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Wychwood School, central Oxford

Looking for a school with an emphasis on pastoral care and personal development? Say hello to this Oxford bijou day and boarding option for girls.

WYCHWOOD SCHOOL, OXFORD

WHAT? WHERE?

Wychwood School is a  selective day and boarding school for girls aged 11-18, with a teeny tiny capacity of just 165 pupils, 30% of whom are boarders. A mere 10 minute walk from the centre of Oxford, the school, established in 1897, is based around two compact red brick mansions typical of the Victorian villa buildings up the Banbury Road on a small 1.25 acre site. The exterior is attractive, with vines across the grand porch, and though the interior could do with a bit of TLC in places (and is about to get it – there’s a major new investor in place) the overall feeling here is homely and comfortable.

FACILITIES

No expansive greenery and huge purpose-built concert halls – there’s one of those called The Sheldonian down the road. The school has one grass pitch where girls play football, hockey cricket, rounders and athletics, access to an astroturf at the next door Dragon School, 7 netball courts, 7 tennis courts, and, pre-Covid, used the Oxford University pool. But to focus on facilities entirely misses the point of Wychwood which is its outstanding pastoral care and Exocet focus on the girls, some of whom arrive at Wychwood having had poor experiences elsewhere (for example, bullying, low self-esteem, eating issues).

MUSIC, DRAMA AND THE ARTS

Wychwood music

Before Covid struck there were the usual variety of small music ensembles; Chamber Choir, string group, pop band, harp ensemble, guitar club, essentially any theme the girls are interested in. Over half the girls play instruments and have music lessons and Orchestral players are ordinarily catered for by the Thames Valley Youth Orchestra.

Wychwood drama

With take up every year for Drama GSCE and A level drama provision is inventive here – there are annual form plays in which every year group writes, produces and presents, and at the end of the summer term every year the lower school timetable is suspended to explore a explore a cross curricular theme. At the end of the week the girls write monologues based on what they have learned that are then written into a play by a local playwright. The following week the play is cast, rehearsed and performed two days later to an invited audience. Pretty cool. Alumni include the BAFTA-winning actress Florence Pugh – not too shabby!

Wychwood art

However, Art is where Wychwood really shines – you can take GSCEs and A levels in textiles, photography, fine Art, and History of Art. There’s a new printing press installed this year and an enthusiastic new textiles teacher (ex St Helen’s & St Katharine’s). A student from the school has just won a place at Central St Martins, with another going to the University of Arts in London and a third recently gaining an art foundation place at Abingdon & Witney College.

ACADEMICS

Really good – even before you factor in that this school is selective. With average class sizes of  15 throughout in some instances less in the Seniors ,the calling card for Wychwood is individual attention and the teachers are clearly highly-invested in helping the children – the kids I spoke to couldn’t praise their teachers enough.

Wychwood science

Results this year were GSCES: 24% Grade 9, 47% Grades 8-9, 65% Grades 7-9 and 100% pass rate. A Levels: 36% A*, 58% A*-A, 84% A*-B. If you’re thinking of sending your daughter, check out the Academic and Non-Academic scholarships at both 11+, 13+and 16+ entry level, plus bursaries are available.

THE HEAD

Photo: Clint Randall pixelprphotography.co.uk

Andrea Johnson has been head here since 2013, and is pretty much as I’d expect the head of a small, intimate boarding school for girls to be – approachable, friendly, bustling, and protective of her brood. Under her tenure she’s raised the academic standards without comprising the pastorally-driven USP of Wychwood and is clearly thrilled with the new investment and what it could mean for her school and pupils (firstly – tidy up the boarding houses; do more dance and cookery; smarten up the classrooms). In a school of 165 kids, she also has a keen idea of the kind of girl who will be happy here – basically, the queen bee or pushy girls with ‘too many elbows’ as she puts it, need not apply.

BOARDING

Roughly a third of children board, either in the main house (for the majority of senior students) and 2&4 (the postal address) used for the junior girls. In the senior years, common rooms and facilities are shared by boarders and day girls, and day girls can stay for prep during the week and often sleepover at short notice. Unusually there are mixed-aged bedrooms at Wychwood, which in many ways makes sense for the girls to mix this way, with older ones supporting the younger like ‘big sisters’ and the children learning to make friends outside their peer groups.

In terms of interiors, the junior boarding rooms are pretty standard I’d say – large, multi-bed, and with the usual pine/plyboard bedroom furniture. There are some easy wins to raise the boarding provision, so watch this space once the investment gets going.

PASTORAL CARE

Wychwood pastoral

What’s the secret at Wychwood? Wellbeing starts from the top here – Johnson tells me she spent two and a half hours talking to one tearful pupil the other day, but it’s this kind of dogged patience and support from all teachers that ultimately pays off with the girls. When I asked a group of sixth formers what was the best thing about Wychwood, they said ‘the teachers, with Mr P (the head of sixth form) just one example of someone ‘good at spotting if something is up,’ with no pressure on the girls to conform or be anything other than themselves. Case in point the two girls at the school currently identifying as male, one of whom would have been Head Girl this year. Instead, the school is electing the child as Head Councillor instead with no fuss or fanfare, and no-one is batting an eyelid.

