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DEVON PRIVATE SCHOOLS. Shebbear, West Buckland or Kelly?

(133 Posts)
manorhope Fri 30-May-14 16:49:49

If you are moving to the North or West Devon area and considering an independent education for your children, or indeed a rural boarding school, there are three interesting choices in the area, all of which we have visited and sampled.
1. West Buckland School. Good facilities and results, but we found the place quite harsh, unfriendly and bleak. The children were smart, but rather distant, looking tired and a bit low in spirits.
2. Kelly College. Majestic buildings on the edge of lovely Tavistock. A feel that the place had seen better days and maybe struggling to maintain numbers. Children looked fairly happy, but a tad untidy. Moderate results, but in all lacking in sparkle.
3.Shebbear College. Out in the sticks, but a real sense that this place is the rising star. Children looked smart, confident and very happy, showing that extra polish you tend to find in more famous establishments. Good results and lovely peaceful campus.
Out of the three we thought Shebbear College emerged as comfortably the best school at the present time. We chose it and so far its been fantastic.
Further afield is of course Blundell's, which we thought was great, but too far for us.
Finally, there's a place in Bideford called Kingsley. Not wanting to be unpleasant, but I really wouldn't bother.
Just a few experiences, which I hope may be of interest.

CharlesRyder Fri 30-May-14 19:41:08

Just looks suspiciously like you work at Shebbear.

manorhope Sun 01-Jun-14 19:01:39

By no means. We looked at all three quite carefully. Just a few personel observations from a parent who recently moved from Hampshire.

abbiefield Mon 02-Jun-14 08:04:10

I think I recall reading your original posts manorhope. Whilst I think you may be genuine CharlesRyder makes a valid point also. I have far too many posts here where it looks suspciously like some posters are working either for a particular school or, sometimes worse, working to promote their school over another by being mean to the other school.

Seeing such things does make one wonder.

Good luck with your school choice smile

manorhope Mon 02-Jun-14 11:46:22

Fair comment abbiefield. Not guilty in this instance though. It's just how we saw things as newcomers. On a different note, before we knew we were leaving Hampshire we took a look at Lord Wandsworth's College. It was really impressive. That's another 'rising star' I would say. Anyway, that's well off topic! Thanks.

abbiefield Thu 05-Jun-14 07:29:58

manorhope not quite on your topic but it is something you brought up.
You said that Shebbear had " sparkle" and "polish". This got me to wondering how you identify those things. When I look at schools they always seem to look the same to me.

I will be looking for a school for my DC next year and having been round a couple already (not the ones you mention - different area) but they all seem much the same tome - nice grounds, various uniforms and pupils who speak nicely.So other than exam results, what are the extras you are seeing I am not? If that makes sense?

Sorry to ask what sounds to be a completely daft question on the face of it.

manorhope Wed 25-Jun-14 07:50:16

Sorry to be so slow in responding, but I was away for a few weeks.
Interesting questions you ask abbiefield.
It's difficult when looking for the right school to gauge what the places are really like behind the scenes. Open days are all very well, but lets face it, most schools are geared up to put on their best front. In our case, with Shebbear, a few days after our appointed visit and tour, I quietly drove into the main car park at the end of a normal school day and watched the children going home or returning to their boarding houses. This may sound a bit strange, but it was revealing to see the place in its everyday state. Although the children looked understandably tired, they were still smart, happy and smiling. Well-spoken certainly, but also confident and chatty with some teachers, which I thought was particularly nice. The school had an atmosphere of calm assurance, well-ordered but equally relaxed. In short, conducive to learning whilst being very happy.
The 'polish' bit is something quite elusive, I think. The former cabinet minister Michael Portillo, commenting on his own excellent grammar school experience, admitted that however hard his old school tried, they could never quite seem to emulate the same self assured confidence and charm of many major public school pupils. It was a revealing and honest comment, which, like it or not, holds some truth. If we are talking in the Westcountry, I do believe that the pupils of Sherborne, Canford, Clifton, Blundell's and Truro Girls have a certain something. Although small by comparison, I would now add Shebbear to that list. It's been around a long time, but in the last five years, its truly blossomed into something a bit special.
Just a few observations here and I have no doubt that there are other good Westcountry schools, which I have not experienced close-up.

