Primary school dilemma - SW London(23 Posts)
I wonder if I might get some pointers as to the vibe and the kind of families attending some of the SW London primary schools we are considering - or even possibly hear some additional suggestions.
We are a half French half English family who had hoped for a place at Clapham's Wix's (either French or bilingual strand). We have now realised that despite our proximity to the school (which we had thought would be enough to get a place in the bilingual strand) we have little hope to get into the school. We are too far from Belleville or Honeywell, and too late for a place at L'Ecole de Battersea or L'Ecole des Petits (our son would get into those French independents age 3, ie this coming September).
So what we're really looking for now are schools that will provide the following:
- a co-ed education (not keen on boys only schools or those schools which teach both boys and girls but separately)
- not too English - we would quite like a school with an international feel (I liked the idea of the French Lycée more so because of its international slant than the fact that it teaches the French curriculum, which I think is good but which I'm not wedded to; if we can't get that French/English mix, then perhaps another kind of international mix would be good and would encourage our son to see his half Frenchness as important - from reading comments about bilingualism from various posters here I understand how difficult it is to maintain a and how an all English school will lead to our son probably thinking of his French language as unnecessary)
- a school that will put us in as favourable a position as possible to move on to the French Lycée age 11 (we know this means separate French lessons!)
- and finally I feel quite strongly that we need to be amongst like-minded families (I couldn't bear the competitiveness of parents in certain schools and would feel uncomfortable amongst the very rich - if we are to go the independent school route we will make a lot of sacrifices and e.g. will not be able to throw the type of birthday parties that you hear of from parents in certain independent schools; this us just an example but I have heard of children finding it hard to be the child with the 'rubbish' birthday party by comparison to their classmates whose parents erected a marquee in their vast garden and invited P Diddy (this is obv an exaggeration but I' sure you'll understand my point). we basically want to avoid a snobbish school at all costs!
- and of course a school that is good enough to open up a number of solid options when it comes to entering secondary school (esp. if the French Lycée is still out of bonds for us at that stage)
So here are some of the schools I've been looking at and wondering about in terms of the above requirements:
- Newton Prep (for the gifted and dirty is what I've heard?)
- Hill House (quirky? - not sure what people mean)
- Thomas's ('busy')
Would love to hear what you know about those (esp. in terms of who goes there and where the kids go on to) and if there are any other schools I should be considering.
I don't know why you think you won't get into Wix but obviously you must have your reasons for thinking this. I don't know anything about the prep schools you have mentioned as my children and those of close friends don't attend although I have some acquaintances with children at NP and Thomas's who seem pleased with them (I'm intrigued about "gifted and dirty").
What I would say is that all schools in the area have a very high turnover of children, it's just the nature of London and not generally a reflection on the school so if you have your heart set on Wix but think your child might not get in to start in September, you may be surprised that a place does come up during the reception year or definitely KS1. On that basis, you might want to think about a school that is convenient rather than a long term option.
Hill house is international but it's north of the river so not great for playdates etc if you are living south
Thomas is mostly described as competitive. If you are worried about birthday parties it may be one to avoid
I have no direct experience but have done a bit of research around these schools, which might help...
If you don't want crazy wealthy families, then I'm not sure Hill House would be right. It's off the Kings Road and Prince Charles is a former student... It has very little outside space and is split over several sites - I understand that the kids spend quite a bit of time being bussed about between various places/sports facilities (I read somewhere that they swim at Latchmere, so that will give you an idea). Also, I think they finish at lunchtime on a Friday, apparently in the past this was so families could get out of London early for their weekend residences! Sounds like a childcare hassle for working parents to me though! But I've heard that it has a nice, fairly laid back (perhaps more continental) approach to education in comparison with other prep schools, yet still sends a good number of children on to all the major public schools (many kids will go on to board) i.e. Eton, Harrow, Winchester etc etc, so academics presumably very good. Newton Prep I believe to be very academic, great facilities and I've always admired the fact they do not require a deposit at birth just to qualify your child for their test. I think it has had a new head recently? There are a few posts on here about it if you search. From what I have heard Thomas's is very very academic, pushy parent-ville, many very 'city-type' parents, but the social scene for parents is good, if you're into that kind of thing - the head actively encourages parent get-togethers. Of course, you might want to look at both Thomas's on Battersea Square and Thomas's on Bellevue Rd. However, you may be too late for 2014 entry as Thomas's do require early deposits and 'close the list' for the selection interview early on. However, I know of people who have got their child on the list nearer the time, so I think some of this is just hype. You will undoubtedly get plenty of French kids at all of these schools, given the population in the local area. I imagine they all study French too. All these schools have info on their websites about the leavers' destinations. For most parents this is the single biggest factor in them choosing a school so schools will always give out this info readily.
As a general point, most independent schools will have a mix of parents, ranging from those struggling with fees to those for whom money is no object, or where grandparents are paying fees or whatever, so your DC is unlikely to feel too left out. I understand that Newton has some fairly hefty bursaries on offer (particularly from 7+) so that will presumably mean that there are a fair number of kids there who will not constantly be jetting off on exotic holidays.
p.s. there are definitely a few Hill House families on the South Side of the Bridge - I have seen some at bus stops in the Battersea Park area in the morning, and even nearer the Commons.
If you're nearish to Wix, you can get to Hill House really easily on 137 bus, and I think it fits your description o what you want.
Thomas is very pressured. Newton Prep is no longer for the gifted, but reputation is quite low at the moment. New head due in in September though. Might be worth keeping an eye on for entry in a couple of years.