In a nod to the equal emphasis now placed on wellbeing and brainpower, there are now two Deputy Heads at Wychwood – one for pastoral and one for academics.

QUIRKS

The gym/assembly room

Often when I come to this question I scratch my head as many schools remain stubbornly traditional in approach – but Wychwood is definitely not one of them! The school’s size makes catering to individuality its core promise, so it’s no surprise that kids can do some very funky subjects. GSCEs are possible in Astronomy, Photography and Psychology, and for A levels they can offer almost any language. In recent years, Farsi, Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Mandarin have all been taught. That said, the most popular A level results at the all-girls’ Wychwood are actually Maths and Biology!

The physical set-up of the school is unusual, very higgledy piggledy and ‘vertical’ (I seemed to go up a lot of steps and floors). Wychwood’s calling card of pastoral brilliance, nurture and personal development was quite unusual when I first reviewed in 2016 but it’s right on the money now – mental-wellbeing is a huge issue at schools and Wychwood seems to have it nailed.

Clint Randall pixelprphotography.co.uk

WORD ON THE GROUND

Parents don’t send their kids to Wychwood for sport – one mum laughed when I asked about competitive sport! – though clearly there are kids who are talented across the board. But that’s not why children come to Wychwood – it’s a happiness thing.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Excellent for children who have fallen through the cracks in big beast schools and are looking for nurturing, positive alternative –Wychwood is a place, as one girl put it, where it’s ‘cool to be yourself’. Flexi-boarding provision makes it a particularly good option as children go up the school, with Oxford on the doorstep.

Not for: The claustrophobic! It’s a small, intimate site and with such a small cohort there’s not much privacy to be had. There’s not a huge amount of exercise on the curriculum so super-sporties might be frustrated and the general vibe here is about teamwork rather than winning – competitive kids and tiger parents be warned.

Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself by arranging for an appointment to take a tour of the school, or check out their Virtual Open Day here.

Wychwood School, 74 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6JR. Tel: 01865 557 976. wychwoodschool.org

16 comments on “Wychwood School, central Oxford”

  • Lisa Roberts October 2, 2020

    Your review of Wychwood is spot on . Our daughter who has SEN, was about to fall through the cracks of the education system and we were desperately looking for somewhere and someone to give her a chance when other schools had turned her away because of her needs. Within minutes of us being there we knew we’d found the place for her. If we’d visited Wychwood sooner it would have been our 1st choice anyway. She is now in Yr 8 and thriving. The school has adopted such a flexible approach to her learning that she is now following a bespoke and inclusive timetable which allows her to make the most of 1:1 teaching as well as working with her tutor group. She is more confident, has made lots of friends, makes the most of the flexi boarding on offer and is regularly rewarded for her efforts both in assembly and via emails to me from her teachers. The school offers such a personalised approach and gives the all of girls room to be themselves. It’s exactly what we needed for our daughter and we will always be beyond grateful to Andrea for giving our daughter the chance to be part of the incredible Wychwood community.

    Reply
  • Claire Harvey October 1, 2020

    A spot on review. It sums up exactly what Wychwood is: a quirky, individual school which supports the individual child and allows them to develop. As a Wychwood old girl and parent of a new sixth form student I’ve been very impressed with the excellent pastoral care and teaching. If your child is one who will benefit from this type of small environment Wychwood offers great value for money. Also it is great for both parents and child to have the option of flexi-boarding.

    Reply
  • Sian Foster nee Ashby January 14, 2019

    I am old girl ie 70’s! Wychwood has changed considerably however my memories of great teachers and good memories/friends have not!!! Very proud and so happy that Wychwood is doing so well, all i ask is that doesn’t become too full of itself!!! Academic success is great but the welfare of the students is more important……… I remember my interview with Ms Snodgrass in 1972 and that she accepted me in to the school 2 days before term time having had a terrible experience in another! What a lovely woman. Never looked back….

    Reply
    • muddystiletto January 14, 2019

      Can I just say how much I love the name Ms Snodgrass?! Thanks for commenting Sian, glad the school holds great memories for you. Hero x

      Reply
  • Niki Sinclair January 14, 2019

    Hello Muddystiletto,
    At 55 I am proud to be an ‘old girl of Wychwood school and your comments are spot on. I fell through the cracks at many schools and my parents felt all hope was lost….until I was accepted at Wychwood. Today my parents still say that this probably saved my life. I had to re-sit most of my O-levels whilst doing 4 A-levels and came through with flying colours. But it wasn’t the academia that stuck out in my mind it was the spirit of strong women, great teachers and to this day life long friends. I entered the school a broken child and left a confident young lady. 30 years later I returned from Canada to work in Oxford where a man next to me asked where I had gone to school. When I said Wychwood he smiled and said ‘You can recognise a Wychwood girl anywhere (he went to The Dragon!) there’s something about them, that’s so different , strong and wonderful’. If you want to give your child a good overall start in life this is the place to walk into.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto January 14, 2019

