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Best private schools near Abingdon

Best private schools near Henley and Wallingford

Best private schools near Stadhampton

Special Educational Needs

Shiplake CollegeThis is not your average chunk of English countryside; South Oxfordshire has more private schools than you can shake a lacrosse stick at. The golden triangle created by Henley, Goring and Wallingford is chock-a-block with them, families often using tiny brick-and-flint village primaries for a couple of years before going to a prep (‘It was charming’, they chime, ‘but, you know, he outgrew it’). There’s an extraordinary cluster around Abingdon – we’ll talk you through it below. Remember, also, to keep the Oxford schools on your radar – despite the traffic, oodles of families happily(ish) drive to Summer Fields, The Dragon, Headington, Oxford High and Magdalen College School from beyond the ring road. Lots will use the myriad of school buses which wiggle through Witney, Faringdon, West Hanney or Steventon at the crack of dawn, picking up more pupils as they make their way into town to day schools like Oxford High, Magdalen College School and Headington. You can read more about Oxfordshire private schools in our guide to Oxford and north Oxfordshire. Note the coaches don’t go to St Edward’s or Summer Fields, because they are predominantly boarding.

Private schools near Abingdon

Prep schools near Abingdon

Let’s start in Abingdon and mosey westwards. Our Lady’s Abingdon is in town, offering a small and nurturing environment from seven to 18. Pupils joining into year 3 generally see this as an all-through option, with families buying into the school’s unusual offering and moving into the senior school afterwards: ‘Not glossy, but full of character. Progressive, but still conventional. Alternative, but not hippy dippy’, concluded our reviewer.

On the outskirts, The Manor Preparatory School, recently fully co-ed, is the starting point for parents who want to keep their options open at 11+; they come from miles. Our reviewer thought it was ‘impressive’ yet ‘unpretentious’ (not to be taken for granted), a ‘happy family environment’ which belies the numbers going on to academic schools including nearby St Helen and St Katharine (SHSK).

Ten minutes up towards Oxford, you’ll find Chandlings Prep School – also co-ed, unstuffy and with cracking 11+ results including lots to Magdalen College School (boys) or SHSK (girls). Although ‘the school’s relative newness…may be perceived as a downside by more trad parents’, our reviewer felt, ‘it attracts families from a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities’. Much more diverse, then, than other local options.

The same cannot be said for the exclusively boarding Cothill House, which our reviewer found to be ‘very special,’ albeit ‘socially quite narrow’; boys join at eight as boarders and progress to Eton College, Winchester College etc at 13+. Read more on the boarding in South Oxfordshire page.

Hit a ball for six from here and it might land at Abingdon Prep School. Unusually for a prep school in this most genteel of locales, boys call their teachers by their first names, making it ‘not informal, as such, but a bit more on-a-level’, noted our reviewer. The vast majority of pupils head to Abingdon School at 13.

Hop in the Volvo for another ten minutes and you’ll find St Hugh’s School, where our reviewer met ‘self-assured, enthusiastic, articulate, considerate children’ enjoying ‘superb facilities’ (the school library’s in a dovecote). No wonder it draws the Down-From-Londoners. More than half will go on to board with St Edward’s, Oxford, and Marlborough College particularly popular.

Indeed, the further down the A420 you drive, the more bucolic these schools get. At Pinewood, just over the Wiltshire border, pupils play on a treetops adventure playground and a mountain bike track. Set in 84 acres of proper countryside with ‘woods for den-building’ and lots of post-drop-off dog walks for mums: ‘If Richard Curtis made prep schools,’ our reviewer wrote, ‘we think they’d be a bit like Pinewood.’ Again, these are boarders in the making: lots to Cheltenham College and Marlborough College.

Secondary schools near Abingdon

Boys flock to Abingdon School, with intakes into year 7, 9 and 12; they’ll find ‘inquisitive pupils and teachers who enjoy stoking their curiosity’. They’ll be worked hard, our reviewer found, but extra-curricular (aka the Other Half) is just as important to school life. Expect a ‘civilised approach’ to sport and music to ‘cater to all tastes’. Some A levels are taught with girls from St Helen and St Katharine, a 10-minute stroll away. HelKats, as it’s popularly known, is ‘unapologetically selective and academic’, wrote our reviewer, with ‘a fizz and energy about learning’. Savvy locals, keen to swerve the 11+, target its 9+ and 10+ intakes, though majority join in year 7. Teenagers jump on school buses from six counties to get to Abingdon or SHSK (if you’re in Oxfordshire, Bucks, Berks, Hampshire, Gloucestershire or Wiltshire, you’re sorted). Both of these schools send plenty on to Oxbridge each year along with the rest of the Russell Group.

Our Lady’s Abingdon is ‘a glorious counterbalance’ to all this hurly-burly, felt our reviewer. An excellent reputation for the creative arts and inclusive approach to sport: ‘everyone has a go – no picking daisies on the sidelines’. There’s the option to join in year 3 but most arrive in year 7 or later. Small cohorts mean that results vary; Birmingham and Nottingham are popular university destinations.

Radley College is five minutes away, but it is boys only full-fat boarding so jump to Boarding Schools in South Oxfordshire to learn more.

Best state primary schools near Abingdon

Best state secondary schools near Abingdon

Best nurseries near Abingdon

Private schools near Henley and Wallingford

Moulsford Preparatory SchoolPrep schools near Henley and Wallingford

The rolling Chilterns make for a lovely backdrop to the schools around here; Wallingford boasts the biggest Waitrose; Henley played a starring role as the crime capital of Midsomer County. Perfect prep school stuff.

