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Gentle approach to rewards and sanctions keeps things home-like. Spickest, spannest dorm gets surprise ‘muck’ (jargon for afternoon break treat). Individual winners get slap up meal at head of boarding’s house. One pupil in year 3 having a great time courtesy of year 6 mentor - ‘very kind and does French plaits for me.’Plenty to enjoy including path that winds round the back wall, taking in glasshouse (once used to grow melons, now used for ceramics). Deliberately keep work pressure to a minimum (no prep until year 5, for example) – sensible given range of activities done by some pupils..

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What the school says...

Clayesmore is a thriving, forward-looking boarding and day school, filled with warmth. We aim to develop the unique gifts of every pupil, encourage a life-long love of learning and build their confidence to adapt to an ever-changing world. Small classes and individual attention ensure speedy progress while opportunities for sport, music and drama, coupled with endless activities, mean the days your child spends at Clayesmore really could prove some of the happiest of their lives.

The Nursery and Pre-Prep share a self-contained home, nestled snugly among trees on Clayesmore's beautiful campus, where little ones learn and develop through play while trying a host of activities.

Academic results for a mixed ability school are impressive and the highly-regarded learning support department offers individual attention, exam strategies and effective study skills. Add to the mix some welcoming boarding accommodation, nurturing pastoral care and boundless opportunities to shine, it's clear that Clayesmore offers a winning combination.

Clayesmore's all-through provision means that pupils can make a worry-free step up to senior school and siblings can be together. It is a flourishing school offering excitement, opportunity and a confidence-boosting family atmosphere.
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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2019, Jonathon Anderson, previously deputy head at Westbourne House Prep. Degree in business economics from Exeter; spent two years working in financial services before teacher training course. After five years at Swanbourne House School, he joined Exeter Junior School as head of maths, moving to Westbourne House with his wife Hester as houseparents. They have two children and the essential prep head's labrador.


Pre-prep numbers now growing again after slight fall, helped by free come-and-play toddler and parent sessions. Plenty of well-connected locals, but don’t expect huge amounts of socialising as many work full time. ‘Some parents… think they’ll get into a niche little coffee club but it doesn’t happen,’ said mother.

Further up, healthy levels of prep applications in top years, but not a school for all comers. While they take from a wider ability range than the competition, pupils must be able to access curriculum. Numeracy and literacy assessments for applicants into years 6-8. Ask for reports and may observe child at current school (avoids shattering expectations if they attend taster day here and aren’t offered a place). Will only accept in top junior years if child will make transition to senior school and ‘at least get some GCSEs’.

Best to recover equilibrium by reciting routes of the school buses - who wouldn’t be drawn to Compton Acres, Sturminster Marshall and Spetisbury.


Currently, 85 per cent plus move up to senior school but not prescribed. Happily accommodate those preparing for entrance exams elsewhere, including grammars and other independents (Canford inevitably takes a few) though more stay to join the senior school as ‘our reputation for bringing the best out of individuals grows,’ says school.

Once here, families tend to stay on, decision reinforced during compare and contrast open day visits elsewhere. ‘I suddenly thought, “I love it but need to look around,” so did all the local ones and came back,’ says mother. ‘Has just got the most amazing feel to it.’

Only time pupils have been asked to leave (single figures, says school) is down to bullying. ‘We do everything we possibly can but there comes a point where it’s not acceptable.'

Our view

Set in a generous corner of school’s 62 acres with a comfortable, home-like feel. Operationally run as a separate school with own uniform including much loved long tartan skirt. ‘It keeps your legs warm and the stains don’t show – had food all over mine,’ said nostalgic senior pupil.

While resources are shared with senior school, they’re clearly delineated. Path from main building to music block divides the play areas: ‘Like Mexican wall though more porous.' Pupils go to main hall for lunch and use eg swimming pool and forest school. Memories of original prep school site, in nearby Charlton Marshall, are summoned by impressive cedar of Lebanon which towers over the turning circle – a decision sentiment rather than species-led.

Tales of year 8 pupils still enjoying school’s adventure playground, the perk of ringing large, wall-mounted bell at supper time and links with the community – Brownie pack, run by staff, is the only one ‘in the valley’ and includes local children and pupils – reinforce sense of a compact and reassuring world.

Low-rise buildings house the youngest pupils – nursery and reception/year 1 – in big, bright and open plan classrooms, amid plentiful greenery and the odd unexpected touch (sixth former’s ‘spaceman’ sculpture.)

Focus is on encouragement and thoughtful planning, from visual timetables in boarding houses - sun for wake up, ‘good for reluctant readers’ - to description of mini adventure playground as ‘confidence equipment’. Seems to work (two boys tearing around on crutches during our visit).

