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Independent primary schools N/NE London - Cavendish

(19 Posts)
rktb Mon 01-May-06 12:07:39

We are contemplating moving eldest (6) from our local state school to a private primary - we're in North / North East London. Of all the schools we have visited, the Cavendish in Camden seems really nice - good positive atmosphere, small, non-selective, and not too far for us to travel. However this is a Catholic school and we are not Catholic (or religious in any way) so we have some reservations for obvious reasons. They state that only 40% of pupils there are Catholic and that they are accepting of all faiths. Does anyone out there have experience of the Cavendish at all and/or of being non catholic in a catholic (but accepting all faiths) environment?

frogs Mon 01-May-06 18:32:30

Dd2 has been offered a place at the Cavendish, but it's our 2nd choice so haven't accepted definitely yet. My older two are in state primary. We are Catholic, but my impression was that Cavendish isn't terribly heavy-duty on the Catholicism.

CAT me if you want to discuss it further, rktb, or post an email address here and I'll mail you back. We're in N/E London as well.

rktb Mon 01-May-06 20:30:32

Hi frogs, sorry, new to this chat thing so don't know what CAT means!! Thanks for your response. Do you mind me asking what your first choice is? What did you like about Cavendish and what does your first choice do better? Interesting that your other children are at state primary but you are making the switch to private... We're doing this as we think our daughter really needs a bit more attention (you could argue all children do, but she especially does, finds noisy chaotic class of 30 so stressful... my second child would be fine in big classes). The class sizes at Cavendish didn't seem THAT small for independent schools, did you think that was a problem too, or do you think the good behaviour and good teaching makes that not a problem? Any thoughts would be much appreciated!!

frogs Mon 01-May-06 22:26:16

CAT means Contact Another Talker using the buttons at the top of the page. You have to pay a fee though, these days, which I haven't done yet, otherwise I'd CAT you, since there's a limit to how much identifying detail I'd want to put on a public board.

I did like the Cavendish, but my first choice is another Catholic school further over near London Zoo. Don't want to name it on here, but we looked at moving dd1 there in Y3, and loved it. We didn't move her in the end, but it was a mistake, and one I'm not going to repeat with dd2. It is a more overtly Catholic school though, so probably wouldn't suit your requirements.

I though the Cavendish was great. Yes, the class sizes aren't tiny, but unless you have a staggeringly shy child I don't see it as a problem. The ability range is fairly wide, which I see as a plus, not too pushy or too selective. Some of the London prep schools are ferociously pushy and a bit precious with it. Cavendish take their SN seriously but also seem to have girls going to all the 'good' London independents as well as the good state schools (HB, Marylebone, St Michael's etc), which is always a plus if you don't want to carry on shelling out at secondary.

I don't think the Catholicism is too in your face -- I'm coming at it from slightly the other angle, since we are Catholic and my children's current primary is v. heavy-duty on RE! But the head did say one year they'd only had 1 child make a first communion (ie. only one Catholic in the class). They do make provision for Catholics to attend Mass on feast days, but I think the head takes them out to the nearby church rather than get the priest into school and make everybody attend, which would be the case at a more strongly Catholic school. Our non-Cath. neighbours send their girls there, and seem v. happy with it.

The school was recommended to us by dd1's former tutor who used to teach there until her retirement. We got on v. well with said tutor, so it seemed like a recommendation worth having. They offered dd2 a place immediately (I think they prioritise Catholic applicants) but wanted a huge amount of money to keep the place open (£1300 iirc) so we've sort of put it on hold. Dd2 is 2nd on the waiting list for our first choice school (Nursery entry 2007) so pretty sure she'll get a place there. But would have no hesitation in going for Cavendish if a place didn't come up.


rktb Tue 02-May-06 13:22:11

Well that sounds really encouraging, thanks so much Frogs for taking the time to give such a thorough response, it is so helpful. I agree about the non-selective thing being a plus - you just don't know at 6 what your child is going ot turn out to be so it is crazy to slot them into a super-academic pidgeonhole before they have had a chance to develop.

