A countryside prep with a flexible boarding programme from Year 3 that offers excellent preparation for admission to leading senor schools in the UK.
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.
It’s a school where tradition is celebrated – good manners are rewarded and there is still a six-day week – alongside a forward-thinking approach to education. It has an innovative Design & Technology and Craft departments, a wide choice of non-traditional sports, and the school’s Green Vision is “one of the school's most important initiatives”. There are also many ways the school is teaching students some valuable life lessons, from its 30-mile lunch menu (all made using ingredients from local suppliers) to its Monday morning walks, AM to KM.
The school talks about preparing girls and boys not only for life at senior school, but also “for the great adventure of life itself”. Its motto, ‘We seek higher things’ certainly underpins the school’s commitment to support children right the way through their educational journey.
Student achievements are celebrated in Praise and Celebrate' assemblies, and trophies are as likely to be handed out for good manners as they are for top grades in maths. There are small class sizes (a maximum of 15) and students are supported by a class tutor until the last two years when they can choose their own tutor for Years 7 and 8.
Founded in 1881, it is named Port Regis (gate of the king) after an ancient arch that was built to commemorate Charles at on one of its earlier locations. Today, the school is a popular co-ed prep school with Dorset families, as well as overseas students (around 20% of students come from overseas). There’s a large number of students who choose to board here (around two thirds) thanks to the choice of full, flexi or occasional nights.
Headmaster Titus Mills was appointed in 2020; he was previously Head at another co-ed prep, Walhampton School in Lymington, and has worked at international schools in Uganda and Italy. Mr Mills believes that school should be fun, joyful and full of wonder; working alongside his wife Jemima he is taking an active role in helping students prepare “for the great adventure of life itself”.
In the Pre-prep, the emphasis is very much on learning though play. It all begins with the school’s own HIVE (Home to Imagination, Venturing and Experimenting) programme, which best sums up Port Regis’ engaging approach to early years’ education. While the Pre-prep is located its own building (a very pretty old stables) it is very much part of the main school campus and shares both its ethos and facilities.
Dance, music art and PE are all on the curriculum, as well as timetabled walks and gardening sessions. Children spend plenty of time outdoors. There’s a purpose-built Forest School, a school farmyard filled with sheep, chicken, rabbits and guinea pigs, and the students’ own rose garden and greenhouse.
In the Prep school, Port Regis keeps learning broad and balanced, with plenty of non-core subjects and practical work. The focus is on the core subjects and preparing students for the Common Entrance or academic scholarship exams in Year 8. Languages offered include French, Spanish, Mandarin, Italian, German, and Japanese; in Year 6, students study Latin and the option to also take Classical Greek.
Port Regis has a six-day week from Year 4 (it’s optional for Year 3), and it has recently replaced its more academic Saturday morning timetable with an enrichment programme (PR Plus) that is brilliantly broad; a snapshot of the recent timetable included talks about Chaucer, entrepreneurship, anthropology, film making, how to wash your clothes, cooking a crumble, fire safety, and leadership. If you’re looking for a school that can broaden your child’s horizons while staying committed to academic excellence, Port Regis is a certainly one to consider.
Students get a great introduction to various sports including swimming, gymnastics, dance, netball, hockey, football, cricket and athletics. There’s even the odd game of quidditch! Students play competitive sport from Year 3, and such is the quality of its sports facilities that Port Regis has been selected by IAPS to host regular national and international competitions, including IAPS netball, rugby 7s, athletics, gymnastics and swim galas.
Thanks to facilities including a gymnasium, 25-metre heated indoor swimming pool, a nine-hole golf course, mountain bike and BMX track, assault course and skateboard ramp, students can get involved with less traditional sports too. As the school says, “traditional sports are not for everyone, and our main aim is for all children to find a sport they enjoy.”
Port Regis has a fantastic arts department with facilities including a ceramics kiln, and it has the resources to do laser cutting, steam bending and woodturning. These activities are certainly not normally available at a Prep school and it’s another example of Port Regis’ ambitious and forward-thinking curriculum. The school certainly isn’t sitting on its laurels!
Drama is hugely popular, and the school has an excellent track record of drama scholarships to senior schools. Students regularly perform in the school’s 350-seat theatre, with each production brought to life by a student-run stage crew in charge of sets, props, costume, make-up, lighting and sound. It’s really impressive for students of such a young age.
There are also plenty of music opportunities, and a purpose-built music school with recital hall, music technology suite and 17 teaching rooms. Students learn the recorder, then the viola and keyboard skills, and there are frequent performances by wind, brass and string ensembles, the two school orchestras, two senior and four junior choirs, samba band and swing band.
The choice of extra-curricular activities includes fencing, tennis, ballet, tap, modern dance, sports club, golf and chess from Reception upwards. In the Prep school, there’s a fantastic choice of hobbies including soap and jewellery making, beekeeping, campfire cooking and even the rather mysterious chicken whispering!
Boarding is very popular at Port Regis, with around 75% of students choosing full, flexi or occasional boarding and almost 100% choosing to board by their final year. The school’s flexible boarding programme is perfectly suited to the demands of modern working life; most boarders stay for the week and return home at weekends to enjoy that perfect balance of school-family life and many students take up the 'local boarding' package of two nights a week which is included in the fees for Year 3.
The school has created a real ‘home away from home’ atmosphere in its four boarding houses – two houses for 7-11 year-olds in the main Mansion building, and two purpose-built single sex houses for 11-13 year-olds.
In each house, houseparents, house mothers (matrons) and big ‘brothers and sisters’ (gap year students known affectionately as ‘gappies’) are there to offer support, guidance, and join in the fun! There are some excellent facilities (everything from table football to cinema rooms), a close-knit community where students can be awarded 'dorm winner' for the tidiest dorms and 'star of the week', and a busy programme of evening and weekend activities.
Parents from overseas can book to stay in one of two cottages in the school grounds to make visiting their child even easier.
Located just a couple of miles from Shaftesbury, Port Regis has a beautiful countryside campus where children can enjoy plenty of space and freedom. Its proximity to London and cities including Exeter and Bristol allows families to give their child an education in the countryside, with easy access to home and city life. As highlighted previously, the facilities are excellent and support the school’s broad academic and extra-curricular programme.
Entry to the Pre-prep is non-selective, and students then move up to the main school. Students applying to the Prep school must sit an assessment and have an informal chat with the head.
Annual tuition fees range from £10,590 to £23,070 for day students, and £31,050 for all boarders.
Good for: There’s a lot to like about this school. Families looking for a supportive, friendly school where there’s an emphasis on the great outdoors and making use of its wonderful rural location will love it. There’s a real sense of fun at this school which will appeal to parents wanting to preserve their son or daughter’s childhood. Also, the large boarding community, which outnumbers day students, certainly contributes to the strong family vibe that the school is so proud of.
Not for: The wholesome nature of this school may not suit parents searching for a very traditional school with a very academic learning culture. Also, the have very inclusive ‘have a go’ spirit and busy six-day week may feel too overwhelming for some, and its Dorset location (while absolutely beautiful) may been too far if looking for quick London commute.
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