Best Independent Schools in Devon & Dorset

Are you moving to Devon or Dorset with your family or is it time to start the search for a school in the South West? rounds up some of the leading independent prep and senior schools in this area for students of all abilities.
Best Independent Schools in Devon & Dorset
By Carli Allan
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To help you with your search for a school in Devon and Dorset, WhichSchoolAdvisor rounds up some of the best independent schools in this part of the South West – listed alphabetically – which offer a variety of academic, sporting and creative achievements, exam results, boarding, facilities and pastoral care.

Do you think your school should be added to our list of top independent schools in Devon and Dorset? If so, contact us at [email protected].


Offering both boarding and day options Blundell's is a great option for kids that love the great outdoors.

Blundell's is a country school with a stunning location, set within 100 acres in the Devon hills, and offers many advantages of a rural education. It’s well-located for outdoor activities such as camping, sailing and hiking  – and there’s plenty of fresh air and greenery to promote positive wellbeing.

Blundell’s is a senior day and boarding school for 615 students aged 11-18 years; the majority of students are either full of flexi boarders and there are around 230 day students. It has a Pre-Prep and Prep school (3–11 years) with around 250 students) on an adjoining site and the two schools share some facilities including swimming pool, Astro-turf pitches and theatre. 

Click here to read our review of Blundell's.


A respected, "top Dorset school" for as long as any of the Which Media team can remember. Good international representation, and a solid sports offering. A great country school. 

Located in Dorset, Bryanston is a day and boarding school for 3 to 18 year-olds that is proud to brand itself as “different” to other independent schools and encourages students to be independent, self-disciplined learners in a very supportive, encouraging environment.

Bryanston is an active, full boarding school, and there are around 600 boarders here coming from across UK and from China, Hong Kong and Germany. The school offers A Levels, the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP), and the IB Career-Related Programme (IBCP) with vocational courses in Business or Sport with Sport Coaching. The majority (80%) take A Levels, and there’s no particular type of student here with both academic and creative subjects being popular.

Click here to read our review of Bryanston and here for Bryanston Prep.

Canford School

Prestigious, and delivers the goods - academically, on the sports field - and in arts and drama departments too. 

Located in Wimborne, Dorset, Canford School offers students from Year 9-13 a well-rounded British education that sees many leaving with top grades at GCSE and A Level. This popular co-ed is run as a seven-day-a-week boarding school, although around 30% of the school's cohort are day students. It is praised by parents for its warm, unpretentious atmosphere and excellent pastoral care, as well as a varied programme of co-curricular activities.

Described by Headteacher Ben Vessey as having “a multi-dimensional nature”, a Canford education challenges the very academic but also supports those whose talents lie elsewhere. It’s an innovative school with plenty of cross-curricular projects. It is heavily sports and arts-oriented. It also combines a busy 24/7 boarding experience with a flexible exeat system that means students can return home for several Saturday nights every term (although around 70% of boarders choose to stay).

Click here to read our review of Canford School.

Clayesmore School

Situated in the most magical part of Dorset, just the drive to Claysemore is a wonderful experience. Mind the very steep gradients as you come into the town - especially in winter. A very outdoorsy school that suits all-rounders.

Based in Blandford Forum, North Dorset, Clayesmore is a rural day and boarding school with a Prep, Senior and Sixth Form. It offers a very wide choice of both A Levels and BTECS, and leavers here are just as likely to study less traditional courses such as textiles, global sustainability and real estate as they are engineering, medicine and mathematics.

It’s a school with plenty of wide-open space, which is used extensively to offer an holistic education that is delivered in the fresh air as much as in the classroom. There’s a huge outdoor classroom by the lake that is used increasingly for forest school, bushcraft, sport and outdoor lessons; break times have recently been extended to allow time for more outdoor play, and outdoor education is part of the curriculum more than ever.

Click here to read our review of Clayesmore School.

Clifton College

Hugely impressive looking buildings, and a cricket pitch front and centre! 

Clifton College is a co-ed boarding and day school offering a modern, forward-thinking education that encourages students to “aim high and stay grounded”. It has a reputation for delivering high academic achievers, sporting excellence and a unique Jewish programme.

