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It has mostly been independent but spent 30 years in the maintained sector early in the last century. It is possibly this which gives the school a delightful lack of pretension and snobbery, ‘a place where the teachers don’t parade like cockerels, but where they get a remarkable amount out of the girls,’ in the words of one mother. ‘It’s slightly Enid Blyton with cocoa and biscuits at break,’ said another. We found the girls, who arrive in anything from helicopters to old bangers, cheerful, unpretentious and…

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What the school says...

"Success without frills; not trying to prove anything and more inclusive than one might expect given its academic reputation. Has everything you'd look for and more besides. 'Good value for money,' report satisfied parents." The Good Schools Guide

What the parents say...

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2012, Nicola (Nicky) Botterill BSc MA NPQH FRGS FRSA (late 40s). A geographer with a first degree from Middlesex Poly and a masters from the Institute of Education, she has taught in girls’ schools for her entire career, except for one stint in a mixed state school, ascending through the hierarchy as far as the deputy headship of St Mary’s Calne, from where she was appointed head of BSG.

‘I felt immediately at home here and found the girls grounded and unstuffy’, she says. Early exposure to travel and living abroad as a child imbued her with a love of adventure and foreign climes; the fact that she took a mid-career gap year has done it no harm at all.

Bruton is small girls' school in a part of south west England that is richly populated with good schools. Mrs Botterill was brought in to increase numbers but has achieved rather more than that - her work supporting newly qualified teachers within the Girls' Schools Association was recognised by their award for ‘an outstanding contribution from a recently appointed head’ in 2014 - and has garnered approval from all quarters. 'You know she’s in charge,’ say parents. In her trademark fuchsia jacket and pashmina, we found her engagingly warm, frank, chatty, approachable – all reiterated by parents and girls. Any free time she might have could be spent doing arts and crafts, such as pottery and stained glass, even DIY on occasion.

Academic matters

School scores highly on value-added. Nearly 60 per cent of GCSEs were graded A*-A/9-7 in 2018; 45 per cent A*/A and 57 per cent A*-B at A level. Before GCSE, the curriculum includes compulsory classics (including Greek and Latin), DT and ‘home technology’. In sixth form, Leiths certificate in food and wine is popular – we would happily have stayed in any ski chalet catered by BSG students, judging by what was being made in the kitchen. Typically, girls take nine or 10 subjects at GCSE, to include separate sciences, but no language, ancient or modern, is compulsory; a choice of French, German, Spanish or Latin is offered. Flexible and enlightened enough to allow girls to take certain GCSEs (eg French and maths) two or three years early, in exceptional cases. Twenty-one subjects to choose from in sixth form.

Small class sizes, averaging under 10, hard work and the ‘enthusiastic, effective teachers – the kind you get in a grammar school,’ according to one parent, contribute to the school’s academic success and high praise is given to SEN diagnosis and support: ‘My daughter’s in-house plan is tailored to her’, said another, whose daughter had fled the local comprehensive. The wide ability range ‘has meant my girls have learnt to tolerate all levels of ability, which is much more like real life,’ commented one thoughtful mother of clearly bright girls. Stand-out subjects are English, drama, art and biology; some report that maths is currently in flux. Our impression was of interesting subject matter (West Side Story being used to demonstrate the realities of immigration for Hispanics, capital punishment v the safety and protection of prisoners) being delivered with IT as support rather than as a substitute for honest-to-goodness teaching, to a very compliant, quiescent flock – just for our benefit?

Games, options, the arts

Hockey and netball the main games here, with no fewer than 17 netball teams. An impressive fixture list where BSG looks more like David up against local Goliaths Sherborne Girls and King Edward's Bath. Several netball courts doubling up for tennis, a delightfully sunny Astro where strenuous hockey practice was taking place when we visited, plus an athletics track behind the main group of buildings. At present the swimming pool is an outdoors, solar-heated, summer only affair; the five swimming teams use opponents’ indoor facilities for matches at less clement times of year. An indoor pool is top of the parental wish list. Although there is a riding team, this is not the kind of place where girls bring their own steeds, and the ability to pilot a horsebox is not a requirement for entry. Sporty activities include quidditch and tchoukball (truly – we wished we’d seen either).

Music comes in for high praise – deservedly so, judging by the singing practice for the director of music’s own composition that we heard, the recital at assembly and admissions to national and county youth choir and orchestra. A school orchestra, smaller ensembles for brass and strings inter alia, a Baroque group, theory classes for those taking grades and plenty of opportunities to play beyond the school gates make for a rich musical offering: we enjoyed the CD (and cookies) we were given on departure very much.

Drama takes place in the Hobhouse theatre: although it is a popular option, outside the devised and scripted requirements of public exams - when we witnessed genuine belly laughs and dramatic talent in the GCSE piece we saw - the scope seems limited to one musical per year, but ‘Please please don’t make us play boys again,’ beg the girls. The art department is truly vibrant – a crammed creative space where girls seem to be able to pursue any artistic fancy: the series of photographs resulting from one girl persuading an obliging friend to immerse herself in milk in a variety of poses was memorable. Good links with the arty town of Bruton enrich the life of the school – the installation by a local artist of felt poppies suspended on threads to commemorate the First World War was innovative and moving. Plenty of trips to local and not so local theatre, concerts and galleries complement the lively arts scene within school.

