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independent primary schools in and near Clapham

(77 Posts)
Chiana Mon 28-Jul-14 10:52:01

Hi ladies, been lurking for a while but this is my first time posting. DH and I are moving back to London next April after 6 years abroad. DS (7) and DD (5) are thriving in their current British international school, but those are the breaks. We own a home in Clapham, currently let out, but the local state primary does not have a great Ofstead report. We can afford to go independent, so we probably will.

DS is a quiet, shy, sensitive, bookish child, very very bright, so we're looking for a school that will push him academically while still having good pastoral care. I realize every parent thinks their precious snowflake is "sensitive" but trust me, DS really is. Thomas's Clapham or Thomas's Battersea are right out, if Mumsnet postings are anything to go by. They're supposed to be very pressured. If my impression of Thomas's is wrong, please let me know.

DD is a different kettle of fish altogether, fairly bright without being brilliant, and loves sport. Obviously it would be more convenient to have them both in the same school, but given how different their personalities are, I'm wondering if the same school would fit both of them. I'm not picky about single-sex versus mixed. I've heard good things about the Dolphin School, but apparently it's supposed to be quite religious, and we're atheists. I've heard Newton Prep used to be good, especially for gifted kids, but is now going through a "time of transition".

I have heard good things about Parkgate House. The prospectus makes them sound very nurturing. Also heard good stuff about Eaton House the Manor, but that's boys only as I understand it, so would mean finding a different school for DD. From a school run point of view, I'd prefer to have them in one school for convenience's sake, unless there are buses. Are there any other indies in the Clapham area which I've missed?

Obviously I'm going to get the Good Schools Guide and look in there, but I was kind of hoping for any observations from parents who actually know the schools in question as well.

Given that we're moving in April, I highly doubt any of the independent schools will have a mid-year place. The plan is to put them in the local school until the end of the year, and focus on applying to indies for the 2015 - 2016 school year. Another option is that DH may move to London in April, and the kids and me stay abroad until the end of the school year.

There is also the possibility that we could end up moving houses and staying within Clapham but getting a bigger house. So we could end up in the catchment for a great state school. My understanding, though is that catchments get tinier with each passing year.

Thanks in advance!

soddinghormones Mon 04-Aug-14 18:21:45

You definitely don't want Thomas's then - going on a tour there feels like you've strayed into the set of the Midwich Cuckoos ...

soddinghormones Mon 04-Aug-14 18:26:45

And yes, Xenia greengrow, south London private schools are much more 'white' as a rule certainly at prep stage

It's a bit more diverse at secondary but not at the co-eds which remain pretty homogenous - also lots of families around here are within striking distance of the Sutton and Kingston grammars which skews the intake somewhat

Chiana Mon 04-Aug-14 18:36:50

That's fascinating, Greengrow. Evidently we live in the wrong part of London, LOL! Not that we're planning to move to North London, because my mum and my PIL are within a reasonable distance of Clapham, my mum's ill and PIL aren't getting any younger. And the other schools I've looked at have seem to have a reasonable ethnic mix (based on my oh-so-scientific method of looking at the pictures on the website and counting the non-white children). Perhaps I'm misjudging Northcote Lodge and by some statistical quirk they just happened to have an all-white year. But it does seem a little odd, given the demographics of the area.

I was already aware that City of London Boys had a 10+ entry, and it was one of the many reasons we were intrigued by it. The prep school would probably not be pleased, and rightly so, but oh well. You can't please everybody.

That's a good point you make about getting them in young to a school where they can stay until uni. I looked at Putney High GDST but alas, they don't run a school bus and if DS will be at a different school, that could be enormously tricky. Streatham & Clapham GDST does run a school bus, though. Something for us to think about.

I was talking to DH about what you said about some of the very selective schools actually being quite chill and unpressured once your child gets in. He was very intrigued. We intend to aim high for both kids, but to have lots and lots of back up plans in place in case DS crumbles under pressure or DD turns out less academic than she seems now. And she is only 5, after all.

Chiana Mon 04-Aug-14 18:46:37

Interesting, soddinghormones. All you ladies are a fount of useful information! And I had to laugh at the Midwich Cuckoos! In fact, I had to turn my face very quickly to the side, to avoid spluttering tea on the laptop. New rule: don't drink any liquids whatsoever while reading Mumsnet.

