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Dean Close School

What says..

‘Safe, happy, comfortable’ was how one parent summed up the Dean Close experience. Others said it was a school where pupils are ‘expected to be kind' and that it was ‘good for square pegs’ ...Long tradition of choral excellence starts in the prep with the exquisitely trained voices of the Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum choristers. Riders are galloping ahead and it’s rosettes all the way in team and individual show jumping, eventing and dressage...

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What the school says...

Dean Close School offers a unique educational opportunity to all who wish to experience this family and community centred approach to learning and life. The School is truly co-educational, where the number of girls and boys are almost equal. The school aims to broaden the opportunities of each and every pupil through an exceptional array of facilities in sport, music, theatre and art as well some 100 clubs and societies. Facilities include an impressive 550-seat theatre/concert hall, a purpose-built art centre and music school. An underlying Christian ethos generates genuine warmth and mutual respect at all levels within the school. ...Read more

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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Polo

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

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Bradley Salisbury MEd PGCE (40s), previously acting headmaster, deputy head since 2009. Son of a vicar, he was educated at Monkton Combe school. First degree (theology) from Leeds, and then on to Bristol where he completed his PGCE and later a masters in educational leadership. It was while training for his PGCE that he met his wife, Claire. Taught religious studies at Gordano School before moving to Bristol Cathedral School as head of RS and head of years 10 and 11; thence to Wells Cathedral School where he was head of RS and a housemaster.

Friendly, full of energy and clearly enjoying his headship. Parents approve: ‘Holistic, open-minded, very approachable’, ‘definitely listening’. Pupils lost for sufficiently eulogistic words when asked to describe him and settled for, ‘Just so, so good.’ His assemblies are ‘amazing’, and he ‘gives everyone targets for the year ahead and writes pupils personal letters if they do well’. Oh, and, ‘He’s always walking round the school and he knows everyone’s names.’

Mr Salisbury acknowledges that boarding has changed hugely since he was at school but believes that one of its enduring strengths is that it teaches young people how ‘to work through relationships. You can’t just go home at the end of the day and sweep problems aside, you have to figure out ways of getting on with everybody … it’s great for social agility.’

A fair bit has changed since The Good Schools Guide last visited Dean Close, not least its acquisition in 2015 of Monmouthshire prep, St John’s-on-the-Hill, plus five nurseries. It’s a rather canny way of ‘growing the brand’ by ensuring a good flow of pupils into the on-site prep as well as the senior school, but Mr S has no plans for significant expansion. ‘Our size is just right for us to be a real community – we have lots of events where the whole school can come together in one place, and that’s really important.’ Ambitious five-year building and refurbishment programme well underway – yes there will be new stuff, but emphasis seems to be on ‘ergonomics’, improving classrooms and streamlining departments to form academic ‘hubs’ (eg maths/science; business).

Unlike many schools, Dean Close has not consigned the robust Christianity of its founders to history and an obscure corner of its website, nor is this likely to happen on theologian Mr Salisbury’s watch. He sees it as central to the school’s educational ethos. ‘We value each pupil and will always put an individual’s best interests first, even if they may be at odds with those of the school. For instance, we don’t just push everyone to go to Russell Group universities, even though that would be advantageous for our profile.

Mr Salisbury’s wife works in the prep as head of religious studies and the couple have three daughters at the school. Relaxation takes the form of kite flying – he used to be in a kite team – and cooking, ‘I don’t have a signature dish, I never cook the same thing twice!’ Favourite read? True Blue (captain facing down a mutiny and sticking to his guns in the heat of competition in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race).

Head of prep, since 2015, Paddy Moss, BA in geography and economics from SOAS (40s). Joined after nine years teaching in a prep school in Kenya and has ‘lived all over the world.’ Though Cheltenham may be less exotic, he describes the move as ‘a wonderful fit.’ That’s pretty much exactly what parents say about him and Mr Salisbury too. School’s recent acquisition of a Monmouthshire prep and several local nurseries, in addition to own pre-prep on site, mean no shortage of ‘feeders’. Apparently they ‘don’t lose many to the local grammars’ but prep now ‘guarantees’ all its 11-year-olds a place at the senior school. Thinks the prep’s size (around 300) ‘ensures close pupil, parent and staff relationships.’ Families must agree, there’s now a waiting list for places.

Mr Moss is a big fan of the year 7-9 curriculum (all 13+ prep school heads are …) and says school is developing its own syllabus, ‘uniquely designed to promote love of learning’ and a ‘seamless transition’ to senior school across the way.

Has brought his love of the outdoors with him from Africa and enjoys bushcraft, camping and walking the Cotswold Way. Like Mr Salisbury he also has three daughters at the school. A good fit indeed.

