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The teaching we saw was genuinely exciting, including a class of intrepid year 9 pupils dissecting a deer’s heart, liver and lungs in a biology lesson – a first for this Good Schools Guide writer of 20 years. Led by an encouraging teacher, they took it in their stride. Parents are full of praise for the support given by teachers. ‘It’s a very good all-rounder school,’ said one mother, slightly puzzled that it isn’t better known. Another spoke of her delight at the way the school had built her daughter’s self-esteem...


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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. Clayesmore's 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.

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, it's clear that Clayesmore offers a winning combination. Clayesmore's 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 7-18 years, Clayesmore is a flourishing school offering excitement, opportunity and a confidence boosting family atmosphere.
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Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.




What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2016, Jo Thomson BA MBA. Previously senior deputy head for eight years at Christ’s Hospital in West Sussex. Educated at the National School (now the National Church of England Academy) in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Read English at the University of Warwick, where she captained the first XI hockey team and qualified as a teacher. ‘I always knew I wanted to go into teaching,’ she says. ‘I love my subject and I wanted to continue my passion for it.’

First job was at Repton Prep, where she taught English, coached sport and became an assistant housemistress. ‘I had the happiest time there,’ she says, ‘but after three years I wanted to go back into a secondary environment and teach GCSE and A level.’ She moved to Aiglon College in Switzerland, where her husband Frank became deputy head and she was head of the middle school. After 13 years at Aiglon she headed to Christ’s Hospital.

Sitting in her elegant study, lined with paintings and overlooking acres of playing fields, she vividly remembers her first visit to Clayesmore. ‘There was an overwhelming sense of warmth and a real family feel,’ she says. ‘The students were unpretentious and never arrogant. I immediately knew that it was a special place.’

The head has focused on bringing the academics up but not at the expense of everything else. ‘My aim is that every student achieves the best academically but we are not trying to become more selective,’ she says. ‘Having loved school myself I want everyone to look back on their time here and think it was the best time of their lives. I see it as a personal challenge.’ The pandemic made her reflect on the powerful role schools play in children’s lives and she’s hugely proud of the brand-new LEX initiative. ‘It encapsulates my vision,’ she says. LEX, a weekend programme of trips, events and experiences, has replaced traditional Saturday school. Aspects of the schools the head has worked at over the years are evident in its make-up – Aiglon, for instance, is very much about the outdoors, while Christ’s Hospital has always had a strong focus on service and community, both of which feature in LEX.

Parents told us that she’s ‘a breath of fresh air’, praising her relatability, her kindness and the positive ideas she’s introduced, particularly LEX and the decision to extend half-term to two weeks in the autumn term. ‘She’s lovely, really enthusiastic about the pupils – much more engaged than other heads I have experienced, very much part of the fabric of the school, always at events and happy to talk,’ said one. Another told us: ‘I really like her. She’s down-to-earth, talks a lot of sense and isn’t afraid to break with tradition, as she’s shown with LEX.’

She lives in a house on site with her husband, who is head of PSHE at Clayesmore, and they have two grown-up children. She’s very sporty and in her spare time she enjoys seeing friends, skiing, walking and running (she runs every day on a treadmill in her garage).


Up to 50 per cent of year 9s move up from Clayesmore Prep, while the rest arrive from other preps and state primaries. Key feeders include Dumpton and Castle Court but current pupils come from a total of 120 prep and junior schools. Very much a mainstream school, Clayesmore says that everyone joining must have the potential to pass at least six GCSEs – although most will pass many more. Around 90 start in year 9, a few in year 10 and 20 in the sixth form. The head says she’s looking for ‘students who are willing to have a go and want to engage’.


Up to a fifth leave after GCSEs, sometimes to do subjects not offered at Clayesmore, but their places are filled by new arrivals. At 18 virtually all head to university or to do degree apprenticeships. Vast range of courses and destinations, including UCL, Durham, Warwick, Exeter and Leeds. Two to Oxbridge in 2023. Sometimes the odd medic, though none in 2023.

Latest results

In 2023, 29 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 35 per cent A*/A at A level (59 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 27 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 20 per cent A*/A at A level (48 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

The teaching we saw was genuinely exciting, including a class of intrepid year 9 pupils dissecting a deer’s heart, liver and lungs in a biology lesson – a first for this Good Schools Guide writer of 20 years. Led by an encouraging teacher, they took it in their stride. Most pupils take nine GCSEs, including English, maths and science (separate sciences for top set and combined science for the rest). All the usual subjects on offer, plus French, German and Spanish, computer science, creative media production, drama, food preparation and nutrition, PE and classical civilisation. Food preparation and nutrition is growing in popularity, with 40 taking the subject at GCSE and 40 sixth formers doing the BTEC. We were impressed with the way different year groups work with each other here. Year 12 students were making canapés (mini Yorkshire puddings and smoked salmon blinis) to serve at a chamber music concert while year 13s were hosting a pizza and karaoke evening for year 9s.

