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Parents and boys talk about the head in glowing terms. They say he has upped the academic ante, put an emphasis on kindness and smartened up the uniform. In turn, the head is full of praise for the pupils. ‘The boys are interesting, engaging and decent,’ he says. ‘They know their own minds but there is a reservoir of kindness there. People say that you never meet an unpleasant old Shirburnian and it’s true.’ Head loves the fact that Sherborne is ‘a proper boarding school’...

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What the school says...

Sherborne School, founded in 1550, is one of the leading independent schools in the country. Built around Sherborne Abbey in a beautiful, bustling, small market town, surrounded by the rolling Dorset scenery, it is a truly unique location. The benefits and advantages of the peaceful setting are enhanced by the ease of transport to London with a direct train from Waterloo to Sherborne.
All schools strive to provide the best education they can, which often comes down to academic success, a caring pastoral environment and a busy extra-curricular life. Sherborne offers all these, thriving on the balance between tradition and constant innovation and improvement.
Sherborne supports and challenges every boy to become a man of distinction and as an all-boys school, with neighbouring girls schools, we can use our lengthy experience of educating boys to shape our approach to their often different interests and learning styles, pastoral needs, and rates of development.
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What the parents say...

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International Study Centre - school has a linked, international study centre for overseas students wishing to improve their English.

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since January 2016, Dr Dominic Luckett (early 50s), previously head of Mill Hill School. Educated at King Edward VII Grammar School (now King Edward VII Academy) in King’s Lynn, the University of Leicester, where he gained a first in history, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he did his DPhil in early Tudor history. Encouraged by an inspirational history teacher, he was the first of his family to go to university. ‘I suspect that if it hadn’t been for him I would have ended up working in Sainsbury’s,’ he says. Taught for 11 years at Harrow School, where he was head of history and an assistant housemaster. Barnaby Lenon, head of Harrow at the time, suggested he should apply for a deputy headship and he subsequently moved to Worth School as deputy head. In 2007 he became head of Mill Hill School and chief executive of the Mill Hill School Foundation. He is an ISI inspector and a member of the University of Leicester’s governing body.

His wife Cara is a barrister and they live in a school house with their two young daughters (the elder is a pupil at nearby Sherborne Prep). Head loves the fact that Sherborne is ‘a proper boarding school’ and ‘doesn’t empty out at weekends’. When he first visited Sherborne he was delighted to see boys in their early teens playing tag in the school grounds. ‘You don’t get boys in north London playing tag,’ he says wryly, adding that boys at Sherborne get ‘a year to 18 months more childhood’ than their London counterparts.

Parents and boys talk about him in glowing terms. They say he has upped the academic ante, put an emphasis on kindness and smartened up the uniform. In turn, the head is full of praise for the pupils. ‘The boys are interesting, engaging and decent,’ he says. ‘They know their own minds but there is a reservoir of kindness there. People say that you never meet an unpleasant old Shirburnian and it’s true.’ He often mentions acts of kindness in assemblies. ‘It’s very easy to celebrate a first XV victory or a university place but if you aren’t kind you’re not a proper Shirburnian, however much you achieve.’

A thoughtful, likeable man, he clearly loves his job and is delighted by Sherborne’s sense of community. He is determined to raise Sherborne’s profile and is proud of the fact that the school is in the top one per cent in the country for value added scores at GCSE and A level. ‘We haven’t been very good at banging our drum but it’s an extraordinary school,’ he says. In his spare time he enjoys paragliding, music (‘the music here is incredible’) and collecting clocks. He points out his ‘third favourite clock’ in his drawing room – a late 18th century long case clock.

Academic matters

Results are good – and on the up. At GCSE 68 per cent A*/A grades in 2016, the best ever. At A level, 53 per cent A*/A grades in 2016 (art, further maths, geography and physics the best performing subjects). EPQ on offer to sixth formers. Most boys take 10 subjects (a mix of GCSEs and IGCSEs), including maths, English, English literature, theology, a language, a humanities subject and science (most boys do all three sciences). French, German, Spanish, Latin and Greek are taught across all year groups. Boys can learn additional languages, including Arabic, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Russian. All the usual A levels on offer. The school also pools its teaching expertise with nearby Sherborne Girls to extend A level subject choices and overcome timetable clashes. So Sherborne gives girls the chance to study A levels in PE and music technology while Sherborne Girls takes boys for photography and history of art.

