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‘The academic temperature is rising’ though school will remain ‘proudly holistic’. Parents love the ability to ‘dip in and out of boarding’ – truly flexible. Boarding houses run with extraordinary efficiency. A lovely innocent atmosphere to the place – teenagers not growing up too fast. It’s not old-fashioned (or at least, not in a bad way), but definitely wholesome. The buzz around the weekly...

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What the school says...

The Oratory is an HMC coeducational independent day and boarding school for pupils aged 11 to 18. Located in a 100-acre South Oxfordshire countryside estate near Henley-on-Thames, we offer the best of both worlds, with easily accessible routes to London, yet breathtaking surroundings. This allows us to provide fantastic sporting facilities such as a 25m swimming pool, 9 hole golf course, squash courts, 6 lawn tennis courts, a real tennis court (1 of 5 schools in the country to have one), rolling rugby, cricket and football pitches and our own boathouse on the River Thames.

Our teaching is second to none and we are celebrating another year of excellent exam results. At A Level 61% of results were A* - A grade; for a school with a broad intake and spread of ability these are results that we are immensely proud of. Our value added results place the school in the top 3% of schools nationally for 2020.

However our focus is on developing young people in a much broader and deeper sense than exam results alone can demonstrate. We are a genuine all-round school, we believe in nurturing our pupils to achieve their very best in whatever it is they set out to do. Head Master, Joe Smith, is a great advocate of this ethos, ensuring that every pupils fulfils his or her potential in and far beyond the classroom. This is why we have such varied co-curricular activities, available to help each pupil realise their passion.

We are a Catholic school, and welcome pupils of all faiths or none into our supportive community where pupils from all backgrounds are inspired to learn and grow. We take time to make sure each and every pupil is a known and valued member of the school. As our ISI report states, we are “highly successful in creating an atmosphere of friendship, cheerfulness and collegiality.”

Whether you’re looking for boarding, day, weekly or flexi options, we offer it all. We are happy to discuss any transport requirements and will work hard to cater to your individual needs.

Our admissions procedure is simple. Once you’ve filled out a registration form we maintain constant communication, aiming for a seamless and stress-free process. Your son or daughter will be invited to sit an 11+ or 13+ ISEB entrance exam in the upcoming months and we would look to offer places soon after. Should they have particular talents academically or in sport, art or drama, they may be eligible for one of our scholarships.

We’d be more than happy to show you around our wonderful school so do not hesitate to get in touch.
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Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.


Unusual sports

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




What The Good Schools Guide says

Head Master

Since September 2023, Dr Julian Murphy. Previously head of Loughborough Amherst (also a co-ed Catholic school) for seven years. Prior to that, he was director of studies at Woldingham School. He was educated at Birkbeck College and the University of Oxford.

At Loughborough Amherst he was responsible for overseeing the transition of a girls’ day school to a co-ed boarding school. He increased pupil numbers by 70 per cent, broadened the school’s extracurricular offering and raised academic results at GCSE and A level.

His wife Karen is head of art at Magdalen College School in Oxford and they have two children. Their daughter is a pupil at the Oratory and their son attends a local prep school.


Gently selective, with 30 places at 11+, 45 at 13+ and 20 at 16+. The 11+ involves online test, written maths and English. ISEB pre-test in year 6 for 13+ hopefuls with offers conditional on CE. At 16+, applicants are interviewed by a senior member of staff and complete an online assessment test. They also need a minimum grade 4 in English and maths at GCSE/IGCSE and a minimum grade 6 in the subjects they hope to study at A level. Separate scholarship papers at 13+ and 16+. Pupils come from a range of local primaries and preps at 11+ and 13+. Year 12 intake from nearby single-sex options, state and independent. Numbers currently up to 360 after a few precarious years; aim is to hit 450.

Part of the same association as the Oratory Prep until the latter was sold to private equity in 2019. The schools remain friendly but the prep is not an official feeder and there are no formal links.


Some leave after GCSE to bigger sixth forms (23 per cent in 2023). Half of year 13s to Russell Group and the rest all over. Exeter, Nottingham Trent, Oxford Brookes popular with ones and twos to Warwick, Bristol, UCL. No Oxbridge for years now, but application numbers slowly rising - due an offer soon? Significant minority to art or design foundations and degrees and a few abroad, including Duke University in North Carolina, Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and the University of Melbourne in 2023.

Latest results

In 2023, 35 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 27 per cent A*/A at A level (57 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 42 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 34 per cent A*/A at A level (55 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

‘The academic temperature is rising,’ we were told, though the school will remain ‘proudly holistic'. Classes average 15 in years 7 to 9, up to about 20 at GCSE. RS compulsory at GCSE; computer science, Latin and ancient Greek offered (‘the fact that we’ve kept Latin tells you something about our self-image’).

