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Can we have a not-too polarised discussion about Eton, Harrow and Winchester?

(158 Posts)
needtothinkaboutseniorschools Sat 07-Nov-15 17:31:30

I need to choose a senior school by the end of this year. We're looking at these three after discussion with school. Ds is only 9 so it's difficult to know what he'll be like in 4 years but right now he likes quantum physics, Lego and Dr Who and is very musical. He would be aiming for a music scholarship or exhibition and I trust the advice from the school as they clearly have a lot of experience in recommending senior schools.

I'm amazed we're even thinking about these schools and think all of them look amazing, but I've trawled through other mn threads and seen that some posters have extreme opinions about some of these schools. I'm thinking surely they can't be so different, as they all look great and they take boys from similar prep schools.

So please could I have some informed views on what the schools are like, without it getting too polarised? We will look at all three, but I know that the view you get on an open morning or tour isn't the same as the day-to-day experience.

We are also considering some state schools near to us, as those are good too, but clearly offer a very different experience.

happygardening Sat 07-Nov-15 18:44:59

A few questions?
Why do you have to decide by the end f the year? Most parents register their children for at least two school few put all their eggs into one basket, especially Eton and Harrow both of which are very subscribed. Why not go for all three decide if and when he's offered places.
You haven't looked at any of them? This is unusual my advise have a look round all three, I'd be the first to say guided tours aren't that helpful but I think you should at the very least go on one if you can.
Does you school favour one? Good prep school heads should give you good advise.
All three are excellent schools but we chose Win Coll for a whole variety of reasons; I hate ridiculous outdated uniform, loathe meaningless ritual, I liked Win Colls very personalised admissions process the HM's can use heir gut instinct "I just think this boy will do well here", and then the importance the HM would play in my DS's life when at Win Coll, we loved the idea of Div (a daily non examined lesson covering a massive range of topics chosen by the individual don teaching it), its above everything else an intellectual environment, there is no compulsory major sport, sport is never going to be big at Winchester, in fact after a couple of terms sport is not compulsory at all, they positively embrace lone wolves and most importantly let them be, it's a school for non conformists, it's very liberal with surprisingly few rules most of the time and then slings in the odd petty one, it's not immaculate in fact it's decidedly scruffy in places, I liked their this is us take or leave it approach it was a refreshing change from the slick approach of many schools when you attend their open days/guided tours, it's hands off parenting; "let us get on with educating your son", I met some boys informally over lunch I could see my son being like them when he was their age, I personally don't like 13 year olds in single rooms, the cameraderie between the boys was the strongest I saw in any school we looked at, it's general ethos is not thrusting as Dr Townsend said it's not a school for "tramplers". But this is me, many want other things, you have to decide which is right for you and your DS.

happygardening Sat 07-Nov-15 19:02:50

Should add, as you may know DS has only months to go at Win Coll, most of what I said above was my opinion of it after five visits before the interview and also before we finally accepted the place; the open day and meeting with various prospective HM's and the head. It has lived up to all my initial thoughts and findings, I do not regret my decision. Occasionally I have had lunch with mums from DS's old prep (less so recently thank God), with boys at both Eton and Harrow, when we compare notes about our individual schools, you know the sort of thing, "at X they do this" "No we don't do that at Y", they seem very happy with their choices but I just know neither schools would have been right for me or my DS.

needtothinkaboutseniorschools Sat 07-Nov-15 19:23:41

Thank you - that's helpful to know. Winchester does seem on the face of it to suit ds more than the other two as I would describe him as a bit quirky, but of course we'll look at all three and it's more a case of the school choosing ds than us choosing the school, particularly as ds will need a bursary.

We don't need to make a final decision by the end of the year but ds needs to register at all of them I think before the end of year 5 to go through the normal selection process - or we could leave it until year 8 to go for the music scholarship route but that seems higher risk to me - I'd rather he got a place at one of these schools then went for a scholarship.

