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Though by its own admission an academically selective school, academics are not the be-all and end-all here. Parents seem happy with the academic offer and the fact that it’s ‘not just about grades – no-one is made to feel stupid,’ as one mother put it. Nobody could describe the place as a hothouse and no-one wants one, yet the school appears to...

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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.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

Sports

Unusual sports

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

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2019, Eugene du Toit MA MBA (late 40s). Born in Zimbabwe but educated in South Africa, Mr du Toit (rhymes with boy) moved to London after completing his degrees in business economics at the University of the Witwatersrand and educational leadership at UCL. Despite the high number of teachers in his family - and the fact that he has the equivalent of a PGCE and even spent a year teaching at a notable school in Johannesburg - he resisted the siren call of a career in education, instead joining PWC as a management consultant in expat remuneration. Until, that is, the call became too strong. Good fortune led him to join the staff at St Paul’s, where for 14 years he taught economics, coached rugby and athletics and rose to become an undermaster, during which time he was mentored by the legendary Clarissa Farr, former high mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School. Five years as senior deputy to Trinity School of John Whitgift preceded his move to Wellington.

Since then, he and his wife Angela have been wowed by its sense of family and community, and are busy enjoying all that Somerset has to offer in terms of the outdoor life and proximity to Cornwall, where they like to escape and go off grid with their two daughters for a spot of surfing and BBQing – or should that be braai?! Don’t just go by appearances though - beneath that imposing physical presence (‘I’m a semi-respectable sportsman,’ he told us) lie a heart and mind attuned to the fragility of many of today’s youngsters and a determination to give them the confidence to achieve all of which they are capable.

His appointment has gone down well with most parents. ‘The school was jolly nice but needed tightening up’ and ‘we see greater accountability and visibility’ were comments which came our way. Any feathers – there were some - were ruffled for the good of the school, most parents reckon. And the kids? Well, they love him too - his enthusiasm, his visibility particularly on the touchline, the fact that he knows all their names and, not least, his jokes.

Entrance

At year 7 and indeed year 9, as much emphasis placed on the individual child’s interests and personality as on academic achievement. Hopefuls for either year group will attend an annual assessment day in January (year 7) or February (year 9) where all sit online assessments in literacy, numeracy and reasoning; year 9 candidates will also sit a third paper in a subject of their choice. Before any of this, however, everyone is asked to submit a short piece (100 or 300 words, depending on year of entry) ‘About Me’. About half the intake in year 7 come from the school’s own prep (it is unusual for pupils not to move up), with others coming from a range of up to 50 local primaries. Another 25-30 arrive in year 9.

At sixth form, the minimum requirement for entry is six GCSEs at a grade 4 or above, three of which need to be a grade 6, certainly for any subject carried forward to A level; maths courses demand higher than this.

Exit

Some (a quarter in 2023) after GCSE to the local (excellent) sixth form college, Richard Huish in Taunton. Replaced by some from secondaries in the area without sixth forms, or international students. After sixth form, about 70 per cent to Russell Group universities, others to degree courses up and down the land, apprenticeships, employment or gap years. One to Oxbridge in 2023 and nine medics/dentists/vets/neuroscientists. Swansea the most popular destination.

Latest results

In 2023, 33 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 29 per cent A*/A at A level (56 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 42 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 35 per cent A*/A at A level (60 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Though by its own admission an academically selective school, academics are not the be-all and end-all here. Classes of about 20 in year 7, with no setting except for maths. French and Latin compulsory to start with, plus German or Spanish in year 8. The IGCSE syllabus is followed for maths, English, sciences and languages - most students sit nine out of a list of 19 and can choose between separate sciences or dual award; a language (ancient or modern) is strongly recommended. The choice of A level subjects runs to 21 and every effort is made to accommodate any combination of 3 subjects; the most able might take 4. One BTec in sport.

We found the lessons we popped into lively and engaging. Geographers were considering whether weather events have become more extreme, an A level French class the knotty question of union representation in France and musicians were notating the bass line in Pachelbel’s Canon. ‘Miss has taken us on a wild goose chase!’ one student in an A level classical civilisation class on democracy declared, which told us much about the elasticity of student/teacher relationships in the sixth form. Indeed this came up in our chats with students as one the best things about the school.

