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Worrying about the academic pressures of Winchester College for DS who has a firm place. Help!

(26 Posts)
WinCollWorries Tue 04-Apr-17 09:24:47

I have name changed for this one. Ds has a firm place for WinColl entrance in 2018. We have visited twice - once on an open day and the second time for assessment. I'm not sure either of us have a feel for the school yet. Our prep headmaster thinks it is a good fit for DS. Ds is in the top academic group at his prep but he has been finding this year a real struggle with the pace of work. His English is poor although he loves reading (fact and fiction) and he has been struggling with most languages. He's very much a science and maths boy, but even in science and geography is still struggling with getting his knowledge on to exam papers in a legible and coherent format. There's no doubt he's clever. But, I think he is bottom of our 'scholars' group and this has knocked his confidence. His classmates are all going to Eton, WinColl or girls super selectives so he is in with a clever bunch!
It is making me question whether, If he goes to Wincoll, he'll really struggle academically and find the whole process hard and frustrating. In which case, would he be better at a less selective school where he could 'shine'? Would I be doing him an injustice...

BoboChic Tue 04-Apr-17 09:28:57

There was a poster on here a few years ago whose DS went to Winchester and was pulled out very quickly (mid Y9 IIRC) because he couldn't cope. It does happen. Ask the school about how many "failures" it has.

WinCollWorries Tue 04-Apr-17 09:42:00

Yes, I know it isn't always a good match. Prep has ds practising entrance papers now, even though his exam won't be for another year, alongside those sitting this year. So, I think in part this isn't helping.

GinGarden Wed 05-Apr-17 06:49:17

Have you considered other academic schools that might be a better 'fit' i.e. Oundle? Kings Canterbury? Charterhouse? Ampleforth? If he enjoys maths & science & is used to co-Ed ask your head if Oundle would be more suited, fantastic new sci-tec centre!

YellowPrimula Wed 05-Apr-17 07:07:46

You need Happygardening whose ds was at Winchester, hopefully she will be along soon.As someone who had to move a ds in year 9 when I should have trusted my own instinct two years before you have my sympathies.

WinCollWorries Wed 05-Apr-17 08:49:10

Oh crikey YellowPrimula, that is what I'm trying to avoid. How did you come to that decision? At the moment we are thinking it will probably be a good fit, with just a few niggles in the background. And the HM seems pretty sure. On paper it does seem good. The school were just quite 'cool' when we visited, while other schools seem to be falling over themselves to have him?!

WinCollWorries Wed 05-Apr-17 08:51:21

We did consider Oundle, but didn't view it. Have heard the headmistress there has been great.

happygardening Wed 05-Apr-17 09:05:47

Hi. My first thought is that he got a place so Winchester must think he's suitable for it. Of course anyone can ake a mistake.
On the other hand DS2 had a friend who's mum said at the beginning in yr 9 and again right at the end that she felt her DS would have been happier at a slightly less academic school she felt that there's not a lot of "fun" there and I think it knocked his confidence. He was is the bottom sets all the way she said he found the academic pressure too much. She had no gripe with the school but she said if she'd had her time over again she would have chosen somewhere else. A couple of other parents over the years have said the same thing to me. This is a school where an A* is the norm but as one don (teacher) once said to me often combined with a rather casual approach to school work, I suspect there is some kudos amongst the boys in doing the bear minimum and still getting an A*, gossip abounded about the competition in top set to be the last to pick up your pen when doing IGCSE maths a still getting at A*. DS's friends and dons often commented on his doing no work approach to exams! The former with admiration the latter with some frustration.
The boys do at least too languages Latin and French most do three is that going to be a problem? There is a lot of emphasis on writing in a clear "coherent format", as I'm sure you know the boys to Div once a day (a broad non examined curriculum) boys are expected to read about what ever they're studying and on Saturday night write an essay. Obviously they're not expected to get it right from day 1 and DS2 who was very math science oriented when he left prep and dyslexic has really benefited from this. Although this style may not be the one wanted for exams!
There are some math/physics geniuses very very bright boys there, to be in top sets for many subjects your DS would have to be very very good at them but as classes are generally small, I think math was my DS's biggest class with 18, 12 is more the norm often less obviously many aren't in the top sets. I guess the question is how bothered would your DS be if he was towards the bottom of the academic pile? I was once told that the only snobbery at Winchester was academic, I sometimes overheard 1 boy say to another "how clever are you? What set are you in the math?" My DS is a lone wolf he rarely discussed his marks with other as he considered them to be private to him, others I know did, although I understand that your place in your class for exams prep is not generally discussed by the dons. How would your DS feel if his marks weren't always some of the best? There are also some very ambitious parents applying a lot of pressure to their DS's I sometimes would eavesdrop listen open mouthed at parent teacher meetings as a parent in front of me would fervently analyse exactly where their DS was in relation to the rest of the class/yr and how he could improve this. DS2 felt some boys struggled with huge parental pressure and it's inevitable despite the fact that I think the HM's etc try to shield boys from pressure that in a full boarding school that this must make the whole environment at times feel more pressured. Haing said this one of the reasons we choose the school is that the general atmosphere is one that I can only describe as peaceful and tranquil and that's not really doing it justice, I can't really explain it but I've visited lots of other schools both as a parent and professionally and no encountered anything quite like it anywhere else and ultimately that's why we chose it. At the end of the day Winchester which does offer lots of opportunities outside of lessons etc but providing a stimulating challenging intellectual education and encouraging excellence academically is its raison d'être so I guess it depends on if you think your individual DS will thrive in this kind of environment or whether he'd be happier in a slightly less academic environment.
My DS thrived, he's spent all of his school life carefully honing the art of doing the bear minimum, (at best), which can I acknowledge can rather cloud teacher views of your ability. He was considered bright and capable at his prep and did ok but at Winchester where he was much happier and in a much more stimulating environment was considered by the school to be exceptionally bright. Prep school curriculum is as boring as hell with a lot of emphasis on exam technique etc especially in the last two years, so IMO it doesn't always suit the very bright non compliant with easily bored with a strong tendency to be lazy.

