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Dragon School

What says..

Children are encouraged to support charity projects and green initiatives, with ‘Changemaker Champion’ assemblies in pre-prep. Then, in the middle years, there’s the Head’s Challenge, designing, building, and selling a product for charity. The legendary Christmas sale raises enough money to buy a small piece of real estate. A parent singled out the philanthropy: ‘At first I thought it was just a little mention aimed at the oligarchs, but they really mean it, the kids understand it and the Dragon promotes it’. Parents are...

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What the school says...

The Dragon is a highly renowned boarding and day school in Oxford for boys and girls from 4 to 13 years. The Dragons outstanding, all-round education encourages enquiry, confidence, individuality and a love of learning. A creative academic curriculum is extended with extensive programmes of sport, music, drama, clubs activities. Family-style boarding in ten boarding houses from age 8 is at the heart of the school. Pupils of wide-ranging ability excel at the Dragon; this years leavers achieving excellent results at Common Entrance as well as 43 scholarships and awards to the country's leading public schools.

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Unusual sports


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



What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2021, Emma Goldsmith BA PGCE. Known as Ma Goldsmith, in the Dragon tradition. From a dynasty of four generations of teachers, and a degree in English from Manchester Uni, she caught the teaching bug on a gap year organising youth activities, so undertook a PGCE at Bath. Began teaching English at Oakham School, then Rugby, before housemistress then head of boarding then deputy head at Bloxham School and finally, top dog at Winchester House. In addition, found herself coaching netball, directing plays and taking DofE expeditions. Delighted to be taking the helm at the Dragon - ‘I feel I’ve found my tribe’ - and continues to teach Common Entrance English. Married to a maths teacher, lives locally and has four children.

As the first female head, treads in famous predecessors’ footsteps in high heels and leather trousers (think Burberry not biker) and wicked scarlet nails. She has already revamped communications with parents, established a PTA and increased face-to-face parents’ evenings. Currently overseeing construction of a new music and performing arts centre, she is keen to preserve the famous ‘energetic, quirky, progressive’ character of the school: ‘I see headship as the steward of a ship, you are only part of its history. Fundamentally, we want to develop these free-thinking children.’ Respected by children: ‘She does really funny assemblies’ and ‘She knows everybody’s names… she’s trying to.’ Parents like seeing her at the gate and matches. ‘She’s definitely a mover’, ‘incredibly visible’, ‘good news’, they told us.


Admission to the 48 reception places involves a waiting list and taster visit. The intake is funnel-shaped for increased numbers in the older years. Entry at year 3 requires assessment in maths and English and classes with peers. Boarders applying from year 4 will stay overnight as part of the experience. The school also attracts some 11+ children to prepare for senior school at 13. Children with special needs may be given longer taster periods: ‘We don’t want to write anyone off.’


‘You’ve got to find the right school for the right child,’ head of future schools told us sagely. School prepares for the ISEB pre-tests for over 30 destinations, including Eton, Winchester, Harrow, Marlborough, Rugby, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, to name a few. St Edward’s, Magdalen and Headington are popular local choices. Nearly 60 scholarships in 2023 - academic, art, sport, drama, music and all-rounders.

Our view

If not the largest prep school in the country, the Dragon School certainly boasts the largest reputation. Founded in 1877 by newly married Oxford dons wishing to educate their children in the leafy north Oxford Victorian suburb, the school still carries the free-thinking, liberal spirit of its ancestors, the Lynam family, and uses a vernacular of its own (eg Ma, bun-break, tuck). Two sites in elegant residential roads for pre-prep and prep respectively give children a neverland of green fields, playgrounds and even their own river to enjoy, dampened - but not extinguished - by modern health and safety measures (the riverside playing field now has a fence at the boundary).

Pre-prep is based in genteel Summertown in a plot that has grown from a detached villa to include two-storey classrooms, a gym, IT suite, dining halls and music pods. Small class sizes, 16-18 max, with a form-taker and TAs. SEN suite with speech and language therapy and a counsellor. Three reception classes enjoy direct access to their own playground apparatus from brightly carpeted classrooms. ‘We want them to be skipping into school,’ head of pre-prep told us.

EYFS and national curriculum is enriched and extended to include a phonics programme (‘I like fonics’ we saw on the wall display, as if to prove its effectiveness), as well as printed and cursive script and creative hands-on learning, such as Muddy Dragons (forest school). Topic-based learning from year 1 hangs literacy, numeracy, humanities and French on a termly subject, eg ‘Endurance’, which saw children composing a ‘We’re Hiring’ ad for Shackleton’s exploration of Antarctica, and devising their own expeditions. Desk formation is adaptable - we saw youngsters seated on the carpet, some year 3s at forward-facing whiteboard tables for maths (good for expunging errors!), while other rooms had combinations of large tables and work stations. Year 2s raised hands to discuss how a space buggy would drive on the lunar surface in enthusiastic debate.

