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In the spring, the whole school participates in the (frankly bonkers) Russell – named for the eponymous Jack (of terrier fame and an OB) - a hotly contested cross-country race for which local landowners open their land. We had never seen quite such cheerfully muddy girls as the ones we met just back from a practice. Parents love the friendly and inclusive feel of the place, the lack of arrogance among the students and the resilience the school instils in them. Traditionally not the brightest star in the…

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What the school says...

Blundell's was founded more than 400 years ago. We combine traditional values with the best of modern teaching methods, facilities and pastoral care. Academic excellence lies at the school's heart and we believe our strength is in the diversity of options which gives every pupil a chance to shine. Blundells also has a richly deserved reputation in sport, drama and music.

Equal importance is placed on pastoral care and developing the whole person: courtesy and good manners are deeply rooted in Blundellians and strong, supportive friendships ensure that community life at the school is richly rewarding. These qualities, together with the intellectual, physical and cultural interests they develop at Blundells, provide pupils with skills for life.
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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Design & Technology Graphic Products at an English Independent School (GCSE)

2016 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking Office Technology at an English Independent School (GCSE Full Course)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Office Technology at an English Independent School (GCSE Full Course)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Design & Technology Graphic Products at an English Independent School (GCSE Full Course)

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

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

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2013, Mrs Nicola Huggett (40s) MA PGCE (Oxon). Educated at St Gabriel’s and Marlborough, she read PPE at Oxford before embarking on a brief career in advertising with J Walter Thompson – brief because she soon realised it was not for her. ‘Why did no-one tell me about teaching before?’ she says of her experience shadowing a teacher in a comprehensive near her home. Since then her career has taken her via Haileybury, ultimately as head of boarding, during a time when the school went fully co-ed and introduced IB, and Downe House as deputy head, before being made the first female head of Blundell's since its inception in 1604. Only moderate harrumphing greeted her appointment, and those foolish enough to do so must now be eating their words, such has been the wave of approval from all quarters. ‘A wow appointment,’ declared one mother. Mrs Huggett is clearly superwoman – as well as running a school, where she still teaches four lessons a week, she also runs marathons, rides - oh, and raises four children of her own, all at Blundell's. Husband Spencer runs a car dealership in Barnstaple and has always moved around with her. ‘Blundell's appealed to me because there’s an honest and unpretentious feel about the place – and I’m a country girl,’ she says. ‘Though when I saw the sign that said Headmaster’s Visitors, I said “That’ll be the first thing to go!”.'

Leaving in July 2018 to head Cheltenham College.

Academic matters

Traditionally not the brightest star in the firmament of south west schools, but there’s a determination on the head’s part to make the school as academic as it is sporty. (‘She’ll have her work cut out for her,’ remarked one parent.) To that end she has made some key appointments since she arrived, such as a head of learning support, who is an ed psych, and a switched-on academic deputy from Wycombe Abbey, as well as introducing a proper tutor system, which has gone down well with parents. A level results are sound, with 67 per cent graded A*/B and 41 per cent A*/A in 2016; sciences, geography and maths – good take-up of further maths too – are most popular, languages lamentably not, though it is impressive to note that the school has run Spanish, Russian and Latin for sole takers. Parents reckon that student aspirations are being raised under the newish regime; many already take EPQ in sixth form alongside A levels. The brightest sparks are invited to join the scholars’ club, which ‘offers stimulation for rapid progress’ in the dry language beloved of inspectors. At GCSE, 51 per cent graded A*/A in 2016. DT enjoys a big take-up: we would have been happy to give house-room to many of the items of small wooden furniture we saw. Students with a wide range of intellectual gifts are catered for: at GCSE science for example, school offers choice between IGCSE or less demanding boards. Everyone does French and Latin from the start with the choice of German and Spanish in year 9. Just over a fifth of students receive SEN support, including plenty of help for those whose first language is not English.

Games, options, the arts

Make no mistake, this is a very sporty school, and might not be the place for a pale aesthete. That said, there is masses on offer for those with little or no eye for a ball, as well as the usual fare of rugby, hockey (both huge here) netball and cricket (for girls too, plus football, tennis, squash and fives): CCF, D of E, Ten Tors and the Devizes to Westminster canoe race keenly pursued. In the spring, the whole school participates in the (frankly bonkers) Russell – named for the eponymous Jack (of terrier fame and an OB) - a hotly contested cross-country race for which local landowners open their land. We had never seen quite such cheerfully muddy girls as the ones we met just back from a practice. General heartiness extends to an outdoor pool only - ‘reassuringly heated,’ says school - though an indoor one is on everyone’s wish list, and keen swimmers can use the indoor facilities in Tiverton. Riding strong here too – Blundell's riders regularly compete at events in the south west and recently won the National Schools Jumping-with-style contest – but it’s not the kind of school where turning up with a horsebox is de rigueur; no equines on site.

