Tudor Hall, Banbury, North Oxon
A girl’s secondary day/boarding school in a stunning rural setting near Banbury, Tudor Hall's emphasis is on 'joining in' and good manners. Tick and tick.
Tudor Hall is a rural girls’ secondary boarding and day school in Bloxham, near Banbury for 11-18 year olds. It’s a small school, with 332 girls, 75% of whom board in a stonkingly lovely setting. It feels like a National Trust estate as you approach over cattle grids and rolling countryside (and cows metres from the car). Tudor Hall also owns nearby Carrdus School for kids 3-11.
Like many public schools, there’s a beautiful centuries-old main building with modern additions all around it, plus in this case 46 acres of grounds with a direct cross-field route to Wykham Park Farm (amazing farmshop goodies there btw, though the fabulous Baker Girl cafe has moved up the road to Great Tew).
An 18 metre covered swimming pool is probably the headline sporting attraction here along with the floodlit astroturf for 9 netball courts and 9 tennis courts, a further 4 hard tennis courts and 3 netball courts, 2 lacrosse pitches, fitness room, hall for dance and a grass athletics track. Further afield, Tudor Hall girls have access to Banbury Harriers Athletics Club with its all-weather athletics track, Banbury Hockey Club, Wade Gymnastics Club, and Wood Green 50 metre outdoor swimming pool. The one area that could do with an upgrade is the fitness room – it’s a bit pokey in size – but other than that it’s happy days for sporty types.
The theatre complex, complete with natty neon signage and a super-active drama department, makes this school an attractive proposition for jazz handers, but music is also a big deal at Tudor – out of 336 pupils, 290 of them take weekly individual music lessons. There’s a purpose-built music building housing 13 practice rooms, a music technology suite (no music tech GSCE or A level though, in case you’re hoping to produce the next Annie Mac) and classrooms. As you’d expect, most instrumental choices can be accommodated here, so if your daughter really wants to play the kora, Tudor will find a way to get her a teacher.
In a word (oh alright, two) very good. In the 2018 GCSEs, 20% of all girls achieving 9 or more passes equivalent to grades A*/ A. 63.3% of all grades were the equivalent to A*/ A.
For A levels, 2018 saw the highest percentage of A*s since they were introduced, with one in five of all passes at A*. 44% of grades were A*/A and 78% A*- B. 25% of all candidates achieved a minimum of 3 As and ten departments achieved 100% A*-B, including Maths, Chemistry, Economics and Drama.
But let’s be clear about this – despite these results, Tudor doesn’t sell itself as a particularly ‘academic’ school. The girls I talked to saw Tudor in a much more holistic way – its motto, Aim Higher (a bit of an in-joke with the girls who use the catchphrase when telling their friends to try harder) talks to all, not just the super-talented.
I like the breadth of subjects here – 27 possibles for Sixth Form including some meaty ones like Government and Politics, Business Studies and CDT. In the Sixth Form you can also take GCSEs in Performing Arts, Italian and Ancient Greek. Why would you bother? Because you’re at Tudor Hall, silly, and the girls do, do, do.
This is Wendy Griffith’s 15th year in the hot seat, and she’s still the model of brusque charm – not much time or inclination to idly chat but all smiles talking about the kids and very soppy about her dog, sitting under her desk during our interview. I like her a lot and she’s clearly done brilliant things at the school.
On first impressions Tudor Hall seems very traditional – a handsome Cotswold stone rural girls school turning out smart, beautifully-mannered girls. In other areas, though, it feels very forward-thinking. For example, girls earn their privileges through manners – so doors are opened for you, chat is relaxed, and the charm is effortless. It’s a simple, but brilliant idea.
A Leith’s Certificate in Food and Wine is offered here – a great idea (god knows I couldn’t boil an egg ’til my late twenties).
Plus food in general is a BIG DEAL at Tudor Hall – all the girls shout about how amazing the food is. In an all girls’ boarding school, with all the pressures affecting teens, it needs to be that way. So all the fresh meat is Red Tractor certified, the MSC certified fish is delivered direct from Brixham, and the fruit and vegetables are sourced from local suppliers where possible.
Lots of schools talk the talk about extra-curricular and not hot-housing but I think one way where Tudor Hall has particular success is that the girls really recognise the benefit of not over-focusing on pure academics, forging interests in sport, music, anything extra-curricular. The teachers have made it clear here that girls have to offer more than brains and academic results to compete for places at university and in the workplace – and more than ever, that’s true.
WRAP AROUND CARE
I went around different boarding houses, some swisher than others. The truth is boarding houses in most schools are the same – high street sofas and large TVs and table football in the communal areas, oak veneer bunkbeds in the rooms. House competitions and a buddying system encourages integration between the years. Day girls can also sleep over if there happen to be spare beds.
Day pupils are in the clear minority at 25% but the school seems very aware of the need to integrate day girls and boarders and so day girls can stay until 9pm, have their own day rooms and can sleep over with very little notice. With a day that runs from 8am to 9pm it’s easy to see how a day girl who leaves at normal time might feel like they’re not fully involved in the school but with over 50 extracurricular clubs every week the emphasis is very much on joining in, so I don’t sense it’s a big issue.
The boarding fee is £11,870 per term and the day fee is £7,365per term so on the more expensive side for local independent schools. Value for money? Hard to say, but the girls seem very happy, confident and there seems to be an absence of meanness and vanity amongst the girls – one of the things they love about being in an all-girls school is they don’t need to worry about how they look, and I remember that feeling myself back in the day.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Very happy parents at Tudor Hall. The school is small (average class sizes only around 16) but not so tiny that the girls don’t have room to grow. The mums I nobbled talk about the school being nurturing. And girls I spoke to absolutely loved the school, but are aware of the lovely Tudor House ‘bubble’ – it’s such a lovely place, it’s very easy to stay inside it.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone looking for an idyllically-situated rural school, with good travel connections. Banbury is 4 miles away and links straight to Marylebone on the Chiltern Line in an hour. It’s 35 minutes to Oxford to the west. Those who want their daughters offered every opportunity – extra-curricular activities are massive here.
Not for: Non-joiners – this a school for kids who want to get stuck in. One Sixth Former referred to the Tudor Hall ‘bubble’ – the girls here end up well educated and confident but perhaps in some ways protected from the ugly fight of the real world.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Have a look for yourself at the whole school on Saturday 11 May 10am-1pm.
Tudor Hall, Wykham Park, Banbury, Oxon, OX16 9UR. Tel: 01295 756259.