Skip to main content

What says..

Manners have been one focus over the past decade, nurturing kindness and respect within the community. School has raised academic standards: preparation ‘ramped up’ and curriculum reformed to ensure that every boy is well versed in the pre-test. Push on sport recently, extending options and fixture lists. ‘Used to be basically rugby, football, cricket, but the scope is much broader now,’ parents told us. Of course, the main event is the music. The school was founded by Cardinal Wolsey to provide the choir for Christ Church, the college he created to outshine King’s College, Cambridge, in 1546, so it’s no wonder that…

Read review »

What the school says...

Christ Church Cathedral School (CCCS) is a thriving prep school for boys (aged 8 to 13), with a co-ed pre-prep and nursery (3 to 7 years). CCCS offers boarding for choristers, as well as flexi-boarding and occasional boarding to day boys aged 8+ years. The school prides itself on exceptional musical achievements, supplying choristers to Christ Church Cathedral's internationally renowned choir, and the high number of scholarships won. ...Read more

Do you know this school?

The schools we choose, and what we say about them, are founded on parents’ views. If you know this school, please share your views with us.

Please login to post a comment.

Other features

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2014, Richard Murray BA MA PGCE. Bradfield College, then Durham to read English, history and philosophy; stayed for an MA. PGCE at Cambridge. Taught English at King’s School, Gloucester, Rendcomb College and then St Edward’s, Oxford, where he spent 14 years. Spotted that becoming head of a prep school would keep him in touch with pupils and staff – ‘no massive HR team, no compliance department’ – allowing for interaction and breadth. We met him halfway through a day of touring prospective parents and teachers; very hands-on.

Manners have been one focus over the past decade, nurturing kindness and respect within the community: ‘We need people who are tolerant of difference’ rather than ‘alpha personalities’. School has raised academic standards: preparation ‘ramped up’ and curriculum reformed to ensure that every boy is well versed in the pre-test.

A gently mannered man whose bookshelves are laden with literature and curios (we were desperate to look more closely), including a bottle of Christ Church wine made from the grapes grown in the school’s garden. Writes poetry, particularly sonnets, enjoying the challenge of iambic pentameter, though they’re ‘not for public consumption’. Instead, sends amusing and erudite weekly newsletters, musing on everything from the value of learning poetry by heart to the lyrics of Flanders and Swann. Parents describe a ‘slightly professor-ish air’, saying he’s ‘genuinely interested in the boys and their welfare’. Three sons, one has just left MCS, one at Harrow with the youngest about to join him: has been there, done that when it comes to taking boys through the system.

Entrance

Main entry points are nursery, reception and year 3. From year 5, cathedral choristers join as full boarders. Always worth enquiring about entrance at other points, though. Taster days for all; assessments slightly more formal from year 3. First come, first served, with sibling priority. Voice trial and sleepover for prospective cathedral choristers.

Exit

Diverse destinations at 13+, reflecting range of backgrounds and aspirations. Most to d’Overbroeck’s School and St Edward’s School. Others to Abingdon, Rugby, Marlborough College and Dean Close. State secondaries draw a few each year, eg the Swan School. Outstanding scholarship record: five in 2024.

A few leave further down the school, sometimes for a bigger setting or because the family is moving away.

Our view

Nurturing, loving, slightly idiosyncratic, a school where boys can be themselves. Classes are small – the biggest year group when we visited had 20 boys in it, divided into two teaching groups – enabling familiarity and pastoral support. The higgledy-piggledy site, tucked away off St Aldate’s, is an oasis within the busy city centre, every Tudor nook and cranny thoughtfully used: we found the little garden smelling of fresh mint and spring flowers; violins, harps and sheet music for coronation anthems left casually on landings; board games and cricket bats piled in corners. Fireplaces, leather-topped tables, photos of old sports teams and choirs: a delightful rabbit warren.

