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We encountered some really high-octane teaching right up to the lesson before lunch and very much wanted wanted to sit out a particularly gripping history class. As well as getting to grips with the ins and outs of the natural world, children light fires and whittle wood with sharp knives. The brightest and best are coached, do team sports and play to win. Those for whom this would be wretched tyranny learn to keep fit...

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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

Headmaster

Since 2010, Adam Gibson. Took him a while to stumble on his vocation. He started as an info systems manager for the NHS. Struck by the realisation that he’s not a back office kind of guy, he was on the point of switching to frontline medicine when, by chance, he spent a day in a school. That’s when the lightbulb above his head lit up and that’s where it blazes undimmed today. Taught for 10 years in state schools in the Midlands, then headed a prep school in Devon before returning to his alma mater. Has a more than ordinarily strong affection for Wellington, a characteristic, we discovered, of all its alumni. ‘When I appoint new colleagues, I look for them to have the capacity to love the school.’ Teaches some ICT and maths. Married, two children in the senior school.

Personable, approachable, terrifically good fun. Attracts the attention of children by clapping a rhythm which they keenly join in. Clearly in his element when he’s around them, you can see it in his face: very kind eyes. He’s accountable, too. He or his deputy are in the playground every morning to field the concerns of parents, who say he’s ‘definitely a go-to person’. Lean, athletic, can-do. So you’re not surprised to discover that he accommodated the arrival of his own children by giving up team sports and taking up the triathlon instead, at which he has represented GB. ‘Every child,’ he says, ‘should be inspired every day.’ Lots of heads say this sort of thing but few so fervently. His aspiration is borne out as much by the shining eyes of the children as those of the teachers. ‘I don’t do boredom,’ he told us. We’d got that. Believes in ‘looking at life from the children’s point of view’ and is wide open to ‘doing something different’ as a result. He’s a detail man. And a values man. Robust, for sure, a bit full on for some parents, possibly. We very much like the strong and serious sense of purpose and spirit of adventure. His is an exceptionally buzzy, questing school where nothing is left to chance. Mr Gibson is supported by a conspicuously able senior leadership team.

Entrance

Gently non-selective. Main criterion is that your child will be able to move up comfortably to the senior school. A few parents buy into just the prep school to give their child a really good grounding in the basics; they say it sees them through from 11 to 18. The school is more affordable than its local competitors. Excellent nursery in a converted chapel takes children from 3.

Exit

Nine in 10 go on to the senior school - many with academic, sport, music, drama or art scholarships. Transition to senior school reckoned by parents to be ‘exceptionally well handled’. There’s an entry test - the same one external applicants sit; a parent told us, ‘my daughter was entirely relaxed and at ease’.

Our view

Opened in 1999 in the heart of the market town of Wellington, bang next door to the senior school with which it shares facilities, including acres of playing fields. There’s a forest school too, not a scrubby little patch off the playground but a decent swathe of woodland in the Blackdown Hills. As well as getting to grips with the ins and outs of the natural world, children light fires and whittle wood with sharp knives - eg, make beads and whistles. Supervision is anything but laissez faire, of course, and the school is justly proud of what goes on here.

Academically, parents are happy across the board - ‘best start possible’, said one. Another parent told us, ‘All the teachers are good, some are inspirational’. We encountered some really high-octane teaching right up to the lesson before lunch and very much wanted wanted to sit out a particularly gripping history class. IT is taught by a teacher with industry experience. Maths is taught by the Singapore method (Google it). They like to think big here, in the belief that if a thing is worth doing there’s nothing to be said for holding back, and are now a Beacon School. There is much praise for the support given by the Learning Success team to children who need it - the gifted, those with special needs and those whose performance (tightly monitored) calls for intervention. They create pupil passports, a partnership approach involving child, parents and teachers, and work collaboratively to fix glitches or handle special needs - dyslexia through to ADHD (light to moderate).

Sport is paired with well-being, and, they claim, ‘we’re the first school in the world’ to do this. By well-being they don’t mean touchy-feely happiness remedies so much as PE+, the + being teaching children to make good, lifelong lifestyle choices. The brightest and best are coached, do team sports and play to win. Those for whom this would be wretched tyranny learn to keep fit (Fitbits all round), to play for fun, to eat well, to say no to bad stuff and generally look after their minds and bodies. The programme was spelled out to us with a passion that is entirely normal here. The head of PE is a former county cricketer who also played professional rugby, no less.

Music especially strong. Opportunities to try out different instruments and once you’ve mastered a few notes you’re eligible for the orchestra. Drama not so big. Nativities for the weenies and one biggish annual production.

An attraction of the school to all parents, regardless of means, is that the social climate is more diverse than most indies, more grounded, ‘not at all precious or snobby’. Parents like the way the school plays its part in the town’s economy and they approve of the way it spends their fees - ‘They’re very good with money’. To our eyes it feels easily as well-resourced as other independents. Several parents we spoke to even praise the marketing - ‘What they say about themselves is genuine’.

Parents also like the values the school imbues: ‘respect’, ‘politeness’, ‘have a go, try your best, it’s okay if you make mistakes’. They like the way the school involves all of the children - ‘It’s not just all about the high-flyers’ - and how the head finds ways to ‘reward those who don’t stand out from the crowd’. They like the early morning clubs, ‘great for boys who can’t sit still’. They like the way that children develop an awareness of the wider world - ‘preparing without scaring’. They couldn’t wax more lyrical about pastoral care. And they feel they can play their part in the school although, as one pointed out, ‘that’s hard for many parents because lots of them work’. For them, in particular, the school is open from 8.00am to 6.00pm.

It’s rare that we come away from a school feeling quite so lit up. Wellington Prep is proud of itself but not in the least pleased with itself. It vibrates both with the thrum of new ideas (the bigger the better) and, vitally important this, the fine detail of their execution - what the head animatedly calls ‘the detail of what makes things work’. This is a striving, happy, human school which is also very much its own place.

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