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  • Belhaven Hill School
    Belhaven Road
    Dunbar
    East Lothian
    EH42 1NN
  • Head: Henry Knight
  • T 01368 862785
  • F 01368 865225
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.belhavenhill.com
  • An independent school for boys and girls aged from 7 to 13.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: East Lothian
  • Pupils: 123
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Fees: Day £11,520 – £16,875; Boarding £23,760 pa
  • Open days: September and March
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review

What says..

It’s not all about curriculum learning - ‘we don’t just want to be a sausage factory’. On the day of our visit, fabulous ramshackle boat creations all lined up ready for an America’s Cup moment on the school swimming pool. Headmaster has introduced new fun-packed activities on Sundays for boarders - bubble football being a particular favourite. Girls accommodated in a fab new building separate from the main house. Super cosy, homely dorms, very prettily decorated. Big pinboards, floral curtains... 

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2016, Henry Knight, previously head of Woodcote House. BA in classical civilisation (Royal Holloway), PGCE, MEd (in his 40s). Before he took up teaching he ran corporate hospitality for Berry Bros. He started out at Woodcote as an English teacher and housemaster and ended up as headmaster for seven years before his move to Belhaven. He still teaches English to the middle school and also keeps his hand in on the sports side by coaching the 2nd XI cricket team. A down to earth, straight talking man, popular with parents and children alike. Parents report that he’s ‘very normal’, ‘approachable’, ‘well liked’, and the children loved that he spent time in the first term with a large, red L plate stuck to his back. Married to Susannah who heads up pastoral care (we hear ‘she’s great, brilliant with kids and parents’); they have three children, two currently at the school.

Leaving in July 2020.

Entrance

No formal test but register as soon as possible. Children spend a taster day (and sometimes a night) the year before they come. Here they attend lessons and take part in sport and activities as well as taking a short (20 minute) informal test.

Exit

To the big hitters north and south of the border including Fettes, Ampleforth, Rugby, Oundle, Merchiston, Eton, Uppingham. At present the split is about 60 per cent heading south of the border while 40 per cent stay in Scotland.

Our view

Originally a boys’ boarding prep school, it went co-ed in 1995 and thereafter welcomed day pupils. The heart of the school is a mid 18th century country house with various add-ons out the back. The location, at the edge of the town of Dunbar, close to an 18 hole golf course and the beach, is peachy. Pretty house with delightful grounds. This editor would happily relocate there.

Eight classrooms all tightly grouped around a pond at the rear of the main house. Light, bright rooms and very easy to nip between classrooms. Class sizes ‘generally 12-ish’. Two computer rooms. Setting from age 9 - in maths, English, science and languages. Latin and Greek both on offer. No separate scholarship stream: potential scholars have extended learning and additional tuition.

Learning support in a revamped building (The Hub). Team of four LS teachers. One-to-one teaching, small groups - whatever is needed. Children can pop into The Hub during quiet reading time (every day after lunch) for a catch-up on any subject. If a child has particular difficulties school ‘wouldn’t say no’ to parents employing additional support but would try to find other solutions first to prevent the child ‘standing out or feeling different’.

Drama and dance very popular. Plays for all, nativity for the younger ones. Public speaking encouraged through the annual competition: every pupil has to speak on a topic of their choice for four minutes. Inspirational art that is clearly celebrated and displayed around the school. Woodwork/DT room where tasks involve creativity and problem-solving with a healthy dollop of fun. It’s not all about curriculum learning - ‘we don’t just want to be a sausage factory’. On the day of our visit, fabulous ramshackle boat creations all lined up ready for an America’s Cup moment on the school swimming pool.

