Durlston Court Preparatory School
This small co-ed prep school near the Dorset border has a real family feel, excellent academic results and even has its very own ceramics studio.
Durlston Court Preparatory School is a non-selective, co-ed, day school for children aged between 2 -13. Located in the village of Barton on Sea, just on the Hampshire border with Dorset, the school is set over 16 acres and located extremely close to the coast. The school started life over the border in Swanage, Dorset back in 1903 before moving to its current site in Hampshire in 1945.
Centred around the main school building, there’s a real mix of old and new within the grounds and with class sizes that usually max out at around 13, its 250 strong cohort feels akin to a very big family. Although the Pre-Prep, middle school and senior are technically separate from each other, there’s a really strong sense of flow and cohesion between all sections of the school.
While still retaining its traditional Christian ethos (though important to note that religion is not a prerequisite for entry at Durlston) the school is still pretty forward-thinking when it comes to the facilities for the kids.
In 2016 there were three huge additions to the campus with the new Design and Technology Centre – fully equipped with 3D printers and a laser cutter – a brand new ceramics studio, that includes both manual and electric potters wheels for budding creatives and sports-wise, the pupils benefited from brand new tennis and netball hard courts. The school now has a tennis academy that operates daily (and even offers parent sessions too!)
Also in sports, there is a heated outdoor swimming pool, along with all-weather floodlit astroturf courts for hockey, football and tennis, large playing fields and an on-site sports hall. The school has also had quite a bit of success with its sailing squads, no surprises there with its proximity to the coast. Most recently the U11 Sailing Team won the National IAPS Competition, and the U11 and U13 crews won the Independent Schools Inland Sailing competitions, so any boaty kids will have plenty of good company at the school.
Kids also get the opportunity to use ‘The Den’ Durlston’s Forest School setting, a Galley Kitchen for cookery activities, a purpose-built science lab (available to students from Year 5 onwards) and the fact the coast is just half a mile means that it’s ideally located for beach-related activities and mini field trips.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Any child with a love for music would be very happy with the facilities here. There is a purpose-built Music School, complete with a large space acoustically geared up for performances, 10 separate practice rooms and 13 pianos (two of which are grand) for plenty of undisturbed practising. In fact, all the children learn to play at least one instrument during their time at Durlston, with 75% having additional private tuition as well. There is also a range of musical ensembles for all musical talents and tastes at the school, including several choirs such as the Durlston Chamber Choir, plus the Orchestra, Jazz Band and even a Recorder Ensemble.
For Drama, the school has two core productions a year with the Middle School and Senior School performances, each also putting as much effort into sets, sound and lighting as the acting itself.
For the other year groups, there’s the eagerly anticipated Year 7 Panto as well as a special Pre-Prep Christmas performance and Dance Shows in the Spring. Pre-Prep’s dedicated hall space also allows for regular drama assemblies and the chance for everyone to perform from a young age.
The school has a lot to shout about when it comes to its academics, particularly as a non-selective. It has been ranked as the number one school in Hampshire and Dorset in The Sunday Times ‘Top 100 Prep Schools List’ for 2018. There’s also been a lot of success with scholarships – across the board academically, but particularly when it comes to art – and the roll call of secondary schools includes Canford, King Edward’s, St Swithun’s, Bryanston, Winchester College, Embley, Bedford School, Lord Wandsworth College – so success is an understatement. The school also has a record of 100% pass rate in Common Entrance Examinations.
Having joined the school as Head back in 2015, Richard May previously held the role of Deputy Head at Red House School up in County Durham. On meeting him it’s easy to see he is fully and completely immersed in school life. Working very closely with the senior leadership team throughout the whole school, he is also extremely hands-on when it comes to interacting with the student body as a whole.
During my visit he was particularly keen to emphasise the school’s original motto – ‘Erectus non Elatus’ (Proud but not Boastful) – is still very much a part of daily school life and is keen to gear up pupils that they must strive to be the best they can be, while retaining a sense of politeness and warmth to others. The Durlston way is all about being a confident all-rounder and although academic achievement is certainly encouraged here, there’s a feeling it’s not the be-all and end-all of everything.
The most recent detailed report is the EQI from May 2017.
Let’s start with the uniform. The blazer hasn’t changed in all of the 116 years of the school’s history and is incredibly striking with its light grey and white design, adorned with the Imperial Roman Eagle. The colours are said to represent the grey and white for the cliffs and sea from the original location near the Purbeck coast, and the kids look really smart wearing it. Also, bonus, because it hasn’t changed it makes it a lot easier for those sibling hand-me-downs!
From Year 3, all children have weekly “Headmaster lessons” which cover life-skills you wouldn’t necessarily see on any regular curriculum. These involve everything from learning how to give a proper handshake to how to change a car tyre and add a little bit of something ‘extra’ to weekly school life. The Head is also actively involved with Pre-Prep and chats with children in every classroom on his ‘Wednesday Walkabout’ as well as giving those all-important handshakes during Praise Assemblies.
Each year the school hosts a whole-school art exhibition and features works from Kindergarten right through to Year 8. Art is such a cornerstone subject here and so popular is ceramics a number of the kids have even got their own potters’ wheel at home.
The extra-curricular activities are also very quirky in their disciplines with over 40 to choose from. The latest addition to the roster is the indoor-rowing club which will eventually be moving to the open water but is apparently quite the sight to see with the kids calling and rowing indoors. On top of this kids can also take part in other unique clubs such as modern calligraphy, puppet-making and construction.
Little people can start at Durlston from as young as 2 in the dedicated Kindergarten. When I visited I found the Kindergarten area to be bright and airy, with crafts and plenty of messy fun to be had. It also has it’s own outside space for burning off all that energy pre-schoolers have in droves. There’s also an enormous amount of flexibility here for littlies and their families. While the standard day finishes at 3:15 pm, there is also wraparound care right up until 5:30 pm so there’s no need for multiple trips to pick up siblings who are doing extra-curricular activities.
Strong. As well as dedicated pastoral staff, which includes two fully qualified ELSAs (Emotional Literacy Support Assistants), one of whom is also a FEIPS practioner (Framework of Enhanced Individual Pastoral Support), all staff have a good knowledge and experience in supporting pupils. The school also recognises health and wellbeing’s role in mental health and the school operates a Meat-Free Monday with continuing work to develop a strong healthy eating policy. Yoga is also an increasing part of the curriculum, from Pre-Prep onwards.
Pretty good value for the area. Fees start at £2,600 in Reception, going up to £2,995 for Y1 and Y2, Year 3 is £4,495 per term and Years 4-8 top out at £5,595 per term. For the small ones, Kindergarten is £56.03 for a full day session including lunch.
WORD ON THE GROUND
With a strong academic record and close family feel, it’s quite the badge of honour to get your kids in here. Speaking to parents they often exclaim how much they love the school and many of the parents are old Durlstonians themselves.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a small, nurturing close environment with plenty of excellent pastoral care on tap. Also, if you have a child that excels at art and other creative pursuits they will be given lots of opportunities to shine here.
Not for: Those who have purely academic ambitions for their kids. While the academic results are highly impressive, the school’s entire ethos is underpinned by a much more all-round approach to learning
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it! You might not be able to visit the school in person currently, but you can register for their Virtual Open Day on Thurs 4 June.
Durlston Court, Becton Lane, Barton on Sea, New Milton, BH25 7AQ. Tel: 01425 610 010