D’Overbroeck’s School, Oxford
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.
d’Overbroeck’s in Oxford is a three-site progressive, mixed private day school for just under 600 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 in chichi Summertown (a couple of miles from the city centre) that is now just over a year old. It’s absolutely state-of-the-art – part Victorian villa, part 21st century glass and concrete, with a stunning concrete spiral staircase and bright, pristine spaces.
The old Sixth Form building (now used for pre-sixth form overseas students) was 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 336 Sixth Form pupils it has today (international students make up roughly 50% of the Sixth Form, though over the whole school this percentage is lower).
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 University of Oxford sports grounds 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. The Sixth Form building has 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 thanks to the new building work there’s no shortage of music space, with practice rooms, Technology teaching space and a recording studio in the new site.
Excellent. GCSE results this year showed 58% of all entries awarded grades 7,-9, with 33% hitting grades 8-9 (basically an A*). For A levels, 54% gained A*/A, and 25% A*. If you think about that for a minute, those are amazing results. The Top University Destination from d’Overbroeck’s (2018) is University College London, followed by University of Exeter, University of Bath and University of Leeds. 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.
Emma-Kate Henry, formerly of Hampshire Collegiate School, is into her second year at d’Overbroeck’s, and is a charming, relaxed, grown-up presence in keeping with the ethos of the school where all adults are called by their Christian names by all pupils and there is a conscious lack of stuffiness.
She’s introduced a new initiative for scholarships for entry in Sept 2019 to offer awards, in addition to the usuals of academic, music and drama, to an in-house student journalist and filmmaker/photographer. Amazing opportunity and really clever as the winners will get proper work experience while at school. That sums up d’Overbroeck’s for me – there’s a rigour that underpins this less hierarchical way of teaching and it works. However, make no bones about it, this school is academically rigorous.
Boarding provision starts in the Sixth Form, and there’s a new boarding house completed in September 2017 across the road from the new Sixth Form building in Summertown, housing 60 Students. As you’d expect, everything is currently pristine and lovely – more like a hotel! 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.
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 Oct (10am – 1pm) and as always please do feed back, I’d love to know your thoughts.