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Bryanston Knighton House, Durweston, near Blandford Forum

All the advantages of a small rural prep – nurturing family feel, individualised learning in an idyllic countryside environment (ponies, orchards, woodlands) – and access to the superb facilities and opportunities at one of the top senior schools in the UK.

WHAT, WHERE?

The co-ed day and boarding school for 3-13 year olds on the edge of the village of Durweston near Blandford Forum, sits in 30 acres of beautiful grounds surrounded by the undulating Dorset countryside, including the impressive Iron Age hillforts of Hambledon Hill and Hod Hill.

Back in the 18th century, Knighton House was the village farmhouse. Enlarged in the 19th century, it become home to successive members of the wealthy Portman family of Bryanston until 1950, when it was bought by the Crown Estate. They then leased it to John and Peggy Booker who set up a girls’ preparatory school. At the beginning of 2016, Knighton House bought the site; in 2020, Bryanston School (one of the top schools in the UK) bought the freehold, restoring the site as part of the original Portman Estate, and that same year the school opened its doors to boys. In September 2021, Knighton House merged with Bryanston School and was renamed Bryanston Knighton House.

It makes perfect sense: the two schools are minutes apart, share common values and the merger means that this small school will have access to some world class facilities in music, drama, DT, sport and more, as well as additional teaching expertise. There’s a definite feeling of excitement in the air.

There are currently around 110 pupils on the roll; around 20 per cent are boys.

FACILITIES

The main building, a lovely old mansion with light, airy rooms with high ceilings houses the school admin, the Head’s office and a couple of elegant rooms looking out onto the grounds. These are soon to become a swanky new creative hub (compete with green screen) and a wellbeing/chill out zone. Also in the main building: a small book-lined library with soon-to-be new interactive board, maths classrooms and the dining room, where good wholesome food (I know, I enjoyed it) is cooked on site.

Music takes place in the dedicated Music block, with classrooms and an array of practice rooms. Pupils can learn pretty much any instrument including the harp. Pupils love to perform – during Friday assemblies, in Bryanston chapel, as part of ensembles or in the school rock band and above all everybody, from the nursery up, loves to sing. The renowned Chapel Choir has sung in Sherborne Abbey. Talented musicians will be inspired when Bryanston’s Head of Strings pops over to give a violin masterclass, and a good number of scholarships are awarded here.

Although ICT is integrated in lessons throughout the school, The Weatherly is a dedicated IT block with banks of PCs. Since merging with Bryanston, ICT has been given a big boost, with new hardware including some Macs (more to come), state-of-the-art interactive screens and the use of the larger school’s tech support team. The jury’s still out on whether pupils will their own individual iPads, so watch this space.

English and Art take place in classrooms around a pretty cobbled yard. I met some cheerful pupils just about to start an English class; sparky but not precocious and eager to give their views on the school (they like it!), they clearly had an excellent rapport with the Deputy Head, with whom I was touring the school.

Over in the Art room, every surface – and the ceiling – was covered with inventive art projects, including impressive artworks for an all-school fashion show of ‘wearable sculpture’. As well as painting and drawing, pupils can do printmaking, ceramics (they have their own kiln) and Years 7 & 8 go up to Bryanston for lessons in Resistant Materials in the cutting edge DT workshop.

Don’t be put off by the fact that French and Geography are taught in Portacabins, They may not look much – and they may soon be replaced as part of the revamp – but they are spacious, well-resourced and what really counts – the quality of the teaching that takes place within – is excellent (and that’s not me saying that, it’s their ISI report, see below). With Durdle Door and the rest of the Jurassic coast within half an hour, Geography field trips must be brilliant.

Drama and dance performances take place in the school hall, in Bryanston’s professional level Coade Hall Theatre or outdoor Greek amphitheatre ! Professional theatre groups visit the school, pupils take part in an annual public speaking competition from Year 2 and they can take LAMDA exams.