Activities range from aerobics to yoga; everyone is expected to sign up for a minimum of two. Boarders are offered an adventure and leadership programme over eight weekends comprising gorge-walking and survival training along with other feats of derring-do. But Blundell's isn’t just good at the strenuous stuff: a long tradition of debating both in school and beyond was crowned by winning the ESU national final recently. Artists in all media compete and show their work far beyond the school, with success at the Tate, in the Saatchi Art Prize for Schools (online but also, more excitingly, in the Kings Road) and more locally in Tiverton and Exeter. We were gutted that an art scholar’s rendition of the Mona Lisa in peanut butter and chocolate spread had (presumably) been eaten before our visit. Music facilities have just been brought bang up to date with an editing suite and composition/technology studio, but there has long been masses of music both sung and played: concerts and recitals, plus recently Grease, Cabaret and open mic night on the lighter side. In the last couple of years groups have been to Prague, Brittany and Venice, as well as prestigious venues nearer home. Drama takes places in the Ondaatje Hall, named for its generous donor, the notable philanthropist, brother of the author and an OB; plenty of backstage and technical experience on offer as well as acting, plus visits and workshops from French and Spanish theatre groups – a great initiative which other schools would do well to emulate. A long tradition of house and year group plays means there are opportunities for all budding thespians.

Boarders

Relationships between staff and students seem extremely good, with house staff coming in for particular praise – some email parents with photos of boarders’ activities and high jinks just about the moment they happen. The seven houses accommodate a mix of all kinds of boarders (full, weekly, flexi) and day pupils, divided into two co-ed at the beginning and end of a student’s time at Blundell’s, two girls’ and three boys’; all are known by their initials – NC, SH etc. The latter, School House, for years 7 and 8, was one of the first matters the head tackled on arrival as a result of considerable parental dissatisfaction: all now report huge improvements.

Twice as many boys as girls are full boarders and parents of full boarders rather wish more kids stayed in at weekends, and that the food was, on occasion, more girl-friendly. Some of their accommodation could do with a bit of tlc too. The crowning glory of boarding has to be Westlake, the co-ed sixth form house where students get as close a feeling of university life as possible before they get there, yet where girls and boys respectively can retreat from the hurly-burly to their own part of the house.

Background and atmosphere

Four-square Victorian red-brick buildings face more modern additions across Blundells Road in Tiverton – such is the importance of the school to the town that it has a road named after it – set off by gracious green spaces and a distinctive clock tower; though the school was founded by the generous legacy of one of England’s wealthiest cloth merchants, Peter Blundell, over 200 hundred years earlier, it moved to its permanent home only in the 1880s. The values of that time persist in some measure today with the school’s emphasis on ‘distinguished performance in those games which the Victorians [had] developed to replace the rude sports of earlier centuries’. No more cock-fighting then. Definitely a traditional feel about the place, with a bewildering number of ties, though certainly not fuddy-duddy, with boys below sixth form wearing tawny tweed jackets, the colour of autumn bracken on Dartmoor, and girls red ones. Even the sixth form wear uniform; their jackets are navy blue, striped for those who have been awarded full colours – given not only for sports, but all manner of accomplishment.

What in other schools might be called assembly takes place in Big School and is called Latin prayer, concluding as it does with the Lord’s prayer in Latin; chapel on other mornings in the school’s own beautiful chapel. The first girls arrived in 1975 and the school went fully co-ed in 1992. We are delighted that the last head girl exercised her right to keep a pig at school for her final term, something conferred on the head boy from the start.

Parents love the friendly and inclusive feel of the place, the lack of arrogance among the students and the resilience the school instils in them. ‘Absolutely non-stop programme of extracurricular activities means my children are absolutely exhausted by the time they come home – perhaps they need more soothing down-time at weekends to recover,’ observed one mother of boarders. Great affection and loyalty for the school from past and present students and staff – one finally took retirement after 30 years’ service; terrific and longstanding network of events for OBs, not just the ‘winter lunches’ in Devon, but all over the world.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Discipline appears to be kept with a lightish touch – parents of drinkers and smokers can expect ‘to be invited in to discuss a way forward’, according to the head. Drugs weren’t even mentioned, and bullying gets zero tolerance. ‘There’s a sexting issue every year in year 9,’ said one mother phlegmatically, ‘but the school just deals with it’.

