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What says..

Parents say the teaching is second to none and ‘staff are warm and professional’. Academics continue to push upwards, if that is possible, with standards in pre-prep and the upper end of nursery the main target areas ... Much use is made of the grounds, even for academic teaching – we saw three lessons taking place outside during our visit: forest school, maths and a serious English class recreating a text. If you’re after honours boards that go back centuries, or an Enid Blyton fest of nostalgia then Chandlings is probably ...

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What the school says...

Chandlings provides a well-integrated, broad and stimulating education for its pupils. It is highly successful in several important areas: in the educational experience it provides, pupils' learning skills and personal development, the quality of pastoral care, links with the community and the leadership of the school. Children in the Early Years receive an excellent start to their education.

Provision for two year olds is now available in Chandlings Nursery, (flexible sessions).
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Sports

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since January 2018, Christine Cook, previously head of Cokethorpe Junior School for 11 years. Born in Shropshire, spent her formative years in Jamaica and Portugal. Began teaching career in senior schools in Slough and The Oxford Academy (formerly Peers School) where she was head of year, then Guildford Grammar School, Western Australia, and a teaching houseparent at The Dragon School. Director of studies and head of pre-prep at Chandlings (she joined in its first term in 1994 and spent 12 years there) before moving to Cokethorpe.

A blast of energy, she played county hockey and coached the regional U18 team. Now travels a lot, kayaks in Norwegian fjords and plays piano, cello and flute. She is ‘loving being back’ at Chandlings; has a grown-up son who attended the school, so it feels like home.

Before her arrival there was a rapid succession of heads, and while to lose one head may be regarded as misfortune, to lose two (not including an interim) in five years is quite a test of parental loyalty. Credit must go to the ‘wonderful’ teaching staff for keeping academic standards as high as ever. Understandably there was, and still is, some nervousness. However, Chandlings is very fortunate that Christine Cook has taken the reins and her no-nonsense, capable manner is impressing no end. Parents say she is visible at the gates and although she doesn’t teach, she has Cookies with Ms Cook weekly, taking groups of pupils for a chat and, you guessed it, cookies – a chance to do away with formalities and get to know each other. She works extensively with year 6 on interview practice, too. In her words, she is ‘getting there with names’, not bad considering she has only been at Chandlings a year – give her another 12 months and she’ll no doubt know the name of every child, their dog and imaginary friend.

Her brief has been to get staff and parents back on side, restore confidence, increase pupil numbers. Focus now, as ever, is on getting pupils into the best senior schools, engaging with parents and glossing Chandlings with a brilliantly shiny marketing brush. Her experience and abilities are obvious, she is clear about who the ‘Chandlings’ parent’ is and although numbers fluctuated during the time of changing heads, she has managed to stem any potential exodus – in fact pupil numbers are up and increasing. Impressive. She might want to look at the food, though – while one of our guides said it was amazing, the other mumbled, ‘Uh, it’s OK.’

Entrance

Most children start in nursery or reception but many accepted into older years if space allows, and it regularly does. Selective on criteria of academics, behaviour and potential.

Exit

Finishes at 11 so nearly all leavers head for Oxford and Abingdon day schools. Majority of boys to big hitters Magdalen College or Abingdon School; others to d’Overbroeck’s, Cokethorpe, Bloxham, The Oratory. Girls to St Helen and St Katharine, Headington, Oxford High. A few girls to boarding schools: Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Downe House, Tudor Hall. Others to Bartholomew, Eton, Matthew Arnold, Our lady’s Abingdon, Queens Gate School and Wychwood School. One or two boys join boarding preps The Dragon or Cothill for years 7 and 8. An impressive clutch of gongs and scholarships (including art, drama and sport, not just academic) - seven in 2020.

Our view

Ask about Chandlings and you’ll hear a lot of different opinions, many passionate and certainly not confined to the turnover of heads. All parents, however, are impressed by its academics. The school isn’t a typical country prep with quirky corners, bonkers traditions and children knitting in the Great Hall. Chandlings appeals to ambitious parents with their eyes on the prize: a successful route to the best senior schools.

Opened in 1994 with just nine children, it’s part of The Cothill Trust which runs Cothill School (nearby boys’ boarding prep), Kitebrook in Gloucestershire and three other preps.

Chandlings Manor is the main building – a faux Tudor lodge fronting a ranch-style property with low rise add-ons, overlooking glorious landscaped grounds and fields beyond. While the beauty of the school is of the eye of the beholder variety, it feels comfortable and lived-in, with the former squash court making way for a dance studio, the cinema a classroom and all glittering chandeliers and silken drapes banished. It is the grounds, though, that wow: 60 acres of manicured lawns, sports pitches, a nine-hole golf course, a brand new astroturf and a much-used equestrian centre. The bluebell woods are home to a low ropes course and plenty of den building, plus there’s a lake with dipping pontoon, bird-watching hide and wildlife night cameras. All very country prep, but newer and shinier.

Location is a big driver to the school – only three miles from Oxford and with a smart (nearish) Boars Hill address. Its acres allow a whopping car park and even a turning circle so no need for parents to get out of the car when dropping off older children.

