Tatler Schools Guide
Head Mark Lascelles, who can be found on the sports pitch sidelines come rain or shine and is lauded for his efforts to really get to know his pupils, understands that 'a school is so much more than the sum of its parts or facilities'. For an institution with origins dating back to 1543, Dauntsey's finger is very much on the pulse of a 21st-century education. Following the Black Lives Matter movement last year, the curriculum was amended and there are plans to host speakers to help educate students on the topic. Head Chef Lloyd Childs, who is vegan and eager to impart the benefits of a plant-based diet, produces 'irresistible' food - and rumour has it that many parents attend sports fixtures solely for the match teas.
The school has close ties to the Mercers' Company, whose values of community, outreach and charity are omnipresent here. 'Confident but not cocky' pupils achieved fantastic exam results in 2020: 51% of A-Levels were graded A* or A. One leaver bagged a spot on the coveted Dyson Degree Apprenticeship, a handful secured places for Art Foundation courses, and others headed off to top Russel Group universities. With myriad clubs and societies to choose from (including Historical European Martial Arts and beekeeping), it is easy to see why one delighted pupil declared, 'Dauntsey's is more than I could have ever wished for'.
Dauntsey’ is an exciting school, known for it’s sense of adventure, but it’s becoming so popular that locals are keen to keep it as ‘Wiltshire’s secret!’ Set in the ‘middle of nowhere’ in West Lavington, this co-ed school is the village. It’s no architectural stunner, but it wins on practicality and there is a lovely feeling to the Manor – a Victorian building set in 65 acres of grounds where Years 7, 8 and 9 board and can choose to walk or catch a bus into the main school in the morning. Pastoral care is high on the agenda and staff have the ‘time and ability to care’, parents enthuse; while pupils love the ‘warm’ environment.
A new athletics track has just been completed, a wellbeing centre is being built and popular Head Mark Lascelles is keen for a new Sixth Form building, although he is loath to raise fees to fund it. In place of CCF, Dauntsey’s has an amazing Adventure Programme, teaching pupils den-building, map-reading and campfire-making. There are trips to the Arctic, Bhutan and the famed Devizes to Westminster canoe race. Sailing is a speciality – the school has its own tall ship, the Jolie Bries on which Dauntsey’s students have crossed the Atlantic six times. But for all these amazing explorations, pupils say that the annual dance show, the Summer Festival week and the Sixth Form summer ball are not to be missed.
When asked what the school's strengths were, three parents put 'adventure' at the top of their list, and Head Mark Lascelles agrees that it's 'an essential part of life at Dauntsey's' due to the school's passionate belief that it teaches invaluable life skills, and helps young people to develop resilience, empathy, perseverance and self-awareness. Set in Wiltshire's green pastures, this is a wholesome and decisively run co-ed school that is reassuringly practical and realistic - you can be either a day pupil or a boarder (there is no flexi option) and everyone attends Saturday school.
2018 saw an outstanding set of EPQ results with 85 per cent of pupils gaining A*-B grades and the qualification is growing in popularity as students catch on to how well it prepares them for university. Full of lively, kind and ambitious students, Dauntsey's 'is noted for its unpretentious atmosphere' reinforced by the balanced intake from prep and state schools at 11 and 13. Demand for a place is high, attracting families from far and wide: there are 14 different buses transporting pupils co school each day - the Head didn't want anyone to have to leave for school before 7am, so the first bus departs at 7.01am. School spirit is alive and kicking here: when the 1st XV Rugby made the National Vase final, more than 700 pupils travelled all the way to Twickenham to support the team.
It's incredibly refreshing when a school tells us they'd rather accept happy and spirited children over hothoused academic ones. At Dauntsey's, the interview is the clincher, even if the entrance exam didn't quite go to plan. It's a school full of quirks - take the Head of Adventure (surely the coolest job title ever?), an embodiment of Dauntsey's go-for-it attitude, and Jolie Brise, their very own tall ship, which last year went transatlantic, steered by a crew of sixth formers. The arts are incredible - catch the drama department performing in the West End - and there's a brand-new ballroom dancing club, not forgetting the longstanding, hilariously named all-boys dance group, GNI (Girls Not Invited). The art department, with its four (yes, four!) 3D printers was a hive of activity on our visit.
