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What says..

Courtyard of four art studios was formerly the town prison and the new exhibition space was a workhouse – Oakham has more right than most to say that its art takes no prisoners ... This probably isn’t the place for determined bohemians or incipient Bolsheviks, but we’ve no doubt that the school would welcome them with a smile and find them plenty to do.

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What the school says...

Oakham is an independent boarding and day school for boys and girls aged 10 to 18 offering both A-Levels and IB (the International Baccalaureate). We are friendly, stimulating, innovative and energetic. Our results are consistently high.

We provide all the opportunities and challenges to encourage your son or daughter to stretch horizons and discover their personal strengths. We have well-resourced teaching facilities, a great campus and an enviable pupil:teacher ratio. Beyond the classroom, pupils acquire new skills, experience adventure, serve others and make new friends through our compulsory activities and service programme.

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Italian at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)
  • Best performance by Boys taking Biology at an English Independent School (IBO Higher level component)

Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Sports

Polo

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2009, Mr Nigel Lashbrook (50s). Educated in one of the last grammar cohorts at King’s Heath Boys’ Technical School in Birmingham. Only pupil in his year to get into Oxford (Hertford College - chemistry plus lots of rugby), first in his family to go to university. Part of his final year at Oxford involved running some undergraduate classes; ‘Have you thought about teaching?’ he was asked (in a good way) so DPhil plans were changed to teacher training. ‘I just loved it’, he says.

His first post was Manchester Grammar School where he taught chemistry and coached cricket and rugby. After eight years he went from this academic day school to an academic boarding school, Tonbridge. At Tonbridge he was head of science and chemistry, a housemaster (‘I finished being a housemaster just before the advent of email’, he says with a smile), plus a term as acting head – good preparation for his next move, the headship of King’s Bruton in Somerset.

Seven years into his Oakham headship and Mr Lashbrook seems to be a man in his element. Parents describe him as ‘very friendly’, ‘affable’ and ‘approachable’ and so he is, although that relaxed bonhomie belies the super-efficiency with which his school is run. We thought Oakham had a particularly collegiate air - Mr L is obviously extremely good at picking the right staff and delegating to their strengths. He’s also forward thinking and alert to shifts in what Oakham parents want from their boarding school. At the time of our visit a new boarding package was being launched to replace the three nights a week ‘day boarding’. There is now a five-night option (costing 95 per cent of the full boarding fee). Apparently it’s something that families who live further away have been asking for.

He identifies parental attitudes as the biggest change he has seen during his career. While he feels that parents wanting to be more involved is a cause for celebration, ‘the pressure of unrealistic expectations can be a great cause of anxiety for children. We work hard to get parents to see the bigger picture.’ At Oakham, as elsewhere, the emphasis is on enabling children to become independent learners, to see ‘fail’ as ‘first attempt in learning’. ‘We want to unravel the cotton wool,’ says the head.

Mr Lashbrook still manages to do ‘a tiny bit of teaching’ and as part of his commitment to lifelong learning plans to take diving lessons; ‘the pupils like to see staff doing new things.’ To this end Oakham supports staff who wish to undertake study for masters or PhDs (in education related subjects, of course).

He lives on site during term time but has a family house nearby from where he ‘commutes’ in the summer and Easter holidays (when Oakham’s commercial directors ‘sweat the assets’, running high profile sports academies and other events). His wife is an economics and geography teacher – ‘they make a great team’, said a parent – and two of their three now adult children were educated at Oakham. Down time is for golf, cricket and the theatre. Is there anything he wishes he’d been able to do? ‘Play the saxophone’.

Academic matters

In 2016, 43 per cent of A level grades were A*/A (74 per cent A*/B) with 62 per cent A*/A at GCSE (IGCSEs in core subjects). Double award science only (IGCSE), French, Spanish and German are the language options. Around a third of sixth formers take the IB and results are impressive: 2016 average of 37, over a quarter of takers gained 40 points or more and one pupil achieved the maximum 45 points. Geography seems to be the most popular choice of A level, followed by maths, biology and economics. We were a little surprised not to see more A*s at A level, especially given the very respectable number of leavers off to medical school and Oxbridge – proof of above and beyond teaching at all levels. ‘Look at the bigger picture,’ says a voice in our ear (it’s the headmaster …). We always do, and so do parents who choose Oakham for their children: ‘We like the way they celebrate hard work as well as good grades,’ said one.