Music teachers visit from the upper school for whole-class music from year 1, with the choice of individual instrumental lessons; supervised practice from year 2. Sports uses the climbing equipment in the hall for PE, as well as a single hard court on site or the extensive playing fields of St Edward’s School over the road, for boys and girls field sports, including cricket and football. Year 3s prepare for a managed move to the ‘Big Dragon’ site, with an end of year production in the upper school hall.

Upper school straddles a quiet residential street (with crossing attendant), with youngest years (E block), dining room and original school house on one side and over the way the bulk of the classrooms, labs, library, gym, pool and hall arranged round an inner courtyard. Nearby we found boarding houses in Victorian Gothic villas, which can be accessed by boarders at times during the day. Our guides told us, ‘The Dragon is the perfect size, so you know your way around’.

Six classes in year 4, average size 17, described by the class teacher as ‘the year to relax’, though we saw a hive of activity. One child was working in a suite of computer screens, another was reading up about ADHD to talk about identities and families to his class, while outside youngsters clambered over apparatus in their newly refurbished playground. ‘You don’t have to play outside,’ a young boffin announced. ‘You can get to do comics - Bunny vs Monkey.’

The centrally located library opens extended hours for access to copious books, including Harry Potter in English, French, Spanish, German and ancient Greek to suit the 32 different nationalities (currently no ancient Greeks on roll) and a smorgasbord of journals from Horrible Histories to The Cricketer (Dragon features in the publication’s top 100 schools).

The middle years (D and C Block, years 5 and 6) sets in maths, science, English, French and Latin, which is taught using a time-honoured course written by the school. Children were quietly at work as we passed along the science corridor. ‘I like doing different experiments,’ said one boy. ‘Magnesium is probably my favourite.’ Upper school classes (years 7 and 8) focus on CE, with extra languages, Spanish and German, plus the offer of classical Greek for the top two sets. Faith, philosophy and ethics aims to make Dragons religiously literate in a range of faiths, though one small boy told us Jesus was the sun god.

A suite of rooms away from the hurly-burly includes sensory resources like bubble machine and soft cushions, providing a haven for SEN children, supported by a full-time ‘insightful’ SENCo, speech and language therapist and numerous specialist assistants. Children with specific learning differences (dyslexia, dyspraxia, neurodiversity and attention, but not global delay) are seen one-to-one or in group sessions. Liaison between professionals and the teachers for carry-over to curriculum, but no in-class support. Up to 14 per cent of pupils on SEN register, others in year 4 are also seen for extra spelling, handwriting and reading boost, but support reduces in middle school. SENCo liaises with outside services (ed psych, optometrist and OT) and manages transitions to future schools.

Arts are rich and riotous. Fine art and DT - based in three high-ceilinged studios, one with a panorama of the grounds - displayed a rainbow of printed landscapes of the Oxford spires. We found older pupils glazing wheel-thrown pots for the kiln as part of their scholarship portfolios. ‘Watch out, there’s a lot of dangerous stuff in here!’ cautioned our guide, pointing to the well-stocked DT room, where some were making wooden clocks.

Music on curriculum, with 50 teachers for individual tuition. The size of the school enables choirs and concerts to be formed from year groups, and parents praised the range of ensembles and termly concerts. Each instrument player is sorted into a suitable band, regardless of ability, teachers valuing enthusiasm as much as skill. ‘They make them want to learn,’ said one parent.

With so many famous thespians among alumni (Hugh Laurie, Christopher Cazenove, Tom Hiddleston, to name a few), it was no surprise to find drama woven into topics for year 4s, and on curriculum from year 5. No shortage of performers here for the scenes from Shakespeare, Greek myths and French plays, as well as annual musicals and school shows. One parent complained the same children were chosen repeatedly: ‘They should do a rotation to try out a few new people.’ A boy disagreed: ‘I’ve got such a nice drama teacher, he gets everyone involved.’

Sport is currency at the Dragon, whether in formal fixtures twice a week in all major sports (hosting up to seven teams at a go) or as part of Dragon Quest enrichment and after-school clubs. More unusual offerings include polo, lacrosse, golf, fencing, judo. One boy told us he played three different forms of football (futsal, Gaelic football and the usual one), with specialty coaches brought in. Kayaking on the River Cherwell, or sculling on the Thames, are popular, and there are trips to Henley for the squad. ‘Very similar to a senior school in opportunities and breadth,’ one teacher told us. However, despite famous alumni athletes (Tim Henman, Sam Whaley-Cohen, Frances Houghton) sport is not elite. ‘Everybody gets a least a match,’ one girl said, ‘and some people who are really talented get more.’

Dragon Quest has replaced Saturday school with a mind-boggling choice of activities from film-making to first aid. ‘There’s something for everyone,’ we heard repeatedly, with children able to take on sailing, off-road biking, or F1 racing at Silverstone in an electric car they design themselves. ‘A massive advantage of the size of the school is the opportunities,’ said the head. School trips can walk to the museums and sites of Oxford, while residentials included Alpine skiing, choir to Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia and classics trip to Pompeii.

