Our Story(28 Posts)
After getting married & selling my flat around five years ago, we searched for a house, looking at an objective ranking of transport, amenities and most importantly, schools. We eventually found a nice house in a good area, near a train station and a great school. Given this, we then set about having a child. After said child was around two, the school’s catchment area dramatically decreased (technically the cut-off distance at which the furthest child was admitted). The next-nearest school was a dire wreck, falling in standards every year (and now is being converted into an academy).
Alarmed, suddenly our rosy situation was looking desperate. Initially, we considered moving home; we’d find another nice house, near a (another) good school and transport. This, it turns out, is what everybody was doing - and indeed the law of supply and demand saw to it that the cost of these homes were given a hefty premium (more so than when we were looking before, the market had moved on, birth rates had increased). We worked out that in order to move, we would need to sell and increase our mortgage by a hefty 400K (yes, we live and work in London, and have to stay for work and family)- so, dazed, we set about planning our move.
At some point in the middle of that planning, we started looking at the cost of a paid education. Initially I was vehemently against the idea of private schools - I believed, and still do, that education should be in the public domain for all, and most importantly it should be available to everyone without restriction (money should not be able to buy knowledge, or more importantly, having less money should not mean a compromised education - which in turn leads to divisions later in life). But given that my options were running out, I’m sure every parent would agree that the child’s welfare trumps all. So, after a lot of painful soul searching, I relented. In short, there were two events that altered our outlook. I had a conversation with my wife’s uncle, who as it turns out had sent one daughter (the eldest) to a local comp and then several years down the line, sent his second daughter to a private school. In his experience, the contrast was stark: he believed both daughters were brought up roughly the same, showing the similar levels of intelligence and awareness at around age four. Whilst the eldest tried her best, she could only ever seem to achieve a C grade in most subjects (at best). The other daughter had no issues in obtaining A grades across the board. Now, I know that this isn’t a true like-for-like comparison, there are many issues here and hundreds of variables between, but for a father’s subjective view, the experience he had was an eye opener. The second event was more mundane: as the costs associated with moving were high, we decided to look at alternative solutions, this inevitably brought us to doing the sums for private vs. free schooling. At first glance, the fees we looked at were eye-wateringly expensive- around £4000 per term but, quantifying this, we gleamed some insights. The total cost (until age eighteen) of private education (including extras) worked out at around 450K - which is in the same ballpark as the house move (if stamp duty and conveyancing were included). Also, we had five years left on the mortgage, so, in theory, if we were frugal for a relatively short amount of time, we could live normally again. However, this comes with a big compromise: we can only have one child. Yes, that's right, we're effectively sacrificing a child for the sake of a better education. In reality, that decision was taken away from us as it seems that (after a number of miscarriages) baby number two wasn't to be anyhow. Although it does seem sad to shut the door on that possibility, especially for monetary reasons. We'll just have to live with that, I guess.
Overall, I feel a little frustrated by the experience. No-one should be in a position which balances money over education - and this, I believe, is a direct result of underfunding: both in not building new schools and not giving the existing schools enough resources to improve. Austerity comes at a price, the biggest casualty hitting those in most need, exaggerating differences and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. And yes, before someone points this out, I am a hypocrite for both waving a leftist flag and then sending my child to private school. But then it's my child and I'm OK with that.
What do you want us to say?
Your experience is not typical of most UK parents because you can pay four hundred thousand pounds to either move or go private. Most people don't have that choice and their children are fine.
If you really believe the anecdote about state school children only getting Cs you need to widen your social circle. Some of the kids at the state school you have rejected will probably achieve exactly the same results as your privately educated child.
Beatrice, you're right, of course, there's no way that anecdote relates to all state school children (only getting Cs) - this was just his viewpoint. Moreover, both my partner and I attended state school, as did all of our friends and all of (my) family. In effect, this would be a leap into the unknown - and dare I say it - being caught between two separate worlds. There is no evidence that suggests private schooling is better, just that for our situation it's a choice between an abyss and paying through the nose.
The amount of money isn't really important: that's just to highlight the ubsurdity of the situation...and certainly I acknowledge that we're living in a vacuum. Most people don't have any choice, and that's a problem when you have a shortage of schools and funding
£4k per term is very cheap for London. Have you factored in step increases (pre-prep to prep, prep to senior)? And allowed for school fee inflation?
Yes, admissions footprints are shrinking. At least you seem to have more choices available to you than many parents.
Meditrina - good points, I believe I have, to a certain extent...(I've not mentioned it, but there is the possibility of switching to a local grammar after the 11+) and tbh, we've only begun this journey. Doing the maths, this would be, by far, our biggest expenditure, one that we'd have to supplement with renting out a bedroom and making a few compromises. Can't shake the feeling that we're being held to ransom.
If I had the choice, I'd move - far far away....
Well move then... Plenty of people work in London and commute in from elsewhere. Dh and I moved to suburban commuter-ville and we both commute in. Our state educated kids don't seem to have suffered judging by their results. You chose not to do that <shrug>
Your overdramatising this. You are well off and have lots of choices not available to others. Have you actually visited the local school or spoken to parents with kids there? It might be fine. If not you don't need to move far, far away, London is full of excellent state schools.