Classroom environments felt purposeful but relaxed, whether pupils were debating the outcome of Eurovision (Finland deserved it), writing stories about monsters (‘Mine’s got a double moustache!’) or mixing acids and alkalis over Bunsen burners (‘when it starts to spit at you, that’s when you need to turn it off,’ advised their teacher, the picture of calm). Boys had made a birthday card for their French teacher (‘Have an incredabal [sic] birthday!’), left on her desk with a box of Maltesers. ‘They’re good at pushing them,’ parents say, ‘whilst piling on the praise where it’s due,’ so ‘everyone is made to feel quite special.’ Gushing praise in nursery for the little one who’d managed to get his coat onto his hook. ‘The school has widened his interests. Before, I would ask him what he’d done at school that day and he’d say, ‘Nothing’, but now he comes home babbling about Latin!’ says a parent in disbelief. ‘He loves the cross-country running, the ancient Greek,’ says another.

Boys engage in their learning, enjoying their lessons; one parent felt that it’d be tough for someone who wasn’t ‘medium or above on the academics’, but we saw tactful differentiation within the classroom, boys unaware that different groups around the room had been given different worksheets. Fewer than 10 per cent have SEN requirements, though school has been upping provision recently, parents feel, ‘and senior management are very willing to learn, adapting to what’s best for the boy’ – a major advantage of a small environment. ‘They never make me feel like that fussy mother,’ laughs one, relieved. Over 20 per cent have EAL requirements (after English, the biggest language spoken at home is Mandarin), with one-to-one tuition if needed.

Push on sport recently, extending options and fixture lists. ‘Used to be basically rugby, football, cricket, but the scope is much broader now,’ parents told us, including hockey, tennis, basketball, badminton, squash. Plenty of fixtures for those happy to be a big fish in a small pond. New pavilion due for completion soon; school uses university facilities for swimming, Astro and rackets of all varieties. Football, rugby, cricket and athletics happen at the ludicrously lovely playing fields: walk past Wren’s Christ Church to a heavenly corner of the famous meadows, away from the crowds, overlooked by Merton College (where boys play real tennis) and flanked at the other end by the Botanic Gardens. Christ Church’s own herd of pedigree Old English longhorn cattle munch peacefully on the grass; punts potter past on the River Cherwell; the cow parsley was up at waist height when we visited. No nicer spot, if you ask us. Woodland school happens in little wooded area. Only downside is the busy-ish road that boys have to cross to get there, but staff are experts in shepherding them across the zebra crossing, and anyway, it’s only busy by Oxford standards. Pockets of space on site are effectively used for a break time runaround, though ‘you can’t park in the carpark without your car being hit by a football,’ parents tell us. Daily trips to the meadows in nice weather.

Of course, the main event is the music. The school was founded by Cardinal Wolsey to provide the choir for Christ Church, the college he created to outshine King’s College, Cambridge, in 1546, so it’s no wonder that these boys sing and sing. ‘He’s gone from singing in our local church to singing every day at Worcester College,’ says one mum. Indeed, beyond the cathedral choristers, school also provides little songbirds to Worcester College (two services a week) and Pembroke College (one a week), meaning that the huge majority of older boys here sing with professionals, trusted to come in at the right moment on a pitch-perfect D sharp. Just imagine the carol service.

Not all boys join a college choir; some are content with the amount of music at school, and there’s no pressure to take it further. Similarly, a healthy recognition that everyone has to start somewhere: thus, boys playing everything from Baa Baa Black Sheep to Beethoven. Solo performances from reception so everybody is very comfortable with putting themselves out there. Rehearsals for house music competition were in full swing when we visited, with year 8s given responsibility for conducting: competitive spirit, self-discipline and camaraderie which at other schools you’d find only on the first XV. Younger boys look up to older ones and so, inevitably, instruments go in and out of fashion: ‘At the moment, the coolest thing you can do here is play the oboe,’ laughs director of music.

Pastoral care works naturally in such a small setting. So does discipline; teachers right on top of the day-to-day management of little boys. ‘The noise level’s too high!’; ‘Speak to matron about your blazer!’ Three warnings within a lesson and you’re on a ‘time out’, ‘a restorative approach’ which involves missing morning break. Merits for good work; pluses for nice manners or kindness. Boys are eager beavers who are keen to get stuck in; year 3s desperate to show us how good they were at tying their own ties (v. impressive). Food gets mixed reviews. Boys love the Yorkshire puds (‘once in a blue moon’) and apparently, ‘Even to an Italian, the lasagne is up to snuff.’ Lots we spoke to felt it was a bit repetitive but, conceded a parent, ‘When they get to senior school, they realise that it’s no better there.’

