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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 non-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 a Virginia Creeper across the grand porch and, though the interior could do with a bit of TLC in places (and is slowly getting 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, a newly resurfaced multisport court (currently netted up for tennis), 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).

SPORT

Interesting times at Wychwood, which is demonstrating a new impetus with its sport – making a virtue of its small size. So rather than worrying about fielding large sports teams, it’s focusing on success at individual and smaller group sports. This summer Wychwood reintroduced rowing after more than a century in an ongoing partnership with Hinksey Sculling School, has two ergometers at the school, with another two on order, and has put rowing as part of the curriculum for years 7, 8 and 9 (and upwards as these girls progress through the school) and as an extra curricular option for older girls. Wychwood took part in this year’s annual charity fundraise ‘Big Row 2021’; completing a collective distance of 4,935km (basically, they rowed the Atlantic!) which ranked this tiny school an incredible number two in the country.

Wychwood is also forging a partnership with Oxford Harlequins rugby club to introduce rugby 7s to the pupils and is running an introduction to touch Rugby 7s coaching and tournament for local primary and prep schools.

Most excitingly, the head has dreams of building a subterranean swimming pool under the multi sport court. Not sure how many years she’ll have to work on that one, but seriously, how cool would that be?

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, wind band, guitar club, and essentially any grouping 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 Vale 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.

There’s a new Saturday Club initiative at the school that focuses on drama for disadvantaged locals in association with renowned Oxford School of Drama (definitely a coup), where the Wychwood drama pupils also get involved and gain experience in helping to write, produce and perform. Pupils don’t need to look far for acting inspiration – alumni include the now super-famous, Oscar-nominated 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 printing press and an enthusiastic textiles teacher who has made her mark since arriving two years ago from St Helen & St Katharine in Abingdon. 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 non-selective. With average class sizes of 15 and in some cases (especially in the Seniors) substantially less, the calling card for Wychwood is individual attention. The teachers are clearly highly-invested in helping the children – the kids I spoke to couldn’t praise their teachers enough.

New for this year are Film Studies at A level, and potentially Politics and Sociology at A Level for next year (Sept 2022).

Wychwood science

Results this year were as follows. GSCES: 28% Grade 9, 49% Grades 8-9, 68% Grades 7-9, and 100% pass rate. A Levels: 55% A*, 70% A*-A, 82% A*-B, and an astounding 45% of the girls are trying out for Oxbridge. If you’re thinking of sending your daughter, check out the academic and non-academic scholarships at 11+, 13+ and 16+ entry level – they include creative arts, drama, music, sports and all-rounder scholarships. Bursaries are also available.

BOARDING

Roughly a third of children board and of those around 20% are international students. The girls stay either in the main house (for the majority of senior students) and 2&4 (the postal address) used for the junior girls. All rooms have been refurbished over the summer and are all newly painted with new curtains and mattresses as well as hallowed USB plugs.

In the senior years, common rooms and facilities are shared by both 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.

THE HEAD

Photo: Clint Randall pixelprphotography.co.uk

Andrea Johnson has been head here since 2012, 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.

PASTORAL CARE

Wychwood pastoral

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. This year (2021) a new Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) and Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) department provision has been added – particularly relevant at the moment to help any students deal with the effects of the pandemic.

What’s the secret to Wychwood’s success? I think it’s that Wellbeing starts from the top here – Johnson is very hands on in talking to the girls and helping them navigate their teenage fall-outs, and 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 all 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.

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 which kind of surprised me but perhaps shouldn’t! Physically I think you’d describe this school as pretty quirky – very higgledy piggledy and ‘vertical’ (I seemed to go up a lot of steps and floors). But anyone who knows Oxford’s towering red brick Victorian mansions won’t be surprised – several schools near the city centre that I’ve reviewed in the past have this kind of set up.

ISI INSPECTION

You can find the latest ISI reports here.

MOBILE PHONE POLICY

As the Head succinctly puts it, ‘See it, hear it, take it!’

WORD ON THE GROUND

Parents love the fact that Wychwood really does put the child first, and is a school that personally knows each of its pupils and as one parent put it, ‘mapping out a path to support my daughter’s specific areas of passion… with uncommon kindness’. Some have said they don’t send their kids to Wychwood for sport — one mum laughed when I asked about competitive sport! — but others disagreed, arguing that the school nurtures talent across the board, and that sporty girls can be catered well for here. I guess the bolstering of sport over the next few months might put this argument to bed for good.

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?! Have a look for yourself at one of the school’s upcoming events: the Open Morning on 9 Oct and the Sixth Form Open Evening on 4 Nov, or arrange an appointment to take a tour of the school by visiting wychwoodschool.org / contacting admissions@wychwoodschool.org.

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

17 comments on “Wychwood School, central Oxford”

  • Leigh September 22, 2021

    Wychwood is one of the few schools we have encountered, that truly does put your child first. And we have done our homework. Our girl is very academic, sporty and a good little actress – if a little more gentle as a personality, than some of her peers. We are confident the school is provisioning her with the very best support in all of these areas of excellence. But unlike other ‘institutions’ – at Wychwood they take the time to get to know her personally, and then very thoughtfully mapping out a path against these specific areas of passion. All with such good old fashioned values, and uncommon kindness. I am seeing her confidence & happiness build, every day she spends here.
    PS: Don’t tell anyone as the size is just perfect!

    Reply
  • 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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