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independant schools. how do you REALLY find out what they are like?

(31 Posts)
Herecomesthesciencebint Fri 30-Sep-11 21:41:55

Looking at solihull school, off to open day, already been round for a tour and read a few reviwes I can find but want to get more HONEST reviews but just dont know where or how to look.

happygardening Fri 30-Sep-11 22:42:24

It's really difficult all prespectus/websites now read virtually the same. Most schools are slick publicity machines. My advise is draw up a list of must/mustn't haves it's personal to you and your DC so don't be swayed by others. For example do you want coed, I can't live with fussy ridiculous uniforms many don't understand why I feel like this but I do that instantly rules out quite a few for me, my son wanted to be in a city/large town no twee market towns or rolling hill for us another pile instantly eliminated. Then go and see at least a three or four schools even if you don't fancy them it will help you work out what you do and don't want. At each visit talk to as many people as you can children teachers matrons ask very specific questions e.g. who ensures my son gets access to a music practice room and how many hours a week. Or another example can you tell me exactly what you do for gifted and talented if your thinking of boarding ask very specific questions about numbers. Once you've found one you like try and go back not on an open day maybe try and go to sports day or watch a play or listen to a concert. Again watch listen and talk to as many as you can see if you first impression was correct finally you can always enquire on MM you will get a variety of views and you need to remember the old saying; one man meat etc. Good luck.

unnumpty Fri 30-Sep-11 22:44:46

The Good Schools Guide - book or website - is good.

Andt talk to local kids - the ones who go to the school, and the ones who don't. smile

BertieBotts Fri 30-Sep-11 22:47:12

You could try posting on your mumsnet local section? There's one for Birmingham which would probably be your closest. Or make a new thread with "Solihull school" in the title which is more likely to attract attention of those who know it.

Are there going to be pupils at the open day? I've heard a good trick is to wait until you are on the tour (or whatever) away from teachers and ask them "Would you want your little sister coming to this school?"

EdithWeston Fri 30-Sep-11 22:47:25

Ask the owners of the nearest coffee shop or newsagent what they think of the children and parents?

Find parents with children at the school and ask ruthlessly detailed questions, and better still parents whose children have just left.

BertieBotts Fri 30-Sep-11 22:49:22

Also some threads here:

happygardening Fri 30-Sep-11 22:59:48

Goods schools guide is rubbish I don't recognise my DS old prep they aren't talking about the same school I know and love (hate).

DamselWithADulcimer Fri 30-Sep-11 23:04:02

Find current parents and ask them. Look at the children you see there. Do they look happy, interested, pleasant? Do they use 'like' every other word? (If so, forget it) Do the older ones seem to look after the little ones in the playground? How do the children speak to one another? Do they hold doors open for you/one another when you visit? Do they stand up when you go into the classroom? (If this matters to you)

Open days aren't a good way to see a school, and need to be followed up by a visit on a normal school day.

Above all, see what it feels like once you're there. We have always gone for independent schools, and have always gone by gut instinct. Facilities and so on count for less than a good 'feel' in my opinion.

DamselWithADulcimer Fri 30-Sep-11 23:04:18

PS Good Schools Guide isn't much cop.

EdithWeston Sat 01-Oct-11 06:31:43

Unlike "school reviews" that sometime appear in Tatler or local magazines, they don't take advertising by individual schools.

This must really help in keeping its independence. Schools of course put a lot of effort into courting the GSG. And it does tend to concentrate on what the school does well and what sort of child would thrive there (read between the lines for what it doesn't say). And of course no school is going to suit every potential pupil/family.

Another thing to do is hang around the school at dropping off/picking up time, and see what the conduct of the school run is like. Or for older children, see how they behaved when unsupervised - they are something close to the school's "finished product", do you want your child to turn out like that?

The biggest factor though in what sort of time your child will have is both out of your hands (and those of the school) and beyond anyone's control. It is - which children will be in your child's cohort?

