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Can’t think why Wellington hasn’t featured in Good Schools’ Guide until recently. Friendly, purposeful and busy, it is a solid, well-managed school, neat but not glossy, giving its pupils a sound education and masses of high points in developmental experience. Definitely not a toff school, but lots of Somerset families – inevitably farmers and businesses relating to farming. Professionals and families where both parents work to cover the fees. A few expats and a tranche of…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2014, Henry Price MA (40s), previously senior housemaster at Rugby. After reading classics at Oxford, started teaching career at Sydney Grammar School (Oxford Classics Fellow), before moving to Sherborne. At Rugby for 13 years; was head of classics, housemaster, coached rugby, cricket and netball, and was involved in 'trips, debating and much more'. He is a governor of Skinner's Academy in Hackney. Married to Mary, whom he met at Oxford, and who is training for her first triathlon; they have four young children. Holidays are spent on the beaches of Anglesey and walking in Snowdonia.

Academic matters

Wellington sits comfortably between its local Taunton independent rivals in academic achievement and considerably higher than the nearest sixth form college. Over the past 10 or so years it has had pretty consistent sound results at GCSE and A level. It is proud of 66 per cent A*-B and 40 per cent A*/A grades at A level in 2016. While it’s not right at the top of the national league tables, recent scores in maths and science, both IGCSEs, are impressive. (In 2016, 53 per cent A*/A grades overall.) Classes average 22, but not larger than 25. All study French in the first three years and pick up either German or Spanish and Latin. All do RS, Eng lang and lit, maths (IGCSE), either three separate sciences (IGCSE) or dual award, and at least one language (if two taken one has to be French ie can’t do Spanish and German). State of art language IT, in use on our visit. Outstanding classics department gives Latin an exceptionally high take up. Music and drama on offer in a basically standard selection, except for Greek, which has grown from a club started 10 years ago, and is taught in spare time. A level offers a free choice and generally manages to timetable it. Economics and classical subjects get a small take up as do all mod langs, with maths (plus further maths) and physics topping the bill, both with very good record of A*/As. Plenty of options for less academic students, whose results are more than adequate. High fliers – quite a few of them – with some fast track arrangements when parents request it.

Extensive new labs are well designed (by teachers) with separate areas for study and practical work. Aristotle the axolotl (Mexican amphibian with external gills) is lovingly looked after by the physics technician, typifying the enterprising flexibility of the school. Though large and exceptionally well-equipped, the labs are functional rather than spectacular, with lots of bare breezeblock – reflecting the common sense economy which has allowed the school to undertake massive developments over the years. Spacious but understated new English teaching block also houses a comprehensive SEN department (SEN help offered at need on individual or group basis by qualified staff of three, though charges for extra English for foreign students) and an enormous exam hall. It means other spaces don’t get blocked at exam time and gives assembly and function space. One year GCSE programme for students from abroad allows them to get up to five basic subject passes in order to do A levels in sixth form or IB elsewhere.

Games, options, the arts

Even those reluctant to exercise seem to get a look in. A parent commented that boys and girls alike are encouraged but not forced, and the truly non-sporty get support, a few concessions but enough exercise. Lots of teams for everything with girls’ hockey and boys’ cricket getting players to county level, while girls’ netball is making a splash locally. There’s definitely a rugby set, parents say, with 10 teams posting enthusiastic reports of results in the school mag. Most of the usual summer and winter sports (no soccer?) with athletics outstanding. Elite cricket and athletics programme. Fantastic pale blue Princess Royal Sports Centre (she opened it) with its own department of sports medicine, huge adaptable sports hall with viewing and teaching spaces and fitness suite. Lovely dance studio is also home to fencing with a small but very distinguished take up reaching national level.

New music block is rather small, which belies the emphasis on music (an 'all Steinway school'). Regular chapel sung services, lots of orchestras and small groups orchestral, choral, classic and pop, include ‘Girlforce9’, a self-generated a capella choir. ‘Cushion concerts’ in lunch hours for lower school as well as the usual full school ones and masses of encouragement for all types of music, such as the summer ‘fretted strings’ celebrations for guitarists. The prep school music department has an orchestra where even beginners can join in. As well as classrooms, the upper floor, arranged around the wide corridor with windows down to the central atrium, has dedicated art space, music teaching rooms for class (with lots of instruments and keyboards) and individual lessons.

Drama uses the main school hall converted to a blacked-out all-singing-and-dancing venue, opened by past pupil David Suchet. A bit of a desecration of what must have been a gracious, light-filled school hall (not a permanent one, says school - curtains frequently drawn back for events), one of the few original buildings, but allowing frequent huge musical productions which pupils clearly adore. There’s serious stuff as well: The Crucible, Odysseus, Tristan and Isolde. Brilliant posters and some outstanding theatre photography attest to the quality achieved. Smashing photography in lots of the school’s promotional bumf must emanate from the influence of the art department. Its policy is ‘to encourage self expression’, but the work on show in the cramped department bursts with exceptional observation and drawing as well as tremendous imaginative use of material, extending to 3D and photography. Some of the best school art around.

Prominent CCF means that school is full of service (all three) uniform every Friday and drilling seemed to occupy most of the afternoon we visited. Year 11 was embarking in huge numbers on a weekend camp. Air force cadets get a flight before they leave sixth form, navy actually get to sea plus plenty of free sail training etc and army cadets were handling some alarmingly real guns.

