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  • Bryanston School
    Blandford Forum
    DT11 0PX
  • Head: Ms Sarah J Thomas
  • T 01258 452411
  • F 01258 484657
  • E
  • W
  • 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: 673; 581 boarders ; sixth formers: 287
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day £29,229; Boarding £36,984 pa
  • Open days: Small group visits on Tuesday and Friday mornings – contact school.
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

We liked the understated but definite sense of a spiritual life at Bryanston, led by the chaplain. As well as the church in the grounds, there is a dear little chapel in the vaults of the main house which acts as a calm retreat from the hurly burly of life going on outside its open doors. Academic progress is tracked more tightly here than in any school this editor had seen: weekly assessments are provided by each subject teacher and entered on the e-chart, the online mark-sheet to which parents also have access. A carousel of adventurous options takes place in…

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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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What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking Art & Design (3D Studies) at an English Independent School (GCE A level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Design & Technology Product Design at an English Independent School (GCE A level)


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


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




What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2005, Ms Sarah Thomas (50s). A GDST girl hailing from Birkenhead and proud of it, Ms Thomas read Lit Hum (classics – the proper kind with Greek) at Oxford, before becoming an articled clerk to a notary public. Both her parents taught, but their entreaties not to follow in their footsteps clearly fell on deaf ears, for she left the law to do her PGCE at King's College London, before longish stints at Sevenoaks and Uppingham. All that formative experience of co-ed boarding has equipped her admirably for Bryanston. ‘A female head is just a part of who we are, and the best part of my job is recruiting outstanding staff’, she says. We found her a (charming) force to be reckoned with, whom we can imagine causing stuffier members of HMC to choke on their sherry. ‘Splendid’, say parents, ‘100 per cent approachable, with fine powers of judgment’. Ms Thomas makes a point of keeping her hand in at the chalk-face – everybody has to do Latin in the first year, and a fair few take it on to GCSE; a brainy minority do Greek as well.

Ms Thomas’ husband teaches at nearby Hanford and writes children’s books and plays; they have two daughters at university. In her precious time off? ‘Reading – for its peaceful aspects and the opportunity to lose myself in other worlds’, she says, plus walking her dog and cooking.

Retiring in July 2019.

Academic matters

Not desperately selective, with an expectation of 50 per cent for each subject at CE – but what marks this school out is the way academic life is structured. The timetable contains assignment periods for each subject alongside lessons, where prep, further study or one-to-one sessions with the subject teacher take place – the latter ominously named ‘correction periods’. In the first three years, assignment periods are supervised by the subject teacher, providing access and extra help outside lessons. Academic progress is tracked more tightly here than in any school this editor had seen: weekly assessments are provided by each subject teacher and entered on the e-chart, the online mark-sheet to which parents also have access. All assignments (prep) are set to be handed in a week later, so being organised and learning to manage a workload is a skill learnt early. ‘The tutorial system ensures success,’ says the school: each student is allocated a tutor for the duration of his/her time at the school – so far, so conventional – but these individuals do so very much more than that somewhat over-used term suggests. ‘We tutors deal with the academic, spiritual, moral and act as a kind of PA’, said one. Parents greatly value this and tutors’ accessibility both to students and parents. SEN provision supports what goes on in class: each department appoints a staff member to liaise with learning support. One-to-one tuition is available; all help offered is discreet and without stigma. School claims to ‘deliver for every child we admit.’

So does it pay off? At I/GCSE in 2017, 43 per cent A*/A grades and in some years, school is on a par with local independents such as the Sherborne schools, where entry requirements are higher. ‘My daughter got results beyond our wildest dreams’, raved one mother, who also reckoned that Bryanston had been perfect for all three of her children, with differing abilities and interests. Visual arts of all kind very popular and successful, as is Latin and Greek; results suggest as much enthusiasm as aptitude for Latin, but it is heart-warming to see such a resurgence in classical languages. School keeps a Greek theatre tucked away in its extensive grounds, and the JACT summer school in Greek – of formidable repute – for all-comers is held here. At A level, nearly 67 per cent graded A*/B and 38 per cent A*/A in 2017, but value-added shows up strongly against comparable schools. Business studies and English are the most popular choices, sciences hot on their heels, followed by art and design in its various forms. History and geography have a moderate following; modern languages surprisingly little, along with music and drama. Average 35 IB points in 2017.

