Wellington School, Wellington
Muddy says: An academic curriculum, an innovative approach to sport and fitness, ace art and music – all makes for a genuine good all-rounder independent school for 3–18 year olds
In a few weeks’ time, parents will be trotting off to open days at some of Somerset’s best independent schools, wondering where to send their little darlings. We’re ahead of the game here at Muddy – you can have a look inside Wellington School right now…
Having a nose around Dept of Education league tables (as you do) and saw that Wellington School was listed second in Somerset (and top 5% in the country) for the progress the students make between GSCEs and A Levels – making it an especially good choice for Sixth Form. Here’s what I found when I visited last year…
WELLINGTON SCHOOL, WELLINGTON
Wellington School is a co-ed independent day and boarding school, taking littlies in the nursery from the age of 3 up through to 18-year-olds in the 6th Form (and many stay for the duration). Established in 1837, the school has grown up around the original buildings – the Great Hall and Memorial Chapel – and now extends back either side of the road leading into the centre of the small Somerset town of Wellington. It’s not huge – 200 in the Prep, 600 in the Senior School – but fairly diverse both socially and culturally, with lots of local pupils as well as 25 different nationalities.
Brand new, whopping great big Olympic sized sports hall with gym, fencing salle (learned a new word there), weights room etc, which, incidentally, is open to the public out of school hours. They’ve just spent £280k on an all-weather astro turf pitch.
Niftily designed half lecture theatre-half lab science classrooms.
Professional level theatre space and connections to match – they used the set from the West End production of Sweeney Todd in their own show and Old Wellingtonian David Suchet (aka Poirot) gives acting master classes via Skype. Building work is underway on a new cafe, and soon to start on developing a large study centre/library.
The Senior School’s selective (but you don’t have to be a genius to get in), with entrance exams for Year 7 and Year 9; GCSEs 3Bs and 3Cs (A in Maths/Physics to study those) to join the 6th Form. They offer 1-year GSCE courses for international students wanting to study A levels. The curriculum is along grammar school lines offering traditional academic subjects including Latin and Greek – no media studies here – and the more rigorous IGSCEs in Maths, Sciences and Modern Languages. Range of 22 subjects at A level. Results speak for themselves: in 2017 nearly a quarter of all grades A* and nearly half A*-A at GSCE; 15% A*; 40% A*-A at A level. Good number of pupils go onto Russell Group universities (14 to Oxbridge over the past 4 years).
Since arriving three years ago, Headmaster Henry Price (Eton, Oxford, previously head of Classics at Rugby) has been putting his stamp on the school. Aside from the new facilities and improvements to the bricks and mortar (above), he’s instigated a whole new approach to school fitness and sport (below), is introducing the skills-based critical thinking CIE Global Perspectives Programme – and a new school uniform. Goodbye boxy blazer and old school tie – hello natty fitted number with pale blue piping. He’s a nice man, unassuming, a bit like the school itself, and talks not about pupils’ achievements but the importance of the 3 Rs: relationships, resilience and responsibility and the importance of getting pastoral care right before the academics.
An innovative Sports Performance and Well-being department means that pupils have weekly well-being lessons, focusing on emotional as well as physical health – in addition to separately timetabled sports lessons. No slouches on the sports field either: there are county cricketers, a National Schools Equestrian Champ and GB Triathlon athlete in the school.
Lots of activities and trips via the Outdoor Education dept (cycling from Nice to Venice across the Alps anyone?) and the school competes in the Ten Tors Challenge where teams of six hike up to 55 miles over Dartmoor. Most trips, even abroad, are led by staff with the relevant knowhow. There’s a sense of continuity and tradition here, choristers wear long red robes in the Memorial Chapel, built by a former headmaster in memory of his nephew killed in WW1 and, poignantly, the walls are painted with names of old boys killed in wars since then.
The Music department is strong. It’s an All Steinway school – even chopsticks will sound good on the world’s best pianos – and as well as trad instruments, various ensembles, orchestras, composition, they’ve recently introduced music tech.
Art here is described as purposeful play and apparently with a Wellington A level Art you can go directly to a degree course without passing through a foundation course.
School nosh (tried and tested) is a cut above. This is the ginger and coriander chicken…
About 150 pupils are boarders, mostly full boarding and about half from overseas. The Grange (girls Yrs 7–9) is the newest boarding house and a short walk up the road in a Victorian villa so pupils leave for school in the morning just like day pupils. Spanking new, a bit stark and still smelling of new carpets at the mo but the rooms are all doubles with en suites, and there’s stylish furniture and a mahoosive flat screen TV in the common room. Girls are put into ‘families’ of differing ages with a non-teaching member of school as a ‘godmother’, 6th Formers as ‘grand parents’; boys have buddies and mentors.
The Nursery and Prep
Price’s Nursery for 3–4 year olds. Early years enjoy specialist teaching in IT and Music and weekly Forest School. Although the Prep is self-contained, as they move up the school, pupils increasingly use facilities of the Senior School. They use the famous Singapore maths teaching method (quick explainer: this is the super successful step-by-step approach to maths in which kids get to grips with the subject through objects, then drawings and finally, by adding numbers to the drawings).
They’ve got their own cannon. And radio station, Welly Echo, set up by pupils. Every Friday afternoon, most of Year 10 and above pull on their combats for CCF (Combined Cadet Force) activities in partnership with the Navy, Army, Marines and RAF. Doesn’t every 15-year-old girl need to know how to strip down a rifle? Plus the chance to learn to fly, sail, develop leadership skills. etc. They’ve got a plethora of ‘houses’ at different levels of the school – too many for me to get my head round.
Wrap around care
Main school ends at 3.45 and school buses leave at 5, so plenty of time for clubs and activities. Mostly music and sporty but also Robotics, the esoteric sounding Biological Drawing club or just Chill Out and Read. Sadly the Unicycle Club is not currently on the go (though an ex-member is now unicycling around the world). A bevy of school buses cover routes all over Somerset and into Devon. Nursery hours are nice and long at 8am–6pm. Flexi boarding for day pupils.
Prep: Nursery: £48.50/day; Reception £2,050/term rising to Year 6 £3,728/term. Senior School: Year 7 day pupil £4,387/term and full boarding £9,260; Years 9–13 day pupil £4,928/term and full boarding £9,875/term. These are just under the UK average.
Word on the ground
Parents across the board describe the school as a nice place to be – kind, friendly and inclusive – with well-mannered pupils who have no air of entitlement. They talk about teachers going the extra mile to help pupils both academically and pastorally. Maths teaching in the Prep gets singled out for special praise. Music and sports are seen as outstanding. Some like the fact that there’s no Saturday school – or hyper competitive parents.
The school can’t be pigeon-holed as a ‘sporty’, ‘musical’ or an ‘academic’ school with different teachers telling me that their subject was the school’s really big thing. It seems to be a genuinely good all rounder school with a heart, combining a classic grammar school education with private sector facilities and extra-curricular enrichment – and despite having plenty of trumpets to blow, it chooses not to do so.
Good for: children who would thrive in an academic environment but it isn’t an academic hothouse and you don’t have to be Einstein’s love child to get a place here.
Not for: anyone wanting the grandeur of a school set in a posh historic house surrounded by acres and acres of countryside – the school’s in the middle of town and it’s got a collegey feel. The curriculum is fairly traditional so if you want to take lots of obscure GCSEs you’d best look elsewhere.
Don’t take my word for it: Go see for yourself: there’s an Open Morning on Saturday 22 September, 9am–12 noon.
Wellington School, Wellington, Somerset TA21 8NT. Tel 01823 668803. wellington-school.org.uk