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What says..

A school that clearly never stops evolving and which parents value for the breadth of sometimes unusual opportunities offered — eg steel band and allotments — and impressive facilities for a prep school this size. But as the head points out, ‘You may have the shiniest buildings but without the right culture and atmosphere, none of that matters.’ Happily those attributes are very much in place too. Splendid all weather pitches, fantastic play areas with tempting climbing structures, and multiple seating and shelter areas (enjoyed in summer outdoor classes and by waiting mums). Very strong academically, without feeling…

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2019, Christian Saenger (30s), previously deputy head (academic) at York House School in Herts. Began his (first) headship the very month the school’s brilliant new sports hall was completed. Ironically, of course, it was to be some time before either of them could experience ‘a normal Dumpton year’.

Mr Saenger was inspired to be an early adopter of the Teach First programme after reading English at UCL (where he captained the first XI hockey team and was an enthusiastic thespian) by a biology teacher who liked his intuitive way of explaining things and told him: ‘You’d make a really good teacher.’

What he imagined would be a toe in the water soon became a vocation as he ‘fell in love with teaching and working with children’. No doubt his interest in English and drama seemed a good fit for a school with a brand new performing arts centre, but he was also attracted to Dumpton by its secure foundations and appetite for growth.

Despite arriving on the cusp of a pandemic, he swiftly made a positive impression with parents — kicking off with a parent survey and an outline of his vision for Dumpton. ‘He is very approachable, big on feedback and listening to parents.’ He certainly comes across as empathetic, frank and brimming with enthusiasm.

He occasionally assists the games staff — ‘hockey and cricket are my passions’ — teaches drama, and enjoyed teaching English so much through lockdown he’s hoping to continue: ‘I think it’s important for a head to get to know children in the classroom as well as other areas.’

Eyebrows were raised a little when the family moved out of the headmaster’s on-site flat for a time while a second baby arrived and refurbishments were made, but they are moving back shortly. Mr Saenger’s wife, Hattie, runs the Ducklings toddler group at school, and the elder of the couple’s two young daughters is now a pupil.

Entrance

Most join Dumpton nursery (from 2), often via toddlers’ group, but pupils may join in any year. The intake is slightly boy-heavy.
Pupil numbers have dipped over the past decade as for many schools in the area (not least because of good state options nearby) but the nursery ‘is booming’ now, ‘as busy as it has been for years,’ says the head.

Though around 15% leave after year 6, others join the school for years 7 and 8 and maintain numbers. No formal entry requirements, but younger ones are brought in for a morning or day to orientate them and give teachers a chance to spot any concerns. From year 2, assessments in spelling, reading and numeracy – used to inform the year 3 teacher and raise awareness of any learning support issues ‘at both ends of the spectrum’.

From year 3, informal assessments ‘to ensure that the pupils will be able to cope with the curriculum’. ‘Final decisions will be made in the best interest of the child in question.’ 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, Clayesmore and Bryanston the most popular choices. Talbot Heath also features. Up to 50 per cent go on to do some sort of boarding. Usually a smattering of the big names. 


Leavers’ future schools are outlined with exemplary transparency on the website, as are scholarships won (though type of scholarship is not listed). Scholarship successes (academic, sport, art and music) are pretty dazzling and often top 25. The number dipped to 11 in 2020 but still included four academic ones to Canford.

Our view

A school that clearly never stops evolving and which parents value for the breadth of sometimes unusual opportunities offered — eg steel band and allotments — and impressive facilities for a prep school this size. But as the head points out, ‘You may have the shiniest buildings but without the right culture and atmosphere, none of that matters.’ Happily those attributes are very much in place too.

School moved from Kent (where they were at Dumpton House) to Dorset during WWII, 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 houses used for inter-house competitions etc are in fact named after the various counties the school has inhabited — Dorset, Kent, Hants and Sussex.

Attractive redbrick main building has been supplemented over the years to create what one mother calls call ‘secondary school standard’ facilities. The DT, food tech department have been joined by the new performing arts centre and sports hall (vast, complete with sprung floors and viewing balcony). Satellite departments cluster round the pleasant and spacious main house in a series of courtyards.

Splendid all weather pitches, fantastic play areas with tempting climbing structures, and multiple seating and shelter areas (enjoyed in summer outdoor classes and by waiting mums).
Very strong academically, without feeling pressurised. ‘The pre prep teaching is very good, very nurturing — they pay good attention to them as individuals,’ report parents. 'Dumpton is very big on achieving your fullest potential.. It’s the whole ethos of the school,’ is another consistent message. ‘The school motto ‘I can because I think I can’ is not just marketing — it’s really delivered.’

