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An enchanting eco trail, complete with dipping ponds, pontoons, plentiful but tasteful information points and a BBQ and camping site for summer sleepovers. 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…

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2019, Christian Saenger, previously deputy head (academic) at York House School in Herts. He read English at UCL (where he captained the first XI hockey team and was an enthusiastic thespian), then joined St Marylebone School as an English and drama teacher on the Teach First programme, also taking on the roles of head of year 10 and of year 11. A year teaching and travelling in South America followed, and on his return he became head of English at Bedford Prep, before joining York House. He is married to Hattie, who works in HR, and they have a young daughter. Both are keen hikers and swimmers.


Most join Dumpton nursery (from 2), often via toddlers’ group, but others come in at reception, years 1 and 2. Pupils can come later too, provided space – though usually not much. 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.


Bryanston is currently top of the pops, followed by Canford, then Clayesmore and Talbot Heath. A minority opt for boarding or single sex schools. Usually a smattering of the big names. 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 (11 in 2020).

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. Red-brick classrooms, labs, barn-like art room (at the top of a spectacular outdoor spiral staircase), DT and food tech dept and sports hall (new and all-singing-all-dancing) 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.

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. 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 previous 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 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 revamped 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.


No boarders now - every scrap of former boarding space is in use for teaching.

The last word

It feels like a traditional prep school but everything is bang up to date. We can’t fault it.

Special Education Needs

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