The riverside village of Moulsford is home to two independent schools on opposite sides of the same road. Moulsford Preparatory School takes boys and girls from three; as of September 2023, girls leave at the end of year 2 and boys stay on until 13+. Our reviewer found ‘a winning combination’ of ‘fun, friendship and messing about with boats’; new pre-prep building is amazing. At 13+ leavers have traditionally gone on to the Abingdon independent schools or big boarding schools such as Eton College and Radley College, though it remains to be seen where girls will favour when they leave at 7+. Up the lane, Cranford House School is an all-through option, fully co-ed since 2015. ‘Very nurturing’, parents told us, with ‘no feeling of entitlement’ amongst students; families have often chosen it over local state options.

Around one-third of boys and girls from Oratory Prep School will go on to The Oratory, though they are no longer formally connected. More low-key than Moulsford, lots leave at 11+ to take up places at local day options. Our reviewer enjoyed the ‘fabulous rural setting, friendly atmosphere and dedicated teaching body’.

Many jump to St Andrews School, just over the border in Berks. A member of the Bradfield Group (Bradfield College is just on the other side of the M4, though lots go on to Pangbourne College, too); ‘wholesome, outdoorsy, happy, a touch old fashioned’ and with super boarding (see boarding school page). If this all sounds too jolly-hockey sticks, try Rupert House, tucked into ‘an impossibly quaint part of Henley’, which takes boys and girls from three to 11. Small and caring, with ‘minimal’ pressure in lower school though more as pupils get older; majority go on to private day schools nearby.

Secondary schools near Henley and Wallingford

Cranford House is the area’s all-through offering. Sixth form opened in 2020 and the school’s been working hard to retain pupils, who historically had to leave after GCSEs; it’s too early to tell how A level results are going to be with early cohorts very small, but this is a mixed ability school and academic outcomes are likely to reflect that. Diminutive size means everyone’s involved in everything – super if you want to be a big fish in a small pond.

Girls have been happily settled into the sixth form for a while at Shiplake College, in Henley, though school has followed local trend by going fully co-ed in 2023. Our reviewer found that ‘Shiplake’s reputation as having an exceptional standard of pastoral care is justified’; a strong, down-to-earth community both within the school and around it. One where, ‘pupils of all academic abilities can make their mark’; A level results are typical of co-eds in this area and pupils go on to a range of universities including Loughborough, Exeter and Surrey.

Edging closer to Reading, Pangbourne College was established ‘to prepare boys for life as officers in the Merchant Navy or Royal Navy’; bedrooms still called ‘cabins’ and pupils need ceremonial naval uniform. Day pupil numbers on the rise; the school is ‘hitting the spot with local parents’, we felt, offering super pastoral care alongside results which are on an upward trajectory One or two to Oxbridge most years and around half to Russell Group universities.

A couple of villages away, local interest in The Oratory School has picked up considerably since it went co-ed in 2020. Gently selective at 11+ and 13+, Catholic ethos, but no need to be Catholic. ‘An active choice for families looking for a small, nurturing environment.’ Superb sports, particularly given its size, with strong rugby provision and an unusual specialism in real tennis. Again, around half of pupils go on to Russell Group universities afterwards; the academic temperature has been rising here in the past few years.

Clever beans in this area will look at Abingdon School or St Helen and St Katharine (see above). Or, if you fancy an early start, the many Oxford schools’ buses leave Reading at the crack of dawn and run up through Henley, Nettlebed, Watlington etc, or from Goring starting similarly early and scooping children up in Wallingford en route to Oxford. See our guide to Oxford and north Oxfordshire for more on those schools, though the commute is not for the faint-hearted.

Best state primary schools near Henley and Wallingford

Best state secondary schools near Henley and Wallingford

Best nurseries near Henley and Wallingford

Private schools near Stadhampton

Prep schools near Stadhampton

Practically in Bucks, but drawing on a largely rural catchment from the villages up to about half an hour’s drive, Ashfold School is set in a Jacobean Mansion amidst ‘rolling hill and farmland’. Co-ed, from nursery to 13. ‘Children who are middle-of-the-road academically are as likely to shine as the very bright’, our reviewer found. Half will go on to boarding schools; others to Abingdon, Bloxham, d’Overbroeck’s, Headington as day pupils.

Secondary schools near Stadhampton

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the number of private secondary schools across the rest of the county, this stretch does not have any of its own. Lots into Oxford (Headington is the right side of town, though Oxford High and Magdalen College School are deemed worth the journey) or down to Abingdon (see above). Stowe School and Bloxham School both offer day or family-friendly boarding options (see our Guides to Buckinghamshire / Oxford and north Oxfordshire respectively), and families will also look at weekly or full boarding further afield (see boarding in south Oxfordshire).

Best state primary schools near Stadhampton

Best state secondary schools near Stadhampton

Best nurseries near Stadhampton

Private schools for children with special educational needs in south Oxfordshire

The Unicorn School, in Abingdon, provides a ‘modified national curriculum’ for children with dyslexia from the age of six upwards; provision has recently been extended to year 11, though school is proud of the number who leave them at 13+ to go into the mainstream. Our reviewer was impressed by, ‘daily one-to-one sessions across the whole class, delivered by highly qualified staff’ and pupils’ ‘rapid and visible’ progress, though the size of the site and the student body limits extra-curricular opportunities.

At senior level, Shiplake College has a small number of ‘Core Places’ each year reserved for students with mild learning difficulties like dyslexia, who are supported by a well-staffed Learning Development Centre. Carefully tailored levels of extra help.

In Wheatley, Chilworth House School is a specialist day school for boys and girls with complex educational needs, communication difficulties and challenging behaviours. Chilworth House School is the tiny junior school and Chilworth House Upper School then takes them to year 11. Both are part of the Witherslack Group. 

Beech Lodge School near Henley (but just in Berkshire) is a small supportive school for children 7 to 18, with social, emotional and mental health needs, childhood trauma and school avoidance. 

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