Well, this is different! St Clare’s is a school in North Oxford for 14-19 year olds, just 1.5km from the city centre, made up of a series of buildings in several adjacent/nearby streets, with a variety of grand red brick Victorian and more suburban Edwardian sites.
The school focuses on the International Baccaulaureate diploma (IB) and thumbing its nose at Brexiteers with its proudly internationalist approach to education – the original school, launched in 1953, grew out of a scheme to establish links between British and European students after the Second World War.
The longest established IB World School in England – only 13 other schools in the world have taught IB longer – this co-ed school has 280 children (182 girls to 98 boys), with just 38 day pupils to 242 boarders. A whopper 87 per cent of its student intake is non-British, with a broad mix of nationalities (40 at last count – I mean, talk about United Nations!) but a careful approach to entry that ensures no one nationality stages a cultural ‘takeover’.
There’s currently a ‘Pre IB’ qualification with iGSCEs in maths and English, but from Sept 2022 the school is planning to introduce a Middle School Programme for 14-16 year olds, with a view to enticing more local Oxford pupils who might not have previously thought to consider this eclectic, intriguing and – according to its 2019 ISI report – excellent school.
Clearly a school that’s set up in a series of domestic city buildings is not about to roll call a host of sweeping facilities, but academically St Clare’s is well equipped, with an attractive £3.3m Science and Mathematics building (completed Sept 2014) providing three science labs and prep rooms and three large maths classrooms, and a very swanky glass and metal, angular £5.5 million art studio, with attached dorm block that looks out, Oxford quad style, onto a large square garden – it’s very lovely. There’s also the now obligatory onsite café, The Globe at 135.
The large mansion house on Banbury Road is where the main admin offices are along with the newly renovated and extended dining room for the kids, but dotted around in the vicinity you’ll also find boarding houses, classrooms, a school hall with its United Nations-style flags and lovely library.
Sports wise, kids can use the gym at the Oxfordshire Health and Racquets club, footballers train at Oxford City FC and the basketball club uses Ferry Sports Centre. Interestingly the school’s most recent Independent Schools Inspectorate report (ISI) cites the excellent take up for sport at the school, part of a programme of Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) programme (an integral part of the IB) whereby the students have to commit to one creativity, activity and service experience each term from a list of over 50 choices.
The maximum award is for full tuition fees (day pupils) or full tuition and residential fees, awarded on academic ability though there are also bursaries available and also music scholarships too. Email the Admissions registrar Chris Osbourn (firstname.lastname@example.org). The deadline for applications is 22 October 2021 for day scholarships and 28 Jan 2022 for boarding.
Impressive. If you’re not au fait with IB grades they run from 24 points for a pass to a maximum of 45 points (only 0.2 of students worldwide get this). At St Clare’s the average score is 39 points, equivalent to at least A*, A, A at A-level combined with a top grade in the EPQ, with a 100% pass rate. Not bad, right?! What’s more 6 students achieved the perfect score of 45 points, 47% of students scored 40 points or over (equivalent to at least A, A, A at A-level), and leavers secured places at top universities across the globe. These include (deep breath) University of Cambridge, London School of Economics, Imperial College London and The University of Edinburgh in the UK; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California, Berkeley, Tufts University and Scripps Liberal Arts College in the USA, and Leiden University and Bocconi University in Europe. Phewph.
So they know what they’re doing here! Not surprising maybe given St Clare’s teaching creds – it’s the only IB teacher training school-based body in Europe, having already imparted its knowledge to Teddies and Headington Schools and currently the European School in Culham which is moving to IB next year.
Andrew Rattue hopped into the St Clare’s hot seat in 2017 after 11 years as head of The Royal Grammar School, Worcester and King’s College, Madrid. An avuncular, confident head, he sees the school’s thrusting internationalism as its strength, particularly at a time when the UK is wrestling with its conscience over Remain or Leave. Though comfortable with St Clare’s position outside the mainstream options in Oxford, there’s no question that Rattue hopes its liberal, outward looking ethos and unusual charm will chime with Oxford parents.
There are 16 St Clare’s-owned residential houses for the wide variety of adult, school and holiday students who pass through the doors, but in terms of the teenagers, they live in groups of 16-21 in several houses down leafy side streets with common room, kitchen, with a warden in a separate apartment within each house.
It probably won’t surprise you in a school where kids are encouraged to work independently and use their free time as they like (off into Oxford as and when they fancy – the benefit of not having a central campus) that St Clare’s has no uniform and also a first name policy for teachers.
It’s the first school I’ve come across where there’s actively no prefect system either – they’ve replaced it with Student Counsel with a President, and 3 Vice Presidents. Each of the boarding houses also has a Student Counsel Rep so that’s around 21 counsellors in all. So there are leadership positions available but they feel more representative than authoratitive.
Day pupils annual fee £20,480; weekly and full-time boarders £42,626. The IB course itself is less expensive than Teddies and a bit more pricey than Headington! It’s worth knowing that the day fee includes all meals 7 days a week.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Inclusive, outward-looking, friendly and ideal for pupils with a mature, independent outlook (the IB is no easy option, just saying). There are high academic expectations put on the children so the idea that this international school is an easy option for rich Europeans to play at Brideshead Revisited is not the case.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents and children looking for a different educational experience – more of a half-way house between school and university. It would suit the independent minded, maybe those who feel a bit stifled by, or at odds with more traditional schools, or those who don’t respond well to authority – the no uniform, first name ethos gives parity between teachers and pupils.
Not for: If your child is sport crazzzzzy this might not be the place for them just because of the small numbers and off-site facilities. You’ll either love or hate the international element, though concerns may be assuaged by knowing that actually the British contingent here is comparatively high (13% of the cohort and one of 40 nationalities) and all pupils have to speak English to each other.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! St Clare’s is holding a Live Open Morning on 25th September 2021. Register here. Let me know what you think, I’m all ears!
St Clare’s, 139 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 7AL. Tel: 01865 552031.