Subject Departments

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 AS and A level, 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), 01235 849113

View the virtual tours:

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 3 main studios, each equipped for general art but also with specialist facilities in painting, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture. A library, with an expansive collection of books, is at the centre of the department and acts as a superb resource. There is, in addition, a separate studio for our A level students in their last year, where they are given individual spaces to develop their own work.

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

Further information about the art department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

There are six full-time classics staff, teaching in the 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.

The department is keen to encourage pupils to see the importance of the study of the past to an understanding of the present, and to this end runs annual Classics trips 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 Legio XIIII are regularly invited to the school to display the technology and tactics of ancient warfare; there is a third-year trip to Hadrian’s Wall every May. We also regularly invite speakers to address our Classics Society.

Further Information

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.

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. Cross curricular links with Computing are strongly encouraged and many lessons in other subjects either take place in our shared Computing suites or in the departments themselves. Abingdon has a school-wide network of Apple Mac computers. The Computing department has suites in two different buildings and there are clusters of computers elsewhere in the School. This arrangement enables departments throughout the school to share centralised resources, including the storage of pupils’ work, access to material prepared by staff, a wide range of software, access to the Internet and Study Site, etc.

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.

Our whole-school ICT 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. The work of the Computing department is not examination oriented. In practice its 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

Further information about the ICT department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

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The design and technology department is a well-equipped busy environment. It has two large workshops and a smaller Lower School workshop has recently been built. 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 a laser cutter and numerous CNC machines.

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.

The department runs many other half activities and the facility is open every afternoon for GCSE and A-Level pupils to pursue their own work.

Further Information

Further information about the design and technology department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

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 of St. Helen and St. Katharine. The sixth form teaching is shared between the drama staff at both schools, 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. Pupils studying drama in the sixth form receive some of their tuition at St Helen's. 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. Helens'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

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 Studies are taught at Sixth Form level, with approximately 50% of the Sixth Form electing to study one of these subjects. The study of Economics and Business Studies allows pupils to explore issues of 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 Studies, 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 a variety of national 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 iPads so students can access the very latest economics and business data. Speakers from either business or academia address the school’s Economics Society once a term and the department also organises a large number of day trips to places such as Lloyd's of London, the Bank of England, the London Metal Exchange, BMW Mini, Coca Cola, Jaguar Cars and IEA Sixth Form Conferences. Once a year a foreign trip is also organized with recent examples being Prague, New York, Frankfurt and Paris. It is hoped that all of these activities will help bridge the gap between theory and reality.

Further Information

Further information about the economics department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

Your ability to use and to interpret language has a direct influence on your ability to control your life. We all think and communicate using the English language, and in many respects language controls our sense of the world as we know it. Developing the perceptiveness and sophistication of a boy’s reading skills, and nurturing his range and command of spoken and written English, are keys aim of the English department at Abingdon.

All boys are taught English up to the end of the fifth year, when they take iGCSE English Language and also 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.

Lower School

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. 

Middle School

In the third year pupils are taught the basis of those 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. Having established these foundational skills, in the fourth and fifth years we are able to pay careful attention to the syllabi, yet not to be limited by them. Staff in the English Department have a broad range of specialist knowledge, and teaching is imaginative and interactive to ensure that pupils enjoy the lessons. Recently studied texts have included Macbeth, Spies and various poetry collections.

Sixth Form

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. This might involve comparing and contrasting pre-1900 poetry and drama, or exploring the thematic development of novels in topic papers such as Gothic Fiction and the American Novel. Throughout the two year course pupils are taught to think conceptually about texts, theories and the relationships between them. They are also able to complete coursework tasks which allow them to work in a supported manner on twentieth century poetry, prose and drama.

Co-curricular

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 that offers opportunities for sixth form boys to extend their reading whether or not they are studying English beyond GCSE. The Postmen is a creative writing group which boys can join. Each year there are a variety of trips to theatres and lectures for all year groups. Recent trips have included a fifth form visit to the Globe Theatre and sixth form visits to lectures at Oxford University. Boys are regularly encouraged to work with our writer-in-residence; recent workshops include a creative writing anthology with Jason Hewitt and The Birth of a Book with Jon Stock. Staff offer regular drop-in clinics for pupils to attend and our English Plus sessions support boys in their GCSE revision.

Further Information

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.

