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  • Bryanston School
    Bryanston
    Blandford Forum
    Dorset
    DT11 0PX
  • Head: Mr Mark Mortimer
  • T 01258 452411
  • F 01258 484657
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.bryanston.co.uk
  • Bryanston School is an English independent day and boarding school for boys and girls, located next to the village of Bryanston in Dorset. It educates over 650 pupils and was founded in 1928.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Dorset
  • Pupils: 680; sixth formers: 288
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day £32,547; Boarding £39,693 pa
  • Open days: Individual virtual tours- email school to book
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

‘Bryanston likes change, new ideas, we like to challenge convention’ while at the same time remaining, in this Guide’s view, in many ways thoroughly conventional. It’s the near-paradox of ‘et nova et vetera’ that explains why the school eludes lazy stereotyping. There’s high-level coaching for those who love their sport and, they claim, healthy fun for those averse to being buried alive under a scrum. We met the head of sport who expresses his philosophy in a strikingly humane, even poetic, way. He wants...  

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What the school says...

At Bryanston our aim is to develop well-balanced 18-year-olds, ready to go out into the wider world, to lead happy and fulfilling lives and to contribute, positively and generously.

We provide every pupil with individual attention and support. The school's tailored approach means that pupils benefit from extensive one-to-one time with their tutor providing the academic and pastoral encouragement they need to achieve their full potential as individuals.

We believe pupils do best when they learn to relish every opportunity and discover their own individual talents and interests, exploring them to the best of their abilities. Pupils are encouraged to experience a wide range of academic subjects and extra-curricular activities, all of which helps them to discover areas where they can flourish and excel.

Education is not about moulding, nor are children end products. We believe that education is an exciting process, organic and ongoing; that pupils learn better actively, growing up in secure surroundings, than if passively taught; that to lead successful lives, at school and beyond, each needs to be prepared to give of his or her own talents and to value those of others.
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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Sports

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Rowing

Fencing

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2019, Mark Mortimer BA PGCE MBA (early 50s), previously head of Warminster School. Schooling at Mill Hill and a degree in history from the University of London preceded eight years as an Army officer followed by a brief sortie into management consulting, before realising that a handsome salary was no substitute for like-minded colleagues and the kind of bringing on of young people he had seen the army do for young soldiers. Mr Mortimer’s star has risen steadily as he progressed through independent schools up and down the land (Hampton, Giggleswick, St John’s Leatherhead) and an MBA from Henley Business School until he was tapped on the shoulder for the Bryanston job. (Spoiler alert: there was a proper selection process.) ‘The educational philosophy attracted me,’ he told us and being the historian that he is, he has dived into the archives for pleasure to see where it all started.

The changes Mr Mortimer has introduced since he arrived have not been flashy, but centre on getting teaching at Bryanston to be as effective as it can be – he has taken on a new head of staff development and lured his previous head of learning support from Warminster to join the ranks. But then came Covid, when ‘the way we have always done things went out of the window!’ he commented wryly, but whose online replacement has been praised by parents. Despite, or perhaps as part of, his stated intention to speak up for the independent sector, Mr Mortimer has joined the Blandford Schools Group (Bryanston looks across the river Stour at the town’s only state secondary school) to create closer links with the local community – ‘Our long drive can be a bit like a metaphorical drawbridge,’ he reflected.

Parents have warmed to Mr Mortimer – they like the fact that the Bryanston ethos seems safe in his hands and that he still teaches. ‘He probably doesn’t take any prisoners though!’ remarked one mother. He certainly has the sartorial and verbal crispness of a former army officer and his phenomenal feats of physical endurance (he has twice rowed across the Atlantic and completed the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara) made us feel we had had an interview with a cerebral version of Action Man. The odd game of golf he enjoys with his chum and opposite number at Canford Ben Vessey is, we are sure, but a tiny part of his fitness regime. Married to Anna with two young daughters and a son.

Entrance

Online ISEB pre-test in year 7 to determine if your child is in the zone academically. Common entrance used as a ‘profiling tool’, pass mark 50 per cent – not a high bar – though the average score is 60-70 per cent. Parents really like the way the school suits brothers and sisters of differing personalities and talents. Sixth form takes on 25-30 new students per year, 40 points needed at GCSE – as for current students – plus tests and interview.

