Hello from Richmond!
Can we tempt you to a road trip to beautiful Dorset?
A couple of weeks ago, we set off to visit Bryanston School. Unusually this time half the von Buelow team came along. Not least because we love an outing, but also because Bryanston is a rather special school that none of us wanted to miss out on seeing.
Next to a proper tour of the school, lunch and chats with pupils we’ve placed here, we sat down for a chat and a cup of tea with the affable headmaster Richard Jones. You can hear Richard and lots of other folks at Bryanston in our latest podcast episode of “Tea With The Head”.
So, come join us!
Beautiful: the school's main house
Bryanston School sits in a rural idyll in the county of Dorset in South-West England, a 2.5 hours car journey from London. From the school’s estate it’s a two-mile hike on foot to the little market town of Blandford. While young visitors to Blandford shouldn’t expect huge entertainment, it adequately satisfies the needs of the average boarder: a Tesco supermarket to stock up on food and toiletries and several take-away restaurants for the regular Saturday movie nights in the boarding houses.
Our tour guides Oliver (aka Ollie) and Romilly (aka Rom) see living in Bryanston as “the perfect idyllic environment to grow up in, with regular opportunities to go to London on week-ends or visit friends that don’t board”.
Beautiful - the school's reception area
No doubt, part of Bryanston School’s big appeal is its location on a beautiful 400-acres estate. In essence, pupils have a huge, lusciously green park to live in with woodlands, sports fields, a boat-house and stables that are home to well over 50 horses. We can think of few healthier, more beautiful places for a young adult to grow up in.
The school’s campus is built around an impressive pre-Georgian manor house. Think Downton Abbey meets five-star hotel. The main house is complemented by an array of tastefully designed school buildings that are aesthetically in perfect harmony with one another. Not even a whiff of 60’s prefab constructions around here (unlike some other schools we know!).
We are all in agreement: Aesthetically speaking this is a stunningly beautiful school. Inside and outside.
Staircase full of wishes for the future
What (we think!) Bryanston School is all about
Needless to say Bryanston is a multifaceted school, but two big things clearly stand out for us.
Firstly, its unique approach to learning. This is commonly known as the ‘Bryanston Method’, which takes its inspiration from the Dalton Plan and the Montessory method, but was continuously developed by the school since its foundation in 1920. Pupils learn to work independently and at their own pace, while receiving ample support from tutors and teachers when and as they need it. This freedom leads to much more self-sufficient, self-confident learners. “Ultimately”, headmaster Richard Jones told us, “it’s all about trying to prepare our pupils for when they leave here. So it’s a big focus on independence, on creative thinking and on taking ownership of one’s own journey.”
Art everywhere - the pupils' pieces are to be found on all walls and surfaces
Secondly, it’s the school’s incredibly strong creative offer. We were simply blown away by what we saw and heard here, whether in Bryanston’s music department, the art rooms or the design and technology lab! No doubt, pupils are incredibly blessed here with state-of-the-art facilities that can compete with the best schools and universities in the UK. But there’s more than enough evidence around school, that they put all this to good use: We saw beautiful paintings, fantastic photography projects and sculptures; got presented innovative design solutions for peoples’ real-life problems (condiment packaging for blind people who love to cook, anyone?) and heard beautiful piano music emanating from practice rooms.
Seen in the spectacular art department...
But Bryanston School’s ambitions here are bigger. Its definition of creativity goes way beyond the typical creative activities good boarding schools are known for - the painting, composing or sculpting. Rather it’s about honing pupils’ creative thinking, mindset and confidence. These skills then can be applied to, yes painting, but also to entrepreneurial activities, original ways of approaching topics and subjects - and even solving problems. This much broader way of thinking about and teaching creativity, we think, is novel and very exciting!
Bryanston’s focus on independent learning inevitably leads to a broader definition of what academic success is. Don’t get us wrong. Achieving excellent grades is important here, too. However, we suspect that a pupil leaving with a strong art portfolio, promising musical composition or a pending patent for an innovative product, will be celebrated just as much here.
