Located in Dorset, Bryanston is a day and boarding school for 11-18 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.
While the school has a more relaxed learning environment than most, it is not laidback when it comes to achievement. Standards are high, students are challenged and pushed, and results are impressive (all the more so for a non-selective school).
There’s no Bryanston ‘type’, instead this a school that wants to grow a community of free-thinking students who can find their own passions. It’s a school for the all-rounder, one that believes “imagination, perspective, and boldness are as applicable in history, science, or maths as in music or art” – and there’s no snobbery about subjects here.
Founded in 1928, the school remains true to its original offering of an open-minded education that it is committed to individuality – and it is proud to brand itself as “different” to other independent schools. It’s a school that breaks with convention (there’s no school uniform, and teacher-student relationships are less formal, although they are not on first-name terms). Bryanston also encourages students to be independent, self-disciplined learners in a very supportive, encouraging environment.
Located in on the outskirts of a pretty Dorset village close to Blandford Forum, the school has a 400-acre estate that any country school would be proud of. Home to around 700 students, Bryanston is predominantly a boarding school with a only around 100 day students coming from the local area. It merged with Knighton House Prep School (now named Bryanston Knighton House) in September 2021, making it an all-through school for three to 18-year-olds.
Richard Jones has just been appointed the Head of the School, having taken on the role of Acting Head since late 2021. He joined the school in 2019, and he was previously teaching at Canford School and St John’s School, Leatherhead.
Commenting on his appointment, Mr Jones said:
“Bryanston is a school unlike any other. The care and attention given to the development of the strengths and personalities of all pupils is quite remarkable. I am honoured to be given the opportunity to protect, promote and harness such a unique and inspiring educational philosophy – especially at a time when the School is beginning to prepare for its centenary in just a few years’ time.”
Bryanston has its own way of teaching – and its bespoke Bryanston Method is very much part of the school’s identity. Bryanston has really taken advantage of its ‘independent’ status by developing an approach to education that is very much focused on the individual and independent learning from Year 9 upwards.
Every student is given one-to-one support by a tutor who stays with them throughout their five-year journey at the school. This focus on personalised care and support – with tutors almost taking on a parental role – covers the academic progress and wellbeing of every child.
As one teacher says, if you compared the tutor system at Bryanston to other schools it’s like “chalk and cheese”. Some students may prefer the more traditional tutor group system, but Bryanston believes that by “carefully matching” every student to a tutor (and this is a very well-considered process), they can offer the best individualised education. It’s a five-year commitment for the tutors that often becomes a lifelong relationship.
This one-to-one support increases as students move up the school, and sixth formers have weekly one-to-one ‘correction’ or review sessions with every subject teacher. It’s one of Bryanston’s many strengths. If you’re looking for school to offer a high level of academic support, encouragement and care, then Bryanston ticks the box.
Bryanston also puts the emphasis on independent learning by giving every student timetabled assignment periods, a kind of ‘free’ period when they work on weekly tasks outside of the traditional classroom environment. Year 9s have three assignment periods a week, and these increase as they move up the school. Student choose where to study – and Bryanston’s subject-specific libraries (another great, innovative idea) deserve to be a popular choice.
It’s ideal for the self-motivated and self-reliant, but could be challenging for those who struggle to manage their own time. However, the school keeps students on track with regular assessment; every weekly assignment in every subject is marked for attitude to learning and engagement – and posted to an online ‘eChart’ for parents, students and teachers to see.
From the first year (Year 9 or D as it’s known here) onwards there’s a broad curriculum, which gradually narrows as students select their GCSEs and then sixth form options. In line with the school’s individual ethos, students can choose between variety of academic, and creative vocational pathways. 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.
The choice of GCSE and A Level subjects is broad, and incudes business studies, philosophy, history of art, classical civilisation, drama and theatre studies, design and technology, and PE. Students have the freedom to study any combination of subjects here as there’s no fixed option blocks. The arts are popular but while Bryanston is well-known for its creative flair, it encourages creativity across the curriculum – in science, maths, geography and more.
