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Sibford School, Banbury

A 50 acre Quaker co-ed day/boarding school for kids 3-18, near Banbury. A non-selective school with excellent SEN provision and a large intake of international students, it offers a high level of pastoral care and small class sizes.

WHAT? WHERE?

You’ll find Sibford School nestled in 50 verdant acres of countryside just outside Banbury, North Oxfordshire. A non-selective co-ed day and boarding school for 3-18 year olds (boarding starts at 11+) Sibford was originally established in 1842 for Quaker families, and though you no longer have to be religious to come here, the school retains its Quaker ethos of seeking ‘that of God in everyone’ (in plain speak: finding the good in all).

There are just 428 pupils across separate reception, junior and senior school faculties (80 of whom are in the Sixth Form), so what the school lacks in shiny posh buildings – the hulking early 20th century main building is as good as it gets – it makes up for in attentiveness to its students. Class sizes are some of the smallest I’ve come across with an average of 12, and Sibford’s reputation for outstanding pastoral care is supported by its most recent ISI report.

FACILITIES

All the usuals you’d expect with great use made of the grounds for rugby, football, cricket and hockey. There’s a 25 metre indoor swimming pool that the kids use every week, and – the big new plaything – a hugely impressive climbing wall that has taken over two former squash courts.

Both the Junior School and Sixth Form benefit from their own distinctive areas on campus. There’s a 5 lab science department, and outside is a large nature reserve used for Forest School as well as a space for reflection. There’s a replica Iron Age roundhouse that students made that’s used for outdoor learning, and a dedicated horticultural area.

calves-sibford-school

Creative arts are a huge focus here – it’s regarded by the school as one of its major strengths. You’ll find a sound-and-light rigged hall with raked seating, a fully-equipped recording music studio, and for musicians a large ensemble room and practice rooms in the Music building. There’s an impressive art department with large separate studios for painting, textiles, ceramics and sculpture plus a separate Sixth Form art studio too. The DT suite is massive too.

ACADEMIC RESULTS

Despite a superior SEN provision, the school is keen to shake off its ‘special education’ reputation with a greater emphasis on academics. Head teacher Toby Spence has introduced two Gifted & Talented co-ordinators, a Head of Support for Learning, better data tracking on children’s progress and an emphasis on its mainstream success. 90% of A level students go on to university (there were 4 Oxbridge candidates this year) and in 2020 Sibford’s A level results saw it reach the top 10% in the UK for added value scores.

That said, Sibford is not an ‘academic’ school in the hot-house meaning of the word – it can clearly stretch the most able students but with 10% international students and 30% pupils with special educational needs (mostly dyslexia) its results reflect the diverse cohort. In 2020, 56% of Sibford students gained A* – B grades in their A Level and BTEC exams, the highest on record, with pupils achieving a 100% pass rate across all subjects. GSCE’S also saw the highest marks on record, with 40% of pupils achieving at least one grade 8 or 9. 100% of pupils gained five or more grades at 9 – 4 (or A* – C).

The curriculum here is largely traditional, though horticulture is a subject that kids can study here which sounds fantastic, and is particularly beneficial for kids who prefer practical work. There are also 8 B-Tech courses on offer here, as well as the option to take EPQs as credits towards UCAS applications.

SPORT

Sibford’s sporting reputation has historically not matched its potential, but it’s an area that has been given some focus over recent years, no doubt in large part due to the head, Toby Spence, who is superkeen on sports (he’s done a fair few mountain triathlons in his time – not even kidding). The pool and expansive grounds have allowed Sibford to become a youth cross country hub, part of the North Oxfordshire School Sport Partnership. There’s also an annual Rugby Sevens tournament held at the school, and it’s become a South Central Academy for triathlon. Spence talks disarmingly about Sibford becoming more competitive “in a Quackerish way” – given Quakers are pacifists by nature, the tension between the desire to win and impulse to be kind is an interesting one.

Unusually here there is little division between female and male sports, it’s all about participation. For example, all the younger boys do netball and dance, and the girls play rugby.

