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Crash-landing in Oxford: primary schools...

(21 Posts)
CairoLucy Sun 17-Aug-14 19:10:44

... we came for our summer hols to see family and friends in the UK, but due to the political situation 'back home', and family emergencies here, we are having to stay for the foreseable future and live in Oxford. Our DD, who turns 5 in Sept, is due to start 'Reception'/FS2 IN TWO WEEKS, and so we are desperately trying to apply for a school place for her. We can stay with MIL in Iffley/Rose Hill, and use her address on our application, until we find a home of our own. Getting a school spot will be a bit of a lottery, but I still want to make sensible choices for our 3 preferences. We want to live within walking distance of school, ideally in East Oxford or Headington. We are a mixed faith, non-religious family, so we really want to avoid a school with a strong faith-based ethos.

The schools I've identified for consideration are: SS Mary & John, Larkrise, Windmill, and also Rose Hill, New Hinksey and St. Ebbe's. I'm trying to contact the schools I'm interested in, just to try and have a conversation with their Heads - and find out whether there would be any chance of a place for our DD - but with little luck so far. Since we can't visit the schools at all, I would be very grateful for any 'school gate' thoughts about any of the above schools. (Also, if anyone needs housesitters/tenants for a few weeks/months, we'd be EXTREMELY interested).

Saracen Mon 18-Aug-14 00:26:53

I am not an expert, but I think you have misunderstood the process for obtaining a school place. Here's how I think it works.

Even though your daughter is due to start Reception, it is so late that I believe the usual application process is over, even for "late applicants". Other families have already received offers of school places. I don't think you need to submit the form on which you indicate three preferences.

Instead, I think your dd is now considered an "in-year admission", so you need to find out which schools have vacancies. Choose the one you like best and she can have a place straightaway. Any school with a vacancy must accept her.

It gets trickier if all local schools are full. In that case the council must make arrangements and must offer you a school, but it will take some time. They will probably want to wait until a few weeks into September in case some of the children who were expected to start Reception fail to turn up, thus freeing a space for your child.

Another complication is that you may need to satisfy the council that your daughter meets immigration requirements. If she is here on a tourist visa then I don't think you can send her to a state school.

As I say, I don't know all the ins and outs of it so perhaps I am mistaken. Contact the council to ask what you have to do.

If it eases the pressure at all, bear in mind that you don't have to send your daughter to school. There is no legal requirement to educate her at all until the term after her fifth birthday, so that would be January. Even after that, you could home educate for a while until you know where you are going to be living, and perhaps wait in hopes that a place will become available at a school you like.

Oxford has loads of home educating families. Some plan to home ed for many years and some are just waiting for (they hope) a few months for the right school place. There are plenty of activities which you can join in with.

CairoLucy Mon 18-Aug-14 01:26:29

Thanks. I have phoned the Oxfordshire admissions team, who have advised that we DO need to fill in the application form, stating our three preferences, with the understanding that all those schools may well be full, in which case we get a spot in whichever is the nearest school with a vacancy (and yes, indeed, we may not find out until all the schools have returned and they see who has turned up or not) - but they wouldn't tell me which schools at this stage are likely to have vacancies. Which is why I'm phoning round the schools directly to find out which MAY have spaces come September - I don't want to waste a preference if there is no chance of a spot being available there. And however much I scour Ofsted reports, league tables etc, I want to get as much of a feel of a vibe of the schools as possible, given that we can't visit them during 'term time'to get a sense of them, hence my appeal to Mumsnet.

In terms of immigration status, it's not an issue: we are British citizens (my DH and DD both with dual-nationality), and have been working for British organisations (but not Crown Services) overseas, and are also UK tax-payers. So yes, we are in a sense 'political refugees' but at least landing in our other country (we are much more privileged than many, much braver, friends and colleagues).

I'm particularly keen to hear opinions about Larkrise, which is the closest school to my MIL's. 'Good' Ofsted, but I know it has a new head and is going through a building project. Is it equally supportive of all the members of its diverse community?