Sounds like you are in a lucky position of having a bit of choice... there is so little this side of London it seems crazy - I have decided driving to Hampstead, where all the other schools are as far as i can tell, is just too much car-time for children... and of course for me... there are more important things in life.

Really glad to hear you don't think Cavendish is too heavy on the catholicism, i think the children could be rather confused if it were... Interesting you ended up not moving dd1 in year 3 - we are so close to bailing out of this move idea for lots of reasons (fear of the upheaval, fear of the expense, fear that our daughter will deepy miss the local thing/friends etc.) but your thoughts give me resolve to be brave and go for it. It is a tough choice though, all the change is so hard for them (and us!).

Anyway, thanks again for your helpful response. BTW are you (and your neighbours) in islington? I think it is important that there is a good proportion of children from this side of London for playdates etc. - would be awful if all the friends ended up in West London - so much driving!

Thanks for all your help.

SSSandy Tue 02-May-06 13:31:42

My parents were Anglican (not church goers or active believers in any sense) and we attended a Catholic primary school. It was excellent.

We were exempt from religious activity, other than say nativity plays, although I would much preferred to have been included to be honest. I wasn't made to feel odd for not being Catholic or anything.

I converted to Catholicism as an adult actually and my child is enrolled at a Catholic school.

frogs Tue 02-May-06 13:54:21

Yes, rktb, we are in N1. I think the NW1/NW3 schools take quite a lot of children from Islington, as there are fewer options locally apart from Dallington (nice), St Paul's (boy-heavy and quite trad) and Charterhouse Square (exam factory). But I think it's wise to avoid anything that involves driving down Fitzjohn's Avenue in the rush hour. Whereabouts are you?

We bottled out for all the reasons you describe, plus dh work were making people redundant at the time, and I then got pg with dd2! And I hoped things might get better for dd1, which they did for a bit and then got worse again. Just can't face going through it all again from scratch with dd2 now, though probably will go and look at a few other primaries (Tyndale, Canonbury) just to be sure.

rktb Tue 02-May-06 14:09:43

That's very interesting what you say SSSandy - you obviously didn't think it was all a bit alien and it didn't make you feel like an outsider - which is my concern for my children (my brother went to a catholic primary and said he felt there was a lot of 'pressure' to conform and he didn't even understand what it was all about). I wonder if you would have converted as an adult had you not gone to a catholic school as a child? Very interesting to hear your views, thanks.

rktb Tue 02-May-06 14:27:21

Frogs it sounds like you went through exactly what we are going through - keeping on hoping it will all be alright although you know it just 'aint good enough etc. There is so much to be said for the local friends etc. too, we are very nervous to loose that (for children and for us).

We are in N16 and there are supposedly lots of good primaries (well 3-4) and we are at one of the supposedly OK ones, but really not happy with the way it is going, mainly due to the head. We thought we were being over-fussy but our daughter is not thriving and so we have to take it seriously. It is just as much about who she is as well (as i said she gets v. stressed by the naughty kids, chaos, noise, teachers shouting etc.).

We have been told we don't stand a chance in hell of getting into one of the the other better ones. Also, I feel that moving to another state may not solve the problem - there is still the issue of class size and we feel dd1 (sounding like a pro here now!) needs attention above all else - and a calmer atmosphere. SO... Do you reckon it sounds like we should go for it, given your experience of not going for it?

Dallington is our other choice. We have been offered a place and on face value loved it - such small class sizes, good ethos etc. but i have heard lots of people feeling rather unhappy about the reality of the place... two or three said whist they agreed with the theory, at the end of the day (when their children were further up in the school) they were concerned about their child's level of attainment - being way below what it should be (whatever 'should' is) and lots of tales of tutoring for last 2 years etc.

