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.
Summer Fields is a day and boarding school for boys aged 4-13, completely hidden away in leafy Summertown in North Oxford, for boys aged 4+.
Summer Fields as a whole school sits 70 acres of stunning grounds – roughly a third of an acre for each of the 310 boys, if you will – that takes you right down to the River Cherwell in the city centre. The school started back in 1864 with seven pupils and the original buildings are Victorian, and 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.
There are currently 52 boys in the Pre-Prep, and at the Prep 182 boarders and 76 day pupils.
A big USP for the Pre-Prep is that it’s only in its second year – it’s basically brand spanking new (how often does that happen?), with state-of-the-art equipment. The friendly and approachable Joanna Chapman has come from Knightsbridge Junior School where you can just imagine the shrill expectations of parents so she knows the best of everything and has been very involved in the fitting-out process here. So there are clever (and attractive) 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), storage is well hidden so there’s no unnecessary clutter.
Teaching spaces are roomy, the indoor to outdoor play is seamless. And because it’s brand new and not yet to capacity, the children who started here this term are getting awesome attention. 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.
A new project announced for this year is the building of a 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.
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 which is currently being refurbished.
Inside there’s another swimming pool (because why have one when you can have two?), a 22 metre monster, plus 3 squash courts, 2 Eton Fives courts and 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 (hello, afternoon teas) plus large balcony overlooking the school grounds and those beautiful cricket pitches.
On the drama front, there’s a tiered theatre. And over the summer an adventure playground was constructed with the obligatory zip wire, designed by Robert Sergent-Fairley – an expert, it’s fair to be said, as he’s been the recipient of ‘Best Natural Playground in London’ for the last 5 years.
Currently most children board here though there’s a slowly growing cohort of day pupils too the school recognises that more parents want to keep their children at home with them. Summer Fields have recently given the Year 4 and 5 boarding accommodation a complete overhaul (there’s a Harry Potter theme!), with refurbishment continuing over the Easter and Summer breaks to extend further up the age groups.
Summer Fields is regarded as one of the main feeder schools for Eton, which gives you an idea of the academic standards here. There were 8 scholarships this year (2018 -19) including 3 from Eton and 1 from Harrow and kids pinging off to the likes of Radley and Winchester. 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.
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 9 years ago, and he’s highly personable, someone who is easy for the kids to look up to.
Plenty. Starting with music, the choir is a mix of both boys and staff (they recently sang at The Vatican – I mean, respect) and over 80 per cent of kids play an instrument here, the highest percentage I’ve encountered for a while in a school review. 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. Sporting wise, the school fields cricket teams from A to F – no kidding – and all boys play sport but there’s also an emphasis on finding sports all kids can excel at so on Thursdays boys can choose to have a go at something other than the main sports of rugby, football, cricket etc. On-site there’s badminton, squash, fives, table-tennis, fencing, clay-pigeon shooting, climbing, scuba diving and judo, while off-site it’s polo and sculling.
Well, 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!). Class sizes of 13 aren’t quirky exactly but they’re rather enticing all the same.
On the more expensive side but you’ll get why when you see this place.Prep – £7265 for day pupils, £10,424 for boarders. For Pre-Prep kids, it’s £4120 for Reception, £4635 for Y1&2 and £5356 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 310 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: There are some areas in the old main building that could do with an interiors spruce so don’t expect absolutely everything shiny and new. Some might think 310 boys in a whole school is on the small side. At £7,246 a term for day pupils it’s on the steep side compared to other Oxford prep day, as is the £9,357 per term for boarding school. However, the school recently announced that day fees will reduced by 15% and further bursaries will be on offer for able boys who cannot afford the fees.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Oh be my guest! There’s a Pre-Prep School Open Morning on 7 Feb 2020.
Summer Fields, Mayfield Road, Oxford OX2 7EN. summerfields.com