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Leweston School, nr Sherborne

Muddy says: Unpretentious, friendly school offering great all-round education with outstanding music and sports, where girls and boys can learn together – and apart – allowing them to realise their potential in every subject

WHAT, WHERE?

An independent, day and boarding Nursery, Prep and Senior school for boys and girls aged 3 to 18 set within 46 acres – lawns, woods, follies – three miles south of the old market town of Sherborne, with its historic Abbey and two castles and about half an hour from Dorset’s spectacular Jurassic Coast (very handy for days out and geology field trips).

Belgian nuns founded the school in 1891 as a girls’ boarding school called St Antony’s, based in Sherborne. In 1948, the senior school moved to the Leweston Manor Estate and was renamed St Antony’s-Leweston School. It was joined by the Prep in 1993, became Leweston School in 2007, and opened its doors to boys as well as girls in 2018. The Prep has been co-ed in the lower years since its foundation. It went co-ed throughout the school in 2016, with the senior school following in 2018.

Although it’s a Catholic school, only around a third of the 400 pupils are Catholic, with all faiths and none represented.

FACILITIES

The Nursery, Prep and Senior are all on the same campus and share some of the same facilities.

The neo-classical Manor House lies at the heart of the school. Built in the late 18th century, the Georgian interiors were re-modelled in the 1930s, making it gloriously Art Deco inside.

The beautifully re-furbed Music School, with an elegant performance space as well as practice rooms and a recording studio is on the first floor. Music is super popular and really strong here, with brass days, strings days, numerous ensembles (from Baroque to Jazz), a joint schools symphony orchestra (which performs in a major venue every year) and music tech. Students do very well in their music exams and some go onto the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall and similar.

The school is renowned for its sacred choral music: all Years 7 and 8 are in the award-winning junior choir, Cantemus; there’s a boys’ only Mantamus; older pupils audition for the Schola Cantorum, which sings at Mass, the Sherborne Abbey Festival – and they’ll even come and sing at your wedding. Pupils, staff, parents and the local community sing together in the Choral Society. Tra la la la!

The Science block labs are large and light-filled with great views all around – very nice spaces to work.  Science is very popular and, from Years 9 to 11, boys and girls are taught separately as part of the Diamond model (see below).

The large Art & Design department with high ceilings, white painted walls and music playing in the background is an inspirational creative space used by the whole school. 

Inspired by Marc Quinn

Art here can mean anything from fine art to gaming graphics and more. As well as the classrooms, there’s a ceramics studio, digital suite, dark room, textiles studio and a full complement of laser cutters, 3D printers and CAD for Design Tech. Students go onto top art schools like Camberwell, St Martin’s and the London College of Fashion.

The Pensabene Library is a whopper, where pupils of all ages can come for free periods, ITC – and we’ve heard it’s a grand place for a game of hide and seek.

Whole school Mass every Weds and Sunday eves for boarders in the Chapel of St Anthony.

Dedicated IT suite. Younger pupils use iPads in brightly coloured rubber cases in the classrooms.

Shows, concerts and plays are put on a dedicated hall with a proper stage/wings/lighting and a sound and lighting gallery. Recent whole school productions include Sister Act and 9 to 5.

Everyone, even the youngest pupils, eat together – in staggered sittings – in the big, modern dining hall.

The Prep is in the former Coach House with its own Hall, sports courts and Victorian walled garden playground. The Nursery (Ofsted Outstanding in 2018) is self-contained within its own garden and has a yurt (naturally).  Nursery and Prep pupils enjoy outdoor play and learning in the all-weather Enchanted Woods Forest School.

Sixth Formers can hang out in the Sixth Form Hub, with lounge, kitchen and study area, and the rather cool Cedars Cafe down by the indoor swimming pool.

Aside from the pool, sports facilities include all-weather hockey pitches which convert to tennis courts in summer; netball courts/ hard surface tennis courts, a grass track, long jump, and a sports hall with squash and gym.

And finally, a walk through the woods in their extensive grounds …

… will lead you to The Belvedere, the original 18th century coach entrance to the estate and a natural amphitheatre overlooking the Dorset countryside, which makes the perfect setting for outdoor performances and more.

ACADEMICS

Non-selective academically, yet exam results are impressive and the school’s in the top 10% of UK schools for ‘value added’ (the difference between predicted and actual grades, ie, where students exceed expectations). 2019 GCSEs: over 30% Grades 8/9; 51% A or above (twice the national average). A Levels: over 50% Maths/Further Maths entries A/ A; Music, English Literature and Religious Studies A–B; 100% Fine Art, German and Textiles A*/A. Sixth Formers can take A Levels, BTECs and the Cambridge Pre-U. Popular A Levels: Maths, Chemistry, Biology and Psychology. Destinations: some of the UK’s top universities, over a third for STEM, medicine and veterinary science degrees.

HEAD TEACHER

John Paget-Tomlinson joined the school as Head in January 2020, so the historian, previously Deputy Head (Academic) at Portsmouth High School GDST, can talk with personal experience about the strength of the welcome, community and level of kindness at the school.

Education here is about learning skills as opposed to content, empowering rather than purely ‘nurturing’ – pupils come to believe that they have gifts or that they can learn them – and can discover what excites them and get their teeth into things. Pupils are encouraged to be in charge of their own education journey, asking what has gone well, what could be improved?  There’s self marking, peer marking, and even no marking but lots of verbal feedback.

