Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Asked at Feb 11th information event
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Show me all FAQs
  • Show me all FAQs
  • Academic
  • Admissions
  • Asked at Feb 11th information event
  • Buildings and Facilities
  • Enrichment
  • Extra Support
  • Governance and Finance
  • Miscellaneous
  • Pastoral
  • Rules and Behaviour
  • Sports and Arts
  • Staff
  • The First Year
  • Travel
  • Working with other Schools

Vision and Principles of The Swan School

The vision for The Swan School is that it will provide an excellent education through and academic curriculum, a commitment to meaningful experiences within and beyond the classroom and ensuring high aspirations, achievement and accomplishment for all. This will be in the school culture rooted in values of consideration, respect for other and active contribution to the community   Our Core Principles are: a commitment to non-selective mixed comprehensive education for local young people high expectations for all students, and a belief in the power of excellent teaching to ensure success a commitment that all students are entitled to an excellent academic education through which they become knowledgeable about the world around them a commitment that all students will participate in activities and experiences which actively promote self-esteem, kindness, confidence and resilience a relentless optimism and ambition for what everyone within the school can achieve

The River Learning Trust

The RLT is a schools-led Multi-Academy Trust driven by a commitment to the principles of the Trust and a common belief in the benefits of everything that is gained by working together. To learn more about the River Learning Trust, please visit our website In 2015 a group from outside Oxfordshire submitted an application to open a free school in Oxford and the River Learning Trust (at the time called The Cherwell School Academy Trust) also submitted an application to open a new school recognising this as a rare opportunity to build on the success of existing RLT schools like The Cherwell School, and open an excellent new school. The application for The Swan School gained considerable local support and was approved in September 2015.  

Management of The Swan School

The development of The Swan School is being managed by a steering group which includes the Chief Executive of RLT, the Chair of RLT a Trustee and a Member of RLT and two co-opted members with educational expertise. This group are directly accountable to the RLT Trust Board, the DfE and the ESFA. The process is also supported by the RLT central team (Finance, operations, HR, premises etc). We also have plans to increase resources over the length of the project to ensure the opening is a success. The Local Governing Body is currently planned to be appointed / elected in spring 2019 and the make-up and responsibilities of the governing body are planned to be the same as those for other RLT schools – a copy of the current scheme of delegation for schools can be found on information

Choice of Site

Other sites, for example Osney Mead, were discounted because they were either not available, not viable or could not be delivered in time to meet the need for places from 2019 onwards. The ESFA also worked closed with Oxfordshire County Council education department and the River Learning Trust to ensure they chose a site for The Swan School in the right catchment area to meet basic need for secondary places. Recent school allocations shows that many pupils in the Marston area have not secured a place at their local school. The site is able to accommodate The Swan School within the ESFA’s guidelines for a school of this size. Indeed, by comparison to some city schools (for example in London), the site is larger than those of other schools.The Swan School will be a new build and the current building removed.

Buildings, Planning and Traffic – Galliford Try

Galliford Try have been chosen by ESFA as the developer of the site and buildings for The Swan School and Meadowbrook College. They are designing the buildings (in consultation with ESFA and The Swan School), managing the planning process (including traffic management) and eventually managing the construction as agreed through the planning process. They will be holding public engagement meetings in early November and will also develop a website to share relevant information. We will add details of these to this website and send them out to all on our mailing list. If you would like to join our mailing list please fill in the form at the bottom of this site. In the meantime, to find out more about Galliford Try, please visit their website


The Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) have to choose and approve the site for the school. They carried out an extensive search for sites in Oxford and due to a severe lack of sites, it took a long time to identify a suitable site. This is why the school opening had to be delayed from September 2017 to September 2019.  The Swan School did not open in temporary accommodation because the ESFA only allow schools to do so in exceptional circumstances, and under certain conditions. In the case of The Swan School, it was decided that it would not be appropriate as there are sufficient spaces in the current school system until the new planned date of opening.  

Traffic and Travel

Our students and staff will largely arrive by cycle or walking, supported by public transport and access the site via a new access road off the Marston Ferry Road. We will produce a full travel plan for the school including cycling and pedestrian routes during 2018. We will add details of these to this website and send them out to all on our mailing list. If you would like to join our mailing list please fill in the form at the bottom of this site. All planning aspects of Traffic and Travel will be addressed by Galliford Try as part of the planning process.  

