Introduction and Subjects
Abingdon has always had a sound academic tradition and in recent years a drive towards academic excellence has borne fruit. This is not the result of a narrow concentration - on the contrary, the curriculum is characterised by breadth and flexibility.
Most boys study 10 subjects at GCSE from the wide range available and take them in their stride. This is protection against premature specialisation, and provides them with a broad basis of knowledge and skills. The large Sixth Form permits a wide choice of different subjects at A level or Pre-U, and many boys read a combination of arts and science subjects.
“The pupils’ achievements and learning are excellent, as a consequence of the excellent curricular and extra-curricular provision and teaching.” - ISI Inspection
You can find out more about the lower, middle and upper school curriculum from the curriculum pages. Department information below provides more detail about each subject.
For further information email Graeme May, Deputy Head (Academic).
Art is part of the compulsory curriculum for the first 3 years of the school. In the 4th year and beyond pupils may choose to do the subject for GCSE and on to A level.
We start from the premise that the best art comes from an imaginative and thoughtful interpretation of first hand visual experience, informed by an understanding of historical and contemporary art practice. So we aim to offer as wide a range of approaches to making art as possible from painting to screen printing, from ceramic sculpture to digital drawing. We believe Art is important for every student's general education; developing skills in the basic visual language of Art helps develop students' thinking, and is increasingly important in a world dominated by the visual.
For our examination students we look for increasingly individual developments and ambitious imaginative work is encouraged. In order that their work should have a context, pupils are helped to relate their work to other artists through regular gallery visits and the resources of the departmental library.
The department has recently moved to the top floor of the new Beech Court development where the accommodation comprises of 4 large classrooms (including a ceramics specialism room with adjoining damp and kiln rooms), a large sixth form studio, a dark room and an outside terrace.
We run a series of clubs for different year groups, which are open to any student, not only for those doing GCSE or A Level.
Further information about the art department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
We consider the ancient world an invaluable tool with which to think about our own. To study the direct Athenian democracy - in which adult Athenian males were expected to vote in person on every decision - enables pupils to reflect upon the representative democracy of the UK; to study the Latin and Greek languages help boys to understand not only the evolution of European languages across time, but more importantly to think about the grammatical structures of all languages (including English), and the different ways in which languages can convey the same ideas.
In Latin and Greek we also value especially highly the study of ancient literature: we consider that authors such as Homer, Vergil, Sophocles, Catullus, Tacitus and Euripides to have produced some of the most readable and important texts in the history of mankind. Some boys study these in the original as early as the fourth year, all Latinists and Greekists read some for GCSE, and reading a wide range of texts beyond the syllabus forms the cornerstone of our A level courses. Not only do these texts provide much food for thought in themselves, but they also continue to have resonance in a great deal of modern literature, both English and foreign.
Ancient History offers an ideal opportunity to boys to pursue their interest in the ancient world without the need for studying its languages. Athens and Rome are central, with Athenian democracy, Greek warfare and the Roman empire particular focuses. However, the new GCSE course also encompasses the hugely powerful Persian Empire.
There are six full-time classics staff, teaching in the newly refurbished departmental suite of rooms located in Greening Court.
Latin is compulsory in the Lower School; a policy welcomed by the English and Modern Languages departments, as well as by the scientists and mathematicians. They all appreciate the skills that Latin teaches pupils. In the Middle School, all classical subjects - Latin, Greek and Ancient History – are optional but most pupils take at least one. In the Upper School, Latin, Greek and Ancient History all continue to be taught as separate A levels.
A large number of boys pursue their interest in the classical world beyond school, and win places on competitive university courses to read Classics, including significant numbers every year at Oxbridge. The department runs lots of extension classes for sixth-formers, not only for these boys but for any with an interest to expand their classical horizons. Many sixth-formers also choose to attend the JACT Greek Summer School each year in order to experience two weeks of intensive study of Greek.
The department also runs an annual Classics trip abroad (recent destinations have included Provence, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, Sicily and Turkey) as well as trips to the British Museum and to Greek drama productions in Oxford and London. The First Year visit Fishbourne Roman Palace; the Second Year visit the Roman Baths Museum in Bath, and reenactors and authors are regularly invited to the school to display the technology and tactics of ancient warfare; there is a Classics and Archaeology Club which not only helps boys to understand the importance of the material culture of the ancient world, but also gives them the opportunity to get hands-on experience of a dig on the school site. We also often take a third-year trip to Hadrian’s Wall in May. External speakers regularly come to school to address our Classics Society. Boys are also encouraged to participate in the UK linguistics Olympiad, and in recent years we have had several representatives go on to represent the UK in the international Olympiad, including one who helped the UK to win its first ever world team gold. Boys also enter the local Classical Reading competition at Oxford University.
Further information about the classics department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Computers, ICT and technology play an important role in a student’s life, both in and out of the classroom. Abingdon prides itself on offering an open approach to using technology in a thoughtful and progressive manner. Through offering students the ability to use technology in all aspects of the curriculum, we aim to equip boys for an increasingly online world. Importantly, Abingdon is introducing a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) approach to enable all subjects to access online resources during the course of any lesson. On top of this, we also teach Computer Science as a stand alone academic subject.
Through their work in the Computing department, pupils are encouraged to develop informed, intelligent and confident attitudes to computers and technology, so that they will develop abilities which, as well as being of value in school, prepare them for their further education and careers. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Year students all follow a compulsory Computing curriculum, focussing on combining functional skills (e.g. using word processors and spreadsheets), digital literacy (e.g. research skills and online behaviour) and Computer Science (e.g. coding and how networks work). This broadly follows the Key Stage 3 National Curriculum, tailoring it to the needs of an Abingdon student and enabling them to get the most out of using the internet and technology throughout their school career.