Another person felt that the lack of rules was so extreme that their children actually felt a bit insecure, so it did the opposite of boosting confidence as there were no boundaries to cling to. So whilst we liked Dallington we have heard so many negative rumours we have (in our inconfident 'shall we/shan't we?' state) decided we should rule it out.

You are definitely right about Fitzjohn's Avenue. I think we are on the brink of making the decision to go for it but i guess i am looking for some final reassurance on this mumsnet thing!! It's very useful...

Thanks again for all your helpful comments... sounds like you haven't heard too much negative stuff about Dallington?

frogs Tue 02-May-06 19:09:25

Ah, N16, just down the road from us, then -- we're the unfashionable Hackney part of N1 rather than the swanky Angel end.

V. curious to know which Stoke Newington school you're talking about! I know people at WP, and at BL, who all seem pretty happy. Used to know people at G'mere under the previous head, but not sure about the current regime. The WP lot are a bit more laid back than I am about education. BL parents all seem happy enough, though.

As regards our experiences, I started out thinking that the problems were specific to dd1, who is extremely and rather stroppily academic, in a class dominated by v. low ability children, many with EBD as well. But I suspect that actually a lot of the problems are common to most inner-London primaries -- there's a focus on getting kids to Level 4 in Y6 at the expense of pretty much everything else. There's been a lot of teaching that is mediocre or worse, little or no provision for more able children and not much attention to any disparity between individual achievement and potential. And yes, a lot of shouting and negative discipline. It sounds as if your dd finds that intimidating -- my dd1 just became lippy and cynical. Either way it's not great.

In the end dd1 is the kind of child who has achieved academically despite the school, and it has given her a certain confidence and independence of mind which I think will stand her in good stead. She's had a good group of friends and is much more streetwise than she would have been in a more protected environment. But overall I think the downsides probably outweigh the good aspects. Dd2 is a different kettle entirely -- extremely strong-willed, bright, but much less compliant than dd1. She gets bored v. quickly and needs to be kept constantly on her toes otherwise all hell breaks loose, and I just can't see her a) keeping out of trouble and b) fulfilling her potential in any of the available state schools. Dallington wouldn't meet the case for her either, she needs somewhere a bit more structured.

As you can probably tell, I've agonised about it a lot! In the end it's got to be a gut instinct decision, since you never get to find out what would have happened if you'd decided the other way. And there are all the niggling feelings of, 'Other people's children are okay in the state system, why can't mine be?' Not to mention the eye-watering sums of money involved. Personally I'm just too exhausted by the amount of parental input needed to make sure the children are where they need to be. The thought of doing it all for the third time makes me lose the will to live. Plus I can't face the thought of putting another child in right at the bottom of a school where I have no respect for the head. But it is a tough call.

SSSandy Tue 02-May-06 19:31:43

rktb, no I didn't feel alien there at all. Can't think of a single occasion where I was made to feel different or had any pressure put on me to convert/conform. I had a totally positive experience.

You're young when you start primary, so you take the statues and other trappings of Catholicism in your stride. You don't question it. Outside of RE, retreats, church services (which your kids probably wouldn't be involved in), there's really only saying the Lord's Prayer at assembly or grace before meals which isn't a big deal. IMO there isn't a huge difference between mainstream Anglican and liberal Catholic thought. The church service is very similar too.

My sister (Anglican) sends all 3 of her children to Catholic primary schools too. What I like about the school my dd is going to attend is that it seems a very caring environment, I like the way the older children treat the younger ones. It's like a big family. I also generally prefer the emphasis on values not materialism etc which I expect all faith schools have.

rktb Tue 02-May-06 20:34:04

Frogs, sounds as if your dd1 has done you proud despite it all. A part of me likes the streetwise-ness and strength they might gain from going to a not too precious school - we live in London afterall so they do need to be equipped with skills to cope with real life. I went to London state schools and was always proud that i knew what 'real' life was (my relatives all went private) and could cope out there. But they are young and teenage expieriences will no doubt offer all sorts of frightening opportunities for learning that. At primary age i guess there is not too much to loose in over-protecting them - it gives them a safe place in which to grow.

