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‘If you want a hothouse, it’s not the place for you,’ said a parent of the academics. ‘But what it does offer is a first-class education where they combine learning with experiences and a lot of time outside.’ History lessons are a firm favourite – easy to see why from the classroom alone, every inch decorated with old flags, memorabilia and even an ancient axe. We saw an English lesson come to life as pupils analysed a poem about refugees. ‘No,’ she said gently when pupils got an answer wrong, ‘but a very good try.’ In another classroom, pupils...

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What the school says...

Sandroyd is a wonderfully unique family school, set in an idyllic environment, that ‘prepares’ children in the very broadest sense – offering academic excellence, and so much more. Sandroyd nurtures a child’s confidence and self-esteem whilst encouraging each individual pupil to fulfill all aspects of their potential: academic, artistic, cultural, sporting and social.

Childhood should be relished, enjoyed and remembered fondly. That’s why pastoral care is absolutely central to everything that we do at Sandroyd. Our friendly and nurturing boarding environment equips children with the confidence and skills to really challenge themselves, to be happy, and to succeed. We are unequivocally proud of being a small school and the benefits it offers to all of our pupils. Our size creates a wonderfully unique family atmosphere, and it allows us to properly focus on the individual needs of each child at every stage of their education.

Sandroyd offers an academically rich and rigorous education that goes far beyond preparing pupils to just pass entrance exams to the country’s leading senior schools.

We inspire interests and develop talents - both inside and beyond the classroom - from music, dance and drama, to a variety of sports (which pupils play every day). Pupils are encouraged to develop the qualities and skills they’ll need for life beyond their school days. We explicitly teach pupils to reason and think, and our challenging ‘Thinking Friday’ questions encourage them to form and express their own opinions.

The result is that Sandroyd pupils really do stand out from the crowd. Don’t just take our word for it; we’re repeatedly told that our pupils are better prepared to successfully face the demands of senior school. Not just in their academic abilities, but, far more importantly, in the vital ‘soft skills’ of confidence, resilience and self-motivation.

All of this takes place in our idyllic rural location, set in 400 acres, on the Wiltshire/Dorset border. There’s always time in the day for pupils to just play and enjoy their childhood – be it riding horses or riding bikes, playing with pets or paints – or perhaps adventuring in the playgrounds or in the woodlands!
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Sports

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

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2016, Alastair Speers BSc MEd PGCE (40s). Runs school with wife Alice, also a trained teacher –‘the eyes and ears of the school,’ according to her husband. Both were educated ‘just down the road’ (he at Sherborne, Alice at Bryanston) and are ‘delighted to be back in Dorset’. Similar in temperament – calm, measured, laid-back – they share a gigantic study with stunning countryside views. Their home is on site and shared with their children, Hattie and Isla, both at the school.

A career changer, he was a jet-setting consultant engineer for seven years following his degree in building engineering from Loughborough and UWE. ‘Engineering is still my passion,’ he muses, though a role as mentor to new graduate engineers inspired him to think about a career in education. PGCE from Cambridge, followed by post as teacher of DT at Oakham where he stayed for 10 years, becoming housemaster, then senior housemaster and completing an MEd in educational leadership at Buckingham.

Has now hung up classroom teaching hat but more than makes up for it with tutoring NVQ to older pupils and teaching the philosophy option on the school’s Strive programme, posing moral and ethical dilemmas for pupils. Strive – which aims to promote ‘intellectual curiosity and a love of wisdom’ – is very much his baby and involves 40-minute sessions a week from year 3 upwards with tasks designed to build self-confidence, questioning skills, teamwork and resilience: anything from erecting a tent to debating. ‘The formative years of prep are the time to really grab them with this kind of hands-on learning so they feel confident to make the most of everything at senior school,’ he enthuses.

‘I would walk on fire for him!’ isn’t a declaration we hear about too many headmasters but superlatives came thick and fast from these parents. ‘I adore him!’ ‘Completely delightful!’ ‘The reason we chose the school!’ He is particularly celebrated for being ‘a steady and calm pair of hands’, ‘striking the right balance of keeping things traditional while also forward-looking’, ‘running a tight ship in the staff room’ and ‘knowing the pupils well’. In spare time, the family often head to their holiday home on the Dorset coast, occasionally squeeze in some sailing. Increasingly enjoys gardening too – ‘God, that makes me sound old!’

Head of the Walled Garden (nursery and pre-prep) since September 2021 is Polly Holbrook, previously assistant director of studies at Sandroyd and an experienced pre-prep teacher.

Entrance

Nursery and pre-prep from 2+, with nearly all progressing to prep. Years 3 and 7 are the other obvious joining points though it often happens in between, including mid-academic year. Waiting lists currently in years 6, 7 and 8. Entrance via activity morning and assessments in creative writing and verbal reasoning (plus maths for prep). Head says school has become more selective ‘but not academically – while we are hugely proud of our academics, they’re not the be-all-and-end-all here. Character building via experiences are what set us apart.’