We'll look round all of them. Ds's prep did mention that Winchester kept parents more at arms length than the other two, which tallies with what you said - I'm open minded about this, as we'd be a couple of hours drive away in any case so I wouldn't imagine we'd turn up all the time. Ds is radiantly happy boarding so that aspect isn't a problem.

happygardening Sat 07-Nov-15 19:43:00

I think if your DS is going for a music scholarship then you have to have a normal place already, could be wrong of course. Win Coll offer the same size of bursaries to all not just those on exhibitions/scholarships and you can apply for a provisional idea about the likely size of possible bursary even before your DS is offered a place.

DarklingJane Sat 07-Nov-15 23:44:03

We looked at all those schools. DS did not like Harrow at all (but he was young so I am sure that that shouldn't be a deciding factor.) Eton is obviously great and has excellent facilities. DS liked Winchester and that is where he went.

You say they can't be so different , actually I do think they are quite different schools. Wincoll music is very good. (obviously I am sure Eton's music dept is good also) Winchester has a particular ethos which you need to visit and understand to work out whether it would be right for your DS.

DarklingJane Sun 08-Nov-15 00:11:49

Just showed your post to DS (On a short visit from University - he left Wincoll last year) who said "Well you need to visit the schools and see which one your Ds prefers"

I hope that is not polarised. I am a fan of Winchester but I do understand that other schools are very good. I wish you luck whatever you choose.

IndridCold Sun 08-Nov-15 10:16:59

happy is right about the music scholarship OP. You would apply for a place in the normal way, and then you apply for the music scholarships later. Relying for entry solely on a music award without having a conditional place would be incredibly risky, unless your son was virtually at international performance standard.

I can tell you what I know about Eton, although much of it may be the same at the other two as well. It is a much bigger school - twice the size of the other two, and is spread over a large area so there is lots of walking. As a consequence life is centred very strongly on their house. The boys are expected to be very independent from day one, they have their own rooms, there is no set time for prep, they are expected to know where they are going and not be late etc. It is a bit like university rather than school which can be hard for some of the less well-organised among them. They are expected to be involved in a variety of activities and contribute to their house and school life, although it doesn't matter what they do - it can be first team rugby or drama.

The MN discussions always end up saying that quiet quirky boys go to W and louder sporty ones go to E or H, but I know plenty of reserved, quirky individuals at E, and all the boys I know who went to W were outgoing and sporty, and would have fitted in perfectly at E had they chosen to go there instead.

As the others have said these three schools are quite different from each other (although E and H are pretty similar) and visiting will give you a reasonable idea of which one will be the best fit for your DS, however unsatisfactory the overall experience. I don't think that we really got under the skin of E until we had the housekeeping meeting a few months before DS started there, but the tour we did was enough for us to know that the school would suit DS down to the ground.

happygardening Sun 08-Nov-15 10:58:09

In contrast to Eton at Win Coll prep is at set times; every evening, I would say Win Coll is even more house centric, all houses eat in house unlike Eton where some don't, each house has its own kitchen chefs etc and as far as Inunderstand the HM's decide how much of their budget they want to spend on food so there's considerable variation in quality and type of food, the food was notoriously poor but I think it's improving lately, HM's at Win Coll have a lot of autonomy, so there significant variation between houses, friends who chose Eton sighted this as one of their reasons. The HM is everything, your first point of contact for problems, boys have tutors (attached to their houses) as well but it's a nominal role, it's the HM's who sort out things, ours has been amazing extraordinarily dedicated. This really puts the house at a boys epicentre. Boys are well supported in the early years with organising themselves, I personally think it's a forgiving environment, boys, in fact teenagers in general, make mistakes, the school supports them.
Boys are meant to do extra curricular stuff and many do, the drama is amazing, music is incredibly strong, as there is no termly compulsory major sport there loads of different sports to choose from and this means that many sports are surprisingly successful, plus a wide choice of non sporting activities but from what I understand some don't do much, maybe they simply dont want too, lone wolves are often not team players or joiners, Winchester very much allows boys to be what they are.