This is a sporty school with the emphasis on building self esteem, confidence and mental as well as physical agility. All the traditional games – hockey, netball, tennis, cricket, rounders – plus athletics take place on generous playing fields and Astroturf.

All pupils having the chance to compete at some level. Bryanston’s Director of Sport and Head of PE comes down to run a weekly games sessions on Tuesdays. Also on the menu: swimming, shooting, gymnastics, ballet, modern, jazz and tap dancing and fitness plus fencing, rowing, kayaking, bouldering and Outdoor Adventure Training at Bryanston.

Pupils love ponies here, with riding lessons available from pre-prep and more advanced dressage, show jumping, cross-country, mounted games, tetrathlon, polo, showing and hunting for older pupils. Got your own horse? No probs, there’s stabling for 12 to 14 ponies. The whole equestrian offering is being upgraded with new menage, re-fencing of the fields and a new Head of Riding about to take up post. A beloved Knighton House tradition remains: the ‘pony bell’ at 7.30am where pupils take the ponies from the stables to the field.

The grounds are gorgeous, with a play area in an orchard, a little forest school area (which is soon to have a brand new outdoor classroom), Jubilee dipping pond (part of the grounds have been designated a Site of Specific Scientific Interest) and The Spinney and Greenwood wooded areas.

Children run free range (but safely) at break and lunch times, giving them a wonderful sense of freedom and adventure.

LITTLIES

Over in The Orchard pre-prep, the emphasis is all about hands-on discovery, collaboration and play – lots of it – much of outdoors in the orchard and beyond. There’s a genuine family feel here, with parents invited in for sessions and older pupils befriending the younger.

Classes – named after fruits – are small; ‘thinking tubs’ enable younger children to be involved in planning topics which teachers develop into structured activities; all are encouraged to understand and manage their own boundaries and manage risk.

Curriculum is divided into three key areas (Communication and Language, Physical Development and Personal, Social and Emotional Development) and four further areas (Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts and Design). There are specialist lessons in French, ICT, Music, Art and PE.

ACADEMICS

Non-selective, they ask for a confidential report from any previous school and pupils are assessed to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. Classes, between 6 and 15 pupils, are mixed ability apart from Maths which is cleverly timetabled so that all pupils can be put into sub groups to learn at the right level. All pupils learn French and from Year 6, there’s the option to study Latin.

The school has developed its own innovative curriculum known as KED (Knowledge, Enlightenment and Discovery). Underlying KED is the idea that the way you learn – your learning disposition – is as important as what you learn, so they have devised core dispositions for each year group. For example, Observation and Imagination in Nursery; Self-knowledge and Evaluation in Year 8. Whilst the curriculum is still knowledge-based, KED allows pupils to develop the skills they need to access and develop that knowledge and review their own progress. KED is constantly being refined.

The school no longer offers the Common Entrance exam but instead offers pre-testing in Year 7 (English, Maths and a Reasoning paper plus an interview with the Head) to gain entry to top independent schools, including Bryanston and Sherborne School for Girls.

PASTORAL CARE

Mental wellbeing is seen as central to learning and to forming good relationships with others. To that end, not only is every pupil in a tutor group with the tutor as first port of call for Years 6, 7 & 8 but there is a one-to-one tutoring system whereby pupils have a tutorial session each week with a tutor that stays with them throughout their school career. An Independent Listener is also available at all times [on the phone?] and comes into the school twice a term.

BOARDING

Every kind of boarding option is available from Year 3: full, weekly (home at weekends), flexi (number of set nights a week) and occasional (invitation weekends for specific year groups and emergency). I had a peep into several boarding dorms, each spacious enough for six to eight bunk beds without seeming crowded, some interlocking, and with some family-feel common rooms.

The boarding facilities are currently being reconfigured and updated because boys are now part of the school community, with a new boarding house housemaster/housemistress and others arriving soon.