Rigorous monitoring. Parents praised quarterly reporting system (not something actively raised with us, usually) - ‘you can track their progress very easily', ‘not too much jargon’ etc. ‘You always know who you need to contact,' parents also told us, with tutors and houseparents easily reached. Pupils aware of setting but not fazed by it - ‘Mine’s in the bottom maths group and he’s just pleased that he gets lots of help.' School ‘very quick’ to respond to concerns or questions - ‘really proactive in talking it through with us and outlining a plan of how they could support her'. Supportive environment universally appreciated - ‘he’s so happy; his peers elsewhere are very, very stressed’; ‘academically it’s been amazing, his flight path is totally different from what it would’ve been’.

‘Some teachers are brilliant,' we heard, particularly the newer faces. The school has made good recruiting decisions, particularly in management and core academic subjects. ‘Common room is almost unrecognisable,' we were told, with newbies experienced in transitioning to co-ed and academic tracking.

Most popular and successful A level is art. Photography and 3D design also offered. Business and maths attract steady numbers. Results reflect broad intake: a healthy smattering of A*s but lots of As, Bs, Cs too. Latin, Greek, drama, PE, psychology all offered – wide range for a small school. Busy academic life beyond curriculum: silver awards recently in RSC Olympiad and Cambridge Chemistry Challenge. Everyone follows Loquitur programme of enrichment, volunteering, careers talks and PSHE, including cookery lessons and managing finances. Investment in new sixth form annexe, due for completion soon, should boost retention into year 12.

Saturday school recently reviewed but still going strong. ‘It took mine a while to get used to it, but they come home feeling great after a big match,' said one mum. But although school has recently introduced new later start time on a Saturday it doesn’t feel like much of a lie-in to a teenager: fine for boarders, less popular among day families. 'It’s a hell of a long week,' said one parent.

Learning support and SEN

Around 20 per cent on SEN register, with school supporting mild to moderate learning difficulties. Full-time SENCo and team of part-timers deliver in-class support or sessions in the learning support department. Progress shared with relevant teaching staff: parents report lots of joined-up thinking. Ten per cent receive EAL support, including timetabled one-to-one lessons; pupils can be prepared for IELTS and second language IGCSE.

The arts and extracurricular

Art department a hive of energy, where everybody finds their niche. The director of art and design would happily have kept us there all day showing off the brilliant stuff that’s going on - ‘He’s so great,’ enthused one pupil. His philosophy? ‘Anyone can learn to draw, we get them all involved.' We got a demonstration of the camera obscura in the photography studio and saw the clay room, 3D room and print studio in action, properly kitted out and plastered with lively student work. We enjoyed bold, Banksy-style political statements, a feistier side to Oratorians than we saw elsewhere (anti-Boris, anti-capitalism, anti-lockdown). ‘There’s no way he’d have done art before – but it’s really fun there,' said one mum.

Music also important, with 100 peripatetic music lessons taking place each week. Schola Cantorum (main choir) and Consort (by audition) perform regularly throughout the year. We heard beautiful, resonant voices ringing out through the chapel in four parts. Strong jazz presence – big band seriously funky – and we saw the corps of drums rehearsing, too, using just sticks on desks but making an irresistibly toe-tapping noise. Healthy GCSE music numbers.

Most complete bronze DofE though numbers drop at silver and gold. CCF also popular, among girls as well as boys. Dance studio being developed – sixth formers currently brushing up their ballroom dancing in anticipation of upcoming ball.

Busy LAMDA timetable. Steady take-up of GCSE and A level drama. Large theatre hosted glamorous post-lockdown production of Bugsy Malone; many splurge guns featured. Lots of opportunities for involvement behind the scenes if stage doesn’t appeal.


A huge part of school life. ‘It used to be all about rugby,' says director of sport, but things are moving on. Nonetheless rugby still looms very large, along with cricket and girls’ hockey. We wondered how it was possible given small size. ‘Often A teams are unbeaten, but B or C teams won’t be as strong,' said one mum whose ‘sport-obsessed’ son has ‘thrived’. Golf very successful too.

Lots of pupils play at club level outside school, particularly London Irish RFC - school not squeamish (‘we’re benefiting’). ‘They accommodate talent,' say parents. Two recent leavers play professional rugby, and Sir Ian McGeechan, Sir Clive Woodward and Andrew Triggs-Hodge OBE all gave virtual talks during lockdown. Annual tour to Ireland and sometimes to sunnier climes.

Girls’ sport shines. U14A cricketers captained by a girl and both netball and hockey teams won first ever fixtures. Positive, can-do attitude, with coaches having seized the opportunity to train and train while external fixtures were off due to Covid. Staff lead by example - ‘On Saturday it was hammering it down but they were all out there in their waterproofs.' As girl numbers grow, opportunities will present themselves to hire further specialist coaches, says school.

