Summer Fields is a bucolic day and boarding school for boys aged 4-13, completely hidden away in leafy Summertown in North Oxford, for boys aged 4+, and set in 70 acres of stunning grounds – roughly a third of an acre for each of the 310 boys, if you will – that takes you right down to the River Cherwell in the city centre.
The original Victorian villa, making up part of the Pre-Prep
The school was established in 1864 with just seven pupils so no surprise that the original buildings are Victorian, though the property footprint has grown over time to include some clunky mid-Eighties bolt-ons and some rather more foxy recent architectural additions including a beautiful two-storey glass and stone pavilion.
The Pre-Prep, just outside the Summer Field gates, opened in 2018, and is now full with 75 little people, while the Prep holds 182 boarders and 76 day pupils in classes of just 13.
With its own chapel, the school operates under a Christian ethos, though other religions are welcome.
FACILITIES / SPORT
The cricket pavilion
OMG, where to start? The huge school grounds are absolutely pristine, with eight cricket pitches (the current headmaster David Faber is cricket mad), grass tennis courts, an astro turf hockey pitch, a nine-hole golf course, an adventure playground and an outdoor swimming pool.
The endless view from the Pavilion
Inside there’s another 22m swimming pool (because why have one when you can have two?), plus 3 squash courts, 2 Eton Fives courts, a shooting range plus a Sports Hall that’s in excellent nick. The big wow building is The Salata Pavilion, with meeting rooms downstairs, a large open plan area upstairs plus large balcony overlooking the school grounds and those beautiful cricket pitches. The boys play sport every day and as well as the main sports of rugby, cricket an hockey, the school offers more unusual sports climbing, scuba diving and judo and sculling.
The grounds are also home to the biggest school adventure playground I’ve seen, constructed with the obligatory zip wire, and designed by Robert Sergent-Fairley, recipient of ‘Best Natural Playground in London’ for the last 5 years. As it happens, the kids are massively free-range, and there are camping pods and wooden shacks in the woods in where the boys camp out, whatever the weather.
The Salata pavilion
On the drama front, there’s a tiered theatre for school performances, and musically over 80 per cent of kids play an instrument here, the highest percentage I’ve encountered for a while in a school review. The school offers the usual mix of orchestras and ensembles along with three choirs – one of which, the chapel choir with its 24 choristers and 12 adults, enjoys a national reputation that tickles the coat-tails of the dedicated choral schools.
The natural playground
Recently there’s been a £2.6million investment in creating an extraordinary two tier library space and updating the Chapel with wider aisles and underfloor heating. The library has been built in the area once known New Room, the oldest teaching space in the school, and strikes the right balance between inviting on the ground floor with its slouchy sofas and fireplaces and the quiet working space above. There’s also a reading room and ‘living history’ archive room charting Summer Fields’ past.
For the official school tour, check out Summer Field’s video.
The Pre-Prep’s relative newness, coupled with Summer Fields extraordinary deep pockets has created its USP – a state-of-the-art space that’s been wholly designed with modern teaching in mind. The Pre-Prep head Joanna Chapman came from Knightsbridge Junior School (yes, just imagine the shrill expectations of parents there) and was hands-on in the fitting-out process, so you can expect wipe down walls, interactive TV screens that can be lowered for littlies, automatic blinds for the rooms (the extension on the existing Victorian villa is modernist, bright and glassy), and storage is well hidden so there’s no unnecessary clutter.
The copper-clad modern extension
Teaching spaces are roomy, the indoor to outdoor play is seamless. Also worth mentioning that the children here get the full use of the Prep school facilities and as they are on-site, they’re very much treated as part of the school, rather than an adjunct to it – case in point the six metre tree house that can be used by pre-prep all year round, both as a classroom in the trees and as an extension of the weekly forest school sessions which are already run by a dedicated forest school teacher.
In a boarding school with only 280 pupils, and a pastoral system that includes Lodge Parents, a Personal Tutor and Form Teacher all keeping an eye on each child, Summer Fields has a good reputation for its pastoral care. There’s a dedicated Deputy Head Pastoral to coordinate the care, the chaplain is on hand and 15 of the staff have recently undergone training to become mental health ambassadors. There’s a school counsellor each Thursday should children want to go up and see her and in a sweet touch, every new child is given a teddy on arrival, complete with house scarf knitted by Lodge Parent Ann or registrar Christine.
