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Summer Fields School, North Oxford

A top prep day and boarding school in Oxford with small pupil numbers and whopper facilities, hidden away in 70 stunning acres leading to the Cherwell River.

WHAT? WHERE?

Summer Fields is a bucolic day and boarding school for boys aged 4-13, completely hidden away in leafy Summertown in North Oxford, for boys aged 4+, and set in 70 acres of stunning grounds – roughly a third of an acre for each of the 335 boys, if you will – that takes you right down to the River Cherwell in the city centre.

The original Victorian villa, making up part of the Pre-Prep

The school was established in 1864 with just seven pupils so no surprise that the original buildings are Victorian, though the property footprint has grown over time to include some clunky mid-Eighties bolt-ons and some rather more foxy recent architectural additions including a beautiful two-storey glass and stone pavilion. 

The Pre-Prep, just outside the Summer Field gates, opened in 2018, and is now full with 73 little people, while the Prep holds 171 boarders and 91 day pupils in classes of just 10-16.

With its own chapel, the school operates under a Christian ethos, though other religions are welcome.

FACILITIES / SPORT

summer field school cricket pavilion
The cricket pavilion

OMG, where to start? The huge school grounds are absolutely pristine, with eight cricket pitches (the current headmaster David Faber is cricket mad), grass tennis courts, an astro turf hockey pitch, a nine-hole golf course, an adventure playground and an outdoor swimming pool.

summerfield school field and path
The endless view from the Pavilion

Inside there’s another 22m swimming pool (because why have one when you can have two?), plus 3 squash courts, 2 Eton Fives courts, a shooting range plus a Sports Hall that’s in excellent nick. The big wow building is The Salata Pavilion, with meeting rooms downstairs, a large open plan area upstairs plus large balcony overlooking the school grounds and those beautiful cricket pitches. The boys play sport every day and as well as the main sports of rugby, cricket an hockey, the school offers more unusual sports climbing,  scuba diving and judo and sculling.

The grounds are also home to the biggest school adventure playground I’ve seen, constructed with the obligatory zip wire, and designed by Robert Sergent-Fairley, recipient of ‘Best Natural Playground in London’ for the last 5 years. As it happens, the kids are massively free-range, and there are camping pods and wooden shacks in the woods in where the boys camp out, whatever the weather.

glass building looking onto field
The Salata pavilion

PERFORMING ARTS

On the drama front, there’s a tiered theatre for school performances, and musically over 80 per cent of kids play an instrument here, the highest percentage I’ve encountered for a while in a school review. The school offers the usual mix of orchestras and ensembles along with three choirs – one of which, the chapel choir with its 24 choristers and 12 adults, enjoys a national reputation that tickles the coat-tails of the dedicated choral schools.

The natural playground

SCHOOL

Recently there’s been a £2.6million investment in creating an extraordinary two-tier library space and updating the Chapel with wider aisles and underfloor heating. The library has been built in the area once known as New Room, the oldest teaching space in the school, and strikes the right balance between inviting on the ground floor with its slouchy sofas and fireplaces and the quiet working space above. There’s also a reading room and ‘living history’ archive room charting Summer Fields’ past.

For the official school tour, check out Summer Field’s video.

LITTLIES

The Pre-Prep’s relative newness, coupled with Summer Fields extraordinary deep pockets has created its USP – a state-of-the-art space that’s been wholly designed with modern teaching in mind. The Pre-Prep head Joanna Chapman came from Knightsbridge Junior School (yes, just imagine the shrill expectations of parents there) and was hands-on in the fitting-out process, so you can expect wipe down walls, interactive TV screens that can be lowered for littlies, automatic blinds for the rooms (the extension on the existing Victorian villa is modernist, bright and glassy), and storage is well hidden so there’s no unnecessary clutter.

