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Lessons are evidently enjoyed as well as taken seriously. Pupils have traffic light coloured pages in their homework diaries and leaving a red page open on the desk indicates to the teacher that you have not understood – a system which seems to work. No Sats, but masses of careful tracking and assessment pick up anyone struggling...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2005, Mr Andrew Browning BSc PGCE MA CChem MRSC (50s). Educated at Farnborough Grammar, read chemistry at Southampton University, followed by PGCE and masters in education at the Open University, the latter whilst teaching at Canford. He spent 22 years there, progressing to head of chemistry, housemaster and finally registrar - ‘useful experience in advising parents on choice of secondary,’ he says. Along the way he won the prestigious Salter’s Prize for the teaching of chemistry. He still relishes teaching the subject at Dumpton (he spends about a third of the week teaching), as well as coaching CE and scholarship pupils and running the school’s beekeeping club..

Inherited a fine school from his revered predecessor, with a strong staff and loyal following. Now he’s had time to make his mark, parents report that he has maintained both, while giving the school a new impetus and professionalism. He lives and breathes Dumpton. He and his family live in the school’s main building. His wife Jo, an experienced teacher with eight years at Castle Court under her belt, runs the mothers’ and toddlers’ group, acts as child protection officer, sorts out pastoral niggles and sometimes steps in as a supply teacher. Their two children are pupils at the school.

Entrance

Most join Dumpton nursery, often via toddlers’ group, but pupils can come at any time, provided space – though usually not much. No test, but academic criteria apply after pre-prep and a good record is expected. Pupils are mainly local, but such is the school’s reputation that local can mean as far as Hampshire or north Dorset and Wiltshire.

Exit

Canford is currently top of the pops, followed by Bryanston, then Talbot Health, Clayesmore and Poole grammars, plus a smattering of the big names. A minority opt for boarding or single sex schools. Many parents are reluctant to let children miss ‘that special last year’ at 13 and the dazzling record of scholarships (academic, sport, art and music) to top independent schools. Annual scholarships often reach 20 or more – the record is 36.

Our view

School moved from Kent (where they were at Dumpton House) to Dorset during the Second World War, and then had a peripatetic trip round local stately homes, arriving at Dean's Grove (previously the headquarters of the Dalgety piggery) from Gaunt's House in 1986. The grounds and buildings are much nicer than the prospectus and website show. Red-brick classrooms, labs, barn-like art room (at the top of a spectacular outdoor spiral staircase), new DT and food tech dept and sports hall (not in its first youth) cluster round the pleasant and spacious main house in a series of courtyards.

A parent of three told us that the teaching staff are ‘brilliant, really committed and inspiring’, and the curriculum is demanding enough for plenty of pupils to sweep up spectacular scholarships. French is taught from the beginning of the pre-prep - by fully qualified native speakers, Latin but no Greek, proper science - taken for granted in a school run by a chemist – and plenty of technology, music and art, all backed up with theory as well as practice. Everywhere bristling with technology – several computer rooms now and interactive whiteboards et al everywhere. Some streaming, especially in scholarship years. Lessons are evidently enjoyed as well as taken seriously. Pupils have traffic light coloured pages in their homework diaries and leaving a red page open on the desk indicates to the teacher that you have not understood – a system which seems to work. No Sats but masses of careful tracking and assessment pick up anyone struggling. Lots of unobtrusive help for special needs, with a team of three to provide it.

No boarders now - every scrap of former boarding space is in use for teaching. The long school day (from 8.20am to 5.45pm for the prep section, though the younger ones do less) means that no one needs to take work home apart from some reading or at scholarship time. Prep is done after tea, except on Wednesdays, which are games afternoons – so comparatively little games at weekends. Loads of activities packed in as well as prep after tea and at lunchtime. Head is an eco enthusiast, so an enchanting eco trail, complete with dipping ponds, pontoons, plentiful but tasteful information points and a BBQ and camping site for summer sleepovers. Lots of awards for this project mean real scientists work with pupils, encouraged by input from the Ecology and Hydrology Centre at Winfrith. Splendid all weather pitches, fantastic play areas with tempting climbing structures, a real small boat, a run for the family/school dog and multiple seating and shelter areas (enjoyed in summer outdoor classes and by waiting mums). The newly covered pool is not quite so ecological but justified by a footprint less than that of frequent bus trips to Wimborne.

The bursar plays an unusually pivotal role in this family orientated community. He followed head from Canford, where he had run the catering, and has since become not only a planner and designer of facilities but also a sports coach.

One of only three negative school rules forbids crossing the road without an adult – the others forbid swearing and making others unhappy. The attraction over the road is a huge cricket pitch and athletics track with a stunningly picturesque oak in the centre; has recently bought two more acres of adjoining land which will become another sports area. Sports facilities are so good that Dumpton hosts festivals in netball, rugby etc, thus upping its impressive sporty record. Every child from year 3 up was in a match somewhere the day after our visit and the pupils sweep the board in most sports locally and beyond. As one parent commented: ‘Dumpton’s the perfect size, small enough to have a real family atmosphere and big enough to have proper teams, plays and music.’

Music is now vibrant, since the recent restructuring of the music department. Masses of instrumental and choral work emanate from the music school and a separate hut takes the steel band (so popular that staff have one too). The comfy school hall –‘just big enough to take the prep or pre-prep all together, so we can’t get any bigger’ - has a seriously well-equipped stage lighting system, courtesy of the Friends of Dumpton. An extension has created a multi-purpose performing arts venue with Arts Courtyard. With all this going for it, Dumpton is generous with its support of the local community schools and clubs. Parents are welcomed into school and given chances to sample the delicious nut-free lunches and watch the children in the re-vamped dining area. Free choice of meals for older children and staff sit with pupils.

Tinies progress from Ducklings to Robins and Woodpeckers in the nursery (phonics from year dot) and thence to pre-prep. Boys in shorts for summer until 11 and grey trousers for winter. Girls in blue tartan skirts and all older pupils in snazzy gingham shirts or white blouses with dark blue edging. Buses to major surrounding towns. It feels like a traditional prep school but everything is bang up to date. We can’t fault it.

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