Monkton Combe Senior School, Bath
Muddy says: A co-ed day and boarding school where failure is valued, pupils write their own school reports and personal development is as important as the excellent academics
A co-ed independent day and boarding school for 13 to 18 year olds set within the village of Monkton Combe in the Midford Valley with its stunning woodland views, just a mile south of the city of Bath.
The school was established in 1868 by the first vicar of Monkton Combe, the Reverend Francis Pocock, for the sons of missionaries and clergy. The school has grown from just six boys to around 400 and has been fully co-ed since the 1990s but it firmly remains a Christian school, nurturing strong Christian foundations and values amongst the pupils, and open to all faiths or none. About 15 percent of students are international.
Part of the Rugby Group of 18 British independent schools which also includes Cheltenham College, Harrow, Rugby, Stowe and Winchester and it maintains some of the classic public school traditions.
The Prep School and Pre-Prep with Nursery and Kindergarten is a few minutes away up on Combe Down.
The cluster of school buildings date from Victorian times, including the main school block The Old Farm and the terrace block The Old Vicarage, up through the centuries to some striking 21st century architecture.
The early 20th century chapel’s at the heart of the school, both literally and metaphorically. According to the Chaplain, the only place where all the pupils come together, it’s somewhat unconventional inside, with all the seats arranged facing the side of the chapel rather than the altar, so that everyone’s closer into the action.
Built in 2012 and opened by Dame Felicity Lott, the £3.2million Music Centre is gorgeous, with a recording studio, practice rooms and a stunning concert hall.
The inspirational Director of Music believes that everyone is a musician, even if they don’t realise it themselves. Hence the formation of the boys’ ‘choir who can’t sing’ (they can, I saw a video) and every single pupil takes part in the annual, competitive inter House Music Festival (this year, in a 1600-seater venue in central Bath) which, my Sixth Form tour guides told me, is a highlight of the year.
About half the pupils learn an instrument with a high percentage winning merits and distinctions in exams (including Rockschool) and prizes in music competitions. Masses of choirs, ensembles and bands. Internationally renowned musicians visit the school. Music mash up with a school in Malawi.
The Basson Art & Design Centre, built in 2016, is also impressive.
Light and airy, with three large studios where A Level students can set up their own mini studio spaces, a photography studio and dark room, print workshop, ICT suite and all sorts of techie stuff like vacuum formers, CAD and 3D printers. Pupils move onto to the UK’s top art and design colleges like St Martin’s and the London College of Fashion.
They spent £5 million on developing the Maths & Science Centre, with a different floor for each discipline.
The theatre was being used for exams so didn’t see it this time, nor the library but did enjoy a good lunch in the spacious dining hall.
Sixth formers can hang out in the Pearce Centre, an underground bunker with a small cafe, table footie and pool. Cool.
Huge all weather sports pitches, numerous grass and artificial tennis courts, squash courts and sports hall.
Cricket in the summer on Longmead, a natural amphitheatre, which is occasionally also used for al fresco music concerts.
A little further along, the Boat Club with over 50 boats, lies underneath the Dundas Aqueduct on the River Avon (the school’s renowned for its rowing). Indoor swimming and fully equipped gym a few minutes up the hill at the Prep School.
Not selective; more important is understanding what drives each pupil, whether they think collaboratively and how they approach difficult tasks during assessment days, as well as CAT scores and school reports. Years 9–11 English, Maths and Sciences with a broad range of other subjects including Mandarin, Philosophy & Ethics and Classics/Latin. Academic results are impressive. In 2019, over a third of all GCSE grades were 8 or 9 (A*), nearly two-thirds were 7–9 (A–A*) and more than three-quarters were 6–9 (B–A*). Pretty much everyone stays on for A Levels, usually taking four out of 29 subjects as well the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). 2019 A Level results also wow: 72% at A*–B, with an average UCAS score of 144 (equivalent of AAA). Almost all pupils secured places at their university of choice. Around 10% regularly get to Oxbridge.
Charismatic Chris Wheeler has been Principal since 2016. Previously Principal and CEO at Hillcrest International School in Kenya and Head at St Christopher’s in Hove, he’s a larger than life character who clearly has a great relationship with the pupils (evident as we walk around the school).
