Summary of the Good Schools Guide Review of Blundell’s School, 2014
Since 2013, Mrs Nicola Huggett (forties) MA PGCE (Oxon). Educated at St Gabriel’s and Marlborough, she read PPE at Oxford before embarking on a brief career in advertising with J Walter Thompson – brief because she soon realised it was not for her. Since then her career has taken her via Haileybury, ultimately as head of boarding, during a time when the school went fully co-ed and introduced IB, and Downe House as deputy head, before being made the first female head of Blundell's since its inception in 1604. Only moderate harrumphing greeted her appointment, and those foolish enough to do so must now be eating their words, such has been the wave of approval from all quarters. ‘A wow appointment,’ declared one mother. Mrs Huggett is clearly superwoman – as well as running a school, where she still teaches four lessons a week, she also runs marathons, rides - oh, and raises four children of her own, all at Blundell's.
There’s a determination on the head’s part to make the school as academic as it is sporty. To that end she has made some key appointments since she arrived, such as a Head of Learning Support, who is an Ed Psych, and a switched-on Academic Deputy from Wycombe Abbey, as well as introducing a proper tutor system, which has gone down well with parents. Four to Oxbridge in 2013, and parents reckon that student aspirations will be raised under the new regime; many already take EPQ in sixth form alongside A levels. The brightest sparks are invited to join the scholars’ club, which ‘offers stimulation for rapid progress’ in the dry language beloved of inspectors. Students with a wide range of intellectual gifts are catered for.
Games, Options, the Arts
This is a very sporty school; that said, there is masses on offer for those with little or no eye for a ball, as well as the usual fare of rugby, hockey (both huge here) netball and cricket (for girls too, plus football, tennis, squash and fives): CCF, D of E, Ten Tors and the Devizes to Westminster canoe race keenly pursued. Riding strong here too – Blundell's riders regularly compete at events in the south west and recently won the National Schools Jumping-with-style contest – but it’s not the kind of school where turning up with a horsebox is de rigueur; no equines on site.
Activities range from aerobics to yoga; everyone is expected to sign up for a minimum of two. But Blundell's isn’t just good at the strenuous stuff: a long tradition of debating both in school and beyond was crowned by winning the ESU national final in 2013. Artists in all media compete and show their work far beyond the school, with success at the Tate, in the Saatchi Art Prize for Schools and more locally in Tiverton and Exeter. Music facilities have just been brought bang up to date with an editing suite and composition/technology studio, but there has long been masses of music both sung and played. In the last couple of years groups have been to Prague, Brittany and Venice, as well as prestigious venues nearer home. Drama takes places in the Ondaatje Hall; plenty of backstage and technical experience on offer as well as acting, plus visits and workshops from French and Spanish theatre groups – a great initiative which other schools would do well to emulate. A long tradition of house and year group plays means there are opportunities for all budding thespians.
Background and Atmosphere
Four-square Victorian red-brick buildings face more modern additions across Blundell’s Road in Tiverton set off by gracious green spaces and a distinctive clock tower.
What in other schools might be called assembly takes place in Big School and is called Latin prayer, concluding as it does with the Lord’s Prayer in Latin; chapel on other mornings in the school’s own beautiful chapel. The first girls arrived in 1975 and the school went fully co-ed in 1992. Parents love the friendly and inclusive feel of the place, the lack of arrogance among the students and the resilience the school instils in them. Affection and loyalty for the school from past and present students and staff is palpable. Terrific and longstanding network of events for OBs, not just the ‘winter lunches’ in Devon, but all over the world.
Pastoral Care and Discipline
Relationships between staff and students seem extremely good, with house staff coming in for particular praise. The seven houses accommodate a mix of all kinds of boarders (full, weekly, flexi) and day pupils, divided into two co-ed at the beginning and end of a student’s time at Blundell’s, two girls’ and three boys’; all are known by their initials – NC, SH etc. The latter, School House, for years 7 and 8, was one of the first matters the head tackled on arrival as a result of considerable parental dissatisfaction: all now report huge improvements The crowning glory of boarding has to be Westlake, the co-ed sixth form house where students get as close a feeling of university life as possible before they get there, yet where girls and boys respectively can retreat from the hurly-burly to their own part of the house.
Pupils and Parents
Mostly local but a good handful (about 10 per cent) from abroad. Pupils are as grounded and unpretentious as any you will find at a UK boarding school, the kind who will have a go and take a risk; we suspect that the rebellious, the precious and the show-off would not thrive here.
Mostly at 11, since Blundell’s Prep finishes at year 6, by means of papers in English, Maths and non-verbal reasoning in the January preceding entry; at 13+ via common entrance or the school’s own entrance test in English and Maths in June. At sixth form, hopefuls have to satisfy entrance requirements of a minimum of five GCSEs at a C or above with at least a B in subjects to be taken to A2, plus interview.
The vast majority to university and traditional ones at that, up and down the country. Popular degree choices tend towards the conventional and/or vocational, such as geography, economics, medicine, biochemistry, law and business management. After that, Old Blundellians fan out across the globe, to the extent that there are OB gatherings in South Africa, Japan, Germany and Hong Kong.
For the first 300 years of its existence, Blundell’s was maintained by the profits from its properties in Tiverton and estate in south Devon, but these days fees charged are in line with comparable schools. However, a decent range of scholarships for sport, music, art, drama, all-round as well as academic; only music and academic at 11+. Peter Blundell Foundation Bursaries are awarded in cases of financial need where ‘Governors wish to reflect the spirit of Peter Blundell’s vision’. The school is innovative in attracting an array of corporate sponsors to fund events.
Ancient and distinguished Devon institution preserving traditional values and feel, yet turning out considerate and balanced young people all set for careers across the globe.
The full report on the Good Schools Guide website can be viewed here.