Disappointed in top private school

(173 Posts)
Nevermakeit Mon 18-Jan-21 23:59:15

My DS is in one of the junior section of what is considered one of the top private schools in London. We have been there 2 years and I am increasingly feeling disappointed by it, and as if it is all a bit of a con.

To be clear, there is no major issue, and DS is very happy (loves the food and playing cricket).
The teaching is fine, but not exceptional, and they don't seem to be 'all over' things (eg nobody has clocked yet that he doesn't understand a blind thing in any of the coding lessons and is getting left behind). He has little homework, and over Christmas had over a month off, and not a single piece of work to do, with result that by the end he was actually bored.
The school has great facilities but many things are extra eg music (as expected), but also drama (outsourced to external suppliers), and even chess club (£100 per term!) - in which case, I feel we are better off doing these outside the school, where the teaching might even be better (eg specialist teacher for chess/ability to actually see the music lesson). They have lots of grand sounding 'clubs' but now everything is online, I can see that there is very little content behind any of it. The children can sign up to as much or as little as they want, but no-one has any visibility of whether they participate, or even to ensure they push themselves outside their comfort zone and try different things (eg mine simply does sports).
The school newsletter is always full of the pupils amazing achievements, but the reality is that these reflect what they are doing OUTSIDE school, not anything the school has had any real influence on.
I have little contact with the other parents (most of the kids are bussed in), but as far as I can tell no-one else feels the same, they simply fawn over the school.
Everything is 'OK' for me too, but in view of the very high fees (which are significant for us), I would have expected more, and it feels like these schools trade off their reputation and rest on their laurels - and it's a bit of a case of 'emperor's new clothes'...
DS is happy, and proud of his school, as I said, so I will not take the decision to move him lightly. I just wonder if other people have had similar experiences?

OP’s posts: |
LetMeBubble Tue 19-Jan-21 00:14:14

It’s probably a case of putting all the kids of high earning families together (middle class) so that the kid is motivated by positive peer pressure..
The facilities of the school are probably tailored for such demographic.

You probably assumed a teacher in these schools was going to me miles away from a teacher in an average school.

But I don’t think that’s how it works.

All you have to do is set up a school with extortionate fees and facilities that cater for certain type of families and you will attract people who specifically want their kids to be raised into such class/culture.

It’s like having a very difficult entry exam. The high fees are a way to rule away any families who are not the same background.

In the real world, a lot of the success is about networking .. the less recognized schools have to work hard to earn there respect but the well recognised schools can cut corners because they know that no child will leave there unhappy when he has that school name on their certificate that will make them look good.

It’s about buying recognition.

Sorry if that’s not the answer you wanted.

You need to know what you want out of school life for your child.

Do you get along with the other families? Are there priorities different to yours?

Children from very selective backgrounds does rule out certain issues.. that their families are certainly concerned and invested in their education and so will certainly listen when they school request their attention.. which makes teaching their more efficient.

But it has its drawbacks. Lack of diversity? Inability to navigate the world outside of that circle.

So judge accordingly

VitreousHumour Tue 19-Jan-21 00:17:23

My child went to one of the top selective state schools in London and I was also very meh.

Ultimately I felt that they took in an incredibly bright cohort and pushed out.. an incredibly bright cohort.

NiceGerbil Tue 19-Jan-21 00:20:20

Is it selective?

I went to a school that sounds like that, ok it was years ago. But the results imo were down to the cohort they selected and encouraging competition rather than teaching quality.

NiceGerbil Tue 19-Jan-21 00:21:09

It could be the same one we were bussed in from all over London. Just outside London in Herts.

savemymuu Tue 19-Jan-21 00:21:53

All you have to do is set up a school with extortionate fees and facilities that cater for certain type of families and you will attract people who specifically want their kids to be raised into such class/culture.

I tend to agree plus because they are paying £££ they tend to push the narrative that it's amazing because they want to believe that.

