Burford School – A history of new beginnings

Burford School is a special community. It is an honour to be invited by the Governors to take the helm from the hugely impressive Kathy Haig and become Headteacher from September 2021. The privilege is all the more significant given the school celebrates its 450th year. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to write here a few words on the history of the school.

Burford School was founded in 1571 by seven merchants, including a butcher, a smith, a shoemaker, a tailor and yeomen. One of the seven, Simon Wysdom, a clothier and a mercer, came to be regarded as the driving force in the foundation of the school. Though he was, notably for readers of this magazine, son of a wool man of Shipton under Wychwood, Wysdom spent the majority of his life in Burford. As an Alderman, Wysdom’s contributions to the community were significant and his legacy can be found around and about today in building and street names.

The school was unusual for the time in offering an education to the children of merchants and tradespeople, as well as local dignitaries. The cost of an education was four pence for enrolment and a further eight pence per year to go towards the upkeep of the school and the salary of the masters.

The absence of girls is marked in this late Victorian image and for over 350 years only boys were welcomed through the gates. Although girls were invited to attend from 1924, when the Burford became a county school, they were taught separately until 1952 when Comprehensive education was pioneered.

In 1896 the new Head at that time, very appropriately given the setting of Burford, added agricultural studies to what had previously been a traditional curriculum. He also invigorated boarding by housing students together during the week. This initiative brought in the sons of local farmers and led to the establishment of a very successful fifty-six acre farm unit with a Danish Jersey Herd, breeding ewes, sows and poultry. Although the farm was eventually wound up, the essence is still maintained today in a dynamic outdoor learning space known as ‘The Acre’.

The school, formerly housed in the Lower High Street, moved in 1957 to its current premises surrounded by 36 acres of rolling land on the Cheltenham Road. The original Grammar School building in the town became part of the Boarding House and continues to this day to provide for residential students.

The demands of the governments of the day have ensured Burford’s classification has shifted over the years – becoming a community college in 1980 and then an Academy in 2012. Throughout the series of new beginnings, the original charter of the school has held firm to this day providing a thread to its culture through the ages. The foundation of the school is celebrated each year in the autumn when the Charter Day Service is held, attended by the whole school. 

The school has strong ties to families in the Wychwoods with many students moving on from Burford to great success:
1920’s – Frank Hartley played for Oxford City and Tottenham Hotspur.
1960’s – John Smith from Milton under Wychwood played for Oxford City and Swindon Town youth teams before playing American Football for the New England Patriots; and Mark Richards went on to become an author with books on The Lake District, Peak District and The Cotswolds.
1980s Simon West from Ascott under Wychwood became a successful film director and producer with films like ‘Con Air’, Lara Croft and ‘The Generals Daughter’.
2010s Henry Purdy is currently part of the Bristol Bears side having been at Tigers and a member of the England under 20’s team who won the World Championship in 2013; and his sister Georgina Purdy was part of an all-women team that rowed the Atlantic.
Finally we must include Abbie Norgrove, currently at the School, who is making great strides with Shipton under Wychwood cricket team and receiving coaching from Charlotte Edwards, formerly of the England Cricket team.

The very best schools evolve without losing identity and culture. Burford is one such school. It is a place with a long and outstanding history which has, as is evident above, changed with the times yet never lost connection with the community it serves. A legacy of care and ambition embodied in the charter has endured through its 450 years ensuring that all are supported and challenged to be the best version of themselves.

I was drawn to apply for the post of Headteacher at Burford School because of this culture. Further, I wanted to be part of a school which shares my belief that participation across a wide range of activities nurtures collaboration and supports young people in building self-esteem. Personal growth comes from an academic education as well as involvement in sport and the Arts. Burford excels in all three areas providing opportunities for all its pupils to grow. 

As the staff welcome the students for the new academic year, I am proud to become part of a team with such ambition for its students. We look forward to seeing you at one of the many celebratory events in the next year.

Matthew Albrighton

Headteacher, Burford School

With thanks to members of the alumni team – Stuart Norridge (Governor) and Sarah Duckworth (Marketing Manager) – for their help in putting this piece together.

October-November 2021