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What says..

Locals will tell you that OHS is not the poshest or the shiniest local school but with its lack of pushy marketing is highly authentic in its offering and, dare we say it, not as catty as some. Focus is on girls’ intellectual agility; creative problem-solving rather than spoon-feeding, and with all that Oxford offers on its doorstep, exposure to world class influencers is inevitable. Cast an eye over the pupil-produced annual school magazine. With a theme that changes annually (most recently OHS! in the style of OK!) it’s packed with wit, humour and opinion...

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What the school says...

Oxford High School is Oxford’s oldest girls’ school, a leading independent day school based in the heart of Oxford for girls aged 4 to 18 years.
We are a vibrant and happy school full of bright, clever, interesting pupils. We have a wealth of alumnae who have become leaders in their chosen fields across the world, and we consistently have high academic results at GCSE and A Level.
We encourage our girls to be ambitious in all areas of life, to develop self-confidence, aware of the impact of their actions on those they care about, on the wider world and upon themselves. We live life to the full, proud of our past and preparing for the future.

Oxford High School is one of 25 Girls’ Day School Trust schools. All GDST schools share a common set of values that support our aims and place girls first.
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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

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

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since January 2021, Marina Gardiner Legge, previously headmistress at Heathfield School for four years (she was director of studies for three years before that). Was governor at Fox Hill Primary School during 2019 and 2020. Has MA in English language and literature from Oxford, PGCE in English language and literature from Hong Kong University and masters in educational leadership from Buckingham.

Entrance

Academically selective, school says girls ‘above average at primary school should have a go’. At 11, about half move up from OHS Prep with about two-thirds of the remainder in ones and twos from state primaries. The move between prep and senior school is no longer a shoo-in; former head ruffled a few feathers when he promptly tightened up entrance requirements when he took up post, although about 85 per cent currently make the move from prep to senior. Entrance assessment comprises own exams in maths, English, reasoning and interview. About 10 further places available in year 9, and plans in place to increase this in order to appeal to the co-ed preps eg Dragon. Year 9 candidates take pre-test (maths, English, MFL) in year 7 with unconditional offers for successful candidates. For sixth form entry, admissions interviews and at least grade 7 in most GCSEs, and certainly for chosen subjects. Academic potential and ability looked for. 'Huge’ alumnae body described as ‘very special’; they, as well as parents, ‘make time to give back’.

Exit

Around 30 per cent decamps elsewhere (local co-eds, boarding, state) post-GCSE most years. Over 90 per cent to Russell Group with popular choices in recent years including Birmingham, UCL, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh and Manchester. Starting to send more girls overseas (recently to Hofstra University, New York, and ETH Zurich, Switzerland). Nine to Oxbridge, and eight medics, in 2021. How about more vocational courses for those less suited to high academia, we asked? Yes, came the reply, as long as the girl in question ‘has a plan’ – such plans commence with entry to eg Central St Martins, conservatoires, Bournemouth and Falmouth.

Latest results

In 2021, 95 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 82 per cent A*/A at A level (96 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 88 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 77 per cent A*/A at A level (92 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Ten I/GCSEs as standard – all taken in year 11 - with results just pipping the local competition to the post to deliver the strongest girls’ results in the area. Many subjects start the GCSE curriculum in year 9; majority take triple science award and, joy of joys, languages are a strength of the school with eight options including Mandarin and Russian (Russian teacher also takes the zumba class), and native speakers in every department. Thrilling cultural exchanges go way beyond a few dreary days over the Channel; our guides had both been on a partial exchange to China – ‘a fantastic cultural experience’. Twenty-six subjects available at A level (pre-U in physics) with girls almost always able to study their first choices and timetables adapted around them. Stellar results. Science, maths and English results amongst the strongest – and most popular. Girls we spoke to crowned maths top department and raved about the talent in the staff room across the board.

Vibe is academic and busy but school claims not pressurised or intense; ‘girls want to get there themselves,’ says school; ‘we provide the platform and they run with it.’ Pupils concur: ‘they push us a healthy amount,’ they say, noting that teachers are ‘caring’ and ‘emphasise the importance of mental well-being.’ Bravo. Focus is on girls’ intellectual agility; creative problem-solving rather than spoon-feeding, and with all that Oxford offers on its doorstep, exposure to world class influencers is inevitable. Lessons are quiet and studious with a fairly traditional feel. Girls appear engrossed in their subjects, putting questions and ideas forward in a civilised, disciplined fashion. Teaching is taken ‘beyond the curriculum' and staff enjoy the opportunity to lead (or possibly follow) girls off piste academically. School runs scholarship programmes with some of its London fellow GDST schools including Wimbledon High, South Hampstead High and Putney High. No wonder it’s the only secondary school in Oxford rated ‘exceptional’ by the ISI.