From September 2017, boys have been able to take Computer Science as one of their GCSE subjects. This provides a rigorous and detailed foundation for students to move ahead with the subject. Topics include pseudocode, computational thinking, hardware and a coding project.
Our whole-school eLearning strategy aims to give both pupils and staff the skills they require to access the school’s networked resources and the confidence to use applications software wherever they might need it in order to enhance teaching and learning throughout the school. Project work by pupils is supported and encouraged through the provision of advice, software and hardware and boys can take part in individual or group projects through the various programming and robotic clubs on offer. Our aim is to facilitate the use of technology in a broad range of subjects throughout the whole school so that staff and pupils can enhance the learning in them by the offering of a wider experience.
Further information about the Computer Science department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Design and Technology
View the virtual tours:
The design & technology department is a well-equipped busy environment. It has two large workshops and a smaller Lower School workshop, the department also has a sixth form product development studio with rapid prototyping facilities. The department has recently benefited from a large amount of investment and all workshops are well resourced and allow pupils to develop practical work in Wood Metal and Plastic. In addition to the more traditional manufacturing methods the department also houses laser cutters and numerous CNC machines including routers, milling machines and centre lathes. Additive manufacture is a rapidly growing field of engineering and design and the department has numerous 3d printers and digital scanners to allow boys to quickly realise their design concepts in 3d.
There are two dedicated design classrooms both equipped with Apple Mac suites. Boys are encouraged to develop their creativity and design ideas through a variety of media. In addition to sketching and rendering, much emphasis is placed on the development of CAD skills through the use of Autodesk Fusion 360. The department runs many other half activities including 3d printing clubs, young designers and the facility is open every afternoon for GCSE and A-Level pupils to pursue their own work. We encourage boys to enter national competitions and have had success in several, including ‘Landrover 4x4’ and the ‘Triumph Design Awards’. We also regularly have numerous Arkwright Scholars in the sixth form.
At A Level, classes are often mixed with girls from St Helen’s, though all lessons are on the Abingdon site taught by our teachers.
Design & Technology Workshop - Summer 2019
This summer the School’s DT Department is offering Design and Technology workshop sessions to our current lower school boys, and to boys who will be joining the Third Year in September 2019. See further information.
Further information about the design & technology department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page or up to date news and features can be found by following the department on twitter @abingdondesign.
Drama has developed rapidly in recent years at Abingdon and there continues to be a strong demand for drama both as a curriculum subject, and as one of the School's most popular extra-curricular activities.
The overall aim of the department is to promote lasting enjoyment of drama. Specific aims include a desire to encourage and develop:
- creativity, imagination and sensitivity
- the ability to work as part of a group, both leading and supporting others
- self-confidence and self-awareness
- physical and verbal skills of communication through gesture, movement, use of space, voice and language
- awareness of design and technical aspects of productions
- awareness of drama in its various forms (including the study and staging of plays, and visits to theatres)
- skills of appreciation and evaluation
Drama is taught throughout the School. All boys in first and second years receive one period of drama tuition each week. In the third year, boys may choose to study the subject in more depth as a preparation for the two-year GCSE course, which occupies the fourth and fifth years. A-level drama and theatre studies is a popular option in the sixth form which offers pupils experience of co-education through the involvement of girls from the neighbouring independent girls’ school (St Helen’s). The sixth form teaching is shared between the drama staff at both schools, so boys and girls will have lessons on both sites, and there is a strong tradition of collaborative partnership at this level.
Drama is taught in the new Arts Centre with a dedicated drama studio and classroom and, with the building of Beech Court, Drama will be able to enjoy even more enhanced facilities, including the creation of a second studio theatre.
The Amey Theatre is used for major school productions, as well as performances by visiting companies. It has all the necessary facilities for a full lighting rig and sound system. It is essentially a proscenium arch theatre with an apron stage, which can be removed to create an orchestra pit. The seating is raked and fixed, and can accommodate an audience of about 450.
Providing opportunities for pupils to participate in drama outside the classroom is one of the fundamental aims of the department. To this end, we present a varied programme of plays and events to cater for each group within the School, as well as girls from St Helen’s. Full-scale productions are mounted at the rate of one of two each term, and are chosen to offer as wide a range of opportunities and styles as possible. They are directed by members of staff and pupils. A regular programme of workshops and theatre visits is undertaken.
Further information about the drama department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Economics and Business
Economics is a joint A Level subject with St Helen’s, taught on the Abingdon site by our teachers.
Economics and Business are two separate subjects taught at Sixth Form level, with approximately 50% of the Sixth Form electing to study one of them. At the moment, though pupils can choose to study both in the L6th, it is our strong recommendation that only one be pursued to full A Level owing to the potential for overlapping content with the consequence that many universities will not accept both of them in a three A Level profile.
The study of Economics and Business allows pupils to explore issues of global, historic and contemporary relevance, and it is important to us that they leave school with the ability to understand concepts that were previously foreign to them. However, we want pupils to go beyond a passive acceptance or understanding of ‘the facts’. It is vital that they grapple with the subtleties, complexities and value judgments implicit in Economics and Business, so we seek to foster a spirit of inquiry that gives pupils the capacity to make critical judgments.
It goes without saying that we want to do the best that we can for every single pupil that we teach so that they may achieve an A level grade that is a fair representation of their ability. We therefore seek to provide a structure that allows pupils of different academic abilities to realise their potential. For those pupils wishing to stretch themselves, there are also ample opportunities to engage in further study or enter national competitions such as the RES and Marshall Society Essay Competitions. The departmental culture allows for a happy, relaxed and yet purposeful working ethos to be created within which pupils are encouraged to express their thoughts and views.
