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By top English public school standards Wellington, which opened in 1859, is an upstart newbie. It was built as a monument to the first Duke of Wellington (the vanquisher of Bonaparte) by a grateful nation. The Mandarin Centre - complete with gold Chinese dragons, lake, bridge and traditional gateway - comes as a bit of a surprise. Quads - especially the Combermere with terrific central huge bronze of The Iron Duke's horse, Copenhagen - are simply stunning. 'If I stayed here for twice as many years, I still wouldn't get round to trying everything,' is a cry we heard over and over...

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What the school says...

Wellington College, founded in 1853, is arguably the UK’s leading coeducational boarding and day school. Our pupils develop a unique identity inspired by intellectual curiosity, true independence, a generous and far-reaching inclusivity and the courage to be properly and unselfishly individual. Wellington’s commitment to a properly holistic education ensures the College is celebrated for its achievements both in and out of the classroom: in particular its sporting, artistic and dramatic provision are second to none. Most importantly of all we want all our pupils to understand that serving and caring for others brings the highest rewards in life and the greatest likelihood of long term happiness and fulfilment.

Stellar examination results, outstanding provision across all co-curricular areas, a raft of national accolades, and an exclusively ‘excellent’ 2014 ISI inspection report all contribute to the College's national and international reputation.
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What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Excellent performance by Boys taking Latin at an English Independent School (GCSE)

Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Sports

Polo

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Master

Since 2015, Julian Thomas BSc MBA FRSA (apparently 50s, though looks about 27). Read computer science at King’s College, London - not a common headmagisterial start. Took a Cambridge PGCE (after a brief brush with banking), winning a half-blue in rugby league. Taught maths at St Dunstan’s College and Forest School, co-authoring several text books. Thence, as director of studies, to Portsmouth Grammar and on to Hampton School as second master for four years during which he took an MBA in educational leadership (international). Prior to Wellington, was head of Caterham School for eight years doing great things. Engagingly, he tweets as @Welly_Master.

Instantly likeable. Relaxed, open, friendly and clearly capable, Mr Thomas relishes everything about the college. Pupils feel known and engaged with. 'He'll just stop us and say, "What do you think of this?" about some idea or other. He really wants to know what we think.' And, 'He knows stuff about you. He'll just ask, "How did it go?" It's amazing.' 'Exciting,' was the word Mr Thomas used most often to us. And we heard it often from parents and pupils too. Wellington grows greater and richer in his care.

Leaving in July 2019. Robin Dyer, second master, will hold the reins until a successor takes over.

Academic matters

A place in which learning matters. 'It's cool to do well there - it's embarrassing if you don't.' Offers both A levels and the IB - 45 per cent currently opting for the IB. A level results are impressive overall. Maths and economics by far the most popular options; history and Latin get impressive results. Minority subjects, eg some languages and art history, also outstanding though a less starry showing in eg English, business and photography. All A level students also take the EPQ. Overall, 63 per cent A*/A grades in 2018. IB diploma results similarly impressive though a bit more of a mixed bag, perhaps, averaging 39 in 2018.

Mainstream range of GCSE subjects; results in maths and all three sciences are excellent. Of the options, history, geography and Latin are especially popular - Latin with spectacular results; Spanish and Greek also sparkle. Good choice of languages (now including Russian) but German no more buoyant here than anywhere else, sadly. Alongside the core GCSE subjects (which include one ancient or modern language), everyone takes two or three electives from a range eg computer science, dance and photography. Year 10s also take a level 2 EPQ. Overall, 87 per cent A*-A grades in 2018.

Julian Thomas no longer publishes examination results for national league tables. 'A school like Wellington has a duty to do what's right in education,' he says. 'The things that really matter can't be measured by league tables.' We agree. This approach is supported by eg Harkness tables - large oval seminar-style tables to facilitate sharing rather than imparting knowledge. And, as independent learners, the pupils do much of the preparation for lessons. Every kind of modern IT device and programme abounds but most designed, again, to allow for sharing learning.

Two-weekly cycle of lessons - each one hour long. Regular monitoring, reports and 'interims'. Staff:pupil ratio of just over 1:6 which is remarkably low, although actual class sizes are not smaller than average. Some parental grumbles about the high turnover of staff: 'They do go. They like to have Wellington on their cv and then they get promoted.' But many long-serving staff, very few of whom have lost the light in the eyes.

Everyone is assessed on entry for baseline skills. Remarkably high number of mild or other deficits picked up at this stage - sometimes coming as a surprise to parents. Good support for the 10 per cent of pupils on the SEN register. Emphasis here as throughout on independent learning. Help delivered individually or in groups. Some forego a second modern language for individual support and maybe take one or two fewer GCSEs. One-off subject help sessions abound.

Games, options, the arts

'If I stayed here for twice as many years, I still wouldn't get round to trying everything,' is a cry we heard over and over. 'You have to sign up for everything you like the sound of in College Carnival [freshers' week to you and me] try it all out, then make a longlist, then a shortlist and then try and do what you really want to. But it's still difficult... and there is class work too...'

