Worried mother looking for a suitable school for daughter- please help!

(78 Posts)
manicmother80 Thu 14-Feb-13 03:05:47

I live in India, and my 14 year old daughter is having a hard time in the schooling system here. She is a bright and talented girl but the schools here are very rigid and hierarchial whereas she is creative and independant-minded. She is determined to come to a boarding school in the UK, but I'm worried that she has been far too protected at home and will not enjoy the experience unless we find her a school that is a 'perfect fit' for her.

To give you an idea of what my daughter is like: her grades are consistently at the top of her class for the subjects she likes (English, Maths, Economics) and below average for those that she doesn't enjoy (Science, History). She's an enthusiastic debator, she writes and directs drama and she has created her own online comic strip that is very popular with her school students. She attends after-school classes in graphic design, photography and animation.

She is very extroverted and a little rebellious and contrarian. She is not at all the 'posh' type and is happiest in a friendly and casual atmosphere. She enjoys a bit of recreational rowing, riding and trekking but is not at all interested in competitive sport.

I've been considering Bradsfield College, St. Edwards School Oxford, Moreton Hall and Westonbirt School. Do these sound like a good fit for her? Which would you say is the best of the lot?

I'm looking for boarding schools (either co-ed or all-girls) in Southern or Middle England for entry in Sixth Form in September 2014. I would very much appreciate reccomendations of boarding schools with cosy, close-knit community atmosphere and top-notch art and drama opportunites. Ideally, a school that is not too pressurizing academically, but that is still intellectually challenging enough for a smart teenager.

And I should add that my daught

manicmother80 Thu 14-Feb-13 03:09:52

Sorry, I did not complete the last sentence. I wanted to say, the I should add that my daughter is not Oxbridge obsessed. She says that she is going to aim for places like Edinburgh, King's College London, Exeter or Nottingham or maybe a liberal arts college in the USA.

EuroShopperEnergyDrink Thu 14-Feb-13 03:57:12

Downe House. Met some lovely girls at uni who came from there.

Callthemidlife Thu 14-Feb-13 05:42:19

Downe house is probably one of top 3 schools for girls in the country, so may be full, although I have heard nothing but good stuff about the school.

I don't know any of the schools you mention but I do know kings Canterbury and think that has all the drama and arts and design you could wish for, also does rowing and riding and has good mix of foreign/UK students. Not sure you could describe it as cosy, but then if you want excellence in drama and art and good academic level, cosy may be difficult to achieve in any school. It would be on my list if my DD were like yours.

Dustylaw Thu 14-Feb-13 09:11:14

Have a look at Roedean. It is the least hierarchical of the girls schools we looked at, has a good riding programme for Saturday mornings and a friendly atmosphere. The high percentage of overseas girls means it does not empty at weekends or even exeat weekends. Older girls can go into Brighton so it's not in the middle of nowhere. For coed, lots of choice - look at The Leys in Cambridge - again, being able to go into Cambridge with friends is a big thing for weekends and rowing is on offer.

goinggetstough Thu 14-Feb-13 09:50:16

Definitely agree with looking at Downe House. It is not next to a town as some of the others mentioned have been but is only a taxi ride away to Newbury. St Edwards too is known for great pastoral care. You mentioned Bradfield. we found when we visited that it empties out at weekends.
As you are applying for sixth form do check how many new students the school admits. It can be very hard to be only 1 of 2/3 new girls in a mass of 80/90 girls all who have been together since age 11. It is of course not impossible to do but is a consideration. I think for a sixth former having a full weekend programme is not as vital as for a 13 year old. By the time they have finished lessons on a Saturday morning and or sport in the afternoon they need time to relax and catch up on prep. They do however need a good core of other full boarders around.
Good luck with your search.

Katryn Thu 14-Feb-13 11:30:19

I would not try Westonbirt,that doesn't sound like a fit for your daughter, unless it has changed considerably since my day. If she's very creative and independent, I would maybe look at Bedales.

Elibean Thu 14-Feb-13 11:37:03

Just a cautious word about Downe House to balance out the positives (which I am sure are there too). dh has two neices who left there recently, both of whom have tales to tell of rife eating disorders and depression amongst their peers.

I personally would look for a school where image isn't too important, and where there are girls of all different shapes and sizes - and going to Barbados for half-term isn't an important part of belonging.

Not saying all this is necessarily accurate (girls' POV being subjective of course) but I would check it out carefully for myself, if I were going to check it out at all. Which I'm sure you'd do anyway, but just in case...

