St Edward’s School, Summertown, Oxford
Looking for a city school? St Edward's School in Summertown, Oxford is a corker, with half the cohort taking the IB over 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 and half take 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, OXFORD
St Edward’s School (called Teddies by locals) is a co-ed boarding and day school for 700 children, 13-18 years (with 280 pupils in the Sixth Form), 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 Radley’s of the world into a highly regarded option that now has 400 kids competing for 100 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 elite 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 (BAFTA nommed last year and now a bonafide star with Lady Macbeth, Outlaw King and Fighting with My Family on her cinematic CV); Graham Broadbent, one of the producers on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri; Game of Thrones‘ Amelia Clarke; and Skins and The Borgias‘ Seb de Souza.
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, work has just begun on a project in the Quad to build a new study centre, library and 1,000 seat Hall which looks amazing, and has clearly had a huge amount of thought put into it – cafes where the kids can work (because that’s how life is these days), oval tables so that the teachers are just one of those round the table, rather than at the head telling the children what to think; a reading room that’s visible to the quad to underline this is a place of learning. It feels very much like a ‘pre-university’ ethos.
There are also plans for a new co-ed boarding house in the offing, with a view to opening in 2020. Not too many co-ed options around (D’overbroeks and Leighton Park are the only ones immediately coming to mind) and no doubt it will be carefully run with the necessary rules, but it feels like a smart, modern move to me.
Teddies is one of the leading schools for the International Baccalaureate (IB) in the UK, to such an extent that for the Y13 there are more in the school sitting the IB than A Level, and in Y12 the mix is 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). New for 2017 was a stonking 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 – GCSE: A*-B grades rose from 82% in 2012 to 85% in 2018. Last year A Level grades A*-B were 81%; and IB equivalent (5-7) was 85%. Last year (2017) 7 kids were offered a place at Oxbridge, with 3 following this year.
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 10 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 benefitting the school academically.
The Warden (that’s his title, perhaps a throwback to the school’s clergyman founder in 1863) is 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.
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 12 single-sex boarding houses, five for girls and seven for boys, with a mix of around 60 boarding and day pupils, with the co-ed boarding house coming in 2020. 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 will 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.
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 the main Open Day on 18 May 2019, or truck along for a mini open morning most Saturday mornings/Thursday mornings during term time (2 hours, book in advance). Alternatively book an individual tours with the Warden during term-time throughout the year. Call 01865 319203 to book.
St Edward’s School, Woodstock Rd, Oxford, OX2 7NN. Tel: 01865 319 204.