I have not even put one child through state primary fully but, like you, already feel exhausted by what i would need to do in order to keep her education up to a decent level... with ours it is not so much about her being super academic - she is bright but nobody has instilled a like of learning in her at the current school -- in fact the opposite. Surely that is the key aim of primary school - not the results in figures but getting the children to love learning, feel excited and motivated. The results come naturally from that.

But dd1 is already stroppy about the process of learning without having even begun properly!! I see her huge levels of enthusiasm for new things and interest in everything around her (which convinces me she is genuinely fairly bright) dwindling by the day because her mind is not being tapped into in the right way, and it breaks my heart... To keep her motivated we would have not only to do lots of nice interesting fun things with her all the time but also fight the negative stuff that the school is giving her. What a waste of a bright girl that is, is what i feel.

Like you, i feel that perhaps moving to private will let ME get on with my life and stop agonising about schools so much and feeling permanently neurotic about the whole thing! I'd like to relax knowing she is in good hands and enjoy bringing her up. I am not a teacher, so would do a poor job anyway.

For your info the school is g'brook... probably 4th on the decent ones in N16 list. There are loads of nice parents and a very jolly vibe, which makes me very sad indeed (lots of 'everyone else seems to be OK' going on) but the head is completely dreadful and it does impact what goes on of course, however nice (a couple of!) the teachers may be. Doing my homework and seeking reassurance i have read in many advisory publications that the head IS critical to a school so if you don't like her/him it IS important (good schools guide advice, gabbitas etc. etc.) and so not liking the head will of course influence your/your child's experience of the school. That is enough for me. Of course i know it but it is good to read it too. With lots of nice parents living with a useless head you do start to doubt yourself.

So is your dd1 in secondary yet? Sorry, if she isn't it is obviously the next crisis, or perhaps you have got it worked out?!

I'd be interested to hear more about your neighbours' experience of Cavendish being non-Catholic... assume with lots of sprogs there they do not find it a problem at all.

Dd2 is 2.5 so we would be looking to put her into the nursery at Cavendish probably from Sept if we can. Do you know anyone with experience of it from such a young age? Our alternative is to send her to Children's House to 5 or 7 then onto Cavendish - such a lovely nursery but then the school run becomes a complete nightmare potentially. However that option would help her make some local friends which she wouldn't do at CAvendish so easily. What do you reckon?

Thanks for all your help and support with this Frogs, it was definitely worth my while doing this!

All the best

rktb Tue 02-May-06 20:43:16

SSSandy, everything you say is very reassuring. I agree with you totally about the caring environment and the thing of the older children helping the younger ones was one of the things that struck us as so nice when we were looking around the school. As you say, the values are right, even if we are not Catholic.

I am reassured that you feel that the Catholic element is more a routine than anything else when you are young. Going to sound really ignorant here but could you tell me what the Statues you refer to are and, while you are at it, would you be able to clarify what a catechesist(sp?!) is and what their role is exactly in a school?

Thanks very much for your time and input.

SSSandy Tue 02-May-06 21:40:54

Hmm wouldn't say I considered the Catholic element simply routine, just didn't query it or feel troubled/pressurised by it in any way. Obviously the staff are practising Catholics, so they live their faith and don't just pay lip-service to it, a lot of the Catholic families at the school will be the same, so an acceptance of the rightness of Catholic belief/doctrine will be pervasive and govern the way people interact.

We had a couple of statues of the Virgin Mary and a saint or two in the grounds.

A catechist is just a religious instructor so someone involved in the religious formation of the school children. That could be anything from discussing the ten commandments and making a play based on it to preparation for First Communion, or generally teaching about the sacraments,etc. Other churches have catechists too.

