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Dauntsey’s

Looking for a country boarding school? Dauntsey's is an unpretentious all-rounder with a family atmosphere and adventure on the curriculum.

WHAT? WHERE?

Dauntsey’s School is a co-ed day and boarding school for ages 11-18, in the village of West Lavington, South of Devizes. The school was founded in 1542 and moved to its current site in 1895, occupying 150 acres of land at the main school campus, with 865 pupils enjoying stunning views of Salisbury Plain. The school has the huge benefit of a vast rural setting and large open spaces both on the main Campus and at the Lower School Boarding House, The Manor.

Most pupils come from within an hour’s commute of the school (both day and boarders, with bus routes running as far as Swindon, Hungerford, Andover, Bath and Trowbridge), as well as as London, Yorkshire and Scotland. International pupils (around 7%) come from all over the world, with the current intake including students from Hong Kong, Spain and Vietnam. Since covid there is much interest from Londoners heading West.

The school has a strong family feel, is down to earth and unpretentious, with children coming equally from local prep schools and state primary schools.

Their homely intentions are set from the off with the reception area’s roaring open fire, comfy sofas and welcoming staff.

FACITLITES

A handsome Victorian main building greets you, and is backed up by extensive and varied modern additions, including some red brick and some very attractive eco-style wood-clad structures.

The sports facilities are seriously impressive. Sport is important here, with all teams well supported and girls’ sport as strong and as valued as boys’. Rugby, hockey, cricket and football are biggies, but for those with a different sense of adventure there is everything from yoga to rock climbing. We particularly loved the very shiny sports pavilion, completely eco friendly, with 180 degree views across the school’s playing fields. Complementing this is are two large Astros, a sports hall with climbing wall and a new athletics track, specifically designed for disabled athletes and used frequently by teams beyond the school. Options offered to pupils including athletics, cricket, tennis, netball, football, outdoor dance, hockey and touch rugby.

A lovely 25m swimming pool is available for training, fitness and fun. My sixth form guide tells me some choose to take an early morning swim, or make use of the shiny gym.

The Firsts’ rugby and cricket pitch is truly gorgeous, sitting at the heart of the school in front of the impressive main building. Unsurprisingly, the big matches attract a lot of spectators.

The massive Memorial Hall houses weekly chapel services as well as assemblies, concerts, and drama and dance performances. A Summer Festival runs every two years – a mini Edinburgh Fringe with plays, jazz nights, even busking taking place in halls, classrooms and marquees across school grounds, and Rock Fest takes place every year. This year’s annual Christmas musical is Legally Blonde, which, by the look of the preparations underway, is seriously ambitious with a large cast.

The Science Block

The science block strikes a balance between state of the art labs and sweet little greenhouses where gardening and experiments take place. The corridors have the feel of a particularly accessible science museum, with engaging displays and models.

Two drama studios and a large dance studio offer every form of dance from ballet to contemporary. Indeed, dance (as well as other performing arts) is a large part of life at Dauntsey’s and dance lessons are on the curriculum in the lower years, for boys as well as girls. There is even a boys only dance group called GNI (Girls Not Invited) which is very popular. The DT block is pretty smart too – metal work, wood work and laser cutting are state of the art. The art block has a dedicated photographic suite.

Over 400 musical instrument lessons are scheduled each week, on the full range of orchestral instruments, as well as piano, guitar, organ and singing. Pupils taking music tuition are encouraged to join the in-house bands, orchestras, chamber ensembles and choirs.

ACADEMIC

A Levels are strong. 2020 saw 81% awarded A*-B grades, rising to 88% in 2021 (including 30% A* grades). This year’s GCSE’s saw 77% at levels 9-7 (of which 33% were 9’s). Results are better than local grammar schools, which is impressive given the entrance exam is less selective.

. A particular “have-a-go” attitude to science is striking, and seems to lead to even initially reluctant pupils catching the science bug.

SEN are provided for, with over one hundred pupils receiving some form of learning support. There is also an EAL department.

SIXTH FORM

There are 260 in the sixth form, with some joining from other schools. A broad range of 27 subjects are offered.