Plenty to enjoy including path that winds round the back, taking in glasshouse (once used to grow melons, now used for ceramics). Out front there’s the Everett Building (2008) – very attractive - and 70s teaching and boarding block building that isn’t, though disguised by greenery. ‘A well-functioning machine if not a beautiful one.'

Keep work pressure to a minimum (no prep until year 5, for example) – sensible given range of activities done by some pupils and timetable recently rejigged so tutor time happens at end of day (‘more effective learning time’). A recent prospectus may state firmly that ‘every child achieves academic success’, but is more specifically about recognising individual potential.

Specialist teaching in all subjects from year 5, and in art, music and DT from year 2. Latin added in year 7. Much setting and streaming (English and maths from year 3, most other subjects by year 6) so can cater for broad ability range.

Emphasis throughout on sensible learning habits. Youngest ‘plan, do and review’ while new Clayesmore Compass emphasises collaboration (contribution award has replaced man or woman of the match), plus risk taking, challenge and (from year 6) creativity.

Not that pupils need much telling. Macbeth-inspired poems were enjoyably big on yuck factor – ‘sprinkle in fly vomit so grim…’; an autumn dragon with ‘hurricane breath’. Librarian encourages ambitious reading with initiatives like book spine poetry (pile up the titles and see how they sound): ‘The railway children/bowl like the devil/into battle/a wrinkle in time.’

Plenty of high tech resources as well, courtesy of Google Classroom – now in use across the school – ‘helps children become responsible for own learning’. While not everyone was convinced (‘I don’t like reading, it’s boring – have to sound out the letters and do it at home,’ thought one little lad in reception) we couldn’t see much in the way of deprivation, judging by universal enthusiasm for recent task - delights of windmills they’d just created. ‘Had to make the sails turn.’

Learning support praised by all and accredited by CReSTeD (specific learning difficulties) and NACE (gifted children) though felt to be poorly understood in wider world. ‘There is a misconception that school specialises in SEN. It doesn’t specialise, it just does it amazingly well,’ said mother.

Currently around 90 pupils with SEN – most SpLD but also ASD and ADHD, support courtesy of learning resource centre in middle of school, staff able to do just about anything, one working with pupil to pick out describing words for teeth - ‘mysterious, tiny, heavy…’ In class, gap year students are not-so-hidden weapon – one looks gangling next to the pupil he’s supporting (though doesn't look so very much older) - a particular asset with behaviour management.

Upwards pressure on ambition translates into other areas – such as sports – though not excessively so. School reckons that rival teams who used to be drawn primarily by the location and the quality of match teas now come because ‘they’ll get a good game as well as all the trimmings’.

Main sports rugby, hockey plus soupcon of football though most successful tend to be cricket (U13 county champions) and cross-country – school organises major inter-school event for 20 schools or so. Most pitches grass plus Astro shared with senior school.

Bar desire for slight pepping up of sports generally (less rounders, more football), few mega grumbles from parents who feel that there’s a decent number of matches. ‘There is an A, B and C team and they do ensure that they have fixtures,’ said parent. ‘Quite a variety - and can do horse riding,’ agreed another.

Arts generally very highly rated. Music team housed in what was once the trophy room with must-have zebra heads would be all the better for purpose built performance spaces – chapel, currently main venue, just too small. Otherwise, impressively successful, with over 130 pupils learning at least one instrument, numerous ensembles and assorted competitions across the school.


Boarders mainly year 4 upwards, though one pupil in year 3 having a great time courtesy of year 6 mentor - ‘very kind and does French plaits for me’. All happens above the shop, in large, generally bright and very clean rooms, if a tad low on ambience. Loads of clothes storage (often empty thanks to almost non-stop, highly efficient laundry system).

Gentle approach to rewards and sanctions keeps things home-like. Spickest, spannest dorm gets surprise ‘muck’ (jargon for afternoon break treat). Individual winners get slap-up meal at head of boarding’s house. For older boarders, perks include moving closer to the bathroom. Saturday school keeping bustle going well into the weekend.

Money matters

Wide range of scholarships awarded to year 7 pupils, though fee reduction – between 2.5 and 10 per cent – doesn’t shave much off that chunky termly invoice.

The last word

A buzzy, ambitious school with a homely vibe that's encouraging, nurturing and innovative in its teaching - including for SEN.

Special Education Needs

Clayesmore Preparatory School has an excellent reputation for its provision of support for dyslexic pupils. Our Learning Support Department ensures that pupils have effective and targeted teaching, either individually or in very small groups, to meet their specific needs. Pupils are withdrawn at carefully selected times during the school day to attend their specialist lessons. They may also benefit from the support given by LS Teaching Assistants, who work alongside the teachers in some mainstream lessons. All Learning Support Tutors are fully qualified teachers with additional qualifications in teaching pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties. Mainstream teachers are empathetic with the needs and difficulties of some of the children in the mainstream classes and differentiate accordingly. The school is registered with CReSTeD. Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
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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