Exit

Between 15 to 20 per cent leaves after GCSEs. University applications guidance recently beefed up by adoption of the BridgeU platform. Almost half apply after A level. Terrific after-sales service, no problem if you don’t make up your mind for even a year or two, just get in touch for, as they say, ‘Bryanston is not just a five year experience’. Most to university in the UK or abroad and most do conventional courses. Some join the forces. Army liaison officer visits. One to Oxbridge in 2020, plus one medic. Popular destinations: Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Bath and Oxford Brookes. Twelve overseas in 2020 including Spain, Rotterdam, Switzerland, Hong Kong, McGill, NYU, Toronto. ‘But we like the fact that it’s not all about university,’ one mother told us – ‘different destinations are celebrated’.

Latest results

In 2020, 53 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE; 43 per cent A*/A at A level (68 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 48 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE; 23 per cent A*/A at A level (54 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Academically they do things differently at Bryanston. It’s a DNA thing. It derives from an educational theory adopted by the school’s founders favouring self-reliance – the Dalton System, still referred to today. Assignments aren’t bite-size, set to be tested tomorrow, they’re bigger and they’re completed over a week. Instead of a central library there are departmental ones with specialist teachers on hand to help out. You get more ‘free’ periods than you would at most schools. To support you there’s your tutor, who you meet at least once a week to review how things are going. This enables you learn from what’s going well and what isn’t, and incrementally apply the lessons of experience. From year 12 you also have one-to-one meetings with your subject teacher to iron out bugs. Keeping on top of the workload requires rigorous time management. Progress is assessed weekly by grade and comment, recorded electronically and shared with students and teachers. The eChart, they call it. The objective is to develop a spirit of self-motivation and independent enquiry, and any independent-minded child is going to love it. Parents can see weekly attitude scores and more detailed marks and comments every month.

If you’re a fired-up self-starter, great. But if the classroom doesn’t play to your best strengths and your appetite for intellectual enquiry isn’t your defining characteristic, there’s a danger of daydreaming and dawdling. Which is why, over the years, the system has become more interventionist. A parent told us admiringly that if you start goofing off ‘they’re on your case immediately’. Another savoured the irony that though the school is often mistakenly perceived as progressive and a bit laissez faire, ‘I can’t imagine a school more tightly controlled’. Is it nevertheless the case that a child who is not especially self-reliant and/or academic could find this tough, and may therefore be better suited to smaller assignments with a faster turnaround? The school is aware of this lingering anxiety and any apprehensive parent would do well to take it up with them.
As for the eChart, a parent advises, ‘Read it, but my advice: don’t discuss it with your child, it works best as an internal document’. Which goes to show how much faith parents (rightly) place in Bryanston’s teachers and testifies to the amount of time teachers give to their students. It is exceptionally rare for a student to spend as much structured time on their own with a teacher as they do here. As one teacher expressed it, ‘It’s all about relationships - we’re all in it together’.

Stats matter, though, and for better or worse exam stats matter most, here as anywhere. They are entirely respectable bearing in mind that the students’ academic range here is pretty broad. Noteworthy that a quarter do Latin GCSE.

At A level, students opt for the full range and there’s something for all abilities. As many do Eng lit as maths. Sciences are strong, design and tech very much so. Art is a longstanding strength. Most popular of all? Economics. Value added score places the school in the top 15 per cent nationally.

Learning support and SEN

Likely to enjoy a much higher profile under new head and impressive new head of department. Any need for learning support will probably be picked up at the pre-test in year 7; commendably, Bryanston works with individual prep schools to facilitate a child’s journey to Common Entrance. All new arrivals are screened on entry. Highest demand is for maths support, we were told, but the most common identified needs are slow processing speed and working memory. Fortunately the Dalton plan, which underpins the school’s philosophy, has the building in of extra time for the reinforcement of learning at its core, so there are few if any conflicting demands on a student’s time. 1-1 lessons (chargeable) where needed. Students on the autism spectrum might have a reduced timetable but any student needing a differentiated curriculum is likely to get one. The department also has an important pastoral role and students can refer themselves for any difficulties they might be experiencing; tutors co-ordinate all learning support provision and are the first port of call. As to attitudes, any unhelpful and persistent negative views are addressed by the head of learning support.