Cargundian Sun 08-Nov-15 11:17:45

It's obvious, but bears emphasising: all three schools are excellent. There are no really bad choices to be made here. Between E&W (I know less about H, though our prep head came from there) I suspect the differences are sometimes exaggerated or historical. Parents have to make choices, so they rationalise them (that's where the "extreme opinions" come from IMHO), and the schools have to market themselves competitively, so they also have an incentive to identify a USP and emphasise it. One telling anecdote though: quite a few from our prep have applied to both E and W in recent years, and I can't off-hand think of anyone who has had an offer from one but not the other. This includes both the Winchester-stereotyped quirky reserved very academic ones, and the Eton-stereotyped sporty outgoing ones.

Go and see them all with a reasonably open mind but with a list of concrete differences (in curriculum, organisation, location, whatever) that you think might matter to you. The one where you find yourself emphasising the boxes on your list that the school ticks, and finding reasons why the boxes it doesn't tick aren't that important after all... that's the right one smile

Temporaryusername8 Sun 08-Nov-15 11:24:04

I have a DS who has a music award at Winchester (and was offered a late place rather than through the normal entry). Obviously he loves Winchester and it was he who wanted to go there after having been taken without us to meet the head of music. They are all different schools and most boys capable of entry to all three would probably be happy at all three but would be drawn more to one. My DS was n't drawn to Eton when he did some music event there because he found the abundance of facilities the school equivalent of bling but that is just him.
I think the music is as strong in all three but my impression is that a very serious musician would have less time to practice at Harrow and possible Eton than Winchester. Winchester allows boys to use their afternoons more flexibly particularly after the initial year.

Temporaryusername8 Sun 08-Nov-15 12:29:51

My other advice would be to ask for a visit as a prospective music applicant after registering (which is safer) as your DS will get a better idea of the schools and the staff especially of the music departments than standard open days.

happygardening Sun 08-Nov-15 12:52:30

I believe at Winchester that musicians can practice, be in an ensemble quartet etc rather than do games.
I don't agree cardundian I think Win Coll is different from Harrow and Eton we've got friends with boys at both and when talking it quickly becomes apparent that it is different. The lack of compulsory sport is a big one, and sport is never going to be that important there, Div is unique to Winchester, Winchester currently only offers the Pre U, they don't do (I)GCSE Eng Lit or history, the selection process is completely different and I very strongly get the impression from along to these friends with DS's at H and E that Win Col is significantly more liberal. Uniform at Win Coll of course is very different compared to E and H and I dont get the impression that the rules are very strictly enforced. Unlike Eton and probably Harrow there is no drama in the curriculum it's an extra curricular activity only, music is also not in the curriculum from day 1 unless you choose to do it, ditto art (I think).

jimmyjoejamtoe Mon 09-Nov-15 09:07:27

Even if your local state school gets 2% A-C and is run by a Mexican drug cartel, it is immoral to send your child to a private school.

You are paying for your child to have advantages that every child should have available to them, not just those who can pay the most.

You are paying into a system that weakens local schools.

Feel guilty. Sending your child to a private school is immoral.

nlondondad Mon 09-Nov-15 11:49:28

Of course I dont know where you live, or how much importance you place on boarding, but I was wondering whether you have considered Westminster and City of London?

I understand where you are coming from, but your position while logically consistent, to my mind highlights a dilemma we often have regarding what counts as living a moral life, and engaging with the world we are in.

Our society tolerates a system for allocating scarce resources which produces high levels of inequality. And we live in one of those times where the trend is for rapidly increasing inequality - which is very apparent if you are middle class and live in London (and your house has earned more than you have, and the capital gain is very nice thank you, and untaxed, but where are your children going to live?).

Consequently although my children went to a very diverse state inner London primary school, compared to some of their school friends, who lived in overcrowded council accomodation, my children had a bedroom each. They had a computer at home, they had lots of books.