We also believe that it is extremely important for pupils to apply the theoretical principles learned in class to the 'real world' in order to make courses both relevant and interesting. Through 'Firefly' pupils have access to data, video, newswires and web links. Many lessons are taught using internet access so students can use the very latest economics and business data, and explore trusted websites. Speakers from either business or academia address the school’s Economics Society once a term and the department also organises day trips to a variety of places most recently London to visit the Bank of England and the LSE. It is hoped that all of these activities will help bridge the gap between theory and reality.
Girls from St Helen’s wishing to study Economics do so at Abingdon School, so many of the classes are mixed ones. Plans are in place to move the department by September 2020 to a purpose-built space towards the northern edge of the Abingdon campus where Faringdon Lodge is currently sited, which will further facilitate our collaboration with St Helen’s.
Further information about the economics department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
The vision of Abingdon’s English department is to foster boys’ love of reading and writing through creativity and challenge. Our main aim is to achieve the highest possible standards for all of our boys, culminating in excellence in results. We strive to ensure that our curriculum is rich and diverse as well as academically rigorous. We aspire to broaden the boys’ minds, particularly through our deep questioning in lessons, making them more cultured and well versed in intellectual discussion. We expose boys to the historical and cultural contexts surrounding literature, and the study of both pre-1900 and post-1900 texts in all year groups aids their knowledge of the literary canon. Overall, we wish to develop the perceptiveness and sophistication of the boys’ reading skills whilst nurturing his range of command of spoken and written English.
All boys are taught English up to the end of the fifth year, when they take GCSE English Language and English Literature. Pupils may choose to study English Literature at A Level, and in Upper School classes there is a good blend of those who will continue studying English at university and those specializing in other subjects, who recognise the importance of refining their analytical skills and the precision of their expression. Each year a number of pupils go on to read English at first-rate universities including Oxford and Cambridge.
Throughout their time with the English department pupils will be expected to read regularly across a broad range of texts and genres. In Lower School particular focus is also placed on improving the technical accuracy of pupils’ writing, developing a critical vocabulary that enables pupils to explore how writers achieve particular effects, and on encouraging pupils to become more self-aware and mature as creative writers. Current texts being studied include: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Julius Caesar and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
We begin the Third Year with an exciting and innovative unit called The History of English Literature, where boys are taken along a journey of literature from Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale through to Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, via Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shelley’s Frankenstein. This teaches boys the significance of contextualising literature in the canon and is a stimulating and challenging course at the start of the Third Year. Throughout the year, the boys are taught the basis of the skills required at GCSE. They will construct more convincing arguments through planning and crafting relevant essays, and will learn to vary their own written and spoken English for a range of purposes and audiences.
In the fourth and fifth years, the boys begin their study leading towards GCSE. Our current Fifth Year follow the CiE First Language (0500) and English Literature (0486) syllabuses, where boys have historically gone on to achieve very highly indeed. With the national reforms to GCSE in the UK, the department is moving to the new AQA GCSEs in English Language and English Literature for first teaching to the Fourth Year from September 2018. The key advantages to this move are:
- Dynamic and engaging content including a range of text choices from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
- The requirement to study a Shakespeare play and a 19th-century novel alongside a modern play and range of poetry.
- Two equally-balanced papers across both GCSEs, with questions thematically linked throughout to provide a clear route through each paper.
- The opportunity to be formally assessed in debate, discussion and presentation skills through a speaking and listening unit.
We begin the Fourth Year by studying J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls before moving on to poetry based on the theme of Power and Conflict and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In the Fifth Year, boys will also study The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In addition to this, boys practise reading and writing skills throughout the course. We encourage boys to continually hone their reading skills by regularly reading broadsheet newspapers and challenging novels in their spare time.
Pupils who study English in the Sixth Form find it richly rewarding to read more challenging texts, to approach these from different theoretical perspectives, and to position literature within broader cultural and social contexts. We aim for our Sixth Form lessons to be intellectually stimulating and encourage wide discussion and debate. The OCR English Literature course is primarily assessed by examination at the end of the U6 (80%) but the coursework element (20%) is an opportunity for boys to gain experience of drafting and editing extended essays in detail. Currently in the L6, the boys study the thematic development in three texts in either The Gothic or American Literature, meaning they make links between texts such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Bloody Chamber, or, The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath and A Farewell to Arms. In addition to this, boys are able to make astute and confident comparisons between two pre-1900 texts, currently The Duchess of Malfi and Paradise Lost (IX & X). For coursework, which is completed in U6, the boys study the poetry of WB Yeats and compare and contrast a modern play and novel. Throughout the two year course pupils are taught to think conceptually about texts, theories and the relationships between them.
The English Department places a large emphasis on co-curricular classes and activities. Pupils produce their own creative writing magazine called Words And That and also the school newspaper, The Martlet. Staff lead classes in a Literary Society jointly with St Helen’s; this offers opportunities for sixth form boys to extend their reading whether or not they are studying English beyond GCSE. There are regularly visiting speakers and the year culminates in a literary dinner. There is a creative writing group, The Postmen, which boys can join. Scribble is a third year creative writing group run in collaboration with St Helen's, and it publishes an anthology of student work each year. The AFA in Creative Writing is a new A Level style course for the Sixth Form, which they are able to choose in addition to their core academic subjects. The new, UCAS recognised course allows students to experiment in styles of writing, and is chiefly assessed by coursework. In previous years, we have also had a writer-in-residence. Jason Hewitt (2015) worked with the boys throughout the year to produce The Abingdon Anthology (a collection of short stories written by staff and students), and Jon Stock (2017) produced The Birth of a Book having taken boys through an editing and redrafting process, where the ultimately produced the opening first three chapters to their own novels. Each year there is a variety of trips to theatres and lectures for all year groups. Recent trips have included watching performances of The Merchant of Venice (Globe Theatre), The Winter’s Tale (Oxford Playhouse), and Jerusalem (V&A), but also in-house cinema screenings of The Duchess of Malfi and the recent encore screening of Hamlet. We are always looking for opportunities to take the boys to literary festivals, London and Stratford.