Parents seem happy with the academic offer and the fact that it’s ‘not just about grades – no-one is made to feel stupid,’ as one mother put it. Nobody could describe the place as a hothouse and no-one wants one, yet the school appears to get the best out of everyone by instilling the self-belief needed to aim for the stars. Academic expectations of the brightest and scholars in particular remain high, however, and each department runs a club outside lesson times for diving into topics beyond the exam syllabus. ‘Not to have high expectations of children is a sin!’ says the head. The most able in pursuit of Oxbridge, medicine, veterinary or dentistry courses are given targeted support and mentoring, though their numbers are unquestionably small.

Recent academic successes in maths, physics and computer science in particular and the school is proud of its silver CyberFirst accreditation, a government initiative to ‘encourage young people to engage with computer science and to promote a structured approach to excellence in cyber security education’.

Learning support and SEN

All new arrivals are screened for dyslexia, so provision mostly supports students with SpLD and dyslexia in particular, according to the school. These days however the department is seen as a source not only of academic support, but also pastoral. ‘We have seen a noticeable increase in anxiety, social and communication difficulties and ASC,’ the thoughtful and delightful head of learning support told us. ‘Quietly very very phenomenal,’ in the view of one mother. Though there is a dedicated and welcoming space within school, most support is provided within lessons as teachers are reckoned to be better equipped to deliver effective strategies for SpLD in a class setting. Discussions around learning difficulties generally have become much more open. ‘My daughter’s SEN lesson is the best one of the week’ that same mother told us. Some students arrive with a diagnosis, others self-refer. ‘This is not really the place for behavioural difficulties, even though the child may cognitively be able to access the curriculum,’ we were told.

The arts and extracurricular

Les Mis was about to open when we visited and we were treated to Jean Valjean’s soliloquy performed by a drama school applicant. The great hall provides a relatively modest theatre compared with some schools, so major productions run over several nights. A smaller studio space opened by David Suchet, the school’s most famous old boy, adds capacity and a more intimate setting for the range of drama the school offers, away from toe-tapping musicals. Drama in the lower school curriculum impressed us with its blend of theory and practice. LAMDA is popular and notably successful. School is proud of the fact that drama is enjoyed by everyone – no luvvie crowd here and the whole offering is enhanced by trips to, and workshops given by, theatres in the south west and beyond. Students regularly go on to drama school and a sixth former has just been accepted by the National Youth Theatre. David Bishop, a BAFTA-winning lighting designer, is an OW.

About a third of students have weekly individual singing or instrumental lessons and get to show off their skill in performances of all sizes and standards, from termly whole school concerts to less formal year group and the charmingly named cushion concerts. Steinways are dotted all over the place, and not just in the music school with its iMac suite and recording studio, a legacy from the school’s being the first All Steinway school in the UK and its pianists are at the forefront of music-making. Lots else on offer though for all singers and players - the school believes in positive encouragement not coercion, and in all ‘good’ music (whatever that means). Budding rock stars and crooners will be fine, rappers with questionable lyrics probably not. Good variety of ensembles, including a chapel choir good enough to sub in for cathedral choirs where necessary, and a fine tradition of outreach, such as an annual ‘come and sing’ day for local primary schools.

The art really wowed us. Its vibrant, buzzy, busy studios – not chaotic, note – are presided over by a truly free-thinking head of department who assured us that students really can create whatever they like, unconstrained by materials or dimensions, and that there is no house style. His philosophy is brilliantly set out on the relevant page of the website. Textiles and ceramics mix happily with paint and many other materials; installations hang from the ceiling, one of which would not have looked out of place at Lemony Snicket’s. One GCSE student was absorbed in making a cast out of plaster of Paris. It is a source of pride to the school that several students are able to go straight to art college without the need for a foundation year. DT too has all the kit and space any student could wish for - two massive rooms with a laser cutter, 3D printer and traditional forge and anvil! Oh and a dedicated computer room for CAD. We saw year 8’s making LED garden lights out of recycled electrical trunking - sustainability and good design underpin all student work.

