Bruton School for Girls, Bruton
A progressive outlook combined with core values of co-operation and kindness, allows girls to reach their potential without ruthless competition or pushing
Independent boarding and day 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. Ten per cent 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 overly 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 pupil 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.
Resulting in work like this…
There are 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, German and Spanish (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.
Science building with trad labs. Science, along with maths, is popular, with two-thirds of all girls taking these subjects at A Level.
Food & nutrition and drama are based in the same building. 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 including full-scale musicals, like Legally Blonde. Some performances take place outside on the natural amphitheatre, Magnolia Lawn. Last year there was a week-long musical theatre workshop.
Over in the Music School, around two-thirds of the girls have specialist music lessons from peripatetic staff, learning pretty much any instrument and singing. There are orchestras, ensembles – some of which are organised by the girls – with concerts, recitals at lunch and in the evening.
There’s a nice library, packed with books (not all school libraries are) with views and very 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.
Girls can keep fit in the dance studio, gymnasium and fitness suite.
The solar-heated, outdoor swimming pool has recently been completely re-vamped.
There’s 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.
In 2021: at GCSE, 100% gained five or more Grade 4 or above; 67% gained Grade 7 or above. At A Levels, 50% gained all A/A*; 94%. gained all B or above. Extended Project Qualifications, A/A* 100%. Almost all pupils went to to their first choice university.
Sixth Formers taking the prestigious Leith’s Food and Wine course achieved the highest number of distinction and merit grades awarded over the past 11 years at BSG. Almost all girls achieved a distinction in The Confederation of Tourism and Hospitality Level 3 Extended Certificate in Professional Cookery.
The school is consistently in the 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: 12 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
Jane Evans joined Bruton School for Girls in September 2020 from Queen’s College, Taunton (where she was Director of Outreach & Partnerships and formerly Deputy Head and Head of Sixth Form), via a degree in English and Dance from the University of Surrey, teaching at Guildford High School for Girls, founding the Jakes Ladder Theatre Company and being a consultant on educational projects with the likes of The National Trust and the BBC. Phew.
A dynamic but not intimidating person, she’s committed to developing learning beyond the classroom, forging links with schools and other organisations (local and globally) and is determined to keep creativity at the very heart of all educational activities.
Since her arrival at the school, she’s rejigged the Prep curriculum to include philosophy, engineering and Lego robotics (great fun); developed outdoors education and sports (introducing rowing and climbing and offering the school’s first equestrian scholarship); and widened the music and theatre offering to include theatre tech, songwriting and production – there’s even talk of the school getting its own recording label.
See the latest reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), equivalent to Ofsted in the state sector, here.
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. As from September 2021, pupils can take up rowing.
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 51 weeks of the year for girls and boys between the ages of two to four. A range of sessions offers very flexible arrangements for working parents with breakfast club from 7.45am and collection at 6pm following a light supper. Children enjoy loads of different activities in a happy, creative space including ‘splash time’ (building water confidence in the pool), weekly forest school and there’s a menagerie of animals, including a couple of African land snails, Waffle the golden Labrador and some chooks.
In the Pre-Prep, activities are child-led and look great fun (they were making some beautiful flowers frozen in ice on my visit), 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 for 1.5 to 3 year olds meet in the Sunny Hill meadow every Weds mornings.
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 girls was 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 21/22, 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.
Want to know more? Have a look at their Virtual Open Day and for more info or to arrange a visit, email email@example.com. For Sunny Hill Nursery, contact Laura Field at firstname.lastname@example.org.