Super library with years 7 and 8 benefiting from lessons that focus on reading for pleasure and an active book group. We approve. Librarian (also chair of Oxfordshire Book Awards) describes her domain as ‘a very vibrant place’ and she’s clearly doing something right as the school recently won the national final of the KidsLit Quiz and went to New Zealand to take on its international counterparts. Innovative online book platform means that students can download books from school library onto their devices wherever they are in the world (librarian quick to point out that they will never replace paper books, however) and sixth formers pore studiously over their books on the light-filled mezzanine floor with its funky ergonomic seating.

The arts and extracurricular

Clubs mainly subject or sport based, with just a few exceptions. The likes of engineering club, dissection club, biomedical club all serve to extend studies beyond the syllabus; there’s also a thriving robotics club and school came third in the CyberFirst Challenge set by GCHQ in 2017. More success with Young Enterprise, with several year 13 girls already running small businesses outside of school. Leading school in the county for completion of DofE, with around 90 per cent of year 9 participating; CCF is now defunct due to dwindling numbers in comparison. Lest you’re thinking that all this points to OHS girls being a bit worthy, cast an eye over the pupil-produced annual school magazine. With a theme that changes annually (most recently OHS! in the style of OK!) it’s packed with wit, humour and opinion as well as horOHscopes, a tongue in cheek problem page and quizzes; 2017’s editor was runner up in the Shine School Media Awards 2018 and school says, ‘it tells you everything you need to know about the school’ (we assume they don't just mean their star signs).

Plenty of choirs, orchestras, ensembles and bands for all levels of ability. Once again, Oxford’s cultural venues come to the fore with girls often presented with opportunities to perform at eg the Sheldonian or various college chapels as well as in their own super theatre and studio. Frequent accolades for individual performers, eg a recent win of the solo jazz trophy at the Bristol Music Festival, and girls we spoke to said music teaching is ‘fantastic – very encouraging’. Parents gush over the ‘most amazing Christmas carol service’ held at a nearby church. Music and drama enthusiastically pursued as extracurricular subjects (most recently school performed Grease – boys' parts given by open audition to boys from other schools, and we loved the fact that all comers can join the chorus without audition), although only tiny numbers take them to GCSE or A level. Sources tell us that (now former) head’s decision to alternate the annual musical with a Shakespearean production was not popular with girls. Our guides told us that dance is ‘emerging’; ‘an afternoon of dance’ show was in rehearsal at the time of our visit. Curriculum arts subjects on carousel include drama, art, computer science and textiles. DT no longer on curriculum in its own right but has been incorporated into arts programme. Inspiringly messy art rooms with high quality work on display and 2D and 3D art taught as separate subjects; one half of year 7 were working on fabulous clay gargoyles when we peeked into their class, with the other half creating book illustrations using Photoshop. Mannequins wearing textile creations of an impressive standard adorn the hallways (OHS girls have gone on to the Ruskin and the Royal Academy).

Sport

Sport remains a slightly poor relation to academia, but school says it is focused on ‘building on potential’ where and is ‘passionate about keeping girls going with physical activity at the age when they often give up.’ To this end, they have adjusted the timetable to ensure more games/PE time for years 10 and 11 (‘so important to give them the balance’), with options such as zumba and pilates for those less keen on team pursuits. School now employs lead coach for Oxford United women’s team to coach its footballers and it’s paying off as they recently reached the semi-finals of the ISFA Cup. Girls’ cricket is also ‘flying’ thanks to recently forged partnership with Oxfordshire Cricket Board. Super swimming pool, standard issue sports hall, but on a 10 acre town site, outdoor space is pretty limited. Fortunately school is more than happy to ‘borrow things shamelessly’ from nearby prep schools, blessed as they are with the acreage lacking here. Partnership with Oxford Hawks hockey club means girls get specialist coaching and use of their pitches. Parental satisfaction with sport varies according to where daughter sits on the sporting spectrum. ‘If your daughter is not particularly sporty, or lives so locally she can do it all out of school, that’s great,’ was the overall feel. With just two games sessions a week on curriculum (although admittedly there are also plenty of other opportunities for girls to opt in to extracurricular training and leadership sessions, plus fixtures), we’d agree that it’s not the most obvious fit for super all-round sporty girls, who may be better suited to one of the many co-ed public schools in the area.

