Trinity School, Teignmouth
Muddy says: A warm, friendly, family-oriented school, highly rated for its individual approach. A bit of a hidden gem in South Devon.
Trinity School is a small independent day and boarding co-ed school, for kids from 2 – 18 years, non-selective and inclusive irrespective of ability. Less than three hours from London by train, it’s on a hill perched above Teignmouth (one of Muddy’s Best Places to Live 2022), right on the South Devon coast, within walking distance to town, and with pretty impressive views out to sea (honestly, some hotels don’t get it this right).
There are currently 258 pupils across the separate Nursery, Reception, Prep and Senior school, 25 of which are boarders, with class sizes averaging 15, so plenty of attention for your kids here. There is a good mix of students from overseas, about 25%, not least, I reckon, because of its safe location and strong sense of community.
With a motto of ‘Optimism, Confidence and Charity‘, a Christian ethos underpins the approach at Trinity but you don’t have to be religious, or Christian to come here. Until the late 1970s, it was a convent and the former Chapel is still in use, where seniors come a couple of times a week to sing a hymn and for a bit of mindful reflection but it’s less a fundamental part of the school experience, and more of a reassuring undercurrent.
This isn’t a grand school with a sweeping mile-long drive and imposing Hogwarts-style buildings, although the 19th century White House makes for a very attractive welcome. Rather the higgledy-piggledy architectural mix feels more approachable and connected to the local community.
For a small school in the heart of a coastal town, you still get a sense of green, open space here (around 14 acres of it – and did I mention the view?). Athletics, football, rugby, hockey, netball, basketball, all the usual suspects are on site and while there is no sports stadium, the icing on the facilities cake is a cracking 25m pool. It’s recently gained a cover, meaning it’s pretty much in use every day of the year, with planning permission pending for a new fitness suite and changing rooms.
Trinity offer a swimming scholarship and local Dawlish Swimming Club run early morning practice sessions here (so no more 5am pool runs for you if your would-be Adam Peaty is a boarder!).
The school also has a tennis and a cricket academy, an established forest school site and makes the most of the local watersports centre for sailing and sea rowing.
I poked my head into the music room, and three practice rooms, to see Year 7 working on their latest production of Matilda. Classical, jazz and contemporary are all studied and while the cohort simply isn’t large enough for an orchestra, the music master and (apparently ace bassoon player), Tim, is ingenious at giving musical pupils opportunities to perform, including putting a band together from instruments as diverse as guitar and violin.
Since Muddy’s last review, Trinity has become part of the Alpha Schools Group, which has led to some welcome investment, most notably in a contemporary Nursery and Reception for 2- 4 year olds – The Lodge and The Stables – with the Nursery open 50 weeks a year.
Word of mouth means the nursery is already 75% full and I could see why. Breakfast club from 7.30-8am every day, access to the indoor pool, tennis courts, Forest School and an in-house professional chef. I could happily live here! All painted in soothing Farrow & Ball shades and brimming with tactile wooden toys and Scandi-style wooden furniture.
There’s an inspired new piece of kit which every school needs – a slide snaking down the side of the building which kids use to ‘chute’ from the first floor to the nursery playground. (And yes, I was tempted, was it not for fear of getting stuck a la Winnie the Pooh.)
Nursery children enjoy specialist teaching in music, IT, swimming, forest school and art (it even has its own dedicated building and adjacent outdoor classroom) with the head of prep and the headmaster spending time with them.
Prep is just around the corner, in a separate two-storey Victorian building with specialist and dedicated classrooms for art, science, drama and ICT.
The school has a proven track record in its students popping out the end of their time at Trinity and going on to Russell Group Universities, so Oxbridge, Imperial, University of London and LSE are all on the list, as well as Exeter University, more locally.
However, the Head is keen to point out this direction is not for everybody. Trinity takes pride in their support of the individual approach which in 2021, saw two Grade A* students swerve uni and head straight into their preferred careers.
He dropped me off with a group of sixth formers and they had me quite choked (not literally) by their love for the school and their appreciation of the support from teachers. One said Trinity made him feel ‘like a person not a number’ unlike his last school which was ‘all about grades’. A Russian pupil shared how touched he was by all the genuine support he’d had from fellow pupils over the current Ukraine conflict. He’d attended three private schools, and was keen to point out the lack of pupil hierarchy (aka ‘bullying’ he said) and how he appreciated the way kids of all ages mingled across school years.
All agreed the coastal location more than compensated for the relatively small grounds, and as for fewer pupil numbers? It means everyone gets their time in the limelight, whether in the sports teams or on the school stage. High praise, and no, they hadn’t been primed by the Head – I checked.
Trinity is the best non-selective school in Devon according to the Sunday Times Top Independent Schools List, with 50% A*/A at A level (or equivalent), and 98.5% pass rate at GCSE.
It’s won plenty of other recognition, too, so don’t take my word for it.
The school has an ISA Award for Innovation in STEM subjects, the performance of Prep pupils regularly well exceeds expectations at KS1 and KS2; national awards for the Arts have been won, as well as plenty of sporting and swimming accolades, locally and nationally. All in all, quite a haul.
The pastoral care element at Trinity is seriously applauded by parents and inspectors alike, who rated it ‘Excellent’ in the most recent ISI report. And so, too, is the Learning Support. Clearly, as a non-selective school the focus isn’t solely on academic achievement; it’s as much about raising self-esteem and promoting a can-do attitude in the kids. And with around 20% of pupils having dyslexia, the SEN policy here is doing the business.
