Private School for the Totally Uninitiated

(74 Posts)
JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 13:07:46

Hi.

This is long so if you can't be bothered reading, please scroll to the bottom. Thank you!

OK, I'm a single parent to a really bright 6 year old boy. A couple of people suggested I tried to get him into a private school on a bursary but I completely dismissed it as it wasn't something that appealed at all.

He's at a lovely state primary school at the moment but I don't think he's sufficiently challenged. I've mentioned this to his class teacher and she agrees he's really clever and gives him extra sheets to work on when he's completed his work, but I have family members who are teachers and have said that it's really hard to serve the needs of 30 children where abilities vary so greatly. It's so hard to talk about without sounding like a tw*t but he is intelligent and that's that. The other thing that concerns me is that whilst we love the area where we live, none of the high schools are good.

One bored night, I went on Google and discovered that my son would be entitled to a full bursary at an extremely posh private school with an excellent reputation, a reasonable distance from our home. I felt uneasy about it but decided there was no harm in going to look around. I have a really open dialogue with my son so I explained to him what it was all about and took him with me - needless to say, he loved it - but that's probably just the novelty of it all.

I must admit it was impressive: especially the extra-curricular activities - my son is very musical and loves drama and there is an incredible amount of provision in those areas, not to mention the outstanding academic achievement of the pupils.

All this would be great - apart from the fact I am basically a massive lefty. I sort of wish I had never googled that day and didn't know the school or its bursaries exist. On the one hand, they do offer bursaries and want to open the school to children who wouldn't usually be able to afford the fees, but on the other, aren't schools like this essentially Tory institutions? I'm also uncomfortable with the fact it's an all boys school, but the local state high school is all boys so he might end up in a girl free school anyway.

Making huge parental decisions is so hard when you're on your own and this one is really getting me. It could literally shape who he becomes - for the better, or for the worse. I've got a few friends who went to private school and say 'don't do it' - but all of them are well-rounded individuals who've done alright for themselves. My son's really down to earth and tolerant and I would love him to always be this way, but I also want him to fulfil his potential and achieve. The pomp and circumstance of the place did terrify me a bit, but I suppose that's me, not him. I'm fully aware he may be one of only a handful of classmates who live in a two bedroomed house, or don't have a car, or can't afford to go on the school treks etc and this is another point to consider. This is really hard as it's all at odds with my politics but he is really bright. Like I said, I almost wish I didn't know about it! Of course, he might not even get in, but at the moment I need to know whether to apply (it's a junior to sixth form school.)

Does anyone have any feedback on children going to private schools on a bursary?

ipadquietly Sat 18-May-13 16:34:45

Believe me, wuldric, with the 6 level 6s in maths and English in our current cohort (and target of 35% level 5 combined maths/English), our children were more than ready for sitting the 11+ having been taught 'adequately' throughout their primary years.

It is a fact that the 11+ has become a competition. Parents who don't tutor feel that they have failed their children.

You have been listening to too much tittle tattle.

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 16:35:10

You simply do not get where the baseline is.

At the age of 10, DD had a reading age of 15.3. She was just an ordinarily bright child surrounded by books. By your metrics that would put her 5 years ahead. That's nonsense. She didn't make the scholarship grade to the academic preps. DS did, but then again, he is brighter.

I am not talking about being two years ahead in terms of reading ages or SATs. I am talking about being two years ahead in terms of the stuff they are being taught. Do you see what I mean?

This is a primary example of it being a whole different ball game. It is unfair, horribly unfair, but this is the way it is.

scaevola Sat 18-May-13 16:36:35

The 7% figure in the private sector is across all age groups. It's far fewer at prep age and about 20% in 6th form. So the read across to Oxbridge isn't straightforward, especially as there are a few highly selective schools which send large numbers. And of course the number from grammar schools is disproportionately high.

It seems that it is selection plus a very academic approach theough the secondary years that are important for being selected for the academic style of Oxbridge.

JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 16:36:53

I think my heart really is still in him having a state education.

