• Bülow Blog
  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • Deutsch
Have a question about this school or want us to help you?
15 December 2023
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

English Boarding Schools in Profile: Radley College, a Top Boys School Refreshingly Grounded

Hello from Richmond!
Our last visit in this calendar year was devoted to Radley College. We always knew this visit was going to be something special. We currently have two boys at this school and both couldn’t be happier! Radley College is one of the last remaining all-boys full-boarding schools in the UK. Reputationally it is right up there with Eton, Harrow and Winchester (which went co-ed last year) in terms of its traditions, academic strength and extracurricular breadth.
Radley, however, feels different to the other top boys schools. A little more modern, less self-important maybe, and overall a little more grounded. In any case, we came away with a new definition of what a near-perfect boarding school looks like.
We were fortunate to have the amazingly friendly Sophie Langdale, Director of Admissions and Communications of Radley College to show us around. We were also joined for lunch by Theo, one of the German boys we placed at Radley College last year.
Radley's beautiful campus
The Setting
Radley College is set on 800 acres of beautiful Oxfordshire land. It is a stunning blend of Victorian and tasteful, modern red-brick buildings. In between and all around are sports fields, astro-turfs, a nine-hole golf course, even a little fishing lake, where the boys go fly-fishing. Given its idyllic rural setting just 3km from Oxford, the boys have lots of space to roam here. Unsurprisingly, we passed lots of exceedingly healthy-looking, apple-cheeked boys. Mrs Langdale gave us a really comprehensive tour through school. We saw sports, creative and academic facilities, where the boys socialize and one of the boarding houses - a so-called ‘Social’.
Beautiful: corridor leading to the admissions department
Despite its historical roots, Radley College has the feel of a modern school. All buildings and facilities are in immaculate condition. In fact, most look as if they’d been either recently built or renovated (note: they haven’t, not always anyway!) Given that teenagers aren’t exactly known to treat their physical environment with too much care, this is remarkable in of itself.
Stunning and modern: the school's Sewell Gallery and Cafe
But it goes further than that: Radley’s spaces are simply stunning! The school’s Chapel, beautifully decorated with Christmas ornaments, looked out-of-this-world beautiful; Radley Hall, the original building from 1720 and place where we met with Mrs Langdale, could have been the backdrop to TV series Downton Abbey; and the Sewell Gallery, a modern exhibition space for the boys’ arts projects, could easily compete with London’s most state-of-the art galleries. At the same time, none of this felt too grandiose to us. Quite the opposite: Radley College felt almost intimate. Radley College is located close to the small village of Radley. The larger town Abingdon is a 5-minute cycle-ride away. University-town Oxford is about 3kms away. Heathrow Airport is under an hour away by car.
Central to the experience: Radley's Chapel
What (we think) Radley College is all about
First off, Radley College is one of the very few traditional all-boys, full-boarding schools left in the UK. All boys are here 24/7, no day pupils, no flexi boarders - no exceptions! Even the teachers mostly live onsite in the school, granting the boys extensive access to academic and pastoral support even after normal school hours. As such, Radley is an interesting combination of both traditional and modern. On the one hand, you’ll see boys walking around in long, black gowns (yep, a little like in Harry Potter!), going to Chapel four times a week and using old Radleyan terms like ‘Socials’ (= boarding house) or ‘Shells and Removes’ (= Y9 and Y10). On the other hand, you’ll witness the boys build robots, develop business ideas in entrepreneurship classes and compose music with cutting-edge technology. It’s this eclectic mix of old and new that makes Radley College such an interesting place!
Not just a sporty school - the boys create AMAZING art like this!
Radley College is also both a very demanding and in-demand school. Boys are expected to excel academically, whilst getting involved in all walks of school life. So definitely not a school for slouches! As a school of repute, Radley College is in high demand. In fact, it’s the kind of place where parents put down their boys’ names at age three! At von Bülow Education we are fortunate enough to have placed two boys here over the course of four years. This year, we rather naively introduced a promising German boy for a 6th Form place - only to be told he’d be competing against 130 others for 15 places!
