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We were struck by the benevolence of the PE staff, their borderline-messianic dedication and their concern to find something for everyone. One mum told us that her daughter had become sporty for the first time in her life. Careers counselling and course guidance highly rated. You see the evidence for that in the well-chosen universities students go on to, from the highly academic to the best of the rather more doable. Down to earth. Punches above its weight. No sense of entitlement...

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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.


Unusual sports

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




What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2019, Eugene Du Toit, previously senior deputy head at Trinity School, Croydon. Degree from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and an MA in educational leadership from the Institute of Education. Began his teaching career at King Edward VII School in Johannesburg before moving to England and taking up a position at St Paul’s School, London as a teacher of economics and mathematics, undermaster (assistant head), and head of house. A keen sportsman who has coached rugby, water polo and athletics. He is married to Angela and they have two young daughters.


Main entry at year 7, everyone sits school’s entry test in January. At year 9, tests in Eng, maths + paper of own choice. Post-GCSE they’ll have you as long as you got three 6s and three 5s. So, not fiendishly selective. International students from year 7 (who take tests in maths and English).


Varying numbers - around 25 per cent - leave at the GCSE watershed. Of these, most to vocational courses, especially Taunton’s Richard Huish College. Some parents make a strategic decision to fund just years 7-11. Majority of leavers go on to uni. Two to Oxbridge in 2021, and seven medics. Popular destinations UCL, Durham, Edinburgh, Bristol, Leeds, Reading, Manchester and Liverpool. Occasional apprenticeships, eg BBC.

Latest results

In 2021, 61 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 44 per cent A*/A at A level (75 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 49 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 35 per cent A*/A at A level (65 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Typical grammar school curriculum, all the subjects you need for a top university and the right ones to suit the full range of students here - 24 of them. Actually, more than enough, uptake varying from 40+ to, in one or two subjects, zero, so some very small class sizes. Four modern languages including Chinese and two ancient ones (Latin and Greek). BTEC sport level 3 recently introduced. Maths and sciences an enduring strength. Results at A level commendable by any standards. Value-added score admirable. Best of the best: geography, maths (historically strong), Eng lit and classics. Less strong: business studies, economics and physics (improving). Notable: the number of B grades attained by students who might otherwise have got Cs. Broadly, strong on all fronts, physics especially so. Sixth form foundation course for international students.

Careers counselling and course guidance highly rated. You see the evidence for that in the well-chosen universities students go on to, from the highly academic to the best of the rather more doable. As a flagship achievement this is as impressive to us as Oxbridge triumphs: they’re bringing out the best in all their students. Head of sixth form much admired and strongly liked by students and parents.

Learning support and SEN

Exceptional special needs provision addresses everything from classic special needs (dyslexia et al) to support for students who have hit a wobbly patch, to a few with mild behavioural problems. Some of these (120 when we visited) have an eye kept on them remotely (they don’t know), monitoring mechanisms having registered a blip. Hugely impressive SENCo, masses of experience, wise and thoughtful. He told us: ‘Our relationship with our students is key; there’s a pastoral element to this. Our department is a good place for a time out, especially for those struggling with sociability.’ Big believer in empathy exercises for teachers to give them some idea what dyslexia feels like.

The arts and extracurricular

Music exceptionally strong, much raved about by the mother of a scholar: ‘The head of department is inspirational.’ Rich range of ensembles and styles and a choral tradition that spans all-girl a capella group and a chapel choir that sings choral compline in local churches. Drama ‘could be bigger,’ said one parent. Happens in the converted old school hall, ideal for big musicals; also in the South Side studio theatre opened by alumnus David Suchet. Director in residence, thesp background, aims to drum up numbers for GCSE and A level, presently on the low side. Club for techies under the watchful eye of a BBC-trained overseer. Art department buzzy as can be, lots of big ambitious work in progress, everything from paint through ceramics to digital. Well impressive.

Heaps of extracurricular activities likely to render students paralysed for choice. On offer Saturday mornings too, but only compulsory for boarders. Head very keen on outdoor ed, so DofE has enjoyed a recent shot in the arm. CCF hugely popular - very Wellington, this; it’s an esprit de corps sort of school. Attractive adventurous activities on offer including arduous Ten Tors trekking event. CCF comes with enhanced outcomes here: you can put your service towards a BTEC level 2 diploma in uniformed public services or an Institute of Leadership and Management qualification. Lots of holiday expeditions home and abroad, some educational, some recreational and some downright gruelling. Brilliant initiative, student generated, enables boys and girls to get their Amateur FA basic refereeing badge. Absolutely not the sort of school that lets anyone skive off but, as a student told us, ‘They try really hard to cater for what you want to do.’


Novel approach to physical exercise - may even be trend-setting. Wellbeing, they call it. Potentially confusing, too, when you’re told, in the school’s words, that ‘The wellbeing programme… replaces the subject that schools have traditionally called physical education.’ Acting on a perhaps understandable misunderstanding, The Sunday Times shouted ‘Zumba puts team games on the bench at top school… Wellington School in Somerset has abandoned traditional PE lessons… and replaced them with “wellbeing” classes.’ But it’s simply not true. The new and pioneering look for PE here is ‘evolved’. ‘There is plenty of physical activity but also classroom sessions based around nutrition, mindfulness and leadership, which links into our PSHE programme. Our aim is not only to increase fitness and confidence at school, but also teach pupils how to look after themselves long after they leave school.’ In other words, there’s as much traditional team sport here as there ever was (heaps), but also a recognition that ‘it is… important that an increasingly sedentary generation understands the importance of physical fitness in their working lives.’ We can testify that the splendid sports hall was not reverberating to a chant of 'Om' when we visited, and while some might regard the way the school addresses mindfulness as a tad narrow, we were struck by the benevolence of the PE staff, their borderline-messianic dedication and their concern to find something for everyone. One mum told us that her daughter had become sporty for the first time in her life. Strong girls’ cricket and rugby. Head of sport is an ex-pro rugby player and ex-county cricketer. Team sports are compulsory to year 10; thereafter you get to choose. The one thing you can’t choose is nothing. To the gratification of many parents, mainstream sports have been boosted: ‘Wellington needed to up its game.’