With the launch of the Pre-Prep there’s been a natural (and planned) progression of day school numbers, but Summer Fields still lays its hat on its reputation as a top boarding school – currently it’s around 70% boarding pupils here, with 15% of the children coming from overseas.
The boarding accommodation has had complete overhaul and it’s good to see the school has shown creativity and a sense of fun, with huge wall murals, themes of Harry Potter, or adventure. Now it’s just the Y8 accommodation still to get the glow-up.
There are 7 boarding houses, with roughly 30-37 boys in each house, and all based on individual year groups. All homework is done away from the boarding houses to allow the kids to come ‘home’ and relax. No lie in on the weekend though – Saturday school is alive and kicking here and on Sunday there’s a full chapel service.
The old school hall
Summer Fields has a spectacular success rate in getting its pupils into the top independent senior schools in the country (top of the list – Eton) which gives you an idea of the academic standards here. There were 13 scholarships this year (2020-21) including 3 to Eton and 4 to Harrow, 2 to Magdalen College, 2 to Radley, plus assorted gongs for kids heading to Westminster and Haberdashers Monmouth. Eton and Harrow top the next destination lists by a long chalk, though leavers headed to 17 schools in total including Oundle, Radley and Stowe.
There are 6 support teachers on hand (not including the handwriting teacher) in case your child struggles. Scholarships are achieved across the board in sport, music, art and academics, though music and sport seem to be particularly well represented at Summer Fields. Musically, the chapel choir is known as one of the best non-cathedral school choirs.
David Faber, an old boy of Summer Fields himself (as was his grandfather, some bloke called Harold Macmillan), came to the education game late, having been a Tory MP and an academic historian and author in his own right. I like the fact that he’s worked in politics, academia, the real world prior to taking up the headship 11 years ago – there’s a practical, can-do attitude about him that’s seen considerable investment and expansion since he too over the reins.
Buzzer is the school shop that sells everything from noisy toys to stationery – all the annoying gizmos that makes school fun and irritate the hell out of parents. Kids can get a ‘Golden Ticket’ of £5 to spend in Buzzer for outstanding academic success (sneaky, I like it!). The school uniform is very Oxfordshire country squire – slouchy corduroys take centre stage.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
There’s a no-mobile phone policy at the school.
On the more expensive side but you’ll get why when you see this place.Prep – £7,628 for day pupils, £10,945 for boarders. For Pre-Prep kids, it’s £4326 for Reception, £4866 for Y1&2 and £5624 for Y3. Registration for both Prep and Pre-Prep is £75 and the Deposit on acceptance of a place is £1,500.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Historically Summer Fields has been out of view, literally and metaphorically, to anyone other than in-the-know boarding families – although thanks to recent expansion, there are now 310 places available rather than 240. Word is that the school is very nurturing and has a warm, inclusive ethos. Clearly the parents who send their kids here have high expectations for their academic path and success, and the school delivers to the brief.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: It’s hard to know a boy this place wouldn’t suit. It has the rolling acreage and pristine playing fields of a top country school, but happens to be a mile outside the centre of Oxford. It’s academic enough for the pushiest of parents but the style of teaching and huge amount of sport and extra-curricular activities mean the kids have a ball too.
NOT FOR: The small cohort won’t appeal to all, nor will the Christian outlook. At £7,628 per term for day pupils, it’s on the steep side compared to other Oxford prep day schools though the £10,945 for boarders a term is more in line with market forces.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest and check it out for yourself! Upcoming Open Days are Pre-Prep (Reception – Year 3) on Fri 6 May, 2022, 10.30am and Prep (Year 4 – Year 8) on Sat 14 May, 2022, 10.30am. There are also several Pre-Prep ‘Stay & Play’ sessions for parents and boys under 4, on Thurs 27 Jan, Thurs 17 Mar and Thurs 9 June, each at 9.30-10.30am.
Summer Fields, Mayfield Road, Oxford OX2 7EN. summerfields.com