St Edward’s School
Muddy says: Looking for a city school? St Edward's School in Summertown, Oxford is a corker, with half of the cohort taking the IB rather than A-levels. Read on for the Muddy verdict.
St Edward’s School, in Summertown, Oxford is a major school for IB – unusually, half the Sixth Form take the IB with the remainder taking A Levels. One of the very few city-based boarding schools in the UK, with a quad to rival the Oxford colleges and a reputation for friendliness and inclusivity – and more recently – academic clout.
St Edward’s School (known locally as Teddies) is a co-ed boarding and day school for a little over 700 children, 13-18 years with about 280 pupils in the Sixth Form. It’s one of the very few city-based boarding schools in the UK.
Despite the fact that it’s only one mile from the very centre of Oxford, the school – an attractive Victorian red brick job with a beautiful large central quad – nestles in a stupendous 100 acre estate, complete with riverside boat house, golf course and canal-side tow path. It’s had a dramatic revamp over the last few years, moving from a gentle school for those who couldn’t get into the Radleys of the world into a highly-regarded option that now has well over 400 kids competing for about 140 places at 13+.
Blimey, where to start? With 85% of kids boarding here, Teddies judges itself against the likes of the elite schools of Radley, Marlborough, Wellington and Bradfield College and its facilities are very much up to that high-stakes challenge. On the sporting front there are 15 pitches, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, a 25 metre pool, 2 astro turf pitches, squash courts, two cricket pavilions – for why stop at one? – and the Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Gym, on school grounds and available to pupils, but also open the public.
Arts-wise, Teddies is hard to beat, because its regular theatre space happens to be none other than Muddy fave North Wall Theatre (it’s on school grounds and is owned by Teddies) with its dance and drama studios, theatre and gallery, often adorned with student’s work. Previous alumni include Florence Pugh (yes, that Florence Pugh – just a whisker away from this year’s Oscar for Little Women); Graham Broadbent, one of the producers on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri; Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke; and some bloke called Laurence Olivier.
And lest you think music is being ignored here, there’s the recently-completed Ogston Music School, built for a cool £7m, with 20 practice rooms, 7 ensemble rooms, a large recital/rehearsal space, a rock room/ recording studio, and a music library in which to house its two chapel choirs, symphony orchestra and jazz ensembles.
Well, the massive development in the Quad to build a new Academic Centre, with library, café, airy classrooms and 1,000 seat Hall is just about complete – just six weeks behind schedule due to Covid which is pretty smart going, and with the majority of spaces already being used, including brand new classrooms, and a frankly phenomenal library and study space that looks like a Grand Design with its ecclesiastical peaks and glass/concrete contrasts.
It’s a project that’s been agonised over for every detail – the four floor library starts with a meeting space, goes up to a quiet room, up again for a large collegiate style study area and finally up to a small area for serious swotting that is pretty much exactly what I remember from university. The reading room is visible from the quad to underline this is a place of learning. It’s highly impressive.
Also taking shape is a new co-ed boarding house that will be opening in 2020. Not too many co-ed boarding options around (d’Overbroeck’s and Leighton Park are the only ones immediately coming to mind in the area) and no doubt it will be carefully run with the necessary rules, but it feels like a smart, modern move to me.
MIDDLE SCHOOL PROGRAM
For 2020 Teddies has implemented a new middle school program consisting of two new courses that will run alongside GCSEs – Pathways and Perspectives. It’s more than a cute soundbite though and you might well buy into the idea that instead of taking 11 subjects at GCSE, with all assessments at the end of the two year period, students will be taught eight core GCSE subjects alongside two from the new programme which are assessed regularly throughout each term.
The Pathways courses are broad, meaning pupils can pursue their interests in each subject area without the restrictions of a prescriptive syllabus, with many including interdisciplinary links with an eye to future careers – think subjects such as Applied Sciences, Design and Entrepreneurship, and Music and Music Technology. Perspective courses, including Classical Languages and History. The new courses are graded in the same numerical system as GCSEs and sound like an exciting shake up to the system.
Teddies is one of the leading schools for the International Baccalaureate (IB) in the UK, to such an extent that for Y13 in 2019 there were nearly 60% in the school sitting the IB rather than A Level, and in Y12 the mix was about 65% IB to 35% A Level – very unusual. The IB is probably one of the biggest sells for the Teddies Sixth Form – there’s an argument that universities offer lower grades for IBs, just so you know!
New for 2017 was a dedicated sixth form Cooper’s Common Room (below) that knocks many city cafés out of the water. Until this came along, Sixth Formers mostly hung out in their boarding houses which sounds a bit meh, and the students I met were thrilled with their new hangout, to put it mildly.
