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.
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 (tip: head to Jacobs & Field for a post drop off coffee). 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.
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. 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).
Academically there’s a dedicated music school with teaching rooms, rehearsal and performance spaces and a recording studio, a 240 seat theatre with mirrored rehearsal rooms, a groovy, award-winning library (it was given the School Library Inspiration Award 2016) and a slick Sixth Form Centre in a mixture of industrial and retro styling, completed just last year, with the kind of café that frankly I’d like to base myself in all day every day.
The big calling card for next year is the Creativity & Innovation Centre, dubbed The Hive, due to open in September 2021 – a new home for fine art, sculpture, fashion textiles and photography (rather straining at the seams in its current home), and will include a lecture theatre, exhibition gallery, 3D workshop, teaching spaces and creative studios. At a time when parents expect all private school to deliver on the academics, what else can you offer to equip kids for the modern world? Creativity is high on the wish-list employee qualities for the future, so it’s a smart, timely move. FYI the school has been shortlisted for a Creativity award in this year’s TES Independent School Awards.
Headington has had no problem adjusting to this brave new world of homeschooling, with each pupil receiving a full remote education which includes live contact with their teacher every other lesson (which are now slightly shorter than usual). Trickier subjects to teach online, such as Food and Nutrition and Sport, are being dealt with through live video Yoga and YouTube tutorials and extra-curricular activities are still running. Pastoral care has also gone online with every girl receiving regular time with her tutor, and channels of communication opened to make sure girls know who to speak to when they need support. Bravo.
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.
Since Caroline Jordan took the hot seat in 2011 the academics here have taken a hike northwards – in 2019 for GSCES 57.3% gained 8/9 (A*), while 76.6% gained 7/8/9 (A-A*). Over a third of grades were all the highest grade of 9. For A levels, 50% were 7/8/9 (A-A*) and 78 per cent hit A* – B. A Top 10 IB school, in 2019 the 36 Headington students scored an average score of 37.4 out of a maximum of 45.
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 and all girls take the three sciences for GSCE, the majority taking three separate GCSEs.
The IB diploma is a big calling card for Headington, the only girls’ boarding school to offer it in Oxford. I’d say that Headington is stealthily progressive – there’s no question that its base line offering is ‘quality all-rounder’, but it also offers Art Textiles, Music Technology (pretty unusual still – plenty of schools I go to don’t do it) and Dance and Drama & Theatre for A level. The new investment on creativity is a bold move.
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.
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 £6090, Sixth Form £6090 (direct entrants £6635). Half boarding from £8282 – 9090, Weekly boarding £10,475 – £11,545 and Full Boarding £12,210 – £13,395.
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, Miss Rose is ‘the nicest teacher ever’ and Mr Kidd in drama is super popular.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Those looking for an all-rounder school – academically Headington is robust but music, art, drama and sport are all individual success stories here. Sports-wise rowing is definitely the star, 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: Well, single sex education is a marmite subject so if you’re not keen on the idea, strike Headington off now. 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?! Have a look for yourself at the Virtual Senior School Open Morning on Sat 3 Oct 2020. Or you can Virtual Meet the Headmistress on 14 Sept 2020 and Virtual Meet the Heads of Middle School on 21 Sept 2020.
Headington School, Headington Road, Oxford OX3 7TD. Tel: 01865 759100.