Bloxham School, nr Banbury
Muddy says: Bloxham School is an impressive co-ed day/boarding for kids 11-18 in a pretty North Oxfordshire village, with a reputation for all-rounder education.
Bloxham School is a co-ed day/boarding for kids 11-18 in the pretty North Oxfordshire village of – where else? – Bloxham, about 3 miles south of Banbury. The school is long established, and will have its 160th anniversary in Jan 2020, but unlike many public schools that started life as manor houses before ‘diversifying’ into education, Bloxham was actually custom built for the purpose. So though the neo gothic buildings, with later additions, are handsome, they are restrained rather than expansive.
For this reason it seems at first glance that Bloxham doesn’t have much to speak of in terms of grounds – no sweeping wooded driveway to trumpet your arrival – but actually the school has a large 60 acres to play with, and when you think that the school only has 459 pupils (144 in the sixth form, 335 boarders in 6 houses from age 13+ including 22 international students), there’s a lot of space per kid.
For a small school, Bloxham punches well above its weight sports-wise (the current headmaster is a former Oxford University rugby player and outdoor education instructor), and there are some awesome sports facilities – 2 all weather hockey pitches, 2 squash courts, two fives courts, six netball courts doubling as tennis in the summer, and a 23m pool that reopened in Jan 2015. There’s a modern sports hall with a groovy indoor climbing wall, yoga studio, gym, and fitness classes.
Rugby and hockey are the big boys sports – the Rugby U18s won the 2019 Schools Plate this year and three of the 1st XV represented England (U20, U20, England Lambs) this year. The school won the National clay pigeon shooting title for the third year in a row, and athletics, riding and netball were particularly strong this year.
All of the kids take part in three coached sessions of sport a week, and 96% of them represented the school in competitive fixtures this year, so even for the resolutely non-sporty, there’s no escape! Have a horse? No problem! There’s no stabling at the school (though it’s available at a nearby yard) but kids can bring their mounts for twice-weekly tuition. There’s also an annual eventing competition run by the school, held locally.
MUSIC, ART & DRAMA
The music building was redeveloped a few years back and now includes, as well as the usual practise rooms and class rooms, a music technology suite of 22 computers all running Sibelius 7 and Cubase 7, so your child can make his or her secret ambitions to be the first public school rapper or thrash metal star come true.
Music is taken seriously here with a Musician in Residence and the chance for the best musicians to perform with the world class Adderbury Ensemble who happen to be based locally (I’ve listened to them loads, they’re amazing). There are also regular seminars from professional musicians and ensembles to share their own experiences and run workshops for all. There are subsidised lessons in the Lower School on lots of instruments, and ensembles including Chapel Choir, Concert Band, String Orchestra, Jazz Band and Orchestra. The upshot? 200 lessons are taught every week, 27 performances a year and 20% of pupils took GSCE music this year – that’s HUGE. And 4 pupils are taking A level music. They’re doing something right in the music department.
Next up is an October tour to Rome for the senior choir which will sing at the Pantheon and the Vatican. WOW.
Drama is particularly strong at Bloxham and there’s a huge take up for GSCE and A-level – 13 productions have been put on in the last 12 months and there will be a performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2020 Facilities-wise the Great Hall is fully tecked up for lighting, rowed seating for theatrical and music performances. There’s a cool stand alone art block too and a bright textiles room that looks out over the cricket pitch – Textiles is offered as an A-level and there’s no doubt that creative subjects are very strong at Bloxham, with Photography offered as a GSCE and Art a big individual calling card.
The Sixth Form has just been given its own stand alone building with four modern class rooms, common room (as of Sept 19), and brand new coffee shop in what used to be The White Lion pub, the A level kids are sitting pretty. The Lower School day house has moved from the building to be more integrated with the rest of the school on site, and has had its own spruce. There are also new classrooms in the Science building which has also had a facelift.
Based on the school’s ethos of not necessarily selecting pupils on academic ability, the bread and butter at Bloxham is in stretching those middle-of-the-road kids who need a bit more help. There’s a lot of scaffolding in place to that end including small class sizes of 15, a 6 week individual learning plan for every child, and a doubling of English and increasing maths tuition lower down the school.
