What it’s really like to go to London’s most exclusive Catholic school
An insight into life at the London Oratory School
The Schola, the world-renowned choir at the London Oratory School for Boys, recorded parts of the soundtrack to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That almost interesting nugget will constitute my last-ditch small talk at boring house parties for the rest of my life, probably.
Indeed, it’s select snippets like this – along with the fact that numerous sons of politicians and other public figures attended the school (both of Tony Blair’s sons, for example) – which explains why most Londoners tend to have heard of the school.
Upon telling a new acquaintance which school I went to, I would normally be met with tales of some friend-of-a-friend of theirs who went there, or something they’d heard about the way the school is run (rarely in a positive light). But what was it really like to spend seven years of your life there?
There are plenty of Catholic schools in England, so some non-Oratorians might have had similar experiences to mine. However, I am yet to hear of another present day, British Catholic school where Catholic doctrine and the practise of the faith is so deeply entrenched into every aspect of school life.
There were prayers in morning form and before every lesson, chapel sessions for all pupils every week, regular church services, and lessons in “religious education” which, unlike in most schools, consisted exclusively of teaching you about one religion. Nil points for guessing which one.
Before you can be accepted, you must obtain a glowing reference from your local priest (this is admittedly a fairly common practise among Catholic schools). You must also state two different ways in which you and your immediate family contributes to the running of the church (less common).
When I applied, we were required to do an interview with a member of staff in order to proceed to the next stage of admission, although I understand this practice has since ended. In my case, I was asked to recite several prayers, including the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and even the Catholic Creed – Google it, and then feel sorry for what I endured, aged 10.
This rigorous admissions policy has scandalised in the past. The Office of Schools Adjudicator slated the school for ruling out applicants because they weren’t baptised soon enough after being born.
The school has always had an of thinking itself above its station, which was pretty evident if you studied there. While it was technically a state school, its nature would make a first time observer think it was private.
For example, it doesn’t have any official football teams, instead favouring sports more commonly associated with public schools. Rugby was essentially compulsory if you showed the slightest hint of talent for it, and it’s one of only a handful of state comprehensives that has a rowing team.
But despite its faint ridiculousness, and the old-fashioned nature in which the school is run, I never wished I’d been to another school. Its pupils of the school, especially in my latter years there, retained a defiant sense of self-parody. When confronted about some of the absurdities of the school, Oratorians both current and former will not duck and dodge the realities of Oratory life: they wear it like armour.
Yes, some rules were ridiculous (the specificity of the haircuts permitted at London Oratory is mind-boggling), and yes, we had the Catholic faith shoveled down our throats. But you won’t get anywhere if you try to use any of this to mock or embarrass an Oratorian.
From drunkenly shouting along to the Our Father in Latin – a rousing chorus of which can be heard ringing out of pubs full of Oratory sixth formers – to parody social media accounts invoking “things only London Oratory kids will understand”, we adore reminiscing about the quirky teachers and ridiculous anecdotes that made our adolescent years so different to those of others around the country.
I believe you would struggle to find an old Oratorian who isn’t at least a little fond of those years they spent on Seagrave Road. And even if you do, I’d bet you they still remember most of the words to “Quam bonum est”.
This is part of a series on schools. Do you still remember all that useless, useless Latin? Or maybe your school didn’t do Latin at all. Email [email protected] if you want to write about yours.