What The Good Schools Guide says
Head of College
Since 2021, Julian Noad, formerly head of Oswestry School, Shropshire. He is a head on a mission, absolutely determined to bring Queen’s College to the front of the queue for any parent or pupil struggling to find the right choice from the impressively competitive independent school market in Taunton. ‘We have been the hidden gem for too long, it’s time to come out of hiding,’ he proclaims. Certainly there is an incredible energy and positivity to both his headship and, as a result, the school. Parents heaped huge praise on him personally and the ‘massive boost’ that he has brought to Queen’s. ‘Very much a team’ applaud parents, his wife Jane (also a teaching professional) matches him in dedication and enthusiasm, followed at every step by their family dog. This determined trio sum up the feel of the headship: well-led with a clear direction, wonderfully caring pastoral support and a homely feel that underpins the impressive setting and opportunities. It says it all that the three of them stand at the front of school every possible morning to personally greet every arriving pupil.
For someone whose focus as a young man was competitive off-shore yacht racing, he has accumulated a vast wealth of educational leadership experience. He cut his teeth teaching, then as head of, science in a state school, followed by 12 years as housemaster at Clifton College and five years as deputy head at Rydal Penrhos in Colwyn Bay – both roles heavily involving the establishment of competitive pupil sailing teams – before heading inland to Oswestry for seven years as head.
Grammar educated in Kent, he studied engineering at Southampton University then a PGCE at Bristol. He still manages to sail – keeping his beloved boat at St Mawes in Cornwall. Two children, one studying for a master’s in engineering at Swansea, the other a physiotherapist.
Taster days and an interview with the head are precursors to sitting standard cognitive ability papers. Non selective, so tests are for setting purposes only. All new starters required to supply reports and references from previous settings.
Overseas candidates, all interviews online if necessary, sit papers in English as an additional language and need a minimum 4.5 IELTS score. A good intake for sixth form from state secondaries, neighbouring independents or overseas students. New starters required to sit two subject papers of their choice and have achieved a minimum of five GCSE passes.
Around 40 per cent leave after GCSEs, the majority for vocational 16+ choices or the anticipated freedoms of Richard Huish sixth from college in Taunton. A steady handful bounce back again when ‘you realise how lucky we are at Queen’s’ laughed one such returner.
After A levels, majority (95 per cent plus) to university, 75 per cent to their first choice with Bristol, Cardiff, Royal Holloway, Reading and Portsmouth current favourites. One Oxbridge place in 2022 (usually two to three a year) and six medics.
In 2022, 53 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 37 per cent A*/A at A level (63 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 44 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 42 per cent A*/A at A level.
Teaching and learning
Lessons are kind and calm with pupils recognised for their contributions, parents praise the ‘lack of pressure to be the best, just constant gentle encouragement. It’s not a pointy elbowed culture.’ Modern, bright classrooms and engaging staff abound. We particularly liked the array of snakes and reptiles in the biology lab. Pupils are encouraged to keep their interests broad for as long as possible and seize every new opportunity thrown their way academically. Set from year 7 in maths, year 8 in science and year 9 for English with gentle overlaps between sets and freedom to move between them as advised. Teaching and subject choices are as personalised as they can be, option blocks are only put together for both GCSEs and A levels once every pupil in years 9 and 11 have had a one-toone meeting about their desired subjects. At GCSE there are the usual five compulsory subjects and they can choose a further four with no restrictions. English, art and food & nutrition are the strongest performing choices. Many add on a tenth subject to be studied in co-curricular time (further maths a popular option).
The sixth form is a good size with a buzzy welcoming atmosphere. Their bespoke centre is due to be relocated to a more central part of the school site but includes a kitchen, breakout rooms, study and hangout spaces featuring plentiful pool tables, table tennis and table football. Post GCSE offering is good with 24 different A level subjects, a level-3 diploma in food science and nutrition and BTEC level-3 options in marketing, sport or sport and outdoor activities all on offer. Maths and psychology the two most popular A levels with RS gaining the highest grades. EPQ encouraged with 50 per cent completing it annually. Pupils spoke of how ‘there is a real sense of community in the sixth form and the academic relationships with staff are really good.’
Learning support and SEN
Learning support has its own building and whether pupils arrive with a declaration of additional need or this is discovered on their journey through the school, there are both small groups and one to one sessions available to all, included within the fees. School is committed to joined up SENCO direction which, with continual training and development of teachers, enables most extra help to happen with support in class. ‘The SEN approach at Queen’s has been transformational for my child’, glowed one parent.
Around 20 to 25 per cent of pupils have some form of access to SEN support during their time at the school, ranging from short term additional help with maths or English to more moderate neurodiversity. School can and does consider applicants with EHCPs, ‘It depends on whether we truly feel that we can support that pupil throughout their progression through the school.’
