Cokethorpe is an independent co-ed school for boys and girls 4-18 years, set in 150 acres of West Oxfordshire parkland just outside Witney and 10 miles from Oxford. Prep and Senior pupils at Cokethorpe number 650 in total, with 520 of those in the Senior school, and average class sizes running from 14-16, and from 2-10 for A levels depending on the subject.
Historic buildings abound on this pretty site, including the 10th century church (in keeping with the Christian foundation of the school), eighteenth century outbuildings and even a dovecote, though the elegant honey stone Queen Anne mansion is its centre piece, oozing mini Brideshead vibes and full of gorgeous period features – Queen Anne herself added cladding to the Corinthian Room after a visit in 1713. The main mansion houses the Prep School, while the remainder of the vast site is home to the Senior pupils.
This review focuses only the Senior School, but you can read my separate Prep School review here.
Er, immense probably covers it. There’s been enormous investment in Cokethorpe School over the last 15 years, and there’s virtually no stone unturned for facilities here. You can check out the official Senior School vid here for a whistle stop tour.
Sport is definitely a strong suit for Cokethorpe, and a browse on the school’s social media showcases the #elitesport successes currently at the school – from a Reading academy footballer and GB circuit tennis player to sixth form girls representing Oxfordshire in rugby, cricket and golf. The main sports for boys here as you’d expect – rugby, football, and cricket with tennis, cross country and athletics in the Summer. For girls, swap out football for netball and hockey for rugby. The girls’ hockey team, according to the kids I spoke to, is ‘incredible’ this term. Recent sport wins in general for Cokethorpe Seniors over the last years include being U16 National Finalists in 2020. Further individual successes include an U16 Cross Country National Finalist and a
In terms of facilities, there are the usual basics of a large sports hall with cricket nets, two full size Astros, three cricket pitches and six rugby/football pitches. Now add a golf course, fitness room, 10 metre outdoor climbing wall, a shooting range and clay traps, and enough room for the school to host its own show jumping competition and you’re getting the picture. A new Pavilion has just been completed – a slick, modernist, single level building that holds 220 kids in ten changing rooms for matches.
One notable omission in facilities is that there’s no swimming pool here – a bit surprising given the size of the site. Also offsite, the children sail (and gain RYA qualifications) at Farmoor Reservoir, and kayak on the nearby river XX.
Beyond the sports curriculum and team play, the school runs AOB (it stands for Any Other Business), a clubs and activities programme with a mind-boggling 160 choices on offer. More on this below but suffice to say your child will not suffer for lack of sporting opportunity either – Kayaking, Shooting, Basketball, Golf and Sailing Club are all on the list for Summer Term, alongside quirkier options like Radio Cokethorpe, Mandarin, How to Start a Revolution, and Grow It, Eat It.
When you have a 200-person theatre at your disposal, a second drama workshop space, a fulltime wardrobe mistress and a choice of 3,500 costumes, you can pretty much guarantee a strong turnout for drama! ‘The Shed’ as it’s known to the pupils is, well, pretty much that – a huge farm-shed style structure that has been decked out as a black box theatre, used for drama rehearsals, performances and also lectures and events with tiered seating, lighting rigging and professional soundboard.
LAMDA classes are taken up by 12% of pupils in the Senior school, with 12-14 performances throughout the year.
Music gets a shot in the arm at the Senior school, with a healthy interest in the usual array of orchestras, ensembles, rock bands, big bands and choirs which exist along with a dedicated music tech suite, and about 16% taking individual instrument lessons. A popular Young Musician of the Year competition for Cokethorpe pupils (70 took part in 2021) supports the talent here – they really go to town with an intimate gathering for some 100 invited guests – a mix of parents, alumni and pupils – and a three-course dinner as part of the evening.
The artists here are given space to breathe with huge interconnected, bright art spaces, kiln, photography studio and design suite. In addition to Art as a subject, Textiles is offered as a subject at GSCE. Art & Design is followed for A-Level which offers one of Art, Fine Art or Textile Design but on my walk around it’s working it out nicely for the pupils; the Sixth Former who was quietly at work has been offered a place to study Art at Cardiff Uni.
