — pupils regularly pop to London (with parents’ permission); take outs are allowed two or three times a week; phones are generally permitted at all times other than in the classroom; pupils do (most of) their own laundry; and the students themselves have an input on their uniform, with teachers taking a laissez faire approach to implementing the rules, accepting pupils’ forms of self expression.
Seen in the girl's dorm: praise where praise is due!
Boarding at TASIS really benefits from the school’s proximity to London; while nearby Staines and Virginia Water are both popular weekend destinations for shopping or activities such as paintballing, pupils are just as likely to be taken to the UK capital to catch the latest play, concert, or professional sports match. The village of Thorpe itself also has a small pub and post office, for students’ urgent needs.
One thing we couldn’t not mention is the food at TASIS, which is absolutely unrivalled! A mix of international cuisines — from onion bhajis and tagine to sushi — cooked to restaurant-level standard are offered alongside a “hydration juice bar” and freshly made bread, soup and salads. This is all served in a canteen whose decor means it could easily double up as a trendy, London café — definitely not your usual British boarding school fare!
Our view on a student suited to TASIS
TASIS has an obvious appeal for families whose children are already in a US or international system, as well as those looking to transfer into these curriculums at school or university-level.
But we believe the school is also a great fit for a much broader pool of children. Whether for those that find their wings clipped by the traditional framework of British boarding schools, those that have more esoteric interests and ambitions, or those that harbour dreams of an
open-minded, international future, TASIS’ personalised, obliging, and modern approach to education couldn’t provide a better answer.
With an extensive campus and facilities that rival traditional British boarding schools’, but a more varied curriculum and extracurricular offering, TASIS would suit any pupils who are looking for a liberal, internationally-minded education able to open doors for them across the globe.