Sexey's School Review

Sexey’s is one of the UK’s most affordable state boarding schools, where students are known to make excellent progress at GCSE and A Level. After a critical Ofsted inspection in 2019, the school was recently rated Good for its boarding provision.
At a glance
School type
Comprehensive
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Status
Open
Opening year
1980
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Ms Helen Cullen
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Sexey's School
School type
Comprehensive
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Status
Open
Opening year
1980
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Ms Helen Cullen
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Sexey’s is one of the UK’s most affordable state boarding schools, where students are known to make excellent progress at GCSE and A Level. After a critical Ofsted inspection in 2019, the school was recently rated Good for its boarding provision.

Sexey’s School is a non-selective state boarding and day school for boys and girls aged 11-18 in Somerset that offers families all the advantages of a boarding education for less than £12,000 a year. It has a beautiful West Country location, small community of less than 650 students, and performs well in both A Levels and GCSEs. 

Sexey’s was once considered one of the UK's best state secondary schools, and former Education Secretary Michael Gove described it as “one of the most outstanding schools in the country” in 2015. However, it took a serious decline in rankings after Ofsted rated it Inadequate and showing serious weaknesses in March 2019. The key issues in critical Ofsted report focused on safeguarding and boarding provision.

Headteacher Helen Cullen recognised that a lot of work needed to be done, and since taking on the headship role in 2018, she has turned round the care assessment from the previous judgement of Inadequate to now Good.

After an inspection in 2022, Ofsted awarded the school a Good rating for its boarding provision. Inspectors said that “Boarders reported that boarding at the school feels like belonging to a big family” and that “a strength of the boarding provision is the way in which boarders learn to make friendships and support each other in a nurturing and caring environment.”

Located in the trendy town of Bruton, Sexey’s is one of around 40 state boarding schools in the UK; modelled on an independent boarding school it can offer many benefits of a private education without the cost. At a state boarding school, the education is free as the government funds the education as it would at any other state school in England. You only pay for boarding (and day students may be charged a small annual fee for an extended day), which means paying around £4,000 a term for a full boarding experience.

The school is very proud of its boarding ethos and, with annual full boarding fees of £12,030 per year, it is one of the cheapest state boarding schools in the UK.

Sexey’s students perform above national average at both GCSE and A Level, and the school is ranked highly in league tables for state schools in Somerset year on year. The school sends a large number of students to Russell Group universities, and also regularly wins a small number of Oxbridge places. However, more importantly, the school should be judged more by its progress scores than A* grades: Sexey's is recognised nationally for the progress students make during their time at the school. 

Sexey’s is a Church of England school, and its learning environment is built on core Christian values of Courage, Respect, Kindness, Forgiveness, Empathy, Honesty and Resilience. At the heart of the school is its own purpose-built chapel, known as ‘The Sanctuary’, and all boarders attend regular Sunday services. The school is fully inclusive and welcomes students and staff from all faiths and with no faith.

The school is named after Hugh Sexey, a local man who rose from a humble background to become an Auditor to James I in 1603. It has had an interesting history, changing from a hospital to a boys’ grammar school to a state boarding school in the 1980s – and it continues to keep alive certain traditions that have become part of the school’s fabric. Students continue to play the traditional game of Squares at breaktime, which dates back to the early 1900s, and the annual awarding of the prestigious Bint Shield for house points is taken very seriously. It doesn’t feel old-fashioned, more a celebration of the school’s inherent 'Britishness'.

Curriculum

Sexey’s follows the National Curriculum for England, and focuses on a “variety of learning styles, techniques and curriculum areas”. Students can expect a broad education that balances skills with knowledge, and the academic with the creative; it stretches the most academically able and supports those with learning needs.

Timetabled lessons from Year 7 include English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Religious Studies, Art, Drama, Food Technology, French, Computer Science, Music, Photography, PE and Product Design.

In Years 10-11, GCSE options include Religious Studies, Art, Food Technology, Design Technology, Computer Science, BTEC Sports Studies, Photography and Psychology. In the Sixth Form, students have a choice of 17 A Levels and two BTECs; many students complete the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) which can give them a huge advantage when it comes to university applications.

Sport and the arts

Sport is a big deal, and students play fixtures against independent and state schools in Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire. There are also clubs in various sports including badminton (there are several county players here), basketball, cricket, karate, hockey, rugby, swimming (at a competitive level), tennis and yoga. The school has partnerships with Bath Rugby and Bath Netball, and it recently launched its own tennis academy too.

The arts also thriving. School productions are popular, students play music in school concerts, services, plays and musicals, and there’s tuition in vocal, guitar, woodwind, brass, strings, drums, music technology/dj-ing and piano. 

Sexey’s uses its strong local connections to offer students that little bit extra. It works with a local professional theatre group and a film director who runs acting, producing and film workshops in school, as well as the international art gallery Hauser & Wirth Somerset.