Admissions and Catchment

The school will admit 120 pupils in 2019 and 2020, and this will increase to 180 from 2021 onwards, subject to receiving approval from the Regional Schools Commissioner. As such, the school will be designed to accommodate 1,260 pupils (180 in each year group from Year 7 to Year 13, ages 11-18). The distance from the school will be a key factor in the admissions rules. You can find out more in our Admissions Document The Swan School catchment area broadly overlays The Cherwell catchment. At present there is no intention to change The Cherwell School’s admissions criteria as a result of The Swan School. You can find out more in our Catchment Document or our maps which are on our resources page  


The build project is funded directly to the contractor (Galliford Try) from the ESFA. The River Learning Trust are provided with a project development grant to support pre-opening activities, the spend of which is monitored by the ESFA. When the school is opened it will be provided with usual school funding to run the school. Funding for The Swan School cannot be allocated for use by any other RLT school.

Meadowbrook College

Meadowbrook College which currently occupies the Harlow Centre Site is benefitting from a new building as part of The Swan School programme on the site. The new Meadowbrook College building will be clearly separated from The Swan School with a notable distance and clear boundary between the two buildings and will continue to have its current access route from Raymund Road which will not be used by The Swan School.

St Nicholas’ Primary School

The access to St Nicholas’ Primary School is not expected to change as part of this programme. Primary and secondary schools being adjacent to one another usually brings educational advantages for both schools. Primary schools in particular should benefit from some access to secondary specialist facilities being so close. We are working with Oxfordshire County Council and the Local Planning Authority to explore suitable access options for the Swan school to minimise impact on its surroundings, including St Nicholas’ Primary school and other local residents. St Nicholas’ Primary School is also benefitting from some new sports facilities as part of the process of designing a masterplan for the three schools involved in this project.  

Why have you decided to go for a longer day?

The longer school day has three main purposes. One is that it will help create more time in the day for sport and the arts – such as drama and music. The second reason is that it will be used to give children time and space to complete independent work – they will have less to do at home, and can complete ‘homework’ in a place where they can get help and support. The third reason is that the extra time can be used for ‘catch-up’ if a child has missed learning because of illness, or if they haven’t understood it yet. This means that all children will learn quickly and deeply, and no-one will be left behind. All students are expected to remain in school for the longer day. If there is a particular reason why a child has to leave school early – for example involvement in elite sports training – this may be facilitated as appropriate following discussion with the school.

What will be in the electives, and can you change them regularly?

Electives will be changed every one or two terms. We don’t know yet exactly what will be on offer, but are planning a variety of exciting options, including sport, drama, music, art, games and hobbies, and languages such as Latin and Greek. We will encourage students to choose a range of electives to broaden their interests and develop their skills in different areas.  If a reasonably sized-group of students show interest in an activity which isn’t currently offered, we will look to include it as an elective for future terms. Every attempt will be made to include small group electives where there is sufficient enthusiasm and interest from students.

What is a family lunch, and can we bring a packed lunch?

A ‘family lunch’ means that all students and members of staff will eat good quality food together.  The concept will help teachers and students to get to know each other better, to talk, and to make sure the atmosphere in the school is always happy and positive. Because it is a shared dining experience, packed lunches will not be allowed; instead, staff and students will enjoy a range of nutritious and tasty meal options. There will be religious and vegetarian options on the menu.

What is structured play?

Structured play means that lightly supervised activities are provided at lunchtime, and students may choose which to take part in. Activities will include options to relax and chat to friends, sport and use of the library or computer facilities. It is useful to arrange play in this way, so that all students – including those less confident in sport, for example – feel comfortable taking part in enjoyable activities every day.

Will students be able to leave the school grounds?

No – students will not normally be able to leave the school grounds at lunch or break time. An exception will be for sixth-form students, who may need to attend some lessons elsewhere.

At what point will you have a detailed curriculum?

Detail of curriculum subjects will be made available via the website in the early part of 2019. This will include detail on subjects taught, streaming, homework and class sizes. The curriculum and teaching will be largely traditional, with challenging academic content and high expectations of effort and learning.

What size will the classes be?

Class size will vary by subject. A typical classroom-based subject, such as English, maths, science etc will be approximately 30, with teaching in smaller groups for some practical subjects such as design and technology.

Will you be sharing teachers with other schools in the early years or will teachers teach non-specialist subjects (ie. a history teacher teaching geography)?

Teachers in the early years may teach more than one subject, but only when we are able to guarantee that their subject knowledge and confidence in delivering the curriculum is excellent. Senior leaders will teach much more than is typical in the early stages, ensuring that students will have ample access to experienced and highly accomplished staff.  We will pride ourself on providing the highest quality professional development for staff to help ensure that student are provided with the best possible learning experiences.

What will homework be like?