Ethos and heritage

Low profile location tucked away down a residential street amongst prime Oxford real estate, school is never going to win any beauty competitions, with its drab 1960s architecture augmented only slightly by the new entrance hall and bold metal sunflower installation – illuminated at night to deliver the school’s motto ‘ad lucem’ (to the light) at all times. Founded in 1895 with just 29 pupils, school has moved between various north Oxford locations over the years and settled in Betjeman’s ‘bonny Belbroughton Road’ in 1957. Formerly a direct grant school, head and governors remain committed to continuing the meritocratic tradition by beefing up bursary coffers. Inevitably, given its central Oxford location, OHS has a reputation for being the bluestocking school. And what’s wrong with that? It’s hardly an insult to be linked to a movement that championed women’s education and no one could accuse OHS girls of being dull or frumpy. The uniform is comfortable and low key with sunflower logos on navy blue sweatshirts. Sixth formers wear their own clothes and do not, thank goodness, have to adhere to the style black hole that is ‘business dress’ (‘it doesn’t tie in with creativity’, says head). If you’re choosing between the three main girls’ schools in Oxford, locals will tell you that OHS is not the poshest or the shiniest but with its lack of pushy marketing is highly authentic in its offering and, dare we say it, not as catty as some. Despite lack of kerb appeal, functionality is there and the parts – although shabby in places – form a cohesive, purposeful whole. Many parents we spoke to preferred the slightly more ‘real world’ feel.

Aesthetics pick up when you reach the bright and welcoming dining hall with glass walls overlooking outdoor space for al fresco lunch. Everyone’s holding their breath though for the launch in 2020 of the new building which will house the new sixth form centre (complete with social space and juice and panini bar); design corridor with art, photography and textiles studios; lecture theatre cum screening room for National Theatre production broadcasts; quiet spaces and well-being centre with discrete entrance.

Deep breath, if you please, here comes the list of notable alumnae: Maggie Smith (actress); Sian Edwards (conductor); Elizabeth Jennings (poet); Emma Bridgewater (potter); Ursula Buchan (journalist); Sophie Grigson (cookery TV/writer); Louise Williams (violinist); Dame Josephine Barnes (first woman president BMA); Miriam Margolyes (actress); Dame Rose Macaulay (novelist); Anne Pasternak-Slater (academic); Julia Hollander (director); Harriet Hunt (international chess grand master); Joanne van Heningen (architect); Cressida Dick (first female commissioner of the Metropolitan Police); Martha Lane Fox (entrepreneur); Gemma Mortensen (co-founder, More in Common); Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (Royal Society University research fellow and professor in cognitive neuroscience at University College London).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Although in the words of one parent, ‘the parent gene pool is pretty narrow’ (intellectually), school doesn’t churn out a ‘type’. Parents and pupils praise the way in which staff treat them as individuals, giving genuine encouragement to the less confident – including access to the school counsellor as well as intense academic support if girls are struggling with a particular subject. ‘Pupils get to interview prospective teachers so we know we’re going to like them,’ we were told by one. Lower temperature than many girls’ schools, particularly for one so academically successful; it has a genuinely supportive feel. Pupils told us that they are taught ‘repetitively’ what to do if they experience a problem; parents appreciated the education surrounding internet safety and the rule of no phones in school until afternoon break (and then only to arrange transport home) was thought to be fair. Discipline low key with usual (albeit very rare) sanctions for smoking, alcohol or drug use.

Pupils and parents

Typical of the GDST and Oxford itself, a broad and – unusually for a day school – international demographic including medics, academics, those working in innovation and science; more ‘squeezed middle’ than loadsa money (although a bit of that too). One (highly intelligent, professional) parent told us he often felt like the least clever person in the room at parent functions. Ethnically diverse. Girls – whom parents say ‘have strong opinions and are not afraid to share them’ - commute for up to an hour from a radius covering eg the Cotswolds, Banbury and Thame, thanks to a coach network shared with Magdalen College and Headington Schools.

Money matters

Good value for money; fees considerably lower than the local competition thanks to GDST membership, and include day trips and lunch. Variable number of scholarships awarded at 11 and 13 (academic, music and head’s scholarship). Scholarships also awarded at 16 (academic, head’s, art, sport, music and drama). Bursaries, up to 100 per cent of fees (means-tested), available at age 11, 13 and 16.

The last word

There are schools aplenty offering swankier facilities and giving more time to sport, drama, music et al, but for a good value, top-notch academic education for your bright and feisty daughter, with strings of outstanding exam results a given and a down to earth, go-getting feel, look no further.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

The Learning Support department at OHS works with subject teachers to identify and support girls with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). The focus is on empowerment, with tutorials and small group sessions to consolidate strengths and discover strategies to take advantage of these, not only at school but throughout girls’ lives. We recognise that students with SEND are no less likely to achieve the best grades in public exams or be offered places at the most competitive universities, and are proud that the progress made by girls with SEND at Oxford High School matches or exceeds that of their peers. Many girls at Oxford High School speak languages other than English and a few speak English as an additional language (EAL). The Learning Support department offers support to those who require this.

Who came from where


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