No idea what to do re state v private in SE London

(44 Posts)
StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 13:50:31

My stepson is in yr5. He is very bright, loves learning facts and reading, and is finding lots of the stuff at primary unchallenging. He is also prone to getting disruptive and lazy when bored, and has some social issues which the school feel merit referral to a communication clinic. These are currently manifesting in him telling other kids they're not as clever as he is and not getting why they might not like to hear this. He has had a very tough few years personally so gets cut some slack for that by adults but obviously this is not good behaviour. He has a small group of friends who have similar interests but does lack peers who are as intellectually curious as him. Although his primary is Outstanding, their efforts are focused at getting everyone to level 5, so kids like my SS, who are already way beyond that, don't get much attention.

So, secondary. All our state options are large SE comprehensives, many of which are single sex. The most likely for him are Harris Boys on Peckham Rye, Forest Hill Boys or Kingsdale. We are very concerned that he will end up overlooked and increasingly disruptive at these schools, and without the individual understanding that you get at primary, will become a real problem. We also aren't sure how likely he is to find friends at these schools - we genuinely don't know what the range of pupils is like, as so many people in our area seem to send bright kids to private schools.

We can't remotely afford private schooling, and are both slightly against it in principle, but he does have a trust fund. We have already inquired about the possibility of them paying school fees but they have said they will only pay a small contribution and we would have to take them to court if we want more. We are willing to do this if it's in his best interests but we just don't know. It seems he would get challenged more, is more likely to find kindred spirits and would get greater pastoral support but we could be plain wrong.

I went to a very good comprehensive in the home counties which was a pretendy private school and my husband went to a very rough comprehensive in the north east and we both went on to very good higher educations and interesting careers and we would like the same for SS but he is much more complicated than either of us were!

So advice would be really welcome. He has expressed a preference for private school but it's not particularly well informed and mostly comes from the fact that his primary school friend is probably going to one (not one we would think of owing to distance). Time is ticking away as he will have to sit entrance tests this autumn and would probably need tutoring. We have been trying to get an answer out of his trustees since last summer and only got their final decision this week.

SA3008 Sun 21-Apr-13 13:54:26

Have you considered The Charter school, which is close to the other secondaries you mention.

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 13:55:08

We're too far away from the Charter school.

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 13:56:10

I should add that we're also considering trying for the Kent grammar schools, which would be a big journey for him every day, but is perhaps worth a shot.

bigTillyMint Sun 21-Apr-13 13:56:51

I live in the same area as you and have DC at one of those schools and know other children at the others. All good so far. None are "rough" and all have high achievers.
Remember at sec school there will be more children and therefore more opportunity to find kindred spirits.

Has he been for an assessment at CAMHs yet? Whilst I understand your frustration with his primary school, they probably think that as he does not fit the norm for social interactions, that some expert advice/assessment would be useful.

bigTillyMint Sun 21-Apr-13 13:57:55

You could also look at the Sutton grammars - cpopular with some hildren from round here.

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 14:04:51

We're not particularly frustrated with his primary school. He and his big sister have both had pretty eventful lives and they have been brilliant. My husband is a parent governor and we have excellent relationships with staff. It is just very obvious that they are thrilled at his high levels and have therefore put him on the 'safe' pile for SATS! eg he gets no homework at all beyond a reading journal that bores the hell out of him, and maths games he can do standing on his head, despite our requests for additional work that will challenge him. He reads lots himself and we get him to do online maths games but I think yr7 is going to come as a shock wherever he ends up.

He already sees CAMHS and the school have very kindly done a private SALT assessment so his communications clinic referral can be rushed through. He's seeing the community paediatrician next week and it will go from there.

Good to hear about the schools though. We are fairly concerned about Harris Boys as it seems to be run on pretty military lines, which he would find very difficult. We are very happy to be supportive of school discipline and learning to do what you what you're told whether or not you agree (another issue the primary school has) but the regime at Harris seems beyond the norm.

bigTillyMint Sun 21-Apr-13 14:22:47

That's good to hear - that CAMHS are already involved and things are progressing.

Shame about the school - was talking to the Y6 teacher of a local primary and they are doing booster classes for their level 6's.