Interesting to know that SW London preps are very white. Because SW London in general isn't that white. Whiter than many parts of the Greater London, admittedly. I hesitate to plunge my kids from their very cosmopolitan international school into an environment where they could be the only non-white faces. Hence me going right off Northcote Lodge.

Greengrow Mon 04-Aug-14 18:47:44

It's always hard to know what to do for the best. My girls have both graduated now and they never felt pressured at their schools. None of my children do but they seem to do a PhD in being laid back. I wish they were a bit more stressed over exams. It probably just depends on the child and the family.

I have heard so many times over the years by outsiders that my daughters' schools are very pressured and yet in the school there is none of that. I suppose if you had been tutored to an inch of your life and were not very bright and should not be there you might feel pressured but one hopes children like that don't get in.

Lots of back up plans is a good idea. My older daughter is slightly dyslexic. She may not have passed the qualifying exam to the seniors at her school so sat for others at 11+ just in case but then got in anyway and did much better in the seniors than juniors. Only 2 girls in her class including her had 4 English born grandparents which is amazing and says a lot about racial mixtures in North London and perhaps how people who come from abroad work harder than those who have never made that move.

irisha Mon 04-Aug-14 19:44:18

Northcote and Broomwood Hall ARE very white, it wasn't a one off. The reason is that both target boarding school as primary destination rather than day and not the most academic either - you won't see Westminster, St Paul's, King's College, etc on the list. Winchester/Wycombe Abbey would be one offs. Hence, the clientele - very trad/boarding background with 20/30% of "other" but not particularly diverse. There are some mixed-raced/international couples, but even they joke about being the "notional" mixed race couple. It's never been a problem thought, not at Broomwood at least, don't know about Northcote.

Finton is very similar.

Thomas's and Eaton House probably as well - mostly because of 13+ again and higher emphasis on boarding than, say, West London or North London schools.

Dulwich schools are more diverse - e.g. Oakfield is 50% multi-ethnic, this is all casual empiricism, nothing scientific - just looking at kids during matches. Similarly, St Dunstan's. Don't know why.

You just need to visit and see for yourself. North London is definitely more diverse - a friend was with daughter at Habs was looking at our yearbook and couldn't believe it. Theirs is like United Nations.

I think if you have a sensitive boy who needs nurturing he'd do better in a co-ed school. In a sense, you could put him into a state school if you can't get Hornsby or similar because if he is going into Year 4 the likelihood of having a place in any state school of your choice is quite high as a lot of boys in SW will leave after Year 3 "state till 8". A state school could be quite a bit more relaxed and you could do extra stuff with him at home by time of 11+ if that's what you decide to do. Wouldn't work with 13+. Basically, sort our the private options now, call LEA closer to the time re state and take it from there. You'll be fine - lots of people do multiple drop-off for kids as they go to different schools.

irisha Mon 04-Aug-14 19:52:21

Do look at Newton Prep - know a few people with DDs at Broomwood but sons at Newton Prep or boys who did lower school at Broomwood and then went to Newton Prep rather than Northcote.

Don't go by old MN threads - the school has changed and the new Headmistress is supposed to be very good.

Newton Prep not great at sports so may not be a good fit for your DD. Thomas's is very sporty - aggressive and hardcore though. They don't smile on the pitch, they are there to win. I think they actually have extra sports practice on Saturdays for A teams. Works for some.

At this year's InLine hockey championships at Alleyn's, Thomas's and Old Vicarage from Richmond got to the finals and every single school cheered for Old Vicarage - tells you something. But T's are head and shoulders above every other local school at sports.

Hornsby is good too if I go by results of school matches.

Chiana Mon 04-Aug-14 20:25:34

We are definitely looking seriously at Newton Prep, irisha. In fact, we've already filled out registration forms for it and Hornsby House, along with registration fees and carefully composed letters explaining our circumstances, and I'm planning on popping them in the post tomorrow morning.

Which is not to say we've stopped looking. We've still got other schools we want to apply to, but Hornsby and Newton are at the top of the list right now. And we're not giving up on state, either. We're casting a wide net, and hopefully we'll catch a fish or two at some point! Thanks.

Johnogroats Mon 04-Aug-14 20:47:57

We moved to Balham 3 years ago, and I had an extremely frustrating time on the phone with Lambeth and Wandsworth LEAs. They were remarkably unhelpful. I had the impression that I was not a priority because I sounded middle class. I emailed everybody...MP, Gove, Cameron....and that was what got traction.