Though we're not huge fans of conventional education (DD has been at, and was going to continue in, an amazing trilingual, Reggio Emilio-based KG/school in Cairo), Home Ed won't really suit us (for various reasons), though if we do have to resort to it, it's good to know there's a good support network in Oxford.

Looking forward to hearing more from parents with children currently in the schools I mentioned (and also reasons why you didn't choose them). Thanks

Saracen Mon 18-Aug-14 01:59:46

Ah, sorry I have given you misinformation! I'm glad you have spoken to the council and are clear what you have to do.

If you are interested in alternative education, you might like to check out the (private) Montessori primary school at Elsfield if finances allow.

williaminajetfighter Mon 18-Aug-14 02:41:51

Cairo. I moved to oxford 2 years ago and live in Iffley/church cowley road area. DD was offered a place at Larkrise. We had heard mixed reviews about it but it seemed fine and a close walk to the school.

Unfortunately I was very disappointed and after 2 months we took her out. Other parents may be happy with thr school so these are just my views. My concerns were:

1. State of the school and limited resources - really seemed to be falling apart. DD talked about the wet floors and buckets for leaks. DD's class also didn't have enough desks and they apparently had to spend a lot if time sitting on the ground as they shared desks with others. I found the school grounds a bit grubby and DD mentioned the rats that ran past her class a few times.

2. Disorganized - DDs new teacher didn't know she was coming when she arrived, homework was confusing, poor communication from the school.

3. School uniform - no school uniform which I hated and made for greater costs and trickier mornings getting ready.

4. This is a tricky one but the school had a large Asian student population and as far as I understand many Asian families from outside the area sent their kids there for that reason. I thought it would be a good envt for DD but she found the students very divided between the Asian community and everyone else. I can only go by what she said.

I hated it and after 2 months and unable to move to another state school put her into private.

Other parents/students might have a totally different experience of course.

I would, frankly, try to get something like St Johns(?) further up Iffley a Road or even East Oxford school. Just not not not Larkrise.

honeymango Mon 18-Aug-14 10:57:59

Hi, I have nc'ed for this as don't want to be outed.

My DS is at Mary and John and loves it there. I'm extremely happy with the school. I also have lots of friends whose children go to Larkrise (and one friend whose child is on the waiting list to go there). However, I suspect that neither school will have vacancies at the start of this school year (Mary and John is almost always oversubscribed, though I don't think the numbers on the waiting list are huge; Larkrise I don't know so much about). However, east Oxford is a mobile community -- like the rest of Oxford, in fact! -- and so the odds of a place opening up over time are high. There are lots of international families who move in and out of the UK, like you. So if there's a school you really want, you could send your DD to another school in the meantime, and then move her to your first choice school when a place opens up.

I also have close friends whose daughter goes to East Oxford Primary. Although that school's last Ofsted was disappointing, there is a dynamic headteacher and my friends are enthusiastic about the school. The proportion of Asian pupils is much higher at East Oxford Primary than at Larkrise or Mary and John, which means that some middle-class families in the catchment area tend to place their children elsewhere, but I think that's a shame.

Don't know anything about Windmill or Rose Hill, I'm afraid. The headteacher at Mary and John was formerly head at St Ebbe's, and my impression is that the school has gone downhill somewhat since her departure (as reflected in the school's last Ofsted report). The Christian faith is said to be promoted in a more rigid, less inclusive way at St Ebbe's than at Mary and John (OK, I'm showing my own personal prejudices here!). I've been told that Mary and John is the only C of E primary school in Oxford that doesn't use faith as a criterion for admission (so C of E applicants don't get bumped up on the waiting list, as they would do at other C of E primaries).

I'm surprised and disappointed to read about williamina's negative experience at Larkrise. I have heard only positive things about it. The state of the building does sound bad; you could ask the head whether that has been remedied. About the disorganisation: it's true that the quality of teaching in every school varies according to the individual teacher, so maybe williamina's DD had a particularly poor teacher. sad And poor communication with parents is something that the school's last Ofsted picked out as needing improvement, so I would assume that the school would be taking steps to remedy that now. As for no uniforms - I would LOVE no uniforms!

