Set within acres of beautiful countryside, this very outdoorsy and adventurous co-ed day and boarding senior school delivers a well-rounded education in a very nurturing environment.
Founded in 1542, Dauntsey’s stays true to its Christian, family roots, and its historic links to the Mercers' Company stay strong today). It has grown to become a popular senior school for 800 11-18 year-olds; there are 300 boarders joined by over 500 day students. There’s a strong international community (around 7%), with its well-rounded curriculum and acres of English countryside attracting students from countries including Hong Kong, Vietnam and Spain.
There’s huge diversity; last year’s intake included 160 students from more than 100 different schools, both state primaries and independent preps. It’s very much a family school, with around half of students being siblings and feel as much loved by past students as by its current girls and boys.
Dauntsey’s is most certainly focused on academic excellence – “good grades matter because they are an important step on the way to university and a career”, but also, it’s a school for the all-rounder. Posts including Head of Adventure and Head of Sailing offer just a glimpse of how varied and exciting school life is here. There’s a brilliant adventure programme, and plenty of opportunity to try new things in an atmosphere that doesn’t come across as overly competitive.
This is most certainly a school that is looking for students with a ‘have a go’ attitude. As it says: “The most successful Dauntseians are those who work hard, play hard and are willing to give it a go.”
Wellbeing is also a priority – and there’s always a listening ear. Students volunteer listeners from Fourth Form through to Upper Sixth pupils are trained to offer counselling support – and can be easily identified around the campus by their silver badges. Alternatively, students can speak with tutors and housemasters and housemistresses, as well as two full time counsellors in the school’s wellbeing centre.
Dauntsey’s was rated Excellent in all areas by the ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) in 2018.
Dauntsey’s uses its freedom as an independent school to offer a broad, bespoke education that follows an enriched version of the National Curriculum for England. Alongside the core and specialist subjects, all students follow a complementary curriculum that covers current affairs, study skills, mindfulness, critical thinking, money management and global issues. It’s great to see a focus on life skills here, equipping students with practical and modern skills for life beyond school.
An education at Dauntsey’s is flexible; there are no set options at I/GCSE and A Level to give students the freedom to pursue individual interests. It’s broad; there are 29 subjects offered at A Level as varied as photography, fine art history of art and maths. It’s also both challenging and rigorous; all students will study three A Levels plus a fourth option to help expand their horizons. While a few will opt for a fourth full A Level subject, most complete the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), or Dauntsey’s self-developed Maths for Science or Leadership, Sport and Adventure (LSA) courses. (There’s also an option for international students to take the IELTS qualification.)
Dauntsey’s has a six-day timetable for both day and boarding students, which is far less common in UK independent schools today.
The performing arts are really big here, and it’s something Dauntsey’s is extremely proud of. It has the talent; students go on to study at the Ruskin School of Fine Art in Oxford, Goldsmith’s at the University of London, Central Saint Martins, The Bartlett UCL, The Royal School of Drawing, Manchester Metropolitan University and the elite Charles Cecil Studios in Florence. There’s definitely the interest from a very creative bunch of students; 40% learn an instrument and around 60% are actively involved in music in some way.
It has the facilities, including a two drama studios and large dance studio. It also has variety; there 19 school ensembles, ranging from jazz and folk to choirs, a dance band and orchestras, plus 18 bands, and six or seven productions each year, ranging from small studio plays to full stage shows and musicals.
Dance really stands out here; it is compulsory in the first two years and offered as a GCSE and A Level later on. Every student in the First and Second Forms performs two dances in the annual musical and dance show, and there are dance clubs including musical theatre, street dance, jazz, ballet, contemporary and tap, so there’s something for everyone. Most recently, students have set up a 15-strong all-boy dance group, GNI (Girls Not Invited), and old Dauntseians and parents can often be heard singing at the school as part of the community choir
Other arts facilities include a photographic studio and design technology block.
Sport is not overshadowed by the arts, and there are plenty of opportunities to compete, train and generally develop a love for fitness and sport. The main sports are rugby, hockey, football, basketball, cricket, athletics and tennis for the boys and hockey, netball, athletics and tennis for the girls; extra-curricular clubs offer the chance to represent the school in swimming, rifle shooting, fencing and equestrian, to name but a few.
Students experience an incredible range of adventurous programmes and challenges, both indoors and outdoors, home and away. There’s camping, orienteering, kayaking, climbing, outdoor cookery, survival skills, cycling, as well as first aid and lifesaving, and students are encouraged to challenge themselves in events such as tge Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race, the school’s own Brecon Challenge and an annual Dauntsey's Triathlon.
All Third Form (Year 9) students take part in the Moonrakers programme, a series of adventurous activities held every Friday afternoon as a timetabled lesson.
Despite being a land-locked school, Dauntsey’s has a long association with sailing, and has its own tall ship the Jolie Brise. All students spend 24 hours on board Jolie Brise in their Fourth Form and, if they enjoy the experience, can join the Sailing Club.
There’s a wide choice of clubs, many set up at the students’ request such as the recently formed girls’ cricket club.
Other activities include chess club, first aid, handicraft, beekeeping, dance and drama, language clubs for linguists, creative sessions for artists, cookery club for foodies, and history and geography. Sports clubs include traditional sports as well as some unusual choices including archery, fencing, equestrian and climate frisbee.
A Level and GCSE results are consistently strong. In 2021, 30% of A Level results were A* grades, 64% A*-A, and 88% A*-B. The most popular leavers' destinations were Cardiff, Exeter, Manchester, Newcastle, Bath and University College London, as well as places at Oxford, Cambridge, in the US, Hong Kong and Spain.
It’s full boarding only here, which is offered to students from Year 7 and above; it’s hugely popular and around 50% of Upper School students are boarders.
Boarders live in one of the five boarding houses, each one staffed by houseparents who live on-site with their families, which really helps to create a home away from home experience. These are co-ed in the Lower School (ages 11-13) and single sex in the Upper School (ages 14-18).
The house system is weaved into the fabric of school life here; it gives both day and boarding students a sense of belonging. Both day and students can attend evening events such as lectures, drama and musical performances, as well as Saturday night socials and Sunday outings
Entry to Dauntsey's is normally at age 11, 13, or 16 and selection is based on the ISEB Common Pre-Test (taken at prep schools) and interviews, or the school’s own entrance exam.
Dauntsey's School operates a 100% bursary place scheme open to 11+, 13+ and 16+ entry, and will offer up to three places annually (with a total of 21 available places across the school).
Annual fees are £21,210 for day students and £35,100 for boarders.
Good for: Thanks to its very outdoorsy outlook, Dauntsey's is an outstanding school for students who want to connect with nature, become more active, learn outdoors (and have plenty of fun!). It really does offer the best of both worlds - some fantastic opportunities to play sport and perform the arts while studying a very broad academic curriculum. Students need to come here with plenty of 'have a go' spirit, a commitment to work hard, and an enthusiasm to be part of a very active, close-knit community.
Not for: The lack of flexi-boarding may put some parents off, and those looking for a more urban, city-based school may not appreciate Dauntsey's rural location (although it's hard not to be wowed by the 65 acres of beautiful Wiltshire countryside). The six-day week will certainly not appeal to every student (or fit in with every family's lifestyle). Also, this is a school that will appeal to students who are perhaps more outgoing, who are naturally adventurous, who like to try new things, and learn new skills.
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