Sports, clubs and enrichment activities galore and any teacher or pupil with an enthusiasm is encouraged to start a club of their own. So - a tea drinking club when we visited where the members .. er, drink tea. And a ukelele orchestra was in full swing. 'And our concert band is the biggest in the country.' 'Service' is central to the ethos, providing numerous initiatives to work here and abroad with the less privileged or less physically/cognitively able. They walk the talk.

Rugby rules - this is a quintessential rugby school. However, girls' sports are now firmly on the agenda and the new arena is upping both the provision and the profile of girls' sports to more of a parity. Though rugby will still rule! The third form can take dance as a curriculum option. We saw a class of excellent textile work but, sadly, not a boy in sight. WTV is an institution and produces professional quality broadcasting. New performing arts centre whose auditorium seats 1,300 is complemented by TV editing suite, recording studios, concert rooms etc. Drama and music pretty spectacular anyway. Visits by professional companies of the highest order too, especially for the occasional Welly Arts Fests. Art in many media, DT and general creativity busting out all over. Trips, exhibition, visitors - it's all just too much.

Boarders

Seventeen boarding houses - 'inhouses' close to the main building, and 'outhouses' nestling in the grounds, some with their own dining rooms - each with its own character, facilities, traditions, lore and argot and each seemingly inspiring loyalty and affection. Houses bar one are single sex. High standard of bathrooms, showers etc. Lots of honours boards - new and old. Feeling that the character of a house much depends on the character of the sixth form boarders in a given year - some being more inviting and less exclusive than others.

Saturdays are full school days with lessons in the mornings and sports in the afternoons but most go home after that until Sunday evening. Around 150-200 boarders in school most weekends - obviously mostly those with families abroad - and a full programme of activities is on offer if you want it. Wisely, overseas boarders are distributed between the houses so everyone meets everyone. Four weekends annually when everyone is required to stay in school. Occasional grouses about the disparity between the houses in terms of upkeep, facilities - and sofas. More water dispensers around the site would be popular and also the introduction of bikes on which to get around - even if only for the older students.

Careful and thorough induction and acclimatisation activities to help newbies settle in - and to support their jittery parents. Masterclasses give parents a chance to take on eg social media, teenage eating and coaching. Countless events offer parents opportunities to feel part of the wider Wellington community - embraced enthusiastically by many but, of course, not all.

Background and atmosphere

By top English public school standards Wellington, which opened in 1859, is an upstart newbie. It was built as a monument to the first Duke of Wellington (the vanquisher of Bonaparte) by a grateful nation and Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone. But it stands proudly with our most illustrious schools and you cannot ignore the pride, the history, the tradition and the splendour of the place. Third form history is largely based on the college's own past and the extensive archives are a rich resource.

Four hundred acres - around half of which are playing fields, lakes (five of them), forest and gardens - embrace the college's main building: a surprising (given the essential Englishness of the place) exercise in low-rise, Rococo-chateau-red-brick designed by John Shaw Jnr (Prince Albert's choice). Chapel designed by G Gilbert Scott. Rarely for a school chapel of this size and capacity, this one has a warmth and genuine consolatory ambience. 'It's one of the things you never forget,' a wise alumnus told us. 'Maybe because Wellington is so modern and progressive, we love the chapel because you can think over the college history and what it was like here before.' Numerous later buildings - mostly in red brick - are in sympathy, even the newest glassy additions. The Mandarin Centre - complete with gold Chinese dragons, lake, bridge and traditional gateway - comes as a bit of a surprise. Quads - especially the Combermere with terrific central huge bronze of The Iron Duke's horse, Copenhagen - are simply stunning and the upkeep of everywhere is impressive. The V & A is the hip modern café and meeting place.

The forest and lakes abut the centre. The darkness of the close-growing trees add a welcome touch of the less formal and structured and people do take themselves for walks there, especially when - as they will - closer relationships develop in the sixth form or when a breathing space and solitude are needed. But the school life provides little time for such things - even in the sixth, there are only 45 minutes of free time, between 9.00-9.45pm.

Orderly, friendly, purposeful and relaxed. An air of engagement, quiet busyness and enthusiasm pervades the place plus a sense of privilege - not entitlement - and a focus on learning of all kinds. Parents seem universally thrilled: 'They generate a culture where it's all about having a go - nothing is impossible - there's such a buzz about the place.' 'It wouldn't suit everyone - you need a lot of energy and independence,' Interestingly, the word 'whacky' crops up a lot - meant warmly and kindly.