We finally got the boys into state primary 3 mins walk from the house. 3 years on they are doing v well and are v happy.

If you go State, be persistent!

soddinghormones Mon 04-Aug-14 21:24:23

irisha that makes me laugh about all the other schools cheering Thomas's opposition grin

dd's school had a 'friendly' swimming gala against Thomas's Clapham - there was very little sign of 'friendliness' from the Thomas's contingent

dd's school had picked lots of children to take part and tried to give a chance to children who wouldn't necessarily get the opportunity to swim at galas out of school

Thomas's swam to win ... their best swimmers swam every event they could and absolutely trounced dd's school - but even some of the Thomas's parents were embarrassed by it all confused

Chiana Mon 04-Aug-14 23:04:48

Oh dear. DD might be able to handle Thomas's, but perhaps I couldn't.

Needmoresleep Tue 05-Aug-14 09:52:59

That was our problem with Thomas'. Years ago now, but DH wanted to flee half way through the HM speech at the Open Day. But that said, we know plenty of nice children and nice parents who were very happy with both schools, and if you are working back from City, Thomas's has a good track record of preparing children well. Worth a look, even to reject. Schools select, and they know the sort of child who will thrive.

From what you have said your son might be a good fit at Westminster, which caters well for the "quirky" ( a bit of a MN in-joke) and clever. The Under School has entry points at 7+, 8+ and 11+ and though kids will need to be prepared for the tests, the school will be doing their best to filter out the naturally bright from the over-tutored and so it might be worth a go. I agree with an earlier comment. Some schools may have reputations as hot houses, but perhaps only for those children who are either struggling to keep up, or who are ultra competitive and want to be top of the class. DS has really enjoyed being at an academic school. He is naturally studious, enjoys education and failed to notice any pressure.

My comment about the influx of internationals was meant to be illustrative. I was told, though cannot confirm the accuracy, that last year alone there was a net influx of 1,100 school age children seeking private school places. There is now a trend for private equity firms to fund new private schools, and for former sixth form tutorial colleges to start teaching younger age groups. I assume these decisions are market driven and based on figures like the one I heard. Observation only, but my guess is that schools just outside Central London (Thomas' Battersea, Newton, Latymer Prep etc) are seeing a higher proportion of international students. The Thomas' may appear to educate young Midwich Cuckoos but they have always seemed to appeal to European and American banking families.

Slightly sensationalist but the London Evening Standard article below gives some flavour of the increasing pressure on central London schools.


I would not get too hung up about how many visibly ethnic children there are in specific schools. DC's friendship groups have always included friends from a variety of backgrounds, and with a range of skin colours. It has never been an issue. Indeed at one stage DD worried that she seemed to be the only one who wasn't from somewhere. Again observation but when we were at the primary stage some of the private schools with a more traditional approach to education seemed to have greater appeal to Brixton's emerging black middle class, whereas we were looking for something with a lighter touch. So their school had a smaller proportion of black children than some others. On similar lines, single sex private schools are likely to attract more children from Asian backgrounds. City will attract a higher proportion of observant Jewish families than Westminster because it does not have Saturday school, etc. Choose the school that feels right for your children.

Chiana Tue 05-Aug-14 10:32:06

Good golly, Miss Molly, re: the article!

As for Westminster Under School, my instinctive reaction is, "But isn't that really posh?!?!?!" And my second, more sensible reaction is, "But how would we get him there?" DH would be working in Central London and could drop him off mornings on the Tube. It would mean a longer commute for him going via Pimlico, but it could be done. However, there would still be the after school pick up. After we get settled in, I'll be going back to work. We'd assumed we'd be hiring an au pair to handle wraparound care. But if we had DD in school in Clapham, and DS in school in Pimlico, no au pair can split herself in half.

Perhaps we should put WUS on the back burner for now, and look at it again for 11+. DS is definitely quirky! Thanks very much, though.

soddinghormones Tue 05-Aug-14 10:51:46

Don't panic!!! That article is way over the top ... Dd did 11+ this year and sailed through getting hefty scholarships everywhere she applied to and didn't have even a micro-second's worth of tutoring - I trusted her school (one of the ones on your favoured list wink to prepare her well - and they obviously did

Personally I think there is a difference in pressure at prep and pressure at senior schools. Dd is going to a v oversubscribed secondary where all the children will have been in the top maths set at primary level - that will be perfect for her now and I don't think she'll feel pressured at all but she didn't need to be drilled to within an inch of her life to get there which is why we went for a 'gentler' alternative

Needmoresleep Tue 05-Aug-14 11:07:42

I thought you might like the article...

