A prep school with an innovative Saturday programme, a very active music department, and a track record of sending girls and boys to some of the UK’s top senior schools.
Founded in 1877 as the Oxford Preparatory School to educate the sons of Oxford University dons (professors), Dragon School has evolved to become a progressive co-ed school with a very international student community representing 30 different nationalities. Today, the Dragon (named in honour of St George) offers a broad curriculum enriched with plenty of music, sport and after-school clubs, an activities-based Saturday programme, and dedicated reasoning and preparation lessons for senior school exams and scholarships.
Old Dragons include Emma Watson, Jack Whitehall, Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick.
With its enviable riverside location, the Dragon is one of the UK’s largest prep schools – it has around 800 students. However, there are hints of a much smaller, family-friendly feel to this school: students take morning ‘Bun Breaks’, senior teachers are known as “Ma” followed by their surname, and a there’s a regular light-hearted podcast hosted by students.
Emma Goldsmith (known as Ma Goldsmith) will take over as Head of Dragon School, Oxford from September 2021. Mrs Goldsmith has knowledge of both prep and senior schools; she was previously Head of Winchester House School, and Deputy Head at Bloxham School where she also worked as Housemistress and set up the first girls’ boarding house. A mother of four, she succeeds Dr Crispin Hyde-Dunn as the 12th Head of the Dragon.
A former English teacher, Mrs Goldsmith says the “future is full of possibilities”, and she has a tough act to follow. Dr Hyde-Dunn was a popular head who had a flair for innovation during his time at the school, when he successfully launched the Dragon QUEST Saturday enrichment programme and flexible boarding options. In a recent podcast where Dragons interviewed their incoming headteacher, ‘Ma Goldsmith’ comes across as very warm, approachable, and down to earth. She talks about her love of the book Wonder, how much she admires Michelle Obama as “she champions the underdog”, and her plans to start sculling again thanks to the school’s riverside location.
Mrs Goldsmith also describes herself as kind, empathetic, and ambitious, as well as a risk-taker. And, when asked by students what makes a happy school, she says:
“I think if people feel that they are valued, that they are listened to, and they feel part of the community, then it's a happy school.”
The Dragon was rated Excellent in its most recent Integrated Inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which took place in 2014.
Learning in the Pre-prep is practical and hands-on, with the school enriching the UK’s Early Years Foundation Stage Programme with additions such as the Muddy Dragons forest school in Reception. In the Prep School, the Dragon curriculum covers the core subjects of English and maths, as well as modern and classical languages, science, humanities, music, FPE (faith, philosophy and ethics), programming, art, drama, design & technology and PE. All students learn French and Latin and, in Years 7 and 8, the most able students can opt to learn German, Spanish or Classical Greek.
The school day runs from 8am to 4.15pm followed by clubs, class sizes are kept small at around 18, and streaming and setting are used in English, maths, science and French so that the school an “individual approach can be offered to every child”. In Year 8, students are set in classes for English and maths to help them prepare for either scholarship exams or the Common Entrance.
In Year 4, students start to prepare for secondary school admissions exams such as the ISEB Common Pre-Test. Many UK Prep schools are now moving away from including prep for the Common Entrance in their curriculum. The Dragon still strongly believes in the need to prepare its students for sitting pre-tests, attending assessment days and having interviews.
“Whilst most senior schools do not wish for pupils to be prepared for the pre-tests, it is clear that performance in these tests is enhanced with practice and familiarisation of the types of questions the pupils may face. To this end, pupils in Years 4, 5 and 6 receive Reasoning lessons to provide this exposure and to prepare them for tests they will have at some point in their Dragon career.”
The school has a dedicated Future Schools’ department to assist students with preparation for exams and interviews. Dragons take a variety of pathways for secondary and move onto more than 30 different secondary schools after sitting school, Common Entrance or scholarship exams.
A highlight of the curriculum has to be the relatively new Dragon QUEST Saturday enrichment programme, which is now attended by around 85% of Year 4-5 students; from September 2021 this will be extended to the whole Prep School, and is included in the tuition fees.
