Decadence in London fee paying secondary schools

(57 Posts)

Is there a culture of decadence across the independent sector secondaries?

grovel Tue 16-Oct-12 09:21:28

You are going to have to define decadence in this context. Decadent teachers, parents, children?

Parents and children. (I dont know about the teachers)

We really want the best education for our son, but I am concerned that just like in any secondary school there is "the wrong crowd", but because the life style of "the wrong crowd" is so extremely affluent, it will be deemed very tempting by a young boy who is not used to this sort of thing. I fear that rather than being inspired by academic excellent and hard work, he is going to be "star struck" and inspired by coke heads and children who have no aspiration of actually working, other than on a catwalk or a stage, at best, party at most. I fear my son would definitely think this was "the right crowd" and be in awe. Not that I think they would fall over him to be friends. grin

senua Tue 16-Oct-12 10:10:22

I was a bit hmm about this as I thought it was intended to be the start of an anti-private bunfight but you might have redeemed yourself ... grin

He will be star struck for years 7, 8 and 9 no matter which school you send him to. You will be sick to your stomach that he is in with the wrong crowd. Then magically, in year 10, your original DS will re-surface. Whatever good grounding you gave him as a parent will re-appear and you will discover that, actually, he has got a nice little group of friends round him.

Repeat the MN mantra after me: all shall be well.

I think in the very selective highly academic schools there probably isn't much scope for swanning around being ultra cool etc. because you are expected to produce the results. If you look at the leavers destinations for some of these schools you have to assume that the children are aspiring to a bit more than a life as a PR / Party organiser.

I think you will have an element of that behaviour in all schools (private and state) and so to suggest there won't be any in fee paying schools would be daft. However, I think children face non-aspirational pressures from certain peer groups in all schools and I am not sure it is driven by money.

Many of the parents who send their children to fee paying schools are working parents themselves stereotypically lawyers (like me), bankers, people who run their own businesses etc so most of the children will come from homes where the parents work to pay fees and they would expect their children to get jobs. There will be some schools which are populated by "made in Chelsea" types but most of them won't be.

It is the "made in Chelsea" types I would worry about, not children of laywers, doctors, script writers, etc. grin

But because we are not really that affluent, just "normal" people, I think it would be harder for my son to make a realistic judgement of "the wrong crowd" in an independent, as I fear that he would see them through rose tinted wealth glasses, whereas he can more relate to "the bad crowd" at a non-fee paying school. Does that even make sense?

Senua I think you are right, I will have these worries whatever school he goes to! But he would not be in awe of the hard kid on the block, whereas he would be in awe at sons and daughters of politicians, rock phenomenons and models.

Bonsoir Tue 16-Oct-12 10:24:55

Different schools attract different sorts of families (different segments of society). You need to look beyond exam results and league tables.

propatria Tue 16-Oct-12 10:26:32

Remember one persons "decadent" school is another persons" informal",it depends on the school,the more selective the less likely you are to encounter these people but they will be at every school to some extent,you just need to have faith in your grounding and stay away from Bedaleswink

EdithWeston Tue 16-Oct-12 10:26:54

Whatever school choose, state or private, one of the biggest influences on your DC will be their peer group and it is something you can do nothing whatsoever about (there may be drug users, for example, in any school; and what you currently expect him to find alluring may change)

So it does come down to what grounding he has, how you continue to parent through the teen years, and what pastoral care there is in the school.

Sonnet Tue 16-Oct-12 10:30:29

QS - I understand your concerns and think they are legitimate ones. Bonsoir's opinion I share.

Bonsoir Tue 16-Oct-12 10:31:09

We moved DSS1 and DSS2 from the state school in Neuilly-sur-Seine to a private Catholic school in the 7ème. We definitely gained on the decadence front - the current school is better academically, has richer families but is a hell of a lot less decadent than the state school.

drjohnsonscat Tue 16-Oct-12 10:37:40

I know exactly what you are getting at Quint. I went to a fee paying school in London for a short time and it was actually quite serious but I know some are not. Some seem to be breeding grounds for spoilt kids getting eating disorders and wanting to be cool. I think this is about day schools too - not boarding schools (not that I would send my child to boarding school but I think they are more regimented so less scope for hanging out outside the local club trying to be cool). I don't have an answer but I know what you are getting at.

