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  • Monkton Combe School
    Church Lane
    Monkton Combe
    Bath
    Somerset
    BA2 7HG
  • Head: Mr Christopher Wheeler
  • T 01225 721133
  • F 01225 721181
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.monktoncombeschool.com
  • A mainstream independent school for pupils aged from 13 to 18 with a linked junior school
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Bath and North East Somerset
  • Pupils: 375; sixth formers: 159
  • Religion: Christian
  • Fees: Day £19,890- £20,910; Boarding £29,490- £33,345 pa
  • Open days: September, March and May
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • ISI report: View the ISI report
  • Linked schools: Monkton Prep School

What says..

Surely something for everyone here, with acres of pitches including, according to Wisden, one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the country. First and foremost a boarding school, with the late evenings (10pm pick-ups not uncommon for day students and their long-suffering parents) and the only compulsory Saturday morning school in Bath. Kind, thoughtful and nice to each other...

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What the school says...

Monkton Combe School aims to provide a full, varied, academic and all-round education based on Christian foundations. An education that encourages a personal faith and which sets standards for life, foremost of which are achievement in examinations, the development of potential, and a life-style that is based on discipline, respect and service to the modern world. ...Read more

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Other features

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.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Since 2016, Christopher Wheeler BA PGCE (early 40s). The son of a general and educated at the thoroughly pukka institutions of Winchester, Durham (where he read English and philosophy) and Bristol (PGCE), Mr Wheeler started his teaching career at St John’s Leatherhead, where he left as head of English to take up several roles (head of English and drama, registrar, deputy head – where did he find the time??) at Peponi School in Kenya. Since then, his working life has ping-ponged between the UK and Kenya, never staying anywhere very long and combining teaching with the usual climb up the managerial ladder with spells as a housemaster at Brighton College, head of its prep St Christopher’s Hove and, latterly, principal and CEO of Hillcrest International School in Nairobi. ‘Africa gets under your skin’ he says – something he discovered during his gap year in Zimbabwe – but now as a father of three young children, he is conscious of security concerns in Kenya, prompting a move back to the UK.

Very different from his cerebral predecessor, Mr Wheeler has something of the showman about him: one might even say show-off, with the remarkable breaking into a rendition of One Day More (that stirring number from Les Mis) in the middle of his address at Speech Day 2017. (It went viral and the school has been shortlisted for a social media award.) But he has taken the place by the horns since his arrival with the introduction of the notion that Emotional Quotient (EQ) is a more helpful measure than IQ, and of the growth mind-set, developed by Carol Dweck, where students are encouraged to believe that intelligence is not fixed but malleable, and that improvement and achievement are therefore very much in their own hands. More controversially, he has brought in peer review of staff; several key members of long standing have left.

Improbably boyish for such a senior role, he bowled us over with a flood of exuberant verbiage: future plans include repositioning the entrance to befit ‘a proper public school’ and creating an equestrian centre on site in a redundant part of the extensive grounds. ‘After all, riding, rowing and reeling are life skills, aren’t they?’ says he (reely??). Students find him approachable and charismatic: he has made a point of weekly lunches with different groups and take-up of his morning dog walks was so popular that he was begged to reinstate them after discontinuing them in the winter. He reckons they provide a brilliant opportunity to chat to teenagers without discomforting eye contact. Parents broadly positive, staff possibly less so. Married to Georgie, who teaches sport and is a keen horsewoman, Mr Wheeler doubles as action man during the holidays, enjoying paragliding and snowboarding in the Alps.

Academic matters

Not particularly selective, though the previous principal upped the academic ante. The 2018 results (66 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE; 81 per cent A*/B and 52 per cent A*/A at A level) are more than respectable, especially at sixth form. Two languages taken in year 9, which can include Mandarin and Latin – why no German? – and pupils are strongly encouraged to take a modern language but not obligatory at GCSE. Extra English or maths takes the place of languages for those needing it. Twenty-seven subjects on offer at A level, of which maths is the most popular and DT (3D Design) and Latin the least – but good that the choices of the minority are still honoured. Monkton sixth formers are expected to start and complete three A levels and an EPQ. No IB nor plans to offer it.

Our visit fell during exam season, so much of what we saw was rigorous preparation and revision classes; of the teachers’ commitment and dedication including at weekends there can be no doubt whatsoever: ‘My daughter’s ambition to get to Oxbridge was fully supported by her teachers,’ one mother told us, adding that the school had also suited her dyslexic sibling. Small class sizes averaging at 15 or so below sixth form and around nine at A level must help. ‘Inspiring academic ambition is a key priority,’ intones the website, an aspiration underpinned by the importance placed on growth mind-set (see above) and the instilling of a good work ethic by one-to-one tutoring; students have some discretion to change if the allocated tutor does not work out. Well-stocked library for all ages with limited computer facilities: the vast majority of students doubtless have their own laptops. Though the bright and modernised classrooms and labs we saw were all suitably equipped with interactive whiteboards etc, we did not sense that this was a school where technology was, refreshingly, the be-all and end-all.