Homework and independent study will have a key role in helping students to learn quickly and grow good habits of organisation and a disciplined approach to work. Therefore, students should expect regular homework. Some of this can be completed in structured conditions due to the extended day. We guarantee that all homework will be valuable and worthwhile, with no ‘filler’ or pointless activities set.

Will students have to go to other schools to do less common GCSE subjects?

In a school this size, we will be able to provide a broad range of GCSE options. Where students may be drawn to less commonly provided options, we will take a flexible and positive approach to facilitating this where possible.

Will you make sure that students who are struggling will be looked after?

Absolutely. We believe that each and every student has the potential to achieve and learn quickly and securely. Where students are struggling, our SEND team, alongside the full commitment of the teachers to successful, inclusive classroom practice, will ensure that progress is supported. Another key advantage of the extended day is the ability to help students catch up if they have fallen behind, e.g. through absence or difficulties in grasping learning first time.

How are you going to recruit staff? Isn’t it a leap of faith for them to apply?

Being involved in the opening and early years of a brand new school is a fantastic, unique career opportunity for teachers and leaders in schools. We are very confident that the school will attract strong fields of applicants, allowing us to appoint staff of the highest calibre. The experience at other schools in this situation has been that recruitment is not an issue.

Where will students keep their bags etc?

Each student will have access to a locker on site, and will be able to store possessions securely during the school day.

Is there a swimming pool?

No – unfortunately not! But we are reasonably close to the Ferry Sports Centre, and will aim to use their facilities when appropriate.

Can students bring in a laptop or tablet?

We are alert to the role of information technology in education, and at this stage we have no plans to see all pupils equipped with a laptop or similar device, rather we will use school-owned technology in school as fits with lesson requirements. As such, as the school opens students will not be able to bring in laptops. However, if there is a genuine educational reason why they are needed – for example a special education need for an individual which means that a laptop is required, or if required for the sixth-form curriculum in due course – then, of course, this will be allowed.

What sort of computer equipment will you have?

The Swan School will have up-to-date computers and IT equipment available, including computer suites, high-quality wireless, and wireless devices available for student use.

Will there be detention?

Yes, where required – this will take place before or after school. However, because the expectations of the school will be so clear, students will be very clear about how to avoid detention – basically by working hard and following instructions.  Integrity will be one of our most important values so we will use a ‘restorative’ approach to behaviour management – rather than just being punished, students will be taught to understand why their behaviour is not acceptable and how to make better choices in future.

Will you be allowed phones in school?

Phones will not be allowed for use during the school day. Students are welcome to bring phones to school, for example to ring parents on the way home, but they must be switched off and be away in lockers or bags between 9am and 4.45pm.

Has the uniform been finalised yet – eg will the girls get to wear cardigans?

We have not yet finalised the rules for uniform but we will ensure that it is smart, affordable, and practical or a busy school day.

What are you doing to make sure the uniform is affordable?

We are currently sourcing our uniform supplier and value for money is an essential requirement in how we are approaching this process. More information will follow later in the year.

Will there be matches against other schools at sport?

Absolutely – regular competitive sport (both in school and with other schools) will be a regular feature of the school.

What are the sports facilities like?

There are plenty of facilities for sport, including a brand new sports hall, football, rugby, athletics and cricket pitches, outdoor table tennis and basketball, and a good quality multi-use games area for netball, hockey and others. They will be used regularly during PE, electives, the extended day and at break/lunchtimes. Students at The Swan School will lead active, healthy lifestyles, with sport playing a big part of this.

Is there a link between The Swan School and The Cherwell School?

The Swan School and The Cherwell School will have strong links, because they are geographically close and are both part of the River Learning Trust. This means that there may be some shared teaching and use of facilities, particularly at sixth-form level. The schools will also work together on teaching, curriculum and assessment to learn from each other and ensure that students receive the best experience possible. However, it is important to note that The Swan School will very much have its own identity, values and ethos. Students and staff will be proud to attend or work at the school.

Where can we find admissions and catchment area information?

Admissions criteria and a detailed map of the catchment area are published on the website here: . The catchment area for The Swan School mirrors that of The Cherwell School, with some minor additions and expansion. There are no plans to change the catchment area for The Swan School or The Cherwell School in the foreseeable future.

Will the catchment criteria be different for the first year to take into account the location of the temporary site?

No – the catchment area and admissions for the first year will be the same as for all subsequent years. Where the admissions policy refers to proximity to the school, this means to the final school site in Marston, not the temporary site.

Will it be a phased opening (when you start in the new buildings will you have access to all or just part of the building)?

Experience in other new-build schools suggests that a phased opening is likely on a project of this size. This means that a restricted area of the school buildings will be used by the school on opening, whilst the remainder of the site is being completed. This is a common approach, and will not disrupt the quality of education provided.

