The Curriculum

Abingdon’s academic curriculum is founded on well established principles of breadth and challenge. Boys study a broad range of subjects up to 3rd year (Year 9) and then follow a core of 6 or 7 GCSEs combined with 3 or 4 optional subjects, making a total of 10 GCSEs for any one boy. In Sixth Form, we offer A Level and pre-U courses in 23 subjects and boys study four of these in the L6th, with most choosing to drop to three for the Upper Sixth.  

Alongside the above we also have a programme of Personal Development Education (PDE) - often also known as PSHCE or General Studies - which runs throughout the school. Beyond the curriculum, there are myriad opportunities for boys to be extended academically, for example via the vast array of Challenges, Olympiads and Competitions that they enter as well as in such things as the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) which a number of boys complete during their Sixth Form. A list of recent academic achievements beyond public exam results can be found here. There are also many internal opportunities for boys to extend themselves in their subjects which don’t necessarily end in awards, such as our plethora of magazines (The Martlet, Words & That, Polyglot, Axiom, Timeline, Griffenonmics) and our science ambassador programme.

Our aim throughout the school is to promote the life of the mind and encourage in our pupils a genuine and life-long enjoyment of academic pursuits, whatever they may go on to do in their careers. We encourage them to be inquisitive, to challenge and to be increasingly independent in their approach to study. We want them to engage readily in intellectual debate, to be creative in their approaches and to have a “What’s next?” attitude to learning.

Around 65 boys join the Lower School for the First and Second Year curriculum. The boys are split into three classes and are taught in those classes for all their subjects except the practical arts where they are in four smaller groups of around 16 and Maths which has four sets in the Second Year. They are usually taught one of their subjects by their tutor and several of their teachers will teach them for both years in Lower School.  

The curriculum in Lower School is very broad so boys are exposed to a wide range of subjects before they begin to narrow them down for the Middle School years. Alongside English and Maths, boys study the humanities (History, Geography, RS), the sciences (Physical Science and Biology), all four of the practical arts (Art, DT, Drama, Music), Computing and Latin. Additionally, in First Year boys take a four week course in Linguistics and then study German followed by French for the rest of the year; they then choose one of these languages to continue with in Second Year.  

The emphasis in Lower School is on exploration and excitement - we want to see boys enjoying their learning free from the constraints of public examinations. The curriculum therefore has an academic rigour but also plenty of opportunity for boys to have fun, undertake individual research and be creative.

We produce an annually-updated document containing detailed descriptions of what each subject covers during Lower School. This can be found here.

Lower School boys move into Third Year and are joined by around 110 boys from other schools (including Abingdon Prep School) and follow the Third Year Curriculum.

These boys then move into Fourth and Fifth Year and follow GCSE or iGCSE specifications, along with some non-examined subjects, such as PSHCE and PE.  

Third Year: the boys coming up from Lower School follow a broad curriculum which is designed to give them a very sound grounding in all of the subjects they might take onto GCSE. Given the 175 boys who make up the Third Year usually come from around 40 different schools and via a number of different routes (CE, Scholarship, 13+, Abingdon Prep, Lower School), a key element of the Third Year is bringing everyone up to the same level of knowledge and skills as well as establishing and consolidating strong work practices in the boys so they can begin their GCSE courses with confidence.  

Boys study a Core of subjects which comprises English, Maths, Science (taught separately as Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Humanities (History, Geography, RS), Art, DT, Computing and either French or German. In addition to this Core, boys choose two options from Latin, Ancient Greek, Drama, Music, ab initio French/German/Spanish/Mandarin. Alongside these subjects, boys follow PE, Sports, Career Guidance and PSHCE programmes.

Fourth & Fifth Year:

The great majority of boys follow GCSE courses in ten subjects. The Compulsory Core of these comprises English, English Literature, Maths, a modern European Language and the three sciences.  Boys choose whether they wish to take the sciences as separate subjects or as the double award qualification; if they choose the latter then they will also take either History or Geography as part of their Core.  

In addition to studying these subjects, boys choose 3 options from a list of 16, most of which they will have had the chance to experience in the Third Year; the exception to this is GCSE Electronics. Some subjects will insist that boys studied it in Third Year to be able to access the GCSE (e.g. MFL, Latin, Greek) whereas others are happy to have boys start a GCSE course without having had the Third Year experience (e.g. Ancient History, Drama).

In addition to their GCSEs, boys continue to follow courses in PE, Sport, PSHCE and Career Guidance.  