TimeChild Tue 16-Oct-12 10:39:21

One swallow doesn't make a summer but a dd of a good friend of mine went to a fee-paying girls school in London and met a son of a rock star at a party. I think there are social cliques where teenagers of similar backgrounds hang out, though my friend certainly falls in the lawyers, doctors brigade and not Chelsea.

For a couple of years my friend used to regale me with the antics of her dd. Her boyfriend - dad is rock star, godmother a supermodel, the boy himself a teen model for Gaultier and the like hmm - used to taker her to parties where Kate Moss was a fellow reveller. All this when she was under 18. Looking back my friend was star struck, but equally couldn't do much to control her dd other than stay up late and text continually.

This girl is now at a provincial Russell group uni and has settled down. She came out ok but certainly wouldn't want my dd's to do what she did.

I think its not just the school, but the social groups that hang off these schools. It also helped that my friend's dd was VERY pretty.

ScaredySquirrel Tue 16-Oct-12 10:43:14

my son is at a central london independent school. There is a lot of wealth there, and he was impressed by it originally. But he is sensible enough to know that that isn't the norm, and some of the excesses are, well excessive.

He did start saying at one stage that we are poor (which we are compared to those people), but he realises that we are very lucky really. I think by that age, they have the maturity to cope with the excesses.

My daughter is at a N London state school, and there are very wealthy people there too. The only difference there is that there are very poor people as well. I think living in London, children see wealth at both ends of the spectrum, and that's what worries me about the independent schools. Not the excessively wealthy people, but the fact that there isn't a mix, and the children are often living in a bit of a bubble, where they think its the norm to have a bedroom to yourself, live in a house rather than a flat, holiday abroad several times a year and have a second home in Suffolk.

TimeChild Tue 16-Oct-12 10:47:10

Think you've got it there, Squirrel about getting a social mix in the school. Most areas of London the affluent really rub shoulders with the poor. It's essential that the children keep a sense of proportion and a sense of how society works.

Seeline Tue 16-Oct-12 10:49:50

Don't forget that many fee paying schools offer generous bursaries and/or scholarships so not everyone need be rolling in money. I agree with what others have said - every school is different. You need to spend time in them and get a feel for the place and people. See what proportion of students come from state schools rather than preps. Those that have tough entrance exams will have kids wanting to learn rather than swanning around like models and the like.

Farewelltoarms Tue 16-Oct-12 10:52:23

I think this is a legitimate worry. A friend of mine is moving her kids out of a top London prep because of the way that his fellow pupils spoke to their Phillipina maids and how they all had their own i-pads. Materialism isn't restricted to private schools, but in some there can be a toxic mix of parental wealth and lack of involvement.
Every private school I know of in London has famous parents and so the celebrity culture is a reality rather than an abstract. Which may not necessarily be a bad thing, but you have to guard against your child thinking any of it is normal.

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 10:54:10

Not at ours, there's a culture of crappy old cars, crappy holidays in wet French caravan parks, dreams of conservatories and basically sacrifice for the children's future.

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 10:56:44

I suppose we do have celebrities and the children of some of the most phenomenally rich people in Britain grin but they don't inform the culture of the school, that's dictated by the school. It's fair, compassionate, pastoral, holistic and rounded.

ScaredySquirrel Tue 16-Oct-12 11:00:37

Is that in London Brycie? because I haven't seen any less well-off people in any of the Prep or independent schools I've come across. I am a solicitor and so is my husband, and we can't afford to send our children to fee paying schools (grandparents pay in our case for ds1) - i haven't come across a generous bursary. In the private schools of N London and the school my ds1 now goes to, there isn't a mix at all.

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 11:03:00

Yes, that's London. Bursary and scholarship children and many parents like us who scrape by, I mean, never mind dreaming of conservatories, I dream of a decent haircut!

drjohnsonscat Tue 16-Oct-12 11:09:05

I get the impression that this has worsened too. My now very privileged and elite private school was actually a bit mixed. Not very but a bit.

I came from a single parent family and mum was a nurse so I had a bursary. My BF's dad was a builder but she was an only child so they managed to scrape by. My other friend's parents were both teachers. We all lived in very modest homes in distant suburbs. I don't know that you find many families like that routinely in these schools now. I was the only one to have a bursary so I can only conclude that fees have gone up since those days and are now out of reach. Plus I think a lot of ordinary families have been priced out of London anyway because of house prices...

