Our Lady’s Abingdon, South Oxon
A nurturing, pastorally outstanding co-ed catholic day school in central Abingdon for kids from 3-18. Fancy a nose around?
Our Lady’s Abingdon school is a catholic co-ed day school close to the centre of Abingdon (10 miles south of Oxford) for children 3-18 years old. Originally founded in 1860 by the Sisters of Mercy – a religious order of Catholic sisters established in Ireland to provide for the poor and uneducated – only 27% of children who come here are now catholic, with all religions/non-religions welcome. The school houses 325 senior children and 100 juniors on a compact 7.5 acre site that is dominated by a grand red brick Victorian mansion block, with more recent additions bolted on over time.
It’s a small site, so the roll call of facilities isn’t huge. Sportswise, the onsite 25 metre indoor swimming pool is the star attraction here, with all kids having lessons right from nursery (once a week) through to twice a week for Y2-6 in Juniors and once a week in the senior school and kids as young as 9 able to join the after school swimming club. This is a major boon for the school – how many of us struggle to get our kids in the pool every week? There’s a relatively new multi-use games area and a field across the road that’s used for hockey, rugby, football and cricket but I’m sure OLA will be the first to admit that anyone who lives for sport might not be fully indulged here.
All children in senior school play a musical instrument in their first year and the orchestra is small but keen, with Silver Band going across both schools and involving teachers and parents, including the Principal (a trombonist since you asked). There’s definitely a sense of everyone pitching in here, a necessity no doubt with the numbers here. Similarly in drama, there’s a ‘give it a go’ mentality, with productions on a stage in the auditorium, though the PTA has just donated £5k for a lighting rig, so your child will be up in lights Mrs Worthington.
Other developments include a new DT centre, new science labs, refurbed dining area (below) and a major redevelopment of the Sixth Form Centre which looks pretty natty.
Take one small school, deliver small class sizes – only 17 per class, that helps deliver some healthy GSCE and A level results. In 2017 for GSCES the results were A*-A (44%), and A*-B (69%), and A levels A*-A (63%) and A*- C (82%). This year (2017) 2 students gained places to Oxford and Cambridge so top-end students can be guided through in this non-selective environment. That said, there’s no question that the major selling point for Our Lady’s Abingdon is its pastoral care, judged ‘Excellent’ in what was otherwise mainly a ‘Good’ ISI report of 2016.
There’s definitely a gentle, inclusive, family atmosphere here – unusually children are encouraged to come for two taster days to make sure they like the school and settle in well. The ethos is strongly anti-hothouse, and the head was upfront that pastoral care comes first and everything else follows. A few years ago I’m sure that view was unfashionable, but in the light of today’s stressed anxious children it’s becoming a selling point for the school.
The Principal of the Senior school, Stephen Oliver, seems jolly and upbeat and honest about where the school is at – he’s not trying to push OLA up academic league tables, and seemed rather sweetly surprised that I asked about sporting achievements (though when pushed he did remember some!). Principal since 2012, he has two boys and a girl at the Junior School and has overseen many of the recent investments, with ongoing murmurings of an Performing Arts Centre or an all-weather pitch. Erika Kirwan is the Head of the Junior School and exudes kindness and practicality.
I’m not sure Catholicism counts as a quirk exactly but as one of only two Catholic day schools in Oxfordshire it’s certainly a USP. There’s twice termly mass for the older kids and a catholic-strong RE curriculum but the emphasis is on inclusiveness and Christian virtues.
Slightly under the Oxfordshire average I’d say. Nursery to Y2 £3011 per term; Years 3-4: £3483 per term; Years 5-6: £4179 per term; and Senior School fees £5100 per term. Learning Support Individual lessons start from £445 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Pastorally excellent is the feedback from parents, who delight in their happy, non-nutty kids. The physical constraints of the school site can be frustrating (terrible drop off issues on a morning as the car park is tiny) but most parents I’ve been in touch with know what they have bought into here and are happy with the mix of small classes, individual care and a lack of pressure.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Kids who could benefit from a nurturing, supportive, non-hot-house style school. Joiner inners – with small numbers, comes opportunity (and necessity) to play instruments, have a go at sports and be part of the community. The central town location gives older children the chance for some autonomy.
Not for: Big fish who need an even bigger pond – this small, gentle school might not deliver the trashing space your child needs.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! The Senior School has an Open Morning on 8 March from 9.30am until 11.45am.