Oundle School A GSG School Review
What is included in the Oundle School review?
Academic results & facilities
Up to date results for GCSEs, A levels, BTECs and IB; we go to places league tables can’t reach.
Pastoral care and inclusivity
From how the school reacts when something goes wrong to how they tackle thorny issues like substance abuse, consent and mental health. We check they’ve got it all covered.
Fees, scholarships & bursary information
An independent education is a major commitment; our review enables you to compare everything from fees to hidden costs, as well as giving detailed information on scholarships and bursaries.
Information about the head
Our unparalleled access to the head teacher means we can tell you exactly what to expect when you meet them – from leadership style right down to the décor of their study and what they’re currently reading.
Teaching and learning approaches
Entrance & admissions information
Exit information - where do the children go next?
Learning support & SEN information
Arts, sports and extracurricular
What The Good Schools Guide says..
Oundle’s the academic one of a cluster of Midlands schools that often get compared, though not super-selective or narrow minded. We found a culture of enquiry and ambition, pupils loving their learning but not seemingly stressed. Choirs, orchestras, ensembles to suit every persuasion, as you’d expect: music is brilliant. Concerts every week, some open to locals too. Student-run Oscar Radio boasts twenty shows at any time, everything from quizzes to healthy mindsets to ‘Scrum and Bass’ (we chuckled too). Bad attitudes not welcome: ‘Teachers want to teach you and you want to learn,’ pupils explained, ‘so they’re lenient with us, unless...Read more
- Oundle School
- Head: Mrs Sarah Kerr-Dineen
- T 01832 277125
- F 01832 277128
- E [email protected]
- W www.oundleschool.org.uk/
- Oundle School is independent school for boys and girls aged 11 to 19. Day fees are £22,350 - £29,370 pa and boarding fees are £34,515 - £45,435 pa. Interested in reading more? Access our unbiased Oundle School review.
- Boarding: Yes
- Local authority: North Northamptonshire
- Pupils: 1,130; sixth formers: 410
- Religion: Church of England
- Fees: Day £22,350 - £29,370; Boarding £34,515 - £45,435 pa
- Open days: September, February, May
- Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
- Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
- ISI report: View the ISI report
- Linked schools: Laxton Junior School
What the school says...
Oundle School has long been associated with the very best of modern independent education, especially boarding education. The individual child is central to our vision. We are fortunate in our location at the heart of a beautiful market town, not least because for over 450 years the School and town have been part of the same community. Our pupils take their place within this community, not isolated from it.
The catchment area is national (with over 120 different prep schools currently represented) and international with approximately 20% of pupils coming from overseas from over 30 different countries. Academic standards are high with most pupils proceeding to top universities including ~10% to Oxbridge each year.
Excellence is acknowledged, pursued and rewarded at every opportunity, be that in the classroom, in our thriving academic societies or in intellectual endeavours beyond the confines of the School.
The challenges our pupils will face in the world beyond School will require of them adaptability and emotional intelligence, as well as the best academic qualifications of which they are capable. We take seriously our responsibility to our pupils so that they can emerge as decent, open-minded adults: ambitious about what they can go on to achieve and contribute, but never arrogant. ...Read more
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Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.
What The Good Schools Guide says
Since 2015, Mrs Sarah Kerr-Dineen. Steyning Grammar School and then did the double: English at Cambridge (Trinity College), graduate study at Oxford (Christ Church). Taught at the Open University, Oxford High School and St Edward’s, Oxford, latterly as a housemistress and director of studies. First headship was at Forest School in London.
School ‘completely woven in with the town,’ she says, proud of ‘quite how brilliant the pupils are’. ‘The topography of the place’ is what makes Oundle different: ‘The educational context which is more precious than the curriculum.’ Born to two teachers, she grew up in a rural village and went to local state schools: ‘I know communities.’ What would she have made of an experience like Oundle? ‘I was an able child who loved school, I would’ve loved the music, the teachers’ enthusiasm, being able to play sport with a bigger group,’ she says.
Husband is a peripatetic music teacher here; the head’s 17th-century house on the high street is dollhouse-pretty, though they down tools and spend time at their home in Cornwall when they can. Loves visiting her children and grandchildren, whose photos take pride of place in her office.
Retiring in 2025.