Around 50% of the sixth form study maths, with science coming a close second (maths and science-based subjects are also the most popular university choices for leavers)

Languages are strong too, particularly German and Spanish, and arts subjects are not only popular but encouraged, with plenty of artists and art historians in the Sixth Form.

No IB here; all pupils take three or four subjects at A Level plus an EPQ or equivalent. Pupils don’t have to choose from strict modules so any subject combination goes.

Most leavers head to university, with most popular destinations this year including Cardiff, Exeter, Manchester, Newcastle, Bath and UCL, with other going to Oxford, studying abroad or to art foundation courses, with 96% of uni applicants gaining places at their first choice.

Sixth formers love visiting Tracy – for her friendly dog and her morning pastries

Sixth formers wear their own clothes and have more freedom than younger years. They even have their own Pub/Common room, The Pig & Whistle, where they like to congregate at break times to eat pizza and play pool, and for occasional evening events, like birthday parties.

THE HEAD

Mark Lascelles, previously lower master and acting head at The King’s School, Canterbury, has been the man at the helm since 2012. Before his tenure at The King’s School, he taught geography at Shrewsbury, as well as coaching football, cricket and fives.

He talks of the three pillars of Dauntsey’s – being adventurous, giving things a go, and being kind. And while pupils are certainly expected to give their best, both in the classroom and across all walks of the school, they are still contented and relaxed. This is most definitely a happy family school – a feeling that runs from pupil to parent to staff.

Lascelles is an approachable head, with an open-door policy. On the day of our visit he was challenged by a group of fourth-formers wanting to know why there were still plastic bottles in the canteen (he agreed – this was an oversight and would be dealt with). It’s clear he is proud of their principles and tenaciousness.

His plans for the future of the school includes some new staff positions: recruiting their first Head of Sixth Form and Head of Middle School; both will concentrate on pupil experience. Also in the pipeline/to-do list are a Sixth form centre, improved drama facilities, an additional dance studio and even more investment in their adventure programmes.

BOARDING

40% of pupils board at Dauntsey’s (and more would like to – there’s a waiting list) – the structure is full boarding only (no flexi), however the model is relaxed enough that pupils can go home after matches on Saturday afternoon and return Sunday night or even Monday morning. There is Saturday school for all, and the rest of the weekend is pretty busy too, with an average of two-thirds of all boarders staying at school to enjoy a varied Saturday night programme and frequent Sunday excursions – think ice-skating or trampolining. Many pupils start as day students, drifting into boarding further up the school. The House system is the cornerstone of life at Dauntsey’s and, whether children are boarders or day pupils, they are mentored, tutored and cared for by the house staff.

A special mention must go to The Manor, the lower school (Year 7-9) co-ed boarding house. A truly stunning building on an even more stunning 65-acre site a rural ten minute walk from school, it has its own golf course, sports pitches and woodlands. Lovingly (and very prettily) decorated for each season, it is homely and fun – the perfect introduction to boarding life. In fact, the arrangement of a lower school boarding house makes for a very easy transition from prep school as it is very much a family setting, with seven members of staff on site and only pupils from years 7 to 9 living there.

Boarding for years 10-13 is in single-sex houses on the main school site, with each house having their own, very homely, sitting room and kitchen, where older pupils can make their own snacks. Adjacent outside seating areas provide lovely spots for al fresco prep or socialising.

WRAP-AROUND CARE

Although of course you can drop your kids off if you’re local, most catch one of the many school buses. They’re in for 8.25am registration, so buses will pick up around 7.30 for many. If required, day pupils could join the 7.45am boarder’s breakfast. The day ends at 4pm, followed by tea and prep / club time, with transport leaving at 5.30pm.

WHAT ELSE?

Believe it or not, Dauntsey’s has its own tall ship, the Jolie Brise, based on the south coast. This 70ft, 106-year old pilot cutter is owned and operated by the school, and sailed by Dauntsey’s pupils throughout the year. Everyone gets a go, spending 24 hours on board ship during Year 10. If pupils catch the bug, a place on the sailing team beckons, or sailing expeditions to Norway or Iceland. The school even has a full-time Head of Sailing.

