Rye St Antony, Oxford
Muddy says: A non-selective day/boarding school for girls 3-18 and boys 3-11 years a mile from central Oxford with a reputation for friendlieness and a non-hothousy environment.
This is an updated review of Rye St Antony School with the latest facts and figures as of 10 May 2017.
In a rich county like Oxfordshire – high on academia but low on free grammar education – it’s no surprise that there are so many brilliant independent schools. But like all good businesses, each tries to offer something different to the others. Rye St Antony, my latest school review, has been particularly successful in finding its niche. Read on, my friends, read on.
Rye St Antony is an Oxford independent day and boarding school for girls 3-18, and boys 3-11 years. Of the 375 children here, 30 are boys, and 70 are boarders, with boarding starting from the age of 8 for girls only.
Founded in 1930 as a lay Catholic school (it welcome all nationalities and religions), Rye is just under a mile from the city centre and hidden away off a suburban road that leads to the JR Hospital. There is also a more readily accessible rear entrance from Franklin Road, (Sat Nav postcode OX3 7SA).
The main entrance to the school is behind funky electric gates and the site consists of two large Victorian boarding houses (including The Croft, built by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect who designed the Natural History Museum) and a clutch of new buildings amongst 12 acres of gardens and woodland. It’s a modest-looking school in many ways. The sense I had of it was one of practicality and modernity, despite its Victorian buildings, perhaps because the Reception buildings, below, are so new.
Let’s start with the usuals, shall we? 6 tennis courts, 3 netball courts, a hockey/athletics pitch, and an outdoor heated swimming pool used in the summer months. There are two halls for drama, one with full sized stage, lighting and sound equipment and seating for 600, the other a smaller space for drama workshops and smaller musical performances. There’s a very impressive art and design studio that includes a brand new photographic dark room.
There’s been substantial investment over the last ten years that includes the Performing Arts Centre (opened in February 2005) the purpose built Sports Centre (2008), a self-contained Sixth Form Centre and Boarding House (redeveloped 2010), and the school’s latest development, a £2m new reception area, ICT suite and Food Technology centre. They’re particularly proud of their purpose-built Library – a 12,000 book beast, with added catalogue access to over 10,000 educational websites. Science is a big deal at Rye, with senior labs separately dedicated to chemistry, physics and biology along with another general science room. There is currently a major investment in extending and updating the Prep School facilities due for completion for September 2017.
Very good. Rye is not a selective school, so it does extremely well considering that children aren’t put through the ‘high achiever’ wringer before they set foot through the gates. Just under 70% of the kids gained A* to B grades at GCSE. The science department is clearly hotter than a bunsen burner, because 100% of pupils taking Biology, Chemistry and Physics gained the A* to B. In A-levels, just under 60% of pupils gained A* to B grades (87% gained A* to C) with particular success in Maths (85%) and languages (88%). A whopper 98% of girls go to their chosen university, including the Russell Group universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Leeds, Sheffield and St. Andrews.
Other boasty bits:
As a smaller secondary school, the usual caveats apply to music and sporting achievement – it is hard to compete with schools three times your size but the upside of that is that you do get a go – 43% of girls in Years 7-10 represented Rye St Antony in a competitive fixture last year, and from talking to the kids it was clear that everyone is encouraged to join in, no matter their level of achievement. That said, Rye clearly has its fair share of sporting talent, with county players in hockey, cricket, swimming, show-jumping, badminton etc.
In 2016 Rye was the first school in Oxford to offer the Leiths Introductory Diploma in Food and Wine and in 2017 will be rolling out a Leiths course aimed at Prep School pupils too (just think, you’ll never have to cook again).
The music department has a choir, string group, jazz group and an orchestra. Last year the choir went to Venice and sang in a concert at St Mark’s Basilica which sounds amazing, and this year they’re heading off for a music tour to Salzburg. On the drama front, over 100 pupils in Yrs 4 – 11 took part and achieved LAMDA qualifications last year and the promixity to the centre of Oxford means pupils get a chance to perform in professional theatres – last year the girls trod the boards at The Old Fire Station.
