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A level theatre studies and three major school productions a year part of varied and inventive menu. Many pupils get involved on technical side; costumes department particularly professional and is overseen by ex-Star Wars wardrobe mistress. Auditioning for Hairspray when we visited and puppets hanging up in green room were for enacting Russian folk tales – quite a skill manipulating puppets. The Capital is sixth form social area with a café (open from 10.30am for paninis, milk shakes etc) down in the London underground-themed basement of main house. ‘Watching TV after games a favourite form of relaxation,’ sixth formers told us...

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What the school says...

Clayesmore is a thriving, forward-looking boarding and day school where both prep and senior pupils share the same idyllic setting. Clayesmores all through provision means that pupils can make a worry free step up to senior school accompanied by a sense of familiarity, but with a change in staff, timetable and buildings that marks a new stage in their education. It also means siblings can go to school together; an added advantage much appreciated by busy parents.

Clayesmore Senior School has been deemed excellent across the board following a recent Independent Schools Inspectorate inspection. A wide range of activity, both in and out of the classroom, gives the school a real buzz and provides a wealth of opportunity. Academic results for a mixed ability school are impressive at all levels and the highly regarded learning support department offers individual attention, exam strategies and effective study skills.

When you add to the mix some welcoming boarding accommodation, nurturing pastoral care and boundless opportunities to shine, its clear that Clayesmore offers a winning combination. Clayesmores range of A-level subjects is also expanding and it now offers Psychology and Photography as well as new BTECs in Hospitality, Sport and ICT. Along with these impressive improvements, the majority of students also get into the university of their choice.

Providing a seamless education from 3-18 years, Clayesmore is a flourishing school offering excitement, opportunity and a confidence boosting family atmosphere.
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What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2016, Joanne Thomson, previously senior deputy head at Christ's Hospital School. Degree from Warwick, where she captained the 1st XI hockey for three years; masters from Keele. Has been head of English and head of girls' games at Foremarke Hall, ran a boarding house and held various senior posts at Aiglon College in Switzerland. A keen skier, she and her husband Frank (also a teacher and former deputy head) have two teenage children.

Academic matters

‘Not in business of boosting league table positions,’ says school, though both GCSE and A level results exceed admission level expectations. In 2017, 37 per cent A*/A at A level; nearly 28 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE. Year groups of around 100, six sets in core subjects. Interesting variation in English (not met elsewhere) where both top GCSE sets in English are co-ed but lower sets are single sex: ‘works really well,’ we were told by HOD. Pupils setted in French, science and maths (some entered for IGCSE). Spinney Centre has classrooms for geography, history, business studies and careers, all bristling with the latest computer technology. Welcome flexibility in A level choices and new subjects being added (psychology the newest arrival). Now also offers EPQ and BTecs in IT, hospitality and sport.

Gracious library is well stocked and boarders can study there until 9pm. Adjacent ICT room gleams with Apple hardware in constant use. Launch of VLE facility will give every pupil own screen on school network. DT facilities are good (large workshop with CAD-CAM router and separate graphics studio). Various examples of recent projects on display including a ‘storage tyre on wheels’ design used in pre-prep. DT students get to try their hand in real world outside (eg with local craftsman David Bowerman). We saw (and smelled) yummy nosh being prepared in food science area: pupils working towards BTec award. HOD runs valued activity (usually as part of CCF programme) for autistic pupils from nearby Forum School. Good take up for languages (French, Spanish and German all available to A level) and Latin also on menu. Language teaching facilities include a digital lab; foreign visits and exchanges are well established. Geographers go to Iceland for fieldwork, scientists have been to CERN, Geneva.

New business centre replicates a trading environment and gives a further boost to success of business studies and economics. BTec qualifications in ICT, hospitality, sport plus travel and tourism keep less academic on board for sixth. Small classes and switched-on teaching account for upward drift. Sixth form essay society and evening lectures broaden horizons; careers teaching includes HE visits.