We heard a great deal from Mr Lashbrook and his staff about the Oakham approach to teaching and learning. Words such as ‘holistic’ and ‘enrichment’ aren’t just eduspeak here; lessons we observed were hands-on, pupils were working at their own pace and one felt that teachers saw them as individuals rather than a class. In the DT department (school has Design Mark) we came across a group getting to grips with ancient history in the form of early video games, telephones, cassette recorders and a BBC Micro. ‘So what is a mix tape?’ we heard one ask. Sigh.

The learning support department was settling in to new top floor premises when we visited – lots of technology but quiet, calm spaces too. Staff had chosen some wonderful pictures, all by ‘our’ pupils, we were told proudly. ‘Mild’ SEN - mainly dyslexia but also dyscalculia and dyspraxia - catered for via small group teaching, individual lessons or in-class support. Lots of study, organisation and revision support, all described by parents as ‘brilliant’. What’s even more brilliant is that there is no charge for this service.

Senior academic mentor (formerly the formidable sounding ‘master of scholars’) is responsible for intellectual stretching of those with academic awards and Oxbridge candidates. We couldn’t help feeling that this role (especially under its previous title) seemed a little un-Oakhamian. Not at all, we were told; the scholars’ society is ‘elitist but not exclusive’, members aren’t necessarily academic scholars: some have been talent-spotted by housemasters. After all, there are established pathways to extend and develop sporting, musical and artistic talents. Chosen pupils attend a seminar programme designed to play to particular specialisms and nurture ‘genuine intellectual curiosity’. Whole school enrichment week in the autumn term is also designed to challenge and surprise all pupils. Most recent theme was the enticing sounding, ‘rules and rebellion’.

The Smallbone library (named after a former head), is impressive, the foyer doubles as an exhibition space and was full of pupils’ art work; it’s also used for parent meetings. Upstairs though it is absolutely silent. Certainly no talking, no whispering and no headphones. ‘Up here pupils can hear themselves think’, the librarian told us (very, very quietly).

Games, options, the arts

A word to the wise: don’t trot out the cliché ‘sport for all’ if you’re visiting Oakham - unless you want to run five times round a rugby pitch and do 100 press ups as punishment. Director of sport actually shuddered at such a last century idea. The distinction is a bit lost on us because that seems to be what happens, even if the emphasis these days is on health and fitness as much as competition. Huge choice of over 30 sports, from sailing on nearby Rutland Water (Oakham’s sailing coach devised and hosted the inaugural Water Quidditch World Cup) to polo (water and four-legged variety), and all take part, whether by competing or supporting. Outstanding facilities including 40 acres of grass pitches, two floodlit all-weather pitches, multi-purpose sports hall, squash and fives courts. The cricket square hosts county matches as well as school fixtures.

Over 100 pupils played in national finals in lots of different sports and the school will create ‘pathways to foster individual talents, whatever they are.’ Oakham’s recent sporting honours are evenly spread between boys’ and girls’ teams with the girls’ 1st X1 football team carrying off the Independent Schools Football Association trophy and the U15 rugby team reaching the NatWest Vase final. The 1st XI boys' hockey team came runners up in the U18 Hockey Schools Cup Final.

Drama and music are big news with countless opportunities to perform at all levels. The aim is to maximise participation as well as foster individual talents – at whole school plays, hymn practice or small in-house showcases to build the confidence of first timers. Over 300 pupils sing in school choirs and the chamber choir recently reached the finals of Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year. We were lucky enough to join an audience of townspeople and pupils at one of the weekly lunchtime concerts in All Saints Church. Young and old sat rapt in the pews, listening to virtuoso trumpet and oboe soloists give spellbinding performances. When asked, ‘Why Oakham?’ a prospective parent sitting nearby simply said, ‘It’s the music.’

Impressive numbers of A*/As for art and DT at GCSE; specialist teachers in all disciplines including sculpture and textiles, visiting artists run workshops. The courtyard of four art studios was formerly the town prison and the new exhibition space was a workhouse – Oakham can truthfully say that its art takes no prisoners ... Wonderful sculpture studio where pupils can create in clay and mixed media on a large scale and even learn stone carving. Not huge numbers taking these subjects at Pre-U/A level but the results are excellent. Pupils regularly go on to top art schools and to study architecture.

New ‘Exploring Learning camp’ for younger Oakhamians is a swashbuckling, Treasure Island-themed, problem-solving adventure in the countryside.

