Our Good Schools Guide Review

The Good Schools Guide is the leading school guide in the UK, offering comprehensive assistance to parents in selecting the best education for their children. For 35 years, it has been a trusted resource, providing impartial and candid school reviews, along with detailed articles on various educational topics. Known for its independence, straightforwardness, and thorough knowledge, The Good Schools Guide has gained unique authority and the trust of parents and educational organizations around the world.

Below is The Good Schools Guide’s review of The Oratory Prep School:


Since 2022, Andrew De Silva (BAQTS, MSc, NPQH), previously head of the junior school at St Edmund’s, Canterbury and Fair Oak Junior School, Hampshire (which coincided with his time as a bass lay clerk at Winchester Cathedral). Before that, deputy head at Southfields Junior School which he took to the final of the BBC Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year competition. Educated at the King’s School, Peterborough where he was also a cathedral chorister. After school he read education at Canterbury Christ Church University where he sang in the chapel choir and with the choirs of Canterbury Cathedral and Rochester Cathedral. Previously chair of IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) Kent District and of the newly formed IAPS equality, diversity and inclusion group.

Open, relaxed, and in his own words, ‘a bit silly’. Puts both adults and children at ease at lightning speed. But don’t be mistaken, alongside the joviality lies, as one parent put it, ‘a very sharp mind’.

His large wood-panelled study contains shelves not of dusty tomes but Lego creations, which serve as a metaphor for his pedagogy: ‘An educationalist doesn’t just download knowledge from this mind to that.’ Instead, his focus is on interaction, play, experimentation, practical application, building and rebuilding to prepare children for the ‘real’ world. He wants pupils ‘to enjoy the room before being moved on’. Curiosity and fun clearly matter. Plush green velvet sofas face each other and provide for relaxed conversation. He’s adamant that communication is key with staff, parents and most of all pupils, with whom chat is humorous and good-humoured. However, it must be based on mutual respect. Parents have noticed, ‘He’s always on the school gate welcoming each morning.’ Gives personal addresses on the school’s social media as another way to connect (follow the school for a preview). Funky socks, but gowns hanging in the corner of his study suggest a more traditional side. Christian, though not Roman Catholic, he believes singing is important in schools as well as worship. While he doesn’t teach on timetable, he pops into lessons daily and we witnessed an impromptu choir masterclass in the chapel at lunchtime. Pitch perfect.

Lives on site with his wife Nicola, an IT professional, and their children Florence (who will join the school when she’s two) and David, a cathedral chorister (runs in the family) at St Paul’s, where Mr De Silva is also a governor. ‘It’s right, and we want to live here in the heart of the school family.’


Co-ed, non-selective and inclusive. Some move up from the cosy on-site nursery, Little Oaks. There’s an interview with the head (child and family), an assessment morning and report from current school for entry to pre-prep and prep.


School would like all pupils to stay to end of year 8, although on average about 10 per cent depart at the end of year 6. There is a push planned to demonstrate the advantages of sticking around. About 30 per cent of leavers go on to newly co-ed Oratory School, although the schools, since 2019, are no longer connected. Other destinations include Abingdon School (boys), St Helen and St Katherine (girls) and Pangbourne College. At 13+ schools include Radley, Bradfield College, Marlborough College, Shiplake, Wellington College and occasionally one or two to Eton. Some international leavers relocate. Of the recent year 8 cohort, around 40 per cent secured scholarships and exhibitions. Twelve scholarships in 2023.

Our view

The main Great Oaks building was built in 1911 by the Hewett family as a Tudor-style country retreat. Previously home to the prep for St Mary’s, Wantage (now closed), it became The Oratory Prep in 1969. Set in 65 acres of lawns and woodlands, original features include oak staircases, cornices, and the most breathtaking leaded windows. A magnificent dining room has open fires which are lit on special occasions. Various buildings have been added over the years, most recently a cosy wood-clad nursery for pupils from 2+. The pre-prep is comfortably housed in former stables and the prep is predominantly based in the pretty old building. Classrooms are cosy and welcoming. Some are due a refurb (we are told this is in the offing) and we thought pupils’ artwork could be shown to better effect throughout. Senior prep (years 5-8) are currently redesigning their huge year 7 and 8 common room (arcades are under discussion). Plentiful outdoor facilities – there’s a shiny new Astro and the sunken wooden playground is popular. A few grumbles from older children that they couldn’t use it enough, which speaks to the extended childhood a 2-13 prep can deliver. Forest (and what a forest) school for everyone. Practical, recently updated uniform, though one pre-prep parent felt ‘a missed opportunity for a smarter presentation’.

Roman Catholic faith informs many of the school’s traditions, including daily prayers and hymns. All pupils attend mass once a week (termly for pre-prep) in the beautiful and bijoux chapel. Only a third of families are Catholic and if you’re not, it’s not an issue: ‘While Christianity is important to us, ultimately it is a secure faith in ourselves we aim to install.’ All faiths are welcome. Pastorally, there is an independent listener and the usual programmes. One parent praised ‘exceptional care’.