Exit

Vast majority see their Sandroyd years through until 13, when most head to boarding schools. Head very knowledgeable about the options, having visited as many as possible with his wife on a 12,000-mile stint before joining the school. Bryanston, Sherborne, Marlborough, Eton, Sherborne Girls, Radley, St Mary’s Calne, Monkton Coombe, Canford and Winchester currently popular.

Our view

A country prep in the truest sense, the drive-in is sublime – a long, winding road past ewes, ponies, woodland, parkland, lush green playing fields and views of surrounding hills. The original house is home (albeit with significant additions) to prep, while pre-prep is located a short walk away via the well-tended formal gardens. Entrance hall boasts open fire, sink-into sofas and oak staircase up to (some of the) boarding. But Homes and Gardens this is not. ‘The one thing that struck me when I first visited is that it’s reassuringly scruffy,’ summed up one parent. ‘It’s clear they far too busy concentrating on having fun rather than making sure it’s immaculately smart.’

During ‘wet break’ on the day we visited, we squeezed past mixed age groups playing ping pong, snooker and clapping games in the old part of the house, while in the large sports hall we narrowly dodged a (very well caught by our guide) tennis ball being used for indoor cricket, while other youngsters were immersed in basketball, dodgeball etc. In the beautiful old library, children sipped hot chocolate. Old fashioned fun prevails, and had the rain held off we had no doubt it would be Swallows and Amazons all the way, with tree climbing (yes, they’re allowed to do that here), den making and hide and seek in the spacious grounds.

‘The riding!’ exclaimed a pupil when we asked a group of them what’s the best thing about the school. There were 32 ponies at last count, 12 of which are brought in by pupils, with outdoor ménage, show-jumping paddock and cross-country course. ‘Thursday BBQs!’ reckoned another. These popular weekly outdoor lunchtime treats run throughout the summer term. And the worst bits? ‘Saturday school,’ agreed most, though older ones said, ‘you get used to it.’

The school was founded in 1888 by the Rev Wellesley Wesley as a ‘small coaching establishment’ for aspiring Etonians and quickly flourished. It moved first to Surrey and then in 1939 to Rushmore House (the Pitt-Rivers’ family home) on the Wiltshire/Dorset borders, before buying the house and 60 acres within the 500-acre Rushmore estate in 1966. It went co-ed in 2005.

‘If you want a hothouse, it’s not the place for you,’ said a parent of the academics. ‘But what it does offer is a first-class education where they combine learning with experiences and a lot of time outside.’ History lessons are a firm favourite – easy to see why from the classroom alone, every inch decorated with old flags, memorabilia and even an ancient axe. We saw an English lesson come to life as pupils analysed a poem about refugees. ‘No,’ she said gently when pupils got an answer wrong, ‘but a very good try.’ In another classroom, pupils drooled over an M&S food ad – ‘We’re doing persuasive language,’ explained one. Spelling bees are a big deal (‘nail-biting stuff!’ reckoned our guide) and there’s lots of role play as part of language learning. Science is highly practical - children get to make slime, watch teachers exploding film canisters, and they’d recently got to reveal a hidden Simpsons character by releasing certain chemicals onto paper as well as creating a made-up animal. Big emphasis on reading, with all pupils having 40 minutes of reading per day plus at least 20 minutes in the evening for boarders.

Average class size 12, maximum 16. Setting in English and maths. French from year 3, Latin from year 6. One boy could barely stop giggling as he recalled playing a slave girl in a recent seven-minute summary of the Iliad.

Around 22 per cent have SEN. School can deal with dyslexia, dyspraxia, mild autism, ADHD, slow processing speeds and visual issues. ‘The learning support team is really on it when it comes to targeted support – it had such an impact for my daughter,’ said a parent. Mostly takes the form of one-to-ones, which cost extra.

Almost daily sport. ‘The beauty of the school being quite small is that everyone gets involved, especially lower down,’ said a parent. Boys’ rugby and girls’ hockey and netball get the biggest wins – ‘The best thing is beating Port Regis!’ said a pupil. Was one of the first schools to do co-ed cricket; polo, archery, fencing and squash also co-ed. Coaching on the up, with more peris coming in than ever before. Indoor pool, gym, squash courts, badminton courts, sports hall among the excellent facilities.

‘Let’s make a run for it!’ suggested our guides when we said we’d like to see the glass-walled art room. So we did just that across the rainy playground, the only area from which it is accessible - ‘handy as the door’s usually open during break,’ a pupil pointed out. Huge pop art boards – a current year 8 project - dominated when we visited, though there were also smaller canvases on display, mostly of horses, and our guide was keen to show us an artwork featuring Boris Johnson with a caption saying, ‘Britain’s best prime minister’. Robotics and solving real-world problems is a focus of DT, eg pupils had made prosthetic hand with attached hairbrush and tiny colourful broom for nursery kids.

