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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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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2014, Henry Price MA. Eton and Oxford (classics). A career teacher, first post at Sydney Grammar, Australia, next Sherborne then Rugby for 13 years where, in addition to being head of classics and a housemaster, he was involved in all manner of extracurricular activities. Married, four young children. Circumscribed cultural and recreational hinterland just now, given the demands of his large family. In holiday time enjoys the beaches and mountains of Wales from his base in Anglesey.

Mr Price was guarded in his responses to our questions, leaving us with a lot to find out for ourselves. We did learn that he is fiercely proud of his school, its values and attributes. If it has a USP, he said, it is that it is ‘grounded’. And he gave us a valuable insight into his philosophy of education. Our ears pricked up when he spoke of Wellington’s teachers as ‘schoolmasters’ and ‘schoolmistresses’. You don’t hear those heritage words very often these days. What does he mean by them? To understand, we must blow the dust off the seminal work on the subject written by AC Benson waay back in 1902. He defined the role of the schoolmaster/mistress as: ‘to curb, to correct, but also to encourage and to lift’ by ‘the personal interest which they take in all that concerns the [students] for whom they are responsible’. In sum, ‘there should be a conscious consecration of self to work’. The modern tendency in education is towards specialisation; the plum roles are in management. So teachers who want to get on nowadays are more likely to be found in suits at exam board meetings, not charging about in short trousers refereeing the U14 Bs. Is Mr Price’s ideal of the teacher as all-rounder massively behind the curve? Or is the richness of the school’s pastoral and co-curricular provision a testament to his, and his predecessors’, vocational, holistic approach? We suspect the latter. And we applaud his focus on supporting the development of his teachers both in and out of the classroom. A parent told us, ‘He has re-focussed on work and sport without losing the essential decency of the school’.

The overwhelming majority of parents we spoke to like their headmaster. Even after correcting for choice-supportive bias, he gets good chitty - and that’s after taking into account those who say ‘I wish he had more presence’ and ‘more sense of humour’. His fans are vigorously protective and speak with strong affection, for they have got to know him and acknowledge that yes, he can come over as reserved, and no, ‘he’s not an in-yer-face head’; he’s the sort who ‘quietly sees what’s going on and takes it all in’. ‘He’s shy and may have felt burdened by the step up to headship, but he’s growing in confidence’. ‘Heads at Wellington learn on the job.’ ‘He’s the softly-softly sort.' ‘He’s a thoroughly humane, decent man with a strong sense of justice’. Also clearly bright and scholarly, his interests span philosophy, modern lit fic and medieval history. His speeches on formal occasions are highly esteemed and contain a lot of heart - together with some rather good jokes. Plainly a man who enjoys honing a sentence.

Hosts a sticky bun club for students every Friday break where he gets to hear what they think. Teaches Latin - ‘I’m still a schoolmaster’. Sends all students a birthday card. One of his students, we learned from their mum, really likes his warmer, funnier classroom persona.

Academic matters

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, 0, so some very small class sizes. Four modern languages including Chinese and two ancient ones (Latin and Greek). No vocational courses eg BTecs. Maths and sciences an enduring strength. Results in 2017 commendable by any standards, and that’s without factoring in the ongoing lurch to ‘reformed’ A levels. Seventy-eight per cent A*-B and 50 per cent A*/A grades at A level. Value added score shows the school in the top 12 per cent nationally, an achievement flattered a little by the absence of GCSE maths from the calculation (students here do the IGCSE), but nonetheless 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. At GCSE the 2017 harvest was 47 per cent A*-A/9-7 grades. Broadly, strong on all fronts, physics especially so. Sixth form foundation course for international students.

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.

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 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.

Games, options, the arts

Novel approach to physical exercise - may even be trend-setting. Well-being, they call it. Potentially confusing, too, when you’re told, in the school’s words, that ‘The well-being 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 “well-being” classes’. But it’s simply not true. The new and pioneering look for PE here is, in the head’s words, ‘evolved’. He explains: ‘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 ohm 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 by Mr Price: ‘Wellington needed to up its game’.

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 D of E 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’.


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. So buoyant is boarding that there are plans to open a new house. Good systems for boarders to make their views heard. Weekend activities, always a bugbear in boarding schools, have been beefed up under the impetus of the head. 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 brand new girls’ boarding house. The point is the students like it, enjoy their relationships with house staff and express contentment.

Background and atmosphere

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. 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 town houses, 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, well-being and discipline

Sound and recently reinforced systems for pastoral care. Principal guarantor of well-being 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.’


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 B/6s and three Cs/5. So, not fiendishly selective. International students from year 7.


Varying numbers leave at the GCSE watershed. Of these, most to vocational courses, especially Taunton’s Richard Huish College: ‘Outstanding’ - Ofsted. Some parents make a strategic decision to fund just years 7–11. Majority of leavers go on to uni. Usually three or four to Oxbridge, two in 2017.

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.

Our view

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.

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