Games, options, the arts

The scope is amazing - clearly something for the most idle couch potato. All the sports and facilities one would expect in a school of this type feature (rugby, hockey, netball, cricket, tennis, rowing) and both hockey and lacrosse are on offer in consecutive terms. Luscious grounds stretch down to the river Stour, where rowing of increasing seriousness takes place out of a beautiful new boathouse designed by an OB and keen oarsman (sadly we weren't shown this). New arrivals learn navigation skills and how to survive a night in the open – useful for those times when they get lost in the grounds. A carousel of adventurous options takes place in the second year, comprising (amongst other things) falconry, canoeing and rock-climbing (new climbing wall a great hit). Riding might seem quite mundane; we were bemused not even to be shown the stabling, indoor and all-weather schools, or cross-country course on our visit. Keen riders can bring their own steeds. Sailing in the school’s own fleet of Lasers in Poole harbour. School is notable local and national player in a variety of sports. OBs include Phil de Glanville.

The art at Bryanston hits you between the eyes as you walk in. Enormous canvasses adorn the long walls of each of the central corridors in the main building: the scope of the department and amount of available hanging space, plus the skills and dedication of teachers and students, mean the most ambitious projects can be executed. The art department is divided into 2D and 3D; both aspects enjoy a passionate following and are fabulously resourced. Best work of both past and present pupils has thrice been showcased in London galleries (no less). School’s reputation for a creative curriculum is well deserved, and fulfils the aspiration for ‘the joy of the abundant life’ which an early headmaster articulated.

Music and drama (both excellent and ambitious in scope) tend to be avidly pursued for the love of them, rather than chasing yet another GCSE. The 600 seat Coade Hall measures up as well as any school theatre facility, indeed visiting theatre companies stage performances here. Usual musicals (Cabaret, Guys and Dolls in recent years) sometimes include a showing for prep schools – canny marketing! Annual play for each year group (eg The Crucible, Pride and Prejudice in a specially adapted version). Much student-led drama, and our guides enthused about house drama, where even the most reluctant performers tread the boards. New Tom Wheare Music School (named after retired head) includes stunning 300 seat concert hall with huge stage designed to hold a large-scale symphony orchestra, plus, inter alia, large numbers of practice rooms, recital rooms, recording studios, soundproofed band rooms and courtyard area for outdoor performances (plans for performances and masterclasses from renowned musicians). Let's hope they are generous with it. Again, any musical whim can probably be accommodated – if not here, then where? Over a fifth of students sing in a group or choir: we heard the first rehearsal of one of mixed age and mixed ability during the lunch hour, and tuneful and enthusiastic it was too. Musicians perform all over the place, including London and abroad – the dance band to Paris, the chamber choir and orchestra to Florence. All students have to learn a musical instrument in the first year, which may be where the enthusiasm and lung capacity to play the bagpipes starts – there is even a pipe band. ‘What the musicians did in the hols’ was an interesting little aside in the school’s extensive literature; one boy’s attendance at a course at Berklee College in Boston helped him gain a place on its coveted degree programme.

Extracurricular activities are taken seriously here in pursuit of the abundant life – there is everything from Accessorise (jewellery) to yoga, and a choice of four out of more than 100 is compulsory in the first two years.


Three boarding houses are contained within the main building, the rest scattered over the grounds immediately around the main building. Accommodation is comfortable rather than de luxe. Everybody eats centrally in the delightfully refurbished dining hall, and the food is all it’s cracked up to be: we sampled the excellent salad bar but the hot choices and puddings all smelt and looked scrummy too. Rather cool café in lieu of tuck shop sells smoothies, cookies, pizza and other appealing fare; houses also have kitchens for making snacks and drinks. When we asked about the long walk into Blandford, students looked slightly blank – why would they need to do that when everything is at school?

On whole school weekends, all pupils stay in school and work together towards a common goal, eg a charity fundraising event, pupil-led arts festival, sponsored walk etc, but on open weekends they may go home after Saturday morning lessons/any match commitments.

Background and atmosphere

Exceedingly long drive through woods leads eventually to a baby château perched on a rise overlooking the river Stour. Modelled on Menars in the Loire valley by Norman Shaw, the house had to be sold to meet the death duties of Viscount Portman after the family had lived there for just 30 years. In 1928 a young Australian school master bought it and founded the school on traditional and modern principles – et nova et vetera, as the motto says. Going co-ed in the early 70s was well ahead of the trend, and Bryanston has kept its reputation for blazing a trail – ‘Just don’t call us progressive,’ said the head, with a visible shudder.