Beyond the classroom, inside and out, students have ample opportunity (and indeed are expected) to find interesting ways to spend their time, apart from sport. Clubs, at lunchtimes or Saturday mornings, are laid on as an extension to academic or creative subjects, broadening into politics, creative writing and film club. Outdoor education appears to be king of the hill, literally and figuratively, with huge take-up for DofE and Ten Tors, that Everest for schools in the south west. CCF also very popular but an extensive community programme, Citizen Wellington, which does not shrink from the less glamorous aspects of community care (eg dementia awareness), suits those who would prefer not to don camouflage and assemble rifles. Trips near and far supplement ‘book learning’ but some are done just for fun (cycling from Nice to Venice) and some as a rite of passage, such as the year 12 trekking expedition to the Himalayas or Atlas mountains. Parents appreciate that not all trips are miles away and ludicrously expensive, such as the walking tour across the Outer Hebrides.

Sport

Make no mistake, this is a very sporty school where the traditional termly timetable of rugby and hockey carries on for two terms using indoor sessions or as rugby 7’s; cricket and tennis for everyone in the summer. What marks the offering out though is the marriage of sport with health, under the umbrella of the new sports performance and wellbeing department, where trickier matters such as diet and body image are holistically included. Talented athletes will be invited to join the targeted athlete programme, where they develop the physical and psychological aspects to succeed in their chosen sport. School is especially strong in cricket (the reason one parent we talked to had chosen it) as a result of its strong links with Somerset county cricket: currently over 30 players at county level. Lots else on offer for those keen on minority sports (rowing, volleyball, modern pentathlon, triathle for example) and those not really very keen on organised sport at all (yoga, circuit training). Facilities are all you would expect, including an indoor pool and olympic standard sports complex (fencing salle, physio suite, two performance gyms). A remarkable amount is crammed into 35 acres, the crown of which is the immaculate cricket pitch smack in the middle of the school. Says it all, really.

Boarders

Not great numbers of boarders (just over a quarter), but an integral part of the school for years, adding to its student diversity. Grouped by age and gender into houses (more details on the website would be helpful - and are coming, promises school), boarders also now belong to one of six school houses, co-ed, vertical and mixed with day students, ‘to equip students for the realities of the 21st century,’ as the head put it - and it is this which seems to engender identity, loyalty and fierce competition for the Norma Cup, despite having no physical bases until September 2022. The house system has, after wide, lengthy and careful consultation, been hugely shaken up by the head, initially met with modified rapture though now generally accepted.

The girls’ accommodation we saw was super – light, bright and modern, complete with kitchens and space to relax on the sofa; house staff seemed delightful too. The Grange, with its single rooms and ensuite bathrooms, is top of the pops - no rooms take more than two.

Some boarders come from the UK but most come from overseas, the majority Chinese (New Year is a much-loved event in the school calendar) but a sprinkling of Germans and other Europeans come for short periods. No fixed exeat weekends, and the few full boarders are free to go home with other students at weekends where possible, and where not, are offered a varied programme of activities in and out of school, including axe-throwing, gun-running and surfing. Weekly and flexi-boarding complete the offering.

One father admitted that his sons ‘don’t feel a huge amount of love for being boarders’ but that view does not seem at all prevalent. Thankfully, the food gets a thumbs up from everyone we talked to (especially the vegan menus), bar one boy who brings his own lunch. Our vegetarian dish was delicious, as were the incidental baked goodies we were regaled with over chats with members of staff.

