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Moving to Oxford - school catchment advice please

(19 Posts)
redjumper Tue 14-Feb-17 13:54:17

We're moving to Oxford this year, my husband will be working in the city centre or commuting to London by train.
I'm looking for advice on a nice family friendly area to move to in the catchment area of a very good secondary school. All I know about schools is what I've read in the Times Good School Guide which lists Cheney, Cherwell and Matthew Arnold in the top 500. I don't know about schools in the areas outside of Oxford either. Our children are young at the moment so primary school is also a consideration as well as parks etc. But being in the catchment of a very good secondary school is the main consideration, private school is out of the question given house prices and 3 children. However we do have a good budget for a 3/4 bed house - £800k. We don't mind being in the city, suburbs or a countryside village as long as there are some facilities e.g. Cafes, playgroups etc. And that we can get into Oxford by public transport or bike.
Please be honest and frank as you would be to a friend, I don't know anyone in Oxford to ask in real life. Anyone who gets insulted about comments made about rough areas/sweeping generalisations will be ignored.

twinklyrach Tue 14-Feb-17 15:42:43

Hi! I don't know an awful lot about the secondaries but I do know that the catchment area for Cherwell is ludicrously small. But you have a big budget even for Oxford so you may well find it doable. Summertown is lovely.

Matthew Arnold also has a V good reputation though it's definitely more out in the sticks. Right side of Oxford for the trains though.

Cheney has a mixed-ish reputation but everyone I know is happy with it. It's our catchment secondary as we live in Headington and I adore the area. There's absolutely loads going on for young families and honestly I wouldn't want to love anywhere else. My husband works in London too but gets the X90 coach service.

twinklyrach Tue 14-Feb-17 15:43:07

Love anywhere else, even!

Oxfordy Tue 14-Feb-17 15:51:50

I hear great things about Cherwell from all from all friends who already have kids there. Cherwell catchment is really squeezed the last couple of years; kids from the Marston side, and I think down in Grandpont too, are not getting places despite being in catchment. Wolvercote send to have been fine.

The plan is for a new free school run by the MAT that runs Cherwell (Swan School), but that will be at least 2018, and it's still not been determined where that will be sited.

So: def look at Cherwell, but ask the questions about which bits of catchment aren't getting the places.

Zimbolino Tue 14-Feb-17 20:11:57

In fact, if you want guaranteed Cherwell entry, Wolvercote is the place to live, the primary school gets preferential places. On the other hand, Wolvercote primary is probably full to bursting, with the next closest option being Cuttleslowe which has a more mixed intake.

Oxfordy Wed 15-Feb-17 07:36:47

Yes, rare to get places further up the school at Wolvercote. Politely put re Cutteslowe, Zimbolino; but despite the mixed intake, it's seen as a really good school now.

Zimbolino Wed 15-Feb-17 17:02:31

To be fair, the only things I know about Cuttleslowe come from a friend who worked there 6 years ago, and I know schools can change a lot in that time.

Arius Thu 16-Feb-17 15:03:32

Are your children still below school age? I ask as it is important for the Q of whether you would be likely to get primary places and also how long it will be until you get to secondary school. The difficulty with planning like this is, of course, that schools can change dramatically over the time it takes for your child to get to them. We researched schools very carefully buying our last house when DD was a baby. We bought in a catchment of a (primary) school that had always been OFSTED good or above, had a good local reputation and had SATS stats etc that all looked good. Four years later when DD was in reception it went into special measures and she had an utterly miserable time. Of course, hopefully that won't happen to you but I would be careful about making the secondary school the major factor if that's going to be something that is mainly relevant 10 years into the future.

redjumper Sun 19-Feb-17 19:22:05

Oh dear sorry to hear you had that experience with schools. I guess you can only do what looks best at the time. Where we live in Yorkshire at the moment has a lovely village primary school but the only secondary school we can use is not good at all so we've been constantly looking for other villages to move to with better secondary school options.
My eldest is starting receotion this year so we would be moving after the applications process and maybe after September. But my next two children would be eligible through the applications process. It is a really important question though. My thoughts at the moment are to identify a catchment area of a good high school as they aren't as easy to find, then try and find a fairly good primary school within it which we stand a chance of getting into.
We're also interested in Oxfordshire villages which are in the catchment of good secondaries? Any suggestions? Thanks so much for your help so far