As far as Asian pupils are concerned, I would be very surprised if lots of Asian families from outside the catchment were sending their children to Larkrise. Children within catchment take priority, even over children outside catchment who already have siblings at the school, and the school doesn't have room to take in lots of children from out of catchment. So the ethnic composition of the school should match the ethnic composition of the neighbourhood pretty closely. And the neighbourhood is a mix of Asian, white British, Polish; of university academics and taxi drivers and so on. It's diverse, which is precisely what lots of parents - myself included! - love about East Oxford.

About there being a social divide at Larkrise between Asian kids and everyone else: Mary and John works hard to ensure that this DOESN'T happen, and I would be astonished if things were different at Larkrise. It's inevitable that kids will gravitate to some extent to the other kids they have most in common with (in terms of religion, upbringing, etc) but at Mary and John, school and pupils are proud of their ethnic and cultural diversity. My white British DS has plenty of Asian friends. The school has Asian teachers, teaching assistants and governors. Sadly, at school fairs and social events, and in the PTA, white British families do tend to dominate, so that the crowd you see milling around at a school fair is not going to be as diverse as the crowd of parents you see at school pick up time. But again, the school is aware of this and tries to ensure that all members of the school community are recognised, valued and included. A few examples of this include: some Asian families are reluctant to let their children go on the annual year 6 school trip, which involves 5 nights away (I think?). So teachers talk to the parents involved individually to see what their concerns are (sometimes they even visit them at home) and to reassure them that the children will be well-supervised on the trip, that Muslim norms about modesty will be respected, etc, and every year all or virtually all the yr 6 pupils end up attending. Also, our summer fair happened early this year so as not to clash with Ramadan. When a boy from Egypt joined DS's class one year speaking only Arabic, DS came home after a few terms and announced, 'Mum, I'm so proud of Mohammed! Our whole class is proud of him because he came here not speaking English at all, and now his maths are already so good that he has won an award!' DS was very young and the time and was clearly parroting what the children had been told in school assembly, but I was happy to see the school recognising a new classmate's efforts in this way.

All this is of course about Mary and John, not Larkrise, but from the sample of Larkrise parents I've met (and some teaching assistants too), I would expect the approach at Larkrise to be much the same. With all due respect to williamina, 2 months is a very short time to have your child in a school. She would have been barely settled in by then! And if you go private, you opt for an environment that is incredibly un-diverse. Humph. What my DS is getting from state school is something that money can't buy, namely, the chance to work and play with children whose backgrounds are utterly different to his own. And to learn from them.

OK, I will climb off my high horse now. blush

Good luck, lucy, and welcome!

CairoLucy Mon 18-Aug-14 11:01:22

Saracen - ahh, the Montessori Forest School, oh if only! (too many spondoolies for consideration, and also, I don't drive)

Jetfighter - I am tickled that someone with your name has responded to my 'Crash Landing' thread. I have to admit, you've confirmed my suspicions about Larkrise; we want diversity in our DD's school - we are coming from a multi-cultural environment, and don't want a monocultural school - but we don't want divisiveness. Facilities matter less as long as there is passion and commitment amongst the staff. I did speak to the Head, and asked to come and meet, but she told me there was no point because of building works, whereas the Head of St Ebbe's was very welcoming, despite their building works. Big difference in attitudes which for me was very telling.

So, does anyone have further thoughts about St Ebbe's? Its Ofsted is only 'Satisfactory' but it seems popular.

honeymango Mon 18-Aug-14 11:03:11

x-post, lucy!

CairoLucy Mon 18-Aug-14 11:17:47

HoneyMango - thank you for your extensive report, very useful and balanced. Yes, as far as I can see, Mary and John is the only C of E school in Oxford which doesn't have religion as a criterion, and this is a contributing factor for why it's our first choice - the others being its diversity, performance and location - we want to be in East Oxford for the exactly the same reasons as you love it - and your account confirms this for me.