It couldn’t be further from the traditional public school Saturday timetable. Compulsory academic lessons on Saturdays
have been replaced with Fire-Breathing Dragons (firing up Japanese pottery in the kiln), Magical Dragons and The Great Dragon Debate, which are among the broad offering of classes run by teachers. If you want your child to explore something new, spend time in the great outdoors, and balance academics with creativity and sport, then the Saturday programme at the Dragon is a top contender.
Music is brought to the fore at the Dragon and there are opportunities for students to perform in solos through to major musical productions and a ‘Battle of the Bands’. There are also annual drama and musical productions across the school. All children in Years 4 and 5 take part in their year group choir; there’s a large number of students entered for ABRSM, Trinity, LCM and Rockschool exams (and a strong track record of 40% achieving distinctions); and there are music lessons in both the traditional and the more unusual instruments like the harp and the bagpipes.
Sports facilities at the Dragon include an indoor 25m swimming pool, three all-weather pitches, a gymnasium (marked for badminton, basketball, indoor football, netball, hockey, badminton and volleyball), and eight acres of playing fields.
The school offers choice and variety in sport with a focus on games and fun, as well as the more traditional sports and competitive activities, which helps to encourage participation from all students. PE lessons focus on athletics, gymnastics and dance, and students have swim lessons from Year 4; games lessons include rugby, hockey, football, netball, cricket, tennis, table tennis, athletics, cross country, swimming, riding, golf, sculling, squash, fencing, judo, skiing, badminton, shooting, lacrosse and polo. The school takes full advantage of its proximity to the River Cherwell by adding rowing to the curriculum, and the annual Dragon Regatta is a highlight of the school calendar.
The school encourages plenty of friendly competition through inter-school matches and the keenly contested Skipper Shield competition between Forms, as well as matches against other schools.
The school offers a wide choice of activities in sport, music, art, drama and dance as well as gardening, textiles and language clubs as part of its timetabled Activities Programme, which runs in the last hour of the school day. There’s also a Friday afternoon lecture programme, Spectrum, which has a diverse line-up of speakers who have included hedgehog-loving ecologist Hugh Warwick, social entrepreneur Sanderson Jones and the Northern Irish adventurer, filmmaker and author Leon McCarron.
School trips are frequent, varied and international; they range from an art scholars’ trip to St Ives in Cornwall and a South African cricket tour to school exchange trips to New York and Japan; incoming headteacher has also hinted at plans to offer a sports tour to Japan as well.
The Dragon School offers a choice of full, weekly and flexi boarding from Year 4. Students live with dedicated houseparents in one of 10 family-style boarding houses; Upper School students also have the benefit of Academic Tutors to guide them both pastorally and academically throughout their final two years at the Dragon.
All boarding houses are located close to the main school buildings; there are two Junior Girls’ Houses and two Junior Boys’ Houses, with a maximum of 25 children each, as well as two Senior Girls’ Houses and two Senior Boys’ Houses.
The Dragon has a liberal weekend policy. All weekends, except for the first and last weekend of term, are ‘Open’ Weekends, meaning boarders can go home on Friday evening and return on Sunday evening or Monday morning. There are two ‘Exeat’ Weekends every term when all students leave campus to go home or stay with guardians.
Located in Oxford, the Dragon has two dedicated campuses just a mile apart – the Pre-Prep and the riverside Prep campus – both in leafy Summertown, which is north of Oxford. As well as playing fields, there are separate year group teaching and play areas, and a wide range of specialist teaching facilities.
Academic facilities in the Prep School include five dedicated ICT suites, library, science laboratories, art studios and kitchen facilities for pottery, textiles, design technology and cookery, The Rink indoor studio space for dance and drama, and Lynam Hall which hosts the bi-weekly assembly and in-school performances. There is also a climbing wall, cricket pavilion and the school’s very own boathouse.
The usual points of entry to the Pre-prep are Reception and Year 3; in the Prep school students typically join in Year 4 and 5.
Annual fees at the Dragon start at £12,348 for Pre-prep. Annual boarding fees for Years 4-8 are £31,686, annual day fees are £21,768.
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