Monkton used to be something of a refuge for SEN students, but it no longer has CReSTed status, catering only for minor difficulties these days. The learning support department is right at the centre of the school and staffed by two SpLD teachers. Difficulties in organisation and processing as well as exam technique are also addressed, and all students are assessed on entry. Most of the site has been made accessible for wheelchairs.

Games, options, the arts

Surely something for everyone here, with acres of pitches including, according to Wisden, one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the country, with its views of the perfect honey-coloured viaduct carrying the busy A36 out of Bath. Rugby, hockey, netball and tennis (hard and grass courts, plus Astro) all onsite, though swimming takes place in the delightful indoor pool at the prep school just up the hill, since Mr Wheeler had the old outdoor pool filled in. Rowing is a big deal here: with a good stretch of river just yards from school and Olympian oarsmen Steve Williams and Rowley Douglas, plus GB single sculler Olivia Caesar among former pupils. Senior rowers benefit from a splendid new boathouse and a (better) stretch of the Avon at Saltford (about 20 minutes away), used also by the university crews of Bath and Bristol. Lots else to do too, though, such as fencing, dance, riding - and yes, CCF, D of E and Ten Tors of course. More sedate extracurricular choices include baking, knitting and chess.

It’s the upgrade to the arts facilities, though, which is astonishing. Both art/DT and music have had sensational new (or hugely enhanced) buildings, creating pleasing contemporary touches to quite a traditional campus. Visitors to the art school go straight into the gallery, filled when we saw it with enormous textile print hangings using beetroot juice. Textiles a particular strength and the specialism of the current artist in residence. The art dept is proud of the numbers getting places at Central St Martins. Huge dark room and industrial printing facilities (busy with a school promotional banner when we were there) complete a superb set-up. As for music – it’s just ‘Wow!’ Jewel in the crown must be the concert hall, quite an intimate space with acoustic design and its requisite mosaic (non-technical term for technical necessity) ceiling, but the more hi-tech musicians are thrilled with the recording facilities all linked to a central studio. It’s not just the surroundings though: the head of music is widely lauded for his ‘desperate enthusiasm’, and his innovations like the choir who can’t sing (mostly boys) and the choir who won’t sing (mostly girls). The vast majority who can and do play and sing, however, gain merits and distinctions in their music exams; accomplishment a rigorous counterpoint to enjoyment. Monkton has had a long tradition of jazz and the Longmead jazz festival attracts the general public, who can enjoy a smart picnic in a spectacular setting. Drama facilities fall behind those for art and music (on the list for improvement), but commendably less usual fare produced, such as Arabian Nights, Swallows and Amazons and After Mrs Rochester recently. Informal drama evenings give aspiring writers as well as actors a chance to participate.

Boarders

First and foremost a boarding school, with the late evenings (10pm pick-ups not uncommon for day students and their long-suffering parents) and the only compulsory Saturday morning school in Bath. All age single sex houses are presided over by married houseparents, who go out of their way to create a homely and welcoming feel, with their own families and pets. Just as well really, as the boys’ accommodation we saw was, shall we say, functional rather than luxurious 'but being refurbished! says the school. Girls are reckoned to need more ‘talking time’ – to house staff, rather than each other - so school has policy of making girls’ houses smaller by around 10 students. A new girls’ house opened in 2017. Each year group has a kitchen for making snacks, toast and hot drinks; pizza, curry and Chinese food can be ordered in no more than three times a week. What with and a good supply of fruit and tuck, no-one appeared to miss nipping into Bath for comestibles. School food ok (not the most inspiring menu we’ve seen), but ‘definitely improved and breakfast is the best meal of the day,’ say students. Everyone eats in the beautiful light dining hall, with its huge windows and high ceilings. Five and four night boarding options exist alongside full boarding, and day students get 10 nights’ free boarding thrown in each year.

Background and atmosphere

In the lusciously green Midford Valley just outside the golden city of Bath snakes a narrow lane lined with the honey-coloured buildings of Monkton Combe. The school, founded by the evangelical Revd Pocock in the 1860s, takes up much of this idyllic village, and still attracts many families wanting an overtly Christian setting for their children’s education. Although it’s definitely not a faith school, the Christian underpinnings exert a palpable influence: ‘It’s a very kind place,’ we kept hearing. ‘Even if you’re not a fervent Christian, you’re not made to feel bad for that, and it teaches you a way to behave,’ one mother told us. Mutual respect for personal faith (of whatever kind - a few Muslims also attend Monkton) or a lack of it seems to be the (commendable) watchword. ‘There is rigorous questioning in RE lessons, and we’re taught all about comparative religions,’ students told us, alongside a very active student-led Christian Union.