Ethos and heritage

A troupe of grinning DofE students sporting laden rucksacks walking briskly towards minibuses waiting to whisk them off to the wilds of Dartmoor greeted us as we arrived – and this set the tone for the day. We later caught up with their progress live-streamed from those heathery wastes - and they were still smiling. Most of the students seemed to be in their sports kit – in lessons, lunch and leisure. But there is so much more to this school than its sporting reputation. Mr du Toit is certain that inner confidence and good relationships are the bedrock of effective learning, so much attention is devoted to making sure ‘our kids are seen and known’, as he put it. Schools endlessly talk up the importance they place on the individual child, but here it rings truer than most, according to the sixth formers we met. Teaching staff and tutors are mostly quick to spot or even pre-empt any signs of overload, though we picked up the odd grumble about the school diary clashes eg a UCAS convention and DofE practice on the same day.

Despite some fine buildings and an imposing street frontage, the place is wonderfully unpretentious and completely embedded in the pleasant little market town of Wellington, itself worthy of a Waitrose. Very very strong on community outreach of all kinds, but that dry phrase does not do justice to the extent of sharing of facilities and expertise, fundraising and collections of food, clothes and supplies for those who need them the school provides: a deserving winner of a BSA award for the community shortly after we visited.

Founded in 1837 ‘to provide a commercial, mathematical and classical education for boys’, the school was for many years under the control of the local authority but went fully independent in 1977, the point at which it also accepted girls. Once through the gates, handsome red brick buildings surround the hallowed cricket pitch, with plenty of tarmac space for CCF to perfect their marching. The chapel is the jewel in the crown, foursquare and much photographed, built movingly by a former head to commemorate his nephew killed in WW1 and whose walls bear the names of former pupils killed in every war since. Anglican observance is expected of everyone, if not belief, and the choir robes in traditional red. Uniform (a kind of RAF blue) too is pretty conventional, though there are three non-gendered versions of it, two comprising trousers. High standards are insisted upon - shirts tucked in, ties straight and skirts not rolled up to thigh level. Sixth formers wear suits, approximating formal work wear.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral care much vaunted by the school. ‘We’ve got you,’ assures head to the students. Initial responsibility for general wellbeing lies with tutors, who get a good press both from students and parents. ‘They have dual role to encourage the reluctant to step forward and to manage any danger of overload,’ as one mother summed it up beautifully, but both tutors and teachers are sought out by their students in times of need. We also heard about the importance of friends. ‘You never see anyone walking round on their own,’ students assured us – and we didn’t. Common rooms for different age groups – not an issue for sixth formers who have a splendid new centre with masses of space – are top of the student wish list, however.

Though there are slightly fewer girls than boys, they are treated with respect, and any (rare) off colour remarks are swiftly and sometimes publicly dealt with in assembly, but it’s a continuing conversation where ‘we also look after the boys and help them understand it too,’ according to the head. Genuinely, everyone seems to find a place here – there is a welcome for the quirky and geeky too.

Discipline exists more in the concept of self-discipline in the pursuit of excellence (the head is determined to ensure that every student becomes the best they can be) than in the meting out of punishments. Alcohol under tightly controlled circumstances at school events for sixth formers, but zero tolerance for smoking or drugs, the selling of which will result in expulsion. The focus though is far more on the promotion of good behaviour than the punishing of bad.

Pupils and parents

‘Ordinary kids and ordinary families’, in the words of one mother – and indeed we kept hearing how there is really no place for the arrogant and entitled, nor those who don’t or won’t muck in. ‘Lots of families work very hard to make this happen’, the head told us – that, and undertake long journeys to get there. The school’s location close to a motorway junction makes longish car journeys from east Devon (including Exeter) and the further stretches of Somerset quite possible and there’s an extensive network of school buses laid on. Loyal OWs send their children.

Money matters

Fees typically towards the lower end of the scale, but watch for charges for lunches and public exam fees, which are not included. Scholarships - usual range, to a maximum of two – offer a top reduction of 20 per cent of fees. Usual bursary arrangements.

The last word

Super school stepping out of the shadow cast by the Taunton schools down the road, and garnering wider media recognition. Striving to make its students the best they can possibly be in all fields, by concentrating on strong values and process, rather than results. ‘We’re on the march!’ declares the head – and we watch with interest. Meanwhile, a parent told us, ‘I wouldn’t send my daughter anywhere else.'

Please note: 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

Who came from where


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