happygardening Wed 05-Apr-17 09:18:07

"Ask the school about how many failures it has"
Sorry meant to comment on this.
Firstly Ithink he last governors report we received stated that the school is full. Only one left unexpectedly i.e. didn't make the grades for 6th form at the end of year although DS said other, a very small number, DS only knew 1 well, left because they were going to other schools some I guess were advised to go. None in DS2's house left/dropped out over the five years, I think a few left in the first couple of terms but this in my experience is not uncommon; every year at prep we would hear of 2-3 who moved schools (of all academic abilities) in the first couple of terms, they were just a poor fit for that particular school.

happygardening Wed 05-Apr-17 09:20:24

Sorry meant to type Only one left unexpectedly i.e. didn't ake the grades for the 6th form at the end of yr 11

happygardening Wed 05-Apr-17 09:41:51

....if Oundle would be more suited, fantastic new sci-tec centre!
If you want smart new building then Winchester may not be he place for you, as most are generally scruffy. I personally believe that its the people not the buildings but I'm very unmoved and uninterested in smart buildings and en suite loos. Winchester has a very well deserved reputation in science and math apparently it employs more dons with PhD's than any other school, the school has many in the science dept and this reflect in the boys success internationally in those science Olymiad things. Most of DS2's friends have gone onto university to study some sort of science, The Pre U is generally considered harder and physics and further maths to be exceptionally difficult. but last year approximately 50% got the equivalent to A** and A* in these two subjects.

WinCollWorries Wed 05-Apr-17 09:53:35

Happy, thanks so much for all this info. I need to dash now, nut will come back to it!

Michaelahpurple Wed 05-Apr-17 13:41:26

Small point , but I can't think it at all helpful to be trying papers a year early - bound to cause wobbles

WinCollWorries Wed 05-Apr-17 20:58:19

Happy, my main thinking is also that if he has a place, they must think he'll fit in! The languages should be ok. At the moment he does three and I think he is coming to terms with learning vocabulary etc. His Latin and French are scoring quite low on past papers, but then he has a year to go and I think they will improve.
I think one of the issues is that I naively thought that at this stage I'd be able to just let him get on with things, whereas actually it seems all of his peers are being fairly heavily supported by parents and tutors. If all of your classmates are having tutoring, it does sort of leave you behind if you're not! It also begs the question of how he will get on once at senior school, without the support?!

WinCollWorries Wed 05-Apr-17 21:01:00

P.s. I'm not bothered at all about the buildings!

happygardening Thu 06-Apr-17 02:59:59

We tutored for Latin when my DH thought there was some issues with the way the Latin was being marked; things that were right we're being marked wrong and vice versa unsurprisingly as the "Latin teacher" knew barely anymore Latin than I did, the previous one had retired and this one had done Latin O level 40+ years ago. But most parents seemed to tutor extensively in the major subjects.
The Win Coll entrance exam is harder than CE the last part of math was particularly difficult, the French required you to learn the vocab and be able to use all the tenses, DS learned 100 commonest French verbs perfect inperfect present future future perfect etc, we bought aunlike CE you cannot prepare the answer for the oral in advance, my DS sat it it was graded A-D my DS was surprised to discover at the new boys lunch that it seemed most got 1 A a couple of B's and C's and D's. Apparently an A is only rewarded for an outstanding performance.

peteneras Thu 06-Apr-17 04:15:10

Well OP, there are dozens of excellent private schools in the UK and I don’t really understand why you’re looking so long and hard at WinColl - a school which from the sound of your post, you (and perhaps even your son) are not very confident with. And I suspect you’ll be paying full fees too to go there?

It’s a very expensive experiment, both financially and academically, if your experiment doesn’t work out.

