There is a huge number of private schools in Oxfordshire, though not as many options in the north and west of the county as you might expect, both at prep school and senior level - lots go off to boarding school from 13+. There are more private schools in Oxford, though, than we’ve had school dinners. They tend towards single sex, traditional and not particularly expensive (though of course there are those that buck the trend). A couple are renowned for their academic prowess; others are well-known on the boarding circuit; but beyond that, this is a story of local schools offering something for everyone.
Private schools in Oxford
Prep schools in Oxford
There’s a plethora of preps in Oxford. King of the jungle, and the only major co-ed, is The Dragon – huge and free-spirited – with pre-prep in Summertown and prep by Parktown. Parents love the scruffiness, though there’s nothing scruffy about the fees, which now largely exclude the dons’ children for whom the school was founded. Dragons tumble into any number of schools afterwards, day and boarding, including St Edward’s, Headington, Eton, Radley, Marlborough College.
If it’s Eton, they’ll meet some Summer Fields chaps. Tucked away behind the Summertown shops you’ll find 70 gorgeous acres for boys to run and run. You won’t find muddy knees or torn blazers, though: our reviewer described pupils as ‘articulate and confident, although suspiciously neat’. At 13+, three-quarters off to Eton, Harrow, Radley, Winchester. A couple to Magdalen College School or Abingdon as day boys.
Closer to the dreaming spires, both physically and spiritually, are Christ Church Cathedral School and New College School. If your son can sing (or even if he can’t, yet), listen up. Both take around 20 each year, offering huge bursaries to choral scholars. They leave at 13+ for day schools (state and private), or Eton, Harrow, Radley; choristers win scholarships. CCCS is totally olde worlde, tucked into higgledy-piggledy Tudor buildings that Cardinal Wolsey once called home. Neither is right for a boy with excess energy to burn, though he will be taught, amongst other things, ‘how to sit down and get homework done’, say parents.
Many of Oxford’s preps will lose a couple of their brightest in year 3 to Magdalen College School, whose junior school has its first intake at 7+ (and then again at 8+ and 9+). Almost all subsequently get into the senior school, so no wonder places are so coveted.
For girls, Oxford High Preparatory School takes girls from reception or year 3, but, as our reviewer points out, ‘A place at the prep doesn’t necessarily equal automatic transition to senior school.’ Set across two sites, ‘cosy yet inspiring learning environments’, it appeals to ambitious professionals, academics and medics and pupils can use school buses from year 4.
Headington Prep, by contrast, does offer automatic entry to the senior school. Our reviewer described it as a ‘dynamic and happy little school’. Not as pressured as a local prep, so lots of time for music, sport and drama. Again, most parents are Oxford-based, with buses from year 4 for those that live further afield. In September 2023, Headington and nearby Rye St Antony announced a merger in September 2023 which will see their preps come together to form one co-ed organization from September 2024.
Rye St Antony has hitherto offered a junior school to boys and girls from three; boys will continue to leave at 11+ but historically most girls have gone on to their senior school, also now merging with Headington.
Emmanuel Christian School is ‘a tiny school bursting with big ideas’, ‘like a village school with a cosmopolitan curriculum’, felt our reviewer. Co-ed, from reception to year 6. Inclusivity stretches to excellent support for children with learning needs. Draws diverse families, ‘from blue-collar workers to university lecturers’. Lots on to state schools, particularly Didcot Girls’ School, or private schools including Headington School and Kingham Hill School.
Secondary schools in Oxford
Oxford is packed to the medieval rafters with private secondaries and ambitious families. In no particular order, here goes…
If you’re looking for A*s and Oxbridge, it’s Oxford High for girls and Magdalen College School for boys (with up to 60 girls joining for sixth form). At MCS our reviewer found that, ‘pace is fast and expectations are high, but academic success is not at the cost of fun and interesting digressions’. Dual-income families travel from miles for ‘intellectual curiosity, creativity and individuality’.
With the strongest girls’ GCSE results in the area, Oxford High recruits clever pupils from local primaries to join their home-grown prep pupils in year 7. Part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, it attracts ‘medics, academics, those working in innovation and science’, says our reviewer.
Headington (soon to be Headington Rye Oxford – see below)) is the other girls’ school to which these parents turn. A super school for your all-rounder with boarding, IB and brilliant rowing attracting international interest and a little glamour. Get into the prep to guarantee entrance to the senior school and avoid the 11+ scrum.