Around 150 board, roughly 50 per cent of them international students from all over, mainly Russia, China and Europe - 25 nationalities when we called in - numbers of any one nationality limited in order to spur integration. Good systems for boarders to make their views heard. Weekend activities, always a bugbear in boarding schools, have been beefed up. A parent we spoke to who’d sent her son elsewhere entertained a lasting sense of regret that she had not opted what she described as ‘Wellington’s smelly-socks boarding’. She may have been misinformed. No odour of hosiery when we dived in, everything clean and gleaming. Doesn’t score five stars for luxury, more like a solid three, though we hear five star things about newish girls’ boarding house - and all have had a recent refurb. The point is the students like it, enjoy their relationships with house staff and express contentment.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1837 as Wellington Academy, offering a commercial, mathematical and classical education. That ‘commercial’ tells you something about the target clientele, still a sector today. In 1879 it rebranded as the West Somerset County School. During WW1 the pupils grew vegetables on the playing fields and made munitions for the front line in the school engineering shop - and the name was changed to Wellington School. In 1945 it became a direct grant grammar school. On the abolition of that scheme in 1976 the school’s application to join the state sector was refused, so it went independent. As it has grown it has spilled over into a hodge-podge of handsome buildings bisected by a traffic-calmed road. The main campus is altogether more unified, blessed for space and recognisably public-schooly with its chapel and commodious playing fields. Well resourced throughout, money carefully spent. Most recently, a new sixth form centre, library, study centre and café. Never the sort of school to be seduced by the spirit of the present age and blow cash on fancy-pants prestige buildings. Opened its doors to international students in 1904 and girls in 1979.

The school sits squarely in the midst of the architecturally handsome market town of Wellington, once a wool town, now more of a dormitory for Taunton. Nice Georgian townhouses, a branch of Waitrose and a Wetherspoon pub named in honour of the Iron Duke whose link to the town is in fact notional. He visited just once. His brother chose his territorial title for him when he got his dukedom - the great man was tied up with the Peninsular War at the time - and plumped for the name Wellington for no better reason that that he thought it sounded a bit like Wellesley. A lofty if decayed obelisk celebrating Waterloo stands just outside the town. The town itself nestles on the banks of the M5, enjoying excellent transport links, so much so that some parents to the east of Taunton find it easier to get to Wellington than its competitor schools in Taunton itself. Not to be confused with the namesake college in Berkshire, obviously, except that a surprising number do. The realisation dawns at some point when they’re looking round, by which time they have lost their hearts and signed up.

The social climate of the school is influenced by the level at which it sets its fees - some 20 per cent or so lower for day students than local competitors (the difference for boarders is less than 10 per cent). This broadens its social base, opening it up to local families who would otherwise be unable to afford an independent education. It also opens it to sneery jibes, eg ‘the state school you have to pay fees for’, precisely the sort of remark that makes it attractive to affluent folk who don’t want their children to be infected by hauteur. We spoke to a number of such parents who had chosen Wellington rather than the sort of school they had been to themselves, who spoke of their pride in the down-to-earth, unpretentious nature of a school whose students go out into the world with an ability to relate to people of all sorts with absolutely no sense of entitlement. We spoke to a working mum for whom finding the fees is a heroic struggle. She told us, ‘I never feel intimidated when I go up there’, and rejoices that when her daughter leaves ‘she will be sure of herself, not full of herself’. One parent talked of a ‘school happy to be itself’ and there’s no doubting its strong sense of identity; we’ve rarely encountered such ardent loyalty from both students and parents.

Parents also like what one described as ‘a thoroughly traditional ethos’ and ‘Christian values unashamedly proclaimed’. Another said, ‘It’s the sort of school where it’s cool to work hard and make something of yourself.’ This is widely endorsed: ‘Wellington is good at finding out what your child is good at.’ Yes, this is a meritocratic environment whose grammar school inheritance lives on.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Sound and recently reinforced systems for pastoral care. Principal guarantor of wellbeing is good relationships among students and between them and staff, whether ‘teachers, who really care’ or support staff. Some intermingling of year groups; sixth formers pretty good at looking out for the youngest. Parents report rapid response to problems and feel their views count. Though this is a school notable for its camaraderie it is, in the words of a parent, ‘not overly conformist’. A student told us ‘character is valued; some need more leeway’. For all that the climate is notably orderly. A problem with good schools is that there’s so little to rebel against.

Pupils and parents

Most day students come in by bus from Exeter and Chard to the south, Minehead and Dulverton to the north west and beyond Bridgwater to the east. Good social spread of down-to-earth parents. ‘Not a posh school by any stretch of the imagination,’ one told us. Another: ‘No one judges you by what car you drive, only by how nice you are.’ And another: ‘A good solid cohort of decent parents. Lots of doctors.’

Money matters

High value, especially for day students. Fees what they say on the tin, none of the mum’s-the-word discounts you can haggle at other schools and no sibling discounts either. Scholarships up to 20 per cent. Top-up bursaries to 40 per cent subject to means test. The school is committed, according to its means, to educating local boys and girls. Notably astute money management.

The last word

Down to earth. Punches above its weight. No sense of entitlement. Good value for money. Not our words, those of a parent. Says it for us, too.

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.

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Special Education Needs

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