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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?

WHAT? WHERE?

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.

FACILITIES

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 a variety of sports, plus Abingdon Vale cricket club and Tilsey Park are used for cricket and hockey respectively.

All children in senior school play a musical instrument in their first year and the orchestra is small but keen (an extensive music scholarship programme encourages the talented). There’s definitely a sense of everyone pitching in here, a necessity no doubt with the numbers that also makes it a strong plus – everyone gets a go. 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.

Costumes at the ready

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.

THE ACADEMICS

Take one small school, deliver small class sizes – only 17 per class (smaller still at GSCE and A level) – and bonza, OLA delivers some healthy GSCE and A level results. In 2018 for GSCES the scores were A*-B (73%), and A levels A*-A (21%) and A*- C (75%). In 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’. Download the full ISI report of 2015 here.

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 HEAD

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. Principal since 2012, he has one boy at the Senior school and two other children 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. Brigid Meadows is the Head of the Junior School.

 

QUIRKS

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.

FEES

Slightly under the Oxfordshire average I’d say. Nursery to Y2 £3158 per term; Years 3-4: £3653 per term; Years 5-6: £4383 per term; and Senior School fees £5350 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 thrashing space your child needs.

Dare to disagree? Be my guest! The Whole School Open Day is Weds 19 June 2019 from 9.30am – 12pm.

Our Lady’s Abingdon, Radley Road, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 3PS. Tel: 01235 524658.

 

4 comments on “Our Lady’s Abingdon, South Oxon”

  • R Williams October 2, 2018

    We are new to OLA, but very happy because my son has settled in to Year 7 remarkably quickly. He loves DT and Art, has joined Tech Club and Garage Band club, and has some really nice, down-to-earth friends. He is not naturally keen on swimming, but has thoroughly enjoyed his swimming lessons in spite of that – instilling confidence and having fun seem to be at the heart of all the sports lessons. At the new parents drinks evening everyone said that their children were settled and happy – brilliant for only 3 weeks into secondary school. The work is a definite step up from Primary, but there is lots of support to help them rise to the challenge. We are pleased!

    Reply
    • muddystiletto March 6, 2019

      Hi there, thanks very much for taking the time to comment – I know that Muddy readers find this kind of feedback really useful. Kindest, Hero.

      Reply
  • Eileen Kirby March 6, 2019

    On. Monday 4th March, I was shopping in Abingdon when I was approached by one of the small groups of boys/girls from your school and asked VERY POLITELY if I would mind helping with a brief questionnaire. The four boys took turns to ask the questions, thanking me for each answer. The questions appeared to be connected to carbon footprint assessment. Impressive manners, non aggressive approach, well presented children. I watched the rest of their peers approaching people in the marketplace with the same gentle zeal. What more could society hope for…….. Well done with these terrific children. Eileen Kirby, Steventon.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto March 6, 2019

      Hi Eileen, thanks very much for taking the time to comment. I’ll feed back to Our Lady’s Abingdon, I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear that. Kindest, Hero

      Reply

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