Our visit began with a whole school assembly in Lantern Hall, a jolly, modern affair that sets Chandlings’ tone – straightforward, ambitious, unpretentious. Pictures of children enjoying the recent wintery weather became a light-hearted science lesson on snowflakes; the weekly maths and English challenges were issued and one child offered his Eco Idea of the Week.

The 350-strong cohort makes for a large school. Classes are small (between 11 and 13 children) and there are three to four classes per year group, which some parents feel is too many. Saying that, there is plenty of space and we thought the number of pupils ‘fits’ the school. Nursery is well established and growing in size, separate from the main school in the Lavender Courtyard; little ones play in the nursery woodland and adventure playground.

Parents say the teaching is second to none and ‘staff are warm and professional’. Academics continue to push upwards, if that is possible, with standards in pre-prep and the upper end of nursery the main target areas. Chandlings feeds some highly selective senior schools and parents say things can get pressured in year 6. Several parents also felt it asks a lot of children at a younger age. Three SEN teachers offer extra help in class, plus one-to-one sessions and small group work and parents seem happy with the provision. School says it is not able to support significant educational needs.

Academics aside, there is an eye on the ‘whole’ child, with a dedicated cookery school (cookery classes run from reception to year 6 with ‘international flavours’ a recurring theme), creative art and DT departments and plenty of outdoor learning and mindfulness walks. Much use is made of the grounds, even for academic teaching – we saw three lessons taking place outside during our visit: forest school, maths and a serious English class recreating a text. A healthy list of clubs including the usual sports, dance, music and chess, plus archery, fencing, furniture making (including making lathes in the woods), golf, green woodworking, Harry Potter club, Mandarin and war poetry.

Sport important and ‘for all’. A, B and often C teams are fielded, with D team for under 9s. Movement between the teams is flexible and based on performance and every team gets a detailed match report. All children get a clap on the back for trying their best, and the annual progress awards are given to all abilities. Netball and football for girls, football and rugby for boys, cricket, athletics and hockey for all. Girls also do gymnastics and dance and can play tag rugby in year 2. Chandlings plays in IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) tournaments with strong performances in boys’ U11 hockey and cross-country and girls’ U11 netball and hockey. All pupils have a weekly swimming lesson in the small-ish school pool (indoors, so year-round). Swim squad trains twice a week and competes in IAPS and local meets. The on-site equestrian centre has been here since the school opened, although it’s a case of rent-a-pony rather than stable-your-own-steed. A local riding centre brings ponies to Chandlings two days a week, with over 40 children taking lessons both at lunchtime and after school (cost is from £28 per session, so not overly pricey). A floodlit arena makes this a year-round activity, with a show for parents every term.

Music and drama feature heavily, with guitar group, orchestra, and choir trip to Lake Garda talked of excitedly. Eighty per cent of pupils take music lessons with 11 peripatetic teachers. Each class has a weekly music lesson and music rooms are bright and well equipped. Christmas carol service held at Radley College chapel. LAMDA exams, new to the school, are proving popular and they stage more productions than most – pre-prep nativity, year 4 musical, year 5 workshop and year 6 (usually) Shakespeare. Class drama lessons once a week. There is no school theatre, productions take place in the sports hall. A nod must go to the library: wood panelling and well-stocked modern shelves, oozing bean-bagged cosiness.

Parents, many of whom are taking the step into independent education for the first time, are big fans of the school’s location, grounds, proximity to Oxford and ever-expanding bus routes - as well as its academic record. Demographic is fairly international with a mix of cultures – quite a few families are here on short term academic or business contracts. Parents like the fact that the school welcomes everyone, but this does make for a fair bit of movement, with children leaving and joining at all ages.

If you’re after honours boards that go back centuries, or an Enid Blyton fest of nostalgia, then Chandlings is probably not for you. It may not have the social cachet of some preps but if you can ignore dinner party comparisons this is a prep that does the business. Without the swagger of some of Oxford’s schools, it delivers outstanding results and feeds top senior schools. More flexible and less intimidating than some, suits pragmatic parents not fussed by hallowed halls and airs and graces. Perfect for kids that toe the line, high flyers and hard workers; perhaps less so for quirky eccentrics. Parents find it friendly and inclusive, children are ‘happier than I’ve ever seen them’ and approve of the academic push. It’s also a very social school - one parent gushed, ‘get in early, and you’ve got chums for life.’

The last word

That Chandlings has weathered its recent stormy patch and emerged with spirit and standards unscathed is a great testament to its staff. With such an experienced hand now at the helm the future looks bright. In one parent’s words, ‘the school has got its heart back.’

Special Education Needs

Most children's needs can be met within the classroom through differentiated tasks and provision, particularly in the early stages. All children are taught in mixed ability classes apart from maths and spelling in which they are set or grouped according to their levels of achievement in the Prep Department. According to pupil needs, individual or group lessons may be offered with specialist teachers in the Learning Support Department. The SENCO manages this experienced team which offers advice, support, training and teaching within the school. The focus of the department is on early identification and positive intervention with regard to some specific learning needs and to offer a 'boost' to English skills if indicated.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
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 Y
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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