Moving to Oxford area: Primary school. Options?

(97 Posts)
NewEnglandMum3 Thu 03-Mar-16 03:03:33

We're moving with our 3 kids (ages 2, 5 & 7) from the US to Oxford or nearby this summer. Is it true that schools in North Oxford (Summertown, Parktown, Jericho) are over subbed and we have almost no chance of sending our school aged kids to the same school even if we're in the catchment area? We feel we may need to give up on that dream.

We've started looking at other areas: Wallingford, even Henley, as reasonable options (unless it's the same story as Oxford) for state schools, my husband will be working in Abingdon.. But also wondering about Chandlings schools and possibly moving to Cunmor, nearby. There is also St Mary's in Henley.

Would appreciate some insight. Perhaps private would be good to ease our kids' transition with smaller classes and wondered if anyone can speak to realistic expectation of Oxford state school spaces vs smaller towns like Henley. What is life like in Henley for families? Any current experience at Chandlings or St Mary's? And thoughts on living in Cunmor, outside Oxford?
Sorry for all the questions! Lots to learn, obviously!

Kanga59 Thu 03-Mar-16 14:46:09

Cumnor is a lovely village near to oxford and it has its own state primary which is at the upper end of good.

The state primaries in central oxford are over subscribed but depending how close you lived to the school, you may get in. You'll need to phone each school to see if they have spaces in the years you need.

Sunningwell state primary is good and has smaller class sizes than the others which are usually 30. You'll need to be in catchment.

Smaller class sizes at dry sandford state primary too.

Wootton village state primary school very good.

Appleton state primary school outstanding report and you'll need to live in Appleton to get in.

I don't know about Wallingford and Henley but it's a big commute from Henley to Abingdon, about an hour allowing for traffic and the country roads.

NewEnglandMum3 Thu 03-Mar-16 17:31:20

Thanks, Kanga. This is really helpful.

I hadn't realized the Henley to Abingdon commute would be so substantial. Have been trying to learn a bit more about Cumnor, online, but unsuccessful - so I'm happy to hear some positive feedback. The proximity to Oxford would be nice. I fear we may run into the same issue with schools being full. The county council office is not too forthcoming in sharing whether we'd have any chance of enrolling both our older kids in the same state school in Oxford. Maybe Cumnor won't be as popular. The North Oxford schools we've spoken to have told us that they are currently full in our kids' years and unless pupils leave, there will be no spaces (and they don't manage the waitlist, so couldn't comment on our chances should spaces become available.)

We are a bit concerned about our kids' transition as school starts nearly a full year earlier in the UK than in the US and the focus on reading early on is not the same in the US. We'll need to find a school that won't overwhelm the children academically, at first, and where the teachers can work with them to get caught up and settled.

Will certainly look into the other villages you've mentioned. We hope to land in a place with a real community, a town/village center and ideally a school that isn't too far.

AgonyBeetle Thu 03-Mar-16 17:53:38

There's also the European School at Culham, just outside Abingdon. That's a properly international setup, and will be geared up for pupils starting at odd times, and having come from different curriculum backgrounds.

North Oxford to Abingdon would be a horrible commute in any case, if you did want to be Oxford based, you be better off to the south of the city.

NewEnglandMum3 Thu 03-Mar-16 18:04:26

Thanks, AgonyBeetle! One can look at the mileage, but hard to know traffic until you're there. A rough commute is the last thing we'll need as we're settling into a new life.
I will look into the Euro school. That's an idea.
Anyone have impressions of Chandlings?
Or can suggest a good town/village on or near the Thames? I thought if we'll be outside of Oxford I'd love to be near the river.

AgonyBeetle Thu 03-Mar-16 18:42:37

The villages around Abingdon are lovely, I wouldn't really look towards Oxford, if work is going to be Abingdon based, it's not a nice commute.

Lots of the village schools will be small enough that they will have space for kids arriving mid-year - schools that don't have enough intake for a full class of 30 in each year will have mixed-age classes, which means there's much more flexibility. Wallingford and Faringdon are pretty market towns, though schools more likely to have a full intake per year group - you'd need to check.