DreamingInColours Tue 19-Jan-21 01:00:38

My DH was privately educated and always maintains his parents paid for him to have 'successful' friends and business contacts for life more than anything else.


LetMeBubble Tue 19-Jan-21 10:03:43

Me and my sibling did the same course at university.

He did it in a very below average university and I did it in a well recognized one.

The material and style of teaching in mine was quite poor.. compared to his. And when I protested my university told me that I didn’t need to worry because all I needed was their name to land me a job.

Whereas my brother was busting his arse and struggled to get a job. But knew his stuff far better than me.

Networking it is all about.

Nevermakeit Tue 19-Jan-21 11:01:11

Yes, the school is highly selective. And I agree with @vitreoushumour. They take bright kids....so I had no doubt the results will be good. But I am really not sure what the added value of the school is.... so for the fees they charge, the value for money is actually very poor...

OP’s posts: |
Suzi888 Tue 19-Jan-21 11:14:25

“when he has that school name on their certificate that will make them look good.

It’s about buying recognition”

^^ this

ThinkAboutItTomorrow Tue 19-Jan-21 11:41:09

In university though it's not 'bought' as you can't buy your way in. The value of the institution is mostly about getting in and keeping up.

PrimeraVez Tue 19-Jan-21 12:05:34

I went to a private school that even now is consistently at the top of the rankings.

Was the quality of teaching better than the local comp? No, probably not.

But it was highly selective and we were constantly encouraged to be competitive with ourselves and each other. You weren’t a geek if you got the highest grades, it was considered ‘cool’. We took learning seriously because that is what the environment conditioned us to do.

The expectations for us were very high and we (mostly) met them. Of the 90 girls in my sixth form, every single one of us went on to university. It was just expected and we were coached and hand held accordingly.

I would also say that we had access to things and places and people that we might otherwise not have had. I did work experience with my local MP because the school arranged it. I did an internship with Deloitte because they did a recruitment drive in my sixth form. I did golf lessons as part of PE (which my clients now see the benefit of) because the school had a relationship with the local golf pro and golf club.

Only you know whether that’s the kind of environment that is right for your kid. And if so, you need to pay extortionate fees to access or you can create it for him in your own home and social life.

TheBlessedCheesemaker Tue 19-Jan-21 12:17:21

We experienced one of those schools with one of our DC. Moved them to another (less academically selective) school and their academic performance shot up. Have sent my DC to a number of different schools over the years (horses for courses and all that), and have learnt two things (1) if your DC is happy as a pig in mud and doing ok academically, then you have room to let a lot of the other stuff slide, and (2) if you don’t feel you are getting value for money and your child is only ‘meh’ in terms of enjoying school then you almost certainly will be able to find a better school. We thought we might traumatise our DC by moving them (and settling in wasn’t easy for a few weeks), but was best thing we could have done for DC. They went to a far better uni than they would have achieved at the original selective school.

Ohalrightthen Tue 19-Jan-21 12:25:16


Yes, the school is highly selective. And I agree with *@vitreoushumour*. They take bright kids....so I had no doubt the results will be good. But I am really not sure what the added value of the school is.... so for the fees they charge, the value for money is actually very poor...

tbh, the added value of the school is that your son is being educated alongside other very bright children. There will be minimal difference in ability from top to bottom in his class, so the teacher (most probably no better than any other teacher) will be able to spend time and resources on educating all of them at the same level, rather than splitting their attention between huge gulfs in ability and understanding. The quality of peer-to-peer learning will also be better, and the networks your child builds when they're late teens will be very beneficial for work experience, future careers etc.

To my mind, the main benefit that you get from extortionate school fees for a selective education is that your son is in a selective environment. Now, depending on where you live, the socio-economic makeup of your area, the quality of your comprehensive schools, whether you have grammar schools in the area, and how much time you're able to dedicate to his education, that could well be money wasted.

Hawkins001 Tue 19-Jan-21 12:26:12

When possible could you have extra help to improve their skills e.g. Coding ect ?