Has long punched above its weight in racket sports (perhaps since 1896 when alumnus John Pius Boland won a tennis gold at the first modern Olympics). Nowadays, one of only five schools nationally that offer real tennis. Coached by reigning ladies world champion, pupils give as good as they get against much bigger boarding schools. We watched year 8s whacking balls with great gusto on the indoor court. Outdoor court sits in a blissful walled garden. Squash and badminton also very active. It’s a clever tactic - racket sports scoop up those talented sportspeople less keen on muddy pitches.

Boathouse at Hardwick and erg room on site (‘Pain is only temporary but victory is forever,’ reads one of the motivational quotes on the wall). Padel courts (tennis/squash hybrid, since you ask) and full-size Astro in the pipeline. Horseriding at nearby Checkendon.

Sporty culture. Big crowds, supportive atmosphere and sideline BBQs for major fixtures. For one girl with ‘ADHD tendencies, playing an hour of sport every day really calms her'. Parents thought that OS may not be the right place for someone who is ‘awful’ at sport – it’s a bit of a social currency here. Most find their niche, though, whether on pitch, court or river.


Parents love the ability to ‘dip in and out of boarding’ – truly flexible. Boarding houses run with extraordinary efficiency. Flexi boarders book in as late as that morning – somehow staff maintain a grip on who’s in which bed (we hope). ‘Blue-chip organisation,' say parents. Boarding staff praised for speed of response (‘she must have email built into her brain’) and parents given mobile numbers, meaning house mums and dads are ‘just a WhatsApp away’. Weekly or full boarders tend to come from overseas, particularly Mexico and Spain (school limits numbers).

A boarding school week, Monday to Saturday. Pupils do majority of prep in school. Flexi boarding allows everyone to join in without worrying about getting home. School has become ‘more day, more local' but most seem to do at least a night here or there.

Boarding houses clean and warm, not swish. Rooms well appointed with lots of clever storage and bunks in the bigger dorms. Common rooms bright and tidy with kitchens dotted around the houses. A little institutional, we felt, but pupils happy and comfortable. Girls’ house felt cosy and welcoming, more so than the boys’ house we saw, though lots is being done there to encourage camaraderie, starting with a tuck shop. Junior boarding house – for year 7 and 8 boys – due to be refurbished imminently.

Ethos and heritage

Pretty Queen Anne house, added to over the years. Sits on edge of Woodcote village – unremarkable but for its claim to be the second-highest place in the south Chilterns – a dubious brag but nonetheless makes for some lovely views over the hills. The 100-acre site creates sense of space and quiet. Tidy, well-kept gardens and grounds look out onto open countryside - very pleasant, green, unintimidating surroundings. Parents say that facilities are ‘amazing', ‘really high spec', ‘nicely done'. They’re well loved, and some areas could use a lick of paint - definitely a school rather than a swanky hotel (as you can find elsewhere), though parents like that about it.

Catholicism ‘part and parcel of school life', say parents, but not in an evangelical way. Old chapel is charming, all old beams and wooden pews. Two priests on staff described as ‘really good role models'. ‘We’ve tried to soften the tone in terms of the Catholic thing – a Catholic education is good principles, looking for Christ in every child and never writing them off,' explain staff. School’s patron saint is St Philip Neri, he points out, better known as the apostle of joy - ‘It’s meant to be fun, not austere or forbidding.' ‘Doesn’t matter if you’re not Christian,' parents tell us - ‘everyone enjoys the bells and smells at mass.' Catholicism also inspires more links with local state schools, with OS finding partners in the diocese with which to share UCAS sessions, co-curricular days etc. Covid put this on hold but it’s on its way.

Parents have really welcomed the move to co-ed - it seems to have gone more smoothly than anyone dared hope. ‘I was expecting there to be a bit of "bear with us, we’re finding our feet",' says one mum, ‘but they have it sorted.' Staff, pupils and parents all tell us that it’s hard now to think of the girls not being there and year groups are evening out in terms of numbers. Their boarding house, Wootten, is in a very old part of the school, so feels central and purposeful, not a bolt-on. A ‘sisterhood’ has developed here (perhaps that intimacy will fade as numbers grow), with a real sense of togetherness for these ‘pioneers', as they are known. ‘It’s a very special time to have joined as a girl, and my daughters wouldn’t have it any other way,' says one mum who had been worried about them being guinea pigs.