Sixth Formers have it good here with their own huge Sixth Form lounge, all slouchy sofas, natural light and enough room on the day I visited to easily fit in 150 sitting guests for a speaker event.
More generally, the Cranham Library is a swanky glass library space, with a permanent Careers Officer on the ground floor to help with next step decisions. There’s also a snazzy large dining room, built in 2009 but still feeling modern with its clean lines and preponderance of wood. It’s used by the whole school, giving the Prep and Senior a chance to mingle. Look up and you’ll see the minstrel’s balcony – an ad hoc performance space – with the words Inopiam Ingenio Pensant written across it. My new game when I go to a school is to see if the students know what their school’s Latin mottos mean (no, they didn’t – but trust me, they’re not alone!).
The Senior school had a reputation not so long ago as the resting place for those academically less gifted – it was seen as the school to attend if you couldn’t get into any of the Oxford independents. But now, with 70% of pupils having headed off to Russell Group universities in 2021 including one for Oxbridge, that’s no longer a fair prod (though like many reputations it perhaps persists longer than it should.)
Cokethorpe does have a broad academic intake, but the school can clearly deliver on results for its ‘stretchy’ students. Certainly, the two sixth formers who showed me around were dismissive of the idea that Cokethorpe didn’t cater to academic talent – one is off to study Human Rights Law at Bristol University and the other to take a degree in Real Estate at Reading University.
Interestingly, the meter by which parents are increasingly measuring schools is via the Value Added score– this measures the progress that students have made, taking account of where each student started from and the progress they’ve made relative to other, similar students. Cokethorpe is in the top 8% of Value-Added schools in the UK – so whatever stage your child enters education here, they’ll progress better than at 92% of UK schools which isn’t too shabby!
Result-wise, in 2021 44% of all grades at GSCE were 9/8, and 66% were 9/7. In other words, two thirds of students reached A-A*. For A level, 64% of students achieved an A/A*, 94% achieved A*/B, and 30% achieved an A*.
Cokethorpe also does a lot in the way of digital learning tools: every child has a Microsoft Surface device, with the aim being that teachers will use the tech to further the classroom experience rather than replace it. You can watch a video about that here.
Subjects on offer at Cokethorpe for GSCE and A Level tend towards the traditional though Textiles, Business and joint French/Spanish for GSCE and Government & Politics for A Level and a popular Business BTEC shake things up a bit. It’s actually in the AOB extra-curricular programme where Senior pupils get to experience a huge array of different subjects, challenges and skills. The children are encouraged to choose a balance of Cerebral, Physical, Creative, Hobby and Service categories. One of the Sixth Formers I spoke to had taken ‘Budgeting for Uni’ as an option which sounded like a brilliant idea (and please can I send my son over?).
The pastoral provision at Cokethorpe is one of the great strengths of the School and has directly evolved from its ethos of being community and family focused. Cokethorpe pupils are well-rounded, considerate and socially responsible individuals. The House system is the most visible element of the pastoral care, whilst every pupil is assigned a tutor and tutor groups are kept small in order for good relationships to develop. The Wellbeing and Integrity Toolkit (WIT) programme enables pupils to develop their social skills and provides a toolkit for life outside of school – think substantially beefed up PSHE programme.
More novel elements include a new for 2021 Tutor Partnering Programme that sees members of the Sixth Form spend some of their Tutor time each week attending tutorials for other year groups, all the way down to the youngest Reception Class in the Prep School. There is also a dedicated School Counsellor and a well-run peer mentoring programme.
Damian Ettinger has been headmaster at Cokethorpe since 2002, so he’s nearing 20 years in charge – an almost unprecedented feat, as school heads these days seem to move every five years or so. He’s friendly and chatty and refreshingly honest in interview, recognising that Cokethorpe’s biggest barrier remains consideration against the behemoth Oxford day schools – but he’s also sharp enough to sense that with parents turning away from hothouse academics towards a more holistic approach to education, this is Cokethorpe’s chance to shine.