In September 2016 we moved into new accommodation and this has improved significantly our facilities and teaching accommodation. We are one of the first departments in the country to have a dedicated GIS suite (geographic information system) that is run by our GIS Teaching Support Coordinator. 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 offering students an insight into our complex and dynamic world. The water and carbon cycles, natural hazards, contemporary issues in trade, issues relating to power and borders, disease dilemmas to name but a few of the topics studied at A level. Other themes such as globalization, poverty, sustainability in cities and global stewardship, create 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.

Regular field excursions are seen as an integral part of the curriculum. Over the years the department has organised overseas trips to India, Morocco, Spain and Finland. Currently the lower sixth have the opportunity to visit Iceland in the summer before the start of their upper sixth year. In addition the department has a growing number of UK based field excursions for both the sixth form and middle school. 

Further Information

Further information about the geography department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

  • How democratic is our government?
  • Does our voting system produce a fair result?
  • Is the Prime Minister turning into a powerful president?
  • Is Parliament still useful?
  • Are our rights secure?
  • Have we surrendered our independence to Europe?

If such questions could interest you then you would enjoy Government and Politics!

Government and Politics is taught at St Helen's.

Further Information

Further information about the course can be found in the curriculum documents available for download from the curriculum page.


E Poole, The School of St. Helen and St. Katharine

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. It is our aim at all times to use creative and imaginative teaching techniques which are geared to challenge and facilitate learning for the full range of learning styles. Visitors are welcome into any of our lessons to see for themselves how this translates into individual lessons with all year groups.

Overall departmental rationale

Recent developments in History teaching encourage us to be aware that History is not just ‘what happened’. Though there are good ‘stories’ to be told, our emphasis is not solely on material for factual recall. We aim not only to encourage the asking of the question ‘why’ but also work to develop powers of analysis. We seek to develop the ability to understand complexity, or how factors interact to determine the course of events. We also challenge pupils to address issues of interpretation and problems of evaluation. For example, we encourage understanding of what ‘evidence’ is and awareness of its varying usefulness and reliability, and also impress on pupils the need to compare sources, to match them against other knowledge and to ask whether the evidence is representative and verifiable or even ‘what does it actually mean?’

We aim to:

  • Energise: History lessons are ‘fun’: we aim to be lively, exciting and dynamic. We try to ensure that both our love of the subject and a sense of humour show through!
  • Enlighten: History lessons aim to be interesting and relevant to today’s world: we aim to highlight the skills pupils are developing; we make links to contemporary events and encourage pupils to deploy their general knowledge and wider understanding in getting to grips with past times.
  • Enable: In History lessons expectations are high: discipline is firm but fair, a strong work ethic is developed and rewarded, with pupils challenged to produce clear and well-organised written work. Individuals should have a real sense of progress and development both in skills (including ‘thinking powers’) and in the acquisition of knowledge and understanding.
  • Encourage: History classrooms are positive places to come to: we aim to be affirmative, to cultivate a relaxed atmosphere, to build positive relationships and to demonstrate sensitivity in handling individuals.

Clubs

The department runs the History Society, Middle School History Film Club and Lower School History Club.

Further Information

Further information about the history department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

Mathematics is compulsory for all boys in the Lower and Middle Schools, and all will have taken GCSE 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.

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.

At GCSE, about three quarters achieve an A grade or better. The top third of pupils will have studied both Maths and Additional Maths, by the end of the 5th Year, taking examinatons in both. 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.

Further Information

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 13 teachers, aided by five language assistants from France, Germany, Spain and China. It is housed in Big School and has seven classrooms all equipped with state of the art equipment. 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 resources on websites we subscribe to.

Lower School

All boys joining the first year participate in a general linguistics course in the first half term to build their confidence, acquire grammatical terminology and experience language as code breaking. In order to best apply their skills, this is followed by German until February half term after which they learn French until the end of the academic year. 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 second year, pupils use electronic devices as an integral part of their language learning.

Middle School

In the Third Year, all boys must study French or German and may study any one of two of the starter languages – Spanish and Mandarin - 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 modern foreign language with other A-level subjects in the Sixth Form. Most boys are taught in mixed ability groups and the course followed is Cambridge IGCSE. Boys opting for Chinese will study the Edexcel GCSE course.

Sixth Form

French, German and Spanish are offered to Advanced Level and for each we follow the CIE Pre-U syllabus. Sixth Form language uptake is good and exam results for the first Pre-U cohort have been excellent. 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 a year abroad in whatever subject is being studied at university or to take up a university place abroad is becoming increasingly appealing.