Boarders

Boarding (officially from year 4 in Sunny Hill Prep, but occasionally younger in the case of one small girl we met whose elder sisters all board and who was determined not to miss out) takes place in the cosy old vicarage where all junior boarders (just a handful from the prep) up to year 9 are housed. Day girls are free to join in with weekend activities and intermittent sleep-overs. Two other boarding houses for senior school boarders. Accommodation is homely and not obsessively tidy: a couple of sixth form girls had transformed their room into a Christmas grotto, complete with glitter and a snow scene, without attracting the wrath of the domestic staff. Intra-school allegiance, which might attach to houses with full vertical boarding in a bigger school, is created by assigning each girl (day and boarding) to one of four halls named for local stately homes.

Background and atmosphere

One of a disproportionate number of schools in Bruton (owing to the beneficence of Hugh Sexey, an auditor of the exchequer in the early 1600s), a small charming Somerset market town of golden stone, BSG sits on Sunny Hill, certainly so the day we visited, with distant hazy views of Glastonbury Tor. Established in 1900 and known originally as Sunny Hill School (the name retained by the prep), it has mostly been independent but spent 30 years in the maintained sector early in the last century. It is possibly this which gives the school a delightful lack of pretension and snobbery, ‘a place where the teachers don’t parade like cockerels, but where they get a remarkable amount out of the girls,’ in the words of one mother. ‘It’s slightly Enid Blyton with cocoa and biscuits at break,’ said another. We liked the fresh air and heartiness about the place – the gaps between buildings necessarily mean a breather between lessons, through the beautifully tended grounds and eccentric pop-up garden, with its giant chessmen.

Proud and unapologetic to be a girls’ school, where both the girls and their parents choose to be: ‘My daughter was offered the chance to move at sixth form and declined,’ one parent told us, another recounted a story of her daughter taking refuge from the local state offering and finding sanctuary at BSG. ‘We landed on our feet here’, said yet another satisfied customer. The school’s size means that girls form friendships across year groups, and we felt a genuine sense of community over a delicious lunch of steak pie and fresh veg. ‘Friendly’ kept popping up as the most common adjective used to describe the school: ‘My daughter took all of two days to settle in,’ reported one happy mother.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The pastoral side and the immense care the school takes over every girl in it are hugely appreciated by parents. Hot on friendship issues, a perennial subtext in girls’ schools. ‘Bruton stood out over other local schools,’ in one parent’s view, ‘and the school is not afraid to tackle issues head on, yet sensitively’. Tutor groups are mixed age until sixth form (these meet daily), and between tutors and heads of halls, no-one appears to fall through the net. Relationships between staff and students and between the students themselves are sound and supportive, ‘but we do teach them resilience and that things going wrong isn’t necessarily a problem,’ adds the head. ‘Honourables’ are awarded for exceptional work, ‘hallmarks’ for acts of courtesy and community-mindedness, colours for sporting prowess. Discipline is not a matter which seems to rear its ugly head very often: rudeness, lateness and wilder interpretations of uniform do not go unremarked; smokers and drinkers can expect a sliding scale of punishment, whilst druggies and persistent offenders face exclusion. ‘Fluffy and lenient we are not,’ states the head.

Pupils and parents

‘Confident without being arrogant’ – that overworked phrase to which every school aspires - is echoed by parents. We found the girls, who arrive in anything from helicopters to old bangers, cheerful, unpretentious and very happy to be at this school. ‘This isn’t the place for hair-flicking city types, but for well-grounded families, wanting the best for their girls. Our parents aren’t flashy but aren’t without aspiration either.' A welcoming parent community helps to reassure first time buyers that they have made a wise choice. About one fifth of girls from overseas.

Famous old girls include Clarissa Farr, ex-high mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School and journalists Viv Groskop, Imogen Sellars and Catherine Davies.

Entrance

Via online verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests to assess potential, plus interview. At sixth form the bar is higher, at five GCSEs at grade 5 or above, with 6s at subjects to be taken at A level. Termly open days and visits by arrangement. Main feeders at year 7 are the prep and local primary schools, at year 9 local preps. Several buses serve surrounding area within 20 mile radius.

Exit

Around half leaves after GCSEs. Sixth formers to a wide range of universities and an equal variety of courses. Most girls get to their first choice: everything from astrophysics to creative events management. Two medics in 2018.

Money matters

As independent education goes, good value for money, at about 25 per cent cheaper than its most expensive competitors. ‘Bruton offers everything academic and holistic a parent could ask from a 21st century girls’ school, without charging the ridiculous fees that most other schools charge’, so said one mother. Scholarships, awarded for the usual range of talents, are nominal, but governors’ exhibitions are awarded in cases of means-tested need to a maximum value of 40 per cent of fees.

Our view

‘It’s just not very BSG to promote itself,’ one father remarked, but if we were expecting an apologetic little school lurking in rural Somerset, we did not find it. Hidden gem is more like it – a place of unpretentious endeavour where girls can be girls and achieve as much as they are capable of. ‘Follow the gleam,’ may be the school motto, but in our view it could be time for a spotlight.

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

The Skills Development Unit offers support to those pupils with specific learning difficulties. Its primary objectives are to help all pupils with a specific need to access the curriculum most effectively, to fulfil their potential and to experience success, thus enhancing their self-esteem. The primary priciples are to: - Promote a consistency of approach to meeting pupils' special educational needs - To place the pupil at the heart of the process, allowing them to be heard and to take part in decisions about their education. - To work in partnership with parents and to understand that they have unique strengths, knowledge and experience to contribute to the shared view of a pupil's needs and the best ways of supporting them. Dec 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
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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