By no means a specialist SpLD school but provides outstanding learning support for children with slight to moderate learning difficulties: 14 staff (all fully qualified), superb learning support centre (LSC) atop Jubilee Building which includes a lecture hall and IT hub as well as individual teaching rooms. School proud of getting dyslexics into top universities: ‘My son has flown since joining Clayesmore and has overcome his dyslexia,’ chirped a very satisfied mother. All children are assessed, by an educational psychologist if needed. About 35 per cent of pupils have some form of support, and a 'tiny number' have serious needs. ‘Children don’t have to have a label,’ said SENCo. Progressively more group lessons which are a fraction of cost for one-to-one help. Pupils generally come out of language classes, extra sessions can be timetabled if necessary, everything and anything to help. Good communication between LSC staff and subject teachers: ‘have moved to software that supports every teacher in every classroom.’ Support for most able too though labels such as ‘gifted and talented’ are seen as divisive. CReSTeD specialist unit category: listing essential for Forces children, who will be deprived of 'unlimited help indefinitely' otherwise. Strong EAL too, with up to six hours a week, either individual or in pairs. Extra charge for both based on level of need. Academic staff hold frequent meetings to assess pupils’ performance and communicate any steps taken quickly to parents.

Games, options, the arts

Sports facilities are superb. County level representation in cricket, rugby, hockey and football. Cross-country, swimming (boarders get a 45 minute slot after prep), tennis and squash (coaching in both) and athletics also on menu. Autumn term split between soccer and rugby for boys. Wide range of sporting activities includes horse-riding and sailing (pupils compete at prep schools regatta). House system provides basis for keen competition (including music) in many areas of school life culminating in annual sports day.

All pupils do sport three times a week and have access to great facilities. Year 9 pupils are expected to try out in major sports. As pupils move up through school there is greater flexibility: non team players generally find their niche by year 11. Impressive fixture lists with some notable successes against bigger schools. A sprinkling of county players, some individuals reaching national levels eg in athletics, and cross-country plus nationally successful orienteering team. Locals share impressive leisure complex: indoor pool, gym, squash courts and modern fitness suite. Sixth formers get free membership for out-of-school sessions. Open swimming in evenings is popular. A few élite swimmers train daily from silly o’clock. Floodlit Astroturf for hockey, tennis and netball. Expeditions on Dartmoor and more ambitiously to Everest base camp, Borneo and Malawi. Regular sports tours abroad (one in pipeline to India). CCF facility includes a rifle range, army and RAF sections for pupils in years 10, 11 and sixth form. Many opt for D of E: high medal haul including golds. Sailing at Ringwood and horse-riding also part of sports programme.

Exciting music happens in purpose-built department run by committed director, assistant and 14 peripatetics. Pupils have scored 100 per cent success in music exams up to diploma level over last 15 years (including 24 at grade 8 in last three years). Concert band has raised staggering £50K for charity over last six years. Regular music tours with singers and instrumentalists: choir has sung at St Mark’s, Venice. Next stop for musicians: Helsinki and Tallinn. School welcomes visiting artists: latterly David Owen Norris. Sophisticated electronic keyboards and recording studio useful for A level music technology. Regular representation in national youth choirs and orchestras. Composition master class in Salisbury, loads of internal concerts, ensembles for strings and woodwind, brass group, flute choir. Recent performances have included Marriage of Figaro and Dido and Aeneas.

Four staff currently involved in teaching drama including dynamic HOD whose youthful appearance belies his age. A level theatre studies and three major school productions a year part of varied and inventive menu. Many pupils get involved on technical side; costumes department particularly professional and is overseen by ex-Star Wars wardrobe mistress. Auditioning for Hairspray when we visited and puppets hanging up in green room were for enacting Russian folk tales – quite a skill manipulating puppets. Dance based in social centre and drumming in band room nearby. Masses of tripettes: Bristol, the Old Vic, London. 'Reading plays' give access to more pupils: can perform in costume with script in hand. Mystery plays at Christmas.

