Summer Fields School, Oxford
Muddy says: A top prep day and boarding school in Oxford with small pupil numbers and whopper facilities, hidden away in 70 stunning acres leading to the Cherwell River.
SUMMER FIELDS SCHOOL, SUMMERTOWN, OXFORD
Summer Fields is a day and boarding school for boys aged 8-13, completely hidden away in leafy Summertown in North Oxford. Behind its walls sits 70 acres of stunning grounds – roughly a third of an acre for each of the 240 boys, if you will – that takes you right down to the River Cherwell in the city centre. The school started back in 1864 with seven pupils and the original buildings are Victorian, and has grown over time to include some clunky mid-Eighties bolt-ons and some rather more foxy recent architectural additions including a beautiful two-storey glass and stone pavilion. There are plans afoot for a pre-prep addition in September 2018 in a totally revamped Victorian villa onsite (see sketch below).
OMG, where to start? The huge school grounds are absolutely pristine, with eight cricket pitches (the current headmaster David Faber is cricket mad), grass tennis courts, an astro turf hockey pitch, a nine-hole golf course, an adventure playground and an outdoor swimming pool.
Inside there’s another swimming pool (hey, why have one when you can have two?), a 22 metre monster, plus 3 squash courts, 2 Eton Fives courts and a shooting range plus a Sports Hall that’s in excellent nick. The big wow building is The Salata Pavilion, with meeting rooms downstairs, a large open plan area upstairs (hello, afternoon teas) plus large balcony overlooking the school grounds and those beautiful cricket pitches.
On the drama front, there’s a tiered theatre. Next on the do-up list for the school is the pre-prep – subject to planning permission the state-of-the-art extension will break ground this summer.
Currently most children board here though there are 20 per cent day pupils too, a growing market that the school recognises – it’s expanding in September 2018 and offering further day places and opening a new pre-prep (4 – 7 years) with full access to the school facilities, initially with one Reception and one Y3 class.
Summer Fields is regarded as one of the main feeder schools for Eton, which gives you an idea of the academic standards here. Awards and scholarships last year included 5 to Eton, 6 to Harrow, and 2 to Winchester. There are 6 support teachers on hand (not including the handwriting teacher) in case your child struggles. Scholarships are achieved across the board in sport, music, art and academics, though music and sport seem to be particularly well represented at Summer Fields. Musically, the chapel choir is known as one of the best non-cathedral school choirs.
David Faber, an old boy of Summer Fields himself (as was his grandfather, some chap called Harold Macmillan), came to the education game late, having been a Tory MP and an academic historian and author in his own right. I like the fact that he’s worked in politics, academia, the real world prior to taking up the headship 7 years back, and he’s highly personable, someone who is easy for the kids to look up to.
Plenty. Starting with music, the choir is a mix of both boys and staff (they recently sang at The Vatican, people – I mean, respect) and over 80 per cent of kids play an instrument here, the highest percentage I’ve encountered for a while in a school review. Kids are massively free-range, and there are camping pods and wooden shacks in the woods in where the boys camp out, whatever the weather. Sporting wise, the school fields cricket teams from A to F – no kidding – and all boys play sport but there’s also an emphasis on finding sports all kids can excel at so on Thursdays boys can choose to have a go at something other than the main sports of rugby, football, cricket etc. On-site there’s badminton, squash, fives, table-tennis, fencing, clay-pigeon shooting, climbing, scuba diving and judo, while off-site it’s polo and sculling.
Well, Buzzer is the school shop that sells everything from noisy toys to stationary – all the annoying gizmos that makes school fun and irritate the hell out of parents. Kids can get a ‘Golden Ticket’ of £5 to spend in Buzzer for outstanding academic success (sneaky, I like it!). Class sizes of 13 aren’t quirky exactly but they’re rather enticing all the same.
Word on the ground: Historically Summer Fields has been out of view, literally and metaphorically, to anyone other than in-the-know boarding families – with 240 places it hasn’t needed to exert itself although that will change with the new pre-prep and further day places becoming available. Word is that the school is very nurturing and has a warm, inclusive ethos. Clearly the parents who send their kids here have high expectations for their academic path and success and the school delivers to the brief.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s hard to know a boy this place wouldn’t suit. It has the rolling acreage and pristine playing fields of a top country school, but happens to be a mile outside the centre of Oxford. It’s academic enough for the pushiest of parents but the style of teaching and huge amount of sport and extra-curricular activities mean the kids have a ball too.
Not for: There are some areas in the old main building that could do with an interiors spruce so don’t expect absolutely everything shiny and new. Some might think 240 boys in a whole school is on the small side. At £7,246 a term for day pupils it’s on the steep side compared to other Oxford prep day, as is the £9,357 per term for boarding school. However, the school recently announced that day fees will reduced by 15% and further bursaries will be on offer for able boys who cannot afford the fees.
Dare to disagree: Oh be my guest! There’s a Pre-Prep Open House on Friday 9 and Sat 10 June 2017 and an Open Day on the 7th October. Have a gander and see what you think.
Summer Fields, Mayfield Road, Oxford OX2 7EN. summerfields.com