Further information about the English department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Geography is a popular subject in the school and the department has an excellent track record of results at both iGCSE and A level. Geography offers an invaluable skills set which are keenly sought by potential employers post degree. There has also never been a better time to study geography given the current climate with regard climate change and environmental stress, growing inequalities at a variety of scales (international, regional and local), the future of trade to name but a few areas which are studied in Geography.
The department is now well established in our new accommodation; we are one of the first departments in the country to have a dedicated GIS suite (geographic information system) at the heart of the department. We also have a dedicated GIS Teaching Support Coordinator to help deliver our ambitious GIS programme. This new facility is certainly transforming the way in which we teach geography at all levels in the school.
The subject has never been more relevant than it is today at all levels in the school. Themes taught in the sixth form include the water and carbon cycles, natural hazards, contemporary issues in trade, issues relating to power and borders, disease dilemmas. Other topical themes such as globalization, poverty, sustainability in cities and global stewardship, offer a rich and diverse subject for the inquisitive student to explore at any level within the school.
The staff, who combine experience and youth, set high academic standards. They achieve this by fostering a genuine interest and enthusiasm for the subject in the students through their professionalism and support.
The department has a long history of commitment to both human and physical geography but this artificial divide really appears ever more redundant as the students grapple with the real issues of today.
In recent years there have been a significant number of students choosing to read geography at university: we have also had success with Oxbridge applications.
Regular field excursions are seen as an integral part of the curriculum. Over the years the department has organised overseas trips to Iceland, India, the Azores, Spain and Finland. Currently, the lower sixth, fifth, fourth and thirds years have the opportunity to visit Kenya in the summer (2019). In addition the department has a growing number of UK based field excursions for both the sixth form and middle school.
Further information about the geography department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Government and Politics
This is a joint A Level subject with St Helen’s, taught on the St Helen’s site by their teachers.
In the Politics A level course, students study 3 broad areas
- The government and politics of the UK
- The government and politics of the USA, and comparative politics (comparing the UK to the USA)
- Political ideas.
Students will acquire an in depth knowledge of the political systems of the UK and the USA: for example, the nature and sources of the Constitution, and debates around the power of the state and the rights of the individual. Students will compare the political systems in the UK and the USA. They will be required to identify parallels, connections, similarities and differences between aspects of politics. This will ensure that students develop a critical awareness of the changing nature of politics and the relationships between political ideas, political institutions and political processes.
The political ideas of Conservatism, Socialism and Liberalism have relevance to both of the systems of government and politics, and will enhance the students’ knowledge and understanding of politics, political debate and political issues in both the UK and the USA.
Students are taught in a seminar style based on informed discussion. They will learn to apply the political knowledge and concepts studied across all areas of the syllabus. To encourage this kind of synoptic thinking, the teaching will be focused on a comparative approach from the start. For example, the power of the Prime Minister in the UK will be studied in parallel with the power of the American president. The political ideas section of the course will be taught in discrete topics interleaved amongst the government and politics modules.
We teach the AQA Politics specification. Examination is by 3 x 2 hour papers of equal weighting at the end of the two years. The examination questions are a mixture of medium length ‘explain’ and essay style questions.
- We offer a range of opportunities to engage with politics beyond the curriculum.
- We arrange a seminar session with current PPE students from Oxford
- L6 students typically attend a politics conference in London with prominent political speakers
- Our Senior Politics Society offers opportunity for the discussion of a wide range of political issues, such ‘how should the international community deal with North Korea’ to ‘What is free media?’ and ‘the split in the labour party’.
- Our extension society focuses on the reading and discussion of political texts as well as techniques of intellectual enquiry.
Further information about the course can be found in the curriculum documents available for download from the curriculum page.
The History Department at Abingdon prides itself in being academically rigorous and educationally forward thinking. We believe that it is vital that lessons are dynamic, engaging and interactive so that pupils enjoy their learning. We also believe in a broad and balanced curriculum that prepares pupils for life in 21st century Britain and the wider world. It is our aim at all times to use creative and imaginative teaching techniques.
We aim to:
- Energise: History lessons are ‘fun’: we aim to be lively, exciting and dynamic.
- Enlighten: History lessons aim to be interesting and relevant to today’s world: we aim to highlight the skills pupils are developing whilst delivering a diverse curriculum that covers a range of topics of interest, as well as those that shape the modern world.
- Enable: In History lessons expectations are high. We aim to engage pupils with key skills in history – evidence, causation, significance, difference, change, continuity. From an early age, we introduce pupils to the work of historians in both academia and popular history.
- Encourage: History classrooms are positive places to come to.
Year 1: look at a range of topics based around themes such as invasion, settlement, empire, liberty and democracy: We follow a broadly, although not exclusively, chronological approach starting with a big picture overview of Britain through time from the Romans to the present day. All units are framed through enquiry questions such as ‘How dark were the Dark Ages?’ or ‘What mattered to medieval people in Abingdon?’, a local history unit.
