Carrdus School, near Banbury, Oxon
A small, intimate, 'family' oriented prep school, Carrdus School near Banbury is a good option for those who resolutely don't want to hot-house their kids.
Carrdus School sits in the countryside just above Banbury, on the border of Oxon, Warks and Northants, a relatively young school at 60ish years old that runs from the 11 acre Overthorpe Hall, a handsome Victorian honeystone mansion house that feels more like the home it was than a school it is – particularly as there is no uniform for the children. Carrdus is non-selective and teaches girls from 3-11 years and boys from 3-8 years.
Compared to some private schools with their posh science blocks and golf courses, Carrdus’s facilities are more modest, though it’s hard to can’t complain too heavily about an outdoor heated swimming pool in a walled garden and a purpose built art studio and science lab.
The kids from Reception onwards swim a brilliant four times a week from April to October – just think about that a second. Like, WOW (and no you will never have to sit sweating at the side of a leisure centre swimming class ever again). Sport generally is well catered for here, with a modern multi-use sports hall, netball and tennis courts, a cross country course, plus regular access to the state-of-the-art drama studio and full-size floodlit astro turf at Tudor Hall (though the dream is for Carrdus to have its own astro facility in the next few years).
Recently the somewhat small playground area was significantly revamped and resurfaced, creating a larger, smoother area for the kids to bomb around in, and there’s also a relatively new Adventure play area in the grounds, where the children can go free range.
There’s good music provision, with over 70% of kids learning an individual instrument at school and all instrumental requests catered for – that’s on the higher end of what I usually come across at this age. Clearly the small number of children hampers larger orchestras, but there are junior and senior choirs, wind band, string group and a recorder group.
Strong. The ‘Carrdus Pathway’ is the driver to the curriculum here, based on the principles of instilling confidence, resilience, independence, empathy, creativity and aspiration, delivered via intimate classes, and a nurturing, gentle family atmosphere. It seems to be working.
About a third of the girls leaving in Year 6 will go to Tudor Hall, whilst the rest will go to a wide variety of schools including Rugby, Bloxham, Headington, Wycombe Abbey, Oxford High etc. Teachers are highly engaged with the kids – school reports include teachers comments not just for reading, writing and maths but for every subject across the curriculum.
SEN is well catered for with a dedicated SEN support within the school itself (though be warned, one-to-one teaching, should your child need it, is an extra cost).
The headmaster Ed moved here in 2012 from his Outstanding primary school in Great Tew and brought his deputy Mark along with him, and seven years into the job retains a boyish, boundless enthusiasm about it. Ed’s wife Georgina Way is the Head of Learning Support (SEN), and Mark’s three children have gone through the school so he’s deeply invested, and plans to see out the rest of his career here.
Having boys around until 8 years old and then waving goodbye is perhaps unusual, but make sense when you consider girls move to state and private secondaries at 11, meaning the school would have to extend upwards by two years (impossible in the current space) or the boys would also have to leave at 11 – a hassle all round. One of the boys I chatted to – six years old, knows his own mind – said he liked hanging out with the girls but also sometimes wished there were more boys, which seems a fair enough view!
I’d say the super-homely approach is another Carrdus quirk – I’m attracted to it, particularly for this age of children, as I can see how it allows kids to blossom and feel confident, though of course it’s not for all children – those parents whose kids are ‘larger than life’ characters might feel they’ll outgrow this school too fast.
Below average and good value – Reception to Y2 – £3750 per term moving up to Y3-6 £4050 per term. Nursery mornings only £255 per term per day (£1275 per week); extended morning with lunch £358 per term per day (£1790 per week); all day including lunch £540 per term per day (£2,700 per week). Breakfast Club (£3) and Tea Timers clubs (£3-5), and late charges for parents skidding in full of apologies (yup, we’ve all done it!) £15 per 15 minutes.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Improved. The usual school day runs from 8.45am to 3.40pm but provision for wrap around care has extended a little either end of the day since I last reviewed – kids can be dropped off at 7.50am into the main lobby hall of the house (above) for Breakfast Club, or from 8am can join in various early clubs like karate, orchestra, computers (offered every day) or choir. After school there are some interesting club options (Lego, canoe and kayak club, rollerskating, knitting etc) alongside the more traditional ones, or kids can go to TeaTimers club – think beanbags, old-fashioned games, crumpets and sandwiches – until 6pm. There is provision for the older children to do their prep in a quiet side room.
Toddlers can join the Carrdus nursery in the term they turn three, anything from three mornings a week to a full five days. The nursery is well-equipped, with the usual freeflow indoor/outdoor areas, and – a big plus – even littlies can take advantage of the Carrdus swimming pool, with lessons every week in the Spring and Summer months. By the time the kids make it to Reception, they receive specialist-taught lessons including weekly sessions of Music, Art, Drama, Computing and Sport including Ball Skills, Gym, Dance and, yep, more Swimming. They’re also paired up with Year 6 buddies, who read to them, play with them and generally support them throughout the year.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Nurturing, friendly, effective. The parents I talked to love the fact that the children are allowed to stay young here and can roam the woodlands, and grab stilts, hoops and play-stuff from the shed as they wish. That was definitely my sense of the school too. I could definitely see that my kids would thrive here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Children who prefer a small, intimate, ‘family’ oriented school. Parents who care about the academics but don’t want to hot-house their kids or force them to grow up too fast. Those who want a private prep school education for their kids but not at the cost of remortgaging the house. The use of Tudor Hall’s impressive facilities nearby is a massive boon.
NOT FOR: Those who like the ‘grandness’ of country private schools. The main building is attractive with the school rooms looking out onto the garden, but it’s essentially a house and feels rather compact. Kids with ‘large’ personalities might do better at a bigger school with more of a pecking order. And it didn’t bother me particularly, but you can hear the motorway in the distance when the wind blows the wrong way.
DARE TO DISAGREE?! Be my guest! Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning on Friday 10 May, and as ever let me know your thoughts.
Carrdus School, Overthorpe Hall, Banbury, Oxon, OX17 2BS. Tel: 01295 263733.