Outstanding art department focuses on championing individuality and creative thinking. Separate village location in former primary school increases the counter-cultural feel: pottery, painting and drawing and sculpture all have discrete spaces.Lively HOD and a real sense of bustle and fun. Sixth formers have a dedicated work space. Latest addition is iMac suite for digital art. We liked the displays of art around the school and admired some senior students’ work. End of year exhibition gains universal plaudits. Regular trips to galleries in London and Paris. New DT facility has workshops and design labs.

Keen Greenpower group of pupils won prize for best engineered vehicle at Goodwood meet for electric cars. Recyclers aplenty: eco committee run by geography department.


No dip in boarding (60 per cent of pupils) over last eight years. Experienced married houseparents lend distinctive flavour to each of the boarding houses (three boys' and three girls') – all on site except for Devine in former village rectory (where sixth form head of house had cooked a roast lunch for 32 boys the Sunday prior to our visit). Five boys live in a separate house nearby known as ‘number four’ under the supervision of an adjacent tutor. All round boarding facilities for boys and girls warrant inspectors’ recent praise. No separate day houses: works well in school which is majority boarding. Medical centre provides 24 hour cover with permanent nursing staff.

Variety of boarding spaces – most year 9 rooms are five or six bedders, older ones get threes and fours and sixth form either share study bedrooms or get their own. The Capital is sixth form social area with a café (open from 10.30am for paninis, milk shakes etc) down in the London underground-themed basement of main house. ‘Watching TV after games a favourite form of relaxation,’ sixth formers told us. No alcohol served during week though prefects are granted pub leave on Friday nights. Social centre cum tuck shop for years 9-11 is next to music school and opens up after prep; stages open mic nights etc. Great efforts made to have fun weekends for boarders, including discos, talent contests and popular sixth form parties – houses take turns to organise. Saturday shopping trips organised to gentrified Blandford or Shaftesbury. Southampton shopping mall is most popular destination (for staff too). Duty staff organise Sunday excursions after chapel to local places of interest such as Bath. Boarders may go home on Saturdays after their match commitments - generally mid afternoon - returning by 9pm on Sundays.

Background and atmosphere

Vaguely reminiscent of his gothic revivalist Natural History Museum, the main house (completed in 1878) was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and built for second Baron Wolverton as his country seat. Founded in 1896 by Alexander Devine, school moved to ‘Clayesmore’s promised land’ in 1933 after earlier incarnations in Middlesex, Berkshire and Hampshire. Set in idyllic 62 acre site of well-maintained grounds including a lake (complete with kingfishers and swans) in rural Dorset north of Blandford Forum in the lee of ancient Hambledon Hill.

Overriding impression is of a self-contained and happy extended family. Prep children and seniors (often elder siblings) co-exist happily cheek-by-jowl in these beautiful surroundings. Recent additions include Jubilee Building (nine science labs, ICT and learning support) and the even newer Spinney Centre. We were surprised at the lack of a zebra crossing (not for lack of trying on school’s part) to get across busy A350 to reach picture postcard village of Iwerne (pronounced Euan) Minster where Devine house (for boys) and the quirky art department can be found. Pleasantly airy dining-hall serves wholesome nosh with copious salad and vegetarian options Good cross-cultural influences include a celebration meal for Chinese New Year. Lovely chapel not quite large enough for increased size of school: one house drops out weekly for Friday service, trad Sunday morning service for boarders. ‘School is radically different from five years ago,’ claimed deputy head (formerly head of English at Cheltenham Ladies’) who pointed to a ‘growth mindset’ amongst staff.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

School reputedly keeps a tight lid on discipline, led by head, deputies and pastoral staff. Rare suspensions for more serious behaviour problems but general ethos one of carrot rather than stick. Tutors (sixth formers choose their own) meet pupils weekly. Christian tradition important (school has Anglican chaplain) but not overbearing.

