Christchurch Cathedral School, Oxford
Oxford city centre specialist chorister school for boys, with excellent academics and music oozing from every corner
Christchurch Cathedral School boasts the most central location in Oxford – literally 200 metres from Carfax and directly across the road from Oxford University’s Christchurch College. A prep school that also includes a nursery and pre-prep, it houses just 160 boys in buildings that ooze history – the nursery is housed in the 16th century building where Cardinal Wolsey once resided, and sketched the plans for his college, and the school’s roots come from Henry VIII 1546 provision for boy choristers and a schoolmaster when he founded Christchurch and its Cathedral. The school, unsurprisingly, has a Christian ethos, but welcomes children whatever their beliefs.
Set across a collection of buildings in Brewer St, the school is compact and homely and ‘lived in’ – there’s nothing spangly or shiny or polished about it, but has a kind of intellectual energy about it that I liked. It almost feels collegiate rather than a prep school.
This is an inner city school so you’re not going to get expansive grounds. There are squash courts on site, and various smallish outdoor areas for play/learning. Academically there’s a large DT/woodworking area and specialist teaching rooms in ICT, Science and Art.
The prep school boys (7-13 years) who need more legroom are mostly housed in the modern Walton Centre which is a bit flasher than the Tudor building.
However, the facilities on the doorstep are pretty extraordinary. The whole school acts as one huge musical rehearsal space. Straight across the road, boys play cricket, rugby and football on the pristine pitch overlooking Christchurch College – you have to see it to believe it. They have weekly assemblies (which parents can attend) at Christchurch Cathedral itself. The children swim at the University swimming pool, use the University’s running track at Iffley Road and hockey is played on the College astroturf.
You don’t have to be a musician to come here, but it sure helps. Pianos pop up in virtually every room including common rooms and the head’s office, double bases rest on landings, tubas sit ornamentally in fireplaces – I walked through a piano lesson in a hallway on the day I visited. Music is CCS’s big calling card and it does create a cultured, creative atmosphere. The Christ Church Cathedral Choir is internationally renowned (the 20 choristers are the only boarders at this school) and there’s a second choir of 20 made up of day boys that sings twice a week in Worcester College Chapel. All boys sing in morning assembly, and more music lessons take place each week than boys who attend the school.
With a school of 160 (and only 106 in the prep school) your options for teams are going to be limited, but they do compete against other small schools and have their fair share of high achieving sports stars. Christchurch Cathedral School beat The Dragon and The Oratory schools this year to be the National Real Tennis Champions.
There’s a dedicated member of staff in charge of admissions to senior schools and academic scholarships which should tell how seriously they take academics here. If your child is in the Christchurch Cathedral School Choir he’s almost guaranteed a scholarship onto other highly regarded schools – last year every single chorister was snapped up, but 75% of all students gained scholarships, which is pretty amazing.
Music and academic scholarships are the main winners, but in 2017 there were also 2 All Rounders (Radley and St Edward’s) and 1 Sports Exhibition (Radley). Last year local schools Our Lady’s Abingdon, Radley, Abingdon Boys and St Edward’s School in Oxford were the main beneficiaries.
It’s a Montessori philosophy in the nursery, so very gentle and the children were incredibly sweet and friendly with a Forest School in Christchurch Meadow that they use weekly in Forms 1 and 2. Nursery and Forms 3 and 4 also visit but not so regularly.
That said, the musical and intellectual ethos of the school permeates even this early, with the pre-prep and nursery annual Nativity show set to music, with the kids singing in parts and tackling different languages. Blimey!
Richard Murray has been in the hotseat since 2014, having previously been a House Master at St Edward’s School. He has a friendly academic air and a charmingly messy office, with its Morris Minor car wheel and organ against the wall.
He is utterly in keeping with the intelligent, tolerant, rarified surroundings of the school and upped the academic rigour. Plans are underway to acquire another Christchurch College-owned building to create more space but they are at an early stage.
WRAP AROUND CARE
If you’re a chorister it’s a gruelling schedule, but for day boys the days are relatively short with school starting at 8.55 and ending at 3.20 pm for Reception, 3.25 pm for Form 1 and 3.30 pm for Form 2. There is, however a Breakfast Club from 7.45 am to 8.15 am and After School Club through til 6pm depending on age. After School Club costs £9.90 per hour
Pre-Prep Forms 1 & Reception: £3705 per term; Pre-Prep Form 2 £3890 er term; Day Boys Forms 3-8 £5523 per term. There are whopping big bursaries for anyone in the Cathedral Choir to cover much of the fee. Full boarding is £3486 per term for a Chorister, and £3853 for a Probationer (basically a chorister in training in Form 4, before ‘graduating’ in Form 5). Music lessons cost £330 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Tolerance, friendliness, and a non-Alpha male environment seem to the calling cards here. The opportunity to be a cad, bully or a show-off in the school is small, and the kids are nurtured and supported. The parents I’ve been in contact with rate it super-highly,
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Lovers of music (or sons of lovers of music!). Children who thrive on attention and nurture and are open to the arts and a thoughtul approach to education.
Not for: The school does well to offer its wide sports provision but a talented sportsman looking for competition might find the small pool of team players a bit restrictive. The physical confines of the school might not fit with the rural idyll pictured by some parents. Kids who are resolutely uncurious or cynical about culture will struggle.
Dare to disagree?! The next official Open Morning is on Sat 13 Oct, 10am – 12pm, or you can call the school at any time for a look around. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christ Church Cathedral School, 3 Brewer Street, Oxford, OX1 1QW. Tel: 01865 242 561. cccs.org.uk