Mmmm, I think it has very definite rules and routines - very clear to all the students what is expected and what will happen if they do/don't conform - good systems for rewarding too. I didn't feel it was military discipline at all when I visited with DS last year, but that is one of the terms that I have heard bandied about. Have you visited?

scaevola Sun 21-Apr-13 14:29:16

What reasons do the Trustees give for not paying over money for this purpose? I suppose a lot depends on the size of the fund and the purposes for which it was set up.

If you're within reach of Kingsdale, the obvious private school to look at for a boy is Dulwich.

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 14:42:16

Oh, the trustee thing is very long running and tiresome. We know their reasons and this is just the latest in years of bad behaviour, hence the invitation to take them to court. As I said, we'll do it if we have to. It won't be the first time.

We'd prefer him to go to a mixed school if possible so would be looking at mixed private schools if we did end up in the private sector - St Dunstans is the most likely - but that is another query over state as Kingsdale is the only mixed option.

We haven't visited any schools as we just couldn't get to open evenings this year, which was frustrating. We are acutely aware that our knowledge of the local schools is too based on hearsay so could really be wide of the mark. The only parents we know with secondary aged kids have them at Kingsdale and all seem happy with then, although the mysterious online controversies here and on other forums do make us wonder a bit. SS's older sister went to Sydenham Girls and we had mixed feelings about it, but I think part of that was just how different a lot of it was to our own school experiences because of the passage of time. She also has significant special needs so we had far from a representative experience I think.

bigTillyMint Sun 21-Apr-13 14:48:40

I know children at St Dunstans (and Sydenham, but that's no good for a boy) and they seem very happy there too. You are actually quite lucky in this corner of London with a range of good state and private options!

And don't forget that his social "difficulties" could be taken into account - on applications to state schools even if he doesn't have a statement.

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 14:55:17

We are definitely luckier than many! We just don't want to get this wrong.

bigTillyMint Sun 21-Apr-13 15:24:39

No, of course not. That's why it is so important to visit and ask questions!

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 15:32:48

I know, but we're now out of the open evening season and have to decide whether to throw money at a court case for any good reason. Believe me, we tried very hard to avoid this but circumstances conspired against us. I thought at least as many opinions on how the state schools might suit him would at least be a start.

tiredaftertwo Sun 21-Apr-13 16:59:59

OP, one thing I wouldn't worry about is homework in year 6. Most of it is dull and pointless worksheets IME. I don't think it particularly helps them settle into year 7, and anyway the secondary schools are all geared up for that. Honestly, if he reads a lot and does interesting stuff with you sometimes (and I am sure with a username like that he will be!), and has a bit of time and space to cope with everything else. FWIW, I am relatively pro hw at secondary s

As far as everything else goes, and depending on what the backstory is, could you ring the schools, tell them a bit, and see what their reaction is in the circumstances to a private look round? Very best of luck.

Trippingthelightfantastic Sun 21-Apr-13 17:26:14

OP I wouldn't consider ST Dunstans it is not particularly selective a friend's DC goes there and I don't think she would feel it's the right place for a super bright child. A boy at my DC's prep went there because the scholarship award was much bigger than most others he only lasted it two terms as he was bored stiff. Have you considered Dulwhich Coll or Eltham where this boy moved too, both are more selective Eltham in particular. Eltham I think offer bursaries Dulwich may too or what about Whitgift?

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 17:43:23

To be honest, our first thinking needs to be state, because that would be our first preference ideologically and financially. We're just worried whether it can meet his needs. Beyond that, we've looked vaguely at schools within sensible reach of us on public transport, preferable mixed. Alleyns also fits that bill. I looked at the St Dunstans entrance papers online-he could have passed the maths half in yr3/4 so would probably have trouble getting in. I think we need to consider the grammars more but also have conversations with the state schools. I don't know if he's super bright, but definitely easily bored.

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 17:44:04

Have no trouble getting in, I should say!

tiredaftertwo Sun 21-Apr-13 22:12:54

"To be honest, our first thinking needs to be state, because that would be our first preference ideologically and financially."

Yes, but you are not ranking state and private schools in the same list - and the admissions criteria are very different.