In the sixth form pupils can take A levels, BTECs or a mix of both. Business is the most popular A level subject while BTECs include enterprise and entrepreneurship, computing, sound engineering and sport, health and social care. EPQ is available too. Small class sizes throughout – an average of 16 in year 9, 11 in years 10 and 11 and eight in the sixth form. ‘The small class sizes really help their progress,’ said a parent.

Parents are full of praise for the support given by teachers. ‘It’s a very good all-rounder school,’ said one mother, slightly puzzled that it isn’t better known. Another spoke of her delight at the way the school had built her daughter’s self-esteem while a third applauded the way in which teachers handled online learning and kept pupils’ spirits up during the pandemic.

Learning support and SEN

Fifteen to 20 per cent of pupils access learning support for needs such as dyslexia and ADHD. The teaching and learning centre (aptly known as TLC) is right in the heart of the school, with TLC staff giving pupils one-to-one support and in small groups. They work closely with subject leaders so support, whether it’s for dyslexia, exam anxiety or study skills, is embedded throughout the curriculum.

Pupils agree that the TLC team are ‘exceptional’. ‘They really helped me to turn it around,’ said one girl. ‘I went from not getting good grades to achieving my potential.’ Another enthused: ‘I’ve achieved so much more than I thought I could.’

The arts and extracurricular

Art is housed in Iwerne Minster’s picturesque old village school and painting, sculpture, printmaking, pottery and photography are a real strength. The art department staff received particular acclaim from parents for being ‘very supportive’. Almost a third of pupils take art at GCSE, up to 20 at A level and a large proportion of these take art at university. DT is just as popular, with half taking it at GCSE and up to 15 at A level. The head of DT, former principal moderator for the AQA exam board, encourages pupils to pursue their passions, whether they’re making an ultra-stylish curved teak bench with stainless steel edging or restoring a 1950s pedal car to its former glory. Great excitement that a talented jeweller (and recent leaver) has just been commissioned to design and create a tiara for the lady mayoress of the City of London.

School has a 160-seat theatre – pupils say they’d would like a bigger one but the head of drama insists it’s perfectly possible to stage a play in a shed and make it good. Plenty of drama all year round – three main plays, three student-directed plays, a monologue competition and an event where year 9s compete to put on the best production, publicity campaign and exhibition space in just three days. Up to 75 per cent of pupils play an instrument, with bands galore to join – everything from orchestras and choirs to a funk band and the school’s own pipe band, which enterprisingly took to practising outside during the pandemic.

There’s a buzz of excitement about LEX, which aims to equip pupils ‘with the competencies and confidence they will need for life’. Named after Clayesmore founder Lex Devine, the programme encompasses five pillars – the great outdoors, arts, creativity and culture, enterprise and employability, academic extension, and service and leadership. Activities range from song-writing, stage combat and digital film-making to conservation, mountain biking and water sports so there’s something for all tastes. When we visited the pupils were gearing up for a big weekend of school trips to broaden their cultural knowledge (destinations included the Ashmolean in Oxford, the Banksy tour in Bristol and London’s V&A). LEX runs for 16 compulsory Saturdays throughout the year, with the remaining Saturdays, wittily known as FLEX, voluntary. There’s also CCF (from flying to scuba diving), DofE and Young Enterprise.


The school is a firm believer in the notion of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ and all year groups do three afternoons of sport a week. Rugby, hockey and cricket are the main sports for boys and hockey, netball and tennis the main sports for girls. Athletics, basketball, swimming, cross-country, squash, equestrian sports, rowing and sailing are available and football has recently been introduced for boys and girls, with fixtures for both.

Fabulous playing fields and pitches are admired by all and sundry and match teas are described as ‘top notch’. Sports centre newly upgraded and refurbished - predominantly the gym, now over double its original size. Houses a spin room and 24-metre pool. Astro also recently resurfaced.

Strongest sports are hockey, athletics and cricket (Clayesmore features in the Cricketer’s top 100 schools).