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 11:12:14

I can imagine in prep schools you wouldn't see the less well off. A lot of less well off will think they can make up the difference at primary age themselves, by tutoring, but at secondary if there isn't a decent school nearby an enthusiastic parent simply can't make up the difference.

EdithWeston Tue 16-Oct-12 11:16:32

There are fewer bursaries at prep level than at secondary. Also, the giving of a bursary is in confidence, so if the parents choose not to make it public then you wouldn't know. Just as you don't necessarily know whose fees are paid by employer, GPs or inheritance.

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 11:18:04

I didn't know that about preps. Is there something about secondaries having to give a certain number of bursaries to keep charity status? Ignorant on that.

EdithWeston Tue 16-Oct-12 11:20:50

Not all private schools are charities. And the latest tribunal rulings on charitable status mean there is no absolute requirement on those that are to provide any particular level of bursary.

suburbandream Tue 16-Oct-12 11:24:04

My DCs go to an independent in S London/Kent borders which sounds similar to Brycie's. There are incredibly well off families, a few minor/ex-celebrities and a lot of "normal" people who work really hard to send their kids there, drive normal cars or even god forbid get the bus to school. The school works hard to keep the children grounded.

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Tue 16-Oct-12 11:26:56

I went to a London private school ... ooh, 25 years ago and there was a fair amount of decadence in the sixth form at least - drinking, drugs, sex etc.

But my friends who went to comps in the middle of nowhere seem to have had not dissimilar experiences.

I think a lot depends on the child's personality, I was (and am) rebellious by nature and was drawn to "wilder" activities. However, the wilder bunch were a smallish crowd and many of my peers were eminently sensible in comparison.

all survived and done well and turned into boring grounded adults. DD1 is at a private prep school and I think so long as I hammer messages home about drugs/drink etc, I think she will be fine.

I am more concerned about the "bling side of things, that my dd (who was previously at a state primary) is now seeing everyone's parents driving 4x4s and holidaying in the Maldives. But a lot of other parents share those concerns too, so you have to hope the message that our children are extremely privileged will prevail. There were plenty of rich kids at my old school but they weren't necessarily the "cool" ones, other qualities were valued much more. I suspect it's the same today.

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 11:27:14

Yes ours are on the bus because it's free. Edith, the key then must be to choose your school. Any decent private secondary will take children who are bright but can't afford the fees, to keep the results up.

Although, I did read about more and more schools lowering their requirements just to keep the fees rolling in so things might be changing.

EdithWeston Tue 16-Oct-12 11:33:50

I doubt that applies in London, brycie!

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 11:35:10

Gawd I don't know. I only know about our school grin

Abra1d Tue 16-Oct-12 11:38:39

My experience has tended to be that like attracts like.

Most children seem to be most comfortable with children from similar sized houses, etc. Our two certainly seem to mix with people who don't always drive new cars, have expensive holidays, etc.

MrsWobble Tue 16-Oct-12 11:49:04

I have direct experience (as a parent) of two fee paying schools - one of which is very much more expensive than the other. As you would expect the family income/circumstances appear to be significantly wealthier in the more expensive school. However, the range of behaviours is pretty similar - and the most common factor in my experience is the degree of parental involvement - those children with interested, involved, concerned parents all seem to turn out pretty well rounded whereas those with a degree of dysfunctionality are more likely to experience problems. And wealth is no guarantee of good or involved parenting.

So I think you should think about choosing a school that you as parents feel comfortable with, where you think that there will be a consistent set of values between your family and the school. There is no right and wrong here - it's what feels right to you. And then you should relax and know you've done the best for your son and rely on his intelligence and common sense to steer the right general path through life, providing an interested oversight as and when required.

Bonsoir Tue 16-Oct-12 12:02:16

"I am more concerned about the "bling side of things, that my dd (who was previously at a state primary) is now seeing everyone's parents driving 4x4s and holidaying in the Maldives."

Isn't "bling" just another manifestation of decadence (drugs, parties etc)?

There are celebrity parents at DD's school. They are not necessarily the ones who promote the culture of decadence.

airedailleurs Tue 16-Oct-12 12:23:41

Not at ours, there's a culture of crappy old cars, crappy holidays in wet French caravan parks, dreams of conservatories and basically sacrifice for the children's future.

Love this post Brycie! And yes to dreaming of a decent haircut!

