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Good schools in the south of England?

(22 Posts)
Jackiebeijing Fri 21-Feb-14 07:31:24

I am currently an expat in Beijing, but am moving back to the UK in July with two boys aged 9 and 10. I haven't lived in the UK for a long time, but I want to base us somewhere in the south of England. I have no idea where would have good schools without overpriced housing. Does anyone have any advice they could share, even if it is towns or cities to avoid?! I would be really grateful...

LIZS Fri 21-Feb-14 13:45:33

I think your main issue will be finding school places for children of that age and only having a year before your eldest is due to start secondary, applications for which are submitted this autumn. What are you looking for , nowhere is perfect but nor is there any obvious need to avoid . Do you have any local ties for work etc to consider.

Shootingatpigeons Fri 21-Feb-14 14:24:36

State or private? Completely different admission processes and factors determining your choice of where to live . Are they currently in International Schools? Do you want to continue with that or any other particular ethos?

I was an expat and brought back a 7 and 11 year old, and know quite a few others, so can give the benefit of experience of both.

Jackiebeijing Sun 23-Feb-14 06:10:13

Yes the boys are currently in International School, but will come back to state primary schools. I am already a bit worried as I don't think I can apply for schools until we have an address...hence it is important for me to pinpoint an area. Any good advice?? Thanks for your thoughts so far, it's so helpful to be in touch with people who can help and offer ideas!

Jackiebeijing Sun 23-Feb-14 06:16:05

Oh and no jobs I can literally go anywhere at the moment!

Shootingatpigeons Sun 23-Feb-14 08:38:20

Yes, most Local Authorities require you to be actually resident at your new address before you can apply. A few may be a little flexible and accept proof via rental agreements etc that you will be living at an address but our LA wouldn't even accept an application for an address we owned and had proof the tenants were leaving etc. So it can be Catch 22 since you can't apply until you are back resident, you have to commit to a property that is as close as possible to a school you like that has vacancies gambling that there will still be a place at the school when you are finally able to apply and you will get priority as a result of being closest. If there are no vacancies LAs do have to offer you a school place but if the local schools are full it may be at a school further away and less popular.

However at least come the later primary school years there tend to be some places that arise even in the most popular schools.

Assuming that house prices mean you won't be returning to the London suburbs then most expats who decide to move to the country seem to end up in Kent, Oxfordshire, Somerset. Though it can add to the culture shock moving to a small town / into the country.

I would start with a short list of areas you would like to live in, look up OFSTED's (schools rated good are worth considering as well as those that are outstanding, the requirements for a school to be rated outstanding have become more stringent ) and ring a few LAs. Then once you have found a good school in an area that you want to live in that has vacancies then find a property as close as possible so you are high on the waiting list once back resident ( your priority in terms of your application is determined by distance) .

Good luck. It certainly isn't a system that is easy for returning expats, we ended up going private.

mummytime Sun 23-Feb-14 08:45:32

I really wouldn't worry too much about Primary school. They tend to be okay, and there are also usually several in a town. However living in the right area to get into a good secondary is more crucial.

Do you want the chance of a Grammar school? (And if not are you willing for your children to go to a school with the top 10% or 25% creamed off?)
Are you Catholic?
Less crucially are you C of E (in most places they also take those of other or no faith)?
How much can you afford to rent/buy? Often there are places which are more reasonable in terms of price close to the "good" schools, but one persons "reasonable" is another's "extortionate".

Jackiebeijing Sun 23-Feb-14 09:16:31

Thank you so much for all of this, you are right it isn't easy at all! I'm not religious, but would have no problem with the boys going to a catholic or C of E school if it was good. I guess my budget will be 800-900 pounds a month for rent as I am on my own with kids. I know the North of England is cheaper, but my family are in Surrey and on the south coast so South makes sense in that respect. Do keep the information coming, it is all so helpful...

Shootingatpigeons Sun 23-Feb-14 13:21:54

I disagree slightly with mummy. Your children will have a bit of adjusting to do after being in an International School. Slightly different norms and after being encouraged by all those American and Aussie families to be very extrovert my DDs, who were 7 and 11 found it difficult to adjust at first. My older DD found other expats in her class at secondary school making the same adjustments (still her lifelong friend, they are just about to get a flat together aged 21), and everyone was of course making new friends but my younger DD had a difficult time from the existing pupils who branded her wild and weird. Luckily her class teacher had taught in an International School and as she put it the other girls benefited as much from broadening their minds via my DDs experiences as she would have done by conforming . It will help of you can find a primary that is supportive and prepared to understand that challenge and preferably value your DCs experiences. We found the state schools we visited quite disinterested, probably because they knew we had little chance of getting in as late applicants......

However it would help to be in a feeder school (either through a formal feeder mechanism, some schools get preference at particular senior schools, or because you will be in catchment) for a good secondary school.

Popular Catholic Schools tend to be oversubscribed by families who meet strict faith criteria which give them preference. Some C of E schools are similar in spite of instructions from the top to be more inclusive hmm

Grammar School would be a whole different challenge. There are many threads on here about the strategic choices you are faced with in preparing for selective school admissions. Some go in for years of tutoring although the evidence this is needed is highly subjective. It will all be a culture shock after an International School, though perhaps not if you had experience of the selective local Beijing schools grin

Personally I would go for somewhere known for good comprehensive schools, like Winchester. Sorry that perception is not based on detailed knowledge, just my impression.

