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The Unicorn School

The only specialist independent day school in Oxfordshire, supporting boys and girls 6-16 years with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN).

WHAT? WHERE?

The Unicorn is the only specialist independent day school in Oxfordshire  supporting boys and girls 6-16 years with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). A small school of 86 kids with class sizes no bigger than 12, it’s an intimate environment in a converted mansion house on an unassuming site in Abingdon. The school celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016, and it seems the need is ever higher for its specialist teaching as more children are diagnosed with learning difficulties though The Unicorn is not a school for behavioural issues – it’s selective in terms of cognitive ability as the remit is definitely to help as many children return to mainstream education as possible. Last year saw the school extend its teaching to GSCE for the first time.

FACILITIES

Few parents look for a specialist school on the basis of facilities, and The Unicorn clearly puts education and pupil confidence at the heart of what it does. As this is a mansion house, it has a homely, slightly ramshackle feel over three floors with small classrooms, a neat ashfelt playground and an extra classroom out the back (kind of a posh shed).

SPORT AND ARTS

The kids can take part in football, rugby, hockey, tennis and athletics at Tilsey Park, sailing at Farmoor Reservoir plus swimming at Radley College down the road. They are also in local small schools football league and made it to the semi-finals of the National Dyslexic Football Festival. There are games at the park on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, though you could argue the case for more sport. Music, drama and art are provided for here though clearly with a cohort of 80 across a 10 year age range, this is inevitably somewhat limited.

THE TEACHING

The ratio of teachers to children is exceptionally high – for 86 children there are currently 45 members of staff, with every teacher having a masters degree in teaching children with learning difficulties. The National Curriculum is made accessible to those with learning difficulties with daily one-to-one tuition for every pupil up to Y8 and focused study sessions for Y9-11 to support GCSE studies. There is also in-house Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy for those who need it. Apart from creating a steel girder, I’m not sure how much more teaching support could be implemented here.

THE HEAD TEACHER

Andrew Day has been at the school since 2015, and is clearly a kindly and inspirational presence. Day has personal experience of dyslexia – one of his children has the learning difficulty. His wife trained as a specialist teacher to help their children initially but now teaches at the school too. I followed him around the classes and he’s a friendly, inclusive presence. When children reach the school, according to Day, all too often their ‘self esteem is on the floor’ and it’s not unusual for the children to be suffering anxiety, upset stomachs and phobias from the strain of trying to keep up in mainstream schools. The Unicorn has a homely feel that stems from the head. I’m sure that’s part of its appeal and success.

The extra classroom

ACADEMIC RESULTS

The first year of GSCES and I would say really heartening results. 10 per cent of the kids achieved a Level 7 (Grade A) or higher in their GCSE grades, and 75% made a level 4 (Equivalent to a C grade) or higher. In terms of kids moving out of The Unicorn and into mainstream schools, last year 91% of the children leaving last year went back into mainstream schools, with D’Overbroeck’s, Kingham, Shiplake and Our Ladies Abingdon (OLA) the main picks. In terms of reports, last summer’s ISI report (June 2017) showed the school was Good with Outstanding Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare in pupils.

WRAP AROUND CARE

You can drop your child at 8am and pick up at 5pm. Clubs are run after school too – dance, cooking, chess etc – to keep the little people entertained until home time. If you need them bussed, there’s a school-run mini-bus service that picks up from Watlington, Wheatley, Horspath, Cowley and Oxford. The school is also part of the Joint Bus Service which operates extensive routes across the county.

FEES

Substantially less expensive than nearest dyslexic specialist neighbour Bruern Abbey (think huge and rangey boarding school). Pupil Assessment Visit and Report is £600 where the kids spend two consecutive trial days at the school. Tuition fees £7150 per term (Y2-8); £7580 per term (Y9-11). Please note that Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy are additional costs – £37.50 per 30 minute session.

WORD ON THE GROUND

Very positive.The school has a good reputation locally (it’s helped over 500 SEN pupils to date) and also has an outreach programme with teachers going into local schools to help training.  The lack of physical space at the school is the main gripe. The past parents I’ve talked to talk of their ‘transformed’ children.

DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest! The next Open Days for The Unicorn are Wed 21 Nov 2018 and Tues 5 Feb 2019. Alternatively call the Registrar on 01235 530222 or email: registrar@unicornoxford.co.uk.

The Unicorn School, 20 Marcham Road, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 1AA.

 

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