Sherborne Prep School, Sherborne
Muddy says: Non-pushy yet achieves academically, strong on music and art and with an innovative approach to sport and fitness.
Sherborne Prep School is an independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged between 3 and 13 years sitting in 12 acres of grounds in the beautiful, historic Abbey town of Sherborne in Dorset. It’s a few minutes’ walking distance of the centre of town, with the rolling hills of the Dorset countryside lying just beyond, creating a neat town and country combo.
Originally set up in 1858 by the Rev S. Clapin, a housemaster at Sherborne School, to educate the junior boys, it became independent in 1885. The Prep has always had a close relationship with Sherborne School and Sherborne Girls, sharing some of the senior schools’ facilities; around 50 per cent of the Prep pupils move up to the two schools. In April 2021, the Prep and Sherborne School formally merged, although the Prep will retain its Head, staff and individual character.
There are currently 183 pupils on the roll.
The Acreman building with the Head’s office, assorted classrooms, large dining hall and boarding accommodation lies at the heart of the campus, with the Wessex Wing and Blake building (more classrooms, music, art dept and sports hall), to the left and right.
The large, light-filled Art room is popular, open at break and lunch times and after school – not just for the pupils but also for staff and parents – led by a charismatic Head of Art, exhibited award-winning artist who’s surname, rather aptly, is Velázquez. Pupils exhibit work in school and local art galleries.
Music is another strength, under the guidance of a dynamic Head of Music who sits in a room filled with assorted instruments including timpani and a double bass. Around 150 pupils play at least one musical instrument (all Pre-Prep pupils learn the violin) and join a choir. There are 14 musical ensembles, five choirs; Sherborne Abbey choir is mostly made up of Sherborne Prep boys with voices like angels.
Science and DT are in a separate block. The emphasis in Science is on curiosity and discovery. I visited just before British Science Week, for which an Explorer Dome, a huge, inflatable, interactive dome was due to be installed in the sports hall.
DT is certainly very busy looking; filled with projects, ideas for projects, the high and low tech required to make each project – fabric printers, laser cutters, saws, sanders, smelting – with links to Art and IT, and used by pupils throughout the school.
The ICT suite is packed with PCs and it’s planned that pupils will continue to use devices they’ve been used to during lockdown.
Drama is strong, with weekly drama lessons for all pupils and annual year group productions of quite ambitious shows like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in Year 7. Drama is NEA assessed and some pupils go on to the Senior School with drama scholarships.
The Nursery and Pre-Prep classrooms are set together, slightly apart from the Prep although they share some facilities.
Five acres of sports fields including an Astro turf, pitches, netball and tennis courts.
The 22-acre Forest School, with a dedicated Forest School leader, is a short minibus ride away.
The close proximity and excellent relationship between the Prep and the two Sherborne senior schools allows pupils here to use the senior schools’ swimming pool, astro turf, theatres and new music centre.
Non-selective admission. Hero subjects: Science, Maths, languages (French from the youngest upwards and Latin from Year 6). There’s a 100 per cent success at Common Entrance but most Year 7s already know which senior school they’re going onto, having been pre-tested in Years 6 and 7.
Nearly half the pupils leave with an award or scholarship. Pupils may be identified as having scholarship potential at any stage in their school career; there’s no fixed scholars’ set. Learning support is there if needed. Everyone gets into their first choice senior school, with around 50% to the two senior Sherborne schools and the rest onto the likes of Canford, Marlborough, King’s Bruton, Eton and Winchester.
THE HEAD TEACHER
Natalie Bone joined the school as Head in September 2021 after a spell as Head of the Junior School at Sidcot and prior to that at Millfield, where she was Head of Maths in the Prep and taught Maths in the Senior School. She’s very dynamic – you don’t get to be a professional dressage competitor or have a successful career in finance before entering teaching – without drive and determination but she’s warm, friendly and totally approachable (we could have chatted for hours). With family links to the local area and to Sherborne School (husband Matt is Director of Art), it’s really no surprise that she finds herself here.
She talks about the Prep’s nurturing but buzzy atmosphere (which I sense too) and strong pastoral care as the beating heart of the school. Education is not just about outcomes (though these are darned good here), it’s about equipping children for the future, getting them excited and engaged, being able to deal with failure as well as success, working independently, being able to self assess and track progress – and it mustn’t be boring.
She’ll be developing the PHSE (Personal, Social, Health & Economic) programme and continuing to support girls in STEM and engineering subjects, liaising with Sherborne Girls School. Boarding at the Prep will be becoming more flexible, with sleepover nights and Saturday morning to Sunday evening sessions with activities and trips out. Not only great fun for the kids but rather handy for parents too. The school will also be strengthening links with the local community with enrichment and scholarship classes, firework nights, evening classes and other events.
She’s super excited about the future, especially with the merger with Sherborne School, not only for the impressive facilities to which the Prep will now have access – new Music Centre, chapel, halls, etc – but also for the closer working relationship and opportunities for innovation and sharing good practice.
See the latest reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), equivalent to Ofsted in the state sector, here.
On the surface, much like other Prep schools, with the usual array of sports – tag rugby, hockey, cricket, etc – but the approach to sport, games, health, fitness is innovative.