A feeling of support and genuine camaraderie from the early years to the older student body. We found pupils to be upbeat, quick to laugh and celebrate each other’s successes. An unplanned fire alarm didn’t ruffle this well-behaved and sensible bunch. Grounded, not flash and fancy, we are told the majority are from ‘hard-working local families who appreciate the opportunities given at the OPS’. As you might expect in a rural Oxfordshire school, racial diversity is limited; under 10 per cent non-Caucasian. Something the head, with his EDI hat on, will certainly be thinking about.

Classes are small and average 15. Pre-prep use thematic learning which supports cross-curricular thinking, more akin to the life beyond school. ‘Teachers genuinely care about each child’s learning journey,’ we are told by one parent. Children particularly mention Mrs Bone, the palaeontologist science teacher (yes, really!). With a triceratops bone wedding ring (the engagement ring is T-Rex, but horned dinosaurs are her preference), her enthusiasm is infectious. Forensic science with DNA analysis to solve crimes went down a treat. Linguistically, there’s Spanish club from kindergarten, French from year 1. Mandarin has been offered in recent years but depends on demand. Setting for maths from year 3 with ‘plenty of room for adjustment’. In pre-prep we heard a child read their Three Little Pigs mash-up: enter the hungry crocodile. Later, we saw an ethics and philosophy class where older pupils grappled with moral concepts. A successful scholarship programme across departments begins in year 8, allowing students to further develop and showcase their talents. The long school day from 8.15am to 5pm (with the option of breakfast club from 7am) includes an hour of prep (followed by optional activities until 6pm), providing genuine wraparound care for hard-working parents. Little work goes home.

Small-group sessions are held for those with SEND, plus one-to-one lessons (extra cost). This is appreciated by parents and children alike. School can support mild to moderate dyslexia, dyscalculia or dyspraxia and autism. Staff receive regular training, and parents tell us they work continually with families to get individual support ‘just right’. EAL provision offers weekly specialist integrated teaching for international (mainly Spanish) boarders who typically join for year 8. We saw expertly taught small supportive classes making use of modern tech. Progress is made quickly.

Music from the word go, starting with a ‘beginners’ concert’ for new instrumentalists. One teacher and former parent told us, ‘We all recognise the effort and significance of a tentative first performance. Everyone ends up beaming.’ Opportunities to perform solo and ensemble in jazz bands and orchestras. There are numerous practice rooms and electric guitar is newly offered, budding rock stars take note. There’s even a popular teacher band who cover Back Street Boys and East 17. While singing is a big deal here, the auditioned choristers take it to the next level. The cherry on the OPS cake is a huge 300-seat theatre with full lighting, not often seen in a prep school. Drama is high on the agenda and even the tinies get their moment in the limelight. High take-up of LAMDA training and exams, which is encouraged for all. Pupils perform annually at the Shakespeare Schools Festival and at the Young Voices concert at the O2. Christmas concerts and summer galas in the gardens.

In sport, we’re told opportunities for everyone to get involved matter more than bravado and school glory, something parents are quick to confirm: ‘Everyone gets their chance to play in teams.’ Exceptional talents are nurtured, and we saw an impressive display of silverware in reception. One parent thought more could be done to make annual sports day a ‘really special occasion for all’. A must-mention is the fabulous heated 25-metre pool where we watched swimming being taught in a minuscule group of six. Just think – no more cold Saturday swimming lessons! We’re tipped off that parents use the pool after drop-off a couple of mornings a week. Time for a dip?

Optional Saturday morning enrichment programme offers everything from talks on climate change and practical science challenges to modules on all things from cookery, clay work to upcycling. ‘We find what really interests the children and just go from there.’ Prefectship, school council leaders, head boy/girl roles and anti-bullying ambassadors give older children a chance to shine and experience responsibility as role models. This builds confidence and strengthens relationships with staff and fellow pupils alike. We saw many a proudly sported shiny badge affixed to lapel.

Minibus routes morning and afternoon from Reading, Shiplake and Henley. Active PTA organises coffee mornings, fundraising and class reps.


Boarding is upstairs in the main building with boys and girls on different sides. Full-time boarders in the majority but flexi is a convenient and popular option (all flexi-boarders get their own bed). Clean, traditional dorms have up to 10 beds, although four is the norm. Housemistress is beloved for creating a family atmosphere, as is the nurse, tucked in an extremely welcoming and snug san. Well-equipped common rooms offer both mixed and single-sex socialising. International full-timers have weekend trips and also spend time with host families.

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries available; contact the registrar for more information.

The last word

OPS is very clear about both who it is and where it’s going. It prepares children for a rapidly changing future by rooting them in school tradition while giving them the confidence to try new ways of thinking, doing and being. The fabulous rural setting, friendly atmosphere and dedicated teaching body make it a solid choice for those seeking a traditional yet forward-thinking co-ed 13+ prep school, with excellent wraparound care and flexible boarding options.

proud supporters of Military Families


Join us at one of our Open Events or our Registrar can arrange a personalised showround of our school.

© The Oratory Preparatory School 2024