Wellington is now at the heart of a major global and national educational business with a portfolio of schools, several in China, and two academies here. This informs aspects of life on the home front - partnerships and exchanges and there is Dukebox - an online sharing platform for the entire family of schools.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Famous for it - well-being, mindfulness, restorative justice, coaching, leadership, counselling etc - they explore and practise it all. 'Our children - who are all so different - are equally happy,' said one parent. 'I'd give it 10 out of 10 on the pastoral side,' said another. Carefully structured pastoral care system - every teacher is also a tutor and attached to a boarding house. But self-discipline is the norm. A school with rewards and punishments but punishments are rare and exclusions far rarer. Repeated bullying will see you out but isolated episodes seen as an opportunity for learning. Virtually all staff have training in coaching and this, alongside the school's Basic Courtesies, Core Values, and Mr Thomas's Five 'I's - 'Inspired, Intellectual, Independent, Individual, Inclusive' - underpin the tangible moral purpose of the place. 'The Stiff Upper Lip is long gone,' we were told. Nonetheless, some of the most forbidding uniform rules we have encountered (especially for girls). 'I like them to look smart,' says The Master. Vast dining hall (former school hall?) with excellent menus on a four-weekly cycle. We snaffled a memorable flapjack.

Pupils and parents

Majority of UK pupils come from west London and the home counties. School's weekly boarding policy adds to its attraction in the south east. Around 13 per cent come from state and non-prep schools; around 12 per cent from overseas - from 41 countries at time of our visit. Around a third of pupils based overseas are British expats. Interestingly, a good proportion of the UK based boarders are from non-British or dual citizenship homes. A genuinely inclusive and cosmopolitan constituency and a feature that is fostered by its schools overseas. Very few overseas boarders need EAL support - but those that do get individual help for which the college does not charge. Parents feel welcome here - 'I've never felt I shouldn't be on site. They are brilliant at involving us.'

Entrance

Around 190 pupils enter year 9 - some 110 boys, 80 girls. Around 900 apply. All candidates sit the ISEB common pre-test in the autumn term of year 6. References from present schools also sought. Long-listed candidates visit the college in January/February for an assessment day - a mix of collaborative problem-solving activities plus interview. Offers made in March - for entry from 2021, will no longer be conditional on passing CE.

Around 25 boys and 20 girls join after GCSEs. Sixteen-plus candidates submit recent school reports and a personal statement about a year before entry. Applicants outnumber places 10 to one. Long-listed candidates attend an assessment day in November of year 11 and sit three papers in the subjects they mean to study in the sixth form, plus a maths skills test and an interview plus group discussion. References too, of course. At least 7s expected in all subjects, 8-9s in subjects to be pursued in the sixth. Internal pupils also expected to produce 6+ 7s but there is always 'leeway if they are good citizens'. Attention paid at all levels to characteristics such as independence, inclusivity, grit plus the college's Virtues.

Exit

Penny numbers leave after GCSEs. Good proportion of Oxbridge places - 18 in 2018, plus three medics. High numbers also to, especially, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Bath and Exeter but school plans to expand the breadth of destinations and wants to provide 'tip-top advice on all options' - including the modern, high calibre, degree apprenticeships path. Also a good number to the US and Canada (18 in 2018) - Wellington has led the way in sending its leavers to good universities across the pond. Runs the best conferences on this as on many other subjects. Tremendous list of notable alumni includes: Christopher Ewart-Biggs, British ambassador assassinated by the IRA, current politicos Crispin Blunt, Michael Spicer and Edward Garnier; Harold Nicolson, numerous sports jocks including James Hunt and Max and Thom Evans; arts and entertainment types eg Robert Morley, Nikolai Tolstoy, Rory Bremner, Sebastian Faulks, Christopher Lee, Will Young and Elize du Toit; the Beeb's Peter Snow and Robin Oakley; practically the entire British military including 15 holders of the Victoria Cross and hosts of other worthies in many fields.

Money matters

The international schools help to fund the school's burgeoning bursary fund - scholarships no longer carry any financial benefit, with funds now routed into means-tested bursaries, worth up to 95 per cent of school fees. Some £1.7m and rising annually available. Prince Albert Bursary Fund offers life-changing bursaries up to full fees to entrants who would otherwise have no chance of such an education. Ten holders at time of our visit. Foundation supports the children of deceased military officers up to full fees. Scholarships at 13+ for academics and music - art, drama, dance, design engineering and sport now offered at the end of year 9 after a full year at Wellington. However, students are invited to participate in Inspire Days in these areas during year 8 as an initial stage in the scholarship process. At 16+, scholarships are awarded in all of these areas.

Our view

Hard to imagine it done better. A site and campus to dream about. A school with mind, heart, guts and a constant fizz.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

In exceptional cases, the Head of Educational Support and two visiting teachers offer support off-timetable. Assessment for suitability to Wellington College for those who have specific learning difficulties is offered at the end of year 6 before pre-testing. This is usually a visit to the prep school by the Head of Educational Support or a visit to Wellington College by the pupil. The purpose of the school visits is: to see the child in their natural environment; to assess them; to talk to staff; and to look at school reports /educational psychologists reports etc. Every effort is made to ensure that the pupil is assessed to be sure that they will go on to the correct learning environment. Pupils are expected to be independent learners and to have received study skills support by the time that they are in year 8. Pupils who are still having one-to-one lessons focusing on literacy skills may find accessing our curriculum difficult. The tutoring and grading system throughout our school is excellent at supporting the pupil; as is our target setting and the focus on learning style preferences and on multiple intelligences and learning.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment Y
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment Y

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