Trinity School, Teignmouth, South Devon
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 an independent day and boarding co-ed school, for kids from nursery through to 18 years, non-selective and inclusive irrespective of ability. Less than 3 hours from London by train, on a hill perched above Teignmouth, within walking distance to town, with pretty impressive views out to sea (honestly, some hotels don’t get it this right), first impressions leave you feeling that there are definitely worse places to receive an education.
The school, across nursery, prep, senior and sixth form can take over 500 kids (120 for prep and nursery, 320 in the senior department and around 100 in sixth form), which is comparatively small and lends itself to a close-knit family feel. There’s space for 115 boarders, aged 7 – 19 and the school attracts a good mix of students from overseas, not least, I reckon, because of its safe location and strong sense of community.
With a motto of ‘optimism, confidence and charity’, yes, a Christian ethos underpins the approach at Trinity but you don’t have to be religious, or Christian to go there. I certainly didn’t feel as though it’s a fundamental part of the school experience, more of a reassuring undercurrent.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that 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 Specialist Learning Success Department. 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.
This isn’t a school with a sweeping mile-long drive with imposing Hogwarts-style buildings full of grandeur glimpsed from afar (although the 19th century White House makes for a very attractive welcome), but I think that all contributes to what they strive to achieve here; something more comfortable and connected to the local community. You don’t feel detached from the rest of the world in some imaginary faraway land.
But for a small school in a coastal town, you still get a sense of green, open spaces here (around 14 acres of it – and did I mention the view?). Football, rugby, hockey, netball, basketball, all the usual suspects are on site, along with a cracking 25m outdoor pool that, as soon as the spring arrives and the covers are off is pretty much in use every day (it’s pictured here in sunnier times, to do it justice). Plus, the school has a tennis and a cricket academy, an established forest school site and makes the most of the local watersports centre for sailing.
Inside (so calm, by the way, with quite nice class sizes), the prep department felt colourful and organised with cute common rooms for kids to sit and grab some quiet time during breaks, if they need it.
In the senior department, science DT and art facilities stood out to me, with super-friendly teachers, clearly quite passionate about promoting their respective subjects. One of the students told me about something called ‘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?!
A funky prototype ‘green car’ sat proud in DT class, the handiwork of the kids who entered – and drove – in the Green Car Challenge last year.
The art suite was abuzz when I visited, with music playing and past projects – and others in progress – proudly dangling from the rafters.
Music and drama departments were in full-swing when I visited, with the final performance of the school play Bugsy Malone happening that night. I poked my head into the music rooms, to see a class from primary getting familiar with a mass of instruments. Classical, jazz and contemporary are all studied and both music and drama play their part in winning prizes at local and regional level.
Since it’s a non-selective school, there’s definitely no hothouse feel here; that said, Trinity is definitely up there, competing with (and often beating) the larger, more selective schools. In the last year, 50% of students achieved A* or A at A-level, affording Trinity the ranking of top non-selective school in the South West.
It’s won plenty of 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 accolades, locally and nationally. All in all, quite a haul.
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.
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 3 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 (Prep through to Year 11) is split into a boys’ and girls’ area with house parents in residence. MD Halls for the seniors, is divided into separate girls’ and boys’ wings, joined 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 go and 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 has the will to drive all those who come to study to get the most out of their education. Plus, he’s involved with the Local Surf Lifesaving Club, elevating him to ‘cool’ level; and 18 months in (12 years at the school), he still gives off that air of feeling privileged to be doing the job, in such a fab spot in the world (I think he’s as partial to a sea view as I am). With his own kids in school, he’s living the whole educational journey both through the eyes of a parent and those of a head.
The pre-prep facilities are super-cute, well laid out and the kiddiwinks all looked happy as Larry in their setting. On the day I came for a nose around, fresh flowers were in situ and the children were being encouraged to role play being a florist – sweeeeet! There’s space outside to totter and potter, as well as get stuck into forest school play. The Prep Lodge recently moved into the main throng of the prep school, so I’d imagine the transition from nursery and reception is a pretty easy one.
As you’d hope, the school makes the most of its coastal location, so kids have the chance to get involved in the local Surf Lifesaving Club, as well as rowing and sailing down at the watersports centre on the town’s Back Beach, SeaSports. It mightn’t be the hugest school amidst rolling hills, but come on, does it really need to be when Dartmoor and the Jurassic Coast are practically front and back gardens?
But the real stand-out ‘quirk’ (or perk, maybe?) 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 flying course thrown in, for crying out loud. In Prep, the head Rachel Eaton-Jones kind of personifies that colourful, creative vibe (she wishes she never said it, but she did once, so I’m going to repeat here that she always fancied herself as a Blue Peter presenter. Sorreeeeee Miss!).
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.
For day pupils, £2505 per term in reception, rising through to £3980 in senior. For boarders, it’s £6140 per term for weekly accommodation in Y3 (£6675 full), rising through to £8175 (weekly) in senior (£8875 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. Speaking to the head of Prep, Rachel Eaton-Jones, she has an open door policy at her office and that kind of sums everything up for me.
As far as the kids go, one sixth form boarder told me how he’s dyslexic but has come out the other end of some pretty awesome SEN support and is now totally rocking it in science. This, by the way is the same boy who stopped me in my tracks when I told him I was a bit of a failure in science, because I didn’t understand most of it and was often too shy to say so: ‘there are no silly questions’, he said with wisdom beyond his years.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone looking for a smaller, pastorally driven school, where the kids are seen 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.
Dare to disagree? Why don’t you get yourself along to the next open evening on 15 March 2018, 6-8pm and then let me know what you think!
Buckeridge Road, Teignmouth, TQ14 8LY. Tel School: 01626 774138/ Tel Nursery: 01626 771509