Brycie Tue 16-Oct-12 13:01:21

grin I suppose most couples have a "lottery conversation" every now and then. We have a "what if we weren't paying school fees" conversation!

wordfactory Tue 16-Oct-12 14:04:31

IMVHO if the school is highly selective then although there is decadence (these things being subjective), there is also a culture of academic rigour. The former is not allowed to outweigh the later.

So friends of ours have just spent 40k shock on their son's BM, but because of the school he goes to he will still be excpected to work extrmemely hard and obtain excellent results.

BusyDad66 Tue 16-Oct-12 14:19:15

wordffactory...what do you mean by BM?

SkoolsIn Tue 16-Oct-12 14:20:18


wordfactory Tue 16-Oct-12 14:20:39

Bar Mitzvah.

Bonsoir Tue 16-Oct-12 14:21:58

Bar Mitzvahs are the same budget as weddings but it doesn't mean the family is decadent. It's just a Jewish thing.

wordfactory Tue 16-Oct-12 14:28:19

Well the BMs I've been to have mosr definitely been decadent wink.

And in the Jewish community year 8 becomes a veritable arms race of outdoing the last party.

The last one I attended was compared by the guy who does the voice over for The X Factor!

Bonsoir Tue 16-Oct-12 14:33:12

You are looking at it from the prism of an English goy: we have no tradition of a big religious ritual and huge party at 12 or 13, so it seems like a huge unnecessary expense. But compare it to the average English wedding (cost adjusted for socio-economic norms) and it really isn't a big deal.

Believe me, I didn't feel especially happy about the EUR 100,000 that two Bar Mitzvahs in two years cost our family. But it just is. There is nothing unusual about it. I have been to some shockers, just as I have been to some shockingly extravagant weddings (four days in Greece, three days in NY etc). But most of them are just a party on one night and maybe a lunch the next day.

wordfactory Tue 16-Oct-12 14:44:00

You're probably right grin.

To be fair, I'd be the last person to lecture anyone on extravagence/decadence, but it struck me that the type of things that money was being spent on were hugely frivolous...

It may be that BMs are slightly more tasteful in Paris wink.

DH just thanks his stars that we are not Jewish. I just don't think I could reign myself in !

horsemadmom Tue 16-Oct-12 14:45:21

We pay 3 sets of school fees so our bat/bar mitzvahs were very low key. Gotta say, not much 'decadence' amongst my childrens' friends. Probably because we taught them values. They steer well clear of the handfull of brats. It does help that they go to very selective schools.

wordfactory Tue 16-Oct-12 14:47:14

Well the ones we've been to have all got kids at Habs and pretty selective.

Year 8 in North London, gotta love it grin.

Bonsoir Tue 16-Oct-12 14:47:22

I know they look frivolous and expensive (and hence decadent) because that was my initial reaction. But they really are not any kind of sign of intrinsic familial decadence - on the contrary, most Jewish families I know are Ashkenazy and very worthy and dull serious-minded and attach incredible, overriding importance to academic achievement and professional success. Albeit with large discos on boats etc for 13 year olds!

Copthallresident Tue 16-Oct-12 15:13:44

Quint I think it is more important to understand that you get these pupils who for whatever reason are intent on setting themselves up as an attention seeking "alpha" group by establishing exclusive norms of behaviour, decadent, risk taking, pushing the boundaries, call it what you will at every school. The cool kids network across school and private / state boundaries and go to the same parties, binge drink in the same parks, experiment with drugs, wind up in the same clinics for rehab, eating disorders etc.and broadcast it all on Facebook. Snobbery is an element, some may differentiate themselves as "sloaney"or "chelsea set" but the basic behaviour and values are the same. They are in every state school, including Catholic Schools (where the nature of the boundaries may make them even more attractive to kick against, and parents may have sent pupils whose behaviour or susceptibility to influence was already a worry) and every private school.

Just as importantly they do not represent the majority. So unless your son is an attention seeking risk taker or will do anything to be cool he isn't going to want to get involved and there will be plenty of other friendship groups with values he is more comfortable with to be part of. If he is, then unlike some of the parents of these cool kids, you need to put in place some very firm boundaries. In fact as parents we all need to take responsibility, be aware of what goes on, talk to our children about it and put in place firm boundaries because otherwise we leave our children open to real risks.They are still learning but one small mistake now will be broadcast across London and possibly remain on the internet for the rest of their lives. When gossiping about one incident involving a 13 year old with my daughters recently my older daughter pointed out that with friends now emerging into the job market she is now hearing of employers routinely checking the internet and finding this sort of thing.