Arius Sun 19-Feb-17 19:27:41

For villages. Probably too far out (but maybe not if your DH is commuting) and only works for girls but Didcot Girls has a great reputation. Also St Bartholomews' in Eynsham is 'outstanding' and supposed to be very caring. St Alfred's in Wantage. Oxford traffic can be awful so living out and commuting can be an issue.

twinklyrach Sun 19-Feb-17 20:21:23

Eynsham is lovely. My boss lives there and has children at Eynsham Primary and Bartholomew and is very happy with them both. However A40 traffic in the morning is hellish; my Eynsham-dwelling colleagues commute into Oxford by bike.

What about Thame? Lord Willliams' secondary is rated Outstanding (usual caveats re Ofsted apply) and Haddenham & Thame Parkway goes to London Marylebone (and Oxford the other way, including the new Oxford Parkway station). Just looked up the catchment area for Lord Williams' and it's huge and includes Tetsworth which is a glorious part of the world; I've been to forest school there a lot.

redjumper Sun 19-Feb-17 20:38:19

They sound like fantastic tips so we'll definitely look at those areas. I think my DH would commute by bike or scooter if it's not too far. Or train if that's possible so hopefully we could work round traffic issues.

Arius Sun 19-Feb-17 20:52:54

Of the three schools that you name in your OP I have to say that I would have put Cheney as a cut below the others BUT I should say that's just based on results (GCSE consistently quite a bit below the others), reputation and the experience of friends who taught there a while ago. Not that that is to say it is a bad school at all (and I am quite prepared for others to say how fab it is). Just that if you have a very open choice of where to go then I wouldn't have said that being in Cheney catchment was a major draw.

On the other two. Cherwell probably has a better rep but the results are fairly comparable. If you are trying to buy a house that you are fairly certain will be in catchment in 7 years time then you are going to want to be quite close to those schools esp as there is a lot of building planned. I think you will get much more garden and space for your money near Matthew Arnold than Cherwell. E.g. Arnold or Cherwell. And this for Cheney for comparison.

Someone up thread said that Matthew Arnold was more in the sticks but they are all 2 or 3 miles from the centre, depending on exactly where you are going. There is more going on in Summertown and nicer shops etc than Botley, though there is a nice community there.

Having said all of that, as I said before I would be careful about making decisions based on what might be in 7 years.

gardenfence Thu 02-Nov-17 10:37:39


We live in Botley (catchment for MA) in Oxford having moved out of Jericho (once the catchment for Cherwell).

We've just applied for Matthew Arnold as first choice for our daughter, Bartholomew 2nd and Cherwell 3rd. We attended the open evening and morning at MA and know parents at Cherwell.

Here are the pro's and cons of our decision for Matthew Arnold, as I saw them and the area of Botley. I've included some cons too to balance it out. In no particular order, so apologies for a stream of consciousness!

MA School
-The ofsted school reports were over 4 years old so it really is luck of the draw.
-Matthew Arnold appear to have great science and Maths results and also the department was wonderful as were the teachers that we met.
-Every parent we know who goes there is very happy at MA
-School is bright and airy with some new parts
-The teachers and staff that we met were very earnest and charming, at least three live l locally and their neighbours friends of mine say they are very kind intelligent people. This is tenuous as I'm sure there aren't many draconian teachers left these days but it helps to know there are good ones where you are going!
-The transition person was young and energetic.
- The progress of students from entry to exit is very good
- there seemed to be a good mixed demographic, making the school appear more interesting.

Location (Botley, Matthew Arnold)
-The location of the school is atop one of the highest points in Oxford looking across Hutchombe Copse to the edge of the Wytham (university owned) woodlands. Wonderful sweeping views of Oxford.
-There is a bus stop right outside the school.
- Within 15 mins walk or 5 min bike ride kids can get to shops, and local library and access to more buses.
-City centre is a very short bike ride from school (we do it every day in the other direction) 10 mins max (15-20v slow cycle)
-There is a sports centre within the vicinity of the school 5 minute walk across a field.
-We are walking distance from our house to school.
-Where we live we really do have more for a our money in terms of space, garden, nice country walks nearby.
- three children's parks within 10 minutes (my childrens favourite parks
- skating rink 15-20 cycle across nature reserve
-it's a more balanced demographic than Jericho / Cherwell catchment
It's affordable the North Hinksey and west oxford primary are apparently very good.