He describes Monkton Combe as a journey school not a destination school – not just about academic tracking but pastoral tracking (weekly one-to-one tutoring). He talks about the importance of self knowledge and self belief, confidence and humility. This is a school which asks pupils ‘what do you think?’ Pupils write their own reports, asking themselves ‘how could I improve?’ before teachers add their bit. When he’s not developing innovative ideas – trialling a classroom with no furniture, for example – and exploring new ways to enhance teaching, pastoral, global links and more, he keeps his hand in teaching English to Year 9s.
All the major sports: rugby, hockey, cricket, tennis and rowing for boys; replace rugby with netball but otherwise same for the girls, all to a very high standard – the 1st XV rugby team have a 100% win rate. A plethora of other stuff including athletics, equestrian (the team are the Pony Club’s Intermediate Eventing National Champs), fencing, golf, judo and volleyball.
The school is renowned for its rowing, with six Olympic medals to date. Everyone has a go from Year 9 onwards and the school teams compete against the best in the UK.
All pupils are in one of the six Houses, three for boys: Eddystone, Farm and School; three for girls: Clarendon, Grange and Nutfield, with a mix of boarders and day pupils across the year groups, so everyone gets to know everyone else.
Chapel most mornings (except for Sunday) and lots of religious activities, including Monday eve bible study and Wednesday eve Christian Union (sometimes with speakers, bands and food) which is run by a Year 13 committee – both very popular.
Saturdays: lessons in the mornings, sporting fixtures in the afternoons.
Community service is high on the agenda; pupils volunteer in care homes, charity shops, local primary schools and with the National Trust.
Outdoor challenges, over to the Brecons, Dartmoor and Snowdonia for Ten Tors and Duke of Edinburgh expeditions.
Whatever floats your boat, you can probably do it here, from Brazilian jiu-jitsu to knitting; computer coding to beginner’s Greek. Combined Cadet Force.
Poked my nose into two of the six boarding houses: School (boys) and the newly refurbed Grange (girls), which was rather nice.
Each with a set of house parents and their families living in situ, they are very much a home from home. The double and single bedrooms have cool cabin beds and desks (in some houses day pupils have rooms with desks too), huge and comfy common rooms and prep rooms. Pupils contribute with small daily jobs like collecting post and emptying the dishwasher. Tues/Thurs are in-house nights, with food and games, chocolate fountains and for the Sixth Formers, maybe cheese and wine. Loads of activities at the weekends. All year 13s are house prefects. Met some boys in School House, self-assured young men with a very strong sense of pride in the House, winning the inter-house Music Festival for the first time in over 50 years and evident friendships across the Year groups.
BOASTY BITS /QUIRKS
A Year 12 girl is in the GB Skeleton Bobsleigh team and the second fastest slider in the UK.
The school holds ‘Failure Awards’ where pupils – and even the Principal – talk about things that have gone wrong; failure is seen as a valuable learning process.
10 second rule on phones (if you use your phone you’ve got 10 seconds to use it and put it away).
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents describe the school as fun, wholesome, grounding, socially stretching, faith-building and maturity developing, saying that it creates ‘men and women not just clever children’. The school ‘finds the seed of something you are good at and grows you from that seed’. Teachers go the extra mile to support pupils: although it was not on the curriculum, one had personally tutored a girl in Ancient Greek throughout Sixth Form and into a place at Cambridge. Special Needs provisions are said to be excellent too. Pastoral care is highly rated with one parent saying ‘all my three have needed a little bit of extra attention in different ways; we didn’t choose the school for the shiny sports hall but for the care we saw each child was given’. The campus feel, the home-from-home boarding environment, generously sized sports arenas and halls – and of course, the beautiful setting – all come in for praise.
For the academic year 2019/20: Years 9 to 11, day fee £6,820/term; boarding £11,145/term. Years 12 & 13 day £7,170/term; boarding £11,440/term. Boarding options 5 nights (for up to two years) £10,115/term. Flexi-boarding £72/night.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: an excellent all-round education, as strong on personal development as on academics, sports and the arts, and where no one will get lost or overlooked.
Not for: although it’s not overbearing, the school’s Christian foundation might not be for everyone.
Don’t take our word for it: Go and have a gander, their next Open Mornings are Sat 14 September and Sat 16 November.
If you want to visit outside of these days, call their Admissions team on 01225 721133 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monkton Combe Senior School, Monkton Combe, Bath, Somerset BA2 7HG. Tel 01225 721133.