Bruton School for Girls, Bruton
Muddy says: A progressive outlook combined with core values of co-operation and kindness, allows girls to reach their potential without ruthless competition or pushing
Independent day and boarding school for girls aged 2 to 18 (and boys aged 2 to 7) on a hillside in the hip town of Bruton in Somerset. The school’s set back from the main road through Bruton and spread out across 40 acres, with views over the Somerset countryside as far as Glastonbury. Tennis courts and other sports facilities across the road opposite.
The school was founded in 1900 as Sunny Hill School, a day and boarding school for girls, with funding from a trust set up in Elizabethan times by the Auditor of the Exchequer, Hugh Sexey (a major local benefactor, you’ll see his name a lot around Bruton). After spells as a public secondary school and an Aided Secondary School, the school became fully independent in 1944 and changed its name to Bruton School for Girls in 1961 – though it’s still known by some as Sunny Hill.
The Prep, set up in 1997 and extended to include a Pre-Prep (where boys are welcome) in 1998, is called Sunny Hill Prep.
Currently, there are around 200 pupils on the roll across the two schools, with day pupils coming from a 20-mile radius and boarders from around the UK and beyond. 20% of pupils are international, mainly from Year 9 up.
The school has underlying Christian values with hymns and prayers during weekly assembly but it’s not over religious.
It uses its own terminology: Years 7–9 are Seniors 1– 3; Years 10 – 11 are Seniors 4 and 5. The Sixth Form, is well, the Sixth Form.
The school’s a cluster of buildings from the 1900s up until the present day. Main School contains the art and language departments. The art here is spectacular, with impressive student artwork in all mediums and sizes filling the school corridors and its own gallery space.
The art department is a series of large, light-filled rooms, including a new art room with inspirational views over to Glastonbury Tor.
Dedicated areas for GCSE and Sixth Form, plus a separate photography studio and dark room. Lots of projects with the international art gallery Hauser & Wirth just down the road and local artists.
Languages are a strength. Classrooms and a snug for one-to-one learning. French and German (with support from native speakers) form the basis for language learning, with Latin from Senior 3 (Year 9). The school scores highly in the spoken language part of exams.
Chappell Building for maths and humanities, where we saw head teacher Mrs Botterill teaching a lively history class – was King James the weakest link?
Science building with trad labs. Science, along with maths, is popular, with two-thirds of all girls taking maths or a science A Level.
Food and nutrition and drama are housed together. There are several airy kitchens, and in collaboration with the prestigious Leith School of Cooking, girls can follow the Leith Toolkit instead of a GCSE, and the Leith Initial Certificate in Food and Wine in the Sixth Form. Small theatrical productions and lectures take place in a Studio Theatre.
Larger scale stuff takes place in the Main Hall, which has a traditional stage, with productions throughout the year and full-scale musicals alternate years. Wendy & Peter, an RSC version of Peter Pan with Wendy as the main character sounded interesting. Magnolia Lawn, outside the Main Hall, creates a natural amphitheatre – last year, Grease was performed outside there and then in the Main Hall.
The Music School. Around two-thirds of the girls have specialist music lessons from peripatetic staff, learning pretty much any instrument – except the harp or bagpipes – and singing. Orchestras, ensembles, some organised by girls. Concerts, recitals at lunch and evening.
Nice library, packed with books (not all school libraries are) with views. Proactive; they’ve been shadowing Carnegie medal winners.
The original school building, Old House, is where you’ll find the dining room, ICT and meeting rooms. Students and staff eat together (food said to be healthy and delicious) in various sittings though Sixth Formers have the privilege of eating whenever they like.
Dance studio, gymnasium and fitness suite.
Solar-heated, outdoor swimming pool.
Extensive space for outdoor learning, with a nature reserve and tented classroom in an old railway cutting.
Impressive. Top school in Somerset at GCSE (Department of Education attainment 8) and consistently one of the highest performing schools in the area at both GCSE and A Level. 2019 GCSEs: 100% 5 or more at Grade 4 (C) or above; 63% of grades were Grade 7 (A) or above. A Levels : 20% of all grades A* (almost double the national average); 40% achieved at least one A. Consistently in top 10% of all schools in the UK for added value (progress made) with on average a grade per subject at GCSE. Emphasis in facilitating subjects (the traditional subjects) to keep options open for the girls. Science, maths and languages are all strengths.
Average class size 15–20 in Senior 1–3; less in GCSE and A Levels.
Most girls move onto first choice university, most recently Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Exeter, Falmouth Art College, Edinburgh, St Andrews , Birmingham, Royal Holloway and UCL.
Despite these results it’s not academically selective. Informal assessments during Taster Day, verbal and non-verbal reasoning for diagnostic purposes only, plus report from current school.
Dedicated Skills Development Unit with specialist teachers to support girls with additional learning needs.
THE HEAD TEACHER
Nicky Botterill has been in post since 2012 after stints as Deputy Head at St Mary’s Calne and Academic Deputy at Putney High School. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society of Arts, she’s been described as dynamic and visionary by the ISI. She’s innovative too, introducing a lecture programme covering everything from FGM to art in prison, bringing in female entrepreneurs like PR guru Lynne Franks to talk about empowering women, offering careers guidance from Year 9 and currently investigating the use of AI (artificial intelligence). Passionate about bringing the outside world in, she ensures the school isn’t an ivory tower.
Smaller schools, she says, can be flexible, tailor to individuals and year groups and act quickly to implement change. They know every girl inside out; one pupil said in her leaver’s interview the school ‘knows me better than I know myself’. The aim is to ensure girls stand tall and make the most of their potential but it’s a green house, not a hot house. She describes the school as running on tea and cake (she’s got an open door policy if you want to try some), good vibes and trust, with kindness highly valued. The school encourages girls to think creatively and critically and develop a love of learning that will continue throughout life. Girls value themselves, become good people with social consciences, confident without a sense of entitlement – there are no arrogant hair flickers here – and make a contribution to the world.