LIZS Sat 01-Oct-11 06:59:51

Try - but be aware it is a bit like tripadvisor, reviews from those who complain and those who have a vested interest in being positive !

Pagwatch Sat 01-Oct-11 07:12:37

When you went for a tour did you talk to the choked showing you around? Asking them questions can tell you a huge amount and how they present themselves does to.

Pagwatch Sat 01-Oct-11 07:12:57


wordfactory Sat 01-Oct-11 08:07:24

All schools claim to be all things to all men...but let's be honest, it aint necessarily so.

What you need to do is write a list of what it is you are trying to achieve in your DC's education and then find out which school will be the best fit.

Edith do you really believe that schools turn out a finsihed product? Sure they have an influence but isn't it really the parents and the child's own personality that make the student?

michaelaB Sat 01-Oct-11 08:31:26

Look at the most recent inspection report on the Independent Schools Inspectorate website (

fivecandles Sat 01-Oct-11 08:34:44

Hmm.. you can get a pretty good idea from looking round and talking to teachers and pupils BUT I'm only now discovering that the things that make the school perfect, perfect, perfect for dd1 are actually making it quite hard for dd2. So, you can only be absolutely sure it's the right school for your child and suss out its strenghts and weaknesses once your child is there.

EdithWeston Sat 01-Oct-11 08:37:27

Oh yes, of course!

Of course there are other influences (only a fool would think otherwise), but within the school - which also provides the crucially important peer group - there will also be formative attitudes towards work, behaviour, sense of community etc.

There's a world of difference between someone who has been to say, Summerhill (to use a real example) and someone who has been to St Bastards (fictitious, as it's probably not a good idea to name in this context on open forum).

mummytime Sat 01-Oct-11 08:52:00

Oh one tip I was given once, is take one of your kids with them and get tem to use the toilets. That will tell you what a school is really like.

happygardening Sat 01-Oct-11 12:10:51

Dont trust the ISI reports we were asked to complete questionaires for DS old prep at least three of us raised seious concerns about the school. When the report was pulished it stated that all parents who completed the questionaires were very happy!!

maree1 Sat 01-Oct-11 13:25:53

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

LIZS Sat 01-Oct-11 14:31:28

likewise happygardening although I would n't say what we reported was serious as such, more highlighted a deficiency which was carefully overlooked in the report.

DamselWithADulcimer Sat 01-Oct-11 14:33:39

Yes, we've had interesting experiences with ISI reports, too. Several recurrent concerns of parents simply didn't feature in the ISI report.

happygardening Sat 01-Oct-11 15:20:02

That really intersting about the ISI reports I was shocked that they choose to deliberately ignore negative feedback from parents. Its very intersting that others have similar experiences. This really should get more publicity as so many parents read them and assume they are independent inspectors. The report written about my DS old prep was so full of praise it made my want to vomit. I barely recognised the school they described.
I think Herecomesthesciencebint the advise to go on your gut feeling is good. I used to own horses (for those lucky enough not to know complicated animals with multiple complex requirements) and was always looking for new places to keep them I discovered two things; no where's perfect try to get 85 - 90% of the things you want and if the staff are not doing it before you arrive they wont be doing it when you leave! I 've sadly discovered the same applies to schools.

amicissima Sat 01-Oct-11 19:06:23

When you are being shown round ask the child what happens if they are late once and what if they are late several times - shows you a bit about the school's attitude.

Try to find out how much talking is tolerated in class and how too much is dealt with.

Also ask what happens if someone says 'the f word' in class. The reaction should be informative.

If you're feeling brave you could try the same questions on a member of staff and compare the replies!

Lastly, do not ignore your gut reaction. If you feel comfortable there, chances are a DC you have brought up will too, and vice versa.

amicissima Sat 01-Oct-11 19:08:32

If you can talk to current parents, that's helpful, but don't forget to take into account how you feel about the person whose opinion you are getting. The opinion of someone you don't like can be as informative as that of someone who you are in accord with.

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