Alanda Phillips, the head of the Prep and Early Years, is committed, dynamic and very hands-on, teaching every day in the Prep and really knows every single pupil (we saw her in action).

SPORTS

Sport is a Leweston strength, both in individual activities as well as traditional team games like girls’ and boys’ hockey and netball.

The school excels in the Modern Pentathlon – swimming, fencing, riding, running and shooting – and is one of only nine Pentathlon Academies in the UK, offering training for everyone from beginners to elite (some of whom have gone onto become national, European and Team GB competitors).

The equestrian team is the National Schools Equestrian Association, South West Regional Points League Champion for the fourth year running, scoring more points than any other team in the country. One of the team members is the National Preliminary Dressage Champion.

Leweston pupils often grace the podium in biathle, triathle, cross country – and laser run.

Don’t worry footballers and rugby players: the teams are fast gaining a foothold in the area and beyond.

WHAT ELSE?

Leweston is a Diamond Model school (the only one in the area), where boys and girls are taught together from Reception to Year 8; separately for Maths and Science (STEM) from Years 9 to 11; and together again for the Sixth Form. Girls can be less confident, less engaged and therefore may not fulfil their potential in STEM subjects in mixed classes, so this model allows to pupils to reap the benefits of single-sex and co-ed education in the same school.

Strong pastoral system. Everyone has a Form Tutor, whom they see every day, with a wider team of head of year, house parents, health centre nurses, counsellor, chaplaincy co-ordinator, etc. New pupils are allocated trained Sixth Form peer mentors and guardians in their own year group while they settle in.

Everyone – from the youngest up to the 6th Form, day or boarder  – is in one of four Houses: More, Mayne, Campion and Fisher, so friendships are forged across the age groups and there’s friendly inter-house rivalry in hockey, singing, quizzes and more.

New to the school, the EHSR (education, health and social responsibility) lessons where pupils of all ages, explore, discuss and take action on a range of different issues that matter in the world today is a brilliant idea (on our visit, a Prep class was working on ways to raise awareness of endangered orang-utans).

Prep pupils have an online learning journal, accessible by parents, which tracks detailed academic progress and provides photos of their school day.

Lots of connections: Plymouth University student teachers spend time at the Prep; the University of Bournemouth has close links with the art dept.

BOARDING AND WRAP AROUND

There are four boarding houses, three for girls (Martha House Yrs 4 to 8; Cecilia House Yrs 9 to 10; Eleanor House Yrs 11–13) and, since September 2019, Antony House for boys aged 7 to 18.  The younger pupils are in four and five bed dorms, Year 11s have single or double rooms and Sixth Formers have their own study bedrooms. The ‘upstairs/downstairs’ rule means that once the school day’s over and prep’s done downstairs, it’s time to chill upstairs – and there are no lessons on Saturdays. Each boarding house has a house parent, assistant housemistress and a gap year assistant; each boarder has a ‘florin’, a tutor who meets with them every week.  Full, weekly and very flexible flexi options, with one, two or three nights a week as well as ad hoc B&B nights – and regular flexis have their own beds.

Day and boarders well-integrated; all weekend trips open to day pupils.

Loads of stuff going on outside the classroom at weekends and after school – visits by authors, musicians, trips out, chocolate making workshops – and a host of constantly changing clubs and activities, from eco committee and coding to spin class for Senior pupils; tae Kwando to samba band for Prep.

QUIRKS/BOASTY BITS

Do you like dogs? There are currently nine – very friendly and well-behaved – dogs around the school.

Kristin Scott Thomas is an Old Girl.

FEES

2019/20 (all fees are termly unless specified otherwise).

Day: Reception & Year 1 £2,044; Years 2 & 3 £2,686; Years 4 & 5 £3,332; Year 6 £3,974; Years 7 & 8 £5,319; Years 9–13 £5,319.

Boarding: Years 3–6 full £7,141; weekly from £5,956; flexi from £604 for 1 night; ad hoc B&B £57/night. Years 7 & 8 full £8,641; weekly from £7, 519; flexi from £604 for 1 night; ad hoc B&B £57/night. Years 9–13 full £9,583; weekly from £8,326; flexi from £790 for 1 night; ad hoc B&B £70/night.

WORD ON THE GROUND

Parents describe the school as ‘friendly, encouraging, down-to-earth’. They say the curriculum is wide, the learning fun (no week is ever the same) and not too pressured, as a result they get the best out of the kids. Lots of local children (and no Saturday school) make it easy to see friends at weekends. It’s more affordable than some independent schools, so there’s a real sense that everyone there really appreciates the well-rounded education the children are receiving.

MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Parents looking for a relaxed and happy, unpretentious school – where kids can learn skills, build confidence, find their ‘thing’ – which combines the benefits of a co-ed education with single sex teaching where it counts, and an excellent ‘value added’ score that proves that children really do realise their potential.

Not for: Highly competitive, rugby playing alpha males.

See for yourself. Contact the admissions dept admissions@leweston.dorset.sch.uk to find out more and take virtual tours and watch welcome videos of each department.

Leweston School, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 6EN. 01963 210691. leweston.co.uk

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