Between 60 to 70 into year 7. No exam for those from Laxton Junior School (not to be confused with Laxton House, one of two senior day houses). A sprinkling into years 8 and 10.
Most join at year 9; hopefuls should apply by the end of autumn term of year 6. Subsequent offers based on school reports and reference but conditional on Common Entrance in year 8. Those not coming from a prep school can take Oundle’s entrance papers instead, in maths, English, science and a language. UKiset or equivalent mandatory for overseas applicants.
Successful year 12 applicants will likely be predicted 8s, 9s or A*s with at least grade 7 in proposed A levels. Candidates filtered on predictions, extracurricular achievements and a handwritten personal statement (feels very Oundle, somehow). Those shortlisted spend a weekend at school, completing assessments and interviews.
Very few after GCSEs. Three-quarters off to the Russell Group – Durham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle often top of the pops, with Manchester, Bath, Exeter also popular. In 2023, 17 to Oxbridge and six medics. ‘UCAS support is really good, they encourage you to have a go and see what happens,’ we hear. A handful to north America or elsewhere overseas.
In 2023, 74 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 63 per cent A*/A at A level (83 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 59 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 48 per cent A*/A at A level (79 per cent A*-B).
Teaching and learning
Oundle’s the academic one of a cluster of Midlands schools that often get compared, though not super-selective or narrow minded. We found a culture of enquiry and ambition, pupils loving their learning but not seemingly stressed. Expectations are high; vertical tutor groups within houses ensure close monitoring.
Lower sixth start with four A levels plus an EPQ or school’s own Quadrivium, which requires lots of independent reading and gets pupils thinking widely about some wacky, off-grid topics. A few take a music diploma instead. ‘A levels are how I expect uni to be,’ says one, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; ‘It is literally impossible not to be enthused by our teachers,’ says another.
Maths, economics and physics attract the biggest crowds, but this is not just a story of STEM: last year more took English or history than chemistry or biology; politics and geography are well represented; languages taken for the love of them, though not in huge numbers, with Arabic and Portuguese available alongside usual suspects. That said, the Patrick Engineering Centre’s the jewel in Oundle’s SciTec crown: if you want to refurbish a clapped-out Land Rover or a vintage sports car, this is the place to do it (both were in the workshop when we visited, cool as anything). ‘We have all the kit you could ever want,’ staff tell us, and though we’ll admit to a little nodding and smiling as we were talked through various bits of menacing-looking machinery, even we were impressed by Oundle’s claim to be the only school in the world with a 3D metal printer. Sixth formers can choose between product design or design engineering; lots go on to read mechanical engineering. Pupils absorb expertise brought by partnerships with Imperial College, London and Swansea University, which also benefit local maintained sector schools.
Breadth and enrichment start early. Years 7 and 8 take Omnia on a Saturday morning rather than timetabled lessons (‘a welcome change of pace,’ says head), skills-based courses in cooking, kayaking etc. Trivium is a timetabled third form course based on ‘interestingness’ and designed by teachers depending on their passions, from AI to Italian cinema (fun fact: trivium and quadrivium are what medieval universities called the seven liberal arts). Academic scholars follow similarly esoterically-named programmes. ‘They’re as smart as I’ve come across,’ says one member of staff.
Learning support and SEN
All joiners screened to identify additional support needs. Six specialists provide one-to-one or small-group interventions with a focus on practical skills like exam technique, mind-mapping and how to revise. Those in need of substantial extra help or a cuddly environment may be happier elsewhere – we wouldn’t want to be bumping along the bottom – but pupils know how to access support if they need it, and parents praised communications home: ‘We know what he needs to be doing, what’s expected of him.’
A large site spread across the town; not a straightforward place for a child with mobility issues. However, school’s current accessibility plan prioritises the improvement of access for disabled pupils, both to the curriculum and the facilities.
The arts and extracurricular
Choirs, orchestras, ensembles to suit every persuasion, as you’d expect: music is brilliant. Concerts every week, some open to locals too. A sublime noise coming from one of the little practice rooms as we passed, an informal group singing Ding Dong Merrily on High. Biennial concert at the Royal College of Music; conservatoires well represented in leavers’ destinations. Band night Re:Loaded provides the opportunity to rock; ‘two years ago I got a crowd-surf,’ says a delighted youngster. Music activities take priority on a Monday to allow ensembles to meet in an otherwise busy week. ‘Some of us do get very busy but our tutors spot it when things begin to creak.’ Music GCSE quite popular; A level small.