It's a difficult decision to send your child to a faith school when you don't hold that faith yourself, so I understand that you feel uneasy about it. Good luck whatever you choose to do!

SSSandy Tue 02-May-06 21:41:39

Hmm wouldn't say I considered the Catholic element simply routine, just didn't query it or feel troubled/pressurised by it in any way. Obviously the staff are practising Catholics, so they live their faith and don't just pay lip-service to it, a lot of the Catholic families at the school will be the same, so an acceptance of the rightness of Catholic belief/doctrine will be pervasive and govern the way people interact.

We had a couple of statues of the Virgin Mary and a saint or two in the grounds.

A catechist is just a religious instructor so someone involved in the religious formation of the school children. That could be anything from discussing the ten commandments and making a play based on it to preparation for First Communion, or generally teaching about the sacraments,etc. Other churches have catechists too.

It's a difficult decision to send your child to a faith school when you don't hold that faith yourself, so I understand that you feel uneasy about it. Good luck whatever you choose to do!

rktb Wed 03-May-06 06:29:50

Thanks SSSandy, that is really helpful - as you can no doubt tell, this is all a bit new territory! Thanks for your help.

frogs Wed 03-May-06 20:07:45

Hi again, rktb, just got back to this! It's rather strange being able to ramble at such length, since it's not something I generally discuss with other people, since everybody has their own axe to grind.

I think what you say about your dd being turned off learning and enthusiasm would ring major alarm bells for me. My dd1 was turned off school, but happy to learn and do things at home, almost despite the school. But she is more focussed than most children, even when she was quite small. My ds is doing okayish because he's in quite an able and well-behaved class (Y2) with pleasant (if slightly ditsy) teachers. He's quite compliant, a bit of a pleaser and keen to try hard whatever the circs. So although I'm sure he could be doing better in a more focussed environment I'm not going to worry about it yet.

Do you have plans for secondary yet? That might affect the decisions you make now. My dd1 has got a place for September at one of the north London (state) grammar schools, which I'm sure will suit her down to the ground. Not sure about ds yet -- there are various good Catholic options, but might go private for him. Don't think the state selective options would work for him, cos he's bright but not superacademic.

If you went to eg. Children's House you could move at 7, but their school is still a bit of an unknown quantity. City of London girls have an intake at 7 (dd1 was offered a place there for Y3) but it is quite a high-powered machine of a school, possibly not for more sensitive or unconventional souls, which is why we didn't go with it. Statewise your options are limited at 11, though Mossbourne is worth keeping an eye on. You'd have to move, though, their catchment is quite tight. From what you've said I can't see the urban gritty vibe of Stoke Newington School appealing to you?

Our children must be quite similar ages, since dd2 is 2.5 as well. But we're looking at nursery class starting 2007 -- I thought Cavendish only take them from 3+? When do you have to let Cavendish have your decision?

As the other poster says, I don't think the Catholic element would be a problem for you unless you are massively anti-religion full stop. I got the distinct impression that Cavendish are trying to be all things to all people: when I went round there was another couple visiting who clearly weren't Catholic, while I clearly was (from the questions we were asking) and it was mildly entertaining to see the head trying simultaneously to make it sound as if the school was Catholic enough for my requirements while not overplaying it for the other two! The RE is clearly multi-faith in nature (they'd had a Muslim parent in to talk about the Haj just before I visited), so as long as you can cope with a statue of Our Lady in the prayer garden and a bit of God-talk coming home you should be okay. FWIW if I were a non-Catholic I wouldn't send my child to most Catholic state primaries, nor to eg. St Mary's Hampstead or the school we've chosen for dd2, but I wouldn't have the same reservations about Cavendish.

If you're still concerned, why don't you phone the head and ask if there are any non-Catholic parents who might be prepared to share their experience with you? You could ask how many pupils are local to N1/N16 while you're at it. You do see the uniform around Upper Street quite a bit, so there must be a few. Otherwise they can also make local friends through out of school activities, eg. ballet, brownies etc.