Pupils and parents

Mostly local but a good handful (about 15 per cent) from abroad, giving the school a more cosmopolitan feel than mid Devon might otherwise manage. Among the farmers, local professionals and the military, there are boarders from Cornwall, where there is little on offer, and of course refugees from London in search of a better life; some first time buyers of independent schooling too, one of whom said, ‘My son is having the kind of education that I work for and dream of him having’. Pupils are as grounded and unpretentious as any you will find at a UK boarding school, the kind who will have a go and take a risk; we suspect that the rebellious, the precious and the show-off would not thrive here.

Entrance

Mostly at 11, by means of papers in English, maths and non-verbal reasoning in the January preceding entry; at 13+ via common entrance or the school’s own entrance test in English and maths in June. At sixth form, hopefuls have to satisfy relatively undemanding entrance requirements of a minimum of five GCSEs at a C or above with at least a B in subjects to be taken to A2, plus interview

Exit

Up to 20 per cent leave after GCSEs. The vast majority to university and traditional ones at that, up and down the country. ‘No-one goes to Exeter – too close to home,’ sixth formers informed us. Recent Oxbridge successes (two in 2016 plus two medics) may well boost applications in that direction. Popular universities include Durham, Imperial College, Warwick, Reading, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. Degree choices again tend towards the conventional and/or vocational, such as medicine, geography, economics, biochemistry, law and business management.

After that, Old Blundellians fan out across the globe, to the extent that there are OB gatherings in South Africa, Japan, Germany and Hong Kong. An extremely busy development office ensures strong links with the old school tie. Famous OBs include RD Blackmore, (the hero of whose chef d’oeuvre Lorna Doone was a fictional pupil), 40s actor Gerald Hamer and his director son Robert (Kind Hearts and Coronets), defence correspondent and author Robert Fox, organist Peter Hurford, TV journalist Claire Marshall and the drummer of The Vamps, Tristan Evans.

Money matters

For the first 300 years of its existence, Blundell’s was maintained by the profits from its properties in Tiverton and estate in south Devon, but these days fees charged are in line with comparable schools. Decent range of scholarships for sport, music, art, drama, all-round as well as academic; only music and academic at 11+. Peter Blundell Foundation bursaries are awarded in cases of financial need where ‘Governors wish to reflect the spirit of Peter Blundell’s vision’. The school is innovative in attracting an array of corporate sponsors to fund events.

Our view

Ancient and distinguished Devon institution preserving traditional values and feel, yet turning out considerate and balanced young people all set for careers across the globe. Not perhaps for those seeking exclusively to scale the heights of academia or social cachet, but deserves far higher prominence than the lowish profile (‘Not in the west country!’ protests school) it currently assumes. Over to you, Mrs Huggett.

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Special Education Needs

There are about 150 pupils in the school with special needs of one sort or another, so we are very much aware that some children need special help and there is close liaison between the English department and other subject teachers. SpLD. pupils are tested informally in the Learning Support Department and given help by a highly experienced Learning Support teacher, or her assistant. This support usually takes place once or twice a week, by withdrawal. As it is a specialist individual requirement, there has to be a termly charge. Learning support staff report regularly on the progress of the, 80 or so, students they currently see. Work is centred on discovering what the individual's problem is and concentrating on it. Poor spelling is covered by repetitive work on basic rules, indifferent vocabulary by extension and slow reading by improvement of skills. Pupils are given support in subject areas where they are having problems. A great effort is made to spark imaginative writing. Dyslexics are encouraged to devise strategies to overcome difficulties of spelling and organising work. For some this may include the use of special filters or glasses as well as the use of techniques such as mind mapping or visualisation. Dyslexic diagnostic tests (Aston, Digit Span, etc.) at a simple level are given and referral made, where necessary, for full testing to enable students to claim extra time allowance in public examinations. Official testing is usually done by Dr Hornby from St. Luke’s, Exeter. Her certification is accepted by exam boards and tests are usually carried out in the Autumn. About twenty-five pupils are tested each year. In 2002 for the first time, the Boards agreed to accept just one certification for the student’s entire secondary career. (In Further Education, such certification often entitles students to IT equipment discounts.) There are no standard textbooks, as worksheets are prepared individually. However Hornsby's "Alpha to Omega", Butterworth's "Using the Oxford Dictionary" and The Sunday Times "Word Power" are helpful. Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Syndrome: it is very difficult to pinpoint or label problems as every child is different, but at Blundell’s we aim to ensure sympathetic treatment, individual support and a positive approach, focussing on the learning difference with its positives rather than any negative associations connected with a learning disability. It is not unusual for dyslexic pupils, with the full extra time allowance in exams, to gain the highest grades in both GCSE and A level examination. Above all, our students are taught to think of themselves as Blundellians, not as Dyslexics, developing confidence and expertise in as many areas as possible.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
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
VI - Visual Impairment

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