Very classic in some corners...
One might assume that this kind of exclusivity breeds entitlement or arrogance in the boys. Rather the opposite, in fact. We spoke to several boys and were impressed by how approachable and kind they seemed. They know how lucky they are to be here. This is not a braggy bunch! The same extends to the grown-ups at Radley College. The school won the Tatler ‘Independent School of the Year’ award. Apparently Mr Moule, the school’s Warden was almost embarrassed to receive this accolade. It’s as if everyone here would prefer if Radley was kept a little under the radar, lest it attract the wrong type of boy!
...very modern in others!
Lastly, Radley College made a very credible case to us about wanting to impart a well-rounded education. Yes, good grades are important. But so is character! This is why the school offers an unbelievably broad range of amazing sports, music, entrepreneurial- and creative activities for the boys to get stuck in with. And they do! Sophie Langdale summed it up thus: “ You’ll see our boys on the muddy rugby pitch fighting for the ball one second, and singing in the Chapel Choir the next! THAT is what Radley is all about!”
Loved this! A French class on a classroom window
The Academics
Radley College is a very academic school. In 2023, 78% of GCSE grades were 7-9 and 62% of A-Level grades A*-A. As such it consistently ranks among the best private schools in the UK. The range of subjects on offer is fairly traditional with, among the usual suspects, Latin, and Classical Greek on offer. Computer Science at both GCSE and A-Levels is on offer, too.
The natural sciences and math are hugely popular at Radley, and taught in a very interesting and hands-on fashion. So, in the biology department, for example, we got to see Radley’s very own zoo. With 300-or-so animals on display, ranging from turtles to python snakes, the boys are getting a proper, immersive learning experience. Amazing!
Biology done differently: a tortoise, one of over 300 animals at Radley
We were also very taken by Radley College’s Curriculum Extension Programme, which boys are offered in the 6th Form in parallel with their A-Levels.This programme gives boys the opportunity to develop new skills without having to take exams. This includes skills like Entrepreneurship, Acting, Learning Portuguese (bit random, but hey!), Learning How to Enjoy Reading Books, Robotics & Coding, Music Technology and many more. Unfortunately we did not get to experience any classes first-hand this time. We can say, however, that all the teachers we met struck us as extremely friendly, kind and smart. They seem fully devoted to teaching and supporting the boys. Also, we detected a real sense of pride for the job. This is their vocation and they love it.
Class sizes are predictably small with an average of 16 boys up to the GCSE exams and eight for A-Levels.
Radley's amazing indoor pool
The Extracurriculars
Radley College’s primary goal is to give the boys a well-rounded education. At von Bülow Education we sometimes feel that top schools of Radley’s ilk pay lip service to this credo only. When the chips are down, the children will do more school work and be discouraged to pursue more extracurricular interests.
At Radley we actually felt that they meant it! A key person to convince us in this was Theo, our German boy. He told us how he had managed to go sailing, play rugby and join the robotics team this term alone. He also told us that his House Master and teachers made sure that he’d STOP doing academic work enough to pursue his passions. Yes, anecdotal evidence only, but still.
A proper gym!
Radley College is first and foremost associated with excellent sports. The school is keen to rectify this: it is so, so much more than just a sporty school. Based on what we saw, we’d fully agree. And yet, the sports offer is mind-blowingly good here. Rugby reigns supreme. The school sports 12 rugby pitches and 23 teams alone, and always competes for the top spot in country-wide competitions.
Rowing machines, as rowing is HUGE here!
The same goes for rowing. The school has eight rowing teams, all of which compete at top events like the Henley Royal Regatta. Having the river Thames close by, complete with a boathouse helps. The school also has a beautiful fitness studio, complete with dozens of rowing machines and - wait for it - its own indoor rowing water tank. Other sports such as tennis, squash, hockey, lacrosse and swimming are no less competitive here. And as you’d expect of a school with traditions, Radley College is one of four schools with a court to play ‘real tennis’, the precursor to today’s popular sport. The school also has a gorgeous 25m indoor swimming pool, complete with its own diving pit and 3,5 meter-deep water.Fantastic!