Beyond the classroom

Each year group is offered a varied timetable of extra-curricular activities; as well as sport and arts clubs, there are options including chess, geology, creative writing, CCF and magazine club, and the school has strong links with the local community. Don’t see a club you want on the list, then Sexey’s encourages you to set one up; most recently a Sixth Former established the school’s own TEDxSexeys, for example.

To encourage students to take part in ECAs, they get a stamp in their Student Passport for every activity they achieve, which then earns them various awards. It’s an example of how this school celebrates achievement, encourages participation and keeps learning fun. There’s an active School Parliament, and various leadership positions that give students a voice.

From Year 8, students can join the Combined Cadet Force, and focus on drill, skill at arms, shooting, fieldcraft, first aid, navigation and expedition as part of the Army syllabus. The school has close ties with local army, naval and air bases, especially RNAS Yeovilton, CCF is a popular activity throughout the year groups. There’s also high student participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Academic results

Sexey’s is in the top 5% of the country for progress students make; Government comparison rankings (Jan 2020) placed Sexey’s as the top State Sixth Form School in Somerset for the progress students make from GCSE to A Level and attainment based on average grade, with Sexey’s beating many of the local sixth form college providers and independent schools across Somerset.

A Levels: In 2020, 91% of students achieving grades A*-C, 37% gaining A*-A grades, and 100% pass rate. 100% of students who applied to go to university secured their destination, with at least 61% gaining a Russell Group university place.

In 2022, the school announced one Oxbridge offer, and results including 100% A*-B grades in RE, and over 80% achieving A*-C in psychology, geology, history and English.

GCSE: In 2022, 85% of all grades were 9-4 compared to the national figure of 73.2%. The top performing GCSE subjects were RE (100% 9-4), art (90% 9-4), photography (90% 9-4), followed by English, maths and psychology (all over 80% 9-4).

Boarding

There are 130 boarders, most in the Sixth Form, who all stay in one of two co-ed boarding houses on campus. The school has a flexible boarding programme for Years 7-13, both weekly and full. There’s a full weekend programme of activities for full boarders (there’s no Saturday school), and students are cared for by a team of Houseparents’, Assistant Houseparents and Matron.

Campus and facilities

Sexey’s has a large, green campus set within some beautiful Somerset countryside and there are specialist buildings for the arts, sciences, maths, drama and computing. There’s also a dedicated Sixth Form with computer room, study space and café.

Sports facilities include sports hall, rugby and cricket pitches, tennis and netball courts and football pitches; there is also an indoor swimming pool.

Admission and fees

Admission to state boarding schools in the UK is limited to children who are nationals of the UK and are eligible to hold a full UK passport, or those who have the right of residence in the UK. Since January 2021, they are no longer open to EU passport holders and nationals of other European countries.

Children can be living overseas when they apply, but they will need to provide a copy of their UK passport or right of residency in the UK. Families with British National (Overseas) status can apply for the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa. If the visa application is successful, families who move to the UK can apply for their child to attend a UK state boarding school. All boarders from overseas must have a guardian in the UK when they arrive. In several state boarding schools, around 10-20% of boarders have an international background.

Applications are made to the Hertfordshire Local Authority, not the school. Students applying for a boarding place will be invited for a boarding interview, when the school will assess their suitability to board; places are offered shortly after the interview. This will typically take place in September and/or January in the academic year preceding entry.

The oversubscription criterion for boarders includes children who are looked after by a Local Authority, UK Armed Forces children, having a “boarding need” which could be that parents are living abroad, and having a sibling at the school (unless they are in Year 13).

Day student places at non-selective state boarding schools such as Sexey’s are made through the Common Application Form (CAF) to the local authority, and students must apply in Year 6 for a Year 7 place. The deadline to submit the application is October 31 in the year preceding entry. There is often a high demand for day places at these schools, which are awarded according to the Local Authority criteria of looked-after children, siblings and distance from school. You’ll often need to be living less than two miles of the school to stand a chance of getting a place.

You will find out if you have been offered a place on National Offer Day, which is March 1 every year.

Annual fees for full boarders are £12,030 for the first child and £11,880 for each sibling.

Our View

Good for: Sexey's offers plenty of potential for families looking for a well-rounded boarding education for a third of the cost of an average UK independent boarding school. Under the headship of Helen Cullen, the school has made much-needed improvements required to move its ranking from Inadequate to Good – and all the signs are there that Sexey's is on the up again. It is a school that looks set to continue improving, and to build on its established reputation for raising attainment and accelerating your child's progress.

Not for: As a state boarding school, Sexey's cannot match the sweeping campuses and state of the art facilities of some independent schools in the area. Also, as a non-selective school, don't come here expecting an academic hothouse. Also, you'll need to live in the local area and have a UK passport to stand the strongest chance of securing a place.

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