DavidBrainsSuit Mon 30-Jun-14 20:01:11

Hello there,

As a happy WB parent and friends with quite a few parents at Shebbear, I wouldn't dream of being rude about another school. We all have different selection criteria.

What intrigues me though, is how long ago did you visit the said schools?

I am a little confused as on this thread you say you have recently moved to the area yet on another thread dated 3rd May 2014 you say your dd is now leaving Shebbear after 7 happy years.

manorhope Mon 30-Jun-14 22:02:35

I certainly didn't intend to be rude about any school. These were merely my own observations on three schools I visited, within two weeks of each other. Maybe making these comparisons is not a suitable thing to do, but I have seen it done extensively elsewhere on Mumsnet. It is also possible that I caught WB and Kelly on off days, who knows. They are, after all, just my opinions, but I do feel perfectly justified in sharing them.
It is interesting that Kelly College and Mount House will soon be one school. In the past Kelly always had a god reputation and Mount House is probably the best prep school in Devon. Together, as Mount Kelly, it promises to be a very fine school. If I were moving to the area, I would definitely take a look. And before you ask, no I don't work for them or for Shebbear.

DavidBrainsSuit Mon 30-Jun-14 23:51:26

I wouldn't dream of suggesting such a thing!

I always think it's bad form to put down other schools, especially ones in our locality.

I was simply curious as to when you made these visits. If they were 7/8 years ago (on another thread you say your Dd has been at Shebbear for 7 yrs) forgive me but perhaps your opinion is not quite so valid as someone who has made a recent visit.

On this thread you do imply however that the visits were recent and that you have recently moved from Hampshire.

I was merely seeking clarification.

I'm very pleased your dd has had a great experience at Shebbear and wish her all the best.

AnneDrogyny Wed 03-Sep-14 12:50:48

This is only my second post.

I'm just getting used to these long MN threads about Devon schools and as abbiefield said above, there seem to be many posters who are promoting a particular cause and who display stark inconsistencies in what they say about themselves. I have seen this sort of thing about Mount/ Kelly, about Stover, about Shebbear and, most emotively, about Colyton.

Please could manorhope clarify her Hampshire or West Devon base and what the point of her original post was? There seems to be a concerted attempt to re-position Shebbear. MN is a great place for this to be done honestly and straightforwardly: we can all relate to parents or staff who have had a good experience and want to share that; but the whiff of a fib is not so nice.

For what it's worth, Shebbear's new-ish head does seem to have made a positive impact on morale at the school, amongst pupils, staff and parents alike. That's important.

According to the schools' websites, academic results are still some way below those of Blundells and West Buck however.

And anecdotally (from my own DCs) the Shebbear school bus still seems to off-load a bunch of nice but dim, smaller-than-average children who are then invariably drubbed at whatever is the sport-of-the-day by all the other Devon private schools. Hopefully the head can do something about the school meals...

sclerderabbey Wed 03-Sep-14 18:05:07

I thinkthe big problem is that postersdiscuss schools in Devon as if they are all within walking distance of each other.

In the case of Colyton they confuse a state selective school with largely mixed intake independents or state comprehensives.

Devon is a big area. If you are in East Devon it is not really possibletosend a DC to Kelly unlessyou plan on boarding. I think most parents are a bit like me ( tell me if I am wrong) and really only want a decent local independent as an alternative to the somewhat dire state school provision.

I think most are very similar. I think web sites and such are misleading. Some have clearly outsourced their web site building to promote their image.

I also think it is difficult to compare schools such as Exeter School with say Stover or Kelly (not as Kelley is in the same "catchment"). Looking at the ISI gives some information but even then there are only two schools in Devon with "excellent" in teaching .Most only have " good" or even "sound". Kelly does need to up its game. but its not a " bad" school Similarly with pastoral care.

A school can only be as good as its intake. When MNers come and bad mouth a school, especially over time as has been the case with some Devon schools it starts a downward spiral I feel and parents will not send their children there and despite how good the teaching may be,there islittle to be done.

Of course we all want a good school for our DC but I do think that sometimes Exeter or Blundells or Maynards may not be it. They may be selective but any school can be outstanding when they pick and choose who they take and only take pupils who will "perform" for them. That does not mean the teachers in other schools are worse in some way. I would think it is demoralising to find your school written off as one of those who caters for " nice but dim " kids.