It is not unusual to come across celeb or mega-rich children in London schools. It does not seem to have much impact. Some are lovely and grounded and a credit to their sensible parents. Others inhabit a different world and so don't really mix with those who have more ordinary lives. No need for DD to buy Hello magazine. She just follows the Facebook posts of some of her richer classmates.

Clapham to Westminster is an easy bus journey. Depends where you are but 87, 88 or 344/77 and a walk across Vauxhall Bridge. Also Dulwich schools have a big school bus service covering Clapham, and I think Dulwich College starts at 8+.

We had thought the same about Westminster, but its probably fair to say that it is a lot more clever than posh. There is a party element, but overall a willingness to engage in education is what counts. Being nerdy is fine, and DS seems wrapped up in the interests he shares with his friends (computer games being one) and pretty oblivious to economic, racial or social backgrounds.

11+ is a good entry point often used by children transferring from state Primaries. My own view is that 7+ and 8+ are too early, so only worth trying if a child is clearly top of the class with precocious English and maths skills. Intensive tutoring at this stage is too much for a young child, with the risk that the child is destined for a senior school which is not right for them.

SonorousBip Tue 05-Aug-14 11:28:05

Just an observation about diversity (my dc are at an independent prep a bit further SW than you mention but which plays sports against the schools listed). Their classes are very diverse, but it may not show up in a photo, IYSWIM. DS's class mates are variously Slovenian, Israeli, German, Canadian, American, Argentinian, Venezualen, Greek and South Korean - but only the latter will "look" different in photos.

Greengrow Tue 05-Aug-14 11:46:56

Ch, I dropped off child 2 on my commute to London. We actually enjoyed those tube rides together - we got a seat and she read to me from her school reading book. It did work. Then our nanny (I work full time) collected her by car in the afternoon.

Westminster Under should be top of anyone's list. It's the best boys' prep school in London.

On colour I don't think most children notice, even teenagers the age of my children although at that age they do sometimes discuss those issues. It has been fascinating seeing it from the other point of view - what impact it has on my sons being in a mostly non white private school (a school where they are very happy and doing well so it is not an issue in any way but an interesting reversal of how it often is in private schools.

Chiana Wed 06-Aug-14 02:39:13

SonorousBib, good point.

Greengrow, thanks for the tips.

Needmoresleep, thanks for the tips as well, especially the bus one.

My gut reaction is that I don’t want to subject a child of DS’s age to a big commute, even if we could somehow make the logistics work. I’d be a lot more comfortable with it at 11+. He’s also a shy kid who tends to make friends slowly, so I’d quite like his friends to be reasonably local to us. I don’t want another boy’s DM discouraging a slowly emerging friendship because she doesn’t want to play taxi driver all the way out to Clapham for playdates. We’d be willing to go as far as Putney (we’re also looking at The Roche School), but not as far as Westminster for such a small boy.

Also, DS is far from stupid. If he gets into WUS or similar and then proceeds to crumble under pressure and have to move to a different school, he’s going to realise that it’s a comedown and feel like he’s let DH and me down. Even if we tell him otherwise. There’s going to be enough of a transition next year moving to a new country and adjusting to a new school even if it’s local and unpressured. I’d want to stay away from anywhere conspicuously prestigious until he’s several years older and we’re convinced he can handle it. All of which is assuming he would get in, which is not a certainty by any means. There are plenty of other clever kids out there, and anyway, it’s not just about academic ability, it’s also about emotional maturity.

And I realise that WUS, for example, may not be particularly pressured to the right type of kid, and perhaps DS is the right type of kid. He is, after all, quirky, studious and not very competitive. But we pushed him too hard in Reception, and he fell apart. We don't want to push him too hard again. I'm not making any firm decisions without talking to DH, obviously, but my gut instinct is to wait a few years until we're properly settled in London and try to keep his stress levels low right now.