Having overseen huge investment in facilities over the last 10 years, including the swanky new Pavilion, Ettinger assures me there are further exciting developments in the pipeline. So I think it’s safe to assume he won’t be moving until retirement.
In terms of facilities, not many Senior schools can boast a full-time wardrobe mistress – let me tell you, those costume rails run and run. There’s also a lovely café at the school for teachers, parents and Sixth formers, so once you’ve dropped your kids off, you can go for a restorative double espresso.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Wrap-around care here is relatively restrained with breakfast club starting at 8am and after-school activities ending at 4.45pm. Not so great for commuting parents perhaps but if your child is coming from further afield (see Transport) it does mean the children can get home in decent time and not be too tired. The school day itself runs from 8.40am – 4pm, Monday to Friday. In keeping with the majority of day schools now, there is no Saturday school at Cokethorpe.
Cokethorpe has roughly 7% of pupils with mild SEN needs in the Senior school. Its SEN provision is undoubtedly an area of strength with one-to-one lessons for children who need extra assistance in an attractive area that was once the stables. Refreshingly, there’s zero stigma about accessing this service here, with study skills assistance available to all pupils on an ad hoc basis, SEN or not.
Nothing very current (seriously, Independent Schools Inspectorate, get going with this stuff) but you can view the latest reports here.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
The School recognises that pupils will likely have phones and is open to this, especially for those travelling on the school’s transport routes. Pupils wishing to use a phone for a particular purpose during break or lunch times will ask permission of a teacher to do so, whilst phones may also be used in classroom settings for specific purposes, although this latter relationship has altered somewhat in practice with the arrival of the Surface Pro devices. The Sixth Form have a little more flexibility, though, and may use their phones at breaks and lunch times if they are discreet in doing so. Pupils may not take photos or videos of other pupils on site.
Cokethorpe pulls in from an extensive catchment area – from Thame to Bourton on the Water, Wantage to Chipping Norton. To facilitate that there are 22 transport routes, available for Pupils from Year 3 upwards. The cost is a buttock-clenching £420 – £550 per term so factor that into your annual fees.
Good value I’d say – both in terms of the facilities on offer and in comparison to other independent local day schools, and the good news is that the fees don’t rise as your child grows. First Form to Upper Sixth fees are £6,950 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The headmaster is popular with the pupils, who appreciate his sense of humour, along with his largesse (the cookies delivered to the Cokethorpe families in lockdown were a smart touch). The majority of the Senior school pupils are within a 25-mile radius, which may account for the community vibe and relaxed atmosphere at the school. One of the Sixth Formers I talked to described Cokethorpe as almost ‘boringly well-balanced and chilled’ – but it was definitely meant as a compliment and is the sort of comment that has parents reaching for the cheque book.
Some parents wanted a better ‘flow’ from Prep to Senior for a less bumpy transition, and this is now coming to fruition, with in-synch timetabling so the Prep school kids can use the facilities and conversely so the Sixth Formers can peer-mentor the littlies.
Have a bottomless pit of an eater? The school dinners are apparently awesome.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a rural, relaxed school that will nurture and encourage. The grounds are stunning, facilities are strong and there’s an all-rounder focus that will appeal to many. Sport, music and drama are well catered for at Senior School and the Sixth Form offering is attractive. As a co-ed through school, Cokethorpe in general a neat option for families who don’t the hassle of juggling multiple schools for their sons and daughters. Those who love beautiful vistas and heritage buildings will be in their element.
Not for: The relatively short day won’t suit some working parents. The 150-acre site, though undeniably beautiful, creates its own out-of-town ‘bubble’ and some older pupils may hanker after a more buzzy vibe. The subjects on offer are fairly traditional with the occasional caveat – so if your child is dead set on Mandarin A level, look away.
Dare to disagree?! Go and take a look for yourself. The next open morning is Sat 15 Oct 2022, 9.30-12.30pm. You can book your place by clicking here. Other Open Mornings during the next academic year are: Sat 25 Feb 2023, Sat 20 May 2023.