We are concerned by St Ebbe's religious ethos, but the Head was so very welcoming and helpful when I spoke to her on the phone (and she's invited me to meet her tomorrow), that we are drawn to it. But I worry about the commute from East Oxford, especially when there's flooding (which is also the reason why we're avoiding living in Grandpont).

Aarrgghhh, this is a minefield...

Anyone else out there with kids at Larkrise who can reassure me?

RoadKillBunny Mon 18-Aug-14 12:08:06

I am really sorry you have found yourself in this situation, it must be extremely distressing for you all.
I live in a village the otherwise of Oxford so unfortunately can't help you when it comes you your search for a school but wanted to wish you well and welcome you to Oxford, I really hope you are able to make the best of the situation, your dd not only finds a school quickly but enjoys her time there and finally that you are able to get home soon, or at least make a decision based on what you want rather then on political issues.

CairoLucy Mon 18-Aug-14 12:14:18

Bunny - thank you for your lovely, understanding and welcoming message. You're right, these are not the happiest of circumstances in which to be making this move, and it will be a stressful few weeks, but we are so lucky that we have two countries we can call home.

SummerHolsYaay Mon 18-Aug-14 12:49:48

I work at Windmill (have name changed so I don't out myself). There should be someone in school to speak to, but not sure about the head.

I think it's a great school, but I don't think you will have any chance of getting a place at the moment, we are always over-subscribed and have a waiting list for Foundation. If you move into the catchment area and go on the waiting list then you may get a place at some point, but not while living so far away and not for September.

Unfortunately it will be difficult to get a place at any of the most desirable schools in Oxford, there is a real shortage of places. If you go to and scroll down you can look and see how places were allocated and which schools had places in April, of course this might have changed but you can see which might still have places.

Good Luck.

williaminajetfighter Mon 18-Aug-14 19:45:40

Hi OP. I've read some of the responses to my post including HoneyMangos. I just want to emphasize my experience at Larkrise was just kind of bad from the start and just didn't get better. You know when you have one of those experiences that just goes from bad to worse? It was just like that for me. That's all. Highly unlikely it will be like that for me.

HoneyMango I would have loved to stay in a state school for all the reasons you note but couldn't get into any other schools. The independent schools in Oxford really benefit from the fact that Oxfords state schools are v oversubscribed.

Portlypenguin Mon 18-Aug-14 20:52:30


I am mum to 3 yr old ds and live in headington. Been researching schools all over oxford last few mo. i've got lots of friends/colleagues with kids everywhere....but this is just my take after research...
Larkfields - v average, improving buildings at the mo
St gregs - new school, look into as they have had spaces this year
East oxford - ok
Windmill - my catchment school. Academically slightly above average, gets an ofsted 'good', but has expanded ++ in pupil numbers and is now v overcrowded. Head goes on about music and clubs a lot which suggests to me to be avoiding talking about academics! Nothing apart from bursting at thr seams is a definite down, but can't even take all catchment area kids still
St andrews - academically v good, less good facilities but hard to get into
Wood farm - brand new buildings (to cover up poor results....) - has a challenging catchment area
St nicks in marston - good primary, hear positive things
Phil and jims - good but somewhat overrated (good now rather than outstanding, if that means anything...)
Wolvercote - average
Sandhills community - gets surprisingly good results in league tables, but i don't know anything else about it
Barton - terrible

We have decided to keep our options open. We will be applying to both the state and private sector. DH is very keen on private edu but is willing to go state if i could prove it would be good. I would send DS to either windmill/ st andrews ( being this side of the city) to see how it goes, but NOT wood farm and definitely not barton. I am concerned about the size of windmill and whether it can really cope with the expansion. I suspect my son (who is clearly not stupid nor a genius) will be stuck in a great middle and be able to coast. Getting all kids to level 4 for the league tables at primary schools seems v important, rather than getting each child to do their best.

Unfortunately lots of my close friends ( admittedly mostly medics) go private. There is a big problem in oxford with lots of middle class / medical / academic parents going private and taking with them their interest, pushiness and (usually) pretty bright kids. I think this is detrimental to the school system overall, but may yet sell my soul and join the club. If i had a bright self motivated confident child i would probably be less likely to go private.