Boarders

Over half the pupils board and what with lessons on Saturday morning plus matches and other activities in the afternoon, day pupils probably feel as though they do as well. Parents of younger day pupils acknowledge this but say that the children like the chance to finish homework before they leave and enjoy time out in the common rooms. Quite a few local day pupils turn up for the Sunday goings on too. Food is praised by all – parents and children alike. All food is prepared in house and everyone eats together in the Barraclough. There doesn’t seem to be any falling away of deliciousness as the day goes on – we heard no complaints about dreary boarders’ suppers here. The homemade bread and soups, carvery nights and Sunday brunch came in for special praise.

One ‘leave-out weekend’ each half term. ‘Transitional’ boarding (two to five nights a week) is offered to lower school pupils (10-13 year olds) but the day boarding option of up to three nights a week for upper school pupils has been retired. ‘It didn’t meet the needs of families who live more than an hour’s drive away,’ we were told. Instead parents can opt for an up to five night a week package that comes in at 95 per cent of the full boarding fee.

Boys’ and girls’ middle school (age 13-17) boarding houses are on either side of a large playing field known as ‘Donkey’ (Doncaster Close). All upper sixth (known at Oakham as ‘seventh form’) pupils are based in two houses in Chapel Close, next to the market place. There are four lower school houses (two boarding) away from the main campus where younger children can enjoy their own space. Rooms that we saw were fairly standard issue – cabin beds with desks underneath, two or three to a room in the lower years, individual study bedrooms on the ground floor for the lower sixth. All the doors we looked behind in the boys’ house featured, as ever, empty noticeboards, massive shoes and Lynx. Common areas are large and well maintained with the usual exhausted soft furnishings, big wooden bowls of apples (‘we keep trying,’ smiled the housemaster, indulgently resigned to choosing fruit on the basis of what makes the minimum mess if used as a missile), pool and table tennis tables. Year group integration fostered by lots of competitions and activities.

Youngest boarders do prep in the house library supervised by a member of staff or prefect until they’re ready to work independently. Sensible rules about screens of all kinds, Wifi turned off at 10pm; youngest must hand in everything before bed. The term’s programme of matches, activities, exam dates, UCAS deadlines and the like is up in an A3 frame near the entrance and makes exhausting reading. ‘We like to do a lot,’ said the housemaster, adding, ‘This isn’t babysitting, we put our heart and soul into boarding at Oakham.’

Background and atmosphere

Drive into the charming eponymous town (there’s a butcher, baker and by the looks of things no shortage of artisan candle makers), past the Whipper-In hotel (Oakham is home to the Cottesmore, one of England’s oldest hunts) and in the corner of the cobbled market place you will see ‘Oakham School’ announced in fine wrought iron. Oakham and its near neighbour Uppingham were both set up as free grammar schools by Archdeacon Robert Johnston in 1584 to teach Latin, Greek and Hebrew to the sons of their respective towns. The two schools’ fortunes and size waxed and waned over the next 300 years - as late as the end of the 19th century the original one room school house was still Oakham’s only teaching premises.

The main site is a horseshoe of teaching and boarding accommodation and if there is a lack of fine or grand architecture then it is more than amply compensated for by the bright green fingers of a first-rate grounds team. If there were Good Schools Guide awards for best-kept school grounds then Oakham would certainly be on the podium. School is very proud of the courtyard garden with its grass-free lawn designed by near-neighbour Bunny Guinness. It’s overlooked by the biology labs and no doubt the 30 varieties of native plants that make up the lawn provide a useful study in biodiversity.

Fair bit of Monopoly-style buying up of town sites – latest is a former pub which is about to be reborn as a performing arts centre; the town’s old police station is set to become school’s pastoral hub (we don’t know who will occupy the cells). Town and gown weave seamlessly in and out – one of the first lessons new pupils receive is about road safety, although we imagine that motorists are held up by pupils crossing, more often than the reverse. Our sixth form guides observed the school’s road safety rules to the letter, despite absence of any traffic, we’re pleased to report.

