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  • Milton Abbey School
    Milton Abbas
    Blandford Forum
    Dorset
    DT11 0BZ
  • Head: Judith Fremont-Barnes
  • T 01258 880484
  • F 01258 881194
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.miltonabbey.co.uk/
  • An independent school for boys and girls aged from 13 to 18.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Dorset
  • Pupils: 216; sixth formers: 107
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day £22,500; Boarding £42,825 pa
  • Open days: Saturday 2 October 2021 | Lower School Open Morning, Saturday 6 November 2021 | Sixth Form Open Morning, Saturday 2 March 2022 | Lower School Open Morning
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

With 76 acres of rolling countryside, it is one of the prettiest schools in the country. You can’t fail to be enchanted by the ancient abbey nestling in a wooded Dorset valley, one of the finest Capability Brown landscapes, 15 minutes’ drive from Blandford. ‘It’s deeply rural, but not remote.' Students eat all their meals in the Abbot’s Hall, a grand dining room complete with stags’ heads. Pastoral care highly praised by students and parents alike. 'The school is small enough to make sure no-one gets lost,’ and, according to students, there is always…

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What the school says...

Milton Abbey is a traditional, yet modern, forward-looking boarding school that celebrates excellence, hard work, industry and endeavour. Our environment is inclusive, caring and ambitious for every pupil. Our small size allows for a level of care that is unsurpassed in bigger schools. We want pupils to have big achievements, big ambitions and big hearts. ...Read more

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School associations

Round Square - a network of 40 schools worldwide that share ideals such as internationalism, adventure and service.

Sports

Unusual sports

Polo

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2018, Judith Fremont-Barnes MA MEd (early 50s), previously head of Duke of Kent School in Surrey. Her first teaching post at JAGS (‘just while I decided what to do with my life’) after her English degree at Oxford was the start of a love affair with teaching and a massive span of a career which has included Radley, King Edward VI Southampton and More House, a boys’ SpLD school in the home counties – oh and five years in Japan as a university lecturer plus her own masters studies. ‘I’m an educational magpie!’ she told us from her sumptuous book-lined study, adding that Milton Abbey felt like everything she had ever done, rolled into one. Such ‘a patchwork career’, as she disparagingly describes it, would seem ideal preparation for heading up Milton Abbey, where there is a tightrope to be trodden between inclusion and excellence, her avowed priorities. Since her arrival, she has overhauled the third form (year 9) curriculum to give students more say over subject choices, and ‘challenged lurking’ ensuring that boarders have more purposeful things to do in the evenings – and actually do them. Then there’s the small matter of Covid… This first female head of Milton Abbey has gone down well with parents and students: her visibility and warmth, her interest in the whole family, her sense of fun (‘She fizzes!’ one father remarked), the fact that she has not altered the ‘feeling and heart of the school’ and her ability to give speeches without notes. Mrs Fremont-Barnes (Ma’am to the students) is just the sort of jolly conversationalist you would want to sit next to at dinner – as she says of the youngsters she hopes Milton Abbey turns out.

Married to Gregory, a transplanted American and military historian lecturing at that most British of institutions RMA Sandhurst, she has two grown-up sons, one at university, the other working. The lack of live arts during lockdown has been felt keenly by Mrs Fremont-Barnes, theatre and gallery enthusiast as she is, but it has all meant more time for books (the last Duchess of Devonshire’s autobiography, E Lockhart’s We were Liars and Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries are on her bedside table) and her gorgeous border terrier Ruby whom we were delighted to meet on Zoom.

Entrance

Usual entry points are 13 and 16 but a handful of students start in year 10, often because they didn’t settle at their original choice of school. CE requirements have been lifted, but the school describes itself as ‘inclusive but selective’ and interviews students and their parents in detail to make sure their goals align with the school’s and that prospective entrants have the desire to thrive and contribute at the school - head says there is ‘no room for passengers’. A positive attitude, willingness to work hard and a good reference from a previous school (plus an ed psych report if applicable) are more valuable than past academic results. At sixth form, hopefuls are judged on individual merit but a GCSE grade 6 is usually required for any subject taken at A level; greater latitude for BTEC courses.

Exit

School loses around 10 per cent of students after GCSEs sometimes for financial reasons - and not because it chucks anyone out if they don’t make their GCSE grades: head believes that when a school accepts a youngster at 13 it should stick with them for the duration wherever possible. At 18 or 19 students choose a plethora of routes, including the odd one to Oxbridge, a few to Russell group universities and lots of land management and creative courses at institutions old and new. School also has strong links with international catering colleges, such as Glion and Les Roches in Switzerland, and several students have headed to these in the past. Others off to take up apprenticeships, military training or set up their own companies.

Latest results

In 2020, 38 per cent 9-7 at GCSE. At A level, school hasn't provided A*/A or A*-B results but we know that 86 per cent gained grades A-C and a quarter of BTECs were awarded at distinction or distinction*.

