Oxford High School is a highly regarded Prep and Senior girls’ school, set across three sites close to the city centre. It’s hidden away down a leafy residential area in Summertown, close to the river. Oxford’s oldest girls’ school, founded in 1875 by Ada Benson, the High teaches nearly 800 pupils from 3-18 years. Of those, 240 are within the Pre-Prep and Prep in classes at an average of 18-20, set within two traditional red brick 19th century mansions within walking distance of one another. There’s no ‘Brideshead’ style gasping at the beauty of the buildings – if you’re imagining spires and quads, you’ll have to walk 10 minutes down the road to the Oxford colleges – but their Edwardian façades still hold appeal.
On site the school is constrained by its three storey 19th century architecture. There’s a pleasing homeliness and warmth to the Prep School, but due to space issues you’ll find most of the headline facilities around the corner at the senior school. Within the prep is a lovely playground with raised beds for growing and free flowing play area, and academically there’s a single science lab, art room, sweet library, small gymnasium and a performing arts stage within the main hall. Luckily, the girls have access to the facilities at the senior school (just around the corner) with its 25 metre swimming pool, athletics track and tennis courts. They also use the astroturf at The Dragon School, literally a hundred yards down the road.
Over at the pre-prep it’s a more simple set up as you’d expect, in a smaller site (ideal for littlies who probably feel it’s enormous) with three year groups, from Reception to Year 2, after which girls move onto the bigger site for Y3-6 at Bardwell Road.
Oxford Prep is resolutely nurturing, with a strong family atmosphere, and is relatively non-selective at Pre-Prep and Reception. However, the school also has a responsibility to feed its academic senior sister down the road so relax tiger parents, teaching standards are high here (the last ISI report in 2016 was outstanding from top to tail). There are weekly specialist teachers from Reception in Science, Mandarin, Choir, Music, Games, Swimming and Art, a weekly ‘Global Studies’ lesson to learn about other cultures and languages, a Singapore Mathematics-based maths programme and group musical instruments introduced from Y2 (the recorder – find your earplugs quick) and individual lessons from Y3.
The current head is a science teacher so STEM is high on the agenda, and there is a strong thread of feminism through the school – the website lays claim to moulding ‘fearless’ girls, and there’s plenty of inspirational artwork showing trailblazing women on the walls.
Gymnastics, dance and athletics are part of the PE curriculum, along with weekly swimming lessons. No surprises in the main sports – hockey, netball, football, cricket and tennis. Full marks for no rounders which got the boot back in 2018. Music-wise there is an orchestra (impressive for a small school), junior strings, wind ensemble, choirs and guitar group among others.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day runs from 8.15 to 3.30, so relatively short for an independent prep, but there’s good wrap around provision, meaning you can drop your child for breakfast from 7.30am and pick up at 5.45pm once they’ve completed after school clubs or activities – the likes of ceramics, chess, ballet, board games, football are all on offer.
Jessica Williams started in the top job in early 2019, having previously been Deputy Head and Head of Girls at bucolic all-rounder Ashfold School in Dorton, Bucks, Head of Boarding at Lucton School and Head of Year 7 at Aylesbury Grammar School. She’s friendly and enthusiastic, still in the relative first flush of making her mark (she was just a year in when COVID hit) and is eager to show a school confident in its own right and successes, rather than have it overshadowed by its big sister.
I don’t think Oxford High Prep hangs its hat on idiosyncrasies, though mandarin from Reception through to Year 7 (the first year of senior school) is pretty unusual for such young children, and is refreshingly forward-thinking. Yoga has been a sweet addition to the pastoral offering. The school will also be launching its full #futureready programme in September, which is all about cultivating and celebrating creativity, kindness, courage, and resilience in the girls. They aim to recognise all types of strengths, not only academic achievement, and develop well-rounded pupils who are ready for the future.
Inexpensive for a city independent school, reflecting the compact space and off-site facilities. Fees per term run from £3000 for Reception through £4064 for Years 5 & 6. Add £240 for lunch each term for R-Y4, and £287 per term for Y5&6. Pre-booked breakfast club is £3.50, and pre-booked afterschool care is £8.
Given the age of the children, the majority of parents here are within easy access of the school, but there is a bus network covering 10 different Oxfordshire routes including Bicester, Goring, Lewknor and Faringdon.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Oxford High Prep has a reputation as family-oriented and inclusive, no doubt helped by the relatively small numbers here. Parents cheerfully admit the interiors could do with some updating and TLC in places, but accept this is the payoff for lower fees.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a small, safe, nurturing environment. Budding feminists will be happy here – the head describes the girls as ‘spirited’, and it’s every inch the compliment. It has a forward-thinking spirit here that will attract liberals and globalists (across the Prep School, 35 different languages are spoken). I can’t comment on the girls as I visited mid COVID and wasn’t near them, but will feed back in mid 2021.
Not for: The lack of space and off-site facilities are not for all. And there’s no guarantee of a place at the senior school on leaving Y6, though you have roughly an 85% chance so pretty good! Places are confirmed at the end of Y5, so there’s plenty of time for applications elsewhere if necessary.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! The school is hosting a Prep School ‘All About Us’ Virtual Event on 23 Sept, followed by a Reception ‘All About Us’ Virtual Event on 1 October. See details and booking options here.
1 Bardwell Rd, Oxford OX2 6SU Phone: 01865 559888