It struck us as a tolerant place – tolerant of difference and celebrating all kinds of achievement, not just academic. Its relative isolation outside Bath and general feel suggest somewhere where children don’t have to conform quite as rigidly, or grow up quite as fast – fondly referred to as the Monkton bubble at the school, disparagingly so by other Bath institutions. School held in great affection by students and parents alike, and much made of the Monkton family, something that persists long beyond school days with a very strong alumni network: the school was way ahead of the game in developing links with former students (and doubtless tapping them up for funds).

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Traditionally a great strength and the reason many families choose the school – and an aspect much touted by the principal and registrar. Transition arrangements and welcome praised by parents, and the efforts houseparents and academic staff go to to get acquainted with each new student. ‘Pastoral care is integral to creating academic success stories,’ we were told; parents describe it as ‘stand-out’ and ‘unparalleled’. This school goes one step further with its recent introduction of Affective Social Tracking: a twice yearly online questionnaire taken by all students as a gauge of their emotional well-being and ‘areas for development’. No outright opposition to this from the biddable flock of Monkton students; we heard some cynical mutterings about it being a ridiculous waste of time, but none about what struck us as the slightly sinister intrusion into the adolescent mind with its growing need for independence and privacy. Discipline is not a concept that looms large here: the emphasis is much more on celebrating achievement and intrinsic rewards. Bullying is tackled through the lens of restorative justice, where appropriate. ‘The kids feel safe here,’ we kept hearing, one mother adding that ‘as the students have no fear of cruel ridicule, they are not afraid to make fools of themselves’. Our last review talked of ‘unfailing support for the troubled’ – and we see no change. But we sense that the principal would not hesitate to get tough with miscreants if required, even if he thought very hard before throwing them out.

Pupils and parents

Kind, thoughtful and nice to each other (we liked the easy way in which students from different year groups interacted over our shared lunch). Some might say unworldly, but that would be to undersell the extent to which these kids think about the profound problems of the world such as hunger and poverty, albeit from a largely Christian perspective. Parents ‘do all they can to send their children here,’ according to the principal, ‘and the car park is full of Land Rovers and Audis, not Maseratis.’ Many drive considerable distances to get to school; boarders, unless from overseas tend, to be no more than an hour and a half away. Monkton family dynasties still exist.

Entrance

At year 9, half come from the prep school by means of common entrance, provided hopefuls have come through broad assessment, taken in year 6 and 7. Overseas students are required to sit UKiset and, if English is not their first language, an English Placement Test. A few students come straight into year 10 by means of the CAT 4 test. For sixth form entry, at least five GCSEs above a C (new grade 4/5) with an average of a B/6 across them all is required from the 30 or so new students who come. Maths and sciences require an A and languages a B. Monkton reserves the right to restrict entry to year 13, if AS results are not up to what the school considers snuff.

Exit

About a dozen leave after GCSEs, possibly for greater freedom and post-16 choices, possibly for financial reasons. After A levels, the vast majority go to university – a range of degree courses at institutions old and new up and down the land, and abroad. We picked up some dissatisfaction about guidance on university choices from one parent, however. Two to Oxbridge and three medics in 2018.

Notable alumni include Antarctic explorer Eric Marshall (school has his sledge from Shackleton’s expedition of 1909), author Bernard Cornwell, musical funny man Richard Stilgoe, former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove and Olympic oarsmen Stephen Williams and Rowley Douglas.

Money matters

Fees are comparable with similar schools and the full boarding makes this arguably better value than those schools with a shorter week. Scholarships amount to a maximum of 25 per cent of fees but bursaries go as far as full fees in exceptional cases; special consideration is given to the offspring of clergy or missionaries. For many years the school has cultivated a highly effective development office, so its financial health is, we are sure, rude.

Our view

An appealing option in an idyllic location for those wanting a truly Christian education for their children, or at least one that embraces its values and where they do not have to grow up too fast. Atheists, agnostics, humanists with inquisitive and open minds also welcome. New principal pushing the exceptional pastoral care, while buffing up its boarding houses, social cachet and media profile too.

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

Monkton is registered in the "CReSTeD" list of schools approved for the teaching of dyslexia. The Learning Support Department caters particularly for the needs of dyslexic and dyspraxic students. Monkton is experienced in concessions for examinations: administering extra time, readers, use of laptops and written transcripts for pupils with specific needs. Close and regular consultation takes place between the Learning Support Department, tutors and subject teachers. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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