Clayesmore is 50:50 boarding and day. Five boarding houses – three for boys and two for girls, each with their own style and identity. We visited Wolverton, a girls’ house on the first floor of the main house with high ceilings, lots of space and a much-loved dog called Haggis who belongs to the housemistress. Glorious views across the countryside, including Clayesmore’s own swan-shaped lake. Four boarding houses are on site but boys’ house Devine is in the village itself (Devine boys have their own day room in the main school to save them traipsing back and forth during the day). Dorms range from two to six but year 13s have their own rooms.

No flexi boarding but school tries to accommodate day pupils when needs arise. Strict rules on mobile phones – year 9s, for example, aren’t allowed their phones during the day and must hand them in before bed, although a parent told us she’d like them to be handed in even earlier. Strong sense of community pervades the boarding houses, with boarders and day pupils mixing in together (all day pupils belong to a boarding house) and loads of house competitions.

Ethos and heritage

The school was founded by Lex Devine in Enfield in 1896, before moving to Pangbourne, then Winchester, and finally settling in the pretty Dorset village of Iwerne Minster in 1933. ‘It’s a very safe environment,’ said one parent. Set in 66 acres, the imposing Gothic-style main house was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, who also created the Natural History Museum and Manchester Town Hall. When we arrived we were struck by the sense of calm – classical music playing in reception and the walls lined with pupils’ artwork and ceramics.

A host of attractive buildings date back to the school’s early days and there are some striking new additions too, including the Jubilee Building for science and ICT and an eye-catching DT extension. The school does its bit for the environment – a biomass heating system fired by wood chip sourced locally plus solar panels on the sports hall and DT roofs meet a significant part of its electricity consumption. We loved the wooden shepherd’s hut designed and built by students and now used to serve drinks and snacks after sports events. Delightful standalone chapel (with foundations laid by pupils in 1956) holds year-group assemblies, carol services and music recitals.

The dining hall is located at the end of a basement corridor jauntily decorated in London Underground colours, complete with rooms named after stations like Tower Hill and Victoria. We joined pupils for lunch and were struck by their politeness, charm and merry chatter. They also took care to include shyer, younger peers in the conversation. Food gets the thumbs-up and there’s lots of choice. Attractive navy and grey uniform (sixth form dress code changed recently and year 12 and 13 pupils now wear navy or dark grey business suits of their choice).

Parents say the school is down-to-earth and friendly, with the right priorities and a forward-thinking approach. ‘It’s really special,’ said one ex-Londoner who’d relocated to the south-west. ‘It has all the perks of a private school but without the elitism.’

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral care is well structured, with tutors, houseparents and matrons (known as pastoral assistants) the first port of call for pupils with worries or concerns. Two part-time counsellors available for youngsters who need them. The head says there’s ‘a culture of trust’ – so pupils ‘aren’t afraid to come to us and say “so-and-so is struggling”. There’s a real openness here and everyone looks out for each other.’ A raft of prefects but no head boy or head girl titles – these days they are known as heads of school.

When the Everyone’s Invited website hit the headlines the school took time to talk to pupils about issues like consent. ‘It’s making them aware that a misstep can get them into a lot of trouble,’ says the head. No major issues with alcohol and drugs but guidelines are clear – instant expulsion for dealing or being in possession of hard drugs. As at most schools today, vaping is more of a concern so the school makes a point of educating pupils and sharing research about the dangers.

Pupils and parents

Slightly more boys than girls (55:45, says the school). The majority of boarders live an hour’s drive away but some come from London and Scotland and there’s a strong contingent of military families. Around eight per cent from overseas, mostly from Germany and Spain. A fleet of minibuses ferries day pupils in from places like Salisbury, Dorchester, Blandford, Tisbury and the Dorset coast, with new routes planned for Sherborne.

Parents say the school is good at keeping them up to date with pupils’ progress – assessment reports every half-term and weekly summaries of work that needs to be handed in. Lots of opportunities for parents to socialise. The Clayesmore Society runs a host of events throughout the year – from a Burns night supper and ceilidh to ‘hampers and champers’ on the lawn in the summer. Former pupils are an eclectic lot, including artist Edward Ardizzone, Beatles manager Brian Epstein, surgeon Sir Rodney Sweetnam and art historian and Time Team presenter Gus Casely-Hayford.

Money matters

Scholarships – academic, music, art, drama, sport, DT and all-rounder – offered in year 9 and year 12. They range in value from 2.5 to 10 per cent and in some cases can be increased by means of a bursary.

The last word

A friendly, buzzy school in a stunning location, Clayesmore is an exciting place to learn. For parents looking for a smaller school, it’s nurturing, encouraging and forward-looking, with the added bonus that children get plenty of fresh air and inspiration along the way.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

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 Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
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

Who came from where

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