There's plenty to attract parents to the school – its choice of academic and vocational pathways with huge range of A Levels, excellent sports offering, and unique Jewish programme. Whether joining as a day or boarding student, families can expect their child to quickly become part of the inclusive, welcoming and friendly community here. Clifton College offers the facilities, support, expertise and subject choices to bring out the potential in children, whether sporty, academic or arty.

Click here to read our review of Clifton College.

Exeter Cathedral School

As its name would suggest, Exeter Cathedral School is hugely well known for music, but hits all the right notes academically too.

With choir singing in its DNA, Exeter Cathedral School is most well-known for its music. However, the city co-ed prep school also offers an all-round education that prepares students for a variety of pathways at senior school.

Located in the South West city of Exeter, this prep school for Nursery through to Year 8 is one of around 40 cathedral schools in the UK. It's a small prep with around 115 girls and 145 boys, mainly coming from the local area; the school has a small boarding community with around 25% of boarders being choristers. It follows, but is not restricted by, the National Curriculum of England and works towards preparing students for the Common Entrance exams at 13+. At 13, its students move to a variety of senior schools, some grammar but most in the independent sector. 

Click here to read our review of Exeter Cathedral School.


Millfield: One of the best sports schools in the country. 

Millfield School is synonymous with sport and is a top contender for educating future Olympians, whether you see your child competing in swimming, athletics, netball or rugby. There are not many that can compete with this co-ed independent day and boarding school for sport.

While Millfield may be one of the UK’s sportiest schools, it is also a place for academic and creative talents to shine and flourish. This selective school has consistently high GCSE and A Level results, and a rising number of students taking vocational qualifications including BTECs. With a student body of 1,280 students in the senior school and 440 in the prep school, Millfield has two campuses; students board from Year 3 upwards, and there are 19 boarding houses.

Click here to read our review of Millfield.

Mount Kelly

A day and boarding school which offers top notch sports programmes and facilities. On the border of Dartmoor, there can be few schools in a better location to offer their students the great outdoors to explore.

This all-through, co-ed West Devon school has one of the UK’s strongest student swim programmes, an enviable reputation for its outdoor education programme, and a track record of helping students of all abilities to thrive and achieve high results. Located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park between Exeter and Plymouth, Mount Kelly is a day and boarding school for girls and boys aged between 3 and 18 years.

With just over 600 students, it is smaller than many public all-through schools, which helps to create a close-knit community on campus; this, coupled with small class sizes, means that students can expect a high degree of personalised learning. Far from having the limitations of a small school though, Mount Kelly has a sweeping campus with some seriously impressive sporting and outdoor facilities. 

Click here to read our review of Mount Kelly.

Plymouth College

Another great sports school, Plymouth will clearly appeal to those students and parents that want a (small) city based option.

Located in the maritime city of Plymouth, this independent day and boarding school for boys and girls has a reputation for sporting brilliance. Thanks to several high performance training programmes and some excellent facilities, this all-through school produces top athletes including swimmers, fencers and divers.

Popular with children from across South East Cornwall and South West Devon, Plymouth College is a non-selective school that offers a broad curriculum and co-curriculum. It’s a small all-through school for three to 18 year-olds with around 670 students (including 140 in the Sixth Form), and there’s a sizeable international community of students here, coming from over 30 countries. It’s certainly small enough to be able to provide a caring yet disciplined learning environment.

Click here to read our review of Plymouth College.

Port Regis School

Port Regis is a hugely well known prep school, great for the arts and sports, well known for its facilities and pastoral care. 

Children are thriving at this countryside co-ed prep in Dorset which combines hard work with plenty of fun, and encourages children from two to 13 years to explore the academic, music and the arts, and sport. Port Regis has a stunning campus set within 150 acres in rural Dorset. The school has some outstanding sport and arts facilities that would be the envy of many senior schools and support its ‘have a go’ approach to learning and extra-curricular activities.

The school has an excellent reputation for preparing students for the Common Entrance (and other senior entrance exams), for the high number of scholarships and awards won every year. Students move onto a wide selection of senior schools for Year 9 including Bryanston, Marlborough, Canford, King's Bruton, Sherborne and Clayesmore. 

Click here to read our review of Port Regis School.

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