The arts and extracurricular
‘This is why people choose this school’ voiced pupils and staff repeatedly as they walked us through the art and co-curricular offerings and it was hard not to be awestruck by what we were shown. Co-curricular is absolutely embedded into the school day, every pupil stays on for CC1, held for the first hour after lessons finish until 4.30pm, this is followed by CC2, an additional hour until 5.30pm – more flexibly optional but with an 80 per cent uptake. Pupils select a termly choice for each session and this commitment to time spent on additional interests and passions allows for a monumental extension to curriculum learning.
Pupils are eloquent in expressing the life benefits, ‘The impact of the co-curricular choices we make here is huge,’ voiced one sixth former, ‘to the point that I am now narrowing my university choices to ones where I can continue to enjoy and develop my passion for canoe polo – something I would never have even heard of had I not been at this school!’
Yes, you can select to spend some of this time on prep, the ubiquitous Duke of Edinburgh or having more time exploring, experimenting and developing in art, drama, music or sport squad training, but you can also stretch way beyond these and have a go at kayaking, climbing, clay pigeon shooting, fencing, horse riding, hip hop, caving, mountain biking, dance, debating…the list goes on. There is little not included here and, if you can think of something, they will add it on.
Pupils were unanimous in saying that the outdoor learning is what makes Queen’s stand so far apart from others and it is rare among senior schools to find one that offers almost more outdoor-ed at senior level than it does at junior. The icing on the cake is the option to take a BTEC in sport and outdoor activities in the sixth form.
Art department is flooded with light and enjoys views out over the playing fields to the hills beyond. Sixth formers have their own permanent studio spaces where they can exhibit and work on their portfolios in every free period or after school hours. Textiles, photography and ceramics have their own studios for classes and clubs, all three are studied up to the end of year 9 then as part of the broad Art GCSE or A level options. ‘Plenty of students have gone from here directly to the art courses at Central St Martins, the art equivalent of Oxbridge, with strong enough portfolios to skip the usual pre-requisite of a foundation year,’ raved parents.
Separate DT studio is an engineering hive of activity with a prize-winning team, school recently won the First Lego League Robotics competition held at Hewlett Packard in Bristol and students were keenly planning and re-programming for the next CREST project whilst also working on creating their entry to the Greenpower car challenge. Displays adorned the walls and shelves of block bots, laser cut shadow light boxes and intricate kinetic sculptures of plastic pattern shape shifters. The quality of equipment, inspirational teaching and levels of enthusiasm from pupils were fabulous.
Cooking is taken extremely seriously here, school is committed to working with as much of its own produce (grown on site) as possible, so catering classes and clubs run hand in hand with gardening and eco clubs. Cooking department hosts a professionally set up kitchen and ‘restaurant’ where visiting groups are catered for and formally hosted by pupils. Food & nutrition offered as a GCSE and level-3 diploma but pupils can also opt in for CC opportunities ranging from ‘cooking for university’ to vegan cookery, home cooking skills or even the ASDAN certificate in food.
Music is ‘an extremely high focus and level’ say parents. The department is a busy hub, running curriculum music lessons for all up to the end of year 9, GCSE and A level music on offer plus over 20 different vocal and instrumental peripatetic lessons accessed by over half the student cohort via a long corridor of practice rooms. Ensembles, choirs, bands and orchestras abound and extensions such as music tech and ‘acting through song’ ensure entry points to the world of music from every perspective. Performance opportunities are varied and frequent from small recitals in the oak panelled ‘old music room’ to vast and impressive school musicals; seasonal concerts in the on-site theatre right through to the pupil-led Queen’s Unplugged raw talent show.
Performing arts, often cited as the ‘reason for choosing Queen’s’ by parents, undeniably impressive. The professional theatre seats 570 and performances are at ‘a staggeringly professional level’ agree parents. Full tech kit, wow factor sets and stunning costumes inspire many to get involved backstage. Smaller performing arts centre and ‘drama studio’ both more impressive than the main theatres in many competitor schools. Recent productions include Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Crucible with rehearsals apace for Moana, Mary Poppins and dance extravaganza, Inside Out.
Sport is broad, strong and inclusive and the school has ‘a good sporting tradition’ according to the head, who added, ‘Everyone has the chance to play for the school and we don’t aggressively play only to win or accept unpleasant matches against those who do.’ That being said, they do well against the sporting stalwart neighbours of Kings, Millfield, Mount Kelly and the Bristol, Bath and Sherborne schools.
National representation for both hockey and cricket with a new female head of cricket (source of great pride). Everyone learns everything to begin with and specialisation is encouraged as late as possible. Sports taught are mindboggling in their diversity, from fencing to football, badminton to basketball, croquet to circuit training. The 30 acres of pitches, cricket squares, grass athletics tracks and tennis courts all sit to the back of the main building so easily accessible for every age.