from a dining perspective, you'll always need to cycle, drive or bus to get somewhere.
-There is only a taylors and one semi reasonable cafe in Botley but as cyclists this doesn't bother us as we can get to town and to nice restaurants like Perch or Fishes easily
-Botley road is quite polluted by EU standards, you can avoid it and cycle parallel behind it, it's not that long but thought you should know.
-Hurst rise road and others leading to the MA school is short but very steep at one point. (our house is at the bottom, but we walk and cycle up it no problem)


-Cherwell has a reputation for bullying and is apparently big and chaotic and is highly oversubscribed with 100 + children from the catchment not being accepted last year and the net being tightened each year.
That said I'm sure not everyone suffers from this and this is only hear say from parents of boys who attend the school, both have experience violence and bullying sadly.
- Jericho and Summertown are expensive (for good reason) but have lot so restaurants and one park each but no public toilets anywhere.
- Above are a very narrow demographic and therefore lacks something.
- Cuttleslowe is a great park by the way if you did go north.
- Jericho and Summertown are on the canal which is very picturesque as is the meadow, nearby (accessible from Wolvercote, Summertown, Jericho, Botley)
-Bartholomew and lesser known school that is equidistant to MA from the city by bus but out in the countryside is well know for it's pastoral care. And it's reports are outstanding a lot of city kids are travelling there for secondary school.

We chose a school that was easy for us to get to having commuted by bike for 4 years with two kids to and from Botley to Jericho. Not for the commute but for the community. Wherever you go, live near your school so your friends can foster and maintain friendships easily.

If you do move to Botley, let us know. Would be happy to help you settle in. is a great resource for Oxford activities etc.

Good luck!

user237 Fri 03-Nov-17 21:48:48

Hi gardenfence, I think the OP has probably moved now as the thread is from Feb but I was also at the MA open days and was interested in your impressions so I hope you don't mind me hijacking!
We'd originally planned exactly the same order as you and I'd thought the open day was a bit of a formality but actually we came out feeling very mixed and put MA lower on our list. We're still pretty likely to get it though so I am still worrying about it and so was interested to read your post on your very different impressions.
I thought there were some pretty good things and the teachers did seem kind and intelligent as you say, esp in English, Maths and Science where we really talked to them for a while. I was worried by a few things though. I really wasn't convinced by the mixed ability teaching model and I don't like the idea of DS's year (and your DC's by the sound of it) probably being a guinea pig year for mixed ability Maths too. DS loves Maths and Science and is pretty good at it so I worry about how it will affect him especially as he moves up the school and esp if it is a new thing and the teachers are getting used to it. We were partly interested in the school because it does so well in those subjects but I wonder whether this will affect how well the best do there.
The other thing was that the main reason the teachers kept giving for being positive about the mixed ability teaching was that the poor behaviour wasn't concentrated in the lower sets, it was now spread through the groups so easier to control. That is probably true but did make me wonder about the behaviour esp as there were loads of signs around the school explaining the penalty for various things like congregating in certain areas. Our guide kept telling us about all the penalties too which did rather reinforce that. Mind you I do see a lot going too and from school and they are mainly very well behaved so perhaps that was skewed (though I have seen a couple of incidents since keeping a closer eye!)
Our guide was also very unenthusiastic about the school (not negative but just not positive in any way and generally didn't seem to want to be there) which has probably put us off but might be quite personal reasons so I don't want to put too much weight on that.
I also felt the main part of the school was pretty cramped and shabby (very like my old school!) though the science bit was better.
I was also interested in the point you made on progress. I thought progress was pretty average - i.e. higher than average intake and output but progression broadly as expected. Mind you I haven't really got a hold on exactly how progress 8 works.
So we came out feeling it wasn't bad but it was a bit depressing and we were worried that the mixed ability changes wouldn't suit DS. We would have been happy with any of the other schools we visited so it was a bit of a blow!

Sorry that is a bit of a stream of consciousness but I'd be interested in your impressions and hope to cheer myself up as there is a good chance we will end up there!