The arts is part of the DNA at this school. Its reputation for being a creative school is well-deserved and it is proud of alumni (Old Bryanstonians) including Emilia Fox, Sir Terence Conran, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Mark Elder. It also has a reputation for its outstanding arts facilities, and some exceptional talent in art, design, drama and music.
The purpose-built Don Potter Art School is well-equipped for drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, printmaking and textiles, while the Tom Wheare Music School has a wonderful state-of-the-art concert hall and recording studio. There’s also Coade Hall, a purpose-built theatre, and a large Greek theatre for outdoor productions. With 15-20 productions a year, every student has the opportunity to perform, design and direct here.
There’s a sporty side here too. The focus is on sport being “fun and inclusive”, and the head of PE wants everyone to leave the school with a lifelong love for at least one sport or physical activity. Bryanston has a competitive streak too, though. It fields teams in a great variety of sports including the traditional rugby, hockey, netball, swimming and football, as well equestrianism and rowing. It also supports its most elite athletes with one-to-one training in the school’s Performance Sports Programme (PSP). If you’re really keen to take your interest in sport further, then you can also study PE at GCSE, A Level and in the IB (as part of the IBDP or IBCP).
Facilities are enviable. There’s a gym and six-lane swimming pool, performance sport room (with 40m sprint track, 2 AMTI BP600900 force platforms, ten 3D-motion analysis camera systems and two squat racks), three sport halls, indoor bouldering room, squash courts, indoor fives courts, as well as sports pitches, playing fields, tennis courts. There’s also a stand-out equestrian centre with 25 stables, outdoor arena, indoor school, cross country schooling fields and show jumps.
As a school with a can-do and get-go attitude, it’s not surprising to see a list of more than 80 different extra-curricular activities (ECAs) being offered to students. It’s not the number but the variety of activities that really impress here – and will really encourage your child to try something new, step out of their comfort zone, and discover a new interest. The list is long but highlights include learning to DJ, woodturning, dog training, film making, juggling, make your own skateboard and fishing. It’s updated regularly; most recently, students launched BRYRADIO, their very own internet-based radio station for students, staff and parents.
The school is also one of a small number of UK independent school embracing esports as an extra-curricular activity. Andrew Murfin, Deputy Head Co-Curricular at Bryanston School explains why:
"At Bryanston we embrace technology, and rather than see esports as an unwelcome hobby, we want to try to change the myths about it. With this in mind, we have welcomed esports and introduced it into our co-curricular provision. Esports encourage qualities such as critical and strategic thinking, not to mention collaborative teamwork.
"Offering esports as an ECA helps to teach our pupils the importance of healthy competition, as well identifying an obvious link to other areas of computer science such as programming or coding."
From day one, students are encouraged to try new things – and this begins with Year 9 outdoor education lessons; in these weekly timetabled ‘lessons’ students learn about camping, navigation and the natural environment. It’s the perfect grounding for other outdoor education activities including the Ten Tors Challenge and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
The Bryanston community is also a caring lot. Charity work, referred to as ‘Pioneering activities’ ranges from hosting a Tuesday Club fortnightly gathering of senior citizens to working with SEN pupils in local schools and volunteering at Riding for the Disabled sessions.
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.
Year 9 boys stay in one of two junior houses, and the move into the five boys’ houses for the remaining four years. Girls, however, go straight into one of five girls’ houses from the very start. There’s a housemaster or housemistress (known at Bryanston as an ‘hsm’) for each house, which are all located on-campus. There are ‘Whole School’ weekends, ‘Open’ weekends when students can return home after Saturday morning matches on and return on Sunday evening, and exeats (Friday lunchtime to Sunday night).
2021 IBDP results: The cohort of 24 students achieved an average score of 32
This is not a school that shouts about its exam results across its website - in fact they are quite hard to find!
The main points of entry are Year 7, Year 9 and Sixth Form. While it's a non-selective school, students still have to sit a pre-ISEB test for Year 7 and attend an Activities Day and an interview. For Year 9, there's an interview, and for Sixth Form there is a test and interview.
Annual fees are £33,525 for day students and £40,890 for boarders.
The school offers scholarships at 13+ and 16+, which range in value from honorary up to 10% of the fees.
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