I suggest you see where is offered, if it doesn't work out then keep in touch with the education people and move DD when a space comes up elsewhere if needed.
Good luck !!!

CairoLucy Mon 18-Aug-14 22:09:39

This thread is Mumsnet at its best - thank you all for really great feedback!

I'm meeting friends (lawyers) of friends (musicians/teachers) who have their 7-yo at Larkrise, so will get more of a low-down about that tomorrow.

Both Yaay's and Penguin's feedback on Windmill make me think it's not worth stating it as a preference, since there's not a gnat's arse chance in hell / much likelihood of our getting a spot there. (I've tried phoning every day since last week, and have left a couple of messages, but haven't been able to speak to anyone, so thank you Yaay for your honest assessment). Penguin - the emphasis on music, dance and outdoor, physical activities are exactly what attracted me to it - we want a holistic education as much as possible, not just academic - but it performs badly at KS1 according to Ofsted's data dashboard.

I will take a more thorough look at East Oxford, thanks to HoneyMango and Penguin.

St Greg's - will likely get a spot there if everywhere else is full, even if I don't state it as a preference (that's what the guy in the Oxfordshire admissions team hinted). New territory, since it's a brand new primary, attached to an unstable secondary. As an atheist Anglican-Muslim family (IYSWIM), we are really averse to a school with a strong religious ethos, and a friend of a friend taught RE in the secondary there, and did say it was deeply weird teaching sex education according to Catholic curriculum to a largely Muslim community. And I don't think they've found a new head yet.

Had already ruled out N. Oxford schools, and also Marston, as we don't want to commute to school by car.

Anyone got feedback about New Hinksey and St Ebbe's?

InvaderZim Tue 19-Aug-14 09:24:33

I don't have anything useful to add, except to say that you haven't mentioned the new free school - I'm not even exactly sure where it is, down the Slade perhaps? I have heard good things about it, but only in passing.

Sinkingfeeling Tue 19-Aug-14 09:41:20

What about Rose Hill Primary School? From what you've said it sounds as if it would be your closest school apart from Larkrise. It had a poor reputation a few years ago but a new head turned it around and it made huge leaps of improvement. It's in what's thought of as a 'challenging' area socially, but I think its results have improved greatly in the last few years and it would also have the diverse intake that you're looking for. Not a CofE school either. Might be worth trying to speak to the Head to make an appointment to view it?

CairoLucy Wed 20-Aug-14 12:06:16

I'd love feedback from any parent with children currently at Rose Hill, East Oxford, Larkrise and St Ebbe's - or reasons why you decided against them.

I saw the Head of St Ebbe's and really liked her, but have yet to hear from families there. I have not been able to reach anyone at, or speak to parents from, Rose Hill or East Oxford, so have not been able to gain any sense of those schools. I have mixed reports about Larkrise - mainly positive, but a couple of negative (including the above).

Really grateful for any help and opinions.

TravelinColour Fri 22-Aug-14 11:38:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Rosie55 Mon 25-Aug-14 22:13:29

Don't know if you're still reading this thread, but DS is at New Hinksey and we think it's great. It's small with one form entry, caring staff that know the children well, and the Headteacher seems excellent. The atmosphere is very friendly. There is a Christian element in that they have a weekly assembly from the vicar, but it doesn't seem excessive, and the children come from lots of different backgrounds. There might not be a place, but as someone else said, a lot of families move in and out of Oxford, so it's possible.

gruffalocake2 Wed 27-Aug-14 15:22:58

My DC are going to the new free school Invader mentioned. It's called Tyndale, on Hollow Way. Worth checking out as they might have a space...not sure. It has brand new facilities but most importantly the staff are lovely very welcoming, nurturing, very focused on each child as an individual which I felt was missing at Windmill. It is Christian ethos but v multicultural lots of Muslim and Hindu families. Last year they did a festival lunch in the Autumn with all children bringing in something from their own culture to show and share, so they had Divali, Eid, Thanksgiving and Polish Christmas food I think! Might suit your family background.

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