Bloxham doesn’t like to publish reports on its grades, citing the fact that Bloxham is more than just about academics (which is true) but also indicative of the broad range of results, That said, the standard of teaching is clearly high here. Ofqual reported that this year 837 students in England were awarded a seven grade 9s and three of those students are from Bloxham School. Nearly 30% of Bloxham students achieved a clean sweep of eight grades 9 to 7 (A** to A), and in difficult subjects like Astronomy, Biology, Latin and Physics more than 80% of students were awarded grades 9 to 7.
And a big deal worth a flag wave – the school has just introduced a mini MBA for Sixth Formers from Sept 19 in conjunction with the Univeristy of Buckingham’s Business School to help them explore and understand the mechanics of how business works – the first school in the UK to introduce a bespoke qualification of this type.
This is Paul Sanderson’s sixth year in the job, having moved from deputy head at Gordonstoun. I’ve met him several times over the years and have watched him transform Bloxham into a really well respected school. Charismatic and friendly with adults, his credentials as an ex Oxford Uni rugby player also plays out well with pupils. He still referees school rugby matches and takes the kids on DofE expeditions, so he’s definitely ‘accessible’ for the kids.
He’s also, in my opinion, commercially savvy. For example, a couple of years ago there was a gap in the market for local children who wanted to access the best of Bloxham School but don’t need/want the cost of boarding, so he instigated a day pupil house a few minutes down the road where kids can enjoy all the private school perks and still make it home for Love Island. And from this month it’s the introduction of an on-site café for Sixth Formers and staff that will also be open to the public (there’s only one other café in Bloxham and a couple of coffee-friendly pubs so it’s a no-brainer).
Bloxham lays its Christian credentials out proudly and openly, describing itself as a ‘Christian foundation school’ (though they welcome all faiths). The first five headmasters at Bloxham were Anglican priests, and Christian values pervade, though with only one chapel service a week (in a drop-dead gorgeous building) it’s hardly rammed down the throat. In terms of music, Bloxham has a groovy music tech department allowing the kids to DJ at the school discos. Not exactly a quirk but flippin lovely is the Neom diffuser in the toilet. Just saying!
Senior school boarding (£11,565), Senior school day (£8,855), Y1-2 weekly boarding (£8,855), Y1-2 day (£6,175). Day House £5,900 (inclusive of lunch and snacks, but not breakfast or supper). All school fees include core curricular materials and activities, including day trips, and some whole-year activity camps. Overnight stays for Day Boarders are charged at £57 a night.
WRAP AROUND CARE
I checked out the boarding facilities which were modern, clean, basic – entirely average I’d say and what I’d expect to see in most boarding houses. Day boarders are allocated a study room in their House and can stay until 6pm or up to 9.45pm without booking in advance, or even sleep over if they wish. Day and full boarders co-exist peacefully here, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘some are more equal than others’ mentality amongst those who board full time. The new day facility – heavy on the orange (er, because the future’s bright?) – means local kids can stay for the long school day without having to board.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Very positive. Parents like its nurturing, ‘all–rounder’ ethos. The perception is that the creative arts are stronger than sciences here at present. The pastoral care and communication with parents is apparently very good. One very sport-savvy dad claims that the boys sporting coaching needs some bolstering as the rugby team in particular is mid-tier at present, though he also said this is being addressed.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The mid-ability child who wants stretching. Kids who prefer a smaller, more ‘family’ style school, with a less hierarchical structure between the year groups. Parents who want their children to have the opportunity to join in at sport, music and drama – participation is widely encouraged. The school felt very creative and progressive to me, with its textiles and music tech A levels and great art facilities. The vibe of the school is very calm and resolutely not hot-housey, and all the children seemed very well behaved and happy.
Not for: The purely academic, or kids who are not ‘joiners’. Bloxham will suit kids who thrive as a big fish in a small pond, so it’s a personal call whether your child fits that mould or would benefit more from having to make their mark amongst greater numbers.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! The next Open Morning is Sat 5 Oct 2019, and as ever, let me know your thoughts.
Bloxham School, Bloxham, Oxfordshire, OX15 4PE, Tel 01295 724341 bloxhamschool.com.