All pupils are given a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) to assess posture, balance, co-ordination and strength and a personalised programme of simple exercises to help improve them. Just out of interest, FMS was developed in the US with elite athletes and Military/Navy Seals. They were able to access online activities during the lockdown.
It’s not just the sporty kids who get sessions with the top coaches; they arrange the timetable so they all do. After fixtures, they ask ‘Did you play well?’ ‘Did practice help?’ – not just ‘Did you win?’ Having said that, they do seem to win a lot of the time (runners up in national IAPS girls’ hockey, national swimming champs, gold karate medals. The list goes on.)
During lockdown they introduced co-ed sport, with girls and boys playing netball and touch rugby together for the first time. A big success with parents and pupils alike, they’ll be continuing to take this forward, helping to create the debate amongst schools as to whether this should be the provision for sport for all pupils in the future.
Each child is in a form group and the form tutor is the first port of call for pupils. Staff meet every morning to discuss any emerging issues. Communication with parents is strong. They’re encouraging leadership amongst girls. Year 7s mentor Pre-Prep pupils.
There are weekly Personal Development lessons for all Prep pupils and Life Skills lessons for those in the Pre-Prep, with a focus on developing skills for life, leadership and issues like body image and more.
No Saturday morning school but there’s a programme of activities for boarders (and day pupils, too, if they wish) with three one-hour slots for stuff like horse riding, junk modelling, Quidditch, and sports in the afternoon.
Friendly inter-house rivalry between the four Houses (Greeks, Trojans, Romans and Normans), be it in sports, pancake making – conkers – and pupils can earn tokens/house points for kind deeds as well as achievement.
There’s a school Eco council.
Each year, a small number of ‘Gappies’ – gap year students – come and help out in the school, bringing new skills and talent into the school.
Teachers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including the real world, so there’s the CEO of a bank, someone who ran a travel/expedition company, a former lawyer and ex-military personnel; each brings something different and unique to the school.
During the pandemic, the school community has become stronger. Parents and pupils engaged with the school at home through taking up challenges, scavenger hunts and the like. Teachers delivered live lessons to those at home and in school which brought students together and built morale.
It’s a no phones school.
Headed up by Heidi Berry (an accomplished violinist, who also gives music lessons further up the school), the Prep-Prep/Nursery for three years up is self-contained in some long, low buildings with its own playgrounds and with an impressive array of play equipment.
The underlying ethos for the youngest is learning through movement and learning through play. Children follow a cursive script handwriting programme, which develops fine motor skills and is said to help with dyslexia. Numicon and Inspire Maths programmes, concrete-pictorial-abstract approaches which start with blocks and shapes to help pupils understand Maths concepts, are based on successful Singapore methods. Scratch programming, termly topic-based Science, History and Geography, Music, DT and more. French is taught from Nursery up, with dates, weather, class rewards and afternoon snacks all in French.
The school’s thriving boarding community (half of whom are from overseas), with flexi/occasional boarding meeting the needs of current parents (40-50 stay in school each night) are housed in the heart of the school. It’s co-ed, with boys on one floor and girls on another and an open door policy with super friendly house parent Dan and his family living in a flat in between the two.
Once the school day is over, and prep and supper finished, it’s all about down time for the boarders, with evening activities – Hama beads, mindfulness, snooker – and chilling out in a lovely large common room. Lots of activities in the evenings and trips out over the weekend – trips out, paintballing, trampolining, bake offs and the like in – with non-boarders welcome to join in.
Future astronauts take note: Sherborne Prep is a leader in Space Education.
They play the old public school game of Fives (a bit like squash but using the hands instead of racquets).
You parents can study Art and Greek if the urge takes you and come along to a Saturday morning lecture programme (‘Life in 2050′, ’10 cognitive biases you should know’, anyone?).
WRAP AROUND CARE
Lots of clubs at lunch time and after school, including Dungeons & Dragons, shooting, mindfulness, fencing, horse riding (at a local riding school), the electric car club (they make one and race it) as well as sport, music and academic.
2021/22 fees per term: Nursery, full time £3,020 (they accept Govt child care vouchers); Pre-Prep, full day £3, 020; Prep Year 3 £4,475; Years 4–8 £5,710; Prep full and weekly boarders Years 3–6 £8,250; over 11 on 1 Sept £8,600. Bursaries and academic, music, sport, art, design technology, and all-rounder scholarships available for entry Years 3–7.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents describe the school as bustling and a place where every child (and their family) is known by all members of staff, not just by their individual teachers, and given a chance to shine. It’s not a pressurised environment, choosing instead to boost pupils’ confidence while subtly pushing them out of their comfort zones. Staff are said to be kind, caring and always available to discuss children’s progress and overall wellbeing.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for a small, happy school where even the most under-confident children can be brought out of their shell. It’s non-pushy yet achieves academically, is strong on music and art and has an innovative approach to sport, fitness and well being for all pupils, not just the sporty types. Parents who want to feel involved with their kids’ education.
Not for: Hot housers.
Want to know more? Open days in 2022: Thurs 27 Jan. Get in touch if you’d like to arrange a bespoke visit, attend one of their open events or arrange a call with the head. Email email@example.com or call 01935 810911.
Sherborne Preparatory School, Acreman Street, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 3NY. Tel 01935 812097. sherborneprep.org