HEADTEACHER

I first met a jocular Toby Spence, only the 12th head in Sibford’s 174 year history, on his first week into the job in September 2016, when he had just returned from Kenya as head of a British curriculum school. Five years later and still smiling, he can be judged on how far the school has come. Raising academic standards was top of his list back then and this is an area that he’s clearly succeeding in. Though not a Quaker himself, Spence clearly understands the value of the Quaker USP, particularly in pandemic times, when reflection, quiet, space and wellbeing are top of the agenda. Londoners, in particular, have been sending their children up to Sibford over the last year, raising pupil numbers. A realist about the strengths and weaknesses of Sibford he quite rightly points out that no-one is going to be coming to Sibford on the strength of its buffed, shiny buildings – firstly, let’s be frank here, there are none! And secondly if that’s your bag there’s Grade 1 listed Stowe School up the road for an extra £15,000 per year. That said, Spence does have some architectural ambitions for Sibford – namely an onsite café, and an amphitheatre space. Watch this space.

NURSERY AND JUNIOR SCHOOL

The nursery is super cute, with a lovely safe outdoor area, fields to look at all around and a modern building, and takes kids from 3 year old up to Reception. The Junior School (5 – 11 years) is strong, and again has lovely outside areas, a huge wooden climbing and play area, plus access to all the senior facilities.

BOARDING

From 11 years and up, pupils can board at Sibford School on a full-time, weekly or flexi basis in one of two boarding houses for either girls or boys. Boarding houses and rooms are perfectly fine, nothing flash but perfectly serviceable

QUIRKS

If you’re not familiar with Quakerism, you might be thinking it sounds a bit strange. But the 7 central Quaker beliefs in of respect, integrity, simplicity, equality, peace, truth, and sustainability transfer aren’t really about religion in this environment, more a guiding set of life principles. As a Quaker school, Sibford also use forenames and surnames rather than your usual Mr and Ms. for teachers.

There are some specific Quaker practises like the morning ‘Collect’ meeting which you may never have come across – it’s the Quaker equivalent of the morning assembly which happens in total silence twice a week. This is also where any child or staff member can have ‘Ministry’, when they’re able to stand up and speak without being interrupted about anything that’s important to them. Who’s to know if the kids just zone out and enjoy their 20 minutes chill-time or whether they think deeply about the world around them? In a way it doesn’t matter – just to have some stillness must be amazing.

WRAP AROUND CARE

For both Junior and Senior schools, you can book your kids in from 8am and pick up after tea at 6pm if you need the flex. Occasional boarding is an option too – just give 24 hours’ notice.

FEES

Fees are less expensive than local competitors though full boarding is, by definition, still pretty punchy.

Junior School per term: Day Pupils R-Y2: £3267; Y3-6: £3953. Senior School per term: Day Pupils Y7–9: £5144; Y10-13: £5245. Weekly Boarders per term: Y7-9: £8644; Y10-13: £8741. Full Boarders per term: Y7-9: £9992; Y10-13: £10193.

WORD ON THE GROUND:

It’s definitely a school that’s highly nurturing and parents I spoke to love the inclusive, non-judgemental ethos and the mix of students, and were cock-a-hoop at 2020’s academic results. The scruffy buildings irritate some, but most accept that the lack of interiors finesse is reflected in the cost and doesn’t negate the many positives.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Parents looking for a rural, spacious, non-hothousy school with a high level of pastoral care and low numbers. Those who value the diversity of non-selective entry and the inclusion of international students. The smaller cohort means that there’s a greater participation in sport, music and the arts amongst pupils and everyone has a chance to shine. The convenience of a through-school environment (from 3-18 years) is ideal for those who don’t want to go through the hassle of ‘next schools’ at prep or senior level.

Not for: Those who like their private schools to look like Hogwarts. The grounds are large and lovely but the buildings, particularly in the senior school, are functional rather than flash. Sibford is a mainstream school with good teaching but with 30% SEN children in class it won’t appeal to all parents. There’s no full orchestra here so if you’re imagining a mini Royal Philharmonic moment, think again, though there are a plenty of ensembles, choirs and bands.

