Alastair Chirnside, the 14th warden of St Edward’s, took up the post in 2021, arriving from Harrow and with stints at Eton and as a City fund manager under his belt. He combines professional amiability with a steely ambition that would reassure parents who want both pastoral warmth and scholarly rigour. With the meticulous David Flower as his academic right-hand man, he is ‘all over it’ from strategic blue-sky thinking to the nuts and bolts of the student curriculum.
Mr Chirnside’s ambition for ‘more visibility’ when he first arrived is certainly bearing fruit, but what’s impressive is that the increased focus on strengthening and celebrating their academic credentials has not lessened his quest for the broad range of skills needed to ‘develop fledgling learners into undergraduates’.
He has instigated a project interviewing leavers five and 10 years later in order to establish where Teddies has helped them in getting to where they are or to highlight areas where the school could have done more to prepare them. It’s evidence of his understanding that the here and now is only one part of the impact a school can have. Similarly, Mr Chirnside acknowledges that exams are important to open up opportunities, but how can the school help pupils develop the skills needed to maximise on those? ‘What kind of person do pupils become and what part did the school play in shaping that – do they read books, do they stand by their friends, do they make tough decisions, are they always kind?’ Teddies works hard to help pupils take responsibility for their own learning, focusing on their own personal effort rather than any one predetermined standard and giving them the motivation to do it. ‘We don’t want pupils to think that they could have tried harder’. Ultimately, he says, ‘the most important skill is emotional intelligence as life will always be about people’.
As one of the top three rowing schools in the UK and with the Thames close at hand, coaching and facilities are at international level with some of this year’s cohort doing GB trials. Cricket is also particularly strong – the minimalist pavilion by John Pawson is marvellous – and recent successes have enhanced its reputation as one of the top schools nationally. But there’s something for everyone, and those who aren’t chasing places on the rugby or hockey A teams can find their niche in anything from athletics and sailing (there’s a reservoir nearby) to squash or golf. Dance should also get some limelight here with around a quarter of the whole school taking dance as a lesson or hobby – and 20 per cent of those are boys.
Strong art, design, drama and music have long been a feature of Teddies (Laurence Olivier was a pupil, and more recently, actors Florence Pugh and Emilia Clarke) and stellar facilities help keep standards high. A superb new music centre was completed in 2017, across the road from the North Wall Arts Centre, a RIBA award-winning 200-seater theatre and exhibition space used by the school and open to the public. Teddies’ plays and musicals give a few West End shows a run for their money and there’s always at least one St Edward’s creation at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The school’s music department not only benefits from an energetic and passionate leader, it has a close relationship with the music community in Oxford and has collaborated with the English Chamber Orchestra (among others) while the in-house ‘Friday at Five’ concerts are a popular and well-attended regular feature. There’s a fantastic jewellery-design workshop and the design and technology space is a maze of machinery, with dynamic, on-the-ball staff.
Teddies’ longstanding ties with the army manifest in compulsory CCF in Year 10. Those opting out after this year can select a life-skills course: think finance, mindfulness, research and presentation skills (genuinely useful stuff). Adding to this rich mosaic of learning are a cluster of mostly student-run clubs and societies, from beekeeping and debating to journalism and psychology.
Very firmly a boarding school, with 84 per cent of pupils living in, though you’d never know who’s day or not. Children are allowed to sign out on Saturday after lessons and matches, but typically just under half stay in for the weekend as there’s a massive amount on – from informal barbecues to cinema trips and jaunts into the centre of Oxford, all previewed in the termly Weekends at Teddies booklet.
There are 13 houses – five for girls, five for boys and three co-ed (an increasingly popular choice) – Apsley recently started welcoming girls to become the newest co-ed option. In a delightfully inclusive spirit, day pupils, even if they live minutes away, are allocated a space in each house to stash their belongings or have a well-deserved break: they don’t leave until either 6.30pm or 9pm, after clubs, activities, supper and homework. All meals are taken in the main school dining room, but pupils regularly pop back to their house for rounds of toast and catch-ups at break. The newer houses are very impressive (Jubilee poses as a feature from Architectural Digest) – but there's a rolling programme of refurbishment underway on some of the older ones too.
Two school-run coach services bring pupils back from London - one from South Kensington via Beaconsfield and one from Dulwich via Putney and Maidenhead, every Sunday evening, and is available to transport pupils back on exeat and leave weekends.
St Edward’s is committed to ensuring that as many young people as possible from all backgrounds are able to benefit from a Teddies education, and offer free and subsidised places to a significant number of pupils. Fee support of up to 100% of fees may be offered, depending on the family’s financial circumstances. Any prospective pupil for the Year 9, 10 or 12 intake who is likely to meet the entry requirements, but does not have the financial means to take up a place if offered one, is eligible to apply for a bursary. Currently around 100 pupils receive fee support at varying levels, and the school would like to increase this to 160 pupils (equivalent to 1 in 5 pupils) in the coming years.
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