And yet, the ‘Bryanston Method’ seems to be working very well by conventional standards, too: In 2022, 55 per cent of GCSE results were 9-7 and 39 per cent A/A at A level (72 per cent A-B). The IB is thriving here with a very decent 37 point-average (5 points above world average). Given that Bryanston is not an especially academically selective school, these results are very good indeed.
One of eight art workshops!
But let’s dissect the ‘Bryanston Method’, the school’s independent learning approach for a second. The goal of this approach is for pupils to become independent learners rather than getting the curriculum spoon-fed to them in overly structured, teacher-led classes. Bryanston recognises that different children have differing academic interests and needs, as well as different maturity and discipline levels when it comes to getting their work-freetime balance right.
Bryanston does not dispense with “normal” time-tabled classes completely, but from age 13 shifts more towards study periods, in which pupils work independently on assignments at their own pace. In year 9 students start with 4-5 study periods per week which increases to 50% of the timetable in Sixth Form.
Made in the amazing design technology workshop
But don’t be deceived. The study periods aren’t a cheap excuse to dawdle! Pupils work under close supervision of tutors and specialist teachers in so-called assignment rooms (think specialist mini-libraries with views out of huge windows onto the idyllic Dorset countryside). Every pupil meets with his/her tutor at least once a week for an in-depth check-in chat. Moreover, teachers fill out a live E-chart to document each pupil’s progress. This ‘real-time’ digital overview can also be accessed by parents. As pupils get more and more independent, the less intense the external supervision through tutors and teachers gets.
Our tour guide Rom believes that this set-up helped her to structure her work.She summed it up nicely: “The tutors are really, really helpful in that they discuss your timetable with you and help you structure your work and what you need to do. It makes the least organized person so much more organized!”
25m pool in the new sports center
Wow, where to begin? To say that Bryanston School has an exciting extracurricular offer would be an understatement in itself. And in keeping with the school’s focus on independent learning and creativity, there’s lots to choose from to foster either.
Let’s start with music. The first place our tour-guides Ollie and Romely take us to is the music school, which stretches over three floors and offers musicians over 30 practice rooms and a state-of-the-art recording studio. “The standard of music is fantastic, and we hear our talented friends in weekly concerts that tend to be rampacked!”, Ollie told us. The concerts take place in the school’s 300-seater concert hall, which is simply stunning. With orchestras, big bands, string ensembles, choirs and rock bands the opportunities to get involved in music here are endless.
The school recently started its own radio station, Bry Radio!
Music might not be Ollie’s thing, but Bry Radio, the school’s brand new radio station, definitely is. The station broadcasts 24/7 featuring interviews with popular teachers, pupils talking about projects and alumni coming back to talk about their experiences. A great and wildly popular idea here.
As you would expect from a school like Bryanston, a lot of the most interesting extracurricular activities come from two of the creative hubs of the school - the art and design technology departments. These truly special places are buzzing hives of activity.
Beating heart of the school: the Art Department
The art department consists of eight studios, with pupils getting involved in fine arts, photography, pottery, sculpting, print-making and textiles/fashion design. “Here, we have regular pottery, jewelry-making, photography or live-drawing classes for everyone”, Head of Art Douglas Knight told us.” Pupils also drop in to create set designs for theatre productions or take pictures of their design projects”, he continued. Amazing!
Innovation happens here: the school's amazing design technology department
The design technology department is a huge, bright workshop with work-benches where pupils design and make their own products with different tools and materials. Unlike other DT departments we know, where designing furniture is the default, Bryanston gets properly innovative. “It’s about addressing real user needs”, Chris Mills, the Head of Design Technology told us. “One pupil is designing for a person suffering from spasticity, another for a blind person who loves to cook with spices. The challenge for the latter is to come up with an innovative solution where a blind cook can tell spice jars apart!” But projects don’t stop with a physical product. Pupils are encouraged to think about their product designs like entrepreneurs. They devise business plans for them and websites and even pitch them in Dragon’s Den-type competitions to Bryanston alumni for seed funding.