Hockey, tennis, cricket and athletics the core for both sexes, with rugby the fifth sport for the boys and netball for girls. Don’t be fooled though, there is way more on offer here. Fabulous facilities offer on-site provision and coaching for everything from scuba diving in the pool, to high speed bouldering in the climbing hall. Performance coaching available to a high level but also enabling those less-abled to find fitness fun and beneficial.
Boarders are well looked after and enviably well entertained. Boarding houses are undergoing renovation and the standard of the completed elements is stunning: the boys’ boarding house boasts high ceilings, sumptuous carpets, leather armchairs and pool tables giving the air of a refined gentlemen’s club with fun injected wherever possible; a common room has vast Marvel superheroes spray painted onto the dark blue walls ‘designed by the boys, with a little help from a notorious local graffiti artist’. It is a teenage boys’ dream hangout. We hope for the girls’ sake that theirs is as impressive!
Years 9 and 10 sleep in mainly triple rooms, with plenty of space and light and their own junior kitchen. Sixth form pupils can take single room options if they prefer and all share bathrooms. Rooms are nothing to write home about but fit for purpose and had positive reviews from the boarders. Many spoke of the benefit of the house dog, adding a family feel.
Boarding trips hugely popular and include city visits, spa trips, water parks and paint balling or the freedom to head into Taunton over the weekend. Boarders have full use of the school’s facilities and with the organised on-site activities including BBQs, laser quest, pizza nights, zorbing and combat archery there is little opportunity to miss home.
Boarders are not allowed back to their rooms during the school day, ensuring solid integration between day and boarding pupils. No tech is allowed in rooms until sixth form and ‘apart from the odd “burner phone” misdemeanour’ this is broadly adhered to.
Ethos and heritage
The oldest school in Taunton, established by a group of Methodists disappointed with the educational offerings of the time The West of England Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School was opened in 1843, changing its name to Queen’s College to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887. Despite moving from Taunton Castle grounds to its current location – an impressively grand Victorian building surrounded by 36 acres of grounds – the school has retained its Methodist links and remains a part of the Methodist Independent Schools Trust (MIST), which it ‘wears as a light Christian clothing’.
Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline
Centrally sited ‘wellbeing hub’ is always open and staffed with full-time school counsellors available both during term and holiday time. Pupils were extremely positive about the ‘tight knit community’ that they revelled in at the school, highlighting in particular the ‘supportive atmosphere and environment’ generated both by staff and fellow pupils, ‘It’s a very encouraging place to be, you are pushed gently out of your comfort zone to try new things and it’s done in a really motivational way. We all share each other’s successes and I’m not sure that is something that you could say about every school.’ Pastoral tracking as big a focal point as academic tracking within the school reporting system. Pupils praised their open relationships with the teaching staff and we were impressed by the mutual respect and kind familiarity between pupils.
Diversity welcomed here with an active ‘diversity group’ ensuring all have the chance to shine and share their experiences, school openly celebrating everything from
Month to important international festivals. Each year group follows an age appropriate programme of talks and discussions, many with the input of external speakers, including recent speakers from the Somerset LGBTQ+ youth charity 2BU. Discipline is clear and behaviour is generally of a high standard. ‘We pride ourselves on
disruption free learning, supporting each other and not getting where we want to be at the expense of others,’ says school and this sentiment was roundly echoed by pupils we spoke to. In addition to a myriad of inter-house sporting, musical and dramatic contests, the academic and behavioural positive and negative point system makes a tangible difference within the highly competitive house system, ‘It pays to encourage your house mates to work hard and play by the rules!’ laughed pupils.
Pupils and parents
Shiny new Range Rovers are ‘a very rare sight’ in the car park, according to school and parents. ‘It’s more about 10-year old Volvos and Golfs; hardworking families, down-to-earth, who often make big sacrifices to send their children here. We’re not a gentrified county-set school.’ Parents grateful for the school bus routes that enable so many rural families to send children here.
Pupil cohort highly praised by parents, ‘Children come out of here not arrogant but confident, polite engaging young people who can get on with anyone and have realistic aspirations with the skills to follow them.’ Pupils we met were wonderfully enthusiastic about their school and its warm and kind community. They were genuinely appreciative of the opportunities they had been given and endearingly humble about their personal achievements.
The lowest fees amongst the Taunton schools and keen to extend financial support where it can, backed by robust MIST funding. Forty per cent of pupils on means-tested bursaries including six on full 100 per cent. Scholarships, worth up to 20 per cent off fees for dual awards, competitively available on entry to years 6, 7, 9 and sixth form after undertaking a structured assessment in the particular discipline. Forces families can take advantage of MOD funded places with a vastly reduced termly fee.
The last word
A shining gem of a school offering an impressively rounded education. Queen’s achieves the perfect balance of on- and off-curriculum opportunities, gentle and kind pastoral care and a grounded, close-knit community – all in a fabulous setting.