Finally, last summer Rye pupils from Yrs 10-12 dug out their sombreros to Head to Mexico to explore the rain forest, earn their PADI Open Water Diving qualification and dive the reefs. For 2018 the plan is to head to Honduras again with Operation Wallacea. (er, who says it’s tough being a kid these days?).
There are two boarding houses, The Croft and its incredible wood-panelled interiors and homely layout, and The Cottage, updated in 2010. While many pupils board termly, there is growing demand for Occasional and Flexi boarding to accommodate school events, trips or exam time revision. Ofsted and IS inspections rated the boarding provision here Outstanding so clearly they’re doing something right! Certainly the two sixth formers who showed me around really loved it. Like many of the boarding houses I come across, the rooms are practical rather than stylish – lots of oak veneer beds and sofa-strewn communal areas and basic bathroom facilities, with younger girls sharing roughly 6 to a room versus the Sixth Formers who all have total privacy.
Head teacher: I really liked Alison Jones. She’s been at the school for 25 years and comes across as a kindly, slightly eccentric but sharp-as-a-tack great aunt who you just know has your best interests at heart. While we were talking one of the pupils just called her direct on her phone in the office, and that kind of approachability permeates through the school ranks. I don’t think I’d ever been to such a friendly school – all the teachers seemed genuinely lovely, happy to share a joke with the children. The school’s tag of ‘big enough to challenge, small enough to care’ felt accurate to me. The head is due to retire in July 2018 and I’ll add the new announcement as soon as I hear (late May by all accounts).
Not so much a quirk as a great extra, but Rye runs Forest School for the younger kids, so they’re able to go into the woods making camp fires and building shelters. And at break times the kids are able to run off where they like and just play. Big Muddy tick.
For a small school, as well as the usual subjects, they do some interesting A-levels. How about Photography, Chinese, Portuguese, Urdu, Russian, Polish and Japanese?! From 2016 they’re planning to offer the Leiths Introductory Diploma in Food and Wine.
But I think Rye’s biggest flag wave is its resistance to judging the girls’ worth soley on markers of achievement. Although Rye does punch above its weight with its academic results and sports/arts, what struck me most talking to the girls was that the importance they put on being kind and supportive of each other first. When someone wins at Rye the whole school seems to celebrate – not what I remember from being at a girl’s school.
Wrap around care:
Care starts from 7.30am and pupils can stay until 6.30pm if they’re at an after school club or joining the boarders’ supper. Rye is pretty much a 24/7 school in the term time as day pupils can board as occasional boarders whenever they need to. Loads of after school and lunchtime clubs – everything from Creative Writing to Small Animal Care! Here’s the full list
Fees: On the reasonable end of the independent school price scale. Day pupils (including lunch) £4,725 per term, weekly boarders £7,610 per term and full boarding is £7,995 per term.
Word on the ground: There are a lot of very happy parents at Rye St Antony. What comes through repeatedly is the caring, happy ethos and the attention to each child. Clearly they do take the academic side of the school very seriously and push the children to succeed, but the women I’ve spoken to also see it as a much more rounded, positive, healthy educational option for their kids.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Children of all abilities who want to to be taught in a nurturing, positive environment. Parents who like the proximity to Oxford city centre with all it has to offer (I’m not talking cocktails here for once, I’m thinking educational extras). Anyone who wants to step away from the hot-housing approach to kids schooling. Music, drama and sport are covered off well for a school of its size. The school has been judged ‘Excellent’ in all areas by the Independent Schools Inspectorate Feb 2017, so that may sway you!
Not for: I think all kids would enjoy this school, and academically it’s robust. Its rather suburban position might put off those who are looking for more grandeur and grounds.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! I rather like Rye’s saying that ‘every day is an Open Day’ – just make an appointment to visit the school at any time. Call Registrar Fern Williams (no surprise to tell you she’s really lovely too) on 01865 762802 and she’ll fix a date.
Rye St Antony School, Pullen’s Lane, Oxford OX3 0BY. Tel: 01865 762802.