In general, the state schools "choose" you (according to the admission criteria). You will be offered one school, at most. You may find it hard to put more than two or three on your form that there is more than a slim chance of getting into. If you find one or two where he will definitely get in, and they fit your bill, then hurrah. You can stop, So yes, it is "first" in that sense - but I would find out before anything what the chances of getting in are, just to save yourselves agonising over whether a school will work for him if he wouldn't get in anyway. And this comes down to very detailed reading, strings on maps, calling the school etc. One street can make a difference (Kingsdale is a lottery so you can't count on it but equally you could get lucky however far away you live)

More likely is that you won't know whether he will get a place in time (many of these schools are very oversubscribed) and given that you are considering private schools, you will by then have applied and he will have done the exams and interviews (unless you decide not to). I assume that taking the trustees to court will take months?

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 23:52:33

Yes, we know that we actually will have very little choice in the state schools but I meant that we need to look at the merits of those we have some chance of getting into. We've done the application process already with one child and are facing a complete lack of primary school with our youngest so are painfully familiar with it all. The schools I named are the two closest geographically and another which operates on ballot rather than distance. We are about 200m further than farthest place offered from a school suggested upthread for example. Our other option of course is to look at the schools that are likely to be undersubscribed in the event that he got none of those three but that seems to vary by year.

Private schools are also a bit of a crapshoot as who knows whether he can actually get into them. We have more control over which he sits exams for etc. but the competition for them all is fierce and he'll be up against prep school kids and those who've been tutored for years.

Our solicitor reckons we could make an urgent court application on the grounds of timing if necessary. Otherwise yes, we'd be well into the application process before anything came to court.

We've been talking about it this evening and our thinking is one last go at persuading the trustees, with a letter of wishes from SS. If that doesn't work, and it probably won't, then we make the most of wherever he ends up, put him in for some grammar schools but assume he will go locally, and go back to the trustees again if things go very badly.

StiffyByng Sun 21-Apr-13 23:57:26

Sorry, you obviously know the area. But I wanted to assure you that I am completely on the case as far as admissions issues go. I even spent time working out which were the main gates for distance purposes. Basically we have a shot at both. Forest Hill is harder to work out because of the Lewisham banding system. We know what band he'll be in but of course demand in each varies by year. We have a reasonable chance of Harris but the catchment for that is shrinking rapidly.

tiredaftertwo Mon 22-Apr-13 07:25:38

No problem - and very very good luck. I hope he gets one of your local good options and settles well. Absolutely about looking at the merits of the ones you have some chance of getting into.

(On the prep school and tutoring thing for the private schools, if you end up forced down that route, I would not worry too much - they take lots of children from state primaries and they are keen to take children who want to learn - and you do get a good chance to talk to them and explain any particular circumstances. Not sure years of tutoring helps and the competition is partly fierce because people sit for so many).

Good luck with your youngest and primary places too - you've obviously got the t shirt!

mushroom3 Mon 22-Apr-13 13:22:58

Wilson's, Wallington Grammar, St Olaf's,other superselective SE grammars. Not quite so selective, Kent grammars eg Dartford and Bexley Grammars. Closing dales for exam entry tends to be this term with exams early Autumn, so you know the results before CAF forms need to go in. This means that if he is unsuccessful for the selective schools, you can still apply for the non-selective, local schools.

StiffyByng Mon 22-Apr-13 20:23:18

Oh, thanks for the tip off. Hopefully you mean the end of this term? Or we're sunk!

And thanks, tired. That's good to know.

Copthallresident Mon 22-Apr-13 20:41:18

Dulwich certainly give extensive bursaries and have absolutely exceptional pastoral care for those with problems. Really exceptional, I have DDs in an indie but the support two of their peers got there was above and beyond anything I have heard of elsewhere, beyond in loco parentis. I would really recommend going and looking and talking to them about what they could offer your son. I wouldn't worry about the tutoring, all these schools look for ability not cramming.

LondonMother Mon 22-Apr-13 21:20:55

You can't be all that far from Aske's, which might tick all your boxes if you could get him in. Does he have any musical aptitude or do you think you could get professional confirmation of his special circumstances?

StiffyByng Mon 22-Apr-13 21:21:39

Really, Copthallresident? I've always thought of it as a rather sporty hearty place, which wouldn't be his thing at all. Although I knew DC boys at uni who didn't fit that at all I guess.