ServeTheServants Tue 19-Jan-21 12:38:12

We recently moved our DC from one private school to another as I felt their previous one was just as you describe: the facilities and all the “talk” were spot on, but the teaching was utterly sub standard. It would be doing state schools a disservice to say the teaching was on par, as I think it actually fell well below par. There was a lot of parent politics and I just felt it wasn’t the school for us. When I started speaking to other parents, it became apparent that they felt the same, but were hoping it would improve...

...we weren’t prepared to take the risk and as such, changed schools (relocating in the process), and it was the best decision we ever made. The teaching is far superior as is the pastoral care. DH and I still coming to terms with the relocation side of things, but totally worth it overall!

Icanseegreenshoots Tue 19-Jan-21 12:50:47

Some schools you are buying the cohort not quality.

Look elsewhere if it doesn't suit you/your son, one of the few blessings of paying for schooling is that you can take your custom elsewhere.

Also worth noting that you may be expecting too much perhaps? It is a school at the end of the day, and they are not going to do every last thing for you - you need to participate and be part of your child's education, you don't pay to remove all responsibility put it that way.

HermioneMakepeace Tue 19-Jan-21 12:57:22

Ah, my specialist subject. I had 2 DC at a top prep school and now have 1 DS at a very famous international private grammar school. Overwhelmingly the children who are the academic high-flyers are those with heavily-invested parents who are either the type who spend a lot of time with their DC playing card games etc, or pay for tutors.

It’s what happens outside of school that is key to whether a child will succeed or flounder, IMO.

MrsAvocet Tue 19-Jan-21 13:34:51

Much of what you say resonates with me Nevermakeit though my experience wasn't with a "top" school, just one of our local independents.
I went to some particularly dire state schools and didn't want my children to have the same experience, whereas my DH was educated privately. Because of that I think we both just assumed that the independent school would be better than the local state schools and didn't really think about it critically at all. As time went on, I became increasingly disillusioned, leading ultimately to us moving our children into state education. There was nothing "wrong" with the school and I don't have any horror stories to tell, but we realised that we just weren't getting value for money. In some respects it was better than the state provision and in other respects our local state schopls were better. But the difference was not, in our opinion, worth the large amount of money we were spending. I suppose the deal breaker for us was that the school fees meant that we weren't able to afford to do things that we enjoyed as a family, and the range of compulsory extra curricular activities didn't really match our children's actual interests. Leaving meant that we had both the money and time to invest in out of school activities that they actually wanted to do, and for tutors when needed.
I am aware that I'm comparing apples with pears though. Our independent school was not the kind of place you're describing - attending it was unlikely to open many doors for my DCs. If anything, the state secondary they now attend has a bigger reputation in fact. Plus we have excellent state schools here which I appreciate is a luxury that many don't have. Had it been a choice between the independent and my old school then I would have sold my kidneys to fund private education.
We were also in a tricky place financially. We earn too much to be eligible for any of the school's bursaries, but not enough that we could comfortably afford the fees. To be brutally honest, had it not been financially stretching us we would probably have carried on assuming that we were doing the right thing. But the finances made us look more critically at what we were actually getting for our money and compare carefully with local state provision. Obviously we should have done that from the outset, but for various reasons we didn't. We took a lot at face value and made assumptions.
There's no generic right or wrong answer. I'm not opposed to private education in general but I am opposed to the idea that it is always better than state education and that is always worth making huge sacrifices for. I think it has to be an individual decision. There are good, bad and indifferent schools of all types, and different children will thrive in different environments. I think the key question you need to ask yoirself is what would you do if you withdrew your son from this school? What are the alternatives like and how would all your lives change?

Mummy195 Tue 19-Jan-21 13:40:57

I did not even bother applying to some uber schools in Central London for this reason. My nephews go to some of them- I bet you are referring to one of them.
One of my SIL complained that their school was teaching DC like they were at university. Given work to do at home - she just felt the DC were not mature enough to be doing work like this at 10/11yrs old. She wondered what she was paying for exactly.