‘The academics are as you expect in a school like this,’ said one teacher, ‘but the pastoral – giving them a voice, a sense of self - is so important.’ The school motto, ‘Arduus ad solem’ (Reach for the sun), inspires ambition and curiosity but is tempered by the Dragon values of kindness, courage, respect. PSHEE puts relationships and awareness of difference at the heart of the curriculum. ‘I’m a passionate believer in allowing a child to embrace self-identity,’ remarked the SENCo, ‘and then advocate for what they need.’ There’s a full-time counsellor, a head of wellbeing and another for mental health and over thirty staff have undertaken mental health training. One mum described how her shy child had bailed out of a concert in front of the school, only to be supported to succeed by an ‘utter superstar’ teacher. ‘That’s what I’m so pleased about,’ she said, ‘bringing out different skills - confidence doesn’t come through in league tables.’

As to bullying, the school has been credited for its approach by the anti-bullying alliance: 'We really make sure we help children come forward,’ said deputy head of pastoral care. Not all parents we spoke to were aware of this. Head maintains there are small numbers with eating disorder and gender dysphoria but is instituting an audit of language around equality, diversity and inclusion. The safeguarding lead explained, ‘We are looking hard at making PSHEE education preventative not reactive… we want to catch children before they hit a crisis.’

A time-honoured system of behaviour management, using pluses and minuses, has been rebranded a ‘ladder of consequences’. Children weren’t fooled: ‘Minuses are now called consequences, only they’re easier to get than a minus, which is annoying.’ For good behaviour (eg ‘If you can answer a question that no-one else can answer’), you get house points, whereas for poor behaviour (eg ‘talking in assembly’), you might get a ‘reflection’ starting with five minutes in the head of year’s room or, ‘If you do something really bad, you stay in the whole break,’ one girl cautioned, ‘and you fill in a form.’

Children are encouraged to support charity projects and green initiatives, with Changemaker Champion assemblies in pre-prep. Then, in the middle years, there’s the Head’s Challenge, designing, building, and selling a product for charity. The legendary Christmas sale raises enough money to buy a small piece of real estate. A parent singled out the philanthropy: ‘At first I thought it was just a little mention aimed at the oligarchs, but they really mean it, the kids understand it and the Dragon promotes it.’

Parents are mostly happy with comms, which include emails and a weekly newsletter for vital news. But one felt, ‘There is a lot of communication about everything – my husband would say way too much!’ Another added, ‘Sometimes it’s a bit chaotic, that’s the charm of the school… but teachers talk to each other a lot.’

The size of the school means breadth of population. One parent described the families as ‘a funny, mixed bunch - you have the more traditional Cotswold dwellers and the academics, a lot of ex-Londoners and there are people from all over the world’. All agree it works: ‘Incredibly sociable,’ we heard, ‘everyone comes together at match teas’ and ‘by and large it’s a friendly community’. Young Dragons enjoy a reputation as ‘lively, charming, active children - a happy place where people come out with a smile and ruffled hair’. We can vouch for the ebullience, confidence and hair in the children we met.


Boarding comes in various sizes: full, weekly or flexi, in junior or senior houses, most single-sex - and there’s a weekly bus service from Kensington. Boarding starts at 8+, and after first two years children move house each year. Boarding assistants provide teas, do laundry and supervise leisure time in comfortable surroundings - ‘Our houses are home,’ a BA told us. We saw dorms for three and six, with bunk beds decorated with fairy lights and pinboards for personal pics, high-spec bathrooms and piles of board games for weekend and after-school use. One weekend exeat per half term, when all disappear, otherwise the school is buzzing with boarders on excursions like paintballing or ice-skating. Meals are in the dining hall - we chose roast squash, fish and chips and fruit salad; the children praised the breakfast smoothies and a ‘full Dragon breakfast’ on Saturdays. House phones and screens available to call or Zoom home, and parents can contact house staff whenever. Birthdays are big - we learned of a cake, a special hat and a birthday song. ‘I was a bit too busy to be homesick,’ one boarder told us.

Money matters

So much green space doesn’t come cheap, with some trips and activities extra.

The last word

Dragons are an irrepressible force. Generations of happy, inventive, confident children are formed by the school’s high academic teaching and dazzle of extracurricular options, and they continue to populate the classrooms and playing fields of the UK’s top schools. One OD told us, ‘This school opens doors…’ and dragons soar away!

Special Education Needs

The learning support department offers assistance and support to children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. The department works in close conjunction with subject and form teachers to ensure that support is provided when and where necessary, and within the context of the broader curriculum. The department is situated at the heart of the school with a central area and specially designed teaching rooms. All those who teach in the department have a qualification in teaching children with specific learning difficulties. Children are generally withdrawn for individual lessons once or twice a week but some group lessons also are provided. There are also speech and language therapists who support children with speech, language and social skills.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
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
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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