Traditional: hockey in winter; netball in spring; tennis, athletics, cricket and swimming in summer. Sixth Formers can do yoga, ultimate frisbee and Quidditch one afternoon a week.
Floodlit courts for tennis, netball and an astro turf pitch the other side of the road.
Pastoral care is very highly rated. In the Senior School, girls are in mixed age tutor groups where tutors meet girls every morning, and a mixed age Hall (house): Hadspen, Longleat, Montacute and Stourhead, where girls of all ages get to know each other. Head of Year system for Seniors 1–3, Senior 4–5 and Sixth Form, where they meet weekly with academic and pastoral staff. The bottom line is always: what’s best for the girls?
Senior school have mindfulness, talk about exam stress – getting across that perfectionism isn’t achievable – and the importance of balance, not just in schoolwork but also in life.
In the Sixth Form, all girls hold some position in the school, from head girl to writing a school blog.
Exchange programme with schools in South Africa and Australia.
The school motto ‘Follow the Gleam’ comes from a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in which the Gleam is the light of inner inspiration.
Trips are particularly interesting: who wouldn’t want to visit Cape Verde to find out about turtle conservation?
PRE-PREP & PREP
Sunny Hill Prep, with around 50 pupils – girls from 2 to 11 and boys from 2 to 7 – headed up by Helen Snow, is in a separate building at one end of the school campus, though they share sports facilities, the dining hall and other rooms as appropriate.
Early Years is Nursery, Pre-school and Reception for 2 to 5 year-olds; Prep 1 for 5 to 6 year-olds and Prep 2 for 6 to 7 year-olds.
Sunny Hill Nursery opened in September 2019 and provides all-year round care for girls and boys from the age of 2. A range of sessions offers very flexible arrangements for working parents with breakfast club from 7.45am and collection at 6pm. Children enjoy loads of different activities including ‘splash time’ (building water confidence in the pool) and forest school.
In the Pre-Prep, activities are child-led and look great fun (they were making some beautiful flowers frozen in ice), around themes like space, weather, the seaside. Outside space with grass, sandpit, playhouse and toys. The views from the playground are idyllic.
Prep classrooms are large and airy, some with shared tables and others with traditional wooden desks (which the girls love – they leave messages for the next girl who sits at that desk for the year) and all with interactive white boards.
Specialist teachers from the Senior school for PE and French from Reception; maths, history, geography and science (within which, biology, chemistry and biology – and all taught in the Senior school labs) from Year 5. Year 1 & 2 use desktops and iPads.
Own library and hall for assemblies. Three houses: Earth, Fire and Water, with house captains, elected by pupils.
Very musical (all girls play an instrument) with orchestra, folk group, choir, ukulele. Summer production of The Tempest.
Lots of extra-curricular and Years 5 & 6 enjoy an annual ‘outward bound’ style residential trip.
The Cutting is the forest school with meadow and a tented classroom (with WiFi); nature reserve (they’re part of the ecology-focused John Muir Awards scheme for Years 5 & 6). They also work with local organisations like the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
Mini Foresters Toddler Group at Forest School.
Watch this space for an all-year-round Nursery School in the future.
Rated ‘Excellent’ (the highest rating possible) by ISI in all areas and ‘Outstanding’ (the highest rating possible) for the Early Years provision.
The school’s been awarded Business Cultural Champion Award by the Arts and Business Council for its involvement with Somerset Art Works and Somerset Art Weeks.
One of only 27 schools in the UK to be awarded the Eco-Schools ‘Green Ambassador’ Award.
Comedian and author Viv Goskrop is an Old Girl.
One of the current girls is a World Tumbling Champion.
There’s a boules court.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Parents can drop off at the Prep as early as 7.30 am; free after school care with books, drinks and snacks until 5.30pm or for a small fee, stay for supper until 6.30pm.
Lots of clubs. Prep: all the trad sports, riding, drama, storytelling, chess, Latin, gardening and yoga. Senior: clubs a plenty, including sports (like football), choir, debating, quick cooks (handy), ballet, riding, self-defence, Harry Potter and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards from Senior 3 (Year 9) upwards.
No Saturday school.
For Academic Year 2019/20, fees per term are: Reception, Years 1 & 2 £2,835; Prep Years 3 & 4 from £4,255 day pupils to £8,022 full board; Prep Years 5 & 6 from £4,371 day pupils to £8,139 full board; Senior & Sixth Form £6,232 day pupils to £10,616 full boarding. Discounts for siblings and armed services. Bursaries available.
WORD ON THE GROUND
For one parent, the standout is the individual student-teacher relationship, with girls getting a large amount of individual time from caring, empathetic staff. Another likes the way the school provides opportunities to ‘learn about life outside our small bubble’ and the fact that girls achieve without ruthless competition – the ethos here is on co-operation. The head comes in for praise for the ‘balance of kindness and expectation so that the girls want to do their best but still feel they can talk to her. She is progressive … and yet upholds the values of the school.’ Someone describes the school as ‘an undiscovered gem’. Everyone raves about the pastoral care.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: parents wanting the continuity of an all-through education for their daughters; girls can start here as young as two. It’s small so everyone gets masses of attention, not just the keenies or strugglers. Anyone seeking a rural school that isn’t in a bucolic bubble.
Not for: Tiger mums.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! The next Open Morning is Fri 6 March, 10.30am – 12.30pm. To book, email email@example.com