Teaching is praised by boys and parents alike, many commenting that lessons are stimulating and inspiring and teachers go the extra mile to help. School takes a forward-thinking approach to technology. When we visited a lower sixth English class some boys were writing notes by hand, others were tapping away at their laptops and phones. Learning support is housed in its own building (West Lodge). All boys are screened on arrival and sessions on learning styles and study skills are timetabled. One of our guides told us he had suffered anxiety during exams and the school had organised for him to take his exams in a separate invigilation room. ‘They are so helpful,’ he said.

Games, options, the arts

Sport is a big deal here and there are lots of unbeaten teams. Acres of playing fields (just a 10 minute walk away), plus tennis courts, sports hall, fitness suite, two Astroturfs (one floodlit), 25-metre indoor swimming pool, four squash courts, five fives courts and an indoor shooting range. Main sports are rugby, football, hockey, cricket, tennis and athletics but the school offers 26 sports in total. All new boys play rugby but they can switch to another sport later on if they prefer – choices include sailing, swimming, equestrian sports, fives, cross-country, squash, water polo and cycling. A sixth former relished the fact that he could spend two afternoons a week on his road bike rather than on the rugby pitch. County champions in rugby, hockey and cricket, and ski team won gold in team and individual competitions at the British Schoolboys Ski Racing Championships in 2017. Other notable successes in sailing and judo and Sherborne boys have represented GB in the modern tetrathlon, pentathlon and sailing.

Music is astounding, up with the very best. The music school is in the middle of the campus, complete with soundproofed rehearsal rooms, a 120-seat recital hall, swish recording studio and a large foyer where boys congregate and chat. The choir sings in Sherborne Abbey twice a week, boys give free lunchtime recitals at Cheap Street Church (lucky locals) and there’s a host of orchestras and bands. When we visited a swing band rehearsal was in, yes, full swing, led by the exuberant director of music. The boys looked like they were having the time of their lives. Two-thirds of pupils play instruments, some at grade 8 and ATCL diploma level. The school sets aside an hour after lunch each day for rehearsals, known as Q Time. The result is that boys don’t have to choose between music and sport. It’s quite usual for at least half the first rugby XV to be in the choir. The school has also produced a number of rock musicians, including Chris Martin of Coldplay and more recently, New Carnival, an indie dance band.

Sherborne counts a plethora of top actors among its alumni, including the late John le Mesurier, Jeremy Irons, Hugh Bonneville, James Purefoy, Charlie Cox and Charles Collingwood (Brian Aldridge in The Archers), as well as the director Sir Richard Eyre. School hosts two major productions each year, plus four house plays and a junior school play, most of these in the school’s 220-seat Powell Theatre. Some joint productions with girls from nearby Sherborne Girls and Leweston.

Art studio, designed by the architect Sir Reginald Blomfield, is open seven days a week and offers painting, life drawing, sculpture, printmaking and digital media. Around 30 boys take art GCSE each year (doing the course in one year rather than two) and 16 to 18 take the subject at A level. We particularly admired a huge golden eagle with a three-metre wingspan, made entirely of cardboard and hanging from the art studio ceiling. An art teacher, an old Shirburnian himself, had given his year 10 group a pile of cardboard and a hot glue gun, challenged them to make something ‘life-size’ and this was the result. ‘It was an opportunity for them to be creative and have a bit of fun,’ he told us. DT is popular too, with the emphasis on coming up with ideas, making prototypes and considering whether they have the potential to be commercially successful.

Vast co-curricular programme, including D of E, CCF, Amnesty International, the Ten Tors expedition and Young Enterprise. Academic societies include classics, debating and philosophy, as well as scholars’ societies for each year group.

Boarders

The overwhelming majority of boys board, joining one of eight boarding houses. Around 70 boys per house (13 or so in each year group). The houses are dotted around the campus and are wholesome and comfortable rather than luxurious. We visited The Green, a homely house with a large garden that’s perfect for kicking a ball around in. Youngest boys in dorms of four or five. Sixth formers get their own rooms. Oldest boys act as mentors to younger ones. We liked the subject guru system, whereby pupils flummoxed by their physics or maths prep (or any other subject for that matter) can consult a sixth former for help. ‘And we do,’ said an appreciative year 9 boy.

Background and atmosphere

A beautiful school in the heart of a charming, well-heeled Dorset market town. Sir John Betjeman once described the town as looking ‘like a junior university city, with every other house an old college’. Some school buildings date back to the 12th century but the school itself was refounded in the mid-16th century under the auspices of the monastery at Sherborne. It survived the Reformation to become a free grammar school during the 17th and 18th centuries and has been a boys’ boarding school since the 19th century. At the heart of the school are The Courts, a vast quad surrounded by ancient golden stone buildings – ‘our beauty spot,’ said a sixth former. The Courts boast two cloistered walls and share one with Sherborne Abbey. Later additions to the school, such as the Pilkington science labs, are sensitively designed and blend in well.

