Dumpton School, Wimborne
An excellent co-ed prep that delivers academically without sacrificing the fun of childhood and with an impressive commitment to outdoor learning
An independent day school for boys and girls aged 2 to 13 years, Dumpton sits in 26 acres of grounds – including extensive playing fields and beautiful woodlands – hidden down a lane on the edge of the Dorset market town of Wimborne.
Founded in 1903 as a boys’ boarding school in Broadstairs in Kent, the school was evacuated to rural Dorset at the outbreak of WW2 and found itself at its current location – a former pig farm, believe it or not – in 1987. Since then, Dumpton has opened its door to girls, no longer takes boarders and the campus has grown – organically – to extend well beyond the original farmhouse, with around 300 pupils across the Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep.
The school has long been known for the quality of its academic performance but these days, Dumpton is also recognised for its strengths in sports, pastoral care and the performing arts and has an impressive commitment to outdoor learning with facilities and green credentials to match.
The school is guided by two core values in all that it does: to ‘Be Kind’ and to ‘Aim High’.
Over the past few years, they’ve developed and re-furbed much of the school and it’s looking very good indeed.
The school is centred around a homely 19th century farmhouse and stable block which are now the Headmaster’s study, front office and newly re-furbed art, design tech and food tech departments. The Head, his wife and two young children live onsite too.
As the school has evolved and grown, other buildings have been converted into classrooms and departments and there are some striking new builds – like the science labs – interspersed with imaginatively designed recreation areas with play frames, a pre-historic garden and outdoor table tennis tables – which all go to create a friendly villagey vibe.
They spent a fair whack (£2.5m) on the newest addition to the campus, a sparkling Sports Hall, which was opened in 2019, with indoor netball and tennis courts, hockey pitch, 5-aside football pitches and indoor cricket nets. Two airy classrooms and a viewing platform overlooks the main sports fields on the first floor – perfect for match teas.
A commitment to an hour of sport every day for pupils in Year 3 to 8 sets Dumpton apart. They are well served with extensive outdoor sports facilities – three large playing fields (one newly acquired), all weather pitches, netball and tennis courts – the school is fairly traditional in terms of the sports played. Boys play rugby; girls play netball; but everyone plays football, hockey, cricket and tennis and takes part in athletics and swimming (even the very youngest) in the heated indoor pool with retractable roof (natch). With many levels of sports teams, everyone gets to have a go every week, not just the super sporty types. Impressively for a small school, Dumpton regularly qualifies for IAPS National Championships in football, hockey, netball and swimming, and even on occasion have been victorious – most recently the U13 IAPS National Football Championships in 2019.
The performing arts are a large part of Dumpton’s identity. Performing arts is timetabled, a high number (around 50 pupils) take LAMDA drama exams and there are about 155 individual music lessons a week from the team of peripatetic teachers. Dumpton has orchestras, bands and plenty of choirs – this is a school that loves to sing! Hence the new multi-purpose Performing Arts Centre linking to the re-vamped Music School (new retractable seating and rather cool bi-fold doors opening out onto a courtyard for al fresco performances) and an Assembly Hall which doubles as a fully equipped theatre, also with retractable seating.
There are three ICT suites. All pupils have the use of school computers and Years 7 & 8 have their own Chromebooks.
Like many schools, there’s an emphasis on outdoor learning, but Dumpton stands out for its commitment – it’s embedded within the curriculum – and for its rather fab facilities.
Acres of woodland are crisscrossed by little paths allowing pupils to be immersed in nature (endangered newts have been spotted and I saw a buzzard up close on my visit).
There’s also a forest school, a campsite complete with bell tent and pizza oven (where all children get the opportunity to camp out from Year 3 upwards), two large nature ponds with pontoons, a huge parachute-like tented area for outdoor lessons and a climbing wall.
The large award-winning allotment not only provides opportunities for pupils to learn about where food comes from and to enjoy a spot of gardening during lunch breaks but the fruit and veg is left out for parents and pupils to help themselves.
Sustainability is central here – witness ‘Switch off Fortnight’, weekly waste paper collections and tree planting – and this hasn’t gone unrecognised. The school is a finalist for the Independent School of the Year Green Award 2021, won the West of England Environmental Youth Award 2018 and has held International Eco Schools’ Green Flag status four years running.
Lots of schools have an adventure playground but Dumption’s is cut above, with lots of stuff to scramble over, up and under in a large grassy area surrounded by trees. Great fun!
The Nursery and Pre-Prep are housed together in one building – a school within a school, with access to the main school’s facilities including swimming pool, forest school and the large adventure playground – with jolly, newly re-furbed classrooms and very well-equipped, roomy outdoor play areas. These are filled with plenty of toys and activities to stimulate the imagination, encourage physical co-ordination and condusive to learning through play. Pupils spend a lot of time in the forest school – sometimes every day.
There are specialist teachers for swimming, PE (in the new sports hall), dance and music. Currently there are 50 kiddiwinks on the roll with around 25 in each session.
