Muddy says: An academically outstanding full boarding school for boys aged 13-18, located uniquely throughout the lovely market town of Sherborne.
A full-boarding school for boys aged 13-18, nestled in the gorgeous town of Sherborne in north-west Dorset, and oozing with history and tradition. The oldest school in Britain, Sherborne School was founded in 1550. The main school building was a monastery in a previous life, and hushed monastic tones echo throughout the cloisters, quads and stained glass windows galore. Saying that, the school is full of life, with a real sense of community both between the boys themselves and the town they live in. The school’s origins date back to the 8th century, when a tradition of education in Sherborne was begun by St Aldhelm (apparently Alfred the Great was one of the school’s earliest pupils!). After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, King Edward VI re-founded the school in 1550 as King Edward’s School, a free grammar school for local boys.
A trickle of local day boys join the boarders, although they don’t get to skip off at 5pm – it’s all hands on deck with Hall (that’s homework, to you and me) and co-curricular activities until well into the evening, plus Saturday school and matches – and the school has a close, and very important, ‘separate yet together’ partnership with Sherborne Girls, with whom it shares many co-curricular, academic and social activities.
Despite its long and proud academic tradition, the school is modern and forward thinking, with strong links to the local community. Boys come from the West Country, South East, London and the Home Counties, with a sprinkling from the rest of the UK and overseas.
Old Shirburnians include Alan Turing, Cecil Day-Lewis, Hugh Bonneville, Jeremy Irons, Sir Richard Eyre and Chris Martin.
On the main school site the stunning Big School Room, steeped in tradition, holds assemblies and other school events, while The Courts are home to the academic subjects including maths and history, as well as the Headmaster’s Block. The courtyard itself is a place for whole-school events, CCF parades and Remembrance Services. Reminiscent of an Oxford College, the main site is full of wonderful spaces, picture-perfect houses and immaculate green squares, all nestling cosily in the shadow of the Abbey. Boarding houses, the Sports Centre, theatre and dining rooms are spread out around the town, with views of the schools’ playing fields and rolling hills beyond. I particularly loved the Old School Room, where original desks scrawled with centuries-old graffiti (and how neat their scribblings were then) are mounted on the walls.
The impressive chapel is also on site and boys attend twice a week, as well as going to services in the Abbey itself. Sherborne is an Anglican school and the chaplaincy is very much part of that, although religion is not mandatory! In fact, Chapel is seen by many as an important time to just reflect and be still, and as a building it also has a role as concert hall and is home to the annual Battle of the Organs competition.
A mention must go to the library, with its stained glass windows and arced ceiling – if aesthetics are high on your list when choosing a school, this one’s a looker.
As a traditional boys’ boarding school, the emphasis on sport at Sherborne is unsurprisingly huge, with boys holding a clutch of impressive national gongs. Numerous sports fields on the outskirts of town play host to some serious rugby during the Michaelmas term, followed by hockey, football and cricket. Elite performers are supported and encouraged (the school has a strong elite pathways programme), but whether boys are playing on the national stage or a member of the Fifths, everyone has opportunities to play each week, with the school encouraging a life-long love of the game(s). In fact, while Sherborne’s 20+ rugby teams compete regularly on one of the toughest school boy circuits in the country, they are also one of the only schools able to boast a Sixth XV.
A huge sports centre offers a pool, gym, conditioning rooms, squash courts and tennis courts and, a little farther afield, fly fishing is popular and the sailing team are gathering steam, beating many more traditional sailing schools at their own game. Anyone ask for polo? Yep, it’s here. This fast and furious sport offers a rare opportunity for Third Form and Sixth Formers to play on the same side – and they frequently do. All handicaps are welcome and, should you not have your own steed, pony hire is available from the polo club.
The purpose built Powell Theatre seats 300 and is centre stage for House Plays and events. Music is also a biggie here and it is ‘cool’ to take part in the many jazz bands, choirs, ensembles, orchestras and quartets on offer. The Music School has its own seriously impressive concert hall — the Tindall Recital Hall — a Mac suite, recording facilities and practise rooms, and Director of Music James Henderson clearly inspires and excites the boys to get involved – so much so that one Shirburnian splits his free time between playing for Bath Rugby, playing bassoon in the Symphony Orchestra, in a competitively successful wind quintet and singing in the enormous School Choir in the Abbey. The brand new Sherborne Choral Course, which involved tutoring from church music legends John Rutter and Bob Chilcott, attracted singers from all over the world and is set to be a major feature of the pre-Oxbridge choral scene in the UK.
The list of co-curricular activities is endless, including clubs as diverse as Model United Nations, Classics Society, Chemistry Club, Code Breaking, Roc Soc, Inter-House Water Polo, Life Drawing, Sherborne School Radio, and Yoga!
Sherborne is a selective school, and while they welcome a slightly broader range of abilities than some of their competitors, their results speak for themselves. Boys take a staggering 9-13 GCSEs (some IGSCEs are on offer) and regularly embark on 3 or 4 A-Levels, with the option of taking a stand-alone AS qualification from a diverse ‘enrichment’ programme. Three BTECs are on offer – Enterprise & Entrepreneurship, Sport, and Creative Digital Media – and although A-Levels remain the primary focus, the school is not in the business of hot house-ing the boys. Study is pretty much tailor-made to each boy’s interests and needs – I’d say the school does a fantastic job with the brightest boys while also supporting less academic souls – there are a myriad of opportunities to cultivate and explore pupils’ interests here.