How eco-friendly will it be?

The school is set in a beautiful natural site, and this has been very much reflected in the design of the school. The building will meet high standards of efficiency and passive design, with maximising a positive environmental impact being considered at every stage. The landscape design includes substantial replanting of bio-diverse species of trees and hedgerow, as well as incorporating meadow mix green roof areas to encourage insect and wildlife habitat. The finished design shows a higher ecology rating than exists currently. The school is making use of ground source heat-pump technology and whilst solar panels (PVs) are not installed at the initial build stage the roofs are being constructed to allow this in due course.

Will the toilets be gender neutral?

In line with successful modern school design we will provide separate boys’ and girls’ toilet cubicles with an adjacent gender neutral toilet, promoting safe and monitored behaviour in the combined common area. This is an approach that has proven to be very popular with both staff and students in other schools.

Will there be a school bus?

There is unlikely to be a dedicated school bus for The Swan School, but the site is close to various bus routes, including 13, X13, 14 and 14a.

Is there a role for founding parents?

A strong sense of partnership between the school and parent/ carers is fundamental to the vision for The Swan School. Therefore, we would be very interested in encouraging and facilitating a PTA group, which has the potential to be particularly influential in the early years of the school.

I want to find out about the experiences of parents who have sent their kids to brand new schools. Can you put us in touch with them?

We are in touch with several recently opened free schools, having visited their premises and talked with staff and students. If there is sufficient interest, we will be happy to put prospective parents in touch with parent organisations at these schools.

When will the governors be appointed?

Some of the Governors will be appointed in the spring/summer of 2019, with parent and staff governors elected in September 2019.

When will you get inspected first by Ofsted, and how will we know that the school is doing well?

The first full Ofsted inspection will take place in the school’s third year of opening. Prior to this the DfE sends education advisors to the school to review how well the school is doing. The River Learning Trust also has a school improvement team that will work with the school to secure the highest possible standards and we will be communicating to, as well as consulting with, parents about how the school is doing.

How Will You Ensure That Facilities On The Temporary Site Do Not Limit The Quality Of Education For Swan Students In Year 1?

We know how important it is for students to receive a high quality experience right from the start at their time at The Swan and we will ensure that students receive excellent teaching in whatever facilities we have available. Although we will clearly not have the full range of facilities available at our permanent site, it is worth pointing out that we will have some specialist facilities such as a science lab and outdoor space for sports. We will also collaborate with our neighbours and community such as Cherwell School to share facilities when they are not being used by others. This will be relatively easy to do given the timings of the school day and our proximity to the centre of Oxford. We are confident that we are able to provide a rich and balanced curriculum for our students in the facilities we have available.

Where Is The Temporary Accommodation Going To Be And How Long Will You Be There?

For the first academic year, we will be based in purpose-built temporary accommodation next to the Cherwell School South Site. We are confident that we will be able to move into our permanent home in September 2020 but, in a worst case scenario (if build were to be significantly delayed), there is capacity for additional classrooms to be added onto our temporary site, and this was covered in our planning application for the ‘temps’.

How Will You Manage The transition To The New Site?

We plan to move into our new building during the summer holiday next year. It may be that students return to school slightly later than normal in September 2020 to ensure that staff can fully embed themselves and their resources into the new building. This will ensure that there is no disruption to learning when students return to school.

Will You Have Provision For SENDMH?

The Swan will be a fully inclusive school where all students, including those with SENDMH, can be successful. We will have a member of the senior leadership team who will lead on SEN provision and a learning support department who will help to provide support and interventions for pupils as needed. However, we believe that quality first teaching is the best way to ensure that students with additional learning needs achieve the best they possibly can. We will work hard to ensure that our teachers are aware of the needs of all students and they are well trained in the best techniques for inclusive classroom practice.

How Will The School Day Run?

The school day will start at 9.15am and end at 4.45pm, except on Fridays when we will have an earlier finish. The longer day will allow time for co-curricular activities, which will be a combination of supervised study and enrichment activities. Students will go straight into lessons at the start of the day and have tutor time/assembly later on. All students will enjoy a family style lunch in the middle of the day.    

How Can Parents Support The Development Of The New School?

Parents are such an important part of our school community and we will be setting up a PTA to facilitate these links and get feedback on how we are doing as a school. We will also be looking to recruit parent governors to help shape the strategic direction of the school and volunteers to support our electives programme. If you have an idea for how you would like to get involved, let us know!      

How Will You Tackle Bullying?