A-level results were an admirable 76 per cent A*-B last year and pupils and teachers share a 'courteous informality'. Ex-Saracens player Marcus Olsen heads up the sports department and the long-awaited athletics track is finally under construction. Boarding is 24/7, with a full timetable on Saturdays; what the purpose-built accommodation lacks in charm it makes up for in modern touches and 13 different bus routes ship the huge cohort of day pupils back and forth. Head Mark Lascelles is, says our sleuth, 'charming, honest and great fun' - though a word of advice if you do visit: pack your warmest layers - the school's in the middle of nowhere with a chill wind flying straight off the Salisbury Plain ...
When the head of a school 60 miles away said that ‘Dauntsey’s does a lot of things very well and in the right way’, head Mark Lascelles must have glowed. On his watch, the school has mushroomed from 763 pupils to full capacity at 832, and ships in children from Andover to Salisbury and beyond with 13 dedicated bus routes. Now that nearby Marlborough has all but stopped taking day pupils, Dauntsey’s is the day option in these parts (around 45 percent of pupils full-board).
Most pupils pitch up at 11+, with a smaller boarding entry at 13+. There’s Saturday-morning school for all. A-level-results are solid (78 per cents A*-B) and last uear’s GCSE results were the best ever. They’re looking for pupils with a GSOH and adventurous outlook (there’s a dedicated ‘head of adventure’). Last year saw a pop-up production of Billy Elliot in the West End, Dauntsey’s fourth trip to Bhutan since becoming the first school ever to visit the kingdom, the opening of the Olive Building for maths and sciences, fundraising for and a visit to an orphanage in Romania, a new pavilion and new dance studio. Phew. Dance is big and features on the mainstream curriculum, and the sailing is positively epic: last year pupils guided their very own ship, the Jolie Brise, to victory in the Tall Ships Races for the second year running.
How refreshing to hear that head Mark Lascelles hunts our the ‘spirited kids over and above the academic ones’. And a new ‘head of adventure’ has been appointed to reinforce the school’s have-a-go ethos. Dauntsey’s joined forces with Marlborough in the summer to climb Kilimanjaro – next stop Bhutan. Meanwhile their very own tall ship, the Jolie Brise, won the Tall Ships Races 2015, venturing within 60 nautical miles of the Arctic Circle and battling gale-force winds and 15-foot waves. Academically, results are faring jolly well – 82 percent A* ̶ B last year, with six off to Oxbridge and a decent batch to Imperial and LSE.
The main intake is at 11+ (much to the dismay of the local preps), and demand is sky-high thanks to those very reasonable fees, with the admissions office regularly turning disappointed parents away. Toes are twinkling here like never before: a two-night-run dance adaptation of Moulin Rouge was a sellout, and the all-boys’ group GNI (Girls Not Invited) blew the audience away at the annual dance show ̶ ‘dance for boys has now become cool,’ says head. The slick new eco-pavilion is a stunning space for sport (as well as lectures and dinners), and the construction of a new teaching block is up next. Around 40 percent board and Friends on Friday gives day chums the option to sleep over.
One savvy insider describes Dauntsey’s as ‘a very unpretentious country school that confidently stands among the grander options’. Another tells us it’s very much a hidden gem – low-key locals and landed types leave fashionable alternatives nearby to the Londoners. Dauntsey’s is a Guide newcomer, and it’s come on leaps and bounds from its agricultural roots: we are mightily impressed. They scored a very competitive 80 per cent A*-B at A level last year, with seven Oxbridge offers. Highbrow malarkey, like the performance of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies by an all-boy dance troupe, occurs alongside the first-ever amateur production of Mamma Mia! The 1st XV rugby team reached the quarter finals of the NatWest Cup, and the cheerleading team, the Dauntsey’s Dynamites, won the school’s division in the southern regionals.
They appointed a head of ‘adventure education’ last year, who introduced climbing, canoeing, rifle shooting and outdoor cooking to help build life skills and resilience. For almost 45 years, pupils have taken to the high seas in the Jolie Brise, the school’s 56ft gaff cutter (built in Le Havre in 1913); she won the Cowes Small Ships Race in 2014. Head Mark Lascelles say the school asks pupils to do three things; give their best, look after one another and have a spirit of adventure. Mr Lascelles was lower master at King’s Canterbury, so he knows what he is doing. Watch this space – Dauntsey’s might just become one of those fashionable places itself.