DORSET House School offers a picture book setting where children can be children whilst being challenged academically.
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs, next to the River Arun, the school enjoys an idyllic location. Running across the lawn in their distinctive blue uniform, pupils are carefree and happy, loving school life and relishing the rural setting. They are allowed to play in the woods, get muddy and make the most of the beautiful countryside that surrounds them.
Alongside this is a rigorous approach to academic achievement. Pupils have a desire to learn and are inspired by dynamic teachers. In 2016, 60 per cent of leavers achieved scholarships and awards.
Asked to sum up a Dorset House pupil Headmaster Matt Thomas simply said “charming”. “To take it further they are very caring, very enthusiastic, get on with things and get stuck in,” he said. “Because we are a small school children are involved in all areas and so they are ready for everything when they move to senior school.”
Letting “children be children” and celebrating them at every stage is crucial to their happiness and development, he explained.
Being small, Dorset House really gets to know all its pupils, their characteristics, strengths and interests, and is able to build on those. The children also all know each other helping create the wonderful family feel that pervades the school.
A 12th century Manor House that was owned by Edward the Confessor’s sister and features in the Domesday Book forms the backdrop to Dorset House. Ancient trees, a beautiful lake and walled garden are all spaces enjoyed by pupils. The neighbouring parish church is integral to school life, pupils have their own special entrance direct from the school.
An outdoor amphitheatre looking out across the river to the Downs beyond with the Manor House and church as the backdrop is a unique and stunning feature, used for prize giving, speech day, school events and productions.
Whilst the beautiful Manor House lies at the heart of Dorset House all teaching takes place in modern, purpose built blocks.
“Letting “children be children” and celebrating them at every stage is crucial to their happiness and development.” Matt Thomas
Pre Prep is home to pupils from reception to year 3. Bright, airy classrooms with stunning views across the neighbouring countryside are spaces designed to inspire and encourage. Forest School, nestled beneath an avenue of ancient trees, is enjoyed by Pre Prep children every week. Boiler suit clad pupils relish their time outdoors and sit around the camp fire enjoying hot chocolate and cooking pancakes.
The neighbouring adventure playground is used by all the children at break times.
Prep School, for years 4 to 8, has subject specific classrooms where learning is brought to life – whilst studying World War II pupils dress as evacuees, have to make their way on foot from Amberley Station to the school where they are greeted by the head of boarding and live as evacuees would have done for a whole week, even down to a special war time menu.
Science lab is a spacious bright space where experiment-led lessons inspire. Pupils are not only excited to learn but also share their newly acquired knowledge.
The Great Barn, which dates back to the time of Henry VIII, acts as the school hall and is used for judo and gym while the smaller Inner Barn is used for assemblies, recitals and house competitions.
Lots of playing fields, astro turf, netball/tennis court and outdoor pool mean Dorset House pupils enjoy plenty of sport all year round. Despite its small size the school is highly competitive and performs well above its expected level. Football, rugby, hockey, cricket, netball and rounders are all played.
Music is another strength. Eighty five per cent of pupils learn an instrument. The orchestra plays the hymn in assembly every week. State of the art technology in music school makes music tech lessons a highlight.
Leadership is a key feature at Dorset House. From year 3 all pupils take part in leadership activities and weekends which are progressively more challenging, culminating in a trek up Mount Snowdon.
These skills manifest themselves elsewhere in the school with older pupils taking care of the younger ones. “The other day three year eight girls came walking across the lawn hand in hand with pupils from reception just because they wanted to, not because they were told,” said Mr Thomas.
Pre-school pupils are also catered for at Dorset House following the opening of Bury Manor Pre-School two years ago. It has become a resounding success and was declared “outstanding” following a recent OFSTED inspection.
Tracey Brooks, who runs the setting, said: “We have taken our ‘pioneering’ two year olds on to their various ‘big’ schools, whether that be Dorset House itself or a number of other local schools. We have nurtured and enabled the children to thrive – physically, academically and emotionally during this exciting time.”
Although independent of Dorset House, the Pre-School shares the Pre-Prep building and a common ethos. There is a very close working relationship between the two.
Dorset House School is home to 141 pupils aged from four to 13 with a 60/40 mix of boys and girls. Prep is all done at school, supervised by staff. Whilst predominantly a day school, from year 5 flexi boarding is available, giving pupils the opportunity to prepare for what may come at senior school.
Boarders sleep in the Manor House. A spiral stone staircase leads to the dormitories, tucked away amongst the ancient beams. Wrought iron bedsteads nestled amongst the eaves gives a really homely feel. Boarders can personalise their own sleeping space.
The library and boarders’ common room with its arched stone windows is a light yet cosy space with comfy sofas where children can relax with a book.
Oscar Wilde once said: “The best way to make children good is to make them happy” – something Dorset House School does with ease.