A lovely innocent atmosphere to the place – teenagers not growing up too fast. It’s not old-fashioned (or at least, not in a bad way), but definitely wholesome. The buzz around the weekly Rose Bowl competition sums it up for us: it’s the place to be on a Monday night with houses competing in everything from badminton to tug-of-war. Everybody gets involved - ‘That boy who’s never going to represent the school, he’s out there on a Monday night competing and participating,' said one delighted teacher. It’s a big deal, agree parents - ‘Since joining the school, she’s excited about hanging out at the pavilion after the Rose Bowl, rather than worrying about who’s invited to which party on a Saturday night.’ Speaking of which, typical birthday parties are low-key, not too sophisticated and certainly not blingy, with parents often welcome to hang around rather than the ‘drop and run’ culture found elsewhere.

Alumni include England rugby international Danny Cipriani, poet Hilaire Belloc, actor Jonathan Bailey and cricketer Benny Howell.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

School nurse ‘warm and caring', say parents. Teachers approachable and accessible. Wellbeing built into the curriculum. Going co-ed has given the school the chance to ensure that pastoral approach is ‘different, inclusive, diverse’ and put in place new systems to track concerns. PSHE sessions address respect and tolerance; pupils shocked by Everyone's Invited website but say that relations between boys and girls here are balanced.

Food fine, not groundbreaking. Pupils seem okay with it, though some parents describe it as ‘a bit dated’ and wonder if teenagers could cope with something more challenging than fish fingers. Pupils have access to kitchens in houses – toast, jam, scones, cereal – during the school day. No one comes home hungry.

Where discipline is required, school acts swiftly and decisively, calling parents in as appropriate. Carrot used more than stick, though, and success celebrated. Prizegiving a ‘lovely experience’, even when online. ‘They are very good at giving rewards for going above and beyond in anything,' says one mum, pleased that ‘even my more chaotic child has already had three this term'. House cup awarded to student who demonstrates the school’s core values.

Uniform straightforward. Expectation is that pupils are smart, though enforcement seems fairly relaxed - one mum pleased that her daughter ‘doesn’t get pulled up for wearing a couple of bracelets', while another was jokingly horrified that hers ‘sometimes comes home looking like a barmaid'. Some boys rocking trendy haircuts, which we took as a good sign about unstuffiness – ‘Happiness is more important than hair length,' confirm staff.

Pupils and parents

Children of farmers, local businessmen and London commuters mix happily. Minibuses bring them in from as far as Oxford, Newbury and High Wycombe, though majority live nearby. ‘Quite a local catchment,' say parents, ‘so you get a sense of community.’ ‘There are three families in our village - you wouldn’t get that elsewhere.’ An exceptionally welcoming crowd, from what we can gather – ‘The first time we met we all swapped numbers and I immediately had back-ups for the school run.’ ‘There’s a nice social buzz around the school; at our other son’s school, we never saw anyone.' ‘Everybody gets out of the car and says hello at drop-off.' Very multicultural, particularly given the area - ‘much more so than my other son’s school even aspires to be'. Most families dual-income and not interested in money and who has it. Lots have been to village primaries nearby. Much more low-key than many of the glossier schools on the south Oxfordshire-Berkshire scene - ‘The cars in the car park are noticeably muddier at OS,’ we hear.

Active PA, known as FOS. Newbies thrilled to discover that cheese and wine night was ‘literally cheese and wine rather than an opportunity for the head to schmooze us'.

Money matters

Scholarships (10 per cent remission) or exhibitions (five per cent) available for academics, sport, art and design, music and drama. Means-tested bursaries available as well as significant discount on boarding for service families.

The last word

Families in this area are spoilt for choice and until recently, the Oratory was not a go-er. Now, ‘We’re back to our A game,’ say staff. Parents agree - ‘it’s like a new school'; ‘we all want to be on board'; 'they’re excited, so we’re excited – it’s a joy to be a part of that'. A happy little school with old-fashioned values and a modern approach that has emerged from a rough patch with its sights set firmly on the future. With excellent leadership and now girls on board too, the Oratory seems to be thriving.

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

Pupils at The Oratory School with special educational and disability needs are inclusively educated in small nurturing classrooms. Teaching techniques and resources are differentiated within the classroom to ensure all pupils achieve their full potential. However, we do recognise that although the boys may be academically able, they may also require additional support because they have a learning difficulty. The Curriculum Support department at the school provides excellent provision for these pupils and consists of qualified, specialist teachers. The four broad ‘areas of need’ which are supported in the department are defined as: communication and interaction; cognition and learning; social, emotional and mental health difficulties; and sensory and physical needs. Support is personalised and targeted and there is a close relationship between Curriculum Support teachers and the subject teachers. We also work in partnership with a variety of support services including speech and language therapists and educational psychologists. The Oratory School provides high quality education for pupils with these requirements, ensuring that their educational needs are met and that they all reach their potential within a caring and supportive environment. There is an additional charge if extra provision is made.

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
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment Y
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty Y
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

Who came from where

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