From September 2024, Headington will merge with Rye St Antony - also all girls (for seniors), but much smaller. Becoming part of Headington Rye Oxford will change things significantly for this little school, so watch this space carefully. Historically, it had a gentle ethos, a joyful school with ‘thoughtful’ SEN provision. If that appeals, you should consider Wychwood School from 11+: ‘It’s tiny’, one parent told our reviewer, ‘but there’s nothing missing.’ Recently announced move to co-ed (from all-girls) will give school a USP in a city where single sex dominates. Caters well for a range of abilities. Handful of boarders enjoy ‘retro, Malory Towers vibe school picnics and sleepovers’.
At d’Overbroeck's our reviewer found ‘a far more relaxed vibe than we generally do at other Oxford schools’, with, ‘an informal and energetic atmosphere’ and ‘superb’ teaching. Sixth formers describe it as ‘chilled’: ‘definitely not for families looking for a trad public school with armies of prefects and frequent chapel services’, we concluded. Those types would be well served from 13+ at St Edward’s (known as Teddies). The majority are boarders; most day pupils stay until 9pm. Has long offered IB alongside A levels. Historically seen as ‘a school for good eggs, albeit occasionally those with a twinkle in their eye’, but current head is driving up academic standards.
St Clare’s is a sixth form college. Below-the-radar for Oxford families, it claims to be England’s first World IB school and attracts 85 per cent overseas boarders. The best IB results in Oxford in recent years, with some students getting the elusive 45 out of 45. Our reviewer found, ‘students with enquiring minds’ being ‘quizzed by their teacher in free-flowing two-way discourse, with all expected to contribute’.
Finally, as if you needed any more homework, the Abingdon day schools are very manageable from Oxford. Abingdon School and St Helen and St Katherine provide further options for boys and girls respectively and – goody! – their bus network runs through north Oxford, Headington and Botley. Read our guide to South Oxfordshire for more.
Private Schools near Banbury and Bicester
Prep schools near Banbury and Bicester
Minibuses whisk boys and girls from Chipping Norton and South Newington to Winchester House, where they enjoy an (unheated) outdoor pool and a sports hall which ‘many secondary schools would envy’, writes our reviewer. Leavers generally go to boarding schools: lots head to Stowe School, enjoying a ten percent fee discount (as a member of the Stowe Group); others to Rugby, Uppingham, Radley etc.
Less glossy but just as jolly is nearby Beachborough. Expect excellent wraparound care, family campouts and great teaching. Pupils go on to boarding and day schools including Bloxham, Stowe, Rugby, Marlborough, Sibford.
Carrdus School is much more nurturing: ‘A characterful, relaxed and genuinely child-centred school,’ wrote our reviewer. Girls generally go on to Tudor Hall at 11+ (the two schools merged in 2011); though Carrdus has been co-educational since 2020 most year-groups are still girl-heavy.
Sibford School takes children from three all the way to 18, the only all-through in the area. Tinies enjoy beautiful 50-acre site and specialist teaching in music, PE and drama. Nursery and reception taught together, as are years 1 and 2. Known for super learning support, though our reviewer called it ‘genuinely all-ability’: ‘a great option if your brood all need different handling’.
Those with stamina drive to The Dragon; the traffic challenges even the hardiest commuters. The school’s recently introduced a minibus system that’ll scoop them up in Aynho, Deddington, Wendlebury etc as young as Reception, though lots of parents still drive their little ones. Breakfast in the car must be worth it, given the number who do it. Inevitably, lots will flexi-board from year 4.
Secondary schools near Banbury and Bicester
Many join Sibford School at year 7; the head told our reviewer that they’re ‘non-selective’, provided, ‘the child can cope and thrive in this environment.’ Recent investment in academics, but Sibford will always be nurturing. A levels and BTECs in sixth form. Three boarding houses with pupils doing everything from one night a week to full boarding.
A short drive away, you’ll find co-ed Bloxham School, a godsend to ‘everyday working parents’ who want a down-to-earth 11+ day school, says our reviewer. Local children come from village primaries and preps to enjoy ‘fabulous’ sports facilities and ‘an antidote to the hothouse Oxford independents’. Those from further afield – Oxford, Stratford, London – can board.
