The all-round nature of an education at this East Midlands school focuses on developing independent learners, offering superb opportunities in the arts and sport, and allowing day students to enjoy the extra learning opportunities and community spirit that comes with boarding.
Located in a green and leafy campus in the centre of a small market town, this co-ed boarding and day school for 10–18 year olds has just over 1,000 students. 50% are boarders, either full or weekly boarding for two or three nights each week; around 20% of students comes from overseas.
Both day and boarding students benefit from the same extensive programme of activities and opportunities. As the school says, “Our aim is to offer our day pupils exactly the same experience as a boarder but without the beds!”
So, if your child is a day student here, they are welcome to join the boarders for breakfast in the Barraclough at 7.30am, and they can stay for supper and supervised prep until 7.45pm. They also have access to their House, each of which have large common rooms, a kitchen, study areas including a base for each student, and changing facilities. (The best part, this extended day comes at no extra charge.)
In Form 7, their final year, girls move to Round House and boys to School House, where they experience a more university-oriented lifestyle. It’s also their opportunity to enjoy some treasured school traditions, from tea and cake on Tuesday afternoons to playing the century-old game of Quad Cricket.
The school is divided into the Lower School (Lower One and Forms 1 and 2), Middle School (Forms 3,4 and 5) and Upper School (Forms 6 and 7); The Lower School is located on a separate Jerwoods campus. It’s a Christian school that welcomes students of all faiths; the school chapel is at the heart of the school, where a weekly Congregational practice or ‘Congo’, as it is affectionately known, is said to “fill the rafters with song”.
Henry Price, previously head of Wellington School, Somerset, took over as head in 2019. He says:
“At Oakham School education takes place both in and outside of the classroom. Examination results do matter, but our core purpose is to support our children to be healthy and happy and offer them an all-round education.”
There are plenty of horizon-stretching experiences here, as well as a wide choice of subjects at GCSE and A Level, which is one of the benefits of having a larger student body of 1,000-plus students. ISI inspectors highlighted one of the school’s strengths, saying: “Excellent achievement in activities is typified by national success in many sports by both individuals and teams, and by very high standards in creative and performing arts.”
Oakham was rated Excellent in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality report (2019).
Free from the constraints of the UK national curriculum, Oakham has pioneered a bespoke curriculum that is specifically focused on developing learning through inquiry. With an education that is built on the belief that “children learn best by finding out for themselves”, Oakham has integrated its very own FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) into all areas of learning. This encourages students to ask the right questions, do their own research, and assess the evidence. An example of this sees Forms 1-3 students learn how to define a computer by researching and answering the question ‘is my brain a computer?’.
Shortlisted for a TES Strategic Education Award Initiative in 2020, FOSIL depends heavily on both the enthusiasm of the school’s teachers – one describes it as being “integral to the way one teaches every lesson of every day” – and on the school’s excellent library. The vast Smallbone Library, spread over two floors and home to more than 30,000 books, has a large team of qualified librarians and library assistants.
While Lower School students are taught on the separate Jerwoods campus, they still benefit from being taught by subject specialists for the creative and performing arts subjects, in PE and science – and they have the use of all facilities on the main campus. They follow Oakham’s Junior Science Programme, which includes all three pure sciences weaved into one. An education here starts with a Learning Camp for Form 1 (11+) students, who head out of Oakham for two days of camping, solving problems and facing challenges individually and in teams.
Oakham is currently a candidate for the IB Middle Years Programme, which it has been following as the basis for its Form 3-5 curriculum since 2018. As well as preparing those students well for the IBDP, the MYP fits in with the school’s focus on developing “creative, critical and reflective thinkers”. In Forms 4 and 5 most students study 10 subjects at GCSE or IGCSE, and there is a wide choice of 26 subjects to choose from.
The free choice between A Levels and the IB in the Upper School is a distinctive feature of the school; it offers a wide range of subjects in both programmes, as well as BTECs in Sport Science and Business. Around a third of students here take the IB pathway.
With the exception of Lower One, everyone has lessons on Saturday mornings.
The sports programme at Oakham is positive and inclusive with plenty of emphasis on enjoyment and well-being, although it does fare very well in terms of trophies too. It’s long been a well-recognised training ground for national squads, and last year over 100 students competed in national finals in over 10 different sports. A special mention goes to Oakham's girl’s and boy’s hockey teams, which are consistently in the UK Top 3.