Radley's theatre
Given the school’s large acreage, it would be remiss for Radley College not to offer certain countryside delights. The school has its own farm, where it keeps horses, chickens and breeds its own Beagle dogs. At the school’s Countryside Center, Radley boys can do shooting, fly-fishing, ferreting and beagling. Lastly, the boys have a 9-hole golf course at their disposal, which is especially popular on week-ends. So far, so predictable for a boys-only school, right? But let us also tell you about what we saw in Radley College’s Sewell Gallery, the school’s exhibition space for everything art- and design-related. We were absolutely blown away by the quality of the boy’s paintings and sculptures on display!
Stunning art by talented boys
We also loved Radley’s Design Engineering Department, home to the boys’ product design, robotics, digital and engineering projects. Under the supervision of an experienced team of teachers, the boys get to use 3D printers, laser-cutters, as well as more conventional tools like saws, hammers and wrenches. Radley’s approach to design engineering has a refreshingly holistic take. The boys don’t just get to build stuff for the sake of it. They problem-solve and learn early to think about projects from an entrepreneurial viewpoint. This feels a lot more sophisticated than most design engineering approaches we know from other top schools.
Design Engineering department at Radley
Music is huge at Radley College. Over half of the boys play at least one instrument or are encouraged to give one a go. Mrs Langdale told us proudly of this year’s two Cambridge University Organ Scholars, both boys, who started playing the organ at Radley College at the beginning of Shells (Y9). There are dozens of bands, an orchestra, string ensembles, wind ensembles and rock bands. The musical crown jewel, however, is Radley’s Chapel Choir. With 120 boys taking part, this choir performs at all three weekly chapel services. For boys wanting a more contemporary music experience, music technology is the best option, which includes access to a proper state-of-the art recording studio. Oh, and Radley College even recently started its own record label, releasing the boys’ compositions on Spotify!
Music auditorium
And if that wasn’t enough to keep the boys busy, Radley College offers excellent drama. The school sports its own 400-seater theatre, as well as a smaller ‘black box’ drama space. Radley stages four major productions every year, including an all-college play or musical. In short - this is a school that has something for everyone.
Radley's gorgeous chapel
The Boarding
All 770 boys at Radley College board full-time. The boys live in 11 boarding houses, the so-called ‘Socials’. We got to see two of these and were very impressed by how well maintained they were. Not your usual run-down fare!
Each ‘Social’ has its own dedicated pastoral team consisting of a house master ( the Social Tutor), assistant house master (the Sub Tutor) and a matron (the Pastoral Housemistress). As you’d expect, the senior boys of each house get drafted in to help the younger boys settle in. What’s unusual from other boarding schools we know is that all boys from the second year onwards have their own single rooms here.
The Sewell Gallery from the outside
Also unusual is the fact that most Radley teachers live onsite. The immeasurable benefit of this is that the boys have ample access to academic support from their teachers beyond the normal school day. We had the distinct pleasure of tasting Radley’s food for lunch. As our visit was on a Friday, we were served very good fish and chips in the stunningly grand “hogwartian” dining hall. So, two enthusiastic thumbs up for Radley College’s food!
Rugby is HUGE here also!
Like all schools around the globe, Radley College is not immune to the scourge of endemic mobile phone and gadget use. Use generally is restricted across all year-groups to one hour a day, albeit Theo told us that it was more liberal than that.
Radley College has four compulsory exeat-weekends a year.
We visited just before Christmas ;-)
Our View of a Suitable Radley College Boy
We LOVED Radley College. It’s a hugely impressive boys school (as well as the least showy of the big boys schools!), with smart, kind, active and well-grounded boys. Everyone here works hard academically and mucks in outside the class-room. These are prerequisites. Neither über-nerds nor couch potatoes will be happy here.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter
Interested in our insights, opinions and stories related to English boarding schools? Then why not sign up!
von Bülow Education
Holbrooke House
34 - 38 Hill Rise
TW10 6UA

Tel: +44 (0) 203 9534063
Email: info@buloweducation.com