All these fee paying schools will support you in this. They have firm boundaries and an ethos of making sure their pupils appreciate their priviledge, and the responsibilities that go with it, of community involvement, bursaries (28 full bursaries and 128 being given financial help at LEH, ScaredySquirrel) and will lay on talks etc to make sure that parents understand the demands of modern parenting in a decadent part of London too. Secretly I know many teachers, state and private, dispair of the naivity / unwillingness or inability of some parents to set boundaries and the risks they expose their children too.

QuintessentialShadow Tue 16-Oct-12 16:40:05

I think you are right. As with any school, how you and your children deal with this is all down to parenting, and hopefully we have laid the groundwork for him to tackle things sensibly.

I think there is a lot of "secondary school angst" at play here, with all the choices and all the decisions.

Copthallresident Tue 16-Oct-12 17:45:17

It is angst because you care so much about doing the right thing for your son! We just went through it at 16. At 11 we made a totally right decision for our first daughter who knew exactly where she wanted to be, and probably a wrong decision for our second. The second daughter's decision was too much influenced by sibling rivalry (to be where her sister was) and results, but then the main issue was that she was ambushed by a particularly notorious cool group in the year, it wasn't so much the worry she would be influenced by them as all the mind games and low level bullying. However in making that decision at 16, with big sister involved, we decided that you had to put aside worries about the cool crowd, or "strong characters", or unpopular/boring teachers, you get those anywhere. So we focused on curriculum, extra curricular, facilities, transport etc. We even did a decision tree, DD1 being a geek, weighting all the relevent factors according to how much they mattered to my daughter and how well she scored each school for each. It was a thing of mathematical beauty but my second daughter went for the school that scored least (and which my gut feel has always felt, at 11 too, was right for her) grin.

mumzy Tue 16-Oct-12 19:11:54

Some state schools ,esp the grammars, in affluent parts of London and SE have significant numbers of pupils who have very decadent lifestyles as parents can pay for exotic holidays, parties, possessions,second homes, cars as they're not forking out for school fees. There are private schools where the main focus is academics so partying is not such a big focus of pupils lives and other schools which attract the rich and famous and the accompanying lifestyle.

TalkinPeace2 Tue 16-Oct-12 20:56:08

We are the people our parents warned us against.

I look back at how I carried on with the gang of Yah's I was friends with doing my A's and its NO WONDER we were glared at by every sane person.
But we had a blast and grew out of it. And edited our CVs

Katryn Mon 22-Oct-12 18:43:33

My DS has come from state primary to independent school in London. He started Year 7 in September. He is aware of the wealth -the ipads, iphones, etc. but definitely still very sober, and aware. He actually said to me, "don't suddenly buy me a surprise birthday present of an iphone mum."

Katryn Mon 22-Oct-12 18:46:16

My DS has come from state primary to independent school in London - grandparents paying. He started Year 7 in September. He is aware of the wealth -the ipads, iphones, the cars etc. but definitely still very sober, and realistic about what we can and can't afford, so far. He loves his new school, but I think coming from state primary has really grounded him. He actually said to me, "don't suddenly buy me a surprise birthday present of an iphone mum."

Sparrows12 Fri 16-Nov-12 18:48:04

We're an hour out of London and get a lot of this in year 8 - eg one delightful child told my daughter's best friend (who later had to leave because the fees became too much) "isn't it funny how you're the only person in our class with a small house". Nice.

And higher up the school, there are some hideous children too, although thankfully once they get to senior school, the nicer ones do seem to learn how to stay out of their way, or else just laugh at their ridiculousness.

orangeberries Fri 16-Nov-12 19:42:03

There are children in my daughter's Y3 class who have iPads AND iPhones as well as Wiis, DSs, their own laptop, their own flat screen TV (in their bedroom), the list continues. They are only 7 and 8 year olds. It is a state primary hundreds of miles from London!

I think this is what a lot of people with a bit of money believe is the right thing to do for their children, ie buy them tons of "stuff".

I am always surprised at these stories of wealthier children being so nasty. I went to school (in a different country) with very very wealthy people (sons and daugthers of ministers, famous journalists, royalty) and was by far one of the poorest by a huge stretch and never once had a comment or made to feel different. Maybe this is the legacy of the "new riches".

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