Prince George’s new home? Welcome to Oundle, the co-ed school where ‘elitist braying’ is a no-no

Rumour has it the new favourite for Prince George is Oundle School
Rumour has it the new favourite for Prince George is Oundle School - Graham Oliver / Alamy | Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Is Marlborough’s loss about to be Oundle’s gain? The latest reports on the Prince and Princess of Wales’s search for the best school for their eldest son, Prince George, suggest that it’s no longer Kate’s alma mater in prime position, but a progressive co-educational school in Northamptonshire.

Rumour has it that Marlborough, which Kate, Pippa and James Middleton all attended, and which 10-year-old Prince George recently visited with his mother, has been edged out of the number-one spot amid concerns that it’s become too “flashy” – ironically, thanks to a number of well-to-do families descending upon it because of the Middleton connection.

Instead, the new favourite is apparently Oundle School, which is seen as the perfect compromise: an independent public school that values tradition but is also eco-conscious, has strong pastoral care, and claims to be an egalitarian, forward-looking institution. It would be a clever move by a royal couple who know a little something about keeping an ancient institution relevant.

Oundle, which has fees ranging from about £22,000 to £45,000 a year, dates back to the 16th century. In his will, the former Lord Mayor London, Sir William Laxton – who died in 1556 – decreed the founding of the school, and, over the centuries, it has grown significantly in size and prominence. It’s now the third-largest boarding school in England, behind Eton and Millfield, with around 820 boarders and 310 day pupils.

In 1990, it began admitting girls, and the male-female make-up is now about 60:40. The current headmistress, Sarah Kerr-Dineen, is the first female leader of the school. The large student body is divided into smaller, supportive Houses: two junior ones (boarding and day), eight senior boys’ Houses and five senior girls’ Houses.

Oundle School
Oundle’s website boasts that 100 per cent of their electricity comes from suppliers using renewable energy - Keith J Smith. / Alamy

Should his parents choose Oundle, Prince George could board straightaway, from age 11, or he could begin as a day boy. One Old Oundelian, who attended the school from 1998-2003 (and who declined to be named – we are calling him Tom), told The Telegraph that George would be fully integrated into the community either way.

“They made a great decision in 2000 to turn the day school into a new House, so they were all on the same footing. When I was there everyone went to the same lessons and we all had mates across the boarding and day Houses.”

However, the boarding environment was particularly special, he added. “There was a real sense of camaraderie: someone was always around. It was like having a sleepover with your friends every night. It was regimented: you had set meal times and curfews. But there was also a sense of independence and taking on responsibility.

“Everyone had chores and tasks – you played a role in your community. Some think all public school pupils are cosseted and everything’s given to you on a silver platter, but at Oundle you have to stand on your own two feet from a young age and manage relationships with lots of different people.”

Oundle’s co-ed entry means that Charlotte could join George down the line
Oundle’s co-ed entry means that Charlotte could join George down the line - Victoria Jones/Pool via Reuters

The school website boasts of its “authentic full modern boarding ethos”. Unpicking that jargon, it sounds like the seven-day school week is a key aspect, allowing time for students to develop in numerous areas – not just in lessons. One particularly eye-catching claim from Oundle is that they turn out pupils who are ambitious “but never arrogant”.

“I do think that’s true,” says Tom. “When I compare us to other schools, you’re far less likely to find a braying Oundelian than elitist types at more traditional schools, where the striving for top exam results or high status can impinge on your character.” Prince William’s alma mater of Eton is presumably also on the short list for Prince George.

That’s not to say Oundle has a poor academic record; far from it. In 2023, 74 per cent of pupils scored 9-7 at GCSE, and 83 per cent got A*-B at A level. Around three-quarters usually go on to study at Russell Group universities like Durham, Edinburgh and Bristol, and in 2023, 17 Oundle students won Oxbridge places.

But this is a less-pressured academic environment than some of the more feverishly competitive private schools. Instead, pupils are encouraged to flourish at their own pace and on their own terms.

“I was delightfully middle-of-the-road,” recalls Tom. “If I could sum up Oundle in one sentence, I would say it’s not a place that’s full of really posh or rich kids, or people fighting to be top dog – it’s a broad, welcoming place that produces well-rounded people. Oundle students can make friends with anyone and they don’t wear their public school persona too obviously. They’re social chameleons.