THE HEAD

With a background that includes posts at Bryanston (House Master and Classics teacher), Headmaster of Abberley Hall in Worcestershire when they merged with Malvern College, and classics teacher at the Girls Day School Trust (GDST) Shrewsbury, the very affable Will Lockett is the perfect person to be at the helm at this time in the school’s history. Bryanston insider intel? Tick. Merger experience? Tick. Girls’ school knowhow? Tick. On his to do list: a curriculum review including STEM, languages, the creative arts, sport and outdoor education; developing the innovation hub and a breakout/soft sit zone with bean bags; revamping the library; overseeing new buildings (those Portacabins), language facilities; investing in new ICT; developing the enrichment programme *pause for breath*; he’ll also be overseeing the changes brought about by boys coming into the school, for example the introduction of mixed sports teams. Will seems to be relishing the prospect and seems so capable, you have full confidence he’ll do a brilliant job.

He reiterates that all things that make the school so special – understanding how each child learns by giving them the time, nurturing them and inspiring them, to find their passion for a love of learning; the school’s warm family feel and culture, rooted in the countryside – all of that will remain.

QUIRKS

The PEP personal enrichment programme is divided into three main areas: Academic, Movement/Sport and Arts/Craft and includes intriguing topics like plogging, spy skills and Boisson et Bavardage alongside stop animation, polo and interior design.

Pupils wear the distinctive Knighton House uniform of super practical bright red dungarees – for now. With the new merger, the uniform may evolve into skirts and trousers but hopefully the dungarees will live on for outdoor adventures.

An underground chapel makes a cosy den for boarders.

There are beloved, well-behaved pooches about the school.

WRAP AROUND CARE

Breakfast Club; Club and Tea for the Pre-prep (until 5.30pm for the Pre-prep and until the end of Prep at 7.15pm for the Prep).

ISI REPORTS

In the latest report from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), equivalent to Ofsted in the state sector, pupils’ personal development, academic and other achievements was graded ‘excellent’. See the latest reports here.

MOBILE PHONE POLICY

No mobile phones in school but boarders have designated phone time out of school hours.

TRANSPORT

Buses bring pupils in from Blandford Forum, Dorchester and, as from summer 2022, Bournemouth.

FEES

2022/23 fees per term unless specified otherwise. Pre-prep: Nursery £43.50 per day (mornings, afternoon and midday sessions also available), £2,395.00 (full time); Reception, Years 1 & 2 £2,781. Prep, from £3,862.50 (day)/£5,975 (boarding) in Year 3 to £5,098.50 (day)/£7,828 (boarding) in Year 8. Additional boarding: from £39 per night to 3 nights a week £1,174.

WORD ON THE GROUND

What comes across loud and clear is that this is a happy school, with pastoral care that parents say goes above and beyond. Parents describe the school as friendly, creative, nurturing, unpretentious. They like the fact that it’s very child-led, with small classes where different learning styles are catered for and children are allowed to be individuals. Unsurprisingly, they really appreciate the outdoor space – the idyllic surroundings and woodland mean that the children can roam safely and play outside – giving them a huge sense of freedom. The relaxed uniform also comes in for praise.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: You get all the benefits of a small rural prep school – nurturing family feel, highly individualised attention, inspiring a love of learning in an idyllic countryside environment – alongside the advantages of being part of the impressive Bryanston family, with access to their superb additional facilities and opportunities. If you’re thinking forward to Bryanston as a Senior School, it will be a smooth transition. Pony loving children will love it here.

Not for: If you’ve got a super sporty boy who lives for rugger, the school might not suit at the moment.

Don’t take our word for it: See for yourself at one of their open events. 2022 Open Morning: Fri 6 May, from 9.30am to 12.30pm. Prospective pupils can attend taster days. Contact the admissions department on 01258 484633 or email admissions-bkh@bryanstonkh.co.uk

Bryanston Knighton House, Durweston, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0PY. bryanston.co.uk/bryanstonkh

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