Teddies’ former reputation in years gone by as a sporty but less academic school has been put to bed by the current head with results rising considerably in his seven year tenure. In this most crazy of Covid exam years, results have been strong – A Level grades went up – 84% gained A*-B (79% in 2019) and 55% at A*/A (46% in 2019). Those taking IB gained 82% (Levels 5-7; the equivalent to A*-B).
There’s a large degree of confidence about a distinct Teddies ethos, no doubt underpinned by the academic results of the last few years. What this means in layman’s terms is that your child will not be rote fed or preached at from the front of the classroom, but instead taught how to make mistakes (gulp) and learn from them. It’s also not about being competitive in an ‘I’m better than you’ macho way in the classroom but working out how to help everyone get better. I’m too horrifically competitive in all aspects of my life to have complied with this (I won’t even let my 11 year old beat me at Scrabble. AND I NEVER WILL). But I don’t doubt it makes for happier, better adjusted humans in later life and clearly it’s an ethos that’s benefiting the school academically.
The Warden (that’s his title, perhaps a throwback to the school’s clergyman founder in 1863) is currently Stephen Jones. Since his 2011 start at Teddies, he’s expanded the IB provision massively, introduced an extra girls’ boarding house, creating a more balanced school gender mix, and has also invested massively in all manner of facilities.
To meet him in his airy room with fireplace and windows over the quad, all smartly suited with pocket handkerchief, he very much fits the stereotype of the refined private school head, but he clearly has drive and vision for the school. He’s also a human, you’ll be pleased to know – he’s very soft on his puppy who likes to rampage around his office and knock over cups of coffee and make for the biscuits. The Warden will be replaced by current Deputy Head of Harrow Alastair Chirnside in 2021.
Teddies is primarily a boarding school – 85% of pupils do so, including 15% overseas students, though competition for day pupil places is increasing as the school’s local reputation continues to rise.
Day pupils stay till either 6.30 or 9.00pm, depending on their preference and their activities – there’s a huge range of extra curricular action here, from visiting speakers, clubs and societies, drama and music rehearsals, sports practice and they can stay for supper too.
There are currently 11 single-sex boarding houses, six for girls and seven for boys, with a mix of around 60 boarding and day pupils, and a two new co-ed boarding house. I’ve been around a lot of so-so boarding houses, but these push the boat out, particularly the more recent girls’ boarding house build that, frankly, looks like it should be on Grand Designs. The new House offer places to boys until Fifth Form (Y9-11) and goes co-ed in the Sixth Form (Y12-13).
I wouldn’t describe Teddies as quirky – it has a 150 year tradition, and has a strong Christian ethos (the chapel is central to the school), but I would say that it feels progressive, particularly with its IB offering. The recent architecture additions are forward-looking – the Science Block, for example, is run partly on solar power and looks wonderfully futuristic in parts and the new library and study centre, below, will look cool.
I liked the atmosphere too, very friendly and relaxed, and the two pupils who showed me around clearly loved the school.
Expensive for day students at £10,530 per term and on par with the elite schools for boarding I’d say at £13,160 per term. A non-refundable fee of £100 is payable on registration of a pupil for entry, and a final deposit of £800 is payable when a place is accepted, of which £500 is returned on settling finals fees on leaving.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents I’ve been talking to really like the down-to-earth, friendly aspect of Teddies and also cited its position so close to central Oxford and it’s extraordinary facilities as two of its major calling cards. For those who don’t board, there’s still extraordinarily good wrap-around-care with kids able to stay at school until 9pm at night. In terms of the kids themselves, the view was that Teddies is very friendly and inclusive, but there are a lot of extracurricular activities and it was tiring at times. As a parent I say… er, great!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for a bucolic setting that isn’t stuck in the middle of nowhere (Oxford literally on the doorstep is an amazing plus). Those who don’t want their kids hot-housed – Teddies has a lower common entrance threshold than the Radleys of the world, and the emphasis is on all-round education and a nurturing friendly environment in which to learn. If happiness is top of your list, you may have found your school. The close proximity to the chichi run of shops in South Parade in Summertown will please parents (just saying).
Not for: Is your child vehemently competitive? In a relatively small co-ed school, the pool from which to choose sports teams and create ensembles is necessarily smaller, so Teddies, though competitive, isn’t always going to be victorious. The Christian ethos with chapel attended three times a week might not suit everyone, though clearly all religions are welcome here.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at one of the Virtual Open Days, running most Saturdays.
St Edward’s School, Woodstock Rd, Oxford, OX2 7NN. Tel: 01865 319 204.