Wychwood School, Oxford
Into the centre of Oxford we go – literally a hop and skip from St Aldates – for the latest Muddy school review.
WYCHWOOD SCHOOL, OXFORD
Wychwood is a small day and boarding school for girls aged 11-18, now in its 120th year, with a teeny tiny 110 pupils. A mere 10 minute walk from the centre of Oxford, it’s based around two super-compact red brick mansions typical of the buildings up the Banbury Road on a 1.25 acre site.
Wychood is not a school blessed with space, so don’t expect expansive greenery and huge purpose built concert halls (there’s one of those called The Sheldonian down the road). The school has one grass hockey pitch and access to an astroturf; 7 netball courts, 4 tennis courts, and access to Oxford University pool.
Music provision includes a harp ensemble (not come across one of those before), woodwind and string groups, senior and junior choirs, guitar and ukalele bands and a sight-reading singing club. Orchestral players go to the Thames Vale Youth Orchestra. Art is well catered for here, with GSCEs possible in textiles or photography in addition to the normal Art GCSEs.
They’re good, as you’d hope from a school with the current average class size of 12 in Juniors and 6 in Seniors! Wychwood’s past reputation has never been wildly academic, and it’s seen as a nurturing, very friendly school, but results have been quietly on the rise since 2013 (the new head arrived in Sept 2012).
GSCE results for 2016 were 47% A and A* and for A Levels 64% A*AB grades with 11% gaining A*. In the current Y13 group, 2 out of 12 students applied to Oxbridge and one gained a place. There are Academic scholarships at both 11+ and 16+ entry level in place to keep standards high, plus burseries in music and the creative arts.
Andrea Johnson is pretty much as I’d expect the head of a small, intimate boarding school for girls to be – approachable, friendly, bustling, and protective of her brood. Wychwood’s tiny space and lack of facilities creates obvious issues but she seems to enjoy the challenge – clearly having Oxford on the doorstep is a massive advantage for day girls and boarders alike in terms of cultural and community trips.
Roughly a third of children board, either in The main house (for the majority of senior students) and 2&4 (the postal address) used for the junior girls. In the senior years, common rooms and facilities are shared by boarders and day girls, and day girls can stay for prep during the week (in fact they can come in for Saturday prep too if they’re superkeen) and often sleepover at short notice. The boarding rooms are average – bright, large and with the usual pine/plyboard bedroom furniture. No reason to faint in horror or bring out the bunting either.
Unusually there are mixed-aged bedrooms at Wychwood, no doubt originally decided upon due to lack of space, though in many ways it makes sense for the girls to mix this way, with older ones supporting the younger like ‘big sisters’ and the children learning to make friends outside their peer groups.
Often when I come to this question I scratch my head as many schools are still very traditional, but Wychwood is definitely quirky! The tiny size of the school makes catering to individuality at the core, so it’s no surprise that kids can do some very funky subjects. GSCES are possible in Astronomy, Photography and Pyschology – how cool is that? – and for A Levels they can offer almost any language. In recent years, Farsi, Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Manderin have all been taught. However, the most popular A level results at the all-girls’ Wychwood are actually… maths and chemistry! The set up is very unusual too, very higgledy piggledy and ‘vertical’ (I seemed to go up a lot of steps and floors!).
I also had a real sense that this is a school that picks up and dusts down the children that other schools haven’t quite understood. So there is a huge emphasis here on pastoral care, nurture and personal development.
Word on the ground:
Parents don’t send their kids to Wychwood for sport and drama provision – one mum laughed when I asked about competitive sport! – though clearly there are kids who are talented across the board. But that’s not why children come to Wychwood – it’s a happiness thing.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Excellent for children who have fallen through the cracks in big beast schools and are looking for nurturing, positive alternative. Flexi-boarding provision makes it a particularly good option as children go up the school, with Oxford on the doorstep.
Not for: The claustrophobic! It’s a small, intimate site and with such a small cohort there’s not much privacy to be had. Extra curricular competitive teams will be hampered by the small year intakes.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Open Day on Sat 25 March 17 , 10am-1pm.