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Has a reputation for being gentler on the old grey matter – both entry and exit – than many of its near competitors yet, in these league table propelled days, parents may seek a school that is 'forgiving' on entry but don't want an apology on exit – nor do they get one. Dead Poets Society this isn't, there is still a generous nod to the syllabus and ticking boxes – plenty of routine revision, past papers, chalk and talk during our spring visit, but our guides said they're treated to discussion-based, interactive…

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What the school says...

St Edward's has introduced iGCSEs in core subjects, including maths, English, sciences and modern languages. We have also introduced the International Baccaulaureate. The School is a regional training centre for new teachers, and has worked with computer programmers in India to develop a customised academic registration and monitoring system that is now being pursued by other schools.

We continue to boast some of the best sport, art, music and drama in the country. We are still the well-rounded school people knew twenty-five years ago, but now we are also a beacon of academic excellence and innovation. St Edward's now has over a hundred academic scholars and exhibitioners, and has recently expanded its scholarship programme to recruit more of the academically able.
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What the parents say...

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Curricula

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

Sports

Rowing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Warden

Since September 2011, Mr Stephen Jones MSc MLitt (50s), previously head of Dover College. Educated at both Hurstpierpoint and Lord Wandsworth Colleges. Erudite, a man of many degrees, went to Durham to read maths and physics but graduated with a rare first in philosophy, then read maths before embarking on research in philosophy of maths. Was an assistant housemaster at Cheltenham College, head of maths at Berkhamsted School and a social tutor at Radley before his appointment at Dover. Married to the delightful Katie, who has her own successful career in the church – no mean feat alongside being a headmaster's wife. They have three children, two of whom have flown the nest.

We're told he is a good sportsman, keen on staying in shape, enjoys fives and sailing and has a keen sense of humour, 'His student house was dubbed Front, so he could talk about going back to Front'. An accomplished mathematician, he loves poring over the figures and has a brain that specialises in pure logic, in whatever discipline. Parents say, 'Youngsters respect him, he is easy to talk to.' When we meet he is chatty, relaxed, enthusiastic - 'I don't have all the answers, what head does?' - but stresses that 'I want to engender a culture of academic excitement, sharpen things, raise expectations tempered with understanding of what the world is really like'. He is realistic too and under no illusion that keeping St Edward's on top of its game and rubbing shoulders with competitors will demand toughness and vision.

Academic matters

Most take nine or 10 subjects at IGCSE/GCSE, all the usual plus Latin or classical civilisation and Greek alongside PE, DT and drama. In 2016, 63 per cent of GCSE papers were graded A*/A. Philosophy/ethics/political literacy courses for lower school pupils and all sixth formers study for an EPQ or equivalent: 'Great preparation for independent study at university and beyond,' says warden. In 2016, 70 per cent of A level grades were A*/B (42 per cent A*/A) and the IB average was a creditable 35. Scholars' societies – OX2 for lower school and The Woodstock Group for seniors – stretch the able. Parents say science teaching is variable: 'Joint offering of IB and A level has resulted in good teachers being stretched too thinly' – school aware and say they are working hard to redress. At A level biology and art & design popular and successful.

Good for self-esteem: 'Those who can, will, those who can't will be encouraged to be independent, guarding against learned helplessness. We are an inclusive school so classroom teaching is at the forefront of supporting all pupils. All pupils have learning challenges at some point; learning development staff can monitor, assess and advise on the best way forward.'

Has a reputation for being gentler on the old grey matter – both entry and exit – than many of its near competitors yet, in these league table propelled days, parents may seek a school that is 'forgiving' on entry but don't want an apology on exit – nor do they get one. Teddies (as it is affectionately known) has been shimmying up the league tables: not via hothousing - 'There are enough schools in the locality doing that,' says school - nor by upping the entry ante (though scholarships have been expanded and a new girls' house, Jubilee, helpfully nudges boy-girl ratio close to 3-2); rather the main thrust has been to eke more out of everyone, think good breezy airing, rather than squeezed through the wringer. Pupils write A* and keep in their pockets; IGCSEs introduced; IB has been extended ('Oversold,' say parents, school says not the case, adding, 'Pupils are choosing it in increasing numbers'). A levels remain, though no Pre-U, the tougher alternative to A levels; 'Not really the thing for our cohort', said warden.

