Badminton School, Bristol
Muddy says: A dynamic day and boarding school for girls aged 3-18, the school's careful balance of intellectual firepower with common courtesy and support stands its girls out from the crowd
Joanna from Muddy Wilts has been on the school run – checking out the best schools in our part of the world, that is. She’s just back from this dynamic day and boarding school for girls aged 3-18 up in Bristol.
BADMINTON SCHOOL, BRISTOL
Badminton School‘s careful balance of intellectual firepower with common courtesy and support certainly stands its girls out from the crowd. Named after Badminton House in Clifton where the school was founded in 1858 (and formerly known as Miss Bartlett’s School for Young Ladies!), it has been located at its current site in Westbury-on-Trym since 1924. From the beginning the school developed a broad curriculum and extracurricular activities, including sport, were encouraged (the founders wanted to offer girls everything their brothers enjoyed). Girls have played cricket since 1858, science has always been strong and the school has a long history of international boarders.
While tucked in the centre of bustling Bristol, the campus is an oasis of calm. It has the feel of a country school, with glorious buildings and gardens, but has the benefits of a thriving city on its doorstep. The school is small – 480 girls from ages 3-18 – and has a strong emphasis on boarding. Girls come from the Bristol area with over 50% of the senior school boarding.
Notable alumni include Iris Murdoch, Rosamund Pike, Phyllida Law, Polly Toynbee and and HRH Princess Haya bint Al Hussein of Jordan..
The main school building sits in prime position in the middle of the campus, with the Prep School, Sixth Form Block, Art Block, Drama Block, Science Block, two music departments, boarding houses, playing fields, a huge astro turf and shiny new Sports Centre dotted around. It has all been designed with the aesthetic in mind and is certainly a looker of a school. There are plenty of places to disappear into for some down time, and the green (and very well manicured) lawns offers a calm and relaxed atmosphere for the girls.
The Peace Memorial Hall is home to assemblies, plays and concerts and there are two libraries – one a more formal space and the other a cosy snug where girls can cuddle up on bean bags and lose themselves in the shelves of fiction. The school has its own pool (formerly a sheep dip) and, making the best use of space, the Year 7 Common Room is actually two wooden hobbit huts in the grounds.
The creative arts are huge here – at the moment the old sports hall is home to the drama department (there are plans afoot to turn it into a state-of-the-art theatre and dance studio), where play rehearsals, clubs and LAMDA lessons take place. Over 100 girls study LAMDA (my two guides were both taking impressive Grade 8 exams this year), with Public Speaking and Verse and Prose on offer too. Year 8 girls take part in the Shakespeare Schools festival at the Tobacco Factory in town, there is a big school musical every year (think Guys and Dolls and High School Musical) and the department even has their eyes on the Edinburgh Fringe.
There are not one but two music blocks, with most girls learning at least one instrument and over 30 peripatetic teachers and, of course, choirs, orchestras, flute groups, cello groups and jazz bands galore.
Art, printing, photography, ceramics and textiles are taken seriously, and, as a vibrant and clearly inspiring Head of Art whizzed me around her studio spaces – lots of glass with light flooding in – I could see that the standard is high. Everyone has a go and there is a wide variety of students tackling a wide variety of disciplines. I was lucky enough to visit during Arts Week when local artists are invited to exhibit their work at the school and hold workshops with the girls.
Last, but by no means least, is the newly opened Sports Centre featuring a gym, climbing wall, fitness and conditioning suite, fencing piste (I have never seen one in a school before) and their own spin studio. Oh, and there’s a rather smart viewing platform for parents to look out over the enormous astro next door. The school offers a number of elite performance pathways for athletes, working closely with local sports teams including Redland Ladies Hockey, Westbury Harriers Running Club and Westbury-on-Trym Archery Club.
