With one of the most beautiful campuses in Scotland, Dollar Academy is a traditional day and boarding school with reasonable that offers a very wide choice of subjects as part of its delivery of the Scottish curriculum.
With over 1,200 students, it’s a beautiful school where impressive sporting facilities take up a large part of its 70 acre-campus. There’s a small boarding community of local and international students (from the US, Germany and Asia), and over one third of Dollar students live locally.
Founded in 1818, Dollar bases its education on the values of “work hard, be kind, and get involved”, which is certainly helping to create a very positive and friendly environment where students are hardworking, well-rounded and open-minded. It’s one of Scotland’s more traditional schools and boasts top academic results in the Scottish Highers.
School Rector/Principal Ian Munro joined the school in 2019, having previously held leadership positions at George Heriot’s, Gordonstoun and Shiplake College. He was recently praised by school inspectors for his “astute, highly effective leadership”.
The school was last inspected in February 2020 by Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate. Inspectors praised the school for its “caring, family ethos across the school and boarding houses” and the “enriching and memorable” experiences offered through its outstanding range of co-curricular activities. Areas for improvement included the need to “continue to empower children and young people to lead, and have a say in, their own learning”.
Like many independent schools in Scotland, Dollar Academy follows the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the national curriculum for three to 18-year-olds that is offered in all Scottish state schools. Students study a broad range of subjects until the age of 16 (much broader than the GCSE curriculum), before specialisation in three to five subjects for the last two years of their education.
There’s specialist teaching in art, music and PE from the first year of Prep, and students benefit from the expertise of teachers working across the school, as well opportunities to learn in the main school’s swimming pool, language rooms, science labs, and engineering workshops. Languages are introduced from Prep E with taster experiences in French, German and Spanish to prepare students for formal language lessons in Junior 1. There’s a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with various STEM challenges, including an annual engineering competition, and Dollar’s Learning Wild programme adds outdoor learning to the timetable.
The two years of Junior School (Primary 6 and 7) bridges the gap between prep and senior school. There’s a carefully considered curriculum that combines core lessons such as English and maths in their own classroom by their primary class teacher, with lessons taught in the wider school by senior subject specialists (art, music, PE, modern languages, laboratory science, engineering and design technology, home economics, computing, and humanities). Juniors learn life skills such as personal finance, take on leadership roles such as House Captains or Pupil Council leaders, complete an individual science project (displayed in a fantastic annual science fair), and go on a week-long residential trip to Argyll.
It’s a strength of the school, and one that fully prepares students for the transition to Senior School; parents recognise the value of J1 and J2 at Dollar compared to the experience offered within P6 and P7 at another school.
In the Senior School, Dollar offers what it describes as a “super-curriculum” subjects as diverse as microbiology, astronomy, philosophy and Italian along with opportunities for coding, robotics, debating, cooking and the classics. From S4 to S6 (ages 15 to 18), students sit Scottish national qualifications awarded by the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) – National 4-5, Highers and Advanced Highers. The school claims “a wider range of SQA examination subjects is available than at any other school in Scotland”. Languages offered are French, German, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin.
Student choice drives the offering of subjects year by year; there are no fixed columns, so students can choose any combination of subjects.
As much as the school is focused on the strengths of an academic, classroom-based education, it also believes in the value of “learning by doing, playing and having fun”.
It also has a strong professional learning programme for its teachers where they can choose to focus on areas such as digital skills, leadership or mental health that are relevant to them in the classroom. The school also offers workshops and lectures, and encourages it staff to broaden their horizons by working on educational initiatives outside of school, such as supervising at Masters’ programmes at universities.
With a 70-acre campus, and plenty of grass and all-weather pitches, Dollar is well-equipped for its popular sporting programmes. It also has an indoor swimming pool, rifle range, cricket nets, gym, two sports halls, fitness suite, and a strength and conditioning room.
The school performs well in a variety of sports at a local and national level, particularly cricket, rugby and hockey. It has partnered with the world-renowned Gleneagles resort to offer a golf programme for all abilities. And there’s a fantastic choice of less traditional sports including local favourites curling and Scottish dancing, as well as ballroom dancing, fishing, fencing and skiing.
Dollar is certainly one of the top schools for piping and drumming, and the school has been world champions for nearly every year since 2014. It’s taught from Prep 3, is a hugely popular activity here, and its young pipers play at prestigious events at Holyrood Palace and the Basel Tattoo. The sight of student pipers dressed in traditional tartan kilts on the lawn in front of the school is truly something special indeed.
There are also plenty of drama and art clubs (everything from jewellery making and knitting to gospel choir), school productions and art exhibitions; Dollar’s ‘Music for All’ ethos attracts many students into the school’s large choice of orchestras and choirs. Students have everything they need to get creative on-campus, including an auditorium, art studios, darkroom, and ceramic studios.
The co-curricular programme starts from Prep with some wonderfully creative clubs including pom-pom club, gardening, wildlife explorers and board games, as well as some more active clubs in Highland dancing, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, rugby, tennis, cricket and football.
As students move up the school they can also opt to take part in more inspiring clubs such as guitar building, shorthand training and stage makeup. Many clubs are run by teachers with a personal interest in a particular activity. Students also broaden their horizons through Combined Cadet Force, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and Form VI students on the Charities Committee take responsibility for organising whole-school fundraising events.
In the most recent 2021 SQA examinations, 70.8% of grades at Advanced Higher level were A. In Form V at Higher, 89% were graded A-B and the pass rate was 96.3%; in Form IV at National 5, 89% were A-B grades and the pass rate was 97.5%.
Dollar has been offering boarding since it was founded more than 200 years ago, and it remains a key feature of life at the school, which currently has around 100 boarders. While most boarders are full-time, the school does offer some weekly options. Day students are allowed into the boarding houses to visit and boarders can visit day students in the local town, helping to create a close-knit community of friends.
The school has three small, single sex, period building houses, each having its own live-in Houseparents who work with tutors at the school to manage the day-to-day care of all boarders. Seniors have their own room or share with one other, while younger students share with up to three others.
Unlike some boarding schools in the UK, there is no school on Saturday; instead, students play sport, attend house trips, and get involved with various activities organised by Houseparents such as quizzes and movie nights. It’s all very sociable and means that weekends can be as busy or as quiet as every student wants them to be.
With a 70-acre campus in the market town of Dollar in Central Scotland, this school has a certain wow factor as you approach the impressive Doric façade and grand neo-classical design of its main building. More modern developments include the purpose-built Westwater Building, home to modern languages and economics departments.
Many classrooms in the main school have stunning views across green fields and sports facilities, creating a wonderfully calm learning environment. The period buildings add to the charm of a school that feels traditional, Scottish and very welcoming.
The Prep School has its own building on campus with 10 large classrooms, a fenced garden area, trim trail and Astro pitch.
The main points of entry are Primary 1 (aged five), Junior 1 (aged 10) and Senior 1 (aged 12).
Annual tuition fees are slightly lower than many boarding schools in Scotland, ranging from £10,899 to £14,571 for day students, and £30,051 to £33,723 for full boarders. Bursaries are available to children from home and abroad, including at least two full boarding bursaries each year to students from Barbados and two from Eastern Europe.
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