Year 2: the main themes are kingship and empire. Whilst the initial focus is on English history, teachers will place Britain’s role in the wider world in context by analysing other kingdoms and empires such as the Ming dynasty in China, the Aztecs or Incas in central America.
Year 3: we study the concepts of revolution, nationalism and empire starting with the French Revolution. Thereafter we engage with Hobsbawm’s concept of the Long Nineteenth Century, World War One and a study of anti-Semitism through time, culminating with The Holocaust.
Year 4-5: follow the Edexcel IGCSE course with modules in Russia 1905-24, Germany 1918-45, the Cold War (1943-72) and the Middle East (c.1919-2015).
Year 6-7: follow the OCR course with a variety of topics from the The Tudors, The Stuarts, The French Revolution to The American Revolution for units 1 and 2. For unit 3 pupils will study one of the following units: authority in Russia 1855-1964, Civil Rights in the USA 1865-1992 or China and its rulers 1839-1999. Students also complete a 4000-word essay based on one of the units they have looked at.
The department run trips annually to the Battlefields of Northern France and Belgium (3rd Year) and Berlin (4th Year). A variety of sixth form trips have taken place over the last fifteen years from Dublin to Paris if enough students have wanted to go. We also run various clubs and extension classes. In the Lent Term of the lower sixth students enter a subject essay prize which leads to pupils entering a range of national university essay competitions. UCAS sessions take place in the Michaelmas term of the upper sixth. The department produces a fourth year History & Politics Magazine and an in-house termly magazine, Timeline. We also take the second year pupils to Hampton Court palace in the Trinity term.
Clubs and visiting speakers
This year we have a number of visiting speakers including:
- Gary Sheffield will give a talk on the First World War.
- Richard Rampton QC, who successfully defended Deborah Lipstadt against the Holocaust denier David Irving in 2000 giving a talk entitled ‘Truth on Trial’.
- Professor Michael Lynch who will give a talk on the Russian Revolution.
- Professor Catherine Holmes, a Medievalist from University College Oxford, who will give a talk on Medieval European history.
- Nick Kinloch who will give a talk on the Cold War.
Further information about the history department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Mathematics is a very popular subject at Abingdon and the department is a lively place to study. All students are challenged by the puzzle of the fortnight and many take part in the UKMT Maths Challenges throughout the year. A coding club takes place in the Michaelmas Term to encourage boys taking part in the National Cipher Challenge, a popular competition and one in which Abingdon has enjoyed much success in recent years.
Mathematics is recognised as requiring a logical and rational approach as well as demanding dedication and determination to be successful. The department aims that boys should become aware that mathematics is an interesting and enjoyable field in its own right; and also that it continues to be central to many diverse and important branches of endeavour in the modern world, whether scientific, financial or computational.
All boys study Mathematics in their tutor groups in the first year and are introduced to a mixed curriculum of number, shape, algebra and data handling techniques. Boys are encouraged to explore these topics, to gain and practise key skills and to think mathematically. There is some setting in the second year to allow the pace of lessons to be better suited to the individual boys but all boys cover the same material and continue to be challenged mathematically.
Mathematics is compulsory for all boys in the Middle School, and all will have taken iGCSE in the subject by the end of the fifth year. As well as enabling each boy to achieve his potential in examinations, the course is designed to equip him with the mathematical skills and understanding required for his other subjects; for further study and training that he may undertake; and for later employment and adult life.
At iGCSE, about 70% gain grade 8 or 9. The top third of pupils will have studied both Maths and Additional Maths, by the end of the 5th Year, taking examinations in both.
The top mathematicians can attend an extra-curricular problem solving club to further challenge and refine their mathematical thinking, tackling a variety of Maths Challenge style of problem.
In the sixth form, maths is a very popular subject, with about 100 students a year. Of those approximately half will be in accelerated sets working towards A Levels in both Maths and Further Maths. Fluency in algebra is very important as is a general enthusiasm to tackle mathematical problems. At this level there are opportunities to take part in the Ritangle competition and the very best Further Mathematicians attempt the Princeton Maths Challenge competition - a week-long competition which requires the production of proofs for some rather fiendish problems. Several boys every year are given support in their preparations for university entrance examinations, some for Maths courses at top universities and others to support their applications for subjects such as Physics, Engineering, Economics and Computing.
Further information about the mathematics department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
The department consists of 14 teachers, aided by five language assistants from France, Germany, Spain and China. It is housed in the Abingdon Languages Centre in Mercers’ Court and has eight classrooms all equipped with state of the art equipment. We have one smaller 6th form seminar room for teaching and 6th form private study. The department also has a set of 12 iPad minis that can be booked for use during lessons and during the many clubs and support groups we run. We make the best use of vocabulary learning apps and authentic video and audio resources on websites we subscribe to.
All boys joining the first year currently start the year with German to allow all boys to develop their knowledge and skills at the same pace rather than rely on previous knowledge. After an assessment in German, the boys learn French for the remainder of the year after February half term. Boys are taught in form groups. At the end of the first year they choose between French or German and continue with the chosen language in mixed ability groups in the second year and beyond.
In the Third Year, all boys must study French or German and may study one or two of the starter languages on offer alongside. All boys must study French, German or Spanish up to IGCSE, and many continue with two languages and in some cases even three. Many boys combine a modern foreign language with other A Level subjects in the Sixth form. All boys are taught in mixed ability groups and the course followed is Cambridge IGCSE. Boys opting for Chinese will study the AQA GCSE course.