All these things made them to a degree privileged. In effect we were purchasing better life chances for them. (And when one had difficulties with a subject, not a core strength, at a state secondary school, we hired a tutor for a bit. Problem fixed.)

So my unsatisfactory conclusion is that when you criticise the well off, for buying schooling for their children, is it not really a case of "shooting the messenger"

And while it is quite wrong to assume that a private school is always better than a state school, as some seem to do, it is a matter of mere arithmetic that the level of financial resource a school like Westminster enjoys is a substantial multiple of any state secondary.

peteneras Mon 09-Nov-15 12:08:18

”You are paying for your child to have advantages that every child should have available to them, not just those who can pay the most.”

”You are paying into a system that weakens local schools.”

”Feel guilty. Sending your child to a private school is immoral.”

Have you just landed on planet Earth from Mars? Every child should have the same advantages you said. Assuming you are living in the UK or any developed country, is the child from (say) Ethiopia or Bangladesh or Syria having the same advantages as your child here? Get real!

jimmyjoejamtoe Mon 09-Nov-15 12:22:22

ah come on now, the old two wrongs make a right argument - i.e. all this is unfair, so THIS should be unfair too.

Abolish private schools - get one stage closer to a true meritocracy.

peteneras Mon 09-Nov-15 12:29:40

But who said this world is fair?

Is it fair that your child is better off than the Bangladeshi child? What are you going to do about it?

IndridCold Mon 09-Nov-15 12:45:11

Why on earth bother engaging with this person who cannot even be arsed to put forward anything like a cogent argument to justify their position. A ten year old could do better than 'It's immoral'. Pathetic!

crazycatguy Mon 09-Nov-15 13:18:30

A lot of anti private school nonsense is peddled by parents who will happily pay to rent a house near an excellent state school to meet catchment area requirements, so denying genuine local applicants who can't afford private education. I worked for many years in a top state school and saw so much of this.

That being said, I'd probably advise Winchester for your ds if he is a sparky and quirky kid; there's less 'conformity' and more freedom for self expression.

happygardening Mon 09-Nov-15 13:54:20

jimmyjoe what us the point if coming into this thread and making your comments?
The bottom line is that no state school can offer what these three schools offer in terms of exam results, extra curricular activities or just general experience of being at school. As said above life in unfair I'm afraid. The OP wants to send her DS to one of three centres of outstanding educational excellence (she also states she requires a bursary) good luck to her.

needtothinkaboutseniorschools Mon 09-Nov-15 15:42:51

@jimjam my closest comp has less than 20% of boys getting 5 good GCSEs. It also doesn't offer music at GCSE or even as a curriculum subject. I'm not sure how sending my ds there would help the local community but I'd have to pay for music lessons out of school in any case (or is that immoral too?). Ds will be trying for a music scholarship with a bursary but we will also consider local options (albeit not our closest school) in the state sector, as we need a plan B if ds isn't successful in getting a music award. Ultimately it's up to ds: we hadn't planned to send him to prep school, but he ended up there because of his music and if he wants to try for a place at independent senior schools I'm happy to support him.

@nlondondad we haven't got London ones on the list as we don't live nearby - we are starting with these three, and seek advice from school if we don't like any or if ds doesn't pass the pre-tests.

BoboChic Mon 09-Nov-15 15:43:50

jimmyjoe - you seem to be confusing meritocracy and communism.

DarklingJane Mon 09-Nov-15 17:28:34

Bobo, I think it might be simpler than that. Jimmy is confusing some parents on a thread who are asking and answering questions about specific schools they are interested in or have children at (and presumably have examined their own views on private education) and people who want a general ruck about private schooling. Unfortunately, no-one wants to play grin.

MumTryingHerBest Mon 09-Nov-15 18:07:56

happygardening The bottom line is that no state school can offer what these three schools offer in terms of exam results

Really? I'm not sure I agree that no state school can offer exam results like those offered by these three schools.

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