Acres (400) of grounds and beautiful bold modern additions surround the house, which make a harmonious whole. Inside, two long parquet-floored corridors dotted with sofas in the main house give the continuing impression of being fortunate residents of a mansion, though everyone looks more purposeful. Even the staff and visitors’ loos were contained in a spacious cloakroom with leather armchairs in which to retreat from the fray... Teaching spaces are high spec, particularly the science labs, with their wet and dry areas in the newish Sanger building, named after a double laureate biochemist and OB.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Exceptionally good care is taken of all students. Newbies meet their tutors on arrival at school, and the team formed between him/her and the housemaster or mistress (known as a hsm, to rhyme with bosom) is a tight one. It seems as though it would be hard for any unhappiness or falling off in performance or morale to go unnoticed. Each house has a distinct character and students are placed in them according to a process ‘akin to Hogwarts’ sorting hat’, according to the head. Boys spend a year in one of two junior houses; girls go straight into the house in which they will spend their whole time at the school.

We liked the understated but definite sense of a spiritual life at Bryanston, led by the chaplain. As well as the church in the grounds, there is a dear little chapel in the vaults of the main house which acts as a calm retreat from the hurly burly of life going on outside its open doors. One parent told us her son had ‘quietly gone off and got himself confirmed’, slightly to her surprise (but pleasure).

The persistent reputation for unchecked behaviour and general licence, drugs in particular, has been slow to die, but one parent briskly dismissed it as ‘quite unmerited’. According to the school and the parents we spoke to, any involvement would result in immediate expulsion – and the kids know it. A civilised and age-appropriate view is taken of alcohol for sixth formers, ‘carefully monitored under adult supervision,’ says school. Any misdemeanours are ‘harshly dealt with,’ a mother confirmed. The school rules and regs fit on one side of paper and are unequivocal and up to date, eg ‘Computers/iPods/MP3s must not be used to watch films, play games, listen to music in lessons, prep and after lights out’. For a school with a dress code rather than uniform below sixth form, we found the students tidier than at many other schools: the drill is a coloured polo shirt with a sweater with black or navy trousers or skirts; more leeway for sixth form.

Pupils and parents

When asked if she could sum up a Bryanston pupil, the head said no she couldn’t, though one hallmark would be ‘someone comfortable in their own skin’, who would enjoy being a part of things. We were actually allowed to meet very few, just the head boy and girl who showed us around, who were of course charming and very much on-message. As for the parents, quite a range professionally from doctors to financiers to creative types, but they struck us as exceptionally thoughtful about their children’s education. The geographical spread, in common with many schools, has contracted so that Bryanston is really a south west school, though with a significant minority coming from London and the south east, and a handful from the furthest reaches of the UK. A few from overseas.

Notable OBs include Lucian Freud, all the Conran boys, Mark Elder, John Eliot Gardiner (who sent his daughter too), Ben Fogle and Emilia Fox.


There are 130 places at 13+ via ISEB pre-test in the autumn of year 7; however, aware that some children develop later - ' It is very important to us that we do not lose some of the very talented late developers that make Bryanston the school it is.' Close links forged with preps and prospective parents; instead of open days with a cast of thousands, the school arranges group visits for 12 or so families, as well as individual visits. Registered pupils are also invited to various events in the two years before they arrive. Between 25-30 new students arrive at sixth form for which 50 points at GCSE are required, after a day of tests (maths, English and abilities) and interviews at the school. Existing pupils also have to meet the points requirement, waived only in very exceptional cases.


Ten per cent left after GCSEs in 2017. Nearly half of upper sixth leavers apply to university once they have their results. The head of sixth form is all for this, and has tweaked the school’s UCAS process to accommodate it. University strategy starts with tutors early in lower sixth and the vast majority of students do go on, whenever they apply. ‘Less formal relationships between staff and students mean they are confident enough to bounce up to them and ask for what they need,’ he says of the application process.

Degree courses, interestingly, tend to be conventional choices (business in various forms, engineering, architecture, history and English – but classics too – hurrah!) in conventional places: Bristol, Leeds, Oxford Brookes and UWE. Three to Oxbridge in 2017 and two medics; seven to art foundation courses and two to music colleges. Also several off overseas including Dublin, Leiden, Amsterdam, Toronto, Zurich and a few to the US

A few gripes about careers and higher education guidance from parents; while they like the rather unpressured approach to UCAS, they feel alternatives should be more clearly spelt out. Newish head of sixth form appointment is grounds for optimism, however.

Money matters

Fees in line with comparable schools but some items (stationery, art and DT materials) appear on the bill as extras. Scholarships across a range of disciplines including DT and ICT to a maximum of 25 per cent of fees. Bursaries on application.

Our view

Stunning school with unrivalled facilities and a great deal of latitude and encouragement for students to explore any aspect of academic, sporting and artistic life which takes their fancy. Too much too young? Possibly. A great deal more traditional than its reputation would suggest, but myths can take a long time to break down. We could not find any detractors, try as we might!

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Special Education Needs

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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

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