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Headington School, Oxford

This smart, selective all-girls' day school is a stone's throw from Oxford city centre, and offers the option to board as well as more facilities than you can shake a stick at.

WHAT? WHERE?

Headington School is a smart, selective all-girls day and boarding option in the well-heeled suburb of (you guessed it) Headington, two miles from  Oxford’s city centre. The school takes girls from nursery through to prep, senior and Sixth Form. You’ll find the senior school – 800 girls, around quarter of whom board either full, weekly or half-weekly –  in a striking, elongated brick 1930s deco building built in neo-Georgian style, set back from the main road, a short distance away from the Headington cafés and shops. The ground floor as you enter feels pretty traditional – lots of wood-panelling along the corridors – but it gives way to some much more striking modern spaces and natural light as you go through the school.

FACILITIES

Er, how long have you got? Facilities are excellent here, particularly when you consider the proximity to the city centre. Headington Senior has 23 acres to its name, with a lovely stretch of lawn to the left of the main building, and large playing fields to the rear.

/SPORT

Aside from the expected all-weather pitches, tennis courts and sports hall, there’s been massive investment over the last five years in sport, with an impressive £3.4 million Dance and Fitness Centre including a 270m2 dance studio, fitness centre, and rowing area with 24 ergos (rowing is a big deal at Headington and they’re used to winning). There’s also a 25m heated swimming pool on site (they’re used to winning at swimming too).

Big news for rowers is that plans have been approved to build a Headington boathouse on the Thame near Wallingford, with its own on-river facilities (they currently share with St Edward’s School).

/CREATIVE ARTS

Get comfortable, we could be here some time. The 240-seat theatre is used for both music and drama performances, has a mirrored rehearsal room and comes equipped with a front-of-house bar (result!). The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and Chicago have been senior shows in the last two years, with plenty of costume, staging and lighting finesse – plus for Chicago a huge ensemble that is a direct benefit of having the dance studio.

Musicians are well-catered for here – 21 different ensembles are in place, 18 different instruments and 450 lessons are taught each week by a swathe of peri teachers. There’s a dedicated Music School with 10 teaching rooms, six (SIX!) rehearsal spaces, two large performance rooms, not to mention a recording studio, plus a full time music technician.

Another massive calling card is the Creativity & Innovation Centre, dubbed The Hive, which opened in 2021 – a modern glass and brick purpose-built home for fine art, sculpture, fashion textiles and photography. It includes a lecture theatre, enormous exhibition gallery (named after Emma Watson who attended the school), 3D workshop, teaching spaces and creative studios.

Creativity is high on the wish-list employee qualities for the future, so it’s a smart, timely move. The Fashion Textiles department is leading the way in this – the school won at our Muddy Stilettos Best Schools Awards this year for its Experiential Learning where the curriculum has embraced a fully sustainable, eco-led approach.

Synthetic materials, acrylic paints and aersols are no longer used, and instead the girls make their own dyes from plants, create their own environmentally-friendly glue and print pastes and use recycled fabrics. Plans are a-foot for the UK’s first ever Eco Textiles A-level course. In April, the A level students joined forces with garden designer Lottie Delamain, dyeing a textile installation made entirely from plants for display at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Landscaping outside The Hive

/SCHOOL

The school opened a wildly impressive, purpose built Food and Nutrition block in April 2022, with two teaching kitchens and a stunning mezzanine Chef’s Kitchen with seating for 12 with views below to the ground floor kitchen.

There are Gatineau appliances – cookers and dishwashers for each child, fireproof aprons, and all Year 7 and Year 8 girls use the rooms as part of their currriculum though my sense is that it’s very child-led – the teachers give the girls leeway in what they want to cook (within limits obviously!) and there’s scope for creativity. All girls can take after-school cookery clubs, plus there’s an elective programme in Sixth Formers. No surprise to see a huge take up for GSCE, and there’s a useful ‘get ready for uni’ cookery course for the Year 13s.

In other news, there’s a groovy, award-winning library (it was given the School Library Inspiration Award 2016), plus a slick Sixth Form Centre in a mixture of industrial and retro styling, completed in 2019.

The library

ACADEMICS 

Since Caroline Jordan took the hot seat in 2011 the academics here have taken a hike northwards – in 2021 for GSCES 65.2% gained 8/9 (A*), while 85.3% gained 7/8/9 (A-A*). Impressively, 39.7% achieved the highest grade of 9. For A levels, 76.1% were 7/8/9 (A-A*) and 92.5% hit A* – B. 