      Wow, what an endorsement to Wychwood. Amazing what impressions schools leave children with. Thanks for emailing and glad it was a great experience for you. Hero x

      Reply
  • Jackie July 7, 2017

    My daughter loves the sport at Wychwood and has continued to be involved in lots of different teams since she started in year 7 (Remove at Wychwood). There is often a huge drop out in sport for girls as they enter the teenage years, but due to Wychwood’s size I see girls at all levels really enjoying the sport (which is less competitive to get into the teams than other schools) which ensures they continue with sport throughout the school. My daughter has grown in confidence, has made fantastic friends and has fun at school. My daughter moved from a day girl to a weekly boarder to avoid the travel time and enjoys lots of activities and being with friends in the evenings. Wychwood knows each girl really well and can ensure they reach their own potential. The Head and teachers are all completed committed to all the girls. I would recommend the school to any parent.

    Reply
  • Me April 27, 2017

    On the whole, this is an accurate summary of the school. The current head has worked wonders to make sure that every child is challenged and encouraged and valued. That’s tricky at the best of times but the outcome is remarkable, given their intake, which is quite wide.
    I too, disagree about the drama. Everything I have seen, has left me really impressed, so no worries there.
    Leadership is everything in a school and Mrs Johnson has gained my respect. She acknowledges any glitches in school and uses them to inform her future plans. Lots of schools claim to have that ethos but it’s not something that actually happens very often. It is a really good role model for the girls’ own self-improvement. Rules are clear, good morals are promoted and the head doesn’t flinch if she has to tackle any rough stuff. She just dusts the girls down and re-focuses them on a better life view. Magic stuff! Other schools could learn a great deal from Wychwood.

    Reply
  • Valerie Whitlow April 26, 2017

    As the mother of two girls who have been very happy at Wychwood, I’d say your review was very accurate apart from two things:

    The drama provision is excellent with a very enthusiastic drama teacher & the possibility of studying for LLAMDA (spelling?) exams. The school also takes part in Shakespeare for Schools productions each year. Wychwood’s size is an advantage when it comes to drama. One of my daughters had parts in plays that she definitely would not have had in a larger school. The girls are challenged each year to write, produce, and star in the “form play”, with each form producing a play from scratch in a few weeks.

    The sports department teaches a valuable lesson – not everyone can win! Girls learn to be realistic about their chances against other schools who are fielding their A team when Wychwood only has one team & individual achievements & performances are celebrated. Again, both my daughters played in teams that they would not have been considered for in a larger school.

    Wychwood really gets to know each girl and helps her to achieve academically, socially & develop personally as a caring rounded human being. Having responsibility for a younger child brought out the best in my older daughter and gave my youngest child a sense of responsibility previously lacking in her life!

    The ability to board on an occasional basis is a “God-send” for busy parents & both girls really enjoyed the atmosphere in the boarding house. My eldest was a weekly boarder for a time with a long train journey at weekends and the pastoral care was excellent, both from teachers and very committed “Gap girls”.

    I am so glad that we did not listen to family pressure to send the children to the larger “exam factories”. Wychwood has played a large part in making my girls the wonderful people they are today (I might be slightly biased here!)

    p.s. when considering published exam results one has to take into consideration that Wychwood are accepting girls who would be rejected by other schools in Oxford. Your daughter WILL achieve her full potential at Wychwood, whatever that potential may be.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto April 26, 2017

      Hi Valerie, thanks very much for your honest response. I’m sure it’s helpful to other parents considering the school x

      Reply
  • Amy April 26, 2017

    Wychwood is an amazing school. You are right it is caring, positive and very much working with the individual. The staff work closely to bring the best out in every girl. If your after after a school that “genuinely cares for each child” and looks at them as an individual, challenging them and finding their true potential then you’ve found it. The Head works amazingly hard and the staff have a very open door policy. The boarding is great and they still have lots of opportunities with theatre trips, foreign trips and sports fixtures.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto April 26, 2017

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Amy. x

      Reply
  • sl April 26, 2017

    Pretty accurate… if you want an individual school with a quirky edge that gets results and a daughter who has her own mind then this is for you !
    No sausages here , all wholly organic and different talented pupils who are happy and look out for each other like one big family.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto April 26, 2017

      Parents feel very strongly about this school, thanks so much for your response x

      Reply
  • Hannah Wessel April 26, 2017

    My daughter is at Wychwood and she is so happy! We feel so pleased that she is not in an academic hot house and the school really knows and values each child as an individual. That is not to say academics are not important, the teaching is excellent and the expectations are high. I would question the comment made about the drama provision in the school; I think the drama is outstanding, and there is a culture of encouraging girls of all abilities to take part and to have a go, with many opportunities to act and perform. There are Performing Arts Evenings, and the school takes part in the Shakespeare for Schools Festival.
    I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Wychwood to any parent. It is a very special school.

    Reply
    • muddystiletto April 26, 2017

      Hi Hannah, thanks for your honest comment about the drama. I’ve published it to let others see your point of view and I take your point about encouraging all the girls to take part. Hero x

      Reply

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