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Stowe: clueless about private education - could somebody kindly help?

(38 Posts)
Ujjayi Mon 23-Jun-14 15:09:50

Let me begin by saying I have zero experience of private education and haven't previously considered it for our DCs since we believed our local schools to be good schools.

However, DS1 (currently yr 9 at local high school) recently attended an activities weekend at Stowe, led by a group of 6th Formers. He has since become infatuated with the idea of going to the school and keeps asking me to look into it. It isn't because he feels it's going to be one long jolly - he just loved the general atmosphere in the school, that they were committed to both study and having fun. We have been over and over this with him and it is clear that he isn't seeing this through rose-tinted glasses - he just wants a fresh start at a school where he could have some great opportunities in at atmosphere where it is ok to be yourself. He sees it as an opportunity or challenge to which he could really apply himself.

Obviously, I need to contact the admissions office but, being totally honest, I feel a bit of a numpty as I don't have a clue if it is even feasible for DS to obtain a place if he hasn't previously attended a prep school plus the fact that he would be starting a year later than most pupils. Do children transfer at times other than the general intake? Do many children switch from state to private? Particularly at this time (Year 9/10)?

DS is a good student generally but really struggles with maths (barely scraping an E grade). He had a very unhappy start to high school life - suffering 2 years of bullying. He is more settled now but is fed up with the immaturity and constant clique issues in his current school. He loves drama/performing arts and would love to play more sport.

I would be really grateful if anyone could kindly shed some light on the whole system or whether we are wasting our time.

Unexpected Mon 23-Jun-14 15:33:27

Can you afford it?

Have you tried searching for Stowe on here? I know nothing about the school but I'm sure people have discussed it previously on here.

Saganoren Mon 23-Jun-14 15:44:33

Agree, can you afford it is the bottom line

I attended a private secondary but nagged and nagged my parents to move me to a better and more expensive private school. They did, though they couldn't really afford it and it was the best thing they ever did, I really flourished. Stowe doesn't have a hugely academic reputation but these schools are often good at helping children develop holistically. It will be packed with super-rich children - Branson's kids went there, so think hard about whether you want your child in that milieu.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 23-Jun-14 16:39:51

Do children transfer at times other than the general intake? Do many children switch from state to private? Particularly at this time (Year 9/10)?

I dont know Stowe but a very quick glance at their website shows that children can join outside the normal entry points if there's a vacancy. And that they would expect a child at 13+ to achieve at least 50% on level 2 CE in English and Maths.

Lots and lots of children transfer from one sector to the other at every stage. Obviously it becomes almost impossible if the child had started GCSE preparation - so the sooner the better.

It's no bad thing for a child to be self-motivated. Only you can know whether your DS understands what he wants or is merely daydreaming. Would he be prepared to put in the necessary work to improve his Maths? There might be other subjects where Stowe (even if not considered the most academic) is either ahead or follows a different syllabus.

You should first make sure you've studied all their literature carefully and fully understand what they do and do not claim to offer. Are there any other state or independent schools you could compare it to? Perhaps any change of school might seem attractive to your DS....

Ujjayi Mon 23-Jun-14 16:43:16

Thanks for replying.

Fees are affordable (just) - that was one of the first things we checked. The school offers a range of scholarships and bursaries too but I assume these are taken by children who enter at standard intake?

Unexpected I have searched for Stowe on MN and it appears that opinion is divided between those who consider it a good school and those who feel it is for "rich but very academic" children.

Saganoren : did you feel you were treated differently or that you were disadvantaged coming from a state school?

I have heard that it doesn't have the greatest academic reputation. However, DS would not flourish in a highly academic school - he is achieving a range of A-C grades currently, with teachers telling us he is capable of A* in many subjects. DS tells us that he "gets through" school rather than enjoys it so only does the bare minimum. The friends he does have do not live close by and they seem to be Facebook communicators rather than "let's go out and do something". What my boy needs is a good solid general education with the space and support to develop less academic interests: drama & sport in particular.

The super-rich aspect does concern me. DS tells me that the children he met were quite open about who was fee paying and who was there on a bursary and that they were all treated the same. I get the impression that DS spent a great deal of time vetting them and the school to see if he would fit in before he even asked me!!

MissMilbanke Mon 23-Jun-14 16:46:05

Of course it's possible .

Phone the admissions secretary next week and arrange a tour around the school. Explain your situation and yours so s enthusiasm . Ask about bursaries (reduced fees)

I think it's lovely your son feels like this . You owe it to him to at least look into it don't you ?

Ujjayi Mon 23-Jun-14 16:51:42

Zero thanks for replying.

WRT his maths, he has just started having private tuition. We have been concerned for years about his maths ability and have been told constantly that he is "fine" and will get through. The last lot of tests before half term proved that actually he isn't fine. He actually enjoys the tuition as he feels he is learning and, more importantly, in an environment where he is free to learn rather than feeling anxious.