The school is academic but by no means a hot house environment. Both GCSEs and IGCESs are on offer, with subjects as diverse as Greek, Russian, Further Maths, Graphics, Photography and Dance. In the Sixth Form the school run what they term a 3+ model – girls choose three A-Levels and then add on a Plus Option, which can be a ‘long thin’ AS subject, taken over two years rather than one, a GCSE, an EPQ or even Leith’s Food and Wine Diploma over the two-year period. A special mention must go to their Creative Writing Diploma which the school’s own English Department created with Bristol Grammar School. A-Level subjects include traditionally academic areas as well as more modern Psychology, Business and PE.
Most girls move up from the Prep School (although a handful are lost to the lure of co-ed), with around 10-20% more girls joining in Year 7 (sitting the school’s own 11+ exam), another 10-20% joining in Year 9 and a further intake into the Sixth Form.
While creative arts are massive at Badminton, STEM subjects are also flying high. I don’t even know how to start telling you about Science here: there are drop-in support clinics for girls who want extra study, or who need a helping hand, or who just, you know, love the subject. It isn’t unusual either for the School to work with such giants of industry like Dyson who pop in and give the girls an encouraging lecture or work with them in small workshops; girls get heavily involved in Bristol University Science Day; the Science Outreach Team is legendary and girls in Years 10 and 12 visit primary schools to teach science to younger children, exploring such complicated arenas as Advanced Magnetism and getting their hands on liquid nitrogen; and the Institute of Physics has invited students for 3 years in a row to demonstrate science at their annual festivals, in front of world class scientists, no less. This year you’d have found Badminton students holding court at both the Cheltenham Science Festival and WOMAD, talking about science to eager audiences in huge marquees.
Academic results are good and girls go on to a wide variety of higher education, including Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, as well as studying art, drama and music at conservatoires, with a healthy half dozen heading off to the States, Far East or Europe to study.
Badminton is a boarding school, but it’s one where over half the pupils are day girls. Boarding can start as young as Year 5 and unsurprisingly becomes more and more popular higher up the school. Around 60% of boarders are overseas students, from countries as diverse as Russia, Nigeria and China, and ad-hoc boarding is also available depending on availability. The two boarding houses that sleep the younger boarders are closed during the day so there is no slinking off to your bedroom to hide, and the 50/50 mix of boarders and day girls makes for a fully integrated student body.
My two guides – both day girls – told me how much they like the fact that the school doesn’t ‘empty out’ at the evenings and weekends, and they will often choose to spend nights in boarding or will come in at weekends to complete prep, join in the myriad of trips and activities, or just hang out with their friends. In fact, even non boarders stay until 6pm for lessons several nights a week from Year 9 upwards, and will more often than not stay for evening clubs after that.
There are three boarding houses – cosy Bartlett for Years 5-8, modern Sanderson for Years 9-11 and the quite extraordinary Sixth Form Centre which provides the Lower and Upper sixth with a place to live and work. It has just been refurbished and as well as the study rooms (all girls have a space in the house, even if they don’t board), small classrooms for tutorial work and a mini common room, there is a fabulous kitchen/living room that someone with a serious eye for design has gotten their hands on – colourful sofas, funky cushions, dining nooks, TVs, pianos, table footballs and murals fill the space, while outside in their very own garden they have outdoor seating, swing tennis and a vast lawn to laze around (sorry, study) on.
Weekends are filled with activities and trips, many of which the day girls are also invited to. The Bristol Aquarium and Westfield Shopping Centre are favourite spots for outings and further afield they’ll go surfing on the North Devon coast, take in a Christmas market or go ice-skating.
The lady at the helm is Rebecca Tear, now in her 7th year at Badminton, and previously Deputy Head of Wycombe Abbey in Bucks, so she knows a bit about girls’ boarding schools! It’s always difficult for a senior school Head to have a teaching schedule but Rebecca manages to squeeze in some chemistry to Year 7s plus classes in mindfulness, so she is definitely accessible for the kids. She takes great pride in the girls being the best self they can be – there are no cookie cutters here and each girl is encouraged to be themselves, be different, and have the confidence to pursue their own dreams.