The arts and extracurricular

To know anything about Bryanston is to know that it is famously creative. It’s one reason why it is often mistakenly typecast as progressive. It remains as creative as ever in art, design, drama and music. Standards in all three remain outstanding. But you don’t have to be arty to get in – ‘People respect all achievements' is a sentiment fervently echoed by the students, who are adamant that there is no hierarchy of achievement here. Having said which, a creative, artistic child can only soar. Facilities are first class. The new music school is a thing of great loveliness – it even has a professional-standard recording studio and masses of scope for aspiring techies, too. Much of the music and drama here is student devised and directed. One parent whose daughter wanted to do design technology at university found that ‘the facilities are just as good, if not better, at school’.

Best testament of all, perhaps, is the number of outstanding arty alumni the school has produced, many of whom remain committed to the place. Very few schools can boast quite so many. In art: Lucian Freud and Howard Hodgkin. In music: Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Mark Elder and Mark Wigglesworth. In stage and film: Ben Fogle and Emilia Fox. In architecture and design: Quinlan Terry, Terence, Jasper and Sebastian Conran. These are just the eminent creatives; there are heaps more in other fields.

There are masses of after-school activities to choose from and they’re not just for fun. The schools sets great store by its co-curriculum, regarding it as a vital part of a student’s voyage of self-discovery. The students we spoke to buy in to this. Extracurricular activities abound plus charity outreach - visits to care homes, working with SEN pupils in local schools, hosting riding for the disabled and fortnightly meetings of senior citizens. Lots of outdoor ed, no CCF. No excuse ever for time hanging heavy.

Sport

In keeping with the definition of Bryanston as a place where you can ‘discover who you are and what you want to be’, there’s high-level coaching for those who love their sport and, they claim, healthy fun for those averse to being buried alive under a scrum. We met the head of sport, who expresses his philosophy in a strikingly humane, even poetic, way. He wants, he says, Bryanston boys and girls to develop ‘an affectionate connection with sport’. Everyone can have a go at everything, see how they get on and settle for their level. He adds, ‘If we get the process right, the results will follow.’ And they do. All the usual sports on offer and there’s a full fixture programme featuring up to three teams per year group, so anyone wanting to play for the school gets a good shot at it. The sports centre is an amazing resource, shared with the local community. Highlight for those who like to let off steam after prep is the new climbing wall with super-cushioned base.

Boarders

Full-time boarding being, now, not so much normative as a matter of circumstance (eg, parents abroad), many families like to get together of a weekend. Roughly every other weekend they can and you can leave for Salisbury station at 12.30pm on a Saturday, commitments permitting, and be at Clapham Junction by 2.30pm. On other weekends everyone stays in school and works towards a community event. Students who mostly board full time told us they feel anything but left behind and the school always lays on something fun and different, though none of this is compulsory. One parent who lives abroad told us, ‘The children are kept very busy. Many times we had to encourage them to go and visit their grandparents!’ Early homesickness is well handled, one mother told us.

Ethos and heritage

The school was founded in 1928, a time when you could buy a second hand country house for a song, start a school in your own image and do things differently from the sclerotic Victorian public schools with their fagging, flogging and character-building subordination of individuality. The Bryanston estate is a whopping 400 acres and the school is centred on a handsome ‘château’ designed by Norman Shaw.

The founders’ manifesto centred on ‘putting right everything that was wrong with their own [school]’. Out went fagging and flogging, in came ‘freedom, self-development and self-discipline’. And short trousers and bags of fresh air. The founders weren’t revolutionaries, mind, they were pragmatists; they embedded the school’s genetic code in, of all places, the deceptively simple motto: ‘Et nova et vetera’ - ‘both new and old’, the best of both. This was a stroke of genius because it has informed the continuous evolution of the school.