I feel bad making everything all about DS and hardly mentioning DD. But she’s much more straightforward to parent, and is unlikely to cry herself to sleep because she screwed up and disappointed the teacher. SIL has a theory that DD is going to rebel like crazy as a teenager, as a reaction to being such a level-headed kid now, and also as a reaction to us being preoccupied with her anxious big brother. I really hope SIL’s wrong but fear she may be right! That’s one of the reasons we’ve encouraged the sportiness. It’s something DD’s good at that DS wasn’t good at first.

Sorry, that was an essay!

Saganoren Thu 07-Aug-14 11:51:27

OP, you sound incredibly sensible. I totally agree long commutes are no fun for anyone, least of all young children. As I mentioned much earlier my dcs are at a very prestigious prep but a couple of kids have left because their parents thought a two-hour round trip each day was worth it for the prestige of attending this school and a year or so down the line realised actually no school was worth the stress and exhaustion. The schools you're targeting are good and your ds will stand a great chance at 10 or 11 of CLSB, which is a fantastic school. The boys I know there are lovely, grounded and also - incidentally - from a huge variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Chiana Thu 07-Aug-14 14:20:16

Why thank you, Saganoren. (preens self) You can talk to me anytime!

Spoke with DH, who is in agreement with me re: both the commute and the possible pressure. Now we just have to remember not to mention to my in-laws or my DM that we considered WUS and rejected it sight unseen. There would be howls of protest.

Anybody on here know what the sport is like at Streatham & Clapham High? Considering it as a possible option for DD.

I swear, Mumsnet is far better than education consultants! One of my colleagues, upon hearing that we were going back to England, said we should use a consultant firm and try to convince DH's work to pay for it as part of his relocation package. But I think Mumsnet is much better.

KingscoteStaff Thu 07-Aug-14 16:29:44

Newton has good record of getting boys into WUS at 11+ and Westminster at 13+ plus lots of other London Day schools.

Have you considered JAPS (JAGS junior school) for DD? Great sport + music.

irisha Thu 07-Aug-14 17:56:30

I personally wouldn't consider Streatham and Clapham. I know it's considered to be on the up and becoming more desirable but results aren't that impressive so far. An interesting indicator is that A LOT of their able junior girls leave to go other schools rather than proceed to senior.

Senior school is definitely considered a back up unless you live right next to it and you "might as well."

I struggle to see its value proposition and would certainly choose a good state school over it.

To answer you question, they are not great at sports as a whole school although some talented individual girls.

BTW, you should put your DD on wait lists for sports clubs, e.g. swimming, hockey, gymnastics - depends on what you want her to do, but please keep in mind that they are all terribly oversubscribed in SW London with long wait lists.

soddinghormones Thu 07-Aug-14 18:05:11

Agree with irisha about SCHS - something like 9 girls at dd's school this year got scholarships this year, some quite hefty, but not one of them accepted - some of them preferring full fees places at places like JAGS and Alleyn's instead

The school is actually very good at gymnastics but other than that it's not renowned for sport, especially in the junior school

Chiana Thu 07-Aug-14 20:04:29

Good to know re: Streatham & Clapham. We may pursue it as a fallback option, but it won’t be high on our list.

JAPS is a possibility, but not much more than that, as DH is strongly agin schools in Dulwich, and will only consider them as a backup. It’s complicated. Sigh.

Thanks for the great suggestion re: after school sports clubs and registering soon. DD is into football, karate and swimming, in no particular order. And ever since watching Sochi on TV, she’s been wanting to play ice hockey as well, but fortunately there is nowhere near us for her to indulge that particular passion. Of course, the useful thing about football, karate and swimming is they can all be pursued out of school time, so even if she ends up at a school where sport is backburnered, she can still do them. DH and I are quite bewildered, and occasionally wonder if she was switched at birth, because neither of us is remotely sporty. My late father was very enthusiastic about rugby, so perhaps it skipped a generation.

irisha Thu 07-Aug-14 20:29:12

For swimming, register with Leander swimming club - terribly oversubscribed.

Haven't seen girls playing football here - doesn't seem to be a big thing in England in general and in SW London in particular. May she'll want to try hockey.

There is Netball academy at Emanuel school).

Don't know about karate clubs, but it's a big thing at Broomwood, especially as they get higher up the school and do karate with Northcote boys.

Regarding switching at birth, I wonder that about my DD too, only the other way around - I am super sporty and used to do swimming and fencing at high competitive level, but with DD it's always pushing. Genetics is an interesting thing!

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