Pupils and parents

Has become a serious contender on local circuit: we met pupils who had preferred Clayesmore’s more intimate atmosphere to impressive facilities elsewhere. Good mix socially: unpretentious lot with some brainboxes but mainly honest citizens who work hard and tend to outperform expectations. A recent sixth former gained selection for Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington as well as a place at Oxford. School minibus service covers all points of the compass within a 25 mile radius with some parents ferrying to and from pick-up points from further afield. Can sometimes stay over if late night activities, weekly boarding OK (casual boarding if space available). Senior pupils can bring their own cars. About five per cent are London refugees, a good sprinkling of expat children (Forces, diplomatic etc) plus a small number of foreign students - eg Russia and Germany. No great green wellie influence. Still predominantly Anglo-Saxon, prep school has won British Council award for international education. Involvement in Comenius programme and global partnerships with Portugal, Gambia and Bangladesh (visiting Bangladeshi teachers were ‘bowled over by openness of Clayesmore'). Refugees from state schools and academic hothouses equally at home. Staff-parent meetings timed to coincide with start of two-night exeats. Friends of Clayesmore raise funds for all manner of projects and needs. Clayesmore Society promotes The Clayesmore Season, a year-round extravaganza of wider social and cultural activities for family and friends. Electronic reports and newsletters keep parents well informed. Interesting list of former pupils includes former Beatles manager, Brian Epstein; Stephen Joseph (pioneer of theatre in the round); TV artist, Tony Hart; Queen’s orthopaedic surgeon, Sir Rodney Sweetnam.


'Ring Margaret' to arrange initial visit (you’ll be assured of a tour with pupils and a chat with head). Common entrance at 13+ (places not conditional once offered) for those from prep schools, interview with the head. Flexibility over admissions: school likes to take whole range of academic ability. Sibling friendly: ‘if Frank can come so can Phyllis,’ we were told. ‘Willing all-rounders’ and ‘kind and thoughtful people’ are particularly welcome. Just under half come from own prep with rest from 20 or so local (and some not so local) prep schools: Forres Sandle Manor, Walhampton, Highfield, Durlston Court, Port Regis, Dumpton, Sherborne Prep and Castle Court figure large plus a few from state schools. Academic, music and art scholarships, several species of all-rounder awards made each year. Sixth form entrants (from a variety of state and independent schools) need five A*-C/9-4 passes at GCSE.


A quarter or so leaves after GCSEs for state alternatives. Sixth form leavers head mainly to higher education: a surprisingly steady trickle to Oxbridge, though none in 2017, more to Russell Group and then a host of other university destinations eg UCL, Bath, Exeter, Edinburgh, Leeds, Central St Martins, Southampton, Oxford Brookes. Some Forces, some vocational courses, strong art, drama and music stream.

Money matters

Not bargain basement but oodles of scholarships to compensate and help shallower pockets - sixth form up to eight, with a minimum of four reserved for those not presently in the school, others for local candidates (means-tested), plus internal, and music (string players preferred). Scholarships, exhibitions and bursarial help for academics, music and art for entry into senior school at 13 (continuity awards operate from 11 to A level) and more means-tested awards. Closed bursaries for serving members of the Forces.

Our view

Likely to impress from the moment the prospectus (like no other) drops through the letterbox. Lives up to its marketing image surprisingly well and possibly exceeds it in human terms. Probably what a boarding school should be: not oversize, caring, happy and successful across all ability levels. Ten out of 10 for effort.

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Special Education Needs

The Learning Support Centre is an integral part of the school's academic provision. We work sensitively to develop academic abilities, enabling pupils to grow in self-esteem and achieve optimum results in exams. All pupils who receive learning support follow a mainstream academic programme, taking both GCSE and A level examinations in due course. Therefore, individual learning plans are tailored to developed the unique gifts of every girl and boy, enabling them to be proud of their talents and achievements. We are a CReSTeD school, category DU, that is we have a dyslexia unit that provides specialist tuition on a small group or individual basis, according to need. 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 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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