I'm intrigued at a school that people describe as 'gifted and dirty'.
IIRC, Hill House has odd term dates (4 term year) and the option of finishing early on Fridays (for those who like to get away to the country). But it's less expensive than many central London preps and gets very good results. But it's crammed into various buildings - very creative use of space, but off-putting to some (especially the basement of the Small School).
Think this explains the dirt thing!
Some international parents at Thomas's Clapham (and from what I've heard also at Thomas's Battersea) including some French families, although predominantly British. Families often seem to club together for joint birthday parties to reduce costs so no need to feel you need to have the marquee and P Diddy.
Regarding your later options, I understand Whitgift can offer bilingual programmes, so may be worth looking into. In theory you could get there from any of the primary schools you are considering.
thomas's full of french families, and very social, I have not found it overly competitive although always some families in all london schools who are.
re birthday parties, speaking as the family that probably throws one of the more extravagant parties, we haven't found any ill feeling and certainly the children are just as happy with a disco in the basement of local cafe as the fancy tea in chelsea. I think that stuff is not as big a deal as everyone gossips about unless perhaps you are sending them to one of the very upmarket schools - I'd guess not an overly english school though but more those full of bankers children (who tend to be international - american/french/german/spanish as well as english) and oligarchs, shipping magnates etc. - more SW1 way? Really posh english families tend to have a 'scruffier than thou' mentality no matter how wealthy.
Thank you all for your insight.
'Gifted and dirty' was actually meant as 'gifted kids' and 'dirty classrooms'!
Image to say I'm finding the whole thing such a minefield as added t the dilemma described above, one moment a school is brilliant and the next at an all-time low. I suppose the thing I must bear in mind is that my son is a little shy - he will observe for a few minutes before joining in. This may make Thomas' a difficult prospect for him. Also, as a full time working mum I wouldn't be able to be a regular feature of the parents' circles you have mentioned, which could go slightly against us.
lalalonglegs - not all siblings got into the bilingual strand at Wix this year (two were on the waiting kit and #3, a non sibling, was only 50 yards away). We therefore have little chance!
Any other suggestions of schools we should be looking at in the area welcome!
The linked Newton thread is out of date, and contains inaccuracies - they neither introduced duffel coats, nor continued either to market for, or provide for, the 'gifted': all extension lessons have gone, as has streaming; and selection is much softer. All this done under current head, as have extensive changes to learning support, which removed the previous individual support available.
The results of pupils who went through under "old system" (ie up to last years CE/scholarship) were impressive. Those under the new (eg last years 11+), not so: no academic scholarships, and some pupils with no offers at all.
The new head (coming from Dulwich Junior School) in September will (hopefully) restore learning support and improve morale in the school.
The real estate/facilities are very good. And no dirtier than any other school, really.
Another suggestion is Parkgate House School up to year 2. It's small and quite gentle; facilities not so good, but that matters less for the equivalent of KS1. If you go there, you can use the early years to decide if you like the place enough to stay (and most do), but also use the time to research other options.
Or try state - you might look at MacCauley CofE school (one third of places are community ones, so not impossible if you live close to it).
Thomas's - definitely competitive, lots of tutoring, smart families, money++.
Hill House - range of families go there from v rich to people who pay fees in instalments. Cheaper than a lot of local schools, yet gets fab results. Small class sizes (10-12). V international
Newton Prep - old head has not gone down well, and has damaged the school's reputation and academic record. New head will take time to bed down any changes she implements when she starts in Sept. No learning support to speak of at the moment.
In London there is a lot of movement from all schools all the time - expats come and go, people move out of London. So what you decide now doesn't have to be forever. It can be a temporary move.
What about Eaton House schools? Good Luck
Really interesting feedback from everyone. Thank you!
Of the private schools I'm leaning towards Hill House (despite the less than tasteful outfit) as results are solid and I like the idea of small classes and slightly more diverse backgrounds. We are in the media and not banking and I think we'd feel ill-at-ease in a school where the vast majority has parents who work in the City and spend their holidays in Barbados (and I'm not talking about oligarchs!).
Would be interested to know of other schools that may be more media type friendly.
Unfortunately we are too late for Eaton Manor Housr or Parkgate. I wasn't sure about girls and boys being taught separately in the former and I'm finding the other a little twee ond lacking sport.
Hi MamzalleL - I hope it didn't sound as if I thought you didn't know what you were talking about, I just meant to imply that these things aren't always as cut and dried as they appear and that "catchments" (not that they really exist), stretch and contract year by year so you could find that Wix is a goer after all. I hope you sort everything out in the next few months.
@lalalonglegs - no offence taken! I just thought stating the facts re the last Wix intake might serve others.
Have you looked at the Dolphin School on Northcote Rd? Smaller and cheaper than other options. Understand they are expanding the building at the moment. Supposed to be very nurturing. Might be a nicer environment than Thomas's for a quieter child.
Dolphin doesn't do French. Its MFL is Spanish.
If you are close to Wix, you can't be too far from Shaftesbury Primary School and they are starting a bilingual stream this year.
It would certainly tick all of your criteria.
My son was the first batch from Wix Bilingual. He is now attending Whithift section Francis. My younger son will never get into the Bilingual because we cannot afford to lie, rent or buy beside the school. Wix has changed a lot ....it is too international for my liking so please don't believe the hype.
If I could afford, I would put my son into a prep school any day.
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