For September 2022 there are two new subjects coming: 3D Design GCSE, and Philosophy A Level (Religious Studies is already offered, so now girls will be able to choose either/both).

PASTORAL CARE

You’d expect a large all-girls school to be wise to the importance of pastoral care, and from my conversations with the children on my visit it seems to be delivering. There’s a dedicated Deputy Head Pastoral who liaises with the form tutors and heads of year twice a week to discuss the children and any issues brewing. There’s a full-time counsellor on site, plus a chaplain. There is also a Wellbeing Prefect and all Sixth Formers are attached to a form – to offer peer support. There is also a new Director of Wellbeing starting in September 22.

THE HEAD

Caroline Jordan at the Senior school has been in situ for nine years now, and is clearly massively capable and driven. As a geologist, she has made it her remit to encourage STEM here – the most popular Sixth Form subject is Maths.

BOARDING

Boarding is only available in the Senior School (so for girls 11+), and roughly 25% of girls board here. Like many schools I visit now, Headington has a flexible approach to boarding, offering full to weekly, half-weekly and occasional to capture all markets – from the international students for Sixth Form to the local parents who want to offload their kids for a night or two. There are five boarding houses, the oldest and most homely of which houses the younger girls, and then more modern dorms for the older girls, including two Sixth Form houses – the usual story of formica furniture and, as it’s girls, unfeasibly tidy rooms.

QUIRKS

Headington has grown in stature over the last few years, and is now seen locally as creative and progressive  – there’s no question that its base line offering is ‘quality all-rounder’, but it also offers Art Textiles, History of Art, Photography, Music Technology (pretty unusual still – plenty of schools I go to don’t do it) and Dance and Drama & Theatre for A level. There’s a boldness to developing the Fashion Textiles programme, for example, and the school is keeping step with modern thinking via its new Food and Nutrition block on the importance of cooking from scratch, wellness and sustainability.

ISI REPORTS

Remarkably the last full integrated report is from 2015 (a 2018 report was regulatory), so take this with a massive pinch of salt. You can see both here. Hopefully there will be a new inspection soon that takes in the developments of the last few years.

WRAP AROUND CARE

All private schools with strong day numbers know they need to provide sharp wrap around provision. The massive bonus for Headington girls is that wrap around care can ultimately be an overnight stay. Drop off and pick up perimeters are 7.45 am – 6.00 pm.   

FEES

The day school fees are a teeny bit more expensive than all-girls competitors St Helen’s & St Katharine’s and Oxford High though you could argue the flexi boarding provision makes it well worth the while. Boarding costs are broadly in line with other comparable schools in the area.

Upper 3-5 £6,210, Sixth Form £6,210 (direct entrants £6,760). Half boarding from £8,445 – 9,285, Weekly boarding £10,680 – £11,810 and Full Boarding £12,455 – £13,655.

WORD ON THE GROUND

The girls I spoke to while I was looking around (plus the several teenage ‘moles’ I know who go to the school and nobbled later) tell me that Headington is still on the right side of encouraging – no-one I talked to thought it was a  ‘hot house’, and I guess the massive range of extra curricular events, around 150  on offer every week, is testament to that. If you have a fussy eater, relax – school food is good, though the evening meal for boarders could be improved (so says a boarder!). Mr Cunningham in geography is apparently very funny and Miss Rose is ‘the nicest teacher ever’.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Those looking for an all-rounder school that will prepare girls for the future – academically Headington is robust but music, art, drama and sport are all individual success stories here. Sports-wise rowing is definitely the star (the school won the inaugural Junior Women’s Eights at Henley Royal Regatta this summer), so if your daughter is tall and strong or tiny and gobby get her in here quick. The huge extra curricular programme offers plenty of opportunity beyond the classroom. The Oxford location is a massive advantage for arts, culture, sport (the river obvs) and also Oxbridge tests – plenty of time to acclimatise for those exams.

Not for: The girls I spoke to talked of the school being inclusive even if you’re quiet and not a joiner-inner but clearly the USP of Headington is to get stuck in and try something new, so if you have a serious wallflower just bear that in mind.

Dare to disagree?! Check the website for details on upcoming open events, taking place on Sat 17 Sept (Sixth Form Open Event for Year 12 entry, plus a Virtual Event for overseas families); Open Morning Sat 1 Oct 2022 and a Sixth Form Options Evening Wednesday 5 Oct.

Headington School, Headington Road, Oxford OX3 7TD. Tel: 01865 759100.

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