St Hugh's school in Carswell is meant to be good if you want the private-school thing and don't want to go the European school route.

Oxford may not look that far from Abingdon, but the A420 is not a dual carriageway for most of its length, so you will be moving at the speed of the slowest vehicle. And the Oxford ring road is horrid in the rush hour, and even outside rush hour tbh.

AgonyBeetle Thu 03-Mar-16 18:43:12

Wallingford is on the river btw. And picture-postcard pretty as well, at least the town centre.

CMOTDibbler Thu 03-Mar-16 18:49:32

Wallingford is lovely - it is a small town, so doesn't have a massive selection of restaurants etc, but theres a lot going on in terms of sports, clubs etc. No indoor swimming pool though which is a bit of an annoyance.
There is one secondary, a primary (4-11) and a separate infants and junior school. I don't think theres a huge issue with school places.
I grew up there and my parents are still there, and am very fond of it

Kanga59 Thu 03-Mar-16 18:51:21

abingdon is a nice town to live in too of course and the schools are all ok, Thomas reade and rush common the best ones. long furlong and St nics acceptable

fluffypenguinbelly Thu 03-Mar-16 18:57:42

If you wanted to still have the Oxford feel then have a look at Kennington. My friend lives there and she feels like it is a suburb of Oxford. Just a shortish bus ride into the city centre and not far at all from Abingdon. On the river too. I think it's a C of E school and it has a good reputation.

NewEnglandMum3 Thu 03-Mar-16 19:06:57

All good advice - thank you! We visited Wallingford when we were visiting last weekend and we did see loads of families and enjoyed our walk around the center. Hadn't considered Kennington, thanks fluffypenguin! smile
I admit I've heard mixed things about Abingdon lacking something. Haven't been yet, but others say there isn't much in the way of shops and charm. Hope I'm not offending - just what I've heard.
We also visited Wantage - but I do think the appeal of the river near Wallingford is stronger.
Will take a look at the villages, too. Since we're coming from a city (Cambridge US), we were looking for a similar feel, but if we find a small town or village with a lot of life and families - we'll be happy...so long as the school is the right fit, of course! Continue to appreciate all these insights.

fluffypenguinbelly Thu 03-Mar-16 19:10:34

I also have a friend in Wallingford. She is happy there. It has an open air swimming pool right next to the river in the summer months. It's definitely more of a town than village feel but there's plenty to be getting on with!

sausagepoo Thu 03-Mar-16 19:35:53

I love Abingdon - the north is lovely, the river is good, outdoor pool, splash park etc and the town centre is good, oldest town in England if you believe the historians. North Abingdon primary schools are all very good but usually oversubscribed. 10minutes to central Oxford from the north. Buses to Oxford every 5 mins.

MrsHathaway Thu 03-Mar-16 19:59:43

I used to work at the Dragon, north Oxford, and I keep track of it nowadays for interest. It is split for 4-7 and 8-13 on two sites, the latter of which has a mixture of day and boarding.

I find it has a genuine passion for the whole child, which is quite unusual for a prestigious school. For example, the uniform was designed to be practical rather than beautiful, so it isn't plastered in logos and encourages physical play.

I lived for a while in North Oxford, and off Cowley Road when I was paying market rate rent for a while. North Oxford is £££ but great for children as it feels quite villagey and there's plenty of places to walk to. You might well feel very cramped coming from an American house to an Oxford one for the same price.

BathTangle Thu 03-Mar-16 20:06:44

Chandlings is probably quite good for transition from a non-UK school. The Manor in Abingdon is also worth looking at if you have girls (it used to take boys up to age 8 but don't know if it still does).

Long Wittenham (on the river between Wallingford and Abingdon) is a lovely village and has a very good state primary. Also agree look at Europa school in Culham. Not sure what Clifton Hampden primary is like - I believe pretty good?

