Chandlings School, Bagley Wood, Oxford
A warm, friendly, high-achieving prep school just outside Oxford, set in 60 lovely acres of land. A bit of a hidden gem amongst Oxford's more shouty preps - but for how long?
Chandlings is an independent, co-ed day school, for kids from nursery to 11 years just outside Oxford, ‘gently selective’ on a mixed criteria of behaviour and potential. The main building is a ex-private home built in extravagantly faux Tudor lodge style (think beams, wrought iron chandeliers and dark wood).
The modern additional buildings in this higgledy piggledy architectural mix are of questionable aesthetic beauty but who cares when you have 60 acres of beautiful, extensive grounds – an unusual boon for a primary school a mere 3 miles from the city centre.
There are currently 300 kids here in the nursery and main school combined with classes averaging 15, so plenty of attention for your kids here.
In a 60 acre site you’d expect plenty of extras and you get them – there’s an indoor pool (used as part of the curriculum from Reception onwards) cricket, rugby football and cricket pitches, riding school, and a nine-hole golf course that feels a bit more ornamental than sporting at the mo but there’s the potential for all sorts of fun kiddie carnage on the greens.
There are two large halls for sport, with music and drama also currently using those facilities, plus a dedicated food tech room – the kids are taught to cook from Y1. More, you say? There’s a huge woodland area, as you’d expect, with a new low ropes course, a lake with dipping pontoon, archery range, ballet studio and outdoor theatre.
In fact, outdoor learning is a huge part of life at Chandlings – new to the school is a sculpture trail built throughout the grounds, with the 25 sculptures designed by children and teachers to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary, beehives, two pygmy goats and there are plans to create a cottage garden. The school has an eco council, plus there are also lessons themed on climate change and the environment.
Also new to the school is a brand new hockey astroturf (below).
MUSIC, DRAMA & ENRICHMENT
Music was an area identified as needing more energy and it’s been amply provided since Sept 16 by Andrew Stratford, who I’ve met previously as head of music at Ashfold School in Dorton, mid Bucks. My experience of him was a dynamic teacher, eager to create new choirs, ensembles and get everyone involved. He’s been busy – there are around 80% of kids playing instruments, which is a big increase on last year’s 50%, and in fact one of the highest percentages I’ve come across. The school have also recently appointed a new Head of Music, Megan Sharpe (previously at Dragon School). Drama here is strong with Richard Hancock a warm and jovial presence, plus there’s a LAMDA specialist teacher.
The school also offers several Enrichment activities including Young Enterprise, Skills Week (where kids can learn First Aid), Cycling Proficiency, plus Land and Wave – a a bonding outward bound trip for the Year 5 children. There’s also an annual French trip for Year 6.
As a local day school it’s probably no surprise that most of the next schools are local too – top schools like Magdalen, Abingdon, Bloxham, Headington, St Helen & St Katharine’s, Oxford High School etc. Around 80 per cent of kids got into their first choice school this year, with 45 per cent receiving scholarships – a strong strike rate for a school that prides itself on not being a hot house.
New head (as of January 2018) Christine Cook showed me around Cokethorpe Junior School some years ago and I’ve never forgotten it because she was so funny, down to earth and slightly naughty; just the kind of head that would appeal to young children. At the same time she’s no soft touch and clearly knows what she’s doing – she’s currently the IAPS District 10 rep, a group of 94 private schools. Since joining the school in 2017 she has made much more of the fantastic outdoor space in both learning and playing with the launch of their low ropes course, a sculpture trail throughout the grounds and the brand new astroturf.
A very sweet, well established nursery facility called Lavender Courtyard (shared with Reception), first opened in 2005, and is made up of three rooms split by age. There’s also Lavender Cottage, the nursery’s own outdoor learning area, which staff combine with supervised nature walks in the school’s grounds to introduce littlies to the natural world (mud and all!).
The curriculum here is just as varied as the Prep school, with the younger contingent learning everything from French nursery rhymes to music and movement. Thanks to the facilities on offer at Chandlings, nursery children also learn tennis, ballet, yoga and football, as well as weekly swimming lessons once they turn four. The year before kids join Reception, they’ll be introduced to the Phonics scheme used in Pre-Prep and numeracy – all intended to make the jump to the next stage as stress-free as possible.
There’s a nurturing environment here, and I’d say the relaxed, family atmosphere at Chandlings sits well with the Nursery and Pre-Prep facility.
Most schools might have the odd class hamster or bunny-rabbit, but Chandlings go one step further with two Pygmy goats and a couple of bee hives. As well as being adorable and good suppliers of honey, these help the children to develop responsibility and empathy. There’s also a (paid for) club that is totally groovy: Sequencing Music on PC, for those 9 year olds who see themselves as the next superstar DJ. And the annual house pancake race is something I find myself quite jealous of!
WRAP AROUND CARE
Chandlings offers an Early Birds Breakfast Club from 7.30am (£5) or free care from 8am, free supervised after-school Homework Club (4.15-5pm), and then a £7 fee for extra support per family between 5-5.30pm. Kids can stay with a member of staff in the Main School Office until 6pm.
£4290 per term for R&Y1, going up to £5540 per term – I’d say that’s around average generally in Oxfordshire but less expensive than a lot of the Oxford schools.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Chandlings has a reputation as an inclusive, nurturing, friendly school that’s a bit of a hidden gem. It doesn’t quite have the swagger of some of the city centre prep schools but is strong pastorally (it recently won a national award for wellbeing) and academically and the parents I talked to loved the school and their happy, engaged kids.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone looking for a pastorally driven, outdoorsy school with great facilities and excellent academic results. The weekly swimming lessons from Reception are a great boon to the school and it’s beginning to push a much stronger all-round offering.
Not for: The anti-hothouse ethos is palpable, and won’t appeal to all, and the lower profile of the school compared to the more shouty Oxford preps might not please competitive parents.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! There’s a Meet the Head Event on Tues 19 Jan 2021 (4pm-6pm), plus you can take a virtual tour of the school here. Let me know what you think!
Bagley Wood, Kennington, Oxford OX1 5ND. Tel: 01865 730771.