The Independent Schools Inspectorate said in 2007: "Pupils and staff show deep and committed support to the Catholic values that underpin the school", and "genuine excitement and enjoyment shine through in sporting, musical and creative activities. Individual pupils and teams have achieved distinction in a wide range of activities, particularly in sport", and pupils "have recently represented Great Britain in rowing, shooting and real tennis, England in cricket and Ireland in rugby".
The Oratory School was founded in 1859. The first boys arrived before work began on 1 May that year. The objective was to provide a Roman Catholic alternative to other schools, particularly for the sons of converts from Anglicanism who considered existing Catholic schools culturally and socially inferior. The idea of founding a school had been in Newman's mind for some time before that and education of the young was an abiding interest. In the early 1850s he had been invited by the Irish Catholic bishops to establish a Catholic university in Dublin, but it did not prove a success, though he was able to formulate the principles published as The Idea of a University. When the Irish project came to an end, he was approached by a group of Catholic laymen, principally converts to Roman Catholicism from the Oxford Movement, to set up a Catholic boarding school for boys run on English independent school lines, rather than the monastically based Catholic schools that already existed such as those run by the English Benedictine Congregation (Worth, Downside and Ampleforth). The original school was opened next to the house of the Oratory Fathers in Edgbaston, Birmingham.
In 1922 the Oratory School moved from Edgbaston to Caversham Park, Caversham. In 1942 (when Caversham Park was requisitioned to become a BBC listening station, now BBC Monitoring), and after a short sojourn in exile at Downside, it finally removed to its present location at Woodcote Estate, Berkshire. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory handed over control of the school to a Governing Body in 1931, but links with the Birmingham, London and Oxford Oratories remain strong.
The school has an orchestral and choral tradition, with former choristers of Westminster Cathedral among the pupils. The school's prestigious youth choir, known as 'Schola Cantorum', has over 60 pupils and requires high performance caliber and therefore standard auditions, they have performed at venues such as Windsor Castle and for the Pope, as well as frequent venues and performances to public around London, most recently Nelson's mass and Zadok the Priest in Hyde Park. Around half the pupils across the school play a musical instrument or attend singing lessons. Several pupils have recently joined the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.
The Oratory is one of five schools in the United Kingdom to possess a real tennis court (others being Canford, (Wellington College) and Radley) and plays this sport, hosting championships and international tournaments. It was the first location in the United Kingdom to construct a Real Tennis court for 80 years, finishing the building in 1990. Over recent years the UK Professional Singles Tournament has been held at the court, and in April 2006 the World Championships were held there in which world no. 1 Rob Fahey (Australia) beat USA player Tim Chisholm.