Want to see for yourself? No surprise that it’s all virtual at the mo, but you can register here to instantly access both the whole school and Sixth Form open events.

The Hill, Banbury, Sibford Ferris OX15 5QL. Tel: 01295 781200. sibfordschool.co.uk

17 comments on “Sibford School, Banbury”

  • Wendy October 25, 2016

    Excellent post! I used to teach Home Economics here for 9 years back in 80s!! It really seems to be going from strength to strength.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto October 25, 2016

      Thanks for commenting Wendy! hero x

      Reply
  • Jan October 26, 2016

    I attended the school in the 1980s and the description given about the ethos of the school is spot on. I wish I had the funds to send my children.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto October 26, 2016

      Thanks for commenting Jan, lucky you for going there! x

      Reply
  • Fi October 26, 2016

    Our son is in the junior school at Sibford and loves it there. As parents we could not be happier. It is a unique and wonderful place and we feel lucky to have discovered it when looking at schools just before our son was due to start school.
    With the new head in place it feels that there are exciting times ahead and we as a family are looking forward to being part of this new period in the school’s development.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto October 27, 2016

      Thanks for commenting, I’m so pleased you’re pleased with the school and your son is happy x

      Reply
  • Jo Robinson October 31, 2016

    My children are both at Sibford ages 12 and 13, both exceptionally happy after moving from a private hot house at age 7 and 8! I just wish more parents could see the benefits of teaching happy children over academic pushing and shoving! The teachers are all passionate about their subjects which definitely runs off on the children. They also have an absolutely zero tolerance approach to bullying – which I know is not the case in other local private schools. I would highly recommend if anyone is thinking of sending their children here 🙂

    Reply
    • muddystiletto October 31, 2016

      Hi Jo, thanks for commenting, Sibford has had a great response on the blog, clearly some very happy kid there x

      Reply
  • Amanda October 31, 2016

    My daughter is in the junior school and my son is in the senior school and both are incredibly happy at Sibford. Your review is spot on, Hero. We moved our kids from the local state primary when we noticed our eldest getting lost, socially and academically in large class sizes and were amazed by how quickly he regained his confidence and flourished. The support for kids with SENs is incredible – but equally, the children without SENs are supported and challenged in a gentle, non-pressurised way to fulfil their potential. X

    Reply
  • Debbie November 17, 2016

    We are so pleased with how our son is getting on at Sibford, happy, making great friends, achieving and growing in confidence and trying loads of new things.
    I love it that they encourage the kids that everyone is unique and talented in there own way… makes for a healthy respect for individuals.
    Great write up I will be sharing. 🙂

    Reply
    • muddystiletto November 17, 2016

      Hi Debbie, thanks for taking the time to comment. Sibford parents are clearly very passionate about the school which is great. Hero x

      Reply
  • Heidi November 29, 2016

    Very interesting report and you have captured a lot of the character of the school. We have 3 children at the school at various stages and they are all getting, in our opinion, a well rounded first class education. I would however like to dispel the myth that Sibford is not academic, this is simply not true. If your child is academic and that is where their strength lies, they will be encouraged, motivated, inspired and enabled to do very well academically, without feeling that they have been ‘hot-housed’ They will achieve very well not because they have been forced into non-stop study but because they will have fostered an interest in their studies and will want to do well. There have been some fantastic results achieved by many students, who have gone on to do some fantastic things at University or career wise. Equally though if academia is not your child’s strength but perhaps, Art or Music or Sport then they will be equally supported and encouraged to achieve the best they can in those areas. What is perhaps, most important to note is that students will be treated as individuals and allowed to develop their talents and skills, in whatever area they may be, without being shoehorned into ‘ a one size fits all box’ This I think is fairly unique in a lot of private schools and it produces confident (but not arrogant) well rounded young people, with far more skills to offer than just a set of results.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto November 30, 2016

      Hi Heidi, thanks for writing such a detailed response. I’ve been amazed by the number of Sibford parents who have taken the time to respond to the review, the school engenders a lot of loyalty. Hero x