Historically, the vast majority of Fifth Year boys stay on at Abingdon for the Sixth Form.  There is a minimum GCSE requirement for Sixth Form entry which most boys meet easily. The rationale for this ‘Sixth Form Bar’ is in the section below.

We produce an annually-updated document containing detailed descriptions of what each subject covers during the Middle School. This can be found here.

Abingdon has operated a minimum GCSE requirement for Sixth Form entry for many years and we use this ‘bar’ as a way of indicating which boys are likely to thrive in our Sixth Form. When we accept a boy for entry into Abingdon at 1st, 3rd or 4th year, it is with the expectation that they will develop across their time with us and be entirely suitable for Sixth Form. However, making this judgement at such an early stage is not a precise science and each year a very few boys do not make the progress that we might have hoped; hence we use the ‘pause’ between GCSE and Sixth Form to make a reassessment. We do of course track boys carefully over their time with us and communicate with parents and boys during the Middle School if we feel they may not be likely to meet that minimum GCSE standard. We also offer lots of support and intervention for this group of boys.

When boys do not pass the bar, it is likely that they will not be invited back to join Abingdon’s Sixth Form. This is because we tackle the A Level/pre-U material in a fast-paced and demanding way, expecting boys to show a high level of self-motivation and discipline coupled with strong ability. This approach does not tend to suit boys who have found reaching our GCSE bar a challenge, even after receiving additional teaching and support.

We have recently changed our requirement to reflect the national changes to GCSE grading. From summer 2019, boys will require an overall average of a 6 (with a B grade = 6 for any subject still using grades) and a minimum of a 7 to begin A Level courses in that subject (with an 8 in Maths required for those wishing to start with Further Maths A Level).  

With a GCSE A*/A percentage consistently in the 80s, it should be remembered that the vast majority of Abingdonians sail comfortably over the bar and we do not expect that to change. The required average of a 6 will present few, if any, with a problem especially as a less than ‘6’ performance in one subject can be compensated for by a ‘7+’ achievement in another.

For subjects that do not have a GCSE equivalent in Abingdon's curriculum, we would look for strength in subjects with similar skills to judge if a boy is likely to prosper in it. For example, in Economics it is useful to have mathematical and essay writing skills. In Psychology, strengths in maths and science are helpful indicators but so too is an ability to produce coherent extended writing. For Politics, aptitudes for History and English probably offer the best guides. Philosophy needs the kind of thinking and writing that one sees in Religious Studies and other humanities subjects but also benefits from the rigour of the mathematically gifted.  

The great majority of boys continue from Fifth Year into Sixth Form and are joined by a number of boys from other schools. They follow A-level or pre-U courses, some of which are in classes with girls from our sister school, St Helen’s.  

Abingdon’s Sixth Form is where boys can really begin to fly in their intellectual pursuits, choosing the four subjects that really motivate them and giving them the opportunity to study them in much greater depth than GCSE courses have been able to do. Boys develop extended knowledge and subject skills, including the ability to pursue topics independently, and thus give themselves very strong grounding for university study, which is what the great majority of Abingdonians go off to do at the end of their time with us.

All boys begin with four subjects (five if pursuing Further Maths) and the majority of them drop down to three (or four) for the Upper Sixth, though they may continue with all of their subjects if they wish to. A good number of boys also choose to make submissions for the Extended Project Qualification and it is often possible to begin studying an MFL such as Spanish or Italian ab initio to GCSE. Some subjects are taught in mixed classes with girls from St Helen’s: Drama (taught jointly), Politics (taught at St Helen’s), Economics (taught at Abingdon), DT (taught at Abingdon).

In the Sixth Form boys are also able to balance the demands and rigours of intensive A or pre-U level courses with all that Abingdon has to offer in the Other Half. This encourages the pursuit and development of individual excellence aimed at maximising each student’s potential.

The curriculum includes a strong PDE (Personal Development), Career Guidance and tutorial programme with the aim of offering every individual every opportunity to consider issues beyond the academic. The universities application process is an equally vital element of this curriculum, where support and guidance for both parents and students are key and, whilst the focus tends to be on UCAS applications to UK universities, we also support applications to overseas institutions.

Large numbers of students tend to combine the sciences and arts in their subjects. This, along with the style of teaching at Abingdon as well as the range of opportunities open to students, has ensured that the concept of academic excellence has meant much more than academic rigour.

We produce an annually-updated document containing detailed descriptions of what each subject covers during the Upper School. This can be found here.