We will create a culture of kindness through a strong focus on our values of respect and integrity in assembly and tutor times in particular. Where rare incidences of bullying do occur, we will take a zero tolerance approach. All our teaching staff will be vigilant to bullying and our pastoral teams will ensure that students will know who to go to if they are having a problem. We will take a restorative approach to repair relationships where possible.      

What Are Your Plans For Differentiation And Setting?

We will learn from best practice in education across the world and use setting in some subjects, such as maths, where it has been shown to be the best way to maximise progress of learners of all abilities. However, we are also committed to inclusive classroom practice and will ensure that teachers at The Swan have the highest expectations of all students. Differentiation will take the form of scaffolding learning so that all students can meet our high standards but we will not have lower expectations of some students than others.      

How Are Teachers Trained To Deal With Dyslexic Learners?

We will work hard to ensure that our teachers are aware of the needs of all students and they are well trained in the best techniques for inclusive classroom practice. Where appropriate, teaching assistants will work closely with teachers to provide additional classroom support and resources.    

Will you have heads of year or heads of house?

When the school is full, students will be organised in houses with a head of house, supported by a non-teaching pastoral assistant.  We believe houses are the best way of building a strong community and positive interactions between children of all ages. This also creates excellent student leadership opportunities for older children.

Will there be tutor time?

Yes, students will have tutor time or assembly every day as a regular part of the day.  These are an important opportunity to come together as a community and build our school’s ethos.  However, these will be timetabled later in the day, rather than first thing in the morning so that children go straight into academic curriculum lessons when they come to school.  This will help us maximise valuable morning learning time and maintain high levels of punctuality.

What will students do in tutor time?

Tutor time is an extremely important time of the day when students will take part in a carefully planned ‘pastoral curriculum’ that helps to develop our students as well rounded individuals and respond to relevant social and emotional issues.  This will include activities that complement, but are not the same as, their academic curriculum lessons. For example, during ‘Thought for the Week’ students will debate controversial topics arising from current affairs.

Who will support students if they are having problems in school?

Every member of staff at The Swan will look out for our students and be available for them to speak to if they are having problems.  Each child will have a form tutor, a head of house, and pastoral assistant – these are likely to be the adults who know them best and so best placed to provide support when needed.  In addition, there will also be specific members of staff who will support students having particular problems, for example the designated safeguarding lead. The names and roles of these people will be publicised so all students know where they can go to get help.

How many co-curricular activities will there be on average for each pupil, each week?

Students will take part in four co-curricular activities per week. Two of these will be ‘electives’ where students can choose to take part in a range of different enrichment activities. Two of the sessions will be supervised study or ‘prep’ time when students will be able to complete homework in calm, focused conditions with teacher support.

What colour will the shoes need to be?

Shoes will need to be plain black, flat, and polishable. No trainers will be allowed. We recommend choosing something durable and comfortable enough to participate in a wide range of different activities, including cycling or walking to school.

Is Mandarin a possible foreign language?

It is unlikely that we will be able to offer Mandarin as part of our core curriculum but would love to offer it as an elective. If there is enough demand and we are able to get the teaching expertise, we may be able to include it in our GCSE offer at a later date.

Can the girls’ PE kit have skorts instead of skirts?

Yes, absolutely – in fact the item we have chosen is a skort, but it is a bit hard to see from the picture! Girls can also choose to wear shorts if they prefer.

How many options will there be for the school meals?

We think it is really important that children are encouraged to try a range of different foods so children will not have a choice about what they eat at lunchtime. Special diets, for example allergies and religious restrictions will also be catered for but families will need to let us know at the start of term. There will also be a vegetarian offer every day. We understand the importance of making sure our food is high quality as students will have a choice of whether to eat it or not! That is why we have also started having in-depth meetings with caterers as well as considering an in-house option so we can make sure our food is tasty, healthy, nutritious and affordable.

What electives do you have inked in so far?

Nothing has been 100% confirmed yet, not least because the passions of our staff and interests of our students will guide some of our decisions. However, there will be some experiences, such as public speaking, that will be compulsory for all students to take part in at some point during the year as we believe they are vital for developing a child’s confidence and social skills. As far as possible, our electives will be linked in some way to the values of our school, for example students may get involved in community projects to instil our value of kindness.

How will individual music lessons work? Will there be visiting teachers? Will the lessons be at Cherwell? Will it be done in electives?

We hope to have a specialist music teacher in September who will coordinate music in our core curriculum and electives. They will also organise peripatetic music teachers who will provide individual tuition. We are exploring links with the Oxford Music Service and other local schools and organisations to ensure that music at The Swan is of the highest standard.

Do you have to have a Swan School bag?