Academic matters

Twenty-two subjects offered at I/GCSE most take 10 or 11, smallish numbers for classics, Latin and Greek. In 2018, 51 per cent A*-A/9-7 – maths, separate sciences, English and religious studies fare particularly well. At A level in 2018, 80 per cent A*-B, 52 per cent A*/A. Maths, further maths, art and design, history and modern foreign languages lead the A* pack, but there’s a healthy spread of marks in all subjects.

In addition to three A levels, sixth formers take timetabled ‘enrichment courses’, each of which leads to a qualification. One-year options include an EPQ plus a music diploma, computer software or sports leader qualifications. Two-year options include GCSE German, AS philosophy, maths or ancient history. Sounds pretty full-on so it’s no surprise that even some local sixth formers opt to board.

Parents incredibly positive about how teachers bring out the very best in each child, whatever their ability. ‘They are so generous with their time, nobody minds asking for help.’ Praise too for careers guidance – school has good links with local businesses and supports pupils applying for apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships.

Teaching in the prep school was described to us as, ‘progressive, but with old fashioned values.’ Half the teachers are male and school thinks this ‘makes a positive difference.’ Latin introduced in year 6 (some drop this in year 7); Spanish starts at age 3 in the pre-prep. 'Moving away from common entrance.' Big focus on making year 9 transition as smooth as possible.

Learning support came in for much praise. Short or long-term specialist tuition offered for literacy, numeracy or ‘curriculum’ (for pupils who need help with organisation/study skills). The most able are stretched via extension societies and participation in school and national competitions (maths and physics Olympiads; Latin and Greek reading; European Youth Parliament). Top set mathematicians take IGCSE maths a year early and then do IGCSE additional maths in year 11; triple science and the charmingly named ‘Gratin’ (Greek and Latin) can be taken as accelerated double and single GCSE options respectively.

Games, options, the arts

All of the above pursued with gusto and considerable success. Year 9 do a carousel of ‘creatives’ (product design and manufacture, art, music, drama and cookery). Product design is one of the school’s particular strengths and we saw some very impressive work – fabulous wooden standard lamps that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an interior design showroom. Product design teacher says she’s ‘in heaven’ and couldn’t stop smiling proudly as she showed us her domain – full of traditional and high-tech kit. ‘Our focus is on teaching skills, but we don’t spoon feed, they have to work things out independently – it’s what the industry is looking for.’

Lots of excitement about new cookery school – home to GCSE food and nutrition, cookery clubs and (fanfare) the Leiths Introductory Food and Wine Certificate. Sixth formers can do this either as part of their timetabled extension programme, or off-timetable in the evening. In return, not only will they get UCAS points, they also join the ‘Leiths List’, passport to a gap year cooking in ski chalets and private dining rooms.

Long tradition of choral excellence starts in the prep with the exquisitely trained voices of the Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum choristers (boys only). Both prep and senior school attract serious musical talents (regular choral/organ scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge). Prep has two orchestras and four choirs of its own.

Members of the school’s quartet in residence, the Carducci Quartet, teach string players of all ages alongside their professional commitments. They also give performance classes, coach chamber music groups and run orchestra sectionals. All this excellence doesn’t mean exclusivity, each pupil is encouraged to find their own voice/instrument. One of our guides said, ‘I came to Dean Close on a sports scholarship, but now I’m singing.’ Parents agree: ‘music is incredible, but it’s really inclusive – everyone’s encouraged. Drama comes in for similar praise but some felt that it could take a leaf out of music’s book, ‘it can be a bit cliquey’, said one. Another said, ‘anyone can have a part, but not everyone gets to speak and that puts some off’. ‘Twas ever thus.

Bacon Theatre (named after former pupil, Francis Bacon) seats 550 and apparently has ‘the largest stage in Gloucestershire’. More than 50 concerts and 10 major drama productions (including regular sell-out slot at Edinburgh Fringe) a year, plus lots of ad-hoc performance opportunities. School sponsors events and takes an active part in Cheltenham’s literary, science and music festivals.

School says that ‘participation and team spirit are the real values of sport’ and it used to be that in rugby at least Dean Close were plucky underdogs, rather than top dogs. That’s no longer true, school has partnered with Gloucester Rugby Club and pupils told us proudly about how ‘our rugby’s so much better, we got through to the last 16 of the Nat West Cup.’ Hockey is excellent and boys’ and girls’ teams have played in 19 national finals in the last five years. Riders are galloping ahead and it’s rosettes all the way in team and individual show jumping, eventing and dressage. No on-site equestrian facilities, lessons take place at nearby stables; polo training is offered at Birdlip and school regularly fields tournament teams.

In addition to wide range of extracurricular options including CCF and DofE, parents praised the school’s community action programme, ‘all pupils do voluntary work every week, they don’t make a big thing of it, it’s just expected.’ Energetic fundraising supports school for poor and orphaned children in Uganda.

