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The rambling country house at the heart of the school is tucked away in 60 acres on the outskirts of Corfe Mullen and the site boasts everything a child could wish for – 17 acres of woodland, two adventure playgrounds and a 17-ft tepee. The whole place has a Famous Five feel to it (indeed, Enid Blyton’s famous novels were inspired by her holidays at nearby Studland), with children encouraged to enjoy the great outdoors, pond-dipping, badger watching and...

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What the school says...

Set in a truly idyllic 60 acre setting between Poole and Wimborne, the school has a well established and enviable academic record, but complements this with a strong musical and artistic tradition and excellent contacts with national sportsmen and coaches. Castle Court is highly committed to its 'Forest School' programme, making full use of its unique and adventurous surroundings. With these opportunities, each child has a breadth of experience and opportunity. Our aim is to allow every child to be an individual and thrive. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since January 2019, Luke Gollings BA PGCE (40s), previously deputy and acting head. Educated in the state system in Cornwall, then moved to King Edward VI Aston School, a grammar school in Birmingham, for GCSEs and A levels. Studied history and sports science at the University of Liverpool, followed by a law conversion course at Bournemouth University and a PGCE at the University of Cambridge — ‘the best year of my life,’ he says. The eldest of a family of six boys, he naturally gravitated towards youth work and education but says,‘I didn’t want to just do what was expected of me so I tried law for a year but couldn’t see myself sitting in an office all day.’

When his family moved to Dorset he put an ad in the local paper looking for work and got a job as a gap student at Castle Court. He returned to teach PE, history, geography and RS after his PGCE. ‘The thing that really impressed me from the start was what a wonderful heart the school has,’ he says. ‘It’s such a joyful place.’ He spent five years as a housemaster at The Old Malthouse School (a former prep school near Swanage) and nine years in a similar role at Monkton Prep near Bath. ‘I loved every minute of it and it set me up for a leadership position,’ he says. He had a two-year spell as sales director for a footwear company in Central and South America (‘it’s very useful to have commercial experience,’ he believes), before returning to teaching as deputy head at Castle Court. He was promoted to the top job three years later.

He still teaches and takes an active role in the curriculum delivery. Parents say he is very accessible and no matter what the weather he’s at the front of school to greet pupils every morning. ‘He is very straightforward and fair — a nice guy,’ a parent told us. ‘He knows all the children and what they’re interested in.’

His lawyer wife Kate is a former Castle Court pupil. She’s part of the school’s learning development team, which encompasses learning support and EAL. They have four children, three at senior school and one at Castle Court. In his spare time the head enjoys reading military history books (‘every family holiday includes visiting at least one battlefield’), sailing, skiing and cycle touring (he very impressively biked from Birmingham to Corsica at the age of 16).


Children visit with their parents prior to starting but there are no interviews or formal testing. The most common entry points are nursery, reception and year 3 but it’s worth trying in other years too. Some year groups are full so places further up the school may be harder to come by.


At 13, around a third head to Canford (just down the road), while others go to Bryanston, Winchester, Sherborne, Marlborough, Poole Grammar, Bournemouth Collegiate, Talbot Heath, Thomas Hardye, St Edward’s, Milton Abbey, Corfe Hills and Queen Elizabeth’s in Wimborne. Most to co-ed schools and a fifth choose boarding. An impressive array of scholarships and exhibitions (24 in 2020). Up to 10 pupils a year leave at 11 for the four local grammars. The school’s study skills lessons and verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning after-school activities prepare pupils for the ISEB pre-test and 11+ exams.

Our view

Delightfully rural, yet accessible too, just a few miles from the coastal towns of Bournemouth and Poole. Founded in 1948, moved to its present site in 1968 and went co-ed in the 1970s. The rambling country house at the heart of the school is tucked away in 60 acres on the outskirts of Corfe Mullen and the site boasts everything a child could wish for — 17 acres of woodland to play in, two adventure playgrounds and a 17-ft tepee. The whole place has a Famous Five feel to it (indeed, Enid Blyton’s famous novels were inspired by her holidays at nearby Studland), with children encouraged to enjoy the great outdoors, pond-dipping, badger watching and making camps in the woods.

Older pupils are taught by subject specialists. Maths and English are set by ability from year 3, and Latin, languages and science from year 6. French taught from reception, Teaching is exciting and forward thinking. Maximum class sizes of 18 in reception and 20 after that.

With the growing trend for children to be offered senior school places when they’re in year 6 or year 7 the school no longer offers CE; in common with other preps it has introduced the PSB (Pre-Senior Baccalaureate). The head sees the PSB as ‘hugely exciting’ and believes it offers a broader and more rigorous programme for years 7 and 8. As well as formal exams in academic subjects the PSB incorporates skills for life, such as thinking, learning, reviewing, improving and communicating.

The school is divided into sections (the pre-prep, years 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8), each of which has their own section head. In pre-prep and years 3 and 4, form teachers are responsible for pastoral issues. In years 5 to 8, there are two pastoral tutors per form who meet twice a week with their tutees for longer, targeted discussions. Pupils’ progress is carefully tracked, although the deputy head points out that while data is important, it’s simply ‘a tool’. Year 3 and 4 pupils are given iPads and children from year 5 to year 8 have school-provided HP ProBooks. Children take them to every lesson but aren’t allowed to use them at break-times or on the bus.