I'm not sure whether we'd qualify for bursaries. We have a fairly decent income, although the mortgage and one (soon to be two) sets of childcare fees eat a lot of it, leaving us far short of school fees territory. Do school's take account of outgoings? I am about to start (very hopefully) a three year retraining period during which I would be completely non-earning, so our income will really drop, but that won't have kicked in by the time he's applying.

LondonMother Mon 22-Apr-13 21:23:17

Forgot to add that Dulwich is a terrific school. Go and have a look this term, maybe, rather than wait till the autumn - the bursary support is very generous and they have academic scholarships as well.

StiffyByng Mon 22-Apr-13 21:24:47

No musical interest at all, LondonMother, bar a few guitar lessons. His circumstances are pretty easily verifiable (has lost a mother and sibling to genetic disease, shortly to lose another sibling and coming to terms with fact he probably has same illness) so we could get medical notes without problems, and presumably the communication clinic will produce some sort of report too?

LondonMother Mon 22-Apr-13 21:28:43

X-post. Yes, Dulwich College can be a sporty, hearty place but you don't have to play any more sport than you want to. My son isn't sporty or hearty and he was very, very happy there, having transferred from a state primary school at 11. The music is top notch and so is the drama. Debating is a strength, so is chess, so is creative writing, so is modern language teaching, so are lots and lots of things, really. It's a very big school and they get all sorts of boys there. There was a thriving chicken keeping society for the last 2/3 years my son was there, for example. The new(ish) head is doing well. Don't be misled by the enormous sports fields. There's a lot more to the place than that.

LondonMother Mon 22-Apr-13 21:33:49

Stiffy, really sorry to hear about your SS's bereavements and the genetic illness. That's a heavy load for him (and all of you) to bear. I'd suggest ringing up Aske's and asking if they think he would get special consideration in these circumstances. They do give some priority for children who have a social or medical reason for needing a place there rather than anywhere else - the professional verification bit is because they need that to back the parents' case up.

Good luck!

PS I promise to shut up about Dulwich now, but you are of course a Wodehouse gel - and he went to DC, as did Raymond Chandler.

bigTillyMint Mon 22-Apr-13 21:35:20


I am sure this information will "stand in his favour" when you are applying for the state schools.

StiffyByng Mon 22-Apr-13 21:40:17

Well, yes, LM. I was trying very hard to break away from the Mike and Psmith visions as a lot will have changed in a century!

I hadn't considered thinking of the social need side of things. We have spent so much time battling over SEN provision for his sister that we think of him as the straightforward one, but of course to others he really isn't.

Copthallresident Mon 22-Apr-13 22:14:25

OP How sad. Don't want to give too much detail as might out boys but bereavement and significant family trauma, and the possibility of a genetic predisposition themselves were all factors in their experience. At one point I had to step in in locus parentis and talking to the Head gave me genuine confidence there was genuine care understanding and respect and made me feel they weren't just safe but being supported in a way that would enable them to emerge the stronger , and they have. And I got the impression there was a wide range of boys from different backgrounds and with other issues, so they didn't feel marked out IYSWIM. No idea how bursaries etc work but I would have thought it worth having the conversation.

happygardening Tue 23-Apr-13 09:42:27

What about Christ's Hospital its full boarding but they are generous with their bursaries and I understand would look very sympathetically on your SS's circumstances. There's very good trains to it from Croydon.

tiredaftertwo Tue 23-Apr-13 10:57:27

How very sad, and what a lot for you all to cope with. I am so sorry sad.

I think for state schools, for the medical and social need, you will have to show a particular reason why that particular school can meet his needs - I am sure his needs will be recognized. Are a lot of his friends likely to be going to Forest Hill for example, so you could argue that if he goes there he will have people around him who know him? I too have heard excellent things about the pastoral care at DC and at Alleyn's too.

I would talk to all the schools about him - given what he has to deal with, I think their reactions may tell you some of what you need to know.

StiffyByng Tue 23-Apr-13 14:29:11

He is torn about the concept of boarding-not that it's something we've particularly thought of. On one hand, he's read Harry Potter and Jennings and it's all good, but on the other hand, the reality of it scares him.

I think we need to do lots of talking. His friendship group is really being split up, which isn't helping his emotional state. His best friend just emigrated to Australia, one is definitely going private, one is leaving London in year 6, the girls of course will mostly be off to girls' schools... We are going to talk to the home school pastoral person at his primary, who I think will have quite a bit of experience in this, and see what she thinks. We know how high the bar is set for SEN and medical need and he certainly won't come close to that, nor would we want him to.

kissmyheathenass Tue 23-Apr-13 14:46:01

Got to post and run so I haven't read whole thread but, op, here is my very recent experience of private versus state.