French, German and Spanish are offered to Advanced Level and for each we follow the CIE Pre-U syllabus. Sixth form language uptake is very good by national comparison and many take their languages further, whether by opting for a languages degree or by combining a language with another subject such as history, international management or engineering. Boys focusing on science, maths, humanities etc are encouraged to consider studying in addition a modern language to enhance their skill base. The possibility of taking an ‘Erasmus Year' abroad in whatever subject is being studied at university remains appealing.
Italian and Russian are also offered to GCSE (Edexcel) in the sixth form when the timetable allows. We also often offer a ‘Spanish or German GCSE in a year’ option to L6th boys. Depending on interest, there is the chance for students to complete the HSK qualification in Mandarin.
We strongly encourage students to become independent, ambitious, reflective learners who are supportive of each other. We strive towards greater communication and coherence between the individual language departments in our approach to marking, feedback and differentiation and seek to integrate each other’s best practice. We make it our priority to promote language learning for its own sake but also for the benefit of the transferable skills acquired by the students and to raise the status of Modern Foreign Languages across the school.
Teaching Style at Abingdon
Whilst emphasis is put on the ability of our pupils to communicate effectively in everyday situations, the teaching of grammar has an unassailable position in our approach. Pupils are formally tested on grammar or vocabulary regularly. The language in the classroom is the target language unless there are educationally valid reasons for resorting to English. Full use is made of information technology, songs, role plays and games in our teaching. Considerable importance is placed on the qualities useful for further study: an ability to read continuous prose texts with ease and a reasonable grasp of cultural and historical background.
The pattern of choices that has evolved aims to provide a coherent strategy for language learning throughout each pupil's career at Abingdon. The emphasis is on providing the skills necessary to learn any language from scratch as well as achieving the highest standard possible in any one, two or possibly three languages. The breadth and the diversity of language choice is an integral part of the modern languages strategy at Abingdon.
We run a weekly languages clubs for the Lower School, where boys can create their own short film of animated plasticine characters which they then voice in the foreign language. In addition, we have a Modern Languages Society for the Sixth Form, run in conjunction with St Helen's, which offers social events, dinners, talks, discussion groups, lectures, cinema and theatre trips etc. We also offer regular drop-in help clubs for all languages and a range of year groups as well as a student-led linguistics club.
Many boys from other areas of the school also contribute to our well-established remarkable MFL magazine, The Polyglot.
Exchanges and trips
The Abingdon Modern Languages Department offers an exceptionally wide range of trips abroad - an indication of the level of commitment of our staff. We consider trips to be extremely valuable from a broader educational point of view, as well as for working on language skills. We run a series of long-standing exchanges and study trips with partner schools in Aix en Provence, Bielefeld and Santiago de Compostela. Additionally boys in the Lower School have the opportunity to visit Germany and France in a biannual trip to the border region. Boys in the Sixth Form have the opportunity to take part in a study tour to a French, German or Spanish city. We also run a trip to China.
Further information about the modern languages department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Music is at the centre of life at Abingdon School both geographically and metaphorically – and it involves a very large number of boys, currently well over 400. Many of these pupils are engaged in the school’s ensembles and choirs, creating an atmosphere of musical creativity that extends well beyond the boundaries of the Music School.
Music is a compulsory subject in the Lower School and is designed to introduce boys to the three main areas of music that will be developed as they progress throughout the school - namely, those of performance, listening and composing. The boys have two music lessons per fortnightly cycle. These class music lessons give the boys an opportunity to discover and experience the main instruments of the orchestra and many pupils choose to take up the opportunity to start lessons with our specialist team of some forty instrumental teachers. Typically, before long, they can join the many bands and orchestras that are provided; we take the entire 1st Year to an orchestral concert, usually in Birmingham, which cements their understanding in this area.
In the 2nd Year the boys continue to use musical notation, which strengthens their instrumental work, and is consolidated by listening, watching and writing about musical performances in lessons of musical appreciation. The other lesson is spent in singing with a specialist choral teacher. In this work the boys prepare for various performances through the year including the House Singing Competition, The Christmas Concerts and the Lower School Gala Concert. The focus on singing at Abingdon feeds and strengthens the pupils’ participation throughout their time at the school, not least in congregational singing in weekly chapel services and in the whole school Annual House Singing Competition.
In the 3rd year Music becomes an option and the four lessons per cycle are divided equally between music listening and composition lessons with our specialist teacher in the Music Technology Suite. Here, the pupils use the latest music software, principally, Sibelius, to develop the required techniques to produce their own musical compositions to a specified brief. The other lessons are spent in undertaking listening and analysis tasks. They introduce the boys to the kind of work that they will experience in the GCSE course, which becomes another option for them in the 4th Year.
Boys who choose music as a GCSE option in the 4th Year continue to develop their skills as composers, as performers and in listening through the study of a wide range of set works. We take the Edexcel music course, which combines a wide range of areas of study, together with a good level of rigour in its assessments. The lessons are divided equally between composition and listening/set works. By the end of the two-year course the pupils will have completed two compositions and be ready to sit the 1 hour 45 minute listening examination in which they will be tested both on their aural skills, their knowledge of the set works - and their ability to apply their knowledge in associated works where the same principles of composition apply. The performance work comprises a solo and an ensemble piece which is recorded, marked and sent for moderation. This work is undertaken by the instrumental teachers but coordinated and supervised by the academic staff.