All pupils are screened for dyslexia from year 2. Learning development department is housed in three rooms — 20 per cent of pupils receive support for a range of needs, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, cognitive processing and emotional literacy and wellbeing, either in class, in small groups or one to one. ‘The support they have offered my son is brilliant,’ said one parent. The school is non-selective but results are impressive, with scholarships (elections) to Winchester College won regularly by year 8 pupils, plus academic scholarships to other senior schools.

Sport is a big part of the school. Boys play football, rugby, cricket, tennis and athletics; girls do hockey, netball, cricket, tennis and athletics and all swim as much as possible. Facilities are top-notch, including a full-size Astroturf, eight games pitches, five tennis courts, 22-metre swimming pool and new sports hall. Tennis and swimming academies are popular and older children get the chance to try other sports, like rowing, sailing and golf. An activities week in the summer term where pupils engage in adventurous activities (as well as developing self-reliance and independence the week reinforces classroom teaching of history, geography and languages). These take place at residential centres and camps across Devon, Dorset and France.

Music is excellent, with 70 per cent taking instrument lessons, mostly from year 3. A plethora of music groups to join, including junior and senior orchestras, rock bands, guitar group, string ensemble and clarinet ensemble. Art and DT are impressive, housed in a new design centre, including a pottery studio and art garden. We particularly admired the pop art skateboards created by year 8 pupils. Drama galore — ‘we get them up on stage as much as possible’ — and every child is invited onstage on speech day to receive a book.

Nursery and pre-prep children are housed in the main school so they’re very much part of everything. Bright, welcoming classrooms buzzing with activity, plus a Forest School. Nursery and pre-prep head says ‘small children like to be active and busy’ – and they venture outside in all weathers, kitted out in wellies and jazzy red and blue splash-suits. When we visited we saw a reception class enjoying a ‘Smartie maths’ lesson, where the children were enthusiastically counting different coloured Smarties and recording them on a graph. No eating allowed — but teachers promised they could take the sweets home for half-term.

The school sits down to a hearty meal each day, where conversation between friends and year groups is encouraged. Teachers sit with the children, helping to ensure that a relaxed collegiate atmosphere is maintained and healthy food choices are encouraged. ‘The food’s good here,’ said one boy appreciatively. ‘Especially the Eton mess.’ Breakfast club opens from 7.45am for children from year 1 (younger ones by special arrangement). School day finishes at 4.15pm but there’s a host of after-school activities, including film making, textiles, cross-country and ancient Greek. Children can do their homework at school but the school prefers them to take it home — so they learn to be organised and parents get an idea of what they are doing.

Year 7s and 8s get the opportunity to be prefects — ‘everyone has a chance' — but there’s no head boy or head girl. Pupils’ uniform looks very smart. Ties for boys and girls and chic stripy blazers. We heard a few quibbles about the price of the blazers but everyone seems to love them. ‘They are very unique,’ a parent told us, ‘and you can buy them second-hand.’

The school sets great store by its 7Cs, which encourage children to be creative, courageous, collaborative, committed, compassionate, courteous and curious. Pupils are sparky and enthusiastic but ultra-polite, standing up when visitors enter the classroom. ‘When we are out people come up to me and say “your children are so polite”, and I think a lot of that is down to Castle Court,’ a parent told us. Good communication between school and parents — teachers’ email addresses available to all, plus parents’ evenings in the autumn and spring terms and a written report in the summer. Pre-prep children’s red diaries go back and forth between school and home each day, keeping parents up to date with progress.

Parents praise the school’s ‘lovely’ ethos and atmosphere and say children miss the place when they move to senior school. Pupils come from all over — 50 per cent from Canford Cliffs, Branksome Park, Lilliput and Talbot Woods but others from Poole, Bournemouth, Wimborne, Ringwood, Blandford, Swanage, Wareham, Dorchester and Weymouth. Twelve minibuses ferry children to and from school. Parents include quite a few former pupils (Old Castellans) and some who have relocated from London. No open days. ‘Every day is an open day here,’ says the school.

Money matters

Some means-tested bursaries. Scholarships are honorary.

The last word

A lovely school. Children have a whale of a time here, achieve impressive results and really miss the place when they leave.

Special Education Needs

Our hope is that all the children will be able to keep up with the general pace of academic life in the school, but we appreciate that, for some children to reach their full potential usually those with mild to moderate dyslexia or dyspraxia) a little extra support may be needed. An attractive purpose-built suite of rooms in a quiet part of the school provides a welcoming environment for those children with special needs. The department is well-equipped, including up-to-date computer software for pupils with mild learning difficulties. Four suitably qualified staff are able to deliver teaching programmes, generally on a one-to-one basis, tailored to meet the needs of the individual child. In the junior part of the school we also provide assistance in the classroom, either to individuals or to small groups, as the need arises.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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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