To this day Bryanston remains, in the words of one of the teachers, ‘a school that thinks about itself differently.’ ‘Bryanston likes change, new ideas, we like to challenge convention,’ while at the same time remaining, in this Guide’s view, in many ways thoroughly conventional. It’s the near-paradox of ‘et nova et vetera’ that explains why the school eludes lazy stereotyping. Progressive? Sure, there’s no school uniform but there are also no first names for teachers. Creative? Yes - in the broadest sense. Liberal? Absolutely. Easygoing? This conjures up another paradox. One parent told us, ‘I’ve never seen anything so monitored - yet they feel so free’. No ambiguity whatever attaches to what everyone agrees is the salient characteristic of the school: its happiness. ‘My children adore the school,’ one parent told us, speaking for all. ‘Twas ever thus. Of the school’s 18 governors, 10 are former pupils. They have ‘a fierce focus on who we are’.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Given the highly personal nature of the school, responsibility for the emotional health of pupils is the responsibility of everyone. For teachers this is indeed a lifestyle job. We were struck by the warmth, humanity, commitment and sheer calibre of every teacher we met. The school depends on ‘lunatic enthusiasts’ as much as ever and the head is determined to counter the common narrative of a generation of young people ‘lost to Covid’. It is typical of the values of the school that it acknowledges also the pastoral importance of non-teaching staff, indicative of the ‘we’re all in it together’ mindset here. One example was supplied by a student who told us, ‘Everyone turns up to school events’ and illustrated it by telling us of the student who was giving an after-prep piano recital. He didn’t expect more than a handful – he was playing Schubert. As he connected with his mum on Skype so she could watch him, his whole year group rocked up to support. One parent told us, ‘All of the key people who surrounded all of my [three] children had their fingers on all pulses at all times. In a short time they figured out my children’s various characteristics and embraced them’.

Formal responsibility for wellbeing lies with the houseparent together with the academic tutor, handpicked for compatibility. Such is the bond that, if a pupil gets into hot water, their tutor will act as advocate of last resort and defend them to the death. Rigorous vigilance is the best way to nip bad stuff in the bud, but even so, it occasionally happens, and if it’s something like drugs you’re likely to find yourself packing; school deploys sniffer dogs on occasion. The school used to be reckoned absorbent of a little bit of offbeat recreational malarkey. If it ever was, that’s history.

Teachers are trained in mental health and all staff have received training in LGBTQ+ issues; school has Stonewall gold school champion status. The chaplain has an integral role in the school's pastoral care system and aims to offer pupils the experience of genuine committed Christian worship – ‘Christian values blend well with Bryanston values’. On Sundays pupils must either go to a lecture in the theatre or walk a mile to the little estate church. An impressive number opt for the latter and around 20 are confirmed every year.

There are houses, three of them in the big house, which helps to reduce tribalism, which is further diluted not just by the emphasis the school places on being yourself but also by the fact that the big house is big enough to be the school’s social hub. Top tip: if you want to plug in to the vibe, spend some time on the basement corridor. Boys go into a junior house for their first year to acclimatise; girls don’t because older girls are reckoned better at looking after little ones. There are prefects, whose role is more pastoral than disciplinary. They support the younger boys and girls, for which they get minor rewards but no privileges – the job is its own reward.

The dress code – polo shirt, black trousers/skirt – is, they say, ‘hard to subvert’, and enables students to ‘blend in with the local community’. The sixth form code is more relaxed. We saw no evidence of competitiveness or self-consciousness. Everyone looks natural and businesslike – unremarkable. The look is deceptively tightly regulated. Food is exceptional, the best we’ve eaten anywhere, and the dining hall was designed by former pupil Terence Conran.

Pupils and parents

Most from up to an hour or so away but a good chunk from west London and further afield. Coaches from London, Oxford, Exeter and Lewes. Especially popular with the arty/liberal elite. Small international contingent. Around 12 per cent day students; their day ends at 9pm.

Money matters

Fees nudging the upper end of the scale. Scholarships up to 10 per cent. Top-up or standalone bursaries from 5-100 per cent; around 100 beneficiaries and 20+ students in receipt of 90+ per cent support. Two significant measures of value: the amount of personal attention here and the excellent use made of the educational opportunity offered by the long boarding school day.

The last word

Secure in its identity, superbly staffed, safe, kind, rigorous and highly likeable, a school in buoyant form that celebrates all sorts and all achievements and which strikes the balance between freedom and structure. In the words of one mother, exhilarating.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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