When boys pass a wall bearing the names of Old Shirburnians killed in the First and Second World Wars on the steps up to the chapel they fall silent as a mark of respect. It’s very moving to witness. School chapel plays a key role in the boys’ lives. Every morning starts with an assembly or a chapel service and the whole school attends services at Sherborne Abbey on Wednesdays and Sundays. There’s also a candlelit service in the school chapel on Fridays. ‘It isn’t excessive,’ a sixth former told us. ‘Some come for the prayers, some come for the peace and quiet.’ As the school puts it: ‘While we welcome boys of other faiths, and no faith, to the school, we hope these moments of calm will bring structure to their routine, and nurture their spirituality.’

The pupils we met loved living in the heart of town and being able to pop into shops and cafés during their free time. ‘It’s nice to have a bit of freedom,’ one said. ‘Some schools are in the middle of nowhere but I prefer being in the middle of things.’ Sixth formers wear smart suits and ties, while younger boys are kitted out in practical navy shirts and trousers, known as ‘blues’. Breakfast, lunch and supper are eaten in the central dining room. Food gets the thumbs up, especially the breakfasts, and the boys say there is plenty of it.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Sherborne prides itself on being ‘boy-focused’ and is quick to respond if and when problems arise. Tutors keep a close eye on pupils, meeting them at least once a week. ‘They’ve always got your back,’ a boy told us. A sixth former whose tutor had moved to another school said his former teacher still emailed to see how he was getting on. Youngest boys are allocated a tutor from their houses but sixth formers can choose their own.

The boys have plenty of people to talk to, including housemasters, tutors, a counsellor and the (female) chaplain, known as Rev. Two head boys appointed each year, plus deputies and a raft of prefects. Sixth formers also act as peer mentors. PSHE is delivered by housemasters to year 9 boys and by specialist teachers after that. A broad range of topics covered, from coping with bereavement and divorce to the stress of exams. School has a sensible attitude to mobile phones. The youngest boys all hand their phones in before bed while some houses organise device-free weekends.

Pupils and parents

All the boys we met were down-to-earth, full of fun and clearly enjoying their busy lives at Sherborne. Pupils come from more than 40 prep schools. Around 10 per cent from overseas (including sons of expats and Forces families). Many come from the south west, plus a smaller proportion from London. Sherborne is only 140 minutes by train and South West Trains lays on trains for pupils from Sherborne, Sherborne Girls and Leweston at exeats and half-term.

Parents from a mix of professions, the Forces and local gentry. Some boys from long-established Shirburnian families (one of our guides was a third-generation Shirburnian and proudly showed us the names of his forebears on his house board). Other famous old boys include Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing, John le Carré, Major General Patrick Cordingley DSO and ITV News journalist Tom Bradby.

Entrance

Boys looking to start in year 9 (third form at Sherborne) are tested at an assessment day in January of year 7. They sit verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, take part in a group task, complete a piece of creative writing and have an interview with a senior member of the academic staff. The head then offers guaranteed places for entry in year 9 although boys still take CE for setting purposes. Impressive induction system in place. Deputy head (pastoral) writes to parents of new boys asking how the school can help their sons settle in and ‘hit the ground running’. Around 20 new boys join in the sixth form each year. At 16, entry requirements into the sixth form are the same internally and externally – an average of at least grade 4 across all GCSE subjects, plus grades 8 or 9 in subjects boys wish to study at A level.

Exit

Almost all stay on after GCSEs and most head to university at 18. The majority go to Russell Group universities, including Durham, Bristol, Exeter, Imperial College and the LSE. Five to Oxbridge in 2016 and a growing interest in US universities. One boy recently won a highly prized Rolls-Royce apprenticeship.

Money matters

A range of scholarships. Academic scholarships and exhibitions with a maximum fee remission of 20 per cent. Closed awards available to sons of serving or former officers in the armed services or for sons of Royal Navy officers. All-rounder awards, plus art, drama, DT, music and sport awards. Means-tested bursaries, some worth 100 per cent of the fees. A third of boys receive some financial assistance.

Our view

A terrific boys’ boarding school in a breathtaking golden setting. Sherborne, with its strong sense of community, good academic results and opportunities galore on all fronts, succeeds in combining the best of ancient and modern without diminishing either. For parents debating the merits of single sex versus co-ed schools for their sons, it offers the best of both worlds.

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Special Education Needs

Boys with dyslexia, and other mild specific learning difficulties, are well supported by a team of three in newly refurbished accommodation.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
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
Not Applicable
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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