AlienAttack Sat 18-May-13 16:38:01

With respect wuldric I do "understand the environment". Why would I not? From which part of my post have you inferred a lack of current knowledge or experience of private school? A sloppy assumption which does nothing to support your case. My point was factual, you can see from published stats that many state schools have children operating 2 years above expectations.

ipadquietly Sat 18-May-13 16:38:10

At the age of 7, a quarter of my class have a reading age of 10:6 (the limit of the test). What are you trying to prove?

If I am aiming for some of my 7 year olds to be writing at level 3 (that is, like a 9 year-old), I have to teach them how to write like a 9 year old. They don't do it through osmosis!

So no, I don't see what you mean.

AlienAttack Sat 18-May-13 17:23:01

I've calmed down a bit now and have no desire to get into an argument with a single poster . I get very irritated by the "2 years ahead" claim which many private schools trot out but which many other private schools would never think of claiming, given they are confident in their "offer" and therefore have no need to denigrate the state alternative. And I say this as someone with a very close association with an academically selective private school (although I have no desire to say in what capacity I am associated).
I think the question the OP needs to answer for herself is not whether private school offers "more", it is whether is that "more" is worth the financial commitment etc versus what is available through state education. And that is a diferent decision for each parent, given that their child's needs are different, their finances are different and their state options are different.

KatyDid02 Sat 18-May-13 17:35:18

I think it depends on the state school to be honest, for example my DC is at a state primary and has been learning about World War 2 for the past three weeks. He knows who all the countries were, who the allies were, when they joined the war and why and lots of detail about it all - the types of planes, what weapons they had etc etc, plus lots about evacuation, the air raids and rationing. He has learnt all of that at school, we've not done any extra at home. A friend's son (two years older) is in year 5 at a different state school, they learnt about WW2 as a one week topic when he was my DCs age and nothing else either then or since.

handcream Sat 18-May-13 17:38:10

There are plenty of lefties who claim to believe in state education for all - until it comes to their children (!!) so I wouldnt let that worry you too much...

However, as another said, I would be very careful about saying you are 'entitled' to a place. They might well publish a chart of who pays what dependant on income but YOU have to get a place before you start looking at that.

Dont worry about keeping up with all the others if you go for private. The boys wont care who you are, they just want to know that your DS is a good egg and up for a game of football and such like.

Also please be careful about saying they offer a lot of boys 'full busaries. Private schools are businesses - what is a lot 50%, 10%, 5%, lots of 50% off the fees.

The key I suspect will be him sitting the entrance test and getting the results.

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 17:42:06

I'd like to correct the idea that private schools are businesses.

The vast majority are not-for-profit organisations, who aim to improve educational standards. There are a few (a very few) who operate as businesses with the objective of making money. I doubt the OP is aiming for one of those.

Elibean Sat 18-May-13 17:44:08

Joan, what a tough decision. I can imagine having very similar dilemmas in your shoes.

Just wanted to say, might it be worth doing the assessment and seeing if he gets a place? And if so, and he goes to this school but isn't happy, you could always pull him out again in the future?

But I suppose what I would do first is ask the school if I could talk to the parents of other full bursary pupils....maybe gain some first hand experience stories...?

Wishing you luck making the decision. Either way, your ds is lucky to have you thinking so hard over it smile

handcream Sat 18-May-13 17:57:53

Wuldric - yes, I sort of agree, they do have charitable status, however they can pick and choose who they want. I do see lots of threads with people saying they cant afford private but were looking at a full busary. Well - someone has to pay their fees otherwise the school would be full of non paying (or paying very little) pupils.

I think this 'well so and so is 2 year ahead etc etc is a little misleading tbh'. I have two sons and 10 yrs experience of the private system including pre-prep, prep and senior boarding (at a very well known school).

What private has given my sons who are not wildly academic is this:

1. Small classes. Lots of attention. Reports every term. Issues brought to us immediately through the tutor who stays with your child throughout their time at the school

2. A huge range of sports with acres and acres of school playing fields for all types of sports

3. Teachers who are not constantly dealing with 'disipline issues'. Parents are paying shed loads of money. I wouldnt put up with my DS's mucking around in school (and neither would the school!)