However the biggest buzz (and buzz-word) is meta cognition ('know about knowing,' said our young informant). Warden wanted children to develop intellect, to reason, question and enquire. 'Some children arrive browbeaten through CE; we have to rebuild their confidence, inspire and invigorate them'. Working on the youngsters meant developing staff. 'I appointed a new academic director who encourages staff to share good practice, go off-piste, explore and enjoy their subject,' says warden. A move that appears to be working: 'Teachers love the curve ball question but some had lost their nerve, teaching only to pass an exam rather than exploring their subject,' says academic director. 'That is changing'. Dead Poets Society this isn't, there is still a generous nod to the syllabus and ticking boxes – plenty of routine revision, past papers, chalk and talk during our spring visit, but our guides said they're treated to discussion-based, interactive, active lessons. Parents approve: 'It's a happy, friendly common room with a great vibe that rubs off on kids'. Academic push still a work in progress but generally all things learned are looking up and bucking up.

Games, options, the arts

Fabulous facilities – 100 acres of prime north Oxford; outdoor courts, cricket pitches, a new cricket pavilion (Gloucestershire Cricket Club runs a satellite academy at the school for pupils and local juniors), a nine hole golf course, boathouse. Indoors there is a superbly equipped, sparkly leisure centre – the hub of middle class Oxford mummies working off their lunches – shared with, and leased from, the school, providing a fantastic gym, indoor and outdoor pools, indoor tennis courts and fitness and dance studios. Pupils win accolades – cricket team undefeated, have their fastest first eight ever, runners up at National Schools’ and Henley; several GB junior oarsmen and county cricketers; girls' senior hockey team have been county champions seven years in a row - currently county champions at U14, U16 and U18. Rugby less robust: ‘We take a few hits,' confess boys, though school hopeful tide turning. New director of sport is working hard to tempt talent of tomorrow to Teddies – with an array of special events. Not that those who wince at the thought of catching a ball should worry: 'They will find a sport you can not only do but do so proficiently; it's all about building confidence. Staff get involved too – it's lovely to see their commitment – it rubs off on the youngsters.' Only moan is expense of sports kit: 'Always something else on the bill; they must be in-league with the supplier,' joked one parent.

Art good with results to match, especially at A level with facilities for jewellery making, ceramics, sculpture and large fine art displays. The North Wall Arts Centre (enjoyed by the local community - hosts visiting artists and theatre groups) boasts exhibition galleries, drama studios and a cosy 250 seat theatre. Parents say dance has come on in 'leaps and bounds' and music is on the up (new music school features, inter alia, recital and rock rooms plus a recording studio), with something for everyone regardless of where you sit in the talent pool. 'Kids try hard, there's a huge number of bands, plus excellent choirs including one for parents and the community.' Excellent extracurricular provision including ever popular Duke of Edinburgh and CCF.

Boarders

Boarding houses have own identity – quad or field side: choose quad for a disorganised child, field for those who relish open space. New girls' house, Jubilee, is, according to warden, 'more like an upmarket hotel than a traditional school house'. For most of the rest, including odd Cinderella house ('about to improve,' say school) it is standard, homely rooms – shared save for the older years, with an assortment of communal facilities.

Cohesive boarding houses provide welcome support and foster inter-year friendships. Good food, all dine centrally, pupils say it's fun to mix with friends from other houses, parents rue table manners: ‘They're noticeably very much “bolt-food” variety.’ Safari suppers, ice-skating and discos are a sample of the many weekend jollies.

'Lots of boarders go home on Sunday after chapel, leaving school feeling somewhat empty and unloved for those forced to stay in,' said one parent, but another added, 'I like that they can come home on Sundays; we relish the family time.'

Background and atmosphere

Situated in leafy north Oxford, the setting is privileged indeed. Much akin to an Oxford college, the main buildings surround a lawned quad. Recent additions include an eco-inspired life sciences building – solar powered with 'more technology than you could wish for'. School isn't the grandest we've seen, it may lack the edge of some of its established upper-crusty rivals, but it has enough of everything, is polished and looks good. Simple peaceful chapel, compulsory on Sundays for boarders, C of E but all faiths welcome. Day pupils stay until 9pm (ad hoc early finish at 6pm on request), all can have a bed in the boarding houses and sleep over if they're too spent to go home.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Parents say pastoral care is excellent, only caveat, 'We'd love our child to have the same tutor throughout, someone who can help and support when pressure builds or child overloaded, overwhelmed or overwrought'; school counters, 'structured tutor system for continuity of tutoring in lower school and in sixth form is ideal for a boarding school'. Still has its fair share of rich kids, some with arguably too much pocket money at their disposal.

