IF not for the cobalt blue sign at its curtilage, it would be easy to mistake St Clare’s for another of the many impressive houses lining North Oxford’s Banbury Road.

The independent boarding college grew from its co-founder's living room in 1953, initially set up to establish links between British and European students after the Second World War.

At its helm now is Andrew Rattue, who became principal in 2017 and remains proud of the college’s international approach to education.

Speaking from his office inside the main building, at the corner of Lathbury Road, he said: “It's an amazing, extraordinary place.

"We are a part of North Oxford and I think our students really like feeling that the world is going on all around them.

"They have a lot more freedom. It's quite a liberal school, there's no uniform and teachers and students are on first name terms."

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He said that approach works well as a ‘stepping stone’ to university.

St Clare's primarily offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma for students aged 16-18, as an alternative to A-Levels.

The IB originated in 1968 and St Clare's lays claim to being the longest-established 'IB world school' in England, having started to offer the course in 1977.

Headington School and St Edward's School in Oxford also offer the IB alongside A-Levels, but St Clare's solely focuses on the former for its sixth-formers.

It also runs summer courses and English courses, and an international school to prepare students from abroad for university.

Mr Rattue said: "Hidden behind this unusual exterior is a very interesting, different type of school.

"People come from across the world and we have a substantial number of boarders - we are really international, like all Oxford institutions.

"A lot of the teaching staff have worked abroad - I've worked in Spain, Thailand and in the States - and that adds a different perspective."

The principal has 20 years' worth of experience leading independent schools, having worked previously at schools including at The Royal Grammar School in Worcester and King's College in Madrid.

He is a governor of Oxfordshire Hospital School and Rye St Antony School in Headington.

Father-of-four Mr Rattue, who lives in North Oxford, spoke admirably about how Anne Dreydel co-founded the school more than 60 years ago with Pamela Morris.

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Miss Dreydel was paralysed from the waist down at the age of 22, in a German air raid in London in 1941.

Two years later, she came to St Anne's College to read English, later settling in North Oxford.

St Clare's was originally founded as the Oxford English Centre for Foreign Students.

Although its main aim was teaching languages, students were also taught about British culture, literature and history.

Writing in the Oxford Times in 2006, Philippa Boston, who wrote about the history of St Clare's, quoted Miss Dreydel as saying: "There's no point in speaking four languages if you have nothing interesting to say in any of them."

Mr Rattue said: "She was an extraordinary, pioneering woman who set up in her house to teach young people - mostly girls in Oxford who were not British.

"She taught English in her front room and the school mushroomed from there."

Although she died in 2007, her legacy lives on at the college and her portrait proudly hangs in the reception area at St Clare's.

The school has grown significantly since its humble beginnings, and now occupies a network of 27 buildings in the North Oxford area.

During its Independent Schools Inspectorate assessment last year, it had 264 pupils on roll, the vast majority of whom where boarders.

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Mr Rattue, who speaks French and Spanish, said the student population hails from 45 different countries.

However, he said while the school has built up a reputation internationally, many people in Oxford itself are still unaware of St Clare's and what it offers.

He added: "We've got two scholarships chiefly aimed at at local people

"We are a charity, not a private company, and we are keen to promote our scholarships.

"I'm a returner to Oxford myself and came back after 35 years.

"It's nice to be back - lots has changed."

The principal, who has also directed and acted in a number of plays over the years, read English at Brasenose College.

He completed his postgraduate certificate in education at King's College in London, and stayed in the capital to begin his teaching career.

Although he has spent most of his working life in independent schools, he attended a state school while growing up in Salisbury.

He said: "I tried to get out of my comfort zone and did quite a bit of moving around.

"I encourage the kids to do that to give them an international perspective, and encourage them to learn languages."

He said he felt it is important to 'be a part of the community' and connect St Clare's with the wider city.

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The college is keen to support state schools with workshops and by sharing its facilities, and a number of staff members are also governors at local schools.

It also runs a teacher training institute for teachers in other schools to come and learn how to teach the IB.

British teacher and headmaster Alec Peterson, who is largely credited as being the creator of the IB, was a governor at St Clare's during the 1970s.

The number of UK schools offering the IB has declined in recent years, despite the qualification being respected for the breadth of study and for encouraging young learners to be curious and caring about the world around them.

St Clare's is supporting the state-funded Europa School in Culham, which might move to introduce the IB after 2021 if Brexit forces it to abandon the European Baccalaureate.

Mr Rattue said: "I would certainly like to see more schools in the UK offering the IB. The number has shrunk in the last decade.

"Nobody locally seems to be taking it up in the state sector, which is a shame - it's a missed opportunity, it's an amazing qualification and makes a lot of sense in terms of continuing a holistic education.

"It's the law of unintended consequences of channelling everyone towards A-Levels and the new T-Levels."

He said universities recognise the IB as a 'flagship qualification', adding: "The visionary aspect of the IB and internationalism is very much woven into everything that we do at St Clare's.

"We are supporting whoever we can as we do see ourselves, along with other independent schools, as flag-bearers and wavers for the IB."

The school is holding an open morning on Saturday for anyone interested in finding out more.