Adventure Education

Yet adventures on the high seas are only part of the jaunts offered at Dauntsey’s. Sam Moore is the school’s Head of Adventure, encouraging and inspiring adventure education throughout the school. Pupils take part in challenges and expeditions far and wide across the globe, and every year sixteen Lower Sixth-formers tackle the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, 127 miles from end to end in four stages, camping at night.

Each year group takes part in its own adventure programme (there are with numerous options to try new things, from kayaking to mountain climbing, outdoor cookery and night hiking to life saving. It is all about building confidence, starting with Moonrakers in Year 9 when students work through a series of adventures including sub aqua and orienteering, culminating in a 6-day camp in North Wales where they are let loose to put their outward bound skills to the test. Adventure Education at Dauntsey’s is entirely authentic: pupils camp in mountain huts, cross rivers, build rafts with barrels and planks to escape sandbars – all safe of course, but students are taught to be aware of consequences (like the tide coming in!). Older pupils choose from accessible adventures that need no experience to high adventures that require skills and training, achieving serious results at the end.

A group of Second Form pupils spent time in the North of Sweden on an ‘Arctic Adventure’ of a lifetime, tackling challenges including an alpine luge competition, ice fishing, cross country ski-ing, igloo building, snow shoeing, building campfires and husky sledding.

It doesn’t have to be the big stuff  – adventure at Dauntsey’s is about small scale challenges too. The school expects pupils to take part, try new things and ‘have a go’, even if it is merely standing up on stage in front of their peers. The atmosphere is such that pupils feel supported, even if they fail. Nobody laughs. The whole adventure programme is consciously non-competitive. The aim, apart from fun and fitness, is to teach kids to be organised, flexible, collaborative and not risk-averse.

Clubs are big here and there is a myriad to choose from, including model railway, archery and Lego. Local catering company Vaughan’s Kitchen run cookery courses in Years 10 and 11, as well as a professional-standard course in the Sixth Form.

A strong, student led eco movement Big Green Thing (BGT) consistently works on reducing the school’s carbon footprint.

PASTORAL CARE

Pupils have a good choice if they need an ear: first off could be their older student mentors: student-run counselling body The Listening Service has a whopping 40 trained student members who are available at any time for a chat. Other ports of call are their tutor and Housemistress. There are also two full time counsellors in the well-being centre, together with a quiet space for a timely hot chocolate.

QURIKS

You had me at their own Tall Ship.

If that’s not enough, they’ve got a brand new apiary for bee keeping enthusiasts.

ISI REPORTS

Dauntsey’s nailed an ‘Excellent’ rating by the ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) in 2018; The school was awarded the rating in all aspects of the report which assessed by the quality of education and other achievements and the pupil’s personal development. Read the reports here.

WORD ON THE STREET

The school engenders great loyalty from past and present pupils and families. Try bringing it up and I bet you’ll be met with a loving sigh of “Ahhh Dauntsey’s!” .

FEES

Day pupils £6,765 per term, Boarding pupils £11,200 per term, International boarding pupils £12,930 per term. A 10% discount on boarding fees will apply for second and subsequent pupils from the same family attending Dauntsey’s together.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

In our book, Dauntsey’s is an unpretentious, exciting, go-getting school with a truly magical feel – a school very much going places.

A lively, engaged school, with multi-million pound facilities, strong academics and an excellent reputation in the area. A friendly, happy school with confident, grounded, well-balanced kids. This feels like a low key boarding school, or a day school with incredible boarding facilities. Park the bling at the door and you’ll be quite at home.

GOOD FOR: Pretty much everyone. Dauntsey’s can support the brightest and yet, being the size they are, will catch those who might fall between the cracks elsewhere. Adventure education like nowhere else, so future Bear Grylls-types are sure to thrive. Academic results are consistently strong and the atmosphere is family at its best.

PROBABLY NOT FOR: Pupils who don’t like trying their hand at lots of different things. You’ve got to get stuck in here!

Open day: Put the next one in your diary now: May 7 2022, as they get booked up.

Dauntsey’s School, High Street, West Lavington, Devizes SN10 4HE, Tel: 01380 814500dauntseys.org

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