NewEnglandMum3 Thu 03-Mar-16 21:05:52

Will have to have a closer look at Abingdon and the schools there. Must admit, Wallingford sounds lovely. Next we'll need to see if there is a house to rent near to town and schools. I'm a driver in the US, but not in the UK (yet) and would love to keep driving at a minimum as I have a 2 year old and don't want our days spent in the car to/from school and shops, etc. Will not rule out the villages nearby, however.
I have heard of the Dragon school and thought we might look there since the Oxford state primary schools are oversubbed. But I understand there is an entrance exam and I doubt my children would pass given the fact that they are a year behind due in English/Math to the difference in the US system. Is it true there is compulsory Saturday school? I worry that there is a hard push on academics and my children would feel stressed trying to keep up with their peers.

dickyduckydido Thu 03-Mar-16 21:11:54

Abingdon is a lovely place to live, small enough to be nice but big enough so that everyone doesn't know your business! Not quite as nice in South Abingdon but North Abingdon is nice and a few decent state schools as mentioned above

fastdaytears Thu 03-Mar-16 21:18:22

I live about a mile from Cumnor. It's a lovely village and a really caring school. It's not the most international. Lots of my Brownies and Guides go there and they're really happy. I know some of the lovely teachers too. Girls at Wootton are happy too. North Hinksey is good but the village itself has much less to it than Cumnor does.

Cumnor is on a good bus route into town, though not quite a good as if you come down the hill a bit to Botley (where I am).

Abingdon is nice enough but I don't think there's much of a draw for me. I prefer Witney but I don't know what the schools are like there. It's more cotwoldsy and pretty.

MrsHathaway Thu 03-Mar-16 22:23:00

Yes Saturday school but afternoons tend to be sport sometimes so it's less dense the rest of the week.

My understanding is that the entrance exam tests potential rather than knowledge iyswim. I would say it's absolutely worth a visit.

AgonyBeetle Thu 03-Mar-16 22:23:13

The dragon school is a very special kind of North oxford madness. I suspect the people it suits are looking for that specific academically-driven experience, they are probably not also looking at village primary schools iyswim.

If you want the small-town community-feel, then the dragon is not going to be the place to find it, really.

MrsHathaway Thu 03-Mar-16 22:25:44

Yes, that's true.

But if the OP can afford it she should definitely look at it, even to count it out.

claraschu Thu 03-Mar-16 22:40:48

The Dragon is not particularly academic, but has kids with a wide range of academic abilities. It is a big school, with lots of different sets in each year. It has amazing facilities and opportunities, but is also full of rich and entitled people. My closest English friends sent their 3 kids there, and I saw a lot of unpleasantness...

I moved from Boston to a small Oxfordshire village, and it is very provincial and conservative. If I were going to do it again I would move to Oxford I think. Sorry, that's not particularly helpful, and certainly both Wallingford and Abingdon are very beautiful.

The English system isn't necessarily academically more pushy than US schools are. In some places you might find the opposite.

AKissACuddleAndACheekyFinger Thu 03-Mar-16 22:43:10

If Wallingford is a possible, PLEASE look at RAF Benson Primary. It's a gem that often people don't realise their children can attend because it's on the airbase but it is a county primary school. The classes are smaller than typical (around the 24 mark) and there is a huge amount of money spent on pastoral care. I know so many people whose children have attended (military families) and adored it but it's a complete head scratcher as to why non-military families don't tend to go. You do need a pass to get onto the airbase but it's easily sorted. The website is fab too!

AKissACuddleAndACheekyFinger Thu 03-Mar-16 22:46:07

I meant to point out that, due to the high numbers of military children, RAF Benson is very well equipped to deal with the transition to a new school and between national curriculums-children arrive from Cyprus, Scotland, Germany and the US often.

twofalls Thu 03-Mar-16 23:00:02

I live in Abingdon (south and actually 2 out of 3 state schools here are very good). Hate this obsession with rush common and thomas reade). Anyway, My friends DC go to chandlings and they are really happy with it. If private is your thing it's worth looking at OLA - now totally co-ed I believe.

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