AllPizzasGreatAndSmall Sat 04-Nov-17 00:02:07

-Cherwell has a reputation for bullying and is apparently big and chaotic and is highly oversubscribed with 100 + children from the catchment not being accepted last year and the net being tightened each year.
That said I'm sure not everyone suffers from this and this is only hear say from parents of boys who attend the school, both have experience violence and bullying sadly.

Just to give balance, I'm not sure where this poster has got the reputation for bullying from ( a couple of anecdotes perhaps?) but I've never heard it. It is a large school but I never found it 'chaotic', although I'm not sure what she actually means by that, but I found it well managed.
This does not reflect my son's experience of the school at all, and violence was definitely not a feature of his time there.

gardenfence Mon 06-Nov-17 12:10:09

Hello, thanks for hijacking, this has been the topic of my month. I come back with my own stream of consciousness smile

I and all the other parents I know are feeling anxious about the schools we chose or didn't choose first.

Except for those with siblings in their chosen school, for them the decision has already been made a long time ago. In that respect I have friends at Matthew Arnold, Bartholomew and Cherwell who are all very pleased with their children's progress and happiness.

I concluded that our problem in Oxford is that we are spoilt for choice. Whatever your choice/allocation your son will likely do well, especially if he is keen on a subject already. And his success most likely hinges on his home life and friendships, the latter is really pot luck wherever you go.

For mixed ability classes, I have various thoughts, if your DS is talented and doing well already chances are he'll be in the top of his subject class and will be nurtured to exceed and depending on your child's personality it could help his confidence and subsequently his success by being at the top,

It's a good place to be although the perceived risk here is your DS not being challenged enough. It is my belief that our DC's success will largely depend on their friend group and hang onto the hope that if they are smart, they'll likely hang out with smart people and they will strive together.

I wonder if the risk is greater for the child that isn't doing well than the child that is. My youngest is an undiagnosed ADHD and the youngest in her year, she struggles emotionally from being middle in the class with the top being seemingly unattainable. She could feel more relaxed being with people working at her level but she most likely wouldn't strive so hard.

Interesting about your guide, our guide was not brilliant. He kept getting lost :-D MA did feel more cramped compared to B which was more spread out. But the ceilings were higher, giving a feeling of space to MA.

I think if we didn't live right next door to MA would would have seriously considered B first. For us there was not a significant enough difference and we weren't in control of what we felt were the true success influencers (friendships/teachers) to choose a school further away.

Incidentally we went to the MA fireworks night, in an attempt to immerse ourself, and hopefully not recoil in horror at our first choice and was pleased that they had a fantastic live band (kids from the school) and a great atmosphere, children dancing with parents, the energy and laughter as people poured out of the school at the end of the night, filled me with reassurance for our choice.

But a day doesn't go by where I and my close friends don't worry about it because we all want our child to succeed and put so much weight and stress on our decision for fear of having made an incorrect decision that will impact our child's life.

When I think about my own school, and what a hole it was and how well we all did despite of that. I take a step back and relax.

That success was based on finding myself in a great friendship circle and having a good homelife. I am meeting a friend later to talk about her experience of MA as she has a son there.

I'll update this post with more info then.

I should add that we looked at private schools too. I do believe she would definitely have done better academically in a private school but I'm not sure about her having a good grounding life experience there.

Whatever your choice, allocation. I would just rest assured that (easier said than done) they are all good schools and I'm sure your DS will strive and achieve wherever he goes.

gardenfence Mon 06-Nov-17 12:17:34

Thanks for giving balance, I felt concerned about my Cherwell comment after posting. I should contribute that the bullying incidents involved two boys, of however many hundred are at Cherwell. They were beaten up which is terrible but unlikely to be isolated to Cherwell and I'm sure happens elsewhere.

It probably shouldn't taint the schools reputation as I do have friends with children who are happy there.

Likewise the 'chaotic environment' comments came from a couple of friends visiting with their young year 6's and is not a true representation of the school on a daily basis just their own impression.

AllPizzasGreatAndSmall Mon 06-Nov-17 22:53:52

Likewise the 'chaotic environment' comments came from a couple of friends visiting with their young year 6's and is not a true representation of the school on a daily basis just their own impression.

Well yes the open evening that I attended many years ago was definitely the busiest of the schools I visited, but as you say doesn't represent day to day.

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