In Rebecca’s words: ‘If I could give only one example of what makes Badminton special, I would choose ‘Pump Handles’. It’s an odd name for a tradition that happens at the end of every term here, when every girl shakes the hand of every teacher. Looking each other in the eye and parting for the holidays in such a positive way shows our values of respect and support for one another, and is one of the many, many reasons I feel privileged to be here. Badminton is a daily reminder that a good school can embed the attitudes and attributes for a fulfilling future.’
Badminton Prep School shares the same campus with its big sister and, along with Little Acorns Nursery, takes girls from 3-11. Most girls move up to the Senior School. Class sizes are small, pastoral care seems excellent and, as with the older girls, creativity and imagination are embraced. For working parents the school offers genuine wrap-around care with an early breakfast club from 7.45am, plenty of after school activities and the opportunity to board once girls are in Year 5. Girls can stay until 5.45pm for no extra charge.
The school has a definite character – getting involved, mucking in and giving everything a go (this year’s Summer Play was performed in a number of languages as there were so many girls studying a myriad of different languages and everyone wanted to get involved!). Girls really do need to be willing to engage, and it’s probably not the place for trophy gatherers purely with their eye on the prize – while the school certainly does well in all fields the goal is NOT to stock up that trophy cabinet, but to embrace the experience getting there.
There is a strong feeling of community, and community service and entrepreneurship are encouraged. I met two School Ambassadors – a bright and engaging pair who had to apply for the posts, be interviewed and then chosen by staff and senior girls, before receiving training in the history of the school (I tested them and they passed with flying colours), safe guarding and etiquette. In the same way, the three Head Girls are interviewed and chosen by students and staff – their current campaign is for the school to use less plastic, and they have already introduced Meat Free Mondays to the dining room. Much work is done with the older community at St Monica’s next door, and the Senior School girls help out with the tinies in Little Acorns or assist with the Prep School’s swimming lessons. Unsurprisingly, in a school that breeds a firm sense of community and responsibility, the Duke of Edinburgh scheme is popular and unusually the school offers all three levels of Bronze, Silver and Gold.
For a small, city school Badminton has a strong international vibe, and children embrace learning about other cultures. The girls are certainly a close knit group – whether that is having tea together at 4pm every afternoon (the food is excellent, I’m told), staying after school to do as many clubs as possible, or Celebrating Badminton Day at the end of term, when parents are treated to a huge concert on the lawns.
Watch this space for the next stage of world domination – as well as the school’s ambitious plans for a theatre and dance studio, a new Innovation Hub is being planned to be used for events, Young Enterprise work and, most importantly, match teas.
For the Prep School, Day Fees are £3250 for Reception to Year 2, £3430 for Years 3-4 and £3745 for Years 5-6. Junior School Boarding is £7280 per term. The Nursery is charged at £27 per session.
Senior School Day Fees are £5475, Weekly Boarding is £10,150 and Full Boarding is £10,765.
Word on the ground
The parents I spoke to were pretty much all in agreement – they love the flexibility, wide range of activities and opportunities at this true boarding school, and the international feeling is welcomed. They feel the girls support each other and are keen to muck in. ‘We’re in it together,’ says one parent. The balance of academic, sport and creative arts is good, and of course they love the gorgeous campus.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for an all-round education for their girls. The small number of pupils means that staff get to know all the pupils well, and the school has some of the best boarding and pastoral care provision I have seen. Scientists, future Judi Denches and the next Banksy will be inspired.
Not for: Children who aren’t joiner inners. This is definitely a school where everyone is expected to play their part and have a go. Trophy gatherers beware!
Dare to disagree? The next Open Day is next term but the school is always happy to show prospective parents around. You can get in touch here.
Badminton School, Westbury Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol BS9 3BA, tel: 0117 905 5200, www.badmintonschool.co.uk