Is it because your prep headmaster recommended it? Believe me, prep heads don’t always know what they’re talking about and I’ve got a living example of a premier UK prep school head making a complete blunder in recommending a pupil - his own son, no less! - to a certain senior school just to regret it woefully immediately after he had committed himself.

Having heard what you said about your son’s poor English and struggle with languages, I’m truly flabbergasted his prep head suggested WinColl of all schools. The UK’s top ancient private schools, both Eton and WinColl take their languages very seriously. As a matter of fact, these schools taught nothing but languages when they were first founded many centuries ago. Maths and the sciences were introduced much later. Don’t know about WinColl, many boys at Eton, for example, take four languages - two ancient, i.e. Greek and Latin; and two modern, i.e. French and English. Rightly or wrongly, they see these languages particularly the ancient ones, as a good stepping stone to the equally ancient universities.

And why would you want to send your son to a school where boys ask each other “how clever are you” and pretending to do no work themselves whilst in truth their parents apply immense pressure on them and tutoring them from outside the boundaries of what is to all intents and purposes a full boarding school - a concept designed fundamentally to prevent such pressures?

Wincollparent Thu 06-Apr-17 09:17:49

Wincolparent Winchester College has been absolutely brilliant for my DS and almost all of his friends despite 'spikey' subject profiles of some plus a fair amount of SpLD. However boys do leave. One example mentioned here was due to unique special social and organisational needs that meant boarding should never have been contemplated.
The main cohort of 'less happy' boys though are boys who may have been academically capabable but not academic IFYSWIM and once no longer hand held and pushed by prep schools and parents disengage from enjoying academic stimulation and wanting to put the work in. They therefore do not get the most out of the school although often enjoy the extracurricular side.
My DS has been mainly in top sets but, in a school with extreme ability (my DS is not one of those) as well as in some cases extreme work ethic, there will always be boys achieving much more highly in at least some subjects. IME I think the teachers do very well with helping boys be happy with and develop what they are capable of and have their personal objectives. Plus the school is superb at encouraging individuality. However boys have to want to put in effort and be engaged otherwise IMO it is a waste of money.

WinCollWorries Thu 06-Apr-17 10:09:12

Thank you for all these comments.
Peteneras Ds does four languages at present if we include English; two ancient ones. He is a very bright boy, but feedback has always been that exam marks don't seem to reflect his potential. I'm perhaps hoping that WinColl might inspire him to success! The other school our HM recommended was Eton, but we didn't think that route was right for us. One of DS's best friends is about to sit the King's scholarship there and is very sharp, so I suppose we are at an 'extreme ability' school too!
Without giving too much away, I can see exactly why our HM has made the recommendations. Just worried that it will all be too much I guess. The tutoring has caught me a little by surprise too, so I think I am adjusting to the mindset and requirements of this. Ds hasn't had any tutoring so far. I have always been keen not to go down this route just to get him into a school which may be 'too much' for him once in. But, as I said earlier, If it's the norm, then I suppose I'm not doing any favours by not tutoring.
Wincollparent He will certainly enjoy the extra curricular - he has always been very motivated on this front!

Wincollparent Thu 06-Apr-17 11:15:20

My DS was not tutored at all (boarder at a wonderful prep school) and neither I think were the other Winchester entrants from his year apart from one who did end up by being lower end of the ability range.
Language teaching is variable at prep schools from what I can gather.

Wincollparent Thu 06-Apr-17 11:17:40

'other Winchester entrants from his prep school year.'

countrygirl55 Thu 06-Apr-17 11:24:40

They don't want children to fail, so I would think they feel he would do well there. I have friends who went to WinCol and who really thrived. It's a brilliant school.

If you're localish, it might be worth looking at Charterhouse or Marlborough to see if you feel they might be a better fit. They are both mixed schools, so might not suit if you want a single-sex one.

Eton2017 Thu 06-Apr-17 21:42:56

From what you've written, your DS could be my DS's best friend, which would be funny - will PM you enough identifying information to find out! At least, if not, that says your situation is not unique. If so, I really don't think you need worry, though of course there's no reason for you to trust my, or anyone else's, judgement above your own. I will say that if your prep school HM and Winchester both agree that your DS will be fine, they kind of ought to know; and that a year is a really long time in terms of maturity and accomplishment. My DS has come on in leaps and bounds in that time.

WinCollWorries Thu 06-Apr-17 22:45:24

Eton2017 Thank you. I keep telling myself - everything is going to be alright!

Misplacedcell Fri 07-Apr-17 18:50:59

Win Coll is super. And you are correct that teaching standards and how your child will fit is far more important than a new building or two. If English is poor google 'fantastically clever writing aids' for some useful ideas to improve on test scores. Regarding worries about keeping up leave that to the school, they will have a range of achievement abilities with each year's intake and are well prepared to help all pupils cope and succeed.

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