Snazzy theatre converted from a former chapel in town, newly refurbished with 1920s-style leather bar stools, Hollywood lights and a little bar (we reckoned they’d do a killer cocktail, but it was 10am). Four full-time technicians and visits from touring productions allow interaction with professionals. Pupils see a work through ‘from page to stage’; three retro prams recently sourced for upcoming performances of Chicago. ‘I am given creative freedom with the lighting rig, who knows why they trust me,’ laughed one (very competent, we suspect) sixth former. Small numbers taking A level drama, more in GCSE; LAMDA recently added too.
Student-run Oscar Radio boasts 20 shows at any time, everything from quizzes to healthy mindsets to ‘Scrum and Bass’ (we chuckled too). Throw in dinosaur society, pride society, public speaking society, many sixth form created and led, and you’ve got every opportunity under the sun: ‘There’s bound to be a teacher who’s interested in what you’re doing who’ll help you get set up.’ Lively speaker programme: chief engineer of Mercedes had been in the previous night; podcast buffs excited by upcoming visit of historian Dominic Sandbrook.
CCF compulsory in year 10 and given the sense of service we felt as we walked around the school we were not surprised to learn that it’s 400-strong. ‘Army’s the best because you get to put paint on your face and run into the woods,’ sixth form girls told us. Marching band leads the parade down to the town’s war memorial on Remembrance Day. We watched them rehearse in the bitter cold for an upcoming gig at Franklin’s Gardens, home to the Northampton Saints. Row after row of them, many woolly-hatted and fingerless-gloved, on trombones, bagpipes, French horns and drums as they marched around the concrete, ‘left, right, left, right’: complete joy. Almost every third former will do their bronze Duke of Edinburgh and 80 signed up for gold last year.
Pupils feel it’s ‘a bit off’ if you don’t put your hand up for things. Day pupils squeeze a lot in: ‘We can do everything that boarders can do, tonight I’m going reeling and then into a boarding house for dinner.’ Exhausting and exhilarating.
Smart new sports centre, also open to local community, opened in 2020: no wonder sport is ‘part and parcel of daily life’. Thrice weekly everyone stops what they’re doing to get involved; ‘compulsion with some choice’ is how school describes the approach. Core sports are rugby (boys), hockey (everyone), netball (girls), with cricket, tennis or athletics in summer. Rowing and swimming optional throughout the year. Sports expand from year 10, including boys’ football, sailing, squash. From sixth form, girls’ football and rugby, basketball (growing) and everything from fives to dance to small bore shooting. Golf simulators on site and pupils play at local club; no equestrian on site but pupils ride locally. Pool – 50 metres of it – can be split into two and its floor moved up and down.
‘Sport here is social,’ pupils tell us, fresh out of Christmas-themed hockey practice; ‘If you’re not in the firsts or seconds, it’s more about having a run around.’ That said, first XV just had their most successful season for a decade, perhaps inspired by school’s links with Northampton Saints. Lots play club and county cricket to a high level, eg at nearby Northants. Swimmers reached ESSA finals last year. A few hockey teams undefeated last year. Not a school for someone who prefers scrums to sums, but plenty around for those who enjoy both.
Three-quarters are full boarders; it’s that or day, except in years 7 and 8 who have weekly or half-weekly options. School recognises ‘increasing nervousness’ around full boarding but, hard as it is for mum and dad to hear, ‘What you want at 15 is your pals, that buzz.’
Year 7s join the Berrystead (boarders) or Scott House (day), a self-contained zone in which the youngest can ‘gently become 13-year-olds’, says head. From 13+, five houses for girls and eight for boys, around 12 pupils in a year group. All houses have shared rooms from first year with separate study areas. Some have single rooms from lower sixth and all have singles in upper sixth. Food reviews a bit mixed; each house has its own catering team, all part of school’s in-house catering offer. Houses have their own personalities, but admissions team are ‘incredible’ at working out who goes where and we didn’t meet any disappointed customers. Current focus is on moving a girls’ boarding house from periphery into the centre of town.