Teaching and learning

Milton Abbey’s strengths lie in its value-added and it has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to vocational learning too, having pioneered the offer of BTECs in the independent sector some 15 years ago – school is proud to have been awarded BTEC school of the year in 2019. Students range from a boy who got three A*s at A level and headed to Oxford to read archaeology and anthropology to those who find formal academic learning ‘really difficult’ and opt for a more vocational route. The school’s strapline is Learn Differently; it prides itself on tailoring an academic programme to suit individual students. Students can and do take level 2 BTECs (latest in digital content production) alongside GCSEs – between seven and nine is the norm with everyone doing English, maths and a science. At sixth form, about a third of students take A levels, a third take a combination of A levels and BTECs and a third take BTECs – students’ GCSE profiles are taken into account and subject combinations are based on advice from tutors and teachers, plus subjects which ignite individual passion. Milton Abbey’s offer of 12 BTECs is one of the broadest in the independent sector and it’s one of the few schools to offer BTECs at extended diploma level – equivalent to three A levels. BTECs aren’t an easy option, though – work is continually assessed with a small percentage of the course examined at the end of two years. The school’s most recent ISI report commended its approach, saying that ‘students, who come with widely different educational backgrounds and needs, often suffering a negative experience of education elsewhere, are enabled to rebuild the foundation of their knowledge and skills, as well as the self-confidence needed to progress.’

Class sizes are small – a huge attraction for the parents we spoke to – and sets are drawn up flexibly, taking pace of learning into account. School library is well stocked and students are encouraged to read or listen to books for pleasure as well as for study. Online provision during the pandemic has been widely praised, not least for its full timetable.

Learning support and SEN

Milton Abbey is resolutely mainstream although about 70 per cent of its students have some kind of identified learning challenge, we were told. Its famed learning development department really is at the heart of the school and its philosophy of ‘for every student, in every classroom, for every subject’ is not, according to the students we spoke to, mere empty words. A wide range of what the school calls learning differences with associated degrees of severity are skilfully supported, mostly in class. Issues of self-esteem and social skills (curiously, no mention at all of ASD, autism or Asperger’s on the website) also sensitively dealt with. Each student is treated as an individual and given personalised strategies and a toolkit – support might include dictation technology, a scribe or visualisation techniques for assignments, but bucket-loads of encouragement and emotional support come as standard. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without it’ one boy said simply. The department is open to all including after hours and the provision so integral to academic life that there were blank faces when we asked about stigma.

The arts and extracurricular

Art is a popular subject and a year 12 boy showed us an astonishing oil painting inspired by renaissance art that he’d worked on over the summer. School puts on a big drama production in its theatre every year and there’s a vast array of music. Congregational hymn practice (Congo) is held in the abbey every Friday, when the whole school gathers to sing at the tops of their voices. ‘The volume creeps up bit by bit and it sounds wonderful,’ a sixth form boy told us.

Entrepreneurship in Residence competition aims to inspire students with ambitions to launch their own business. Top-notch designers like Anya Hindmarch, Johnnie Boden, Cath Kidston and purveyor of delicious oven-ready fish pie Charlie Bigham have all fronted the scheme. Unlike some boarding schools, students do work experience – usually with school alumni (an Inner Temple barrister and a Coutts banker were among those who volunteered recently). Other activities include DofE, farm club and the Ten Tors expedition across Dartmoor. School is a member of Round Square, a worldwide organisation that encourages young people to broaden their horizons and gain greater understanding of the wider world through exchange trips, community work and themed activities within school. All this carried on pretty seamlessly if virtually through lockdown.

Sport

Sport taken seriously but the emphasis is on enjoyment and building a lifelong love of it. Loads on offer therefore – all the usual team games (interestingly, not compulsory for anyone) plus golf on the school’s own course (plus indoor simulator), but room for individual sports not necessarily involving a ball too – ‘My son lives for his sailing,’ one mother told us. Elite scholarship programmes for cycling, golf and football. The fixtures list and results show the school punches above its weight on the sports field. Relatively small number of girls means they all get the chance to represent the school at hockey, netball, lacrosse, tennis and rounders. Mountain biking and road cycling increasingly important (two teams regularly entered for road racing events). Facilities include a 25-metre swimming pool, a squash court, all-weather pitch, sports hall and outdoor pitches galore. Everyone does games on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays but the sportiest do far more. During lockdown families were included, one father causing hilarity when he joined in a HIIT class from home.

‘Round Square Wednesdays’ (afternoons) are given over to CCF or community service (including visiting the elderly, taking dogs for walks and cleaning the local church). There are of course all manner of country pursuits, like fishing and a student-run shoot.

It’s possible to combine a burgeoning equestrian career with school life. Students can bring their own steeds – many of the keenest riders take a BTEC in equine management and keep their horses at the school stables. They manage the day-to-day care of their horses and can choose to ride instead of playing other sports.