I went to a school full of nice but dim kidsand honestly as one of the few quite intelligent ones there I had a good time. No pressure to compete but a lotof help from teachers whowanted the best for me-and were quite awareof my ability. I would like a school like that for my DC - and I do not think it is Exeter School. I am still looking.

AnneDrogyny Fri 05-Sep-14 21:30:43

sclerderabbey I am only on my third post now and yet seem already to have fallen into the trap of making less-than-constructive comments; just the kind of behaviour I was lamenting from other posters. Shame on me. blush

I absolutely agree with you that Devon is a very big county and nobody really has a very wide choice of senior schools for their DCs, even if they can afford to go private; unless of course they are open to boarding too.

Boarding seems to have changed completely since the horrible stories I hear about the 1980s and before. It's also become crazily expensive. I was talking on Wednesday with a friend whose DD recently did the entrance tests and tour for Kelly College. Even with the discount/ scholarship offered, they'd still need to find £24,000+ per year. I don't think she's going, due to cost.

I'm mystified why, and how, parents in the south west can afford these sorts of fees. I suspect very few can, and that the Devon boarding school market is all about bringing kids in who have parents in the forces or are bright and wealthy Asians en route to top British unis. I would have expected that for these parents Devon might actually be (relatively) cheap; but the Kelly fees quoted can surely still only be afforded by top 1% (£90k+) UK earners. I doubt very much that we have many of these in Devon.

My point is: why do Devon schools bother with boarding?? Day schools have to be about localised provision, for local children. Rather than enhancing the schools' facilities, the boarding side just seems to put so many of our historic schools in a perilous financial situation, making them invest more and more on flashier boarding wings (look right now at West Buckland's website) and arguably taking attention and resources away from the day pupils. It just doesn't make sense to me.

sclerderabbey Sat 06-Sep-14 08:05:44

AnneDrogyny - I am inclined to agree with you. I do think a number of Devon independent schools are focussing on boarding when really there is a market for day pupils they are not tapping into because they fail to " woo " them in the same way.Often I feel, when visiting schools,that as a day parent I am a tag along. But I have no need for my DC to board and do not want it , aside of the fees. We can though afford day fees - although sometimes those are seemingly steep for what you get. I comparethat as money spent ensuring my DC has an education rather than being put in a large class with a lot of distractions and difficulties to hinder learning.

Also, I think the boarding market is (certainly here in SW) dominated by those groups from overseas you mention and not all are that able. I have a friend whith a DC in boarding in a school in Devon. She is the only one from Britain in boarding (which says something to your point about how many local parents can afford boarding). The others are from around the world. Whilst some arevery bright and able, many get into good universities often on reduced grade offers (British child AAB - overseas, BC and IELTS 6- I have seen this happen at Russel Group universities).

Whilst I think it is good for DC to have an experience of other cultures, I am not sure they need to be put in classes with pupils who have a limited grasp of English. Whilst I do not want to sound rude, that is one thing I am trying to get away from by paying for a school rather than using the local state one.

Whether the other pupils are academic or not is less of an issue to me than whether they are disciplined and well mannered children who work when at school and do not disrupt the learning of others.
I do not think you need to be in a classroom of "clever" children to do well, although I would draw the line at my DC being in a class with children with lots of problems and challenges.

I think independent schools are good at bringing out the best in middle of the road children who might otherwise get lost in an over large system, or DC who are less confident or outgoing. I think with a bright DC, they will most likely do well anywhere.

In addition to the problem you highlight on boarding, a big problem with some of the schools is that they want only the most able ( to bump their figures) and because most parents are so vain they want to say their DC got into this or that top academic school. Looking at such schools it seems tome a Dc is fine as long as they are top of the milk bottle in that school. Other, maybe equally able (in terms of IQ etc) DC will be left to fend for themselves, where in a another school which is less highly selective, DC may find teachers more willing to help them achieve in some area. They may even find an area they can achieve in (which may not be the case when faced with a competitive and highly able group in a very selective school). Effectively many of these independent schools are acting like grammar schools ( and in many parts of Devon we have those for free already).

