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Sunningdale School Sunningdale, Berkshire
Sunningdale School
110 pupils, ages 7-13
Boys only
Day and Boarding

Sunningdale School

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Our View

If you’re after the quintessential English all-boys prep school, look no further. Sunningdale is a proper, traditional prep (in the very best sense of that word), family-owned and with a wonderfully warm atmosphere. Our tour of the school began in the oak-panelled hall, which was full of chirpy boys on break (or ‘Lemonade’, as it’s called here), dressed up as wizards, Roald Dahl’s Twits and aliens for World Book Day, with head Mr Dawson as Sherlock Holmes, complete with deerstalker and shadowed everywhere by his gentle black Labrador.


Prime commuter territory on the sought-after Berkshire/Surrey borders, 25 miles from Hammersmith, 50 minutes by train from London Waterloo. There’s no grand entrance or obvious signage, just a short drive leading to a lovely red-brick manor house that feels much more homely than schooly. Outside, there’s a teeny chapel where the whole school gathers four times a week; 25 acres of nicely enclosed greenery (where boys can – and do – run wild) and sports pitches; plus a clutch of little allotments where boys dig up lettuce and tomatoes for the chef. It’s spot on: not too over the top, not too shabby either.


This is very much a family-run school: Tom Dawson took over from his father and uncle (twins Tim and Nick, who ran Sunningdale for 38 years) in 2005. His sister Amy is head of art and pastoral care; his wife Elizabeth teaches French. Mr Dawson is thoughtful and kind, driven, he tells us, by the overriding view that children should be happy at school and given the chance ‘to become the best version of themselves’. It’s something we hear a lot, but is no less true for that. Sensibly, he’s listened to parents and is now offering a new weekly-boarding option – more on that below.


Broadly non-selective, admissions are first come, first served (except at 11+, where boys sit assessment papers in English, maths and verbal reasoning). It’s worth getting names down at birth; there are 22 places available at 7+, and once they’re full, names are put on a waiting list (the admissions team will keep you informed about where you are on it). About 15 months before boys are due to start, they’re invited in for Discovery Day to get to know the school, have a go at sport and join a taster lesson. One of the many bonuses of Sunningdale is its small size – numbers are constant at 110, which Mr Dawson calls ‘happily full’.

Academics and senior school destinations

Academically, the school differentiates itself by operating a ladder system, where boys move up through forms as they develop, rather than by age – which means everyone learns at their own pace and is kept interested, not bored (or scared that they can’t keep up). We spotted plenty of young and enthusiastic staff during our visit, and Mr Dawson stays fully involved by teaching Year 4 Latin (if boys are good enough, they take on Greek too) and Common Entrance geography. There’s lots of one-on-one support for SEN pupils, and masses of exam practice: boys are split into three forms for their final year – CE, more advanced CE and scholarship sets.

Pupils head off to the top schools: in recent years, Eton, Harrow, Sherborne and Stowe have proven most popular with Oundle, Winchester and Charterhouse not far behind.


Boys play sport five afternoons a week, and facilities have been getting a spruce-up: the shiny new Astro is proving a hit, and there’s a new sports pavilion, five-a-side-football pitch and winter-cricket training space all in the pipeline. The main games here are rugby, football and cricket; the rugby teams have an unbeaten record, and the football teams claimed victory in almost every one of their matches last season. There’s loads more for boys to try too: badminton, swimming, water polo, golf and fives (which is huge, with boys regularly taking on Eton or Harrow, despite being a year or two younger).

We love the performance culture here: the annual French-drama evening, which gets every single boy singing or speaking in French; the annual whole-school musical, with a part for everyone (a few years ago it was Annie – both brave and hilarious for an all-boys school); and heaps of informal and formal concerts, rock bands, choirs and ensembles. About 80 per cent of pupils learn an instrument, from the bagpipes to the guitar. We snooped in on a reassuringly messy art and D&T room, where boys were working with laser etchers and 3D printers.

All the pupils we spoke to raved about the science reptile club, which is all about getting up close to scaly creatures such as a Fijian iguana or Madagascan tomato frog. We also love the sound of the week-long residential trip to La Vacquerie, the school’s restored manor house in Normandy where boys practise French in the local markets, visit the D-Day landing beaches and see the Bayeux Tapestry.


Full boarding has long been the norm here, but the big news is that Mr Dawson announced a new weekly-boarding option last year to give families a bit more flexibility. Weekends are still packed with non-stop activities for those who stay over (70% are in school on Saturday nights and Sundays) – but boys can now opt to head home after lessons and matches on Saturday afternoons.

There’s tons of fun to be had: when they aren’t kicking a football around or building dens, boys are fishing, cooking, messing about with giant inflatables in the pool, paintballing, mountain biking and playing bumper games of the ever-popular Convoy, Sunningdale’s very own version of tag.

Dorms are among the best we’ve seen in a prep school. Recently refurbished, they’re filled with funky Farrow and Ball-painted tongue and groove cabin beds or bunks made to look like fortresses and castles.

School community

Sunningdale’s small size gives staff the opportunity to get to know the boys very well: niggles are easily spotted, worries picked up and achievements celebrated. Mr Dawson had a brief word of encouragement for every child we bumped into about anything from a piece of work well done to a pitch-perfect concert recital or their effort in a sports match. Each boy is assigned a tutor who keeps a close eye on their academic progress, and a friendly counsellor pops in every week for an informal beanbag chat with anyone who fancies it.