Needless to say, it’s things like this that prepare pupils for life after school!
Lots to show for: an overview of DT projects
To support these entrepreneurial activities, Bryanston has launched its very own inhouse creative agency. Need a brand for your product idea or website to promote it? This is where you can get help. Started by and run by the pupils, of course. Pretty smart!
A key extracurricular we love with deep roots in the design technology department is the Green Power Race. Pupils build a green-power race car every year and participate in races across the UK. You can hear Chris Mills talk about this in more detail in our podcast here.
Stunning: Bryanston's concert hall
On to drama. We didn’t get to see Coade Hall, the school’s purpose-built theatre this time, but we know it from previous visits and can attest to its quality. This is where over 20 theatre and musical productions are staged every year!
But there’s so much more. Think Bryanston is all about creativity? Wrong. The school’s sports offer is pretty extraordinary, too. The all-new sports centre features a 25m swimming pool, state-of-the-art gym and a purpose-built 40m in-door sprint track complete with cameras to monitor speed. Key sports like rugby, tennis, hockey, football, netball are on offer also. Moreover, the school has its own equestrian center which is home to 68 horses.
For the ones that still have energy: the gym!
Oh, and there’s skate-park!
And if anyone’s in danger of running out of things to do there is an array of clubs from bee-keeping to the knitting club.
But isn't there a real danger of pupils spreading themselves too thinly with this abundance of choice? This is indeed a challenge everyone has to deal with, knows headmaster Richard Jones: “The tutors’ role is to make sure that the students are making enough of the opportunities on offer while not doing too much.”
Good luck to those tutors!
Very popular: the school's own café
In essence, everybody at Bryanston School is a boarder. Officially, two-thirds of the pupils board, but day pupils also have a bed in their houses and can stay overnight whenever they want.
There are altogether twelve houses, five for girls, five for boys, and two for year 9 boys. The allocation to houses works a little bit like the sorting hat in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and is based on the admissions interviews prior to joining.
While we didn’t get to see boarding houses on our tour this time, we remember them as spacious and modern. Pupils are very well looked after by a team of house-parents, tutors and matrons.
Domed: seen in the main house
The school has so-called “In” and “Out” week-ends, which alternate week by week. On the out-weekends, pupils can choose to leave school or stay. Week-ends are always busy with cooking sessions, barbecues and movie nights, as well as trips to the coast or London. “It’s thanks to the regular out-weekends that we never feel that we are too cut off from the world”, our tour guide Ollie told us.
The food at Bryanston is, as you’d expect, first rate. We had lunch there and were spoilt for choice: three different main courses of chicken curry, pork belly or vegetable lasagne, a massive salad bar, and deserts including chocolate pudding and vanilla treacle. For those pangs of hunger in-between meals there’s always the cozy student cafe, where sandwiches, cake and cookies are on offer for modest prices.
There are four exeats a year when the school closes.
The so-called 3D space for pottery and sculpting
Our view on a student suited for Bryanston School
We absolutely loved Bryanston School. The location, the facilities, the people, the opportunities, the independent-learning approach - it all made us swoon with excitement for days after the visit.
Is Bryanston for everyone? Probably not. We can imagine children so used to the classic time-tabled, spoon-feed way of education that might find Bryanston’s independent-learning method a little too free and too unstructured.
Concert hall once more, just because....
We at von Bülow believe that pupils who bring a creative and open mindset and are curious to explore, experiment and follow their own passion will love Bryanston.
In the bright and welcoming headmaster’s office hangs a copy of the promise the school makes to each of its pupils:
This is where you light your fire, find your magic, learn to love your mind.
You will come out singing your own song, hearing the songs of those around you, joining them in harmony. And you will know how to make the world listen.
To our tastes this sounds possibly a little too grandiose, a little bit too idealistic, corny even. But after what we saw, heard and experienced during our visit to Bryanston, we are starting to believe that this promise might not be that unrealistic after all….