What I want for my DC is a nice intermediate school - not one who only wants the most able but one who will take the "grammar school failure" who may only have just missed the pass mark rather than the
"nice but dim". What I did not grasp early enough when I came to Devon is that most state schools are not preparing DC for the 11+. It was only when I was sent a list of things that were required learning for the 11+ that I realised the school had not taught them and I have not been quick enough off the mark getting a tutor.

The issue is that being top heavy clever does not make you successful in the world. Most of our DC can achieve what the "very academic" do. It requires a level of intelligence, not necessarily a genious. If you find that hard to accept, just think about it this way,there are a limited number of top positions. Of the others, most end up working with people who have had a variety of university experiences. I work with people from Plymouth and from Oxbridge, we all do the same job. Does that make the Oxbridge people failures or the Plymouth ones successful?

Overall, like you I wish some of the local independents would offer a little more to local parents who want to send their DC to an independent day school. I think there may be a big market out there for a school prepared to focus on local children/parents and offer them the opportunity to get a decent school at a reasonable cost. Rather like those schools my mother was able to go to as a day pupil.

So there we are, I have said my bit. Rather long, I am sorry.

sclerderabbey Sat 06-Sep-14 08:15:00

Something I forgot - all the schools also seemto be concentrating on "outdoorsy" education of they are not top selectors. I am sure that is a limited market that they are all focusing on too. There doesnt seem to be anywhere offering a decent all round and balanced education for children of middle abilites with top class teaching and good well resourced clasrooms.

AnneDrogyny Sat 06-Sep-14 11:47:06

sclerderabbey you raise two more very interesting and inter-related points, about outcomes and about grade offers from universities.

One family I know have their 'academic' DC at Colyton and the others have gone to Kings Ottery. I've been to Kings with my own DCs on school matches. The facilities seem pretty good compared to most state secondaries albeit not what many of the privates have. On the other hand, educationally, these DCs seem to have got along very well and speak highly of the teaching and general learning, support and welfare environment. And, of course, it's free!!

Let's take Colyton. From what I can gather, in 2014 Colyton got about one in eight of its upper sixth formers into Oxbridge. (Yes I concede this is probably not the best yard-stick for measuring educational success). 14 Oxbridge places is a good result but it's far short of the numbers achieved by some grammars and the more academic private schools elsewhere in the country, especially in the south east.

Taking a pupil who is right in the middle at Colyton, i.e. one that comfortable passed the entrance exam and yet didn't make it into the elite Oxbridge or medic sets: that pupil will have twelve GCSEs, mostly A*s, maybe a couple of A*s amongst their four or five A-levels, and will cruise into a RG university.

Of course, had they stayed at a good, or frankly even a 'bog standard', state secondary, then they should have been one of the very top dogs in sixth form. Oxbridge lies to spread its favours. The strongest kids, even from state secondaries in Ilfracombe, get places.

The rest of the RG, to some extent, go to even greater lengths to widen access. Yes, this means lower conditional offers. Fact. (And there's no point arguing whether this is equitable or not, although I went to a comprehensive and think it's a good thing, within reason.)

I think Colyton is a great school. I don't buy that it's bad for the other state schools in south Devon - on the contrary, it shows them what can be done. Anyway, nobody said the 11+ was a great predictor of 18-y-o performance - that was an argument used to close lots of other grammars. I just fear that the system is somewhat stacked against the 'bottom' 80% of Colyton's pupils - that they have to do so much better there than they would if they had stayed in the non-selective state sector. For a parent, this is the Devon dilemma. I can see a flow of thought that goes something like this:

- So, my DC is bright but not super-academic (and I have a nagging concern about teenage dork-dom).

- Private boarding is totally out of the question. I actually like my DCs and would like to more than passively involved in their upbringing; besides, it's far too expensive.

- Private outdoorsy schools look to develop a nice, decent DC, with reasonable academics and good sports/ drama/ even music, BUT it still costs £11,000 per year, they're still going to get a high conditional offer from their chosen uni, and I'm worried about embedding any sense of entitlement or privilege into my DC in this day and age.