All the London families I know have budgets far smaller than yours. They have all got their kids into schools they are happy with and their kids are doing fine.
Do 'failing schools' - the abyss you imagine - really stay failing in this climate? Round here it seems like they've improved hugely. True, you couldn't get your kid into the school you'd planned to - but state education can't operate like that.
You earn enough to actually seriously consider increase your mortgage to 400k but you think 4K a term in school fees (which is not a lot many charge more than this) is "eye watering". Is it me or is there a tiny bit of a miss match here?
I understand why you did what you did and if I was lucky enough to be in your situation I would have done the same. But you are a hypocrite. The reason education has this problem is because of parents doing what you are doing.
Your wanting an elite school and you resent paying for it. I bet you would happily send your DC to a Grammar school (if they could get in) but would be outraged if a government were to suggest allowing new grammar schools to open.
This story reminds me of animal farm, "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others".
If you are concerned about your local school get involved.
Help to make it better.
We aren't in London. It didn't add £400k to our mortgage.
One point that we did consider is that adding to your mortgage is a capital investment. You may pay £400k more, in your case, but you would have a property worth £400 k more at the end, at least.
Spending on education instead gives you no such financial return on your investment. Your return is that you hope your child gets better results than they would have in a state school. You will never know whether they have or not. London state schools are now among the best in the country.
I don't think you have made the right decisions, sorry.
Research restricted to one uncle is not good research.
Also, No financial advisers would say spend it in school fees rather than property!
Sorry I can't read this without that DJ's voice going on, I think I am getting Our Story and Our Tune combined.
Anyway OP, happy wedding anniversary. I'm sure your child will be fine at any school with supportive parents.
I think one. Important talk of this story is that over 5 years a lot can change about a school, whether better ot worse.
The research/planning cycle if you are trying to move close to a good state school is probably half that.
Near me in London outer suburbs you can get a three bed house in catchment of an ofsted outstanding comp and near a superselective grammar too for a similar amount to what you were looking to increase your mortgage by.
Sometimes feeling hard done and plans not quite working out can make you loose perspective and especially make you forget all the good things going on in your life.
I would go for the school that gives you the best feeling and hope you can judge well for your child/children. Whether state or private.
My colleague's DD just got her state-school GCSE results, 6A* and 4A. Hardly a disaster.
The state secondary DD most likely will attend is under the best 50 secondaries in SE England. They sent girls to Oxbridge.
We moved house to get DD into a good school, increased the mortgage to buy the same space in better distance to schools. All state, 3 outstanding, two good. Another secondary (we are out distance wide) is outstanding and also has great results.
Get your research done before you jump.
One other thing: my sister has three girls, all three have very different school results, attending all the same school until GCSE level. I am sure in the beginning of primary there were no differences visible.
And - just because a school is good doesn't mean the child will get great results, there is still the issue that not all children do equally academically. Just because DD most likely will attend a great secondary doesn't mean she will go to Oxbridge.
We are at the end of the process with DD leaving school last term, but at the start had to make a similar (London) decision. Choices were:
1. To move and spend more time commuting, ie less time with DC. Plus harder to get a well paid job when I went back to work.
2. Get religion.
3. Pay for the key bits. In our area that would be 11-16 but in other areas with selective state secondaries it could be 8-11. And then supplement by tutoring. People leave London asll the time so in parallel keep your name on the wait list for your preferred school.
4. Cut down on everything and pay from the get-go. It is possible, and honestly I dont think we really missed out by having cheaper holidays, a hand-me-down car or a scruffy house, and at the end we have more pension and it is fun to suddenly have a bit of spare money.
I think it would be foolish to limit your family on the basis of school choice. Honestly, and no great insight here, private schools have bad outcomes and state schools have good ones, though in our case our DC loved their schooling and we would make the same decisions again.
And very few in London will emerge still on the moral high ground. Posting about your principles will not make you many friends. I remember NCT friends boasting about how they would never consider private, then rushing off to church, employing tutors or visiting estate agents. Everyone makes their own choices, usually based on what they consider best for their own children.
Welcome to the world! We all go through life having to make decisions based upon our circumstances. It all depends what you value above all else, and there is life outside London you know!
Don't expect much sympathy here.
I'm surprised that you're surprised. Did you honestly think that from buying a house, then trying for a baby, having a baby, baby getting to school age (so maybe at least 6 years), nothing would happen? Have you not seen the news every March when school places are awarded and the hoohah about "not getting any of my 5 choices" or "forced to get 3 buses" stories?
We were in exactly the same situation - didn't really look into schools when we bought (no plans for children at that point) but knew we'd have to move (or pay privately) as soon as we started making enquiries. Moved, and doubled our mortgage in the process. We're in the North West. Thousands of families go through the exact same decision making process when children come along, so your story isn't unique.
Ultimately you make the decision which is right for you. However, your dismissal of state education based on an anecdote from your uncle, about girls who went to school years apart, is ridiculous. A very large proportion of the top schools are state schools - even according to results - but school is about so much more than results. You don't say anything about whether the girls were happy, whether they felt pressured to achieve, whether they had the opportunity to play sports for the school, had local friends. Just that one got Cs and one got As. There is so much more to it than that.
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