Sport for all. Two cricket pitches, tennis courts (grass court in the summer), Astroturfs and swimming pool, open for the summer term and first half of autumn term. Swimming lessons once a week and pool often used by the boarders for muck-abouts at the weekend. Annual school swimming gala in summer term. Boys play rugby, hockey and cricket while the girls’ main sports are netball, hockey and rounders. Lots of sporting success but also an ethos that sport is for all and everyone gets a shot at representing the school. Tennis, golf, skiing, athletics and football also on offer. Functional sports hall, which doubles as theatre for school plays. Lots of extracurricular activities from taekwondo to croquet, fly-tying and horse riding. Piping very strong; lots of music lessons and choir.

All of the 7 year olds and most of 8 year olds are day pupils. The majority of older pupils board. School operates a bi-weekly boarding programme, finishing every other weekend on a Friday at 1pm or occasionally 3.45pm. Buses operate on these weekends - to Perth, Stonehaven and Thornhill (Dumfries) - to help parents who live further afield. Pupils return either on the Sunday night or first thing on Monday morning.

Day pupils from form 4 upwards are expected to attend school every other Saturday from 8.30am to 4.30pm for lessons and games matches. For the boarders, Sunday kicks off with a chapel service taken by the headmaster or visiting preachers. Headmaster has introduced new fun-packed activities on Sundays for boarders - bubble football being a particular favourite. Head has done much to improve communications with parents through his new blog, Facebook and Instagram, although some parents of boarders miss the now discontinued fortnightly newsletter - this was an ‘important piece of communication’. Manners are important and any bullying is kept firmly under control - ‘educating the children and talking about it is key’.

Boys’ dorms in the main building, recently refurbed, with new bathroom and kitchen. Light and bright rooms, dull tartan curtains. Older boys have new snazzy desk/bed combos - very smart and popular. Girls accommodated in a fab new building separate from the main house. Super cosy, homely dorms, very prettily decorated. Big pinboards, floral curtains. Circular common room (Rosie room), plasma telly and piles of beanbags. Boarders aren’t allowed phones but can phone home from their dorms. iPod shuffles allowed for music. We hear that the ‘matrons are lovely’ and the ‘pastoral care fantastic’.

Children tell us that food is good (‘great match teas’) and there’s plenty of it, although a couple of junior gourmets reported that the breakfast sausages were ‘way more tasty than the ones at supper time’.

Walled garden is well kept but not manicured and children can plant up garden plots of their own. The plots are blank canvases - from vegetables to pond digging to tractor tyres, some major earthworks, anything goes. These mini gardens aren’t show pieces for visitors but are for the children to have the freedom to guddle about and have fun in. Fierce competition for the annual garden trophy.

Time to mention the animals…. Let’s kick off with the dogs. Lots of them. Some teachers bring their dogs into their classrooms, where they can be petted between lessons and sit quietly once the lesson begins. There are 11 ‘school dogs' at the moment. Rather than causing merry chaos, both the dogs and the children seem to be happy and calm in each other's company. Next on the list, but not yet in residence, are the pigs. We look forward to meeting them on our next visit.

Still perceived as Scotland’s school for toffs and grandees, although head tells us that now 30 per cent of parents are first time buyers. Some children of former pupils, some from south of the border - often with Scottish connections. However, the base has widened out somewhat with many more families from East Lothian and the borders. Lots of social parents and good friendships. Numbers are still high but slightly down from last year. No plans to change to weekly/flexi boarding. Head says, ‘we see ourselves as the pre-eminent full boarding school in Scotland’. We saw so many well mannered, happy children on our visit, and time and time again we hear that parents are ‘delighted with the school’. This is a traditional prep school in a beautiful setting with an all-round approach to education that is hard to fault.

Special Education Needs

The Learning Support department at Belhaven Hill is a vibrant team headed by a full-time member of teaching staff, supported by three part-time assistants. This team allows children with wide and diverse needs to receive the support they require and deserve. We respond to individual needs and to the pattern of the children’s day. Some pupils become regular visitors to the LS “Hut” while others receive help in the classrooms, enabling them to fully access the curriculum. The “Hut” also provides a space for children to come to discuss any concerns, catch up on missed or incomplete work and practice other skills, such as typing or multiplication tables.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
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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