d'Overbroeck's in Oxford has a first name policy, progressive curriculum, a dedicated Sixth Form campus and a whole clutch of brilliant results. Impressed.
d’Overbroeck’s in Oxford is a three-site progressive, mixed independent day school for 670 kids (11-18 years old) 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 Sixth Form building in chichi Summertown (a couple of miles from the city centre). 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. Today, it’s home to just over 370 Sixth Form students.
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 376 Sixth Form pupils it has today. The Sixth Form population is a balanced mixture of both UK and International students, with around 50% of the intake each year coming from over 40 different countries.
The Years 7-11 building is about 10 minutes away at Leckford Place and is a smaller site with 200 students. There is an outdoor play area where the boys were busy hoofing a football around while the girls were off chatting somewhere (stereotypical but true!). There has been a cool £500k set aside to create a more modern, dynamic playground – this one’s looking a bit tired.
This is not a school where I will regale you with onsite swimming pools, multiple sports fields and music auditoriums! Facilities are, in fact, pretty good, using many of the Oxford University grounds, it’s just that they’re off campus (ergo, what minibuses are made for). As they say at the school, ‘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 Year 7-11 kids have at least 2 double lessons of sport each week with extracurricular sport on Wednesday afternoons.
d’Overbroeck’s does play the gamut of trad sports – rugby, hockey, and netball – but it recognises it’s unlikely to compete massively in this arena (and in fact, doesn’t want to as it’s not keen to promote a ‘cool’ First XV mentality which it feels is at odds with its relaxed, collaborative ethos). Instead, d’Overbroeck’s has started a tennis academy in conjunction with a nearby Oxford tennis club, and is also looking to major in golf.
On the buildings front, there is serious money earmarked and approved for a brand new arts centre and also a new, bigger, flashier home for Year 7-11 students – it’s just a question of finding the buildings or land in this excruciatingly expensive part of Oxford.
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, music technology teaching space and a recording studio in the new site.
Excellent. d’Overbroeck’s received its best ever GCSE results in 2020: 68% of entries awarded grades 9-7, with 40% hitting grades 8-9 (basically an A*) and a whopping 19% of all entries were grade 9. For A-Levels, 65% gained A*/A, and 27% were awarded A*. If you think about that for a minute, those are amazing results.
The top university destinations from d’Overbroeck’s (2020) included University College London, University of Bristol, University of Manchester, University of Exeter, King’s College London as well as Oxbridge. Students have also gone onto leading art, music and drama schools such as University of the Arts, London. Academic entry requirements for Sixth Form entry are not particularly high – a minimum of an average 6Bs at GCSE – so the A-Level results are pretty incredible. The school is now looking to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) – but you’ll have to wait another two years or so for that.
d’Overbroeck’s seems to have been unshaken by lockdown, continuing a normal routine of teaching with every single lesson streamed live with the teacher seen. That’s quite some achievement. With some overseas students not able to return to school for the foreseeable, d’Overbroeck’s has blended learning ready-to-roll, with cameras installed in every classroom for virtual as well as real attendance.
The Principal, Jonathan Cuff, joined d’Overbroeck’s as Vice Principal in August 2017 after working with previous Principal Emma-Kate at Hampshire Collegiate School. 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, Jonathan has a charming and relaxed presence and is clearly passionate about teaching – he’s like Steve Backshall in a tie.
Boarding provision starts in the Sixth Form, and since 2017 there has been a boarding house located 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!
d’Overbroeck’s now offers both a weekly boarding option for students who want to go home at the weekends, as well as the more traditional full-time boarding option. 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 also a separate female boarding house btw.
I rather like the fact that the Sixth Form 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 the 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. No prefects, head boys/girls or dress codes are designed to remove any oneupmanship frictions and possible resentments, allowing the kids to enjoy learning. It’s a very progressive model, but you only have to look at the results to see it’s working.
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 and for Sixth Form it’s a maximum of 10 per class. So despite its groovy first name credentials there’s no place to hide for would-be blue-tack flickers.
Not cheap my friends – on par with the other top local private schools. Tuition fees for September 2021 are £6325 per term for Years 7-11, and for Sixth Formers £8300 per term. Weekly boarding house fees are £4,500 per term and full-time boarding is £6,800 per term, or fees with host families £4,150 – £4,825 per term.
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 at 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! d’Overbroeck’s are holding a virtual Open Evening for Years 7-11 on 13 May, and another one for Sixth Form on 20 May. Register here.
d’Overbroeck’s, 333 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7PL, UK. Tel: 01865 688600.