‘Almost too much to do,’ a parent commented. Twenty or so activities on offer, from semi-academic to energetic, as well as all the sport/music/drama/CCF programmes. The usual exchanges and visits abound. A sample school mag reported 15, 10 of which were abroad – New York, South Africa, Greece and Alps for skiing etc (not counting CCF and D of E) and Barbados, the Arctic Circle and Tunisia are in the pipeline. Occasional financial support for trips central to curriculum.

The recently devised ‘Aces’ scheme encourages pupils to take responsibility for their own development and learning. Pupils have a termly tutor interview to reflect on their underlying skills, based round competence in action, communication, exploration and self-development.

Boarders

Boys can board from 11, girls from 13. Top juniors and first two years of senior have mixed boarding in Overside. Senior boarding boys have two houses, and one for senior girls. The vast majority of day pupils are split into three boys’ and three girls’ houses. Fairly basic accommodation in comparison with the five star rooms of some schools, but boarders seem contented, and there are all the trimmings of common rooms, kitchens, showers etc and the odd bath for easing the rugby stiffness.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1837 as Benjamin Frost’s Classical Mathematical and Commercial Academy, occupying the great hall, where all teaching took place, Wellington morphed into the West Somerset County School. In 1945, as Wellington School, it became the first direct grant school and became fully independent in the 1970s. Girls infiltrated it from 1972, and in 1997 it added Wellington Junior School, now called Wellington Prep. The current site straggles across a busy-ish road (no over- or underpass) in the little town of Wellington, birthplace of the Iron Duke. A mixture of Georgian-type houses converted into sixth form centre, head’s house and san, and facilities purpose built or acquired over its 175 years rejoice in styles of these various times. A huge tree-lined green expanse edged by new labs, pool etc creates central campus. It softens the red-brick neoclassical great hall and gothic spikes of the chapel, built to commemorate the fallen of WW1, with a stunning blue star-studded ceiling, carved oak pews and angel decked organ. Used for daily assembly and masses of music it is, physically, the central point of Wellington.

Smart, refurbished reception and head master’s offices - definitely welcoming; comfortable library with terrific AV, friendly round tables for clean cafeteria style dining, serving a choice of Friday fish, on our visit, including popular but rather small portions of moules marinières. Lunch is extra but very few opt out.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pastoral care is delivered via the houses, with each pupil allocated a tutor who takes pupils right through the school and is first point of call for parents. Problems are dealt with sensitively, say parents, and children given every support in settling and studying. No recent incidents calling for ultimate sanction of permanent exclusion. Parents agree that neither drugs nor drink are rife, and say pupils know where they stand on this (urine tests for suspects) and other matters of discipline. Plenty of responsibility for house and school captains, and for lower school prefects.

Pupils and parents

Definitely not a toff school, but lots of Somerset families – inevitably farmers and businesses relating to farming. Professionals and families where both parents work to cover the fees. A few expats and a tranche of international boarders (about 65 per cent), some of whom come in via the school's one year GCSE programme. Huge majority of day pupils come in by bus from Exeter and Chard to the south, Minehead and Dulverton to the north west and beyond Bridgewater to the east.

Despite the usual reservations of some parents and pupils that kilted skirts don’t suit all shapes, and regulations are not always enforced, Wellington uniform of blue crested blazer (quite expensive), white shirt and grey trousers/skirt is worn with evident pride by pupils. Not a half-mast tie or dipping hemline in sight. Second hand shop.

Past pupils include David Suchet, Jeffrey Archer, the late Keith Floyd, actress Carly Bawden, ex Black Rod Sir Freddie Viggers, mathematician and author Simon Singh and marine biologist, Dr Jon Copley.

Entrance

Main entry at 11, with 30 per cent from junior school, then at 13 and to lower sixth. Pupils can enter for any year, but if it is half way through an exam course and the syllabus does not match, they may be advised to repeat a year. Broadly selective, tending to discourage potential non-copers. At 11 all, including juniors, take the school’s own exam in January. At 13 from prep schools, exams in maths, English, science and a subject of their choice from modern languages, history or geography.

International pupils can enter via one year GCSE programme and pay a higher fee to cover any extra tuition needed.

Exit

Almost 20 per cent leave after GCSE, often to Taunton’s Robert Huish College, which has a good reputation. The head points out that some parents make a strategic decision to fund years 7–11. Vast majority from upper sixth to uni, about half in mainstream subjects to established courses. Five to Oxbridge in 2016, and one medic; lots of mathematicians, linguists and classicists. Tiny trickle straight to Forces or training.

Money matters

Both boarding and day are pretty good value in comparison with similar schools. Scholarships, both academic and talent related (music, drama, sport), between 10 and 50 per cent of fees awarded at years 7, 9 and 12 by examination, audition etc. Scholarship holders can apply for means-tested bursaries of up to 100 per cent. The school spends cautiously, avoiding the flashily expensive, but has nevertheless achieved tremendously improved facilities over the last six or seven years.

Our view

Can’t think why Wellington hasn’t featured in Good Schools’ Guide until recently. Friendly, purposeful and busy, it is a solid, well-managed school, neat but not glossy, giving its pupils a sound education and masses of high points in developmental experience. Its flexible and approachable style means happy pupils and happy parents.

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