Another big name school admitted that they were skint as they had to pay for Oxbridge teachers, update technology etc. You will notice the biggest schools tend to keep the interiors etc. hidden, few pics and showing. So all that big talk and status...............

My SILs said most of the DC at these schools were not only massively tutored for the entrance exams, but you have to still keep paying for lessons outside the class throughout their school like.

In the end we went for a more diverse school that is still high achieving. My DC do not get tutoring outside the school and that is enough.

I guess the problem now is that for most privates in London, there is not that big a gap in school fees.

Elderado Tue 19-Jan-21 19:54:54

Hello. It seems as though what you and your child want are two different things. He wants to learn but he also wants to enjoy himself, eat nice food, play sport snd have good friends. You say he’s very happy - there’s a lot to be said for that.

He’s in Junior School - I’m sure most adults would not like having to work all day, then come home and do extra work - that’s no good for anyone, let alone a child. And no teacher would set serious homework over the holidays for a young child; he needs to rest. If he’s bored, then you should help him finds things to do; it isn’t the school’s job to keep him occupied during the holidays - you are his parent so it’s down to you. Most primary schools would have the same sort of balance.

It seems like the extra-curricular activities would be exceptional were it not for coronavirus and the need to keep groups apart. I think you’re being very harsh on the school - they are probably only doing what they can in very difficult circumstances.

I have to say that if my DC were in your child’s position, I should be delighted.

From what you have written, though, I suspect that the money is the real issue. Schools like this are expensive, it is true, and the fees will only increase in the years to come. You might need to weigh things up with that in mind, projecting 5 or 7 percent increase annually, and decide if private education is the best thing for your family.

NiceGerbil Wed 20-Jan-21 01:01:22

'My DH was privately educated and always maintains his parents paid for him to have 'successful' friends and business contacts for life more than anything else.'

Ha! I missed that lesson sad

What going to a highly selective all girls school gave me, looking back

Was no idea that some stuff was for boys or for girls.

And I think it worked with the boys school next door, lots of successful comedians etc who I suspect had the freedom to perform. While we had the freedom to do science. No sex divide.

I am also very confident.

It was shit for pastoral care though back then. I mean terrible. 50% of the class was bulimic/ anorexic.

And my DDS are at an all girl comp and I hear their online classes when I pop in on a break from work. And the teaching is awesome. Engaging. Interesting. And they are working them hard.

I think with schooling it really needs to be related to the child. Where they will thrive etc.

Milomonster Wed 20-Jan-21 09:15:40

DS is in a prep in C London. We to close to 20k in fees and the teaching is shocking. No resources are provided for maths except reams of Twinkl sheets. I’ve spent a fortune on maths books and teaching DS myself. I’m not at all convinced that they have provided value for money in terms of academics. He’s been happy throughout his time there but I’m pulling him out. Not all interested interested in the networking part of things that private schools supposedly bring.

Travelban Wed 20-Jan-21 14:08:01

We have experience of non selective, selective and uber selective private schools.. Whilst the teaching has been mixed at all of them to an extent, the big difference for me has been thr level of expectation.

So at top selective school and medium selective there is an expectation that all children do very well. If your child is average or above average, it's really where it makes the difference.

Super clever and super motivated children would do well anywhere, but some do need that push.

At the non selective they were happy with children dropping subjects, sitting foundation papers etc and it was almost criminal to observe average children who could have done so much better just not being pushed to achieve. The lack of pressure though made for a very happy environment. Probably the happiest of them all.

So as a family if you are prepared to push and your child is very motivated, a non selective (state or private) will be fine... However if they are not, at secondary level it becomes a bit of a challenge and a selective school will give them grief if they don't apply themselves.

flourandeggs Wed 20-Jan-21 15:03:12

@Travelban which is why there is currently a mental health epidemic at super selectives. Children, adults, humans - they are all the same and they have to choose to work not be pushed! Get the happy bit right the rest will follow. Super selectives suit a teeny tiny minority of personality types.

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