      Reply
  • Lisa April 24, 2017

    Indeed a very interesting report and excellent PR for a school who so deserves this praise. We made the very hard decision to move our daughters from a local secondary and happy that we did as it was one of the best decisions we ever made. Sibford is a fabulous school which encourages respect and individuality . Our eldest daughter is very academic and was supported to achieve her very best whilst also exceeding at County level at sport . Our youngest is thriving and since changing schools is now back to a happy and confident teenager .Sibford staff go above and beyond to support the well being of all their pupils , their pastoral care and respect they encourage between staff and the pupils is exemplary. And their academic support is second to none . I would encourage all parents to attend an open day .

    Reply
    • muddystiletto April 24, 2017

      Hi Lisa, Thanks for commenting. Sibford has a whole lot of very happy parents! Kindest, Hero

      Reply
  • Louise June 3, 2017

    Sending our Year 5 son to Sibford School last September was quite the most difficult but the best decision we as parents have had to make. We cannot speak highly enough of the school and its staff. I totally agree with Heidi regarding dispelling the myth that children who are academically strong are not supported to achieve their potential at Sibford School. Staff quickly identify children’s strengths and weaknesses and tailor their teaching, support and care to the needs of the individual child. Our son was on the G & T register at his previous state school,;he has strong sporting abilities and we have always brought him up to be considerate and kind to others. As a result of this he was bullied over a long period of time and we watched our happy, confident son quite frankly being destroyed. As staunch advocates of the state sector (along with the fact that I was a state school Governor at the time), moving our son to an Independent School was a huge and very difficult decision for us. We visited the school on its Open Day last June and the staff, children and other parents we met and chatted to, along with the stunning grounds and extensive sporting provision, convinced us to sign our son up for a taster day. He’s never looked back since. Our bright, outgoing little boy is back with more confidence than he has ever had, he is absolutely thriving. He loves the sporting opportunities offered at Sibford and has been lucky enough to represent the school in a number of sporting events and fixtures. He has additional support in Maths and English and, as a result of the additional more challenging work, we have seen him progress very quickly academically because Sibford School has tailored his educational experience to our child. Pastoral care is equally excellent and as a result of the school’s inclusive, reflective and empowering ethos, our son quickly made lots of new friends and has built strong relationships with the staff. Our son had serious medical issues from a very young age and spent a good deal of time in and out of hospital; as a result we have been particularlly concerned about him being away from home in the event that he became unwell. The fact that the school has a School Nurse on site and robust procedures in place, backed up by well trained staff meant that we have never worried about his medical welfare since he started at Sibford. The school works in partnership with you as parents and it’s genuinely ‘Open Daor’ Policy means that communication is quick and easy, you never feel as though you are being held ‘at arms length). This level of two-way communication and the trust which results has resulted in our son attending an action-packed 5 day Residential Trip in the Lake District, his first big trip away from home? Knowing that he would be well cared for by such kind and dedicated members of staff meant that my husband and I were able to wave him off quite happily and not worry about his welfare whilst he was away. We are great believers in spending time outdoors and the Forest School and wonderful grounds at Sibford School are utilised on a daily basis by the children. A few days after our son started last September, I arrived one day to find the children having their art lesson outside in the orchard, studying and drawing apples freshly picked from the trees. What a wonderfully fulfilling way for the children to observe and interpret the subject of the lesson whilst experiencing all the benefits of the outdoor environment. If my comments seem somewhat idyllic then this is what I intended, as this is exactly how we would describe our son’s educational experience in his first year at Sibford School. In his own words ‘I am working hard and learning so much, but I am having lots of fun at the same time’. And that for us says it all.

    Reply
    • Chrissy November 15, 2017

      Thank you for writing this, very nice to read as we have a similar experience. After being moved to Sibford our  child has matured in a very positive way. It is like having a new child. He went from being negative, unhappy, struggling, indifferent at his old school  to being positive, content ,motivated and self assured at Sibford. His academic results have clearly improved. One of the best decisions we ever made.

      Reply

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