Muddy says: A gorgeous setting and ambitious pupils in this lovely rural prep school puts Dumpton right at the top of my must-see list.
Dumpton School is a co-ed prep (2-13 years) close to Wimborne, in a lovely, sleepy area of Dorset. The school was founded as a boys’ boarding school at Dumpton Park in Kent in 1903, and evacuated to Cranborne Chase to avoid bombing raids at the outset of WWII. It moved to its present site at Deans Grove House in 1988, soon adding girls and shedding boarding. Set in a gorgeous building on a stunning 30-acre site, it is home to 100 kids in the Pre Prep and Nursery and another 230 in the Prep. Children come from within a 20-mile radius, with six minibuses bringing in 50% of pupils from Wimborne, Poole, Bournemouth and Blandford Forum.
Notable Old Dumptonians include Duncan James of Blue fame and Ore Oduba, CBBC TV presenter and 2016 winner of Strictly Come Dancing!
Not lacking! There’s a new swimming pool (with a cover that opens up on hot summer days), immaculately groomed Firsts and Seconds cricket pitches, four tennis courts, several playgrounds and a huge, huge astro (the biggest I’ve seen at a Prep School). A brand new and very shiny Sports Hall is rising as we speak, opening in September 2019, and a field just beyond that has been levelled, smoothed and beautifully manicured to allow for even more cricket, rounders and other games. Indeed, Dumpton’s loveliest facility is its 30 acres of grounds, including wooded areas where kids roam around and make dens and climb trees (within reason – don’t worry, they’re stopped before they reach the top!). Bluebell woods, ponds with pontoons, fruit orchards, a campsite with pizza oven – it’s all here. Plus, there’s an adventure playground especially for the littlest ones, with tunnels, swings and sand pits galore.
A special mention must go to the allotments, which have received no less than three Green Flag awards. Dozens of pupils rush here in their lunch break to garden, and there is even a polytunnel, purchased by one forward-thinking student on eBay, plus the resident ducks.
2016 welcomed a new Recital Room with wall-to-wall glass doors that open out onto a courtyard, perfect for summer concerts. Back inside the music department are 12 (12!) brand new pianos including two baby grands, an impressive ukelele collection, and plenty of rooms where orchestras, choirs and bands rehearse and a myriad of peripatetic teachers take over 200 lessons each week. There is no dedicated drama space, with the Main Hall doubling up for plays, shows and assemblies.
Art rooms are quirky and atmospheric, two purpose built kitchens cater for food tech, and there is a covered outdoor classroom.
It’s a non-selective cohort here, with informal taster day assessments. Class sizes are average for an independent prep – no more than 20 in Year 3 upwards, 15-18 in Pre-Prep. Maths, French and Latin are set in upper years, with pupils supported at both ends of the spectrum for learning support or talented and gifted programmes. Dumpton offers Common Entrance across all subjects and will continue to do so, in the words of the Head, ‘until the senior schools ask us for something different’! To complement this, at least one hour each of art, design, music and ICT are built into the curriculum each week.
In 2019, 30 scholarships were awarded (!), with the majority of pupils heading to local schools (day and boarding) Canford, Bryanston, Millfield, Clayesmore and Talbot Heath, with one or two plumping for Charterhouse or Sherborne.
Andrew Browning is the man at the helm, with 22 years at Canford under his belt (as House Master and then Registrar) before joining Dumpton 14 years ago. His captaincy of this fine ship, however, is coming to an end this July as he returns to his first love of teaching chemistry (he won the oh-so-prestigious National Salters’ Institute Award for Chemistry in the ’90s). A hands-on head, he teaches one full day a week (unusual, in my experience) as well as coaching sport.
Dumpton has grown in both facilities and pupil numbers under his tenure, and it is clear that he has never taken anything for granted, nor stopped striving – with no less than 318 scholarships awarded and significant building development over the years it has been an impressive journey. But it is the children’s sense of personal achievement that he is most proud of, that top scholars and hard workers are encouraged to reach their potential, that the school is fully inclusive in the classroom and on the sports field. What gives him the biggest boost is watching kids (and the staff) doing things they didn’t think they could do. Plus, he has made a major commitment to reducing plastic waste in school, with compost bins in the staff room and general green-ness all round. All in all, he’s a pretty inspiring man.
Oh, and his wife houses her model train set in his office and the Headmaster’s study hosts a model railway club there. Can’t beat that.
Fear not, for incoming Head Christian Saenger, currently Deputy Head Academic at York House School in Hertfordshire is impressive too. More about him in September when he arrives, but in the meantime a nod goes to his work at York House, where he has introduced a Growth Mindset initiative for pupils and where his forward thinking approach to staff development received recognition from IAPS and has even been shared as best practice across the Prep School sector. No doubt he will take Dumpton from strength to strength.
Little people start here at age 2, and seem happy and settled. The Pre-Prep area is separate to the main school, and has the usual array of bright classrooms laden with sandpits, paints and plastic tubs. There’s a large sheltered outdoor area and playground.
This is truly a family-oriented, happy school, where parents speak to the head on a first name basis and pupils feel comfortable and grounded. The USP of the school is that everyone tries everything – and they mean it! Everyone plays on a school team, every child is encouraged to sing in the choir or play in the orchestra. The only rule (well, I’m sure there are more, but this is the main one) is to treat others as you expect to be treated (Be Kind); the school motto is You Can If You Think You Can (Aim High). For the right child, this school is heaven.
A big quirk – this is a boarding school without the beds! By that, I mean that children are in school 8am to 6pm, and everything (prep, activities, sport) takes place at school; they go home to sleep and for some much-needed down time. All children stay at school until 6pm unless they’ve a good reason not to – they’ll get their prep done, take part in sports, and the Dumpton Extra Curricular Award which includes learning self defence, taking Cycling Proficiency tests and undertaking charity work and fundraising – their own version of cubs and brownies. Friday afternoons is for hobbies, Wednesdays is for matches. There is no Saturday school or regular matches on Saturdays.
Outdoor learning is taken seriously. Every school has forest school now but here it is different, with a working outdoor classroom, grounds that are used to their full potential, ducks, bees and occasionally even lambs on site.
And then there is the environmental aspect – Dumpton recently beat the rest of the South West to win an Environmental Youth Award in celebration of all of their environmental work and especially their allotments.
Keeping pace with other local day prep schools I’d say. £5,494 for Years 3 to 8; £3,066 for Reception – Year 2. Nursery is £7 per hour. Unusually, there is a strong sibling discount.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents, unsurprisingly, love the school! Their loyalty is palpable and they love the way their children have a wonderful start to school life, making forever friends in this supportive environment. Nearly all applications to the school come from word of mouth.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for an all-round education; those who want an outdoorsy, idyllic country setting; anyone who needs flexible childcare. Perfect for children who like to try their hand at different things and those who want to muck in.
Not for: Those looking for a strongly selective school, prefer a town setting or want boarding.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Call them for a look around, or book in for their Autumn Open Morning on Friday 4th October, 9.30am-12noon, for Nursery to Year 8 entry.