At A level, we take the OCR specification. The listening and set works paper, worth 40% overall, gives the pupils a strong grounding in four different areas of study, two compulsory (18th century Instrumental Music and Jazz) and two which are chosen (Baroque Choral Music and Programme Music of the 19th Century). The pupils analyse in some detail a range of works, which gives them all the required skills to pursue music at university, should this be their decision. The composing and performance modules offer a welcome degree of flexibility as the boys can choose the weighting of each, either 35% or 25%. This allows the pupils to play to their strengths, as each module requires a slightly greater or lesser emphasis in what is required. The performance-heavy option requires a longer recital, whilst the composition one requires evidence in the final portfolio of some more formal exercises in stylistic harmony. Each year several pupils choose to study music at university or at conservatoire - of the former, there are often those who secure organ or choral awards at Oxford or Cambridge choral foundations.
Whilst the Music department facilitates music making of all genres, creating a real sense of inclusivity, the excellence of the music at Abingdon is renowned both regionally and nationally. Many distinguished musicians have emerged from the school in recent years in the fields of Rock (Johnny Greenwood and Radiohead), Jazz (Tom Richards and his Jazz Orchestra), soloists (Tristan Gurney, leader of the Edinburgh String Quartet), singing (Johnny Herford, winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Solo Song award 2013), as well as teachers, composers, recording engineers and music producers. The boys’ musical talent is nurtured by a team of over forty teachers in studies ranging from bagpipes to bass guitar, piccolo to tuba and music technology to organ. The many concerts at school are always open to families and friends.
Opportunities for pupils to perform music at Abingdon are rich and diverse and they bring huge benefits to the pupils as they collaborate together in their music making. Symphony Orchestra to Piano trio, Big Band Jazz to Drum Circle, Close Harmony to Choral Society – these all enable the department to engage with each and every pupil who has a musical interest. Our philosophy is to make music a fun activity for all, whilst striving for the highest of possible musical standards. Recent initiative has been the foundation of a Gospel Choir and a Joint Chamber Choir with St Helen’s School, an ensemble that has already recorded an exciting disc, joining those already released by the Big Band (2009) and the Abingdon Academicals (2013).
International concert tours have enriched the musical lives of our pupils and have fostered a sense of community in the department. They also provide a real focus and dynamic for the ensembles as they prepare in the preceding year. The most recent tours have included Barcelona (2014), Belgium (2013), USA (2011), Tuscany (2009), Hong Kong and Beijing (2006), and Bielefeld, Germany (2017) with our Orchestra for a 50th Anniversary of the language exchange with Ratsgymnasium. The standing ovation in Washington National Cathedral that the First Orchestra received is an experience that few of the boys will forget!
Abingdon is a school that sings – and singing informs the lives of all our pupils in Lower School curriculum lessons, Chapel Services, the Annual House Singing and in a range of choirs. A particular emphasis is placed on chamber music, which sees our Music Scholars taking a leading role in a wide range of ensembles that engage with a great many of our pupils. The Director of Music is always delighted to hear from talented and promising musicians who enter the school, many with awards, at 11, 13 or 16.
Further information about the music department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Philosophy and Religious Studies
Religious Studies and Philosophy are two separate, challenging academic subjects that require pupils to learn and understand difficult material and then to argue their viewpoint clearly. They are valuable in developing skills in writing and thinking and expressing an idea clearly and persuasively.
It helps pupils to interpret information and to assess its importance. Pupils need to be ready to consider new ideas and to argue a case. They do not need to have any particular religious conviction or any religious conviction at all. Religious Studies includes the study of fundamental questions about humanity and allows students to make informed personal responses to difficult contemporary issues. Philosophy develops logic and analytical skills, while considering fundamental questions about existence and knowledge
Religious studies is compulsory in the first, second and third years. In the fourth year, a good number of pupils (40-80) take GCSE. In the Upper School, a good number of pupils opt for Religious Studies or Philosophy at A-Level.
Further information about the religious studies department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
- Fitness: To instil the importance of a healthy body and mind, by promoting physical activity as a means to a healthy lifestyle.
- Social and Moral: Through small-sided games and group activities, we encourage boys to mix and co-operate. Through competition, we aim to instil the correct attitudes towards winning and losing and develop the pupils’ self-discipline and positive sporting behaviour. Boys are encouraged to develop a sense of purpose, confidence, politeness, perseverance, initiative and independence, whilst accepting that each individual is different.
- Cognitive: To instil knowledge and understanding of the rules, skills, tactics and aims of the various activities. Encouraging them to apply these concepts appropriately in the different activities and critically evaluate their performance so that each pupil can strive to be the best that they can be.
- Leisure: By providing access to a wide variety of sports, we hope to promote, stimulate and encourage pupils to continue their participation in physical activity way beyond their school years.
- Aesthetic: To encourage pupils to appreciate and evaluate form and movement as well as giving them the opportunity to express their creative ability.
There are six full-time Physical Education specialists in the Department, who are very well supported by a sports professional and two qualified Post Graduate Sports Assistants. Compulsory PE lessons are integrated within the academic timetable in the lower and middle school, giving individual pupils, especially the less able, access to specialist teaching. Within PE lessons a wide and balanced range of activities is offered, including, amongst others, net/wall sports, gymnastic and athletic activities, health related fitness / strength & conditioning, swimming and lifesaving. Details on individual sports may be found under the Other Half.
Further information about the PE department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
Abingdon justifiably enjoys a very strong reputation for science. The science department has been able to provide the stimulating and effective teaching in science sought by parents who themselves are scientists or applied scientists working in one of the many science or technology based organisations which has grown up in the School’s catchment area. Because of the strong parental interest in science, Abingdon is an excellent centre in which to teach science and the school has been most fortunate in attracting a well-qualified and enthusiastic team of physics, chemistry and biology teachers and support staff.