Tudor Hall, all-girls’ and small, has a bigger profile on the boarding school circuit. Full-boarding (no flexi or weekly), but with a handful of local day girls. Lots of ex-Tudor girls amongst the mums, seeking the same wholesome, rounded experience for their daughters. Expect to participate fully in boarding school life – day girls often stay until 7pm. ‘More tomboys than princesses’, our reviewer reckoned.
In neighbouring Buckinghamshire, Stowe School is a day option from here, particularly for those already at Winchester House - minibuses currently run from Bicester. As at Tudor Hall, you’ll be a day pupil at a boarding school, with long days, Saturday morning lessons and fixtures on a Saturday afternoon.
Private Schools in west Oxfordshire
Prep schools in west Oxfordshire
All the ingredients here for idyllic prep schools: rolling hills, honey-coloured stone, high Tesla-count. Kitebrook fits the bill, taking boys and girls from age three; ‘amazing teachers’, pupils told us, ‘exciting’ lessons, ‘awesome’ classrooms. With an ever-better offering on both the academic and sporting fronts, Kitebrook is now a bigger player than it used to be. Children head off at 13+ to St Edward’s, Oxford, Wellington College, St Mary’s Calne and Eton as well as local options.
Hatherop Castle is doable from Witney (Charlbury or Chippy would be too far – the Burford traffic can be a pain); flying high after a tricky period it’s doubled in size since 2014. Warm and cosy, parents told us, with increasingly buzzy academics and sports. Leavers tend to stay local; lots to Dean Close.
Cokethorpe’s ‘sub-niche’, says our reviewer, is as ‘the all-through, co-ed, academically broad, rural, day offering’. Taking a tiny reception class and growing from there, it will ‘challenge the high-flyer but scoop up the goofy younger sibling’. Parents told us that they do ‘a brilliant job’ with learning support.
You can access schools which are further afield from here. The minibus to Winchester House goes from Chipping Norton. Some drive to The Dragon but soon realise that the traffic puts a dampener on their otherwise golden Cotswolds lifestyle. You could use the school bus, with routes all over the area.
Secondary schools in west Oxfordshire
You won’t feel the academic pressure at non-selective Kingham Hill, which takes boys and girls from 11+ and offers vocational qualifications (BTECs and CTECs) alongside A levels plus the US curriculum. Small class sizes and individual attention create great results.
Sitting within ‘vast striped lawns, littered with ancient trees’, Cokethorpe has ‘something to appeal to almost everyone’ other than ‘rebels, children who thrive on competition… or tiger parents’, said our reviewer. Most families quite local, often choosing it over state options. Super sport and learning support.
Many of the Oxford schools run minibuses from this patch, and some offer more academic clout (see below); buses leave at crack of dawn, scooping pupils up as they wind their way to each of the Oxford secondaries (other than St Edward’s, which is predominantly boarders). Abingdon (boys) and St Helen and St Katherine (girls) have buses from Witney, Burford and Woodstock. If you live near Gloucestershire, you could look at Cheltenham College, Dean Close and Cheltenham Ladies’ College. It’s a hike to do it daily, though, unless you live in Burford.
Private schools for children with special educational needs in Oxford and north Oxfordshire
Bruern Abbey is a prep for boys with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, who go on to eg Marlborough College, Rugby, Stowe, St Edward’s, Gordonstoun. We found ‘a hive of extra-curricular activity’, and 23 acres of ‘rolling landscape…bounded by a brook’. A recent addition is the Bruern Abbey secondary school, just over the border in Chilton, Buckinghamshire.
Swalcliffe Park takes boys from year 6 upwards who have ‘a diagnosis of high-level autism; some also have ADHD, Tourette’s, dyspraxia or dyslexia’, wrote our reviewer. National curriculum runs alongside independence curriculum; ‘masses’ of sport, including fixtures in football and volleyball. One third board; twenty-two acres of charming grounds are ‘ideal for moments of solitude’; day boys can stay over too.
LVS Woodstock is a sister school to the schools in Ascot (and Hassocks) with specialist day provision for students, 11-20, with autism and social communicaton needs.
Both Kingham Hill School and Bloxham School have a limited number of places for students experiencing specific learning difficulties, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, in their dedicated and well-staffed SEND departments. They offer a modified curriculum and specialist dyslexia trained staff to focus on literacy.