Maybe we should meet up for a cup of coffee in the Blue Legume, so we can obsess in greater comfort and without the RSI!

rktb Thu 04-May-06 22:20:54

Hi Frogs

Your views are extremely helpful. Very reassuring to hear that if you were non-Catholic you would consider Cavendish too, but not the others - you know the Catholic school 'market' so have a better overall view of it (I am sure it would not like to be called a market!!).

My dd2 is 2.8 - 3 in Aug so hits the Sept entry this year... I think it would be more straightforward to just send her to the same place as dd1, but not certain. Children's House is lovely and would help her get some more local freinds though. But if she turns out to be super-academic I would still not want to send her to City, convenient though it would be, because i just don't believe that is what childhood, in primary years, is about... fine if they are still like that at 11 and hungry for a challenge, but too serious and stressful for little ones - i do still think they are little ones at 7/8/9 really, or at least should be.

Our decision re primary is informed also by thinking about secondary. If we don't go private it would make our options for secondary much smaller and most likely narrow it down to one - Stoke N - which is supposedly fine and i personally most definitely like the idea of the urban grit (!) but it is the size that - unless some miracle happens and her personality is changed - would not be handled by dd1 - if the noise/chaos/scale of her primary is already too much. So, to stand a better chance at having options at 11, we feel going private is our best bet. Crazy business it really is, she's only just started primary and we are already worrying about the secondary thing. But hopefully we are being sensible, given that, so far, she is not super-academic.

V. funny image in my head re: the head of Cavendish trying to please both sets of parents...

Thanks for all your advice. Would be very happy to obsess endlessly at Blue Legume... it's one of those subjects you feel you are boring people with so you end up sharing with no-one, although you desperately need to discuss with someone other than children's father! It is so important (in a boring kind of way!!).

Good idea BTW re: keeping local friends via ballet etc. Not sure whether you 'make' friends really at those kind of things though.

Let me know if you'd like to meet up. Would be strange but good. As you say, the RSI is a problem.

All the best

cavendishmary Mon 12-Nov-12 15:10:21

Hi, there. Joining this thread wearing three hats. I had three girls through the school from 2.5 to 11 years, have taught Primary for years and joined the Governing Board which I now Chair. (btw the majority of the governors at this school are current or former parents, so that is not only a)very unusual indeed but b)gives you an insight into the importance attached to the parent 'voice' and is frankly a huge contributor to the warm and unpretentious vibe at the school) This isn't an 'ad', just an honest and perhaps better-informed-than-most perspective. It does have a Catholic Foundation and yes, the children are encouraged to live by values of kindness, tolerance, compassion etc but the idea that it is in any way dogmatic is way off. I'm a pretty tepid Catholic myself and it was just the right 'dose' of spirituality for my family. There are children of other faiths and no faith and a family's personal choice on religion doesn't impact at all. The school's values are those of any sane and decent parent. Those of you who have paid us a visit will have seen the real deal. No window dressing, just a celebration of what the children do.
Another contributor touched on setting and selection. There is a huge mythology about setting/ streaming which can be a pretty insidious process if badly handled. The Cavendish has a big mission to avoid the 'one size fits all' factory approach which many private schools go in for because they are selective and the pupils are roughly all the same ability (high). Cavendish go in for a more tailor made provision and individual learning and the children's progress is tracked (not tested!!) regularly to make sure that there is extra support when needed and additional challenge to keep them stimulated. I am naturally biased but it is a delightful little school and one which girls miss and return to long after they've left. Trust me, it is possible to have academic rigour without stress and the outcomes at 11+ sort of speak for themselves. If you're unsure about whether it's right for your DD book another visit, come to a play or concert. Just ring up. If I can meet you for a cup of tea and a chat will and the Head is super-approachable. These are huge decisions and it can be a very scary process. Hope that's helpful. Good luck to you and your girls wherever they go.

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