Elibean Thu 14-Feb-13 11:37:30

ps I knew St Edwards well, but a long time ago - it was fun and happy when I knew it!

happygardening Thu 14-Feb-13 12:17:33

From your list; Bradfield as already said empties out at the weekend. Westonbirt a friend works there, very tiny only 200 pupils spread through 7 years nearly all boarders are Chinese a nice happy school very rural but I doubt would have the sheer numbers/resources/location for genuine "top notch" art and drama. Always local rumours about it closing don't know if this is true or not. Moeton Hall I don't know. St Edward's; 80% full boarders, in Oxford very sporty not sure what happens in the 6th form, very liberal, fab pastoral care, results improving year on year with new head and drama productions regularly staged at the North Wall (goggle it) a fantastic drama/theatre building complex built for Oxford and Summertown residents in particular and regular art exhibitions.
Bedales is very arty etc fantastic library (the building) surprisingly strong on science lots of visiting writers etc and the kids we met many years ago were the happiest and most charming I've ever met and again very liberal. But sadly we've recently heard disappointing stories about it saying its not all its cracked up to be and again nearly all weekly boarders.

manicmother80 Thu 14-Feb-13 12:50:09

Dustylaw My daughter is intelligent, but I do not want to put too much pressure on her. Curently, she studies at an Indian school that does the IB, where the average IB score is 35 points, and about 10% of the class gets onto the top 20 Universities in the USA, and 5% (not too many apply to the UK) get into Universities like UCL, St.Andews and Warwick every year. I think that moving abroad and moving to a much more academically aggresive environment like Westminister or Wycombe would be too much of a change for her, so I'm looking for schools that are less extreme while still being intellectually stimulating.

Would you say that Rodean doesn't fall under this category? Because she is intelligent and I want her to move to a better academic environment where she will be challenged and have to work hard but not somewhere where she'll be surrounded only by geniuses.

manicmother80 Thu 14-Feb-13 12:50:31

Thank you for the wonderful advice everybody. I have added King's School Cantebury, The Leys School and Downe House to the list of schools I'm researching- although I think that we're already too late for regsitration for King's.

Is Downe House a very 'girly' place? Would it be accepting of international students who aren't part of the 'going to Barbados for half-term' circle as Elibean puts it?

And could anybody who knows anything about the schools that I previous mentioned, especially Bradfield College and St. Edwards Oxford, please give me their opinion on it?

Katryn, could you please expand a bit more on why you think that Westonbirt would be unsuitable?

manicmother80 Thu 14-Feb-13 12:53:52

Happygardening- thank you very much for that informative post, glad to hear good things about St. Edwards. DO you think that she will feel left out if she's not on a sports team though?

And my daughter does have quite a rebellious streak, I'm afraid that Bedales sounds like it will just make it much worse, what do you think?

mungojerrie Thu 14-Feb-13 12:59:23

Have you looked at Badminton School in bristol? I think that this would suit your dd nicely, particularly her artistic/creative side.

happygardening Thu 14-Feb-13 13:08:22

I just don't know enough about Bedales apart from a couple of friends who've not had good experiences recently. We looked at it many years ago the children were all to a man lovely and very very happy but from talking to the children it was very obvious that they come from families with alot of money and weekends seemed to be spent staying in "my brothers (whose in New York) London flat drinking and smoking etc having a great time we felt that an easily lead child could get into trouble and I'm liberal very broad minded and not particularly paranoid. I may be doing it a disservice but friends there also backed this up!

outtolunchagain Thu 14-Feb-13 13:44:27

Have you thought of Oakham, nice well adjusted children in my experience, IB or A levels , good split of boys/ girls , very good drama , music and sport

Copthallresident Thu 14-Feb-13 13:55:24

I was an expat and in the last few years have had a few friends DDs go to UK schools and helped yet more in the process of searching for a school. Firstly there is no substitute for actually going and visiting a school. They all have unique atmospheres, especially the Boarding Schools, and you will know if it feel right. Things like a reputation for having bitchy girls can be the result of a few notorious "bad eggs" rather than reflecting the general atmosphere of the school.

Having said that quite a few expat friends felt Downe was a bit too twee and yes, full of "Barbados at half term" girlies, similar responses to Benenden.