Sensible uniform of black crested blazers, white shirts, ties (boys only) and below the knee black and white kilts for the girls. All seems to be worn as intended: smartly and un-customised. Seventh formers sport the dreaded business dress – although apparently it’s not dreaded at Oakham. ‘We really look forward to wearing it,’ our sixth form guide told us.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pastoral care was singled out for its high quality and ‘generous scope’ in most recent inspection report and we couldn’t find anyone who disagreed. The parents we spoke to commented how observant teachers were – quick to spot and then get to the bottom of changes in mood or attitude. Like most things at Oakham the pastoral system is commendably well-organised and implemented with genuine interest and concern, not a whiff of weary lip-service to a box ticking set of ‘guidelines’. The head of pastoral care told us how important it was that she and her fellow tutors teach: ‘it keeps things real’, she observed. Tutor groups are small and pupils keep the same tutor throughout their time in each section of the school. Boarding house matrons are all trained in youth mental health care and are ‘eyes and ears’ and girls often pass on concerns they may have about boys (who can find it harder to talk). Add to this a ‘house family’ and buddy system and every child should know plenty of adults or fellow pupils to whom they can turn if necessary. All pupils do a body and mind course that stresses the interdependence of mental and physical well-being. Respect, for oneself and others, plus very clear boundaries, govern relationships between pupils.

Pupils and parents

‘You get all walks of life here,’ a parent told us. According to Mr Lashbrook the Oakham demographic is solid middle class, ‘definitely not socially elite’. Pupils we met officially were clean cut and refreshingly uncynical (they always are) but those we saw from a distance didn’t appear to have revolutionary tendencies either. Oakham probably isn’t the place for determined bohemians or incipient Bolsheviks, but we’ve no doubt that the school would welcome them with a smile and find them plenty to do. Around 15 per cent from abroad – mostly Europe. Former pupils include Stuart Broad, Tom Fell, Josh Cobb (cricket); Alex Goode, Tom Croft, Matt Smith, Lewis Moody (Rugby); Crista Cullen (Olympic bronze, hockey, 2012); Matthew Macfadyen, Greg Hicks, Richard Hope, Lydia Rose Bewley (actors); Miles Jupp (actor/presenter); Thomas Hescott, Katie Mitchell OBE (directors); Phoebe Gormley, Sarah Curran (fashion/business).

Entrance

At age 10 and 11 from over 30 different preps and primary schools - exams in maths English and verbal reasoning. At 13+ CE mark of 55 or over or, for entrants who don’t take CE, school’s own papers in English, maths, French and science. For lower school pupils (age 10-12) progress to middle school is automatic. Around 50 new pupils enter the sixth form each year; they need a minimum of seven Bs at GCSE including the subjects they wish to study, plus satisfactory personal and academic references from previous school. All candidates are interviewed.

Exit

Some 15 per cent leaves after GCSEs. Around 70 per cent to Russell Group universities, good numbers to medical schools, others abroad to Canada, Europe and USA. School employs a Yale Fellow who oversees preparation of candidates for US universities. Ten to Oxbridge and ten medics in 2016. Oakham has been awarded the Career Mark for its excellence in careers guidance and several parents commented on how good the higher education, apprenticeship and careers support was.

Money matters

Comparatively good value, especially the boarding. Even more so if you consider that SEN support is free of charge and parents of day pupils are not charged for evening meals if their children have to stay late at school for activities. Wide variety of scholarships at 11+, 13+ and sixth form. Means-tested bursaries also offered, applications considered on individual basis. Ten per cent discount for Forces families.

Our view

‘The Oakham of today started when we went fully co-ed in 1971,’ the head told us and it’s true that though the school is proud of its origins, four centuries of history are not its defining feature. This is a clear-eyed, energetic, forward-thinking school, aptly summed up by its motto, ‘Et quasi cursors vitai lampada tradunt’ ('And, like runners, they pass on the torch of life').

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Special Education Needs

Parents are asked to inform the school at the initial enquiry stage if their child has any learning difficulties. Early submission of any relevant paperwork will enable consideration to be given to the likely needs of the child. The school might be able to offer Learning Support to students who have a specific learning difficulty. If however, it is clear that a prospective candidate requires a higher level of support than can be provided, then it is important that this is discussed openly. Learning Support may be offered to students in the form of group support in lieu of a second language in Forms 1, 2 and 3 (Years 7, 8 and 9) or by in class support. Students on the Learning Support register, requiring a higher level of support, may be taught in pairs or as individuals. Students in Forms 4 (Year 10) and above, who are on the Learning Support register, may be offered individual support. There may be a need for some students with specific difficulties to request special access arrangements in external examinations. If this is the case, the school will require an Educational Psychologist’s assessment which specifies what is recommended. If an assessment needs renewing, this should be carried out in the summer at the end of Form 3 (Yr 9) and the paperwork submitted to the school so that any recommendations are in place at the start of the GCSE courses. This is an examination board requirement. Extra time only recommendations will suffice until the student leaves school. Any other than a time concession requires an update to be carried out after GCSE in preparation for Upper School IB or A Level courses. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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Freezing dormitories and terrible food


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