We visited two, both very homely. Sky Sports and a pool table for the boys; ‘On a Sunday, third form will stick on a Bond film and promptly fall asleep,’ their housemaster told us with paternal warmth. After a convivial lunch with the Sanderson girls, they showed us around their digs, decked out for Christmas with tinsel and baubles galore, nothing too tasteful. Someone had dug out Christmassy jigsaws for the common room: this is a second home, and cosy evenings with a puzzle are as much a part of school life as any other moment in the week.
Ethos and heritage
Founded in 1556 by Sir William Laxton, born and educated in Oundle. Master of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, he left provision for ‘a free gramer Schole at Owndell’ in his will. School’s crest is a camel, representing the Silk Road on which those traders travelled, with nine cloves to symbolise the exotic spices they brought back. There’s a story about the Grocers’ camel farting in front of Queen Elizabeth I, but you can ask about that when you visit. The school was Laxton Grammar School until 1876, when Oundle School was established separately. Visionary head FW Sanderson brought excellence in engineering in the early twentieth century, and the school has been coeducational since the early 1990s under the similarly revered David McMurray. Laxton and Oundle were reunited in 2000; Laxton House, one of two senior day houses, maintains the legacy.
Something about Oundle feels palpably more grounded than its southern counterparts. Perhaps it’s the school’s grammar roots, or the tradition of technology, or the fact of being in the east Midlands rather than the shinier home counties. Town and gown work harmoniously (really, they do): Barry, the school’s constable, is everybody’s friend; the head describes her house as being ‘just by Beans’ (a local coffee institution); pupils step aside for mums with buggies. Bikes are a prefect privilege. Close partnership with local state schools facilitates one of the biggest cross-sector programmes around, involving 12,000 pupils last year. Unrelated, every Wednesday hundreds of Oundelians are out doing Community Action, many of them providing companionship for the local elderly in their homes, mowing their lawns or helping with IT. ‘Especially for boarders, it’s a home away from home, a time when they can do things which are different,’ school says; ‘The last thing you want is a child who thinks the world owes them.’
Buildings are quietly splendid: everything here is classy. Cloisters, where lots of classrooms are based, are a Georgian joy (fans of sash windows, look no further). Pupils gather in the chapel during the week (and on Sunday for boarders); stained-glass windows cast colourful shadows on the parquet floor, whilst outside stands a small statue of Old Oundelian Eric Yarrow, who died near Ypres in 1915. On the clear but chilly day that we visited, sixth formers looked part and parcel of it all in well-cut long coats (part of the uniform) and scarves; girls wear culottes rather than skirts, which come with the added bonus of being able to fit pyjamas bottoms underneath. Complex system of ties for boys: ‘The first XV is the most desirable, but cricket has the best-looking stash.’
No wonder, then, that there are so many cricketers and rugby players amongst the notable alumni, including England’s Tom Curry. An amazing 294 OOs have their own Wikipedia page, that great modern marker of success. It was here that Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, discovered heavy metal; that Jim Clark, director of The Killing Fields, founded film society; that former Evening Standard editor Charles Wintour won his first journalism prizes; and that a young Richard Dawkins went for Darwinism over Christianity (despite the loveliness of the chapel).
Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline
An incredibly civilised place. Pupils sit down for meals in house at breakfast, lunch and supper, joined by housemasters or housemistresses, known as hsms (say it phonetically: ‘hzms’). Dining rooms – ‘where relationships are made’ – central to every house; house swaps, organised by pupils, allow for mingling on a Saturday night. The result? Beautifully mannered, well-spoken, engaging teenagers, the type we’d be delighted to take home for an exeat. ‘House plays, house debating, house music get them through the winter months,’ staff say.
Advice about where to go if you need support is ‘plastered everywhere’, say pupils: ‘Everybody knows that you can go to the Clayton Rooms, no questions asked, if you’re struggling,’ where you’ll be welcomed by a team of five, plus Mabel the Labrador, offering therapeutic support. Pupil pastoral forum an important body of sixth formers representing pupil voice on equality of gender and race, health and mental health, charity, the environment, LGBTQIA+, digital issues and neurodiversity.