Another plucky string to the Trinity bow, the boarding care, offered for flexi, weekly or full timers, has been independently rated as excellent. There are two boarding houses and what I like is how they are all fully integrated into the main buildings; it’s that small, close-knit feel again.
Chapel House, for junior boarders (older prep through to age 16) is split into a boys’ and girls’ area with a common room and house parents in residence. Currently, all the boarders have a room to themselves, quite unusual at this age when dorms are de rigeur, although they do share the shower/bathroom facilities.
MD Halls for the seniors, is divided into separate girls’ and boys’ wings, connected by a rather snazzy shared kitchen and common room. I had a sneaky peek inside and, well, list a few pics on Rightmove and I reckon it would be snapped up by a young trendy-type in no time. Open plan, exposed beams and a living area made for slouching during downtime = happy sixth formers.
In the evenings and around lessons, the kids get access to the ICT suite for extra study when they need it. And on the flip side, they get plenty of social time, too, with all the usual suspects, like movie nights and paintball sessions regularly planned. At weekends kids in Year 9 are allowed to go into Teignmouth (not known for its rowdiness, happily) and Years 10, 11 and Sixth formers get the freedom to travel to Exeter at weekends. They’re also encouraged to stay with their mates who are day pupils, so all in all, there’s no sense of detachment from the rest of the world.
Lawrence Coen is exactly the kind of strong and charismatic headmaster you’d want running the show at your child’s setting. He’s positive, passionate and a real listener. Before entering education, he worked abroad and in marketing, giving him the business acumen it takes to run and bring investment to a school. If he hadn’t been a teacher, he’d like to think he could have been a rugby pro, but while an injury put an end to that dream, he’s involved with the Local Surf Lifesaving Club, elevating him to ‘cool’ level. With five years at the helm (and a whopping 16 years at the school), he has had time to prove his worth on the academics, including doubling the amount of A*-As at A level. With the youngest of his three children at Trinity, and still actively teaching biology and PE, he’s living the whole educational journey both through the eyes of a parent and those of a head.
The school capitalises on its coastal location, so kids have the chance to get involved in the local Surf Lifesaving Club, as well as rowing, coasteering, surfing and sailing. It mightn’t be the hugest school amidst rolling hills, but does it really need to be when Dartmoor and the Jurassic Coast are practically front and back gardens?
The Head told me about ‘Science Buskers’, where all ages get together weekly, trial the most engaging experiments and then, literally, busk on the streets with them, hoping to wow passersby. This little initiative ultimately won them a dry ice kit in a competition – how much fun?!
But the real stand-out perk is the teaching approach. I heard about so many little initiatives that get the kids thinking, challenging and teasing out their strengths and from the kids themselves, who seemed genuinely excited about what they’ve been up to these past few months. Join the Combined Cadet Force and get a gliding course thrown in, for crying out loud.
The catering had the children I spoke to positively raving, especially Fish Fridays and the regular foodie events, such as a very instagrammable Scottish-themed night complete with haggis. It was created by a head chef who used to work at Claridges. *not jealous* Suffice to say, it all looked totally delicious. There’s also a popular Baguette Barn, for those who prefer a no-fuss panini.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Happily, teachers are onsite and available to chat from 8am every morning, so that you don’t have to feel as though you’re doing a ‘Motherland’ and dropping and running at high speed. There’s also a Breakfast Club from 7.30am, while, at the other end of the day, after clubs, Supper Club runs from 5 – 6pm – a lifesaver if your err, ‘working lunch’ is going on a bit. Flexi boarding is an option, too, for Year 5 and above.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
It’s strictly no phones during school hours up to senior school age, with boarders allowed them at set times, and no restrictions for Year 11 and sixth formers.
It’s right in the heart of town, so easy-peasy access. The school runs buses from Exeter and Paignton with stops en route, plus the town is well connected via Teignmouth train station and the free shuttle bus at the start and end of every day. Direct trains to London take two hours and 53 minutes.
Nursery fees £625.00 (3 days); £833 (4 days); £995 (full time) per month, include all meals, snacks, nappies and school activities (the equivalent of £50 per day).
School fees for day pupils, £2735 per term in reception, rising through to £4,335 in senior. For boarders, it’s £7340 per term for weekly accommodation in Y3 (£7905 full), rising through to £9020 (weekly boarding) in senior (£9785 for full boarding).
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents who send their kids here reckon the class sizes are just right and are pretty bowled over by the pastoral care and the level of individual attention dished out. They’re impressed by the rate at which their kids’ confidence levels grow and seem to really appreciate the strong line of communication between teachers, parents and children.
And yes, they admit a few areas are in need of a lick of paint, but no-one seems to mind.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone looking for a smaller, pastorally driven school, where the kids are schooled as individuals and not just for their academic potential. Parents who are concerned that their child needs some confidence-building, or are on the shy side will feel a rapport with the ethos here straightaway.
Not for: There are more shouty schools out there and if that – and the prestige associated – is more your thing, then you may want to look around. Kids for whom representing the school in large teams, orchestras and so on is crucial, might prefer a larger cohort.
Dare to disagree? Book in for a private tour with the Head/Head of Prep to find out more, or arrange a taster day for your child, then let me know what you think!
Trinity School, Buckeridge Road, Teignmouth, TQ14 8LY. Tel 01626 771530
Updated March 2022.