Weekly performing arts lessons cover music, drama and dance – ‘These used to be the poor relations compared to sport,’ said a parent, ‘but not so now.’ Over 80 per cent have instrumental lessons and there’s an orchestra, three choirs and various ensembles. We loved the sound of DJ club. Drama takes place in the impressive in-the-round theatre, opened by Zoe Wanamaker in 2008, where an organ lesson was taking place. Recent performances include Wind in the Willows, Lion King and Wizard of Oz, complete with glossy West End style programmes. Large mirrored dance studio gets girls and boys doing modern jazz, ballet and modern dance.

Head meets with all teaching staff for 10-20 minutes daily to discuss individual pupils’ wellbeing. The information from the meeting is then circulated to all staff – teaching and support. Pupils’ emotions are also tracked online. A counsellor visits two days a week to talk to pupils and advise staff. ‘Excellent on stress management,’ felt a parent.

‘Manners impeccable – being a nice, polite person is highly respected here and was one of the key attractions for us,’ raved a parent. Around 450 Alphas (merits) given out a week compared to around eight Omegas (demerits) which pupils get for eg turning up without their kit in the top years, talking to others with disrespect etc. ‘But of course they get it wrong sometimes, it’s how they learn,’ says head.

Pupils say food is a weak point. Parents say it’s fine. School says it’s ‘on a journey’. It was fish and chip Friday when we visited – clean plates all round and most had seconds. It’s all served at long wooden tables, with a teacher at the head. We sat with a charming group of year 5s who didn’t stop talking.

Day pupils (and many boarders) live within an hour’s drive – many get the school bus which goes out to Sherborne, Warminster, Blandford and Salisbury. Some boarders from Scotland, Devon and Cornwall. A handful from overseas including Japan, China and Cayman Islands. Not much ethnic diversity but school keen to increase this. ‘There’s a lot of money splashing around,’ as one parent put it, though there are plenty for whom ‘every penny counts’ too. Comms ‘can be a bit last minute,’ said one parent; another that they could use ‘social media more’. Pupils we met were uninhibited, high spirited and gracious. Former pupils include Sir Terence Rattigan, Randolph Churchill, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Lords Carrington, Gladwyn and Wilberforce, Lord Ramsey (the former Archbishop of Canterbury), Ian Gow and ex-soldier and novelist Harry Parker.

Nursery is based in Garden Cottage and pre-prep in the Walled Garden – the latter got its name on account of being based on the site of an old walled garden and retains one of the original walls. Here, children are taught in small classes, often by specialist teachers, with a focus on maths and English. There’s a small welcoming hall used for assembly, dance, music and library, and a large, fun-filled outside area. Year 1 and 2 classrooms packed with tactile resources and colourful wall displays. Some were in the main pool when we visited – complete with brightly coloured woggles and shrieks of delight. They also use the main school’s library, sports facilities, theatre, gym and dining room for lunch where some sit with older siblings. They all get a go with French, German and Spanish and parents get to see what’s going on via class assemblies, social events and plays.

Boarders

Boarding is rated as right up there with riding and Thursday BBQs by pupils we met. Homely, welcoming (some tidier than others) dorms of up to eight with bunk beds and lots of posters and family snaps. Communal areas with twinkly lights (girls) and LED lights (boys) and plenty of sofas and beanbags for the popular movie nights.

Flexi, weekly and full boarding available from year 3, with all expected to board in years 7 and 8 when virtually all do. Lively at weekends with at least 50 boarders staying, plus of course there’s Saturday school for all, plus fixtures. School has moved away from sending boarders off on activities outside school – ‘There’s just no need when we can do Slip ’n’ Slide, crafts, cooking, swimming, dog walks, board games, table tennis and quiz nights here,’ says head.

Junior boarding house for boys in years 3 to 5 and girls in years 3 to 6, middle boys’ house for year 6 and 7 boys and senior house for girls in years 7 and 8 and boys in year 8. Girls and boys housed in separate wings. No ensuites but nice, clean communal bathrooms. Around 50 per cent of the staff live on site, many with young families. Pupils also praise the ‘gaps’ – ‘they’re like super-cool brothers and sisters,’ said a parent. Pupils stay in touch with home by phone and (hurrah for this) letter writing.

Money matters

Sibling and Forces discounts. Means-tested bursaries up to 100 per cent.

The last word

A busy, caring family-run school in a magical setting that prepares youngsters for top-drawer boarding schools. If it’s big, glossy and highly academic you’re after, forget it. If it’s fresh air, muddy knees, tons of fun and learning without realising, chances are you’ll love it.

Special Education Needs

Sandroyd has a Learning Support Unit staffed by [two] fully qualified teachers, who have further training in dealing with children with special needs. If it is felt that a child requires a degree of individual assistance with their academic studies, we have the expertise and facilities to help them. 33 children currently receive some help. Parents may discuss the support at any time. External support services, such as an educational psychologist, speech therapist and paediatricians are consulted for further specialist support when needed. Individual lessons last 40 minutes and take place at a convenient time for the students. Mainstream staff are kept informed of any specific difficulties. On average children receive two lessons a week but this varies depending on individual circumstances. We pride ourselves on the improvements and successes achieved by our students.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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 Y
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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