Bad attitudes not welcome: ‘Teachers want to teach you and you want to learn,’ pupils explained, ‘so they’re lenient with us, unless we’re deliberately apathetic or not engaging.’ As we walk around, teachers and pupils chat easily to each other, be it strategy for an upcoming hockey fixture or speculation about what’s for supper. Discipline relies on high expectations and mutual respect. ‘If someone wants to read their book 15 minutes longer at night, that’s fine,’ one hsm tells us. Sixth formers key to helping: ‘Their wisdom trickles down organically,’ he laughs.
No obvious nerves about teenagers overstepping the mark around town, either. Independence comes slowly but surely: from year 9 they can pop into Co-op and local cafés; from their 18th birthday, they can have up to two drinks in the pub, provided hsm kept in the loop. ‘It’s a conversation rather than something that’s hidden,’ says the ever-rational Mrs Kerr-Dineen, ‘and if they get it wrong they understand that they’ll be in here with me.’ Alternatively, they hit the Club, a common room for sixth form: ‘There’ll sometimes be 50 of us on the dance floor on a Saturday night,’ pupils say. For years 7 to 10, no smartphones (only Nokia bricks), but access progressively more relaxed as they approach the top of the school.
Pupils and parents
For once, school does not have to claim that there’s no ‘typical’ pupil – here, it goes without saying, and we couldn’t quite put our finger on who Oundelians are. Not country bumpkins – much more cosmopolitan, more switched-on than that – but not city slickers, either. Privileged, yes, but not spoiled: one local purveyor of doughnuts has fallen from favour since the price was raised to 65p and many parents are double incomers, working full tilt. Full boarding makes for a much more national demographic than the weeklies, including significant Scottish contingent; a quarter live overseas, including eight per cent whose parents are expats.
Increasing demand for middle bursaries, families who can’t quite afford it, as well as transformational support. School works with Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation. Scholarships to suit all persuasions: academic, art, design engineering and technology, drama, general, music, sport. Academic and music at 11+.
The last word
The full boarding model and the drive from the south-east protect this super school from too much flashiness or cool. Instead, we found delectable Jane Austen-style architecture but without any of the accompanying floppy-haired entitlement, a place where technology and table manners are given equal importance. Oundle’s a high-flyer and yet firmly grounded, just like the pupils that give it such spark. An understated winner.
Overall school performance (for comparison or review only)
Results by exam and subject
Special Education Needs
The Educational Support Department at Oundle School is staffed by four full-time and one part-time dedicated Educational Support teachers. The Department operates from a cottage very centrally placed near the Cloisters and the Library. We offer support to pupils with Specific Learning difficulties and to those for whom English is not their first language. As far as possible, pupils are not removed from the mainstream curriculum for Educational Support. Lessons therefore take place in the lunch hour or after school, or, for pupils in the Sixth Form, in study periods. Pupils for whom English is not their first language generally have EAL provision instead of a mainstream Modern Language. The Department is well-integrated into the life of the School, offering training sessions for whole year groups in revision skills and coursework management, as well as opt-in after school sessions in mind-mapping, study skills and curriculum support. 09-09
Who came from where
|Barnardiston Hall Preparatory School
|Scholarships: 1 Sports
|Bilton Grange School
|1 All-Rounder Scholarship, 1 Music Scholarship and 1 Dedicated Athlete Programme
|Godstowe Preparatory School
|Scholarships: 13+ Sports Scholarship, 13+ Academic Exhibition: Geography
|Highfield and Brookham Schools
|Lockers Park School
|1 All Rounder Scholarship
|1 Academic Scholarship
|Mowden Hall School
|1 Art and Drama Scholarship; 1 Academics, DT and Drama Scholarship
|Packwood Haugh School
|1 Music Exhibition
|Ravenscourt Park Preparatory School
|1 English Exhibition
|St Hugh's School (Woodhall Spa)
|St John's College School
|All Round Scholarships (2); Drama Scholarship; Sports Scholarship
|The Beacon School
|The Oundle Scholarship
|The Oratory Prep School
|Town Close Preparatory School
|Westbourne House School
|Wetherby Preparatory School
|Windlesham House School
|Sports Scholarship; Maths Exhibition
|Witham Hall Preparatory School
|Academic Scholarships (2); Sports Scholarship
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