Boys, and their parents, wear achievement lightly – casual references to grade 8, music scholarships or singing on television pepper conversations without any swanking. It’s as if there’s a tacit agreement here to love music for music’s sake, rather than trying to outdo one another. ‘They whoop and clap for each other,’ parents say, ‘aware of how good the other is without there being nastiness.’ School makes good use of Oxford, getting them out and about and recognising that these are little boys who happen to be able to sing, but also love pizza, football, Dungeons and Dragons, laser tag. ‘It’s a long day, and it’s tiring,’ parents told us, ‘but the ethos is very gentle, kind, nurturing.’

Lots of academics amongst parent body, even by Oxford standards. Many are musically inclined, though not all: ‘We’re not a musical family, so they’ve drawn it out of him incredibly successfully,’ said one whose son was sitting on a hat-trick of senior school scholarship offers when we spoke. Parents represent the whole spectrum: local families who’ve opted for something smaller and more intimate than Oxford’s glossier, higher-octane preps; academics, often international, looking for something affordable yet rigorous in the city; musicians who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have dreamt of independent school if it weren’t for the scholarships. Nearly all are Oxford-based.

Boarders

All cathedral choristers are full boarders, though probationers do not board at weekends in year 4. A growing handful of day boys take up flexi offering. One boarding house (integrated within the school); dorms organised by year group. Very jolly, very welcoming. Wednesday is shoe-polishing and tuck night. ‘Hilarious pranks on matron,’ we hear, including ‘hiding around the corner and jumping out; she always pretends not to have realised what’s going on’.

Boys travel quite a distance for full boarding, as you’d expect given the kudos of being a chorister here – ‘We burn a lot of rubber, but we talk to him every day and the experience has been great.’ ‘Lovely’ house staff ‘keep us abreast’ of everything that’s going on: ‘It’s really nice at nine o’clock at night to get some lovely photos of them shimmying up rugby posts, falling in the stream or watching telly.’ Boarding is a formative experience for the choristers, who wake up here on Christmas morning. ‘They spend a lot of time together, sleeping in the same dorm; those are strong bonds.’

Money matters

Cathedral choristers receive two-thirds fee remission by default, though this can be means-tested up to 100 per cent. Those joining year 3 can apply for a Cardinal Scholarship, worth 15 per cent. Those singing at Worcester or Pembroke can apply for music tuition scholarships. Academic scholarships also carry fee remission.

School ‘extremely good’, said parents, when it comes to helping with bursary applications to senior boarding schools. Uniform list relatively undemanding and not everything needs to be branded. Not at all snobby.

The last word

‘That’s a pretty classroom,’ we commented as we peered into an English lesson. ‘Oh, that’s Cardinal Wolsey’s old study,’ our guide told us, cool as anything. These boys know how lucky they are whilst being totally unpompous about it, and as a result there’s a rather magical feel to this quirky little school, ‘something undefinable’, parents say. ‘They’ll be larking about,’ a mum tells us, ‘but as soon as they put their cloaks and hats on they turn into choristers, incredibly focused.’ Bright, curious boys with a musical inclination will thrive at this delightfully warm and eccentric place, rich in both history and charm.

Special Education Needs

Our school is inclusive of children with a range of SEND needs, including dyslexia, autism and ADHD. As a mildly selective school, we accept pupils whose achievement is approximately the top 75 per cent. For those with SEND, our SENCo and teachers work closely together with parents to identify the right strategy to support them. Sometimes this is 1:1 support outside the classroom, sometimes it is carefully adapted work within lessons, and sometimes it is simply the enhanced level of nurture and individual attention which every pupil receives at CCCS. All boys’ progress is closely monitored; if there are any concerns, they are addressed swiftly.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers
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 Y
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
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability Y
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty Y
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment Y

Leavers' destinations


Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.