The school that seems to have the most favourable impression on expats is Cheltenham Ladies College, including a lot of teacher friends. At a lot of the other schools there seems to be an effective social segregation of overseas students but there they really seem to make the international mix into a positive, and also to understand how to value and handle cultural differences, but not to the point of it getting in the way of discipline, which can also be a problem in other schools (the dare not tell someone off in case of being culturally insensitive syndrome). Vicky Tuck worked hard at it and took the advice of International School teachers. At sixth form they move out of their Boarding Houses into a sixth form house so a good point at which to break in as well. No problem with distance from Heathrow as they run very full buses. It is a larger school but seems to retain the supportive atmosphere, and having more girls does mean they are able to have very good art and drama. I think it being in town is a good thing, keeps things normal and not so cloistered. Academic but not in a pressured way. The girls I have known there have thrived.

Roedean also seems to make the international mix into a positive. Very good art and drama and it has struggled a bit to keep up numbers so not one of the academic powerhouses like Wycombe. Very supportive but coming from Asia, that bleak windblown clifftop site through an English winter? sad

If you really want relaxed and liberal Bryanston is another one that works well for a lot of expats, absolutely amazing art, drama, music. Some do do well academically but you have to be self motivated, not necessarily the priority for a lot of pupils.

Bedales not at all popular with expats from our side of the world wink.

Startail Thu 14-Feb-13 14:10:08

Malvern collage, mixed and Malvern St. James - girls.

MSJ certainly isn't horribly posh, having lots of very nice down to earth local day girls as well as borders.

happygardening Thu 14-Feb-13 14:16:32

Bryanston is very popular with all friends but virtually all weekly boarders which is why all our friends choose it. You have to stay in some weekends but all the others there is a mass exodus because of buses to Salisbury and then into London. I think they improved on the self motivated thing recently as well.
Oakham very popular but a big mix of day/flexi boarding/weekly boarding and full boarding you need to very very carefully check the numbers.

happygardening Thu 14-Feb-13 14:33:40

Meant to add Kings Canterbury if mainly full boarders the rest being day and is meant to be very good for drama etc. Canterbury is also a lovely city.

manicmother80 Thu 14-Feb-13 15:44:46

Copthallresident Thank you so much for the detailed post. My friend's daughters go to Cheltenham and she is thrilled with the school so it was my first choice, but I was told that registration for the 2014 sixth form is already closed.

Thank you for putting me onto Bryanston, it looks like an excellent fit for my daughter, it's just the 'self motivated bit' that worries me, I will look into it some more.

We will be visiting schools in April, but we would like to have a well-researched list of around 5-7 prospective schools to visit.

Happygardening I'm not too worried about the Weekly vs. full-boarding issue, since my sister-in-law (whom my daughter is very close to) lives in London and would be happy to keep her for the weekends. And thank you for the comment on Bedales, I am not too keen on it for precisely those reasons.

Startail and Outtolunchagain thank you for the inputs, I'll look into both Oakham and Malvern.

manicmother80 Thu 14-Feb-13 15:51:55

I have a few more question for all of the very helpful people here:

I've subscribed to the Goods Schools Guide and it's been of immense help, but I came across another resource called the Tatler Guide. I like the candid, personal picture it provides of schools, but the tone is so gossipy and frivolous that I'm not sure if it's meant to be taken seriously. Are the statistics and facts it provides accurate?

Also, I would like to have two less selective schools in the mix, to be safe. Would you classify any of the schools below as relatively 'safe bets'?

Bryanston
Oakham
King’s Cantebury
St. Edward’s Oxford
Bradfield College
Malvern College

If all of these are very competitive, could you please suggest one or two schools that are less competitive but would suit my daughter? Thank you v. much!

Lostonthemoors Thu 14-Feb-13 15:59:52

My bf at Uni came from Bradfield - it has probably changed a lot now but then according to him it was a really conventional school and he was badly bullied. Doesn't sound right for her.

Westonbirt my ex dsil was at - again a long time ago but then was again a pretty conventional school and not sure it sounds a good fit.

happygardening Thu 14-Feb-13 16:03:23

All are significantly more competitive at 6th form many improve their results by taking very academic children especially from abroad most state only the minimum requirements for entry onto the 6th form on their websites many expect more. I think you need to speak to the individual schools and find out how many places they have and how many applicants for each place. Re Bryanston and being a self starter as I've already said we have friends with DC's there one in particular is very far removed from being a self starter and they're delighted with the school and their DC's progress in particular how they monitor it and help him.
I would take everything the Tatler Good Schools Guise says with a large tablespoon of of salt!!!

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