Jackiebeijing Mon 24-Feb-14 10:26:47

You are right and I am also worried how other kids will react to my children as they have had such different experiences. They are 'normal boys' but they are quite 'expat' in their approach to life and will find the uk really different (they have never lived there).
My family also suggested Winchester, but it's my impression it can be quite expensive to live...anyone know if that is the case?
Keep the ideas coming, it is all really interesting and helpful smile

MarriedDadOneSonOneDaughter Mon 24-Feb-14 11:40:24

If your budget could jump up (by 50%!) for renting then see if you can get into one of the 5 or 6 streets next to Dame Alice Owen's. No test to take to get into a wonderful secondary school with a sibling policy. My kids aren't there but I know so many that are and are happy. Beats private school fees and in a lovely rural area with Central London a short train ride away.

If the money is too much at least it might inspire you to look at other catchment areas like it around other schools.

Hopefully others here will give you other, perhaps more affordable ideas.

mary21 Mon 24-Feb-14 14:48:16

What about Petersfield. Good line to London. Recent thread on here about schools.
Harpenden has good secondaries but might b too pricey. Kent and bucks known for Grammars but what happens if your kids don't pass. Kent probably cheaper and closer to surrey and depending where you are fast line to London. Schools like Judd and Skinners have a good reputation but hard to pass the test. How bright are your kids? when is your eldest going to be 11?

Jackiebeijing Tue 25-Feb-14 02:06:09

Afraid my boys are typical boys in that they are bright enough, but possibly not motivated to show this in a Grammar school test situation (although you never know!). I don't think I could count on it! My oldest is 11 in March 2015. Will look at peterfield (I lived there as a child!) and Kent, anywhere specific there as I don't know Kent at all...
Thanks for all this, it is brilliant! smile

mummytime Tue 25-Feb-14 06:13:47

Kent is Grammar school land, so I would avoid if you don't think that is the choice for you!
I would look at Surrey if you could afford it, and Hampshire (maybe Essex which has some Grammars but some very good Comprehensives too).
I would avoid Bucks and Kent.

LIZS Tue 25-Feb-14 08:14:57

If you only arrive in July you need to check registration dates for Kent 11+ schools (a few are this side of the summer break iirc), exams for which are then sat early in the autumn term, assuming ds1 would be a suitable candidate and ready to do so ?

SoldeInvierno Tue 25-Feb-14 08:25:56

You might find out that your children's level is quite high and therefore grammar school is a good option. My friend moved over from Asia with 3 boys who had been at American school and they plugged into the UK state system without any problems, and then onto grammar school. I think your main issue might be rental prices. 800 GBP doesn't get you much in the South. You could get s small house in Basingstoke or Bracknell, but those are not the prettiest towns.

Clavinova Tue 25-Feb-14 08:36:58

Registration for the Kent grammar school tests is usually in June (plus maybe 1st/2nd July) - check with Kent County Council as some schools are looking to run their own tests this year.

Shootingatpigeons Tue 25-Feb-14 08:47:46

A friend got her daughter into Gordon's in Surrey from a not very glamourous Camberley address. I gather that you have to live by the playing field and pay ££££ to get in on distance but she is a single working mother, I am not sure whether there was some mechanism via need. She didn't board but she was there for long hours? Might be worth looking into, she really enjoyed it and got a lot out of the structure.

My DD did get into some of the most selective private schools in the UK from an International school, and there is someone else who has posted in these threads that has followed in her footsteps this year. We did a bit of DIY prep but being part of that process here with my second DD was quite a culture shock. Parents get extremely anxious and there is a tutoring industry that feeds on that anxiety. State primaries that are in grammar school areas will have a particular character in Year 5 and 6 as a result, secret tutoring / an arms race, and DCs cannot help be affected with a certain competitiveness creeping in, very different to an International School. Not sure I would have wanted my DDs having to adjust and deal with that atmosphere.

Eastpoint Tue 25-Feb-14 08:54:59

Where are you hoping to work? Is your career geographically limiting? Alresford, Alton area as you have a choice of senior schools, access to work in Basingstoke or Winchester? Near Chichester? Schools there are good and easy to get to the sea.

CharlesRyder Tue 25-Feb-14 09:02:45

As you have boys I would suggest Windsor.

They run the 3 tier system (first schools 3-8, middle schools 8-13, senior schools 13-18). This would give your boys the chance to start off in the same school which might help them.

Windsor Boys (the 13-18 bit) is having a little wobble right now but it is a really good school.

If you could stretch to £1200pcm and they didn't mind sharing you could live right in Windsor which would be lovely and give them a lot of independence.
Something like this.

LaVolcan Tue 25-Feb-14 09:07:02

But don't necessarily write off places like Basingstoke and Bracknell. I used to work in the latter, and although it's not, as had been said, the prettiest, there are still some perfectly good residential areas to live in. Furthermore, it has a comprehensive with a good reputation in Ranelagh.

Jackiebeijing Tue 25-Feb-14 12:56:26

Thanks for this, I'm going to check out housing and schools in these areas asap. Also really useful to hear about grammar schools, the windsor school system etc as I am really coming in cold having not been in the uk for so long! Keep the thoughts and advice coming, I'm loving hearing all the different ideas!

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