Italian and Russian are also offered to GCSE (Edexcel) in the Sixth Form when the timetable allows.

Our vision

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 weekly. 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.

Philosophy

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.

Extra-curricular

We run a weekly languages club for the Lower School, where boys experience a range of different languages through games, puzzles and songs. In addition, we have a Modern Languages Society for the Sixth Form, run in conjunction with St Helen's, which offers social event, dinners, talks, discussion groups, cinema and theatre trips etc. Various other activities take place over the course of the year, such as visiting theatre performances and lectures. We also offer regular drop-in help clubs for all languages and year groups as well as a theatre and a student-led linguistics club.

Many boys from other areas of 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 exchanges and study trips with partner schools in Aix en ProvenceBielefeld and Santiago de Compostela. Additionally boys in the Lower School have the opportunity to visit Normandy and, in the following year, Rhineland. 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 Beijing and Zhejiang in China.

Further Information

Further information about the modern languages department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

Music Department 2016/17

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, or nearly one half of our pupils. 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.

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 initiatives have included the foundation of a Gospel Choir and a Joint Chamber Choir with St Helen’s School, an ensemble that brings together the leading nine singers from both schools and produces an outstanding level of music making. Several of our ensembles have recorded exciting discs, including 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. Planning for an orchestral tour to Japan in July 2019 is now well underway. 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.

Watch Big Band and the Chamber Orchestra in action or view the virtual tours below:

Further Information

Further information about the music department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

Religious Studies and Philosophy are 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 both Religious Studies and Philosophy at A-Level.

Further Information

Further information about the religious studies department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

The aims:

  • 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 five full-time Physical Education specialists in the Department, who are very well supported by three 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, climbing, strength & conditioning, swimming and lifesaving. Details on individual sports may be found under the Other Half.

Peter Bignell, Director of Sport and PE

Further Information

Further information about the PE department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and the mind. It is taught as an A’ level subject at Abingdon. Boys in the 3rd and 4th Years also have opportunities to taste some aspects of the subject in Brain Awareness and Psychology Club.

Psychology is becoming increasingly scientific and mathematical. These changes are reflected in the OCR A level syllabus, which includes a significant component of research methodology and hands on practical work. The first year of the course focuses on research methods and core studies, which give both a historical and contemporary perspective on the main psychological issues. The second year of the course includes the topics of mental health, criminal psychology and sport and exercise psychology.

Brain Awareness is an option for 3rd year boys doing the Service and Citizenship course. It involves six small-group sessions looking at topics such as; learning styles, memory, stress, sleep and illusions.

Psychology Club is an activity based group involved in carrying out small-scale studies and projects with a psychological theme.

The psychology department has one member of staff with other teachers being involved in Brain Awareness. 

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.

Further Information

Science curriculum: curriculum documents 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 moved to the Yang Science Centre in October 2015. 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, greenhouse and moving our collection of animals into the science centre. 

Further Information

Further information about the biology department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.

In October 2015 the Chemistry department moved to the Yang Science Centre. The top floor is dedicated to Chemistry and consists of 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 eight 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 iGCSE 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, last year ten students followed this path, with some gaining places at Oxford and Cambridge.

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 majority of students achieve gold awards and there have been some C3L6 Roentgenium awards. 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. There is also an extensive lecture programme that regularly features chemists from Oxford and other Russell group universities.

Further Information

Further information about the chemistry department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page

In the Lower and Middle school all boys learn physics. The aim is to promote a clear understanding of the basic principles that will be essential in the 21st century whatever career a boy might wish to pursue. A substantial proportion (about 50%) of the year group choose to go on to study physics at A level.

At GCSE, we currently teach the Edexcel iGCSE course with the significant majority of students achieving an A or an A* grade. We also offer electronics GCSE as a popular option.

The Sixth form are following the Edexcel A Level. Here the aim shifts to those who wish to pursue a career that is more scientifically based. This may not be physics or engineering although about one third of the year group do take this type of degree. Academic results are strong, with boys regularly continuing their study of Physics at university - often winning places to Oxford and Cambridge. Perhaps more significant is the fact that 77 boys are taking Physics in the lower sixth alone.

The department has eleven teachers, assisted by a team of technicians. Located on the central floor of the wonderful new 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 science laptops. There is an emphasis on boys doing the experiments themselves. 

Further Information

Further information about the physics department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.