4. Very bright boys in each class - often on busaries but who knows who is getting what who bring the standards up

5. Any behaviour problems are dealt with very quickly in my experience.

6. The view that they aim high. DS1 is doing GCSE's. He is aiming for A and A* in all subjects. He has a late August birthday. Do I think it he will get them - no - but he will have a dam good try!

7. 98% of pupils going to university. Something my rubbish Sec modern school didnt even consider for any of their pupils.

Did I look at the state options - of course I did. And I didnt like what I saw...

handcream Sat 18-May-13 18:01:17

The only boy I really know who was definitely on a full busary at DS1's prep school had been picked from a state school in Slough at 9 due to his brilliance and then earmarked for a Eton Kings Scholarship.

He got it - but had some issues around making friends and socialising. I understand he was so academically inclined and his parents so keen to make the most of the opportunity that they forgot to allow him some down time.

cooper44 Sat 18-May-13 18:03:01

hi Joan - just wanted to offer my perspective. My mum who was a lone parent in the late 70s/80s fought tooth and nail to send me to private school - I think she somehow paid for primary (it was a very small local school though) and then I got an assisted place for secondary. I think perhaps assisted places don't exist anymore and I think it was a big Thatcher initiative in the 80s. Anyway there is no way I would ever be where I am now had I not had the opportunity to go there. I doubt I will be able to send my children private although as soon as I have stopped paying half my monthly income to childcare, I will definitely be saving in the hope that I can for secondary. If I was given the opportunity of help with sending them I would take it if I liked the school and thought that the teaching there was better than the state alternative. No question.

It's not really a black and white argument is it as there are plenty of great state schools so it's not clear cut. And it depends hugely on your son too. Different people thrive in different environments.
But I know for a fact that the experiences I had at my school were excellent - I was pushed (lazy student!) when perhaps I wouldn't have been in my local state schools which were not great at all.

I don't think - other than education - I have ever benefitted from any kind of old boy's network in my career, I've done everything for myself and worked my butt off to own my own home and climb the career ladder etc. I just don't think (and I know it's impossible to know) that I would have achieved as much had my mum not made those decisions back then. For me it's a no-brainer. But then I don't have your Left principles so easy for me to say.

Farewelltoarms Sat 18-May-13 19:14:33

Hello Joan, I feel bad that I contributed to this thread going into a rather boring oft-done private v state. I think you've got specific issues. I cannot imagine how difficult is to make decisions in the echo chamber of doing it alone. I am constantly looking to my husband for reassurance which he mostly gives (albeit sometimes in a patronising, humour-her type way).
I know a couple of single parents who have sent their children to private schools, in part because they are single parents. They were both very concerned that their children not be disadvantaged in any way. One said to me, 'I wouldn't want my child not to go to private just because I don't have a partner'. The fact that partnered up me sends my children to state didn't seem to register.
Anyway, neither of them seem particularly happy with their decision. One has had to move her child into a state school (now thriving) because she run out of money, the other has sold her house etc. I know without doubt that both are doing their very best for their children, but I wonder whether their sense of wanting to do the best is heightened because they're on their own.
I think their children are very blessed, not because they go/went to private school, but because they've got such brilliant, caring mothers.
I don't think you want him to go to the private school. Perhaps push for more extension work and maybe get a tutor later to try for a selective secondary? Or just because he might enjoy having some more challenging work and some one-on-one from a (good) tutor.

eminemmerdale Sat 18-May-13 19:22:32

I wanted dd to go for a few reasons: a) my nephew went (on an assisted places scheme) and loved it. b) the opportunities (learning french from year 3, violin tuition - free- from year 3, amazing sports facilities c) small and seemingly very pastorally caring d) she has a hearing impairment and smaller classes would have been wonderful and e) her state school year 1 teacher pointed out very early on that she is remarkably clever and suggested we give it a go. I am not so worried now about her primary as it is one of those schools which does attract professional and 'clever' parents (for example, 16 of her current year group are being taken out to go to different private schools in the area - not good for the school but shows that parents have aspirations); but I am concerned about secondary. Two out of 7 schools in the city have been 'outstanding' lately, one is a church school, and one isn't in the catchment, so I am concerned that she will fall apart when it comes to that time. Still, we will have to see. I am still cross that we went through so much to fall at the last hurdle.

lljkk Sat 18-May-13 19:41:59

wish I had never found out about this school with its amazing music and sports and activities.