Abingdon School’s Yang Science Centre has brought enormous enhancements to the teaching facilities. The new facility, which opened in October 2015, has improved the learning experience of all the boys from the First Year through to the Sixth Form. The Science Centre is an open and interactive space designed to encourage boys to pursue their scientific interests through extra-curricular clubs and projects as well as during lesson times. Our impressive Science results reflect this.
Abingdon fosters scientific interest not just teaches to pass exams. Many boys go on to study science-related subjects at university and the majority to Russell Group universities.
Employers look very favourably on science A levels. They show an aptitude for logical thinking, analysis and problem solving and it is acknowledged that a scientific approach is an excellent discipline for the workplace. Science A levels are well respected whether you are looking for a job in the City or your interest lies with research.
Science curriculum documents are available for download on the main curriculum page.
Biology is the science of the 21st century. At Abingdon we aim to give all students an insight into how biology will impact their lives and start them thinking about how they will contribute to the science. Traditional learning is blended with recent advances in current topics, such as disease outbreaks and DNA technology. This brings the subject to life and shows the pupils that what they learn will, and does, affect their lives.
The department believes in the educational value of biology over and above its value as a preparation for a career. Our aim is to make our students aware of the exciting possibilities and send them out well qualified, informed and enthusiastic about biology. We believe biology, along with the other sciences, is an integral part of a liberal, modern education.
The department regularly runs activities outside of normal timetabled lessons, ranging from a wide-range of guest speakers to major overseas expeditions to the rainforests and reefs of Honduras; see the 2015 trip. Our next major overseas expedition will be to Madagascar in summer 2018. There are weekly seminars for aspiring medics and biologists in the Sixth Form, and the Lower School Biology volunteers are always on hand to look after our menagerie of snakes, stick insects, fish and cockroaches.
The teaching and learning of the biological sciences should generate enthusiasm in four major fields:
- Appreciation of nature - learning about natural history, ecology and conservation, encouraging curiosity and seeking patterns of life.
- Experimentation - the desire and expertise to probe nature by designing and executing experiments, including using new DNA understanding and technology.
- Natural philosophy - seeking to offer explanations of biological phenomena by creating hypotheses and generalisations, developing ideas and attempting to apply concepts in new situations.
- Science in society - linking what they learn in the lab to what they read and hear about in the news.
The biology department occupies the ground floor of the Yang Science Centre. We have six dedicated biology laboratories, offices, study areas and the larger outreach/partnerships laboratory. We have also seen the establishment of the new departmental pond, an environmental area and greenhouse.
Further information about the biology department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.
The Chemistry department’s accommodation is on the top floor of the Yang Science Centre and comprises seven labs, a smaller project room and break out spaces for informal working. Each laboratory has top of the range ICT facilities and three fume cupboards with experimental equipment supplied from a central prep room.
The Chemistry department consists of nine graduate chemists supported by two full time technicians.
In the Middle School, a common course is taken in the 3rd year and at the end of the year students either opt to take Dual Award Science or Chemistry as a separate subject. Both routes follow the Edexcel International GCSE specification. Typically, there are seven sets for Chemistry and two for Dual Award Science.
In the Sixth Form, the Edexcel specification is studied with no AS exams at the end of the Lower Sixth. There are currently 160 students studying chemistry in the Sixth Form. A growing number of students move onto study Chemistry or closely related courses at university.
As well as aiming to inspire students inside of the classroom, the department also looks to push the students beyond the confines of exam specifications. In the Sixth Form students regularly compete in the International Chemistry Olympiad and the C3L6 Chemistry Challenge. In both competitions a significant proportion of students achieve gold awards and there have been three C3L6 Roentgenium awards in the past two years. In the middle school, students are encouraged to participate in the Top of the Bench and Chemistry Challenge competitions. In 2016 the school were runners up in the national Top of the Bench final and regional winners of the Chemistry Challenge in 2016 and 2018. There is also an extensive lecture programme that regularly features chemists from Oxford and other Russell group universities.
Further information about the chemistry department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page
The Physics department at Abingdon is one of the largest and most successful in the country. The department is proud of the fact that we deliver an academically rigorous course whilst ensuring that lessons are innovative and interactive. Interesting recent developments in the fields of Physics and Engineering such as gravitational waves are interwoven with more traditional topics to ensure that students are aware of the future of Physics as well as the cornerstone discoveries of the past.
The department’s aims are to:
- Encourage students to think critically.
- Develop problem solving skills.
- Promote experimental and investigative work.
- Together, these three strands help prepare students for successful future study, regardless of their chosen field.
The department has ten teachers, assisted by a team of technicians. Located on the central floor of the Yang Science Centre. We have seven large physics labs, two of which have extra computers for teaching electronics. All labs have access to a set of Physics laptops and associated data logging equipment.
All students in the Lower and Middle school learn Physics with the course focused around the topics of forces, waves, electricity, radiation and space. At GCSE we follow the Edexcel IGCSE Physics syllabus. The department also offers the option of GCSE Electronics (WJEC course). This gives students the opportunity to further develop their investigative skills with a very hands on practical based course. Studying Electronics also significantly benefits those who go on to choose Physics at A level.
A large cohort chooses to go on and study Physics in the Sixth Form each year. Here we follow the Edexcel A level Physics course (2015). All students are taught by two separate teachers who focus on different parts of the syllabus.
The department runs a wide range of enrichment activities. Recently, these have included:
- Sixth form extension classes
- Academic support classes
- British Physics Olympiad entries
- Blott Matthew’s engineering team project
- Regular Physics society lectures
- Sixth form residential trip to CERN
- Year 9 Big Physics Quiz at Birmingham University
- Day trips to the Diamond light source, JET and Oxford University
- Particle Physics masterclasses
Further information about the physics department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.