Academic results are most definitely on the up, with more than half of their A levels graded A* and A in 2019 and against the national trend of a declining pass rate, Sherborne’s rose! GCSE’s are also unsurprisingly strong with 2019 seeing an unrivalled number of boys achieving grade 9s, whilst Sherborne is also in the top 10% of schools nationally for value added.
Boys go on to university, with a majority (115 out of 125 leavers last year) getting into their first choice of institution, and going to Oxbridge or Russell Group universities. Degree apprenticeships are also embraced – this is very much a school that spends a great deal of time investigating the right place for each boy.
The school prides itself on offering a traditional British boarding experience, and while some schools are increasing their number of overseas boarders that is not the case here, with boys attending from a mixture of countries including China, Russia and the States. Boarding houses are located within the main school campus (including the oh so easy-on-the-eye School House) as well as dotted around the town itself. The small number of day boys are allocated a space in a boarding house so there is no segregation between day pupils and boarders.
Weekends are filled with Saturday school followed by sports fixtures, Inter-House football and rugby, socials with Sherborne Girls, trips to Dorset Water Park or paint balling (boys can suggest to their Housemaster where they’d like to go), hanging out at The Hub, a cafe on site where much of the action takes place, as well as The Stick, Sherborne School’s very own social hub where they get to DJ themselves.
I was lucky enough to have a snoop around Lyon House, where big, bright rooms with stunning views over the town sleep the younger boys in dorms of 4 or 5, while older ones get their own space. The Sweat House (a former boxing gym) is a fabulous games room with grand piano, pool table, football table and table tennis, all moved aside for the annual House Christmas dinner or play rehearsals.
The man with the big job is Dr Dominic Luckett, educated at Leicester and Oxford before teaching at Harrow, then moving on to a deputy headship at Worth School in Sussex and after that Head of Mill Hill. He has been in residence here since January 2016 and has certainly made his mark – he is very present in and around the school, taking a three-week rotation with all 4th Form boys so at the very least he knows all of the boys by the time they have been at the school for a year or two.
A warm, welcoming and interested man with a clear love of the school, he impressed me greatly with his immense pride in all of the boys. The size of Sherborne enables him to deliver an individual programme tailored to each pupil, plus he puts huge emphasis on the importance of kindness. He is clearly passionate about the academic ambition of the school as well as the pastoral side and, of course, the myriad of co-curricular opportunities Sherborne provides. He puts a lot of store in the politeness, generosity and supportiveness of his pupils towards others, making the school seem a genuinely friendly and joyful place.
I have always thought of Sherborne as one of Britain’s leading boarding schools but I’m not sure I realised how impressive it is. It offers the best of both worlds – an all-boys education with a properly co-educational lifestyle. And it is not just co-curricular activities that are shared with the girls’ school – certain lessons such as Music Tech and German are combined, and it is usual to see boys and girls mixing socially at weekends, walking around town or grabbing a slice of cake at Oliver’s coffee shop. Joint activities with the girls (including music ensembles, sailing, CCF, debating and radio broadcasting amongst others), some combined lessons plus the myriad of siblings at both schools makes for lots of connectivity between the schools and healthy, organic relationships between pupils.
While the school is definitely traditional it offers a contemporary education, with happy, confident boys believing that ‘learning is cool’. Success is important and it matters that boys do well, but the school very much encourages a strong set of values. In fact, one of the most prestigious accolades is the Bow Award, awarded to the boy who has given the most to the school community.
Traditional quirks include boys walking in silence up the steps of the Chapel to honour the fellow Shirburnians whose names are etched into the wall after giving their lives in the great wars. On the rugby pitch the Gentlemen’s XV belt out the School song, The Carmen, with pride and conviction and every week in Chapel the candles are lit for our Friday Night Eucharist.
Less traditional, well, it’s got to be Tweed Thursday, when all of the Sixth Formers wear tweed!
And, of course, there’s the ‘Hogwarts Express’, a direct train service from Sherborne to London Waterloo, handy for half terms and exeats.
Boarding fees are £12,925 per term, with day boys £10,475 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents agree that Sherborne boys are confident, not cocky, and that the pupil numbers means that not only do the Headmaster and staff know all boys well, but they are truly able to deliver an individually-tailored programme to each boy. They welcome the school’s emphasis on kindness and respect.
Locals comment on how ‘lovely’ the boys are, and that the school is very much part of the local community, with boys carolling at the local old folks’ home.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who are after a school that is traditional yet forward thinking, with high academic ambitions. Those who value kindness and a sense of community. Definitely a must for serious musicians and sportsmen.
Not for: Boys who aren’t mucker in-ers – Sherborne is a full boarding school with a packed schedule of weekend activities. Academics are taken seriously and there are limited BTEC options available.
Dare to disagree? Open Days planned for Sat 3 October, Thurs 12 November and Sat 5 December. Get in touch to book your place here.
Sherborne School, Abbey Road, Sherborne DT9 3LF, tel: 01935 810403, www.sherborne.org