The copper-clad modern extension

Teaching spaces are roomy, the indoor to outdoor play is seamless. Also worth mentioning that the children here get the full use of the Prep school facilities and as they are on-site, they’re very much treated as part of the school, rather than an adjunct to it – case in point the six metre tree house that can be used by pre-prep all year round, both as a classroom in the trees and as an extension of the weekly forest school sessions which are already run by a dedicated forest school teacher.

PASTORAL CARE

In a boarding school with only 262 Prep School pupils and 73 Pre-Prep pupils, and a pastoral system that includes Lodge Parents, a Personal Tutor and Form Teacher all keeping an eye on each child, Summer Fields has a good reputation for its pastoral care. There’s a dedicated Deputy Head Pastoral to coordinate the care, the chaplain is on hand and 15 of the staff have recently undergone training to become mental health ambassadors. There’s a school counsellor each Thursday should children want to go up and see her and in a sweet touch, every new child is given a teddy on arrival, complete with league scarf knitted by Lodge Parent Ann or registrar Christine.

BOARDING

children holding oars above head in canoe

With the launch of the Pre-Prep there’s been a natural (and planned) progression of day school numbers, but Summer Fields still lays its hat on its reputation as a top boarding school – currently it’s around 65% boarding pupils here, with 15% of the children coming from overseas.

The boarding accommodation has had complete overhaul and it’s good to see the school has shown creativity and a sense of fun, with huge wall murals, themes of Harry Potter, or adventure. Now it’s just the Y8 accommodation still to get the glow-up.

There are 6 boarding houses, with roughly 20-38 boys in each house, and all based on individual year groups. All homework is done away from the boarding houses to allow the kids to come ‘home’ and relax. No lie in on the weekend though – Saturday school is alive and kicking here and on Sunday there’s a full chapel service.

ACADEMIC RESULTS

The old school hall

Summer Fields has a spectacular success rate in getting its pupils into the top independent senior schools in the country (top of the list – Eton) which gives you an idea of the academic standards here. There were 13 scholarships this year (2020-21) including 3 to Eton and 4 to Harrow, 2 to Magdalen College, 2 to Radley, plus assorted gongs for kids heading to Westminster and Haberdashers Monmouth. Eton and Harrow top the next destination lists by a long chalk, though leavers headed to 17 schools in total including Oundle, Radley and Stowe.

There are 6 support teachers on hand (not including the handwriting teacher) in case your child struggles. Scholarships are achieved across the board in sport, music, art and academics, though music and sport seem to be particularly well represented at Summer Fields. Musically, the chapel choir is known as one of the best non-cathedral school choirs. 

THE HEAD

David faber summer fields school headmaster

David Faber, an old boy of Summer Fields himself (as was his grandfather, some bloke called Harold Macmillan), came to the education game late, having been a Tory MP and an academic historian and author in his own right. I like the fact that he’s worked in politics, academia, the real world prior to taking up the headship 11 years ago – there’s a practical, can-do attitude about him that’s seen considerable investment and expansion since he too over the reins.

QUIRKS

summer fields school photos montage

Buzzer is the school shop that sells everything from noisy toys to stationery – all the annoying gizmos that makes school fun and irritate the hell out of parents. Kids can get a ‘Golden Ticket’ of £5 to spend in Buzzer for outstanding academic success (sneaky, I like it!). The school uniform is very Oxfordshire country squire – slouchy corduroys take centre stage.

ISI REPORT

They’re fairly ancient with the most recent integrated school report is from 2014 (mostly excellent with a dabbling of good for governance and boarding), with a later compliance report in 2017.

MOBILE PHONE POLICY

There’s a no-mobile phone policy at the school. Those needing them for travel can leave them with lodge parents for safe-keeping.

FEES

On the more expensive side but you’ll get why when you see this place.Prep – £7,628 for day pupils, £10,945 for boarders. For Pre-Prep kids, it’s £4326 for Reception, £4866 for Y1&2 and £5624 for Y3. Registration for both Prep and Pre-Prep is £75 and the Deposit on acceptance of a place is £1,500.