“At our 20th reunion last year, it was striking seeing the full spectrum of careers between us. We’re mainly sons and daughters of middle-class professionals – my dad [who also attended Oundle] was the son of an accountant, I’m the son of a doctor – and lots of my contemporaries work in liberal professions like the charity sector or teaching. Whereas some schools only churn out politicians and high-flying bankers.”

Oundle School
Oundle claim that they turn out pupils who are ambitious but never arrogant - John Robertson

There were, he adds, a few upper-class pupils – like sons of lords or foreign royalty – among his cohort, but that was “rare”. Prince George would likely find himself in a much less rarefied environment than he’s used to if he went to Oundle.

He would also find a broad church of a school, rather than one specialising in, say, English or maths, although the building of a large science and technology department 10 years ago put STEM firmly on the agenda.

Oundle is renowned for both sport and music, pursued at a high level and across a range of activities, although that striving for excellence is offset by a more social attitude. “Our cricket club was the best in the country in my year, but I only made the third team,” recalls Tom. “That didn’t matter: we still went on tours, and generations of that team – around 150 cricketers – still meet up to play.”

No wonder Oundle’s alumni range from Richard Dawkins to Bruce Dickinson (the lead singer of Iron Maiden), the England rugby players Tom and Ben Curry, the film director Jim Clark, the architect Maxwell Hutchinson, and the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. “Whatever you’re interested in, they support it,” sums up Tom.

That nurturing extends to the school’s emphasis on pastoral care. Oundle has a dedicated emotional wellbeing team – including a black labrador called Mabel, who is on site to boost mental health. The school also produces “Pupil Passports” – individual profiles identifying students’ areas of needs and how best to support them – while a pastoral forum made up of sixth-formers voices pupil concerns on everything from gender and racial equality to LGBTQIA+ issues and neurodiversity.

Tom particularly appreciated the co-educational aspect. “Many of my friends from all-boys schools struggled to form good relationships with women – they were either stilted or misogynistic. It’s much healthier being exposed to the opposite sex from a young age.”

It would also be a sound practical choice for the Royal family, since all three siblings – George, Charlotte and Louis – could then go to the same school. That would make life considerably easier for their security team, and for their busy parents.

Royal move to Windsor
Prince George would likely find himself in a much less rarefied environment than he’s used - Chris Jackson

Another very 21st-century element is Oundle’s much-trumpeted green credentials. The school’s website boasts that 100 per cent of their electricity comes from suppliers using renewable energy, that they’re moving to fully recyclable exercise books made from bagasse paper, and that every student House has a “Green Rep”. That certainly chimes with the Prince and Princess of Wales’s long-held commitment to eco causes, such as the Earthshot Prize; their children will surely carry on that advocacy work.

Lest all of this sound dangerously woke, though, royal watchers should be mollified by the more traditional aspects of Oundle. It’s compulsory for all pupils to regularly attend the Church of England chapel, and the Combined Cadet Force is a major part of school life, instilling pupils with skills like teamwork, self-reliance and a sense of service. The Royal family will also be relieved to hear that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme is very popular among Oundelians.

That all supports the headmistress’s aim that her pupils “recognise that there is a world beyond Oundle”, and that they become “fundamentally decent human beings” and “happy, balanced contributors to society”.

Tom fondly remembers the symbiotic relationship between the school and the market town of the same name in which it’s based. “It was drilled into us to be respectful of the wider community – it was never us versus them.” That definitely sounds like the language of our modern working Royal family.

However, with fees ranging from £22,350-£29,370 for day pupils, and £34,515-£45,435 for boarders, this may not be quite the utopian, class-defying, all-comers-welcome place that the school’s achingly right-on language suggests. “It’s now out of range for many of those middle-class professionals,” says Tom. “You’re more likely to find hedge-fund managers and oligarchs. I would love to send my kids there, but few of us can stump up the cash to repeat the cycle. Even with scholarships and bursaries, I would need to win the lottery.

“It’s a shame, because meeting some of the pupils recently, that ethos continues on: they’re polite, warm and friendly. But the school’s in danger of losing its identity.”

Adding the heir to the throne probably won’t help reverse that particular financial trend. But wooing Prince George would definitely see rising star Oundle strike a big blow against its less-progressive rivals – and it would be a canny choice by the latest generation of royal parents.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.