The school’s non-selective but pupils attend a taster/assessment day. Pre-Prep have specialist teachers for music, swimming, PE and French. From Year 3, add in specialists for design tech, art, science and computing. From Year 4, it’s specialists all the way.
Students generally follow the Early Years Foundation Stage and National Curriculum, but with 14 subjects taught in the upper years, there’s huge breadth and variety on offer. Older pupils work towards the school’s leaving qualification, the Dumpton Certificate, as well as Common Entrance and scholarship study if they’re moving onto independent secondary schools, and the 11 plus, if they’re heading towards one of the area’s state grammars. Most pupils stay on past Year 6.
Last year, over half the pupils went onto Canford and Byranstan but other destinations include Clayesmore, Talbot Heath and the Bournemouth, Poole and Parkstone grammars, with 100 scholarships awarded over the past four years.
Pupils are assessed continually, including with the school’s own Attitude to Learning (AtL) system, to which the parents have access. Learning support (called Education Extra or EdX) is available when necessary for children with specific learning needs or just those needing a boost.
Form tutors keep a close eye on every child, with any issue picked up immediately. An additional two emotional support teachers/counsellors run an art hub, a safe place for anyone to go to whenever they want.
The ‘Tapestry’ online and interactive learning journal is being rolled out across the younger age groups, which offers daily feedback and info (including video clips of activities) on what pupils have been doing, to which parents can contribute.
The school operates an open door policy for parents, to keep lines of communication available at all times.
Very jolly Head Christian Saenger arrived at the school in September 2019 from Deputy Head (Academic) at York House School in Hertfordshire, via an English degree from University College London, and assorted posts in between. He lives over the shop with his young family (his children are in the Nursery) and loves the family feel of the school.
He understands that whilst parents want their kids’ academic potential to be fulfilled, their emotional well being and character – to be kind, to understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of others – are equally important. To that end he’s introduced Yale University’s RULER system of emotional intelligence (RULER = Recognising, Understanding, Labelling, Expressing and Regulating emotions) throughout the whole school, from the Nursery up. Staff are trained in implementing the system and there are parents’ workshops.
He’s also strengthening links with the local community, for example by inviting local schools to use facilities, as well as sports clubs like Wimborne Aquarians and AFC Bournemouth.
One gets the impression that the school is constantly looking for ways to develop and improve; the combo of small size and dynamic Head and his team enable these changes to happen quickly and effectively.
They’ve developed their own unique, Dumpton version of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards – the Dumpton Extra-Curricular Awards (DECA). DECA builds a record of outdoor pursuits, community and environmental service, and hobbies pursued throughout the school.
All Prep pupils have tea – a drink and a sandwich – another throwback to the boarding days, and then it’s Prep (or Hobbies, see below) before home time.
From Year 3 onwards, pupils take part in the charmingly named ‘Hobbies’, where they can try their hand at loads of different activities – skills, sports and outdoor – such as golf, allotments, swimming, gymnastics, movie making and Lego.
Year 8s have a ‘mini gap year,’ a four-week Leavers’ Programme between Prep and Senior School.
Year 8s also go to the Ridgeway Adventure Centre in Scotland – a Bear Grylls style trip involving sea kayaking, mountaineering and surviving a night on an island (so far, everyone has!).
WRAP AROUND CARE
Drop off is from 8.15am (Pre-Prep) and 8.20 (Prep). Pre-Prep can be collected at 3.30pm, 4.15pm for Year 3 and 5.45pm for the rest of the school.
Top grades of ‘Outstanding’ and ‘Excellent’ for the Early Years and Pre-Prep and Prep respectively, from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), equivalent to Ofsted in the state sector. See the latest reports here.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Phones stay firmly at home.
Currently about a third of the pupils are bussed in from the surrounding areas, including Verwood, Ringwood, Blandford, Dorchester, Ferndown, Poole and Lilliput.
As from Sept 2021: Nursery £7.35/hour; Pre-Prep (Reception, Years 1 & 2) £3,224/term; Prep (Years 3–8) £5,763/term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The Head is very well-liked, dynamic, ‘great’. Parents rave about the facilities like the sports hall, pool, performing arts centre and forest school (we don’t blame them), as well as the welcoming and happy atmosphere – children ‘skip into school’ each day. They appreciate the fact that pupils achieve academically without sacrificing the fun and enjoyment of childhood.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Excellent all round education with plenty of extra-curricular out in the open air. The feel of a bucolic countryside prep but on the edge of a town. With strong links to Bryanston and Canford, the school would be a good choice if you’re looking to move on there or other independent schools, but they’ll prepare for the state grammars too.
Not for: The school doesn’t offer boarding.
Don’t take our word for it: Check out their next open morning or contact them to arrange a visit via Lerryn Chaffey, the Head’s PA, on 01202 883818. There’s a taster day for children on Thurs 24 March 2022 and you can register for that here.