WORD ON THE GROUND

Historically Summer Fields has been out of view, literally and metaphorically, to anyone other than in-the-know boarding families – although thanks to recent expansion, there are now 335 places available rather than 240. Word is that the school is very nurturing and has a warm, inclusive ethos. Clearly the parents who send their kids here have high expectations for their academic path and success, and the school delivers to the brief.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

GOOD FOR: It’s hard to know a boy this place wouldn’t suit. It has the rolling acreage and pristine playing fields of a top country school, but happens to be a mile outside the centre of Oxford. It’s academic enough for the pushiest of parents but the style of teaching and huge amount of sport and extra-curricular activities mean the kids have a ball too.

NOT FOR: The small cohort won’t appeal to all, nor will the Christian outlook. At £7,628 per term for day pupils, it’s on the steep side compared to other Oxford prep day schools though the £10,945 for boarders a term is more in line with market forces.

DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest and check it out for yourself! Upcoming Open Days are Pre-Prep (Reception – Year 3) on Fri 6 May, 2022, 10.30am and Prep (Year 4 – Year 8) on Sat 14 May,  2022, 10.30am. There is also a Pre-Prep ‘Stay & Play’ session for parents and boys under 4, on Thurs 16 June, at 9.30-10.30am.

Summer Fields, Mayfield Road, Oxford OX2 7EN. summerfields.com

8 comments on “Summer Fields School, North Oxford”

  • KK October 6, 2018

    It is the best decision we ever gave to send our son to SF.

    Reply
  • K. MacGilchrist October 5, 2018

    We moved our son to Summer Fields last year (Year 6). I knew his house parents would suit him within 30 seconds of our arriving: positive, energetic, forthright yet with a sense of humour; just the right mix to bring out the best in our son. He was helped to settle in extremely quickly; academic support and feedback far outstrips anything we have had in the past; the year group is wonderful, kind and supportive of each other; the reward structure for effort and good behaviour is well honed – they know how to motivate boys; academic expectations are high, yet there is plenty of time scheduled for sport and relaxation; tutor communication is excellent and frequent; and knowledge and advice regarding senior schools is on tap. An extremely efficiently run machine, with heart. What else can I say? There’s a wonderful international mix of children, fully reflective of the society our children will no doubt go into. Special mentions? Many individual teachers could be mentioned, but Mrs Stoop (History) and Mr Hoskings (Maths), both Year 6 houseparents, were both wonderful; the former in particular for picking up on additional support needs that changed exam marks from ‘D’ to ‘B’, and the latter for providing such a positive energy field as Maths teacher, form master and housemaster in our son’s first year at Summer Fields.

    Reply
  • C October 3, 2018

    My 2 boys have left a top London pre-prep to join the new Summer Fields pre-prep. I have never seen my boys happier. Great classrooms, amazing teachers, lots of sport and muddy knees and scuffed shoes! Best move ever.

    Reply
  • Grandparent June 22, 2018

    As a parent and now grandparent I have always been a great fan of SF. It is not for the faint hearted as it excels in the pursuit of academic success, but what is offered to the boys is exceptional in every way, and they are nurtured through the school by their own personal tutor who is always on hand for them if there is a problem. I have always thought that it was a great base for future life as the boys come from many different families and countries. It is caring and kind. I would love to be there myself.

    Reply
  • Freddie May 16, 2018

    I presume the shop sell stationEry.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto October 4, 2018

      I’d check but I’m stationary and can’t get there to check. Thanks for the subbing, much appreciated! Hero x

      Reply
  • SarahH June 2, 2017

    My boys are there and they love it. Best decision we ever made taking them out of London day school.

    Reply
    • Umma June 12, 2019

      Hello Sarah
      We were thinking of sending our son to Summerfields.
      Could you please more insight on the school
      Thanks

      Reply

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