A proudly inclusive school that excels in academics as well as co-curricular subjects, Taunton Senior School offers families a compelling all-through educational experience with children moving seamlessly from pre-prep to prep to senior school, meaning parents don’t have to worry about multiple school locations as their children move up the years. This is just one of its strengths in an area with plenty of independent schools vying for pupils. Others include its sporting reputation – it’s been voted seventh best school in the country for sport – its noteworthy Combined Cadet Force which is the largest in the south-west, and its four different curriculum pathways after GCSEs.
The school is located in a leafy residential area of Taunton not far from Somerset County Cricket Club’s grounds – at night, you can see the floodlights twinkling. The 56-acre campus incorporates a mix of old and new buildings that are tasteful and functional rather than imposing. Sports grounds are to the front and the rear, with a few extra pitches across the road.
Although the pre-prep, prep and very successful international schools are located on two separate sites with their own Heads, James Johnson has oversight of all the Taunton schools and works with tireless purpose. Engaging and full of energy, he is passionate about what Taunton offers. It’s ‘unpretentious but aspirational’, he says, a place where inclusivity and diversity are more important than grandeur. Mr Johnson comes from a family of teachers and he was head of senior school at Ardingly College before joining Taunton in September 2022. He says he wants the school to ‘add more value than anyone else’ and is acutely aware of the area’s competitive market but sees that as a challenge: ‘We must be excellent. There is no room for complacency.’ He’s joined a school which has already completed the building of a new dining hall, with separate sections for the prep and for the senior school, an amazing new sixth-form centre and an impressive library. Other plans include moving the international school onto the main school site.
Children do not have to undergo any formal testing to get a place, but a one hour, online cognitive ability screening assessment gives the school the necessary information before arrival. Pupils visit, have a face-to-face interview if possible, after which they can opt to come for a taster day and if they’re considering boarding can come for a sleepover to experience what it’s like.
The school gets outstanding results – in 2022, 92 per cent gained a grade 9-4 at GCSE and in A-level, IB and BTEC, 48 per cent of all grades were A* or A. The school is unusual in offering so many pathways at 16+ and it works hard to find the right route for each child. Generally, class sizes are around 20 for core GCSE subjects and the average size in the sixth form is between 10 and 12.
The school is well known for its sporting prowess, regularly taking on competitive teams and winning, but the focus is on inclusiveness, with everyone getting an opportunity to shine. The usual sports are all on offer as well as a broad range of the not-so-usual, including rowing, boxing, taekwondo and rock climbing.
The five boarding houses are all on site and in close proximity which makes for a very sociable community of boarders – although house loyalty is strong, especially when it comes to house singing. Pupils pop back at breaktimes for toast (or waffles as they were eating on our visit) and constantly bump into each other at weekends. Saturday school finishes at 12.35pm and optional trips are organised on Sundays. The houses also arrange their own Sunday activities – Big Brunch is particularly popular.
The school is the right size so that no one gets lost and, between form tutors, houseparents (there are six day houses as well as the five boarding houses), peer mentors, a mental health nurse and therapy dogs, pupils’ pastoral care is in very safe hands.
A school with fantastic assets and a grounded outlook, Taunton is unique in being able to cater for children from six months to 18 years old and, with its international arm, from all over the world. It makes for a vibrant and diverse community, and the absence of repeated testing means pupils and parents can relax and enjoy the Taunton journey.
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