Boarders

Offers full boarding or day places – the school is committed to busy and fulfilling weekends for its boarders (with little or no lurking). Two three-day exeats a term to allow for longer journeys home and international students can stay in school should they wish to. Five boarding houses – three for boys and two for girls. We visited the two newest houses, both wholesome and welcoming, with disabled access and underfloor heating. Students are helped them to prepare for life beyond school. One matron told us she’d just taught a boy how to iron his shirt – ‘it was important he learned how to do it himself’. Quite so!

Common rooms in the boarding houses are equipped with TVs, out of bounds during the day. There’s no mobile phone signal on much of the site but reliable WiFi throughout means students easily can stay in touch with family and friends, social media and so on.

Ethos and heritage

With 76 acres of rolling countryside, it is one of the prettiest schools in the country. You can’t fail to be enchanted by the ancient abbey nestling in a wooded Dorset valley, one of the finest Capability Brown landscapes, 15 minutes’ drive from Blandford. ‘It’s deeply rural, but not remote.' We visited on a sunny day but were assured that it looks lovely in the rain and mist too. Founded in 1954, it occupies the converted monastery buildings. The vast abbey belongs to the Diocese of Salisbury but the school has full use of it, with services four times a week. It also has its own farm (with pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys and chickens), makes its own honey and grows flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Students eat all their meals in the Abbot’s Hall, a grand dining room complete with stags’ heads and a huge mural of the school painted by a parent to commemorate the school’s 50th anniversary. Pasta, salads, wraps and paninis on offer at lunchtime, as well as hot meals, plus snacks at break, fresh fruit and cake in the afternoons. ‘No one goes hungry,’ grinned one boy.

Younger girls wear tartan skirts or trousers and blazers, boys tweed jackets, grey trousers and ties. Uniform persists into sixth form, where it’s a question of tweed jackets for all, plus grey trousers or skirts; smart dark suits for formal occasions. ‘More tweed than Berwick’ as a previous head quipped.

Former students include Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, the principal of the Royal Academy of Music, photographer, screenwriter and TV director Harry Hook, restaurateur Oliver Gladwin, sculptor Robert Rattray, documentary maker Anthony Geffen, actor Rupert Evans and Professor Alastair Bruce, royal, religious and constitutional affairs commentator for Sky News.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral care highly praised by students and parents alike. 'The school is small enough to make sure no-one gets lost,’ and, according to students, there is always someone to talk to if things go wrong. Tutors see tutees at least twice a week and around the boarding house. The diversity of student population and approach stemming from the Round Square ideal enhances this small country school where, say students, differences are ignored and similarities unite. School’s system of rewards and sanctions also takes in behaviour (the policy was rewritten in 2020 with input from the prefects - called ‘pilots’ here), so acts of kindness and contributions to school life are also recognised. The consequences of wrong-doing are explained and good decisions v bad decisions unpicked, rather than simply punishing the wrong-doer. Good communication with parents – a portal where parents have access to weekly notes on everything from a missed prep to an academic triumph is supplemented by webinars on all manner of subjects, useful for far-flung parents of boarders.

Pupils and parents

Quite a few from London and from as far afield as Northumberland – fair to say that Milton Abbey has a niche national profile. International students make up 30 per cent and come from 23 different countries. Day students tend to live within a 30-minute drive – their day ends at 6pm but there’s the option to stay on for supper, activities and prep. School minibus service covers local area but changes depending on demand.
Despite such privileged surroundings, the students we met were delightfully unsnobby and profoundly thankful to be where they were. Sixth formers summed the school’s appeal up in a nutshell. ‘For the people it’s right for, this is the best school in the country,’ one boy declared. ‘I love it. My sister’s at Millfield and her year group is as big as this whole school. Here, everybody knows everybody and the support you get is second to none.’ A girl said she liked being ‘a big fish in a small pond,’ while parents told us they love the family atmosphere, plus the fact that their children get loads of country air and aren’t glued to their phones, tablets and laptops – plus ‘you don’t have to have the latest trainers – just a Barbour and wellies!’ one London mum told us with a sigh of relief. In fact, parental feedback has been nothing short of gushing – despite our efforts to tease it out, not one had anything critical to say of the school.

Money matters

A range of scholarships at 13+ and 16+ – academic, all-rounder, art, DT, drama, music and increasing numbers for sport. All worth 10 per cent of the fees, although these may be increased ‘where financial need is demonstrated.’ School also offers means-tested bursaries, plus scholarships for day pupils living in Dorset.

The last word

Milton Abbey’s spectacular setting, innovative mix of qualifications and countryside expertise gives students, some of whom may not have thrived elsewhere, a host of opportunities to shine – both inside and outside the classroom. Let us give the last word to the students: an ‘exciting, unique, adventurous, proactive’ school.

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

Milton Abbey has a well-resourced Learning Support Department staffed by fully-qualified teachers. Learning Support Assistants support some mainstream lessons. Pupils come at mutually agreed times. The majority of support is for pupils with dyslexia, but a range of other conditions can be supported.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
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
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 Y
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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