I take your point about any change of school being an attractive option for him. However, we have a good range of state secondaries to choose from and we know families who attend each one so we have discussed changing schools before and they don't appeal to him.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 23-Jun-14 16:52:36

Do you think your son would qualify for a scholarship? (Remembering that he would not be entering at a Scholarship gateway point.) Because it quite clearly says that they don't generally offer bursaries other than to scholarship award winners...

longtallsally2 Mon 23-Jun-14 16:53:46

My godson moved from a state to an independent school in similar circumstances, but at the start of Y9. He has thrived, socially and academically. He had a little coaching to get him up to scratch - a few one to one lessons for maths, English, and science, focusing on his strengths and getting him to think about new areas to read up on over the school holidays, just so that he could hit the ground running, but hasn't found that he has been too far away in terms of standards . . .
Agree with MM that it's worth a visit, so a quick phone call in the morning - they may of course be full, or may consider taking him but letting him drop back a year??

longtallsally2 Mon 23-Jun-14 16:56:13

It might be worth visiting one or two other local independent schools too. Stowe is renowned for being very posh - you might find somewhere with a similar atmosphere. At the very least it will give you and him a point of comparison which will give him and you more idea of what you are looking for.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 23-Jun-14 16:58:49

Ok. But do at least peruse the websites of a few other independent schools - so that you can see where Stowe is positioned in relation to competitors. Never, ever choose a private school purely because it's the only one you know about...

Phone the school, make an appointment, keep an open mind...

Two things: is your DS the sort to be broken hearted if things don't go to plan? And if it does seem feasible what plan do you have for your other child/ren?

Ujjayi Mon 23-Jun-14 16:59:50

MissMilbanke your post made me a little tearful. It has been so incredibly wonderful to see him be enthusiastic about his education after so much angst and anxiety. When we collected him from the school he was just beaming - an entirely different boy to the one whom we dropped off. I felt we had my true bright & beautiful boy back again.

I suppose part of the issue for me is that I don't want to do my son any disservice by being totally clueless about private education when I approach the school. It seems like the whole process puts the family under the microscope and I don't want to jeopardise the chances of his success in any way by appearing to be "not the usual type of parent". This is all my issue to deal with and I will because if I can give him the opportunity to shine that brightly every day then nothing would prevent me from doing so.

Saganoren Mon 23-Jun-14 17:07:57

Ujjayi I didn't transfer from state, I was already in a good private school but then one I wanted to move to was much better for me for various reasons. The kids who did transfer from the state sector did just fine though.

I really wouldn't worry about not being the normal type of parent, there is no normal type and the school only cares about cash not about you fitting into a box. I do agree, why not look at some other private schools too - I think if your ds isn't currently flourishing and isn't highly academic, a school like Stowe - but not necessarily that particular one - could be just the ticket. Good luck.

Ujjayi Mon 23-Jun-14 17:11:36

Absolutely agree about looking at other independents and I will start that process with DS because as you say he may well find what he is looking for in another school.

I discussed with DS the possibility of not getting in and he feels that he would at least like to try and then deal with any disappointment if it should arise. That's how I know he is serious - he has a tendency to back out of emotionally challenging situations as a rule but not this time.

I have a younger DS (currently Yr 5). He is a very different child - thrives well academically and socially wherever you put him. We wouldn't be able to offer the opportunity to both children, unless we had financial assistance. I appreciate it may seem unfair to privately educate one and not the other but I have always firmly believed your choices should be based on the needs of the individual child and my boys are very different. I feel that for DS1, this is our last chance to get it right for him and I am prepared to do whatever it takes.

Ujjayi Mon 23-Jun-14 17:13:29

Thank you all, again, for being so helpful.

happygardening Mon 23-Jun-14 17:17:13

I personally would send my DS to Stowe the pastoral care is known to be mediocre (a friends DS found put the hard way), he said the teaching was mediocre, it's a big fall back for those with loads of money whose DS's aren't goers for a Eton/Harrow and I think the head is positively ghastly insincere.
Lovely grounds, gorgeous house but there's more to education than either of those. As already said you are highly unlikely to get a scholarship/bursary if your applying outside of the usual gateway entry points.
OP you need to look at others, if you really do have the off 34k pa to spend on school fees there's a lot to choose from.

MissMilbanke Mon 23-Jun-14 17:27:43

ujjay im sorry I upset you - my comments weren't intended to have that effect and I am sorry if I caused offense < hands tissues >

I interpreted from your original post that your ds discovered a new world that he didn't know existed and he wants a bit of it - good for him !

As parents ( and I'm speaking as one from humble beginnings that has gone down the private route) some schools are just a perfect fit for your child and you would do anything within reason to help them there.

