Muddy says: d'Overbroeck's School in Oxford has a first name policy, progressive curriculum, an incredible new Sixth Form campus and a whole clutch of brilliant results. Impressed.
And now for something completely different – d’Overbroeck’s in Oxford, in the centre of the city with an impressive ethos and great results to boot. Definitely worth reading if you’re looking for calm, engaged children (er, sign me up).
D’OVERBROECK’S SCHOOL, OXFORD
d’Overbroeck’s in Oxford is a three-site progressive, mixed private day school for 485 kids (11-18 years) with boarding provision for Sixth Formers, nearly half of whom take up the option to hotfoot it from their parents. The only school I’ve ever reviewed whose name translated from the Dutch means ‘over-trousers’ (am I the only person to find this amusing?).
The school is housed in buildings just north of the city centre with a third site in a stunning new building Sixth Form building (artist’s impression above) in Summertown from September. I went around the site a few weeks back and it’s absolutely state-of-the-art, part Victorian villa, part 21st century glass and concrete.
The current Sixth Form building is one of those typical red brick mansions on the Banbury Road, higgledly-piggledly and no longer big enough to house a Sixth Form that has expanded from a mere handful in 1977 to the 260 Sixth Form pupils it has today (not to mention overseas students, making up roughly a third of intake). The Years 7-11 building about 10 minutes away is more modern, with an outdoor play area where the boys were busy hoofing a football around while the girls were off chatting somewhere (stereotypical but true!)
This is not a school where I will regale you with onsite swimming pools, multiple sports fields and music auditoriums! Facilities are good, in fact, it’s just that they’re off campus (ergo, what minibuses are made for). As the Principal pointed out, restriction breeds invention! So Swimming takes place at Oxford University pool; hockey, rugby, cricket and athletics are held at local sports grounds like Jordan Hill in north Oxford and Oxford City Football Club arena, plus Oxford Brookes University for facilities like their climbing wall; while pilates, dance, martial arts and yoga are either held in the school hall or Summertown’s Ferry Lane sports centre. The Y7-11 kids have at least 2 double lessons of sport each week with extracurricular sport on Wednesday afternoons.
Drama in particular is highly regarded at d’Overbroeck’s – one of the Sixth Form kids I met there had just received offers for just about every first rate drama school I know, and was just waiting to do his RADA entry and he raved about the school and the teaching. Much of the drama takes place at the Years 7-11 building at the moment with performances at The Old Fire Station in central Oxford, but the new Sixth Form building will have its own 180 plus seater auditorium for concerts, drama performances and lectures for use by the whole school, so it’s happy jazz hands from now on.
In keeping with smaller schools, the emphasis is on chamber orchestras and choirs, but from September there will be no shortage of music space, with practice rooms, Technology teaching space and a recording studio in the new site.
Excellent. GSCE results for 2016 were 59% of GCSE entries at A*/A and 80% of GCSE entries at A*/B. In A Levels 54% of all entries managed A*/A, with 85% getting A* to B. The Top University Destination from d’Overbroeck’s (2014-16) is University College London, followed by Bristol University, King’s College London and Birmingham University. Cambridge and Oxford are both in the Top 20. Sixth Form entry is not particularly high flying – a minimum of an average 6Bs at GSCE – so the A Level results are pretty incredible.
A story of not one but two heads. Sami Cohen has been at d’Overbroeck’s since the dawn of time – oh alright, from 1979 – and became the Principal in 1996. He’s retiring at the end of June, and more’s the pity because a more forward-thinking, calm, inspiring head master is hard to imagine – it’s been his dream to create this new Sixth Form space and having achieved his aim he’s ready for a new challenge (probably horizontal, on a hammock). His replacement is Emma-Kate Henry (formerly of Hampshire Collegiate School, pictured) who officially takes up her role in July. I’m yet to meet her, but anyone who takes the helm at d’Overbroeck’s will have to feel very very comfortable in the grown-up space the school inhabits – all adults are called by their Christian names by all pupils and there is a conscious lack of stuffiness. However, a strong emphasis on academic success means there is a rigour that underpins this less hierarchical way of teaching.
Boarding provision starts in the Sixth Form, at which point just about half of students hot foot it away from their parents (or are booted out – discuss). A brand new boarding house is being built across the road from the new Sixth Form building in Summertown, that will house 60 Students meaning that all Lower Sixth and most Upper Sixth students can be offered boarding house places, though many Upper Sixth kids in particular choose host families as a good ‘transition’ stage to independent living at uni. There’s a separate female boarding house btw.
I rather like the fact that the new site at d’Overbroeck’s has taken over the Victorian masonic lodge in Summertown. Plenty of humorous opportunity for ‘knock knock knock’ jokes for starters.
And if the ‘norm’ is a school where your child is kept firmly in his or her ‘place’ and spoon-fed what they need to pass exams, d’Overbroeck’s is quirky indeed. The clear emphasis on personal relationships, respect for others, collaboration and kindness seems to really work here and particularly in Sixth Form feels like an inspiring half-way house between school and university. The emphasis on first names for all teachers will either make you feel very uncomfortable or have you booking up your site visit immediately.
What else? Well, there’s no place for the entire school to congregate which is quite unusual and a bit of a shame in some ways – they get around this issue by holding drama productions as whole-school affairs and also inter house sports days. Year 7-11 classes are small at up to 15 – and several classes I went into are much smaller, almost feeling collegiate. So despite its groovy first name credentials there’s no place to hide for would-be blue-tack flickers.
Word on the ground: Extremely positive. On a walk around the site of the new school I was chatting to a lovely woman who had already sent one of her daughters here and was booking her second in for Sixth Form – she had a third child at a well-respected rural Oxfordshire boarding school with all the extensive grounds and posh facilities but didn’t think it a patch on d’Overbroeck’s. I also spoke to several very different kids and they all talked about the quality of teaching, friendliness and lack of friction the school. Without adults putting up barriers between them and the students, there’s nothing for the kids to actually rebel against!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for a change for Sixth Form, a more relaxed, mature educational grounding to get the kids ready for university or life beyond. Children who respond to smaller classes, and a less hierarchical approach to teaching – education is not something inflicted on kids here, it’s an active collaboration with the teachers.
Not for: Anyone who wants to luxuriate in a mile-long country drive up to their child’s school (er, nope, this is Oxford, more like gridlock). Sport is well catered for but I’ve seen private schools locally with more sport time offered on the curriculum. Years 7-11 have a small outside play area but finding grass means leaving the school premises.
Dare to disagree?!
Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Open Day on Saturday 6 May 2017 and as always please do feed back, I’d love to know your thoughts.