How much are these, are they all free? Or are there extras? The clubs I know about at local prep are extra ££. Along with lunches costing extra. Plus would you be able to connect to the other parents, or feel like fish out of water? Because most the parents will be loaded & have certain expectations & outlooks attached to that.

Would the bursary be dependent on academic achievement, would the pressure be on you both to always keep his work up at a certain high standard?

I do slightly bristle at the idea that clever kids can never be catered for in a state primary.

Yeah that gets me too. It makes me wonder how dim DC must be compared to some MNers children!
Although I think posters here are, instead, discussing difference between "the very best" vs. "the merely adequate." Most of my life is about merely adequate, I don't quite understand how people function if "the very best" is the only option they can stomach.

sanam2010 Sat 18-May-13 19:48:10

Joan, I think any parent has a responsibility to make sure their child is well educated, motivated and happy. I really think you will regret it if you deny him this opportunity for political reasons. I for sure would not ever forgive my mum if I knew she had denied me such an opportunity for political reasons. As for becoming a Tory - he might become a Tory either way, these things are down to destiny. I'm sure he won't forget where he's from. But especially if he is very bright, don't let him linger in an average or below average school when he could be enjoying a high quality education somewhere else.

mrsshackleton Sat 18-May-13 21:06:11

Agree with sanam.

I went to a pretty mediocre state school, I was bored and miserable. My parents moved me to a private school and my life was transformed. I was surrounded by peers at the same level as me and the difference just in day-today interactions with other children who liked reading, enjoyed talking about history etc was huge.

I went to Oxford and have had a pretty fabulous career. I'm fairly sure I would have got in the state route anyway but it would have been a far less enjoyable and stimularing journey. I think some state primaries can cater fine for clever children, but the OP's said it - her son is insufficiently challenged, so in this particular case it's clearly not working.

And btw, OP, I am not a Tory and nor are most of my privately educated friends. As for politics, I'd like grammar schools to be reintroduced but as there's no chance of that, selective private schools are unfortunately, the best solution for many clever children.

ipadquietly Sat 18-May-13 23:49:31

I'm sorry, but you guys are making state educated children sound like they're brain dead. It's a bit insulting really.

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 23:52:18

I don't think that is the case. I do not believe that state educated children are brain dead. And in fact no-one on this thread has said any such thing.

What I have said is that privately educated children have an advantage. That's not controversial, is it?

HKTekGuy Sat 18-May-13 23:53:45

OP - Firstly, ignore all those posters telling you how great their state schools are and how you should therefore stay in the state system. Their anecdotes are only relevent if you are in their catchment. Look at your state options, compare them to your private options and take it from there.

Stepping past the state v private argument, the parents and kids at private schools aren't any different from those you find at state schools. Not unless you believe that there are no bitchy mums at state schools and that kids don't get picked on by their peers.

ipadquietly Sun 19-May-13 00:07:35

You're saying that state school made you 'bored and miserable'. You are saying that state school pupils are 2 years behind their private school peers. You're saying that you would have had a less stimulating journey to your fabulous career. You talk about the transformation of your llife at private school where everyone talked about history and meaningful things.

Well, whoopee doo. 93% of children in the country have to go to state school because their parents don't earn enough to send them to private school. (The continuity of bursaries has been discussed on this thread.) I'm amazed how many children succeed in the face of such adversity.

HKTekGuy Sun 19-May-13 00:17:03

"93% of children in the country have to go to state school because their parents don't earn enough to send them to private school"

Actually that is an incorrect statement. The real figure is much lower. A lot of parents do earn enough but choose not to educate privately, either for political reasons or because their state sch0ol is good enough for them.

Anyway, please continue.

ipadquietly Sun 19-May-13 00:26:42

Then I'm even more amazed that some well-off parents choose to send their children to these dreadful state-run, under-performing institutions.

Heaven forbid.

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