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  • Bryanston School
    Bryanston
    Blandford Forum
    Dorset
    DT11 0PX
  • Head: Ms Sarah J Thomas
  • 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: 673; sixth formers: 287
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day £31,311; Boarding £38,184 pa
  • Open days: Small group visits on Tuesday and Friday mornings – contact school.
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

In the head’s words, ‘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 and discovered that he’s the sort who really means it...

Read review »

Meet Bryanston School at the Independent Schools Show 2018, Stand 101

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)

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

Head

Since 2005, Sarah Thomas. She is an Oxford-educated classicist who before coming here did time at Sevenoaks and Uppingham. The kind of head who listens, thinks, questions and fixes. Very much embodies Bryanston values. ‘She knows us all,’ one parent told us, ‘and she’s always approachable.’ Another added ‘and funny.’ Ms Thomas likes to switch off by losing herself in a good book. When we visited her in the blissful rural idyll that is Bryanston she was relishing John Emsley’s Molecules of Murder.

Thirteen years on since she took the reins, Ms Thomas will soon be free to reflect on, inter alia, a legacy of astute management, some excellent staff appointments and the oversight of the creation of some fine buildings, viz, a Riba award-winning science and maths block, a stunning music school and, currently rising from the chalky subsoil, a splendid sports centre. Not bad for someone who, after writing cheques for millions, can still claim, ‘I’m a northerner, I don’t like spending money.’ The money has been notably well spent: these haven’t been vainglorious oligarch-bait projects, every pound has been targeted on giving students the best.

Retires at the end of the summer term, 2019. Ms Thomas has guided Bryanston through 13 years of judicious development. She’ll bid farewell to a future-proofed school in excellent heart, its DNA intact. All Bryanston’s heads have left big shoes to fill. Ms Thomas is no exception. Many of them are still quoted. Her predecessor is celebrated in the collective memory for describing the school’s best teachers as ‘lunatic enthusiasts’ (so true, so true). Too early to say what words of Ms Thomas will echo down the years. ‘We don’t mould people here’ has to be a contender.

Her successor will be Mark Mortimer, currently head of Warminster School. History degrees from Loughborough and London; PGCE from Oxford, MBA from Henley Business School. Also spent time at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Has worked, inter alia, at Hampton and Giggleswick, and been deputy head at St John’s School, Leatherhead. Interested in the arts, especially ballet, and a keen sportsman, particularly rugby, cricket and cycling. His other interests include cooking, leadership development and military history. He has twice rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and in 2017 he successfully completed the Marathon des Sables running race across the Sahara.

Academic matters

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, they used to call it. Assignments aren’t bite-size, set to be tested tomorrow, they’re bigger and they’re completed over a week. There’s no central library. Instead there are departmental libraries 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 student, teachers and parents. 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.

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’. Relationships, note, not micromanagement: successful people, not shop-window statistics.

Stats matter, though, and for better or worse exam stats matter most, here as anywhere. There’s an increasing focus on results, and the personification of increased rigour is the newly appointed deputy head academic, who won instant adulation among the students by banning headphones in prep. Yep, no messing. He’s not one to post a full breakdown of results on the website, but we got them in the end. They are entirely respectable bearing in mind that the students’ academic range here is pretty broad. In 2017 at GCSE/IGCSE (they do a mix), 43 per cent A*-A grades and 73 per cent A*-C grades. This was despite 24 per cent scoring below C in double award science and 30 per cent below C in business studies. Noteworthy that a quarter do Latin.

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. In 2017, 38 per cent A*/A grades and 78 per cent A*-B. Value added score places the school in the top 15 per cent nationally. At IB, five students scored 40 or higher, placing them in the top 10 per cent worldwide, and 13 subject passes were at grade 7. Average points score 35. Three to Oxbridge in 2017, normally closer to five.

Special needs are assessed at the pre-test stage and tracked from there on. Specialist one-one lessons for those who need it in English and maths. Dyslexia and dyspraxia mostly, and some ASD. The school has a good name for bringing on late developers.

Games, options, the arts

In keeping with the head’s 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 and discovered that he’s the sort who really means it. He 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’. What about that? 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 new sports centre will be an amazing resource, to be 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.

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, and remember, when the school says it’s all about developing individuality it’s serious: in the head’s words, ‘people respect all achievements’, 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 at Bryanston. 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’re 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.

Boarders

Given that a sizeable number live in London and others further afield, and that there is a small number of international students, Bryanston remains primarily a boarding school. 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, thanks to the brilliant local taxi service, you can leave for Salisbury station at 12.30pm on a Saturday, commitments permitting, and be at Clapham Junction by half past two. 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. 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!’

Background and atmosphere

The school was founded in 1928, a time when you could buy a secondhand 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 to the values of the collective, always a matter of tension in any school. 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 didn’t help themselves to an off-the-shelf educational philosophy, nor did they reject the best of the past. Instead, 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.’ It is always questioning itself. In the head’s words, ‘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, in the head’s words, ‘a fierce focus on who we are’.

Pastoral care, well-being 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, if not more than, ever. 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. Another 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 well-being lies with the housemaster/housemistress 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. If it gets that far, that is. Rigorous vigilance is the best way to nip bad stuff in the bud, but even so, bad stuff occasionally happens, it’s only human, especially at these ages, and if it’s something like drugs you’re likely to find yourself packing. 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. The school has Stonewall silver school champion status and is on the way to gold. All staff have received training in LGBTQ+ issues. The lead teacher told us, ‘The school is very accepting so the training fell on fertile ground’.

The chaplain is something of a one-man pastoral powerhouse. He sees all new students alone to explore what religion they identify with, if any, and arranges for Muslim and Jewish students to attend mosque and synagogue. He agreed that his role is similar to that of a Forces padre. On Sundays students must either go to a lecture in the theatre or walk a mile to the little estate church. An impressive 200 opt for the latter and 40-50 are confirmed every year. He observed, ‘Christian values blend well with Bryanston values’.

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. Their 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.

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’, passmark 50 per cent - not a high bar. Parents really like the way the school suits brothers and sisters of differing personalities and talents. Around 12 per cent day students; their day ends at 9 at night. Just 10 per cent or so leave post-GCSE. Sixth form takes on 25-30 new students per year, 40 points needed at GCSE - as for current students - plus tests and interview.

Exit

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.

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.

Money matters

Fees nudging the upper end of the scale. Scholarships up to 25 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.

Our view

Secure in its identity, superbly staffed, safe, kind, rigorous and highly likeable, a school in buoyant form that celebrates all sorts and all achievements.

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.

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

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