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Best private schools in Bournemouth and Poole

Best private schools in Blandford

Best private schools in Sherborne

Best private schools in Dorchester and West Dorset

Special Educational Needs

Bryanston School in BlandfordFor a smallish county, Dorset has more than its fair share of distinguished private schools, all with impressive reputations at home and abroad. Some have junior departments, enabling children to move smoothly from prep through to sixth form if their families wish. There are a number of separate pre-preps and preps too, schools that are experienced at preparing pupils for private senior schools in Dorset and beyond.

Private schools in Bournemouth and Poole

Prep schools in Bournemouth and Poole

If you’re looking for a single-sex private school for your 4-year-old daughter and baulk at the thought of starting the search all over again when she’s 11, Talbot Heath Junior School is the junior sibling of Talbot Heath School. Most girls head to the senior school at 11, with the occasional one or two to the local girls’ grammars. ‘It’s a very inclusive, warm environment,’ a parent told our reviewer.

Many Bournemouth parents choose Castle Court School and Dumpton School (see details in our Blandford section). Up to 10 pupils a year leave Castle Court at 11 for the grammar schools in Bournemouth and Poole but most stay till 13 while at Dumpton a handful gain grammar school places each year.

Other co-ed options include Bournemouth Collegiate Prep School in Parkstone and the highly regarded Yarrells Preparatory School in Upton, Poole, which takes children aged 2 to 11.

Secondary schools in Bournemouth and Poole

With a pretty woodland site and redbrick buildings complete with cloisters, quads, an oak-panelled library and an impressive new science and technology hub, all-girls’ Talbot Heath School is an engaging mix of old and new. This day and boarding school just a mile from Bournemouth beach offers small class sizes and a nurturing environment.

Some parents looking for a co-ed day school in town head to Bournemouth Collegiate School in Southbourne. Many pupils arrive from Bournemouth Collegiate Prep School at 11 and stay on for the sixth form at 16. Canford School, on the outskirts of Wimborne, is easily accessible from Bournemouth and Poole too (see Blandford section).

Just over the border into Hampshire and an easy journey from Bournemouth and Poole by school minibus or train, is Ballard School, a co-ed day school for children aged 2 to 16 in New Milton. A friendly school with a well-earned reputation for the performing arts, it isn’t highly selective but prides itself on its impressive value-added scores. There’s no sixth form: pupils leave at 16 for high-achieving Peter Symonds College, a state sixth form college in Winchester, the local grammar schools and independents such as Canford and Bryanston School.

Best primary schools in Bournemouth and Poole

Best state secondary schools in Bournemouth and Poole

Best nurseries in Bournemouth and Poole

Private schools in Blandford

Prep schools in Blandford

Blandford and the surrounding area have a range of prep school options. Bryanston Prep, three miles away, joined forces with Bryanston School in 2020. The grounds are gorgeous, with more than 30 acres, an orchard, woods and two playgrounds, and parents like the new skills-based curriculum, focus on the performing arts, forest school and delightfully-named innovation room. 

Clayesmore Prep, situated in a generous corner of Clayesmore School’s 66 acres in the village of Iwerne Minster, seven miles from Blandford, has a warm and friendly feel and around 90 per cent of children move up to the senior school at 13. Parents tell us that there’s plenty of intellectual rigour and challenge for the brightest children and support for those who need a bit more help.

Further north, Port Regis, a couple of miles from Shaftesbury, is another option. Under a charismatic new head (when we visited we spotted him climbing a tree with a prospective pupil to whom he was giving a tour), it successfully blends everything good about a traditional prep school education with the best of modern global thinking.

For parents closer to Wimborne who want a stand-alone, co-ed day prep school, Castle Court School in Corfe Mullen is delightfully rural. It has 17 acres of woodland to play in yet it’s only ten miles or so from Bournemouth and Poole. Up to 10 pupils a year leave at 11 for the four local grammar schools but most stay till 13.

Five miles away, also on the outskirts of Wimborne, Dumpton School has a good academic record, a competitive but inclusive sports programme and an emphasis on emotional resilience. Between 10 to 20 per cent leave at the end of year 6, mainly for the local grammars, while at 13 the vast majority head to Canford SchoolBryanston School and Clayesmore.

Families looking further east may opt for Forres Sandle Manor in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, a non-selective, co-ed day and boarding prep. There’s no formal entrance exam – the school works from the premise of ‘will a child be happy here?’ Meanwhile, Moyles Court near Ringwood is a co-ed day school for pupils and boarders aged 2 to 16. A fleet of minibuses ferry children into school from across Dorset and Hampshire.

Other preps reviewed by The Good Schools Guide over the border into Wiltshire include Salisbury Cathedral School, Chafyn Grove and Godolphin Prep in Salisbury and Sandroyd in Tollard Royal.

Secondary schools in Blandford

The area around Blandford is fortunate to have several notable private secondary schools, all of which are reviewed by The Good Schools Guide. Co-ed Bryanston School is just two miles from Blandford, situated in 400 acres of countryside and with facilities second to none. Two-thirds board but day pupils have beds in their houses and are well integrated into Bryanston life. The school is impressive across the board but the arts provision is outstanding.

Nine miles east of Blandford is Canford School in Canford Magna, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful schools in the country. Located in 250 acres of parkland beside the River Stour, Canford even has its own Victorian arboretum, with 350 tree species and one of the largest sweet chestnut trees in the UK. High-achieving and full of bright ideas, this co-ed day and boarding school is praised by pupils and parents alike.