Tough on drugs; warden says, 'If we suspect, we test; if positive, save the most exceptional circumstances and I can't think of any of those, they're out.' Punishments for smoking, parents say booze handled brilliantly for the child. 'Quite a number drink and smoke in younger years (same everywhere?), they push boundaries but school pushes back.' Local pubs policed, those aged 18 get a pub pass but other savvy sixth formers sneak off to Summertown for their Saturday night tipple. 'If they get caught they get bust but it doesn't stop them,' said our mole, adding, 'You must be able to say a lucid goodnight to your HM, otherwise it's a night in the san and the ignominy of being woken every 30 minutes.' School adds, 'All have cheese and biscuits and spend an hour with HM when they return; it's great fun for HM and means we get to keep a friendly eye.' Despite tolerance, some parents feel school needs to be more trusting, offer more privileges to older ones, with a long rein tugged hard for those who rail against.

Pupils and parents

Parents a mix of academics, professionals and business. Twenty per cent of boarders from overseas, from a huge variety of countries. Most of rest from Oxford or the home counties. Has a local reputation of privilege and at times pushing the boundaries – Teddies' girls in particular – yet the pupils we met were grounded, down to earth and friendly, a view shared by others we spoke to. 'They're clubbable, they've had to live with people in close confinement, they learn how to get the most out of others,' says warden, with a student adding, 'My parents gave me The Good Schools Guide and I chose Teddies; it has lived up to all in the review but especially on the friendship and friendliness front.' Notable former pupils include Kenneth Grahame, Laurence Olivier, Douglas Bader, Guy Gibson, Jon Snow, Emilia Clarke and Sam Waley-Cohen.

Entrance

From a range of prep schools, majority of day from Dragon. Skype interviews possible for those based overseas. Gently academic 55 per cent at CE, non CE candidates take the school’s own exam. A handful sit an exam at 11+ to guarantee a place. Runs an academic challenge day for local year 6 pupils, with diet of philosophy, Arabic, economics, architecture and politics, to spot scholarship potential and encourage applications.

Exit

Handful (some 10 per cent) leave post-16 to pursue courses not offered here or to save on fees. One to Oxbridge in 2016, rest to eg London, Exeter, Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle, the US (UCLA, Northeastern), Canada and Europe. One medic and one vet in 2016; other popular subjects include geography, biomedical sciences, engineering, maths, modern languages and histor­y. Inspiringly, St Edward's doesn't view the path to university as job well done: 'We look to the bigger picture, the young employable 25-year-old making strides in business, commerce, enterprise and academia. Understanding the cut and thrust of the world beyond university is paramount.'

Money matters

New scholarships introduced - academic, music, sport and all-rounder can be means-tested to a maximum of 100 per cent. Sizeable number on bursaries: 'Often the most able,' says warden. ‘Attracting bright pupils is good for the school, good for the teachers and good for results.' All are considered annually for an honorary scholarship. Minor scholarships available for drama, art and dance.

Our view

For those uncomfortable with ultra prestige, the trappings of the old and bold, or the sheen of highly-polished academia, St Edward's offers an established, acceptable, dependable alternative. Those who seek out Teddies will either be judging it against day school rivals or other co-ed boarding schools; it doesn't sit at the top of either pile but it holds its own, taps on elbows and keeps them on their toes. All-round broad education with plenty of nurturing, perceptibly raising expectations and results while maintaining its discernible cheer and friendliness. A busy school with a rosy outlook, ideal for a broad range of academic abilities, the late bloomer, the all-rounder and the high-flyer who doesn't wish to be a mere pebble, fighting for survival, in the tidal wave of Oxford's academic powerhouses.

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Special Education Needs

We have a small Learning Development department (one full-time member of staff and one part-time). Learning development at St Edward's takes the form of coaching, guidance and advice for all pupils on all learning challenges they face. This may include 1:1 coaching sessions if appropriate.There is a strong culture of tutoring, coaching and excellent pastoral care at the school which is designed to address the individual needs of all pupils.

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

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