Preparation for year 6 11+ and ISEB exams is thorough, with VR and NVR classes in years 5 and 6 and a school subscription to Atom Learning’s practice test platform. Class sizes expand as children progress through the school, averaging 15 and reaching a maximum of 20, but larger class sizes ‘will always be split for core subjects like English and maths’.

Against this academic bedrock, the head is also increasing the focus on character and emotional intelligence — to help children develop empathy and understand their own emotions etc — using some elements of a programme called RULER (an acronym for Recognising, Understanding, Labelling, Expressing and Regulating), developed at Yale.

French is taught from the beginning of the pre-prep — by fully qualified native speakers; Latin but no Greek, proper science, and plenty of technology, music and art, all backed up with theory as well as practice. Lessons are evidently enjoyed as well as taken seriously.

By the final years there are often three form groups per year. Though none of these is labelled as a scholar's set, additional classes are run for aspiring scholars in place of prep after school in key subjects.

Pupils sit Common Entrance together in year 8 but there are also plans to recognise their co-curricular contributions and character growth through the new Dumpton Certificate which will overlay this (from 2022).

The school day is quite lengthy (from 8.20am to 5.45pm for the prep, though the younger ones do less) — meaning that no one needs to take work home apart from some reading or scholarship work. 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. However, any family who wishes to pull their child out earlier to go to activities outside of school etc is welcome to do so.

While numerous teachers are clearly revered by pupils and parents, and there’s very high regard for the senior management team, there’s also a parental feeling that other areas of the teaching staff could use ‘investment’. As a professional development specialist in a previous role, Mr Saenger is already on it, beginning with ‘a teacher’s blog, and more meeting time to discuss and reflect on what we do, and the formation of an academic development team’.

Teaching provision through lockdown won effusive praise with every lesson involving live teaching and teachers always available. Dumpton worked hard to continue school life beyond the curriculum — for example sending pupils outdoors with lists of things to find, and finishing every day with a live story reading. ‘It also reminded me of the importance of community,’ says the head. ‘We needed and involved parents more than ever.’ Thus they were invited to take part in art events with their offspring, join online assemblies and then physical assemblies when pupils returned to school.

Learning support is here called EdX (Educational Extra) and is not only for children with specific needs, but anyone who needs a boost. It is delivered by a team of three, plus a pre-prep staff member trained to look out for any child who may benefit from some early intervention. Group support is free of charge with one-to-one assistance an extra, and one of the EdX team is also an emotional support teacher who runs a lunch time art hub for any child feeling wobbly — a calm, creative space in which to chat while you paint.

There is a sport for all ethos and with such excellent facilities a huge range can be done on site, from swimming to dance, basketball, tennis and athletics etc beside all the usual team sports. Girls cricket is thriving and Dumpton’s girls won the first IAPS girls’ football tournament. The school has a long track record of hosting sports festivals, and hopes next to invite others to use its Forest School.

Though a smaller percentage of pupils learn an instrument here than at many preps (not quite half), perhaps this reflects the number of performance opportunities now available to all in the arts centre. Everyone in the prep has up to two hours a week timetabled there. Beside the pre prep Christmas shows, there are annual plays for years 3 and 6/7/8 (usually Shakespeare), a performance assembly once a week and all sorts of improvisation, group performances, recital opportunities etc. The annual carol service in Wimborne Minster is a particular highlight.

The comfy school hall — ‘just big enough to take the prep or pre-prep all together’ — has a seriously well-equipped stage lighting system, courtesy of the parent-run Friends of Dumpton.
There’s a big focus on outdoor learning here (the school has won various eco-awards for its stewardship of its 26 acres) and is being expanded further up the school. With an already well-stablished eco trail, complete with dipping ponds, pontoons, plentiful but tasteful information points and a BBQ and camping site for summer sleepovers, there’s a dedicated head of outdoor learning and the school’s allotments have lately been the focus of much energy. Pupils and parents (including the heads of Canford and Bryanston) were invited to join the Great Dumpton Dig-off to help banish bindweed, their labours rewarded with all kinds of home-grown produce — even apple juice from a cider press. 
In the same vein, a start of year 8 adventure trip to Scotland is planned, including a night surviving on an island in the middle of a sea loch, so the skills acquired may be used in school through the rest of the year.

Money matters

No scholarships, but some means tested bursaries are available from year 3.

The last word

With an energetic new head, first-rate facilities and enviable scholarship record, Dumpton is set to build on its reputation as a school that pays as much attention to its pupils’ wider development (eg through character development and even more outdoor learning) as it does the academics. Parents often know at once that this is the school for them... and you can't say more than that.

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