Ds went to a local independent school when he started year 7. We recently moved him into a state school because:

a) he has some SEN (dyslexia mainly) and the private school SENCO was worse than shite. Flexibility in the curriculum was poor because the school was small and therefore had a small staff.
b) There was a culture of bullying in the school and it was never dealt with. Ds ended up an emotional wreck after 4 terms of constant bullying. That is when we withdrew him at a moments notice.
c) Discipline - as well as bullying there was a general feeling of poor discipline ie Year 10s leaning out of window and shouting "pussy" at parents (mothers obv) shock.
d) General atmoshphere of menace - many parents have commented on this.
e) Many wealthy dcs there made ds feel very inadequate as I drive a crap normal car and don't holiday in Hawaii. There were some very wealthy families there and I don't think ds felt like he fitted in.

Our experience of state secondary:

a) SEN fantastic - true differentiation in class and in provision (this is a top-performing state school where high achievers achieve). Ds has immediately been timetabled extra literacy lessons. Because of its size (250 in each year) they can really offer a huge array of courses to suit all pupils.
b) He hasn't been there long but, fingers crossed, hasn't been bullied and hasn't seen anyone else being bullied.
c) Discipline is very strict - immediate detentions for bad behaviour.
d) Ds says atmosphere is really nice and friendly. People are helpful and kind to each other.
e) School has a mix of wealthy (waitrose near the school) and travellers dcs. A real mix.

Please don't presume private is better. I wince when I think of the £££ we threw at ds's education only to end up with him being very unhappy.

blueemerald Tue 23-Apr-13 18:08:20

Just to throw my two cents in. I went to Alleyns and my brother (2 years younger) went to DC. My father committed suicide just before I started year 12 and my brother year 10. Alleyns were totally amazing through and through. DC had one teacher who treated my brother appallingly and the school fired him fairly sharpish. He was a nasty man but DC were as shocked as his behaviour as we were and acted swiftly.

My brother is also a totally non sporty, poetic, softly spoken soul and he was very happy there. I am also dyslexic and and dyspraxic and I received top notch assistance throughout my schooling.

alpinemeadow Tue 23-Apr-13 19:42:33

Have you thought of City of London Boys, sb - it is quite accessible from parts of South East London and they also have quite a lot of financial assistance available? Could be worth a look? (though not co-ed - from that point of view Alleyns sounds as if it's more up your street!)

tiredaftertwo Tue 23-Apr-13 20:02:38

Blueemerald, how kind of you to post with your story.

Stiffy, lots of talking sounds good. These schools are all quite different, and you have a wide range.

StiffyByng Wed 01-May-13 20:10:51

Blueemerald, thank you from me too. What a sad story. I'm sorry to disappear for a bit but we've had a health crisis with my stepdaughter.

Things have moved on a bit, in what seems a positive direction for my stepson. His home-school co-ordinator feels that he would undoubtedly qualify for entry to a small academic school with high levels of pastoral care on social grounds given his bereavements (his sister has been given a very short period to live) and own health concerns. She feels we could pick our school to some extent - she suggested Habs or the Charter School. His primary would support us without reservation.

Then he saw the community paediatrician. She feels his communication issues are too mild to refer but recognised that he is very literal and wants to keep an eye on him over the transition. However she then added that she felt it would be very important for him to be in a small, very supportive environment and said she wanted to ensure that was taken into account when he applied to secondary. She felt that Harris and Forest Hill Boys would be wrong for him. So we will have supporting statements from her and the primary.

Next step is to talk to likely schools that meet that criteria. If anyone can think of other reasonably local schools that would meet that criteria, then advice very welcome.

bigTillyMint Wed 01-May-13 20:38:42

That all sounds very helpful.

Charter isn't small, but seems to be doing well for ASD children.

Good lucksmile

kenyaq Fri 03-May-13 12:00:14

Hi there I was searching the threads for Evelyn Grace whom it has been reported have very good pastoral care an emphasis on SEN.Parents have posted although reluctant at first the students are doing well. May check it out for my child too

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