Yes there are wealthy parents but there are also parents who struggle ( and I would be one at 17k a year x 3 eek !!!)
Just cross that bridge if and when you get to it...

Phone the school and others similar and have a look around. Be honest and explain your situation. I think your sons enthusiasm would speak volumes on the tour - I mean all schools want pupils who want to be there don't they ?

Best of luck x

happygardening Mon 23-Jun-14 17:59:34

I don't think Stowe is particularly difficult to get into, it's not a school with a very academic reputation, as long as you've got the money to pay the fees I suspect they'll take most children.

Ujjayi Mon 23-Jun-14 18:05:21

MissMilbanke - you interpreted my post perfectly and I wasn't offended at all. Your words struck a chord because they echo exactly how I feel.

PeriPathetic Mon 23-Jun-14 18:19:47

I looked at Stowe for my DD. At least, it was on my list. But I couldn't get to physically look at it. I wanted entry for 2015 and first asked about it in January 2013. The list for 2015 entry closed approx December 2013 but I could be wrong. I couldn't get to see the school (I live overseas) as they were fully booked several months ahead. I wasn't about to put her name down for a school I couldn't see so removed her from their list.

However, as your boy has been there and expressed an interest, I would say go for it. I'm sure there are ways around this and not everyone will accept their place and now is the time to pounce! Good luck!

Dustylaw Tue 24-Jun-14 01:08:57

Do investigate and good luck with it. You may find it isn't possible or you may find that your son doesn't like it so much on closer inspection but it also might turn out brilliantly. Please don't be put off by thinking that it is a posh place - even posh places have a real mix of real people and it really isn't such a big deal that some (and by no means all) of the people will also happen to be rich. As for whether it is for sufficiently academic or not, that really is about the extent to which is selective or not, bearing in mind that some independent schools are highly selective. There will be bright children there and there will be some not so bright but I bet the teaching will be very good for all of them. I am told that the sports facilities at Stowe wow visiting schools which have excellent facilities themselves so no wonder it made a big impression.

TheWordFactory Tue 24-Jun-14 09:29:31

Stowe is a beautiful location and the school is super-resourced. I know DC who attend and are very happy.

However, it is usually the school where the least academic children end up. It is not remotely selective. Now whilst, this would usually result in a mixed ability environment, I think Stowe finds it very hard to attract the high achievers (because if you're happy to send your DC termly boarding and he/she is a high achiever, then there is plenty of choice).

manicinsomniac Wed 25-Jun-14 23:18:44

I know Stowe very well. I have been on several occasions, observed lessons there and help prepare around 10 children a year to attend there.

I don't want to sound negative but I think there are several things you need to think carefully about.

1) The Maths.
Stowe is not 'where the least academic children end up' 'not remotely selective', or somewhere that will 'take most children'. It may have been once but the academic requirements are getting much tougher. To gain a place now you need 55% in the core subjects (not 50%) which is, theoretically, the same as places like Oundle (though in practice it isn't!)

One of our pupils this year was almost turned down because they got a D in their Common Entrance maths (approx. 48-54% I guess) even though they got a B in the other core subjects and As-Cs in all others. In they end they decided to give them a risk based on a glowing oral reference from us but are going to review at the end of Y9. This is an academically average pupil working 2ish years above their chronological age (that's what CE makes them do) who has a weakness in this one subject.

2) Your son's feeling that Stowe is a place he can 'be himself'
From what I've seen Stowe is a long way from that. There is a lot pressure on the children to be cool and fit in. Behaviour is not great and children who leave us relatively innocent and unsophisticated are unrecognisable a term later in a way that those who go to some other schools just aren't.

3) Places and Fees/Scholarships
Stowe, afaik, does fill its places each year. There are probably some leavers at the end of each year though, I don't know. However, 14 is an unusual entry point and friendship groups will have been well established in the first, very intense, year of getting to know each other. I don't know if scholarships (and therefore bursaries would be offered at 14+)

4) Boarding
Is this something you want? Because, if not, day places are more competitive and many day children end up giving in and swapping to boarding within a term because they find they don't get home till 9 or 10 at night and are off again by 7am.

Having said that; there are fantastic opportunities at Stowe, it's a beautiful place, lots of the children are wonderful and it isn't overly selective. So lots to make it worth looking into.

AgaPanthers Sun 29-Jun-14 15:15:01

55% isn't a very high hurdle though, surely!

manicinsomniac Sun 29-Jun-14 22:45:23

Not massively high, no. But you have to bear in mind that the majority of these papers are at least GCSE standard (some are harder than that) and they are being taken by year 8s - from the very bright to the very low ability. I was talking about 'the magic 50%' with some of my (supposedly) upper CE set right up until Christmas.

I don't think there are any schools who ask for more than 65%. Maybe one or two say 70% (eg Winchester perhaps). But 55% is the norm that is used by most averagely academic-ish shools.

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