- So a good state secondary, if I can find one fairly nearby and that doesn't remind me too much of Grange Hill, might be the best answer.

sclerderabbey Sat 06-Sep-14 12:18:47

So a good state secondary, if I can find one fairly nearby and that doesn't remind me too much of Grange Hill, might be the best answer

Exactly. Unfortunately where Ilive in Devon the choices arenot so great. Its basically grammar school or Grange Hill (or even educating East End or Yorkshire or worse) or find a private school. I am trying to do the latter.

IndridCold Sat 06-Sep-14 16:50:26

Interesting discussion. We are Devon/Cornwall border, and DS was at prep school locally and left two years ago.

Nearly all of the children in his year went on to boarding schools, and apart from a handful who went to Blundells, they all went to schools up country, Sherborne and points East. A very unrepresentative sample, but it implies perhaps that Devon parents who can afford boarding tend not to choose the schools in Devon.

Talking to parents from subsequent years a lot more hve chosen grammar or private day - they either don't want or can't afford boarding. Some I know, not liking the choice of local schools, have moved away to go to day schools elsewhere.

I suppose that those Devon schools who continue to offer boarding do so because it might attract a few extra pupils if they can flexiboard a few nights a week. Maybe they are also hoping to attract more children from overseas, they might want to keep the option open for when the economy picks up. Once they give up the boarding they would probably never re-start it.

RabbitOfNegativeEuphoria Sun 07-Sep-14 08:44:56

Anne - you do seem to have an axe to grind about Colyton. You are certainly not alone on MN in this but perhaps bringing your own agenda to a thread about Shebbear - which while yes, in Devon, is so far away and so out of reach for the vast majority of Colyton families that it might as well be on the moon - isn't the best idea?

AnneDrogyny Tue 09-Sep-14 12:07:16

RabbitOfNegativeEuphoria - hmmm let me see. "I think Colyton is a great school. I don't buy that it's bad for the other state schools in south Devon"..."I just fear that the system is somewhat stacked against the 'bottom' 80% of Colyton's pupils."

The only agenda I'm bringing is to try and have a MN discussion where we actually think about the issues, especially about outcomes. The problem we all have (me included) is that you become invested in the decisions you've made and then try and retro-fit the world to those decisions. Like I say - we all do it. You do too - I can't see any other reason that you might construe my Colyton comments as having an axe to grind.

Sure: I don't think the bulk of Colyton kids get a fair crack from many university admissions tutors, especially the more liberal RG unis. In my world, that's not a criticism of Colyton!

RabbitOfNegativeEuphoria Tue 09-Sep-14 14:51:17

I construe your comments as being axe grindey because they are made in a thread about Devon private schools and have no place here...why would you even be mentioning Colyton? It's a state school and nowhere near the three private schools the thread is ostensibly about. You might just as well chuck in a rant about Fetters or Westminster.

RabbitOfNegativeEuphoria Tue 09-Sep-14 14:52:12

I did type Fettes. I guess my laptop has never heard of it, hence the annoying autocorrect.

AnneDrogyny Tue 09-Sep-14 16:29:39

The OP mentioned Kelly, West Buck, Kingsley, Blundells and Shebbear. The thread seems to be about school choice in the private sector in Devon. Many parents looking at these schools also want to consider whether Colyton is possible and suitable for their DCs. Where do you think the 2/3 of kids who apply but don't get a place go? Other posters have lamented the quality/ choice elsewhere in the state sector in Devon.

Anyway: no axes to grind, just honest observations. Not really a rant, either. I'm new to MN and seem to have made the fatal mistake of using the 'C' word (Colyton, of course). I'll avoid in future, because I love to chat but really don't need this other nonsense.

SeagullsAndSand Tue 09-Sep-14 17:51:11

Grange Hillhmm

There are loads of great state non selective schools(containing kids with self assured confidence and charm hmm)in Devon and 4 Outstanding grammars.

Private schools are by no means a necessity.

If posters want to chuck money away and send their dc to private schools because of snobbery all power to you but do be honest as to your reasons.

RabbitOfNegativeEuphoria Tue 09-Sep-14 17:58:15

Anne IME the kids who apply to Colyton and don't get a place go to their local comp, or to Exeter or The Maynard. They don't go to inaccessible, expensive, private schools at the other end of the county. I don't know anyone who applied to Colyton, didn't get in, and went to Shebbear Blundells Kelly etc instead.

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