The Muddy Best Schools Guide #8: Bloxham School (Banbury)
I am becoming quite the expert on the schools in Bucks and Oxon (though I say so myself!) and what’s interesting is that each one really does have something different to offer, depending on the type of child you have (and want to have). The latest school on the Muddy radar? Bloxham School, near Banbury. Here’s what I thought of it.
What? Where? Bloxham School is a co-ed day/boarding for kids 11-18 in the pretty village of – where else? – Bloxham, about 3 miles south of Banbury. The school is long established, having recently reached its 150th anniversary, but unlike many public schools that started life as manor houses before ‘diversifying’ into education, Bloxham was actually custom built for the purpose. So though the Neo Gothic buildings (with later additions) are handsome, they are restrained rather than expansive. For this reason it seems at first glance that Bloxham doesn’t have much to speak of in terms of grounds (no sweeping wooded driveway to trumpet your arrival) but actually the school has a whopper 60 acres to play with, and when you think that the school only has 400 pupils (145 in the sixth form, 230 boarders, 6 houses), there’s a lot of space per kid.
Facilities: For a small school, Bloxham punches well above its weight sports-wise ( the current headmaster is sporty himself, a former Oxford University rugby player and Outdoor Education instructor), and there are some awesome sports facilities – 2 all weather hockey pitches, 2 squash courts, two fives courts, six netball courts (doubling as tennis in the summer) and a 23m pool that reopened in Jan 15. There’s a modern sports hall with a groovy indoor climbing wall, yoga studio (no kidding!), gym, fitness classes.
The rugby and hockey teams are especially competitive, along with the more country pursuits of clay pigeon shooting (the school’s won the National title twice in the last three years) and riding (the school’s team were class winners at the NSEA National Championships). All of the kids take part in three coached sessions of sport a week, and 90% of them represent the school in competitive fixtures. Even for the resolutely non-sporty, there’s no escape.
What else? The music building was redeveloped a few years back and now includes, as well as the usual practise rooms and class rooms, a music technology suite of 22 computers all running Sibelius 7 and Cubase 7, so your child can make his or her secret ambitions to be the first public school rapper or thrash metal star come true. Drama here is strong, with the Great Hall fully tecked up for lighting, rowed seating for theatrical and music performances. There’s a cool stand alone art block too and a bright textiles room that looks out over the cricket pitch – they offer it as an A-level. No stabling at the school (though it’s available at a nearby yard) – I mean, what a shocker! – but kids can bring their mounts for twice-weekly tuition.
Academic results: If you find Oxbridge success a useful yardstick, 3 out of the 4 Bloxham pupils entered gained places this year – about 10% of the cohort, so the standard of teaching is high. Class sizes are smallish at 15 , and GSCE and A level results placed Bloxham in the dreaded league tables, if you follow such things. My own sense about Bloxham is that it’s not the place in which to hothouse your child. Rather, the school looks to sport, art and music as much as the academics and seems to have a holistic view of children’s education. Having said that, academic progress is monitored and reported upon every half term and clearly Bloxham like all good public schools knows it has to deliver results too.
Headmaster: This is Paul Sanderson’s second year in the job, having moved from deputy head at Gordonstoun , and at 41 he’s on the young side for a secondary headmaster. He’s charismatic, that’s for sure, seems very comfortable in his new role and evidently enjoys his personal flourishes – an Irishman, he was quite happy to flash bright green socks to match his green tie on the day I visited.
Quirks: Bloxham is unusual in that it lays its Christian credentials out proudly and openly, describing itself as a ‘Christian foundation school’ (though they welcome all faiths). The first five headmasters at Bloxham were Anglican priests, and Christian values pervade, though with only one chapel service a week (in a drop-dead gorgeous building) it’s hardly rammed down the throat. In terms of music, Bloxham has a groovy music tech department, providing a school radio station and allowing the kids to DJ at the school discos.
Fees: Senior school boarding (£10,605), Senior school day (£8050), Y1-2 weekly boarding (£7520), Y1-2 day (£5795). All school fees include core curricular materials and activities, including day trips, and some whole-year activity camps. Overnight stays for Day Boarders are charged at £46 a night.
Wrap around care: I checked out the boarding facilities which were modern, clean, basic. No interiors flourishes to worry Kelly Hoppen too much, but perfectly adequate for kids. Day boarders are allocated a study room in their House and can stay until 6pm or up to 9.45pm without booking in advance, or even sleep over if they wish (now that’s flexible). Day and full boarders co-exist peacefully here, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘some are more equal than others’ mentality amongst those who board full time. Girls and boys’ boarding houses are separate, as you’d expect!
Word on the ground: The mums I’ve talked really love it, and like its nurturing, ‘all–rounder’ ethos, and feel like it’s improved since Paul Sanderson took over.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Kids who prefer a smaller, more ‘family’ style school, with a less hierarchical structure between the year groups. Parents who want their children to have the opportunity to join in at sport, music and drama – participation is widely encouraged. The school felt very creative and progressive to me, with its textiles and music tech A levels and great art facilities. The vibe of the school is very calm, and all the children seemed very well behaved (though I did enjoy seeing a couple of girls wearing their socks pushed down – viva la revolution!).
Not for: The purely academic, or kids who are not ‘joiners’. Bloxham will suit kids who thrive as a big fish in a small pond, so it’s a personal call whether your child fits that mould or would benefit more from having to make their mark amongst greater numbers. If your child is a brilliant classical musician, be aware that the number or orchestral possibilities is limited by the cohort.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning and lunch, Saturday 3 October 2015, 11am-1pm (with lunch afterwards) and as ever, let me know your thoughts.
Bloxham School, Bloxham, Oxfordshire, OX15 4PE, Tel 01295 724341 www.bloxhamschool.com.