Manners clearly matter here: door opening and pupils looking us in the eye were very much to the fore during our visit. And a note on the food: it’s so good that day boys often make a point of arriving in time for a cooked breakfast – the first of three proper hot meals each day (we were treated to a nicely wholesome lunch of beef casserole and red cabbage – just what boys need after so much running around outside).

Children come from all over the UK: the Home Counties, London, East Anglia and Scotland (a bus drops boys off at the Royal Albert Hall on exeat weekends). A minority hail from overseas too, both Europe and beyond.

And finally...

Whichever senior school a boy chooses, this long-established boarding prep gives them the best possible start with its caring, family feel.

Gallery See All

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Sunningdale School gallery image
Sunningdale School gallery image
Sunningdale School gallery image
Sunningdale School gallery image
Sunningdale School gallery image
Sunningdale School gallery image
Sunningdale School gallery image
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  • Senior school destinations

    Senior school destinations

    Eton 3, Harrow 4, Sherborne 4, Marlborough 2, Charterhouse 1, Wellington 1, Tonbridge 1, Stowe 1, Worth 1, Reeds 1

  • Scholarships for senior schools

    Scholarships 2020

    Music2 Eton, Sherborne

  • Fees and bursaries

    Day fees per term

    Year 1-
    Year 2-
    Year 3£6,840
    Year 4£6,840
    Year 5£6,840
    Year 6£6,840
    Year 7£6,840
    Year 8£6,840
    Boarding fees per term

    Year 1-
    Year 2-
    Year 3£8,750
    Year 4£8,750
    Year 5£8,750
    Year 6£8,750
    Year 7£8,750
    Year 8£8,750

    Sunningdale offers both scholarship and bursary support, details of which can be obtained by phone at +44(0)1344 620159 or by email at

    Alternately, please see their website for more information about the school:

    Bursary contact:
    Headmaster Tom Dawson
  • SEND

    This school currently supports the following kinds of learning needs, health needs and physical disabilities:
    dyslexia, dyspraxia, mild autism

    This school currently delivers the following interventions to pupils in class and outside class to support their learning, health and/or physical needs:
    One to one lessons, in class support, physiotherapy

    This school currently provides the following support for pupils' mental health needs
    Counsellor comes in once a week. Pupils can self refer and can be referred by staff or parents.

    Co-ordinator: Mark Guest
  • Transport links

    School Transport
    School bus service to/from London

    Public Transport
    Nearest mainline train station: Sunningdale
    Journey time to London by train: 51 minutes
    Nearest international airport: Heathrow (10 miles)

  • Parents tell us

    ‘The moment we walked into the school you could feel the warmth of the atmosphere. Sunningdale is extremely well run by Tom Dawson and you can feel his and his staff’s passion for the school in everything they do. 

    Sunningdale is relatively small so they know each boy extremely well – making sure they push their strengths and support them when necessary. 

    I saw a change in my son on the first exeat after only two weeks – he was more polite, more independent and buzzing with excitement! 

    The admissions process was excellent. Jo Bell is extremely warm and helpful, and the process was smooth. My son came for the tour and didn’t want to leave as the staff really engaged with him on the visit. 

    The head was a huge deciding factor for us.  He is an excellent role model and someone I trust to be so central in the upbringing of my son. He is completely dedicated to the success of the school and shows passion for all areas. His leadership is outstanding. He is professional and approachable and always available for the boys. 

    Miss Foynes is an incredible matron. She looks after the youngest boys when they arrive and is everything a mother would want when handing over her little boy! She is gentle, warm and caring and shows such love for the boys. They all adore her and so do the parents. 

    The school communicates extremely well. The tutor system works well, and you can easily contact your son's tutor. He sends regular email updates, photos and videos and is always the first point of contact. 

    Being a small school, parents are able to form good relationships with all the staff who are always present for school events. 

    Pastoral care is an area where Sunningdale really excels – it is truly outstanding. Not only is every member of staff extremely warm and caring, but the boys are taught to behave in this way to the other boys. They look out for each other and have a strong ethos of being polite and thoughtful. 

    Concerns are dealt with quickly and effectively and the family atmosphere is very important. I feel the school got to know my son very quickly and really care about him. 

    The Common Entrance prep and academic results are outstanding, but Sunningdale looks at the bigger picture. I love it so much because it is preparing my son for life, it is teaching him to be kind, polite, independent and resilient. 

    We were made to feel extremely welcome by the school community. There is a community of London parents and a good mix of boarders and day boys. 

    The school is amazing at involving parents with so many events to attend if you choose to, always followed by lunch, tea or drinks and an opportunity to chat to the staff and other parents. This has been a real highlight for me as the sense of community is so strong. 

    Sunningdale has been everything we hoped for and more. The most important thing for me was that my son was happy, and this was the case from the day he began. This is largely due to the wonderful family atmosphere created by Tom and Amy Dawson. 

    Sport was a huge consideration in our choice and this has been outstanding. My son is outside all the time, plays for school teams and really experiences being a little boy.’

School Updates

  • Introducing our Pupil Editors from Sunningdale School

  • The changing face of Saturday school

  • WATCH: Talk Education's Country Preps Focus - Sunningdale School

  • See Sunningdale School in our Country Preps Focus

    Find your perfect country prep school. Whether you're contemplating a move for your entire family or want to explore the education options within a daily minibus-ride of the capital, we can help.
  • The changing face of prep school boarding

    By Tom Dawson, headmaster of Sunningdale School


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Dry Arch Road, Sunningdale, Berkshire SL5 9PY

01344 620159


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