Boarders

Just over half of pupils are full boarders and school has also rather smartly addressed local demand for something a little less full: ‘day boarders’ are attached to a boarding house and have the option of staying two nights a week. Shelburne, a senior girls’ house, is school’s flagship boarding accommodation and very nice it is too. Year group to a floor, three or four to a dorm, sixth formers have single rooms with connecting bathrooms. Apparently boys’ accommodation is somewhat plainer fare – as is often the case. Meals are eaten together in the dining hall; boarding and day houses also provide fruit, tea and toast. Saturday morning lessons, followed by afternoon matches, mean a six-day school week for most pupils whether they’re boarders or not.

Around a third of prep school pupils board and nearly all are full boarders. Accommodation is in three Regency houses with live-in house parents who run things on an ‘extended family’ model. Up to three nights a week flexi boarding option also proving popular. Being on the same site as the senior school means access to facilities such as the swimming pool and cricket nets on summer evenings and there’s a full programme of weekend activities.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1886 as a memorial to the Very Reverend Francis Close, Dean of Carlisle Cathedral and well known for his robust sermons decrying the evils of tobacco, alcohol, horseracing and the theatre. What would he make of Cheltenham today now that racing and the creative arts are two of its biggest attractions?

In 2015 the school became a foundation when it acquired St John’s-on-the-Hill, a prep school in Monmouthshire, and five nearby nurseries. Another addition to the DC stable has been Mrs Emma Taylor, the warden. She’s hugely experienced and delightful company and it’s her job to ensure that the foundation is run in a ‘businesslike way’ but that the individual schools themselves remain ‘personal’.

Site and buildings are familiar mix of old, newish and very new – the latter thoughtfully designed. Nothing grand or ostentatious, that’s not the Dean Close vernacular. Currently under construction are a sixth form common room, a ‘village’ of four new day houses and a separate ‘hub’ for socialising between houses.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘Safe, happy, comfortable’ was how one parent summed up the Dean Close experience. Others said it was a school where pupils are ‘expected to be kind’, that it was ‘good for square pegs’ and there was ‘no one type, no cool crowd.’ Parents say tutors, house parents and teachers all respond promptly to calls and emails, ‘they’re on the case and really get to know the pupils.’ Head puts big emphasis on school as a ‘community’ and says ‘our size means we can have whole school dining and come together for chapel or theatrical performances.’ He’s also directing attention to things like pupil induction, improvements to changing room facilities (more privacy) and mobile phone use. Parents are positively encouraged to get involved if they can and there’s now a parent society that hosts social events as well as talks on issues such as drugs and mental health (pupils get these too).

Pupils and parents

Mostly local. ‘It’s not a posh school’ thought one parent, ‘pupils aren’t spoilt or precious, they’re aware how fortunate they are.’ Longstanding links with Forces, diplomatic and clergy families. Smallish international contingent, includes Spanish and German children who come over for one year (‘can make it hard to develop friendships,’ thought one parent). Nearby GCHQ and Hitachi add Americans and Japanese to the mix. Former pupils (Old Decanians) include lots of eminent members of the clergy and military plus rugby players, cricketers, artist Francis Bacon, actors Will Merrick and Hugh Quarshie, and writers George Adamson (Born Free), George Wilson Knight (Shakespeare scholar) and Jon Foster (TV comedy).

Entrance

Admission to pre-prep by taster day. For year 3 upwards it’s cognitive ability and English papers, interview and school report. Around a third more pupils enter prep at year 7 and all are ‘guaranteed’ a place in the senior school. External candidates for senior school need 50 per cent or more in CE; entrants from state schools sit verbal reasoning, English and maths tests. Six I/GCSEs minimum grade 4-5 (grade 7-9 for subjects to be studied at A level) required for entry to sixth form, plus verbal reasoning test and papers on three A level subjects.

Exit

A few leave prep at 11 or 13 for grammars or single sex boarding schools. Loses some (around 15 per cent) post-GCSE to FE colleges and also apprenticeships. Over 60 per cent to Russell Group, seven to Oxbridge in 2018, and five off overseas (US and Australia). Engineering and business courses particularly popular. One or two to degree apprenticeships; four to art foundation courses and one to drama school in 2018..

Money matters

Comparatively good value for money. Scholarships and exhibitions at 13+ and sixth form. Some full bursaries available, including some specifically for children from Forces or church families.

Our view

We sensed renewed verve and confidence when we visited Dean Close. Energetic and forward-thinking leadership has resulted in nimble moves to accommodate changing work and family patterns. Yes, the school is looking to the future, but its founding moral and social values are as secure as ever.

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

We provide the following support services: Literacy support, numeracy support, curriculum support, study skills. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
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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