Seven miles north of Blandford is Clayesmore School, also co-ed. Fifty per cent board while day pupils come from places like Blandford, Dorchester, Salisbury, Tisbury and the Dorset coast. Set in 66 acres, it’s friendly and down-to-earth, with sensible priorities and a forward-thinking approach. Parents describe it as ‘a very good all-rounder school’ and are surprised that it isn’t better known. ‘It has all the perks of a private school but without the elitism,’ said one.

Milton Abbey School, nine miles to the west of Blandford, is slightly smaller than Bryanston and Clayesmore. With 76 acres of rolling countryside and a picturesque abbey to boot, it’s one of the prettiest schools in the county. Its strengths lie in its value-added scores and it has long been ahead of the curve in its approach to vocational learning, offering the largest selection of BTECs in the independent sector – everything from countryside management to enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Best primary schools in Blandford

Best state secondary schools in Blandford

Best nurseries in Blandford

Private schools in Sherborne

Pupils at Sherborne PrepPrep schools in Sherborne

Co-ed Sherborne Prep takes children from 3 to 13, with a large number heading to nearby Sherborne School and Sherborne Girls afterwards. It merged with Sherborne School in 2021 and now shares the senior school’s performance spaces, sports facilities and magnificent chapel. Even so, the prep has kept its own identity and autonomy and prepares children for a wide range of senior schools as well as its Sherborne neighbours.

Three miles south of Sherborne, the prep school at Leweston School fizzes with activity. Class sizes are capped at 20 and it’s almost 50:50 boys and girls. Parents told our reviewer that they chose it because of the breadth of its curriculum, its superb outdoor provision, including a four-acre forest school in the grounds, and the fact that most children progress seamlessly from the prep to the senior school.

Just over the border into Somerset there’s Perrott Hill School, a co-ed day and boarding prep in 28 acres of beautiful grounds. ‘My eldest was very shy and within a year was in the final of the school poetry recital performing in front of the whole school and parents,’ a parent told our reviewer.

Secondary schools in Sherborne

Sherborne is blessed with two illustrious private schools. Sherborne School and Sherborne Girls are both single-sex schools but market themselves as ‘separate, yet together’. Parents reckon pupils get the best of both worlds – lessons in a single-sex environment and a host of joint co-curricular activities, music, sport, drama and social events.

Sherborne School is a terrific boys’ boarding school, with a strong sense of community, good academic results and opportunities galore on all fronts – academic, sporting, the arts and much more. A parent talked of the breadth of the academic range and remarked that that the school ‘knows when to push and when to encourage the boys to relax’. Only five per cent are day pupils.

On the other side of town, all-girls Sherborne Girls is led by a dynamic head who runs up to 12 marathons a year in her spare time. Academic achievements are first class but pupils are encouraged to throw themselves into all manner of extracurricular pursuits. Parents praise the school’s strong sense of community and say it isn’t posh or pretentious.

Set in 48 acres of parkland three miles from Sherborne, Leweston School was a girls’ school till 2018, when it went fully co-ed. Parents say the change was ‘very smooth’ and hasn’t changed the ethos, although some years have more boys than others. Day pupils come from as far afield as Wincanton, Beaminster, Shaftesbury and Dorchester, many of them on the school’s fleet of minibuses. A third of students are Catholic but pupils of any faith and none are welcomed.

Best primary schools in Sherborne

Best state secondary schools in Sherborne

Best nurseries in Sherborne

Private schools in Dorchester

Prep schools in Dorchester

The only prep school in Dorchester itself is Sunninghill Preparatory School, for children from 3 to 13. Small and nurturing, it has a good reputation locally and at 13 pupils head off to independents like Canford, Bryanston, Clayesmore, Sherborne and Milton Abbey. An increasing number opt for the well-regarded The Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester.

Secondary schools in Dorchester

There is no private secondary provision in Dorchester and West Dorset but schools like Milton Abbey, Sherborne School, Sherborne Girls and Leweston School are all within striking distance.

Best primary schools in Dorchester

Best state secondary schools in Dorchester

Best nurseries in Dorchester

Dorset private schools for children with special educational needs

Places at special schools in the private sector are often sought through and funded by the local authority. The Forum School in Shillingstone, just outside Blandford, is a special school for pupils aged 7 to 19 with autism as well as complex needs, challenging behaviour and moderate to severe learning difficulties.

Purbeck View School, in the seaside town of Swanage, on the picturesque Jurassic coast, is a special school for youngsters aged 7 to 19 with autism and learning difficulties. Just over the Dorset-Hampshire border there’s Sheiling School in Ringwood. Founded in 1951 and located in 45 eco-friendly acres, it specialises in autism and communication difficulties, severe and complex learning disabilities and challenging behaviours. A third of students are day pupils and two-thirds are residential.

Of the mainstream independent schools with good learning support we rate Milton Abbey School. Every student is treated as an individual, with personalised strategies and toolkits; support includes dictation technology, a scribe or visualisation techniques for assignments and there’s lots of encouragement and emotional support.

At Clayesmore School and Clayesmore Prep learning support is aptly known as TLC. The Teaching and Learning Centre is right in the heart of the school, with TLC staff working closely with subject leaders so support is embedded throughout the curriculum. 

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