The school has some impressive sporting facilities, including 40 acres of grass pitches, two floodlit all-weather pitches, multi-purpose sports hall, squash and fives courts, and a cricket ground that’s also used for county matches.
Sport Science has become a popular option at GCSE, A Level and the IB, and the school is well equipped to teach both on the pitch and in its dedicated sports science laboratory. There’s also a full-time strength and conditioning coach for the school’s elite athletes.
There is a huge choice of sports on offer – for both recreation and competition – from target rifle shooting at the school's purpose-built 25m indoor range and lacrosse on the sports pitch to sailing on the nearby Rutland Water (where it has its one fleet of sailboats) and golf at a local Open qualifying course.
The arts are far from sidelined, and students are offered many opportunities to pursue art, drama and music in many forms. As well as teaching the arts to everyone well into the middle school, Oakham has made it the “backbone” of the school’s extra-curricular programme.
The school has its own Queen Elizabeth Theatre, dance studio and an art gallery (a beautiful stone building that was previously a workhouse for prisoners); students take part in over 80 concerts every year; and there are opportunities to sit exams ranging from ABRSM and rock school to LAMDA. More than 50% of students play an instrument here; the school’s love for music also reaches the community with students performing weekly lunchtime recitals in a local chapel. And the support for its students is far-reaching; last year, for example, Oakham hired a voice and dialect coach to run a workshop for students performing in The Cripple of Inishmaan.
The extra-curricular programme is described as a “cornerstone of life at Oakham”. There’s the academic side, with departments running the biology dissection club and a fun club in economics, as well as a strong programme for scholars with a very academic focus. The school has repeatedly won TeenTech, an annual STEM competition for schools, which has become another popular after-school activity.
There are county sports, where students can try their hand at pistol shooting, archery and falconry, and some more unusual activities such as learning to fly a Cessna 150. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme is hugely popular here, with very high numbers attaining the Gold award, and so is the Combined Cadet Force. The school’s most senior students can also sign up for an upper school carousel of five activities ranging from cooking to basic finance to prepare students for life beyond college.
In 2020, 61% of students achieved 9/7 at I/GCSE; 55% scored A*/A at A Level, and 78% A* or B. The average score in the IB was of 36.7. This was of course an unprecedented year when all exams were cancelled. By comparison, in 2019, when exams did take place as normal, 52% scored 9/7 at I/GCSE; 38% A*/A at A Level (64% A*/B); and the average IB score was 35.4.
Results in IGCSE physical education, English language and literature, mathematics, and science double award have been higher than worldwide norms.
In terms of leavers, 91% of students go on to a UK university – and the most popular university courses in 2020 were business and economics, engineering, history, geography, modern languages, medicine and politics. Students are offered advice on applying to universities worldwide and a Yale graduate is appointed every year to assist students looking for a US university place.
To some Oakham may look uninspiring as it doesn’t have the beautiful architecture of many UK private schools. However, look closer to see a large campus with well-maintained facilities in the heart of Oakham, which gives students all the facilities of a charming market town on their doorstep. This is a school with plenty of character; as it has grown, it has moved into and converted buildings in the town ranging from a former prison workhouse to a police station.
As mentioned before, there are extensive arts and sports facilities. On the academic side, there’s a very well-equipped design and technology department with CAD software, a 3D printer, and CNC machinery; in 2020 this facility was used to produce tens of thousands of visors for healthcare workers during the first lockdown.
The school has 12 boarding houses and four-day houses. Pupils in Forms 6 to 8 are in one of four houses that include boarding and day pupils, and those in Form 7 belong to one of two houses that include both day pupils and boarders.
Oakham is a selective school, and students entering at 10+, 11+ and 12+ must take an entrance assessment including a written English paper, short skills-testing exercise, and online diagnostic test covering Maths, English, verbal & non-verbal reasoning skills. Children will also have an interview with a Housemaster/mistress or the Head of Lower School. Students joining Oakham in the Lower School are not required to sit entrance exams to move up to the Middle School at 13+.
Annual tuition fees for day students are £17,685 for Lower One, £19,405 for Forms 1 & 2, and £21,895 for the Middle and Upper School.
The school offers a ranger of academic, arts and sport scholarships to 13+ and 16+ entrants.
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