cognita schools(25 Posts)
Does anybody know about this group of schools and whether or not they are good? Specifically St Nicholas Prep in London SW7? Need to make a decision of whether or not to send DS but don't know anyone who has been there and wonder if there is too much emphasis on bilingual children?
I know the group, but there are about 50 schools and each one is very different as they were bought as going concerns. Be aware they are shareholder owned so are more expensive - apart from that you just have to go around and see what you think!
Dcs are at a Cognita school, but I don't know the specific school you mention. As Mrs Freud mentions each school is unique, and has a different flavour. In general they have bought up either very successful schools, or schools with potential and then put in new heads.
In terms of finance, I disagree with MrsFreud: the schools are not more expensive becasue they are shareholder owned, and some of the Cognita schools are cheaper than other local schools. Cognita is owned by a private equity group and they are looking to make a capital profit on the eventual sale of the group in 5+ years time - they are not taking any dividends or profit from the group in the meantime unlike many owners. Also they benefit from significant economies of scale - at our school bank charges were eliminated, insurance costs significantly decreased and capital items are purchased with a greater discount. As the schools do not have charitable status they are not facing the uncertainty of how the Charity Commission will view them for the "public benefit" test.
Another factor which at least puts them back in comparison with charitable schools is that whilst proprietor owned schools usually don't have a board of governors, Cognita has a small head office group who are happy to hear from parents if they have an issue which they can't get resolved with the school directly. Concerns can also be raised anonymously if you prefer.
But in terms of an individual school I think that you have to look at the school itself. Go during a working day, not an open day, if you can. I think that it is less about whether a school is "good" or not, and more about whether it suits your child/children.
I would agree with Ladymuck - we are at a Cognita school and ownership has nothing to do with fees - local market forces will always determine fees. One benefit of the Cognita set up as a parent is that we are not constantly being asked to fundraise as is the case at a lot of charitable private schools. Any fundraising that we do tends to go to charities not for school equipment etc.
To be honest I wouldn't touch them with a barge pole. The one local to us has a bizarre headmaster who likes his pop. They are more concerned about getting bums on seats and profits for their shareholders than looking after their staff. Consequently our local one suffers from an extremely high teacher turnover. Yes their results are reasonable, (particularly when compared to neighbouring non-grammar state schools)but many parents are still using private tutors.
They have been severely slagged off on MN before, search the archives.
Chris Woodhead is part owner of this group of schools
My 3 are at a Cognita school and are all doing very well. Fees are comparable or slightly less than other local ind schools.
My only gripe is that they don't do sibling discounts but I'm going to keep asking for this!
I have had three in a Cognita school, and one of them joined in the year Cognita took over. Ours was one of the very first in the new Cognita group, back in 2004. It was a well established (over 100 years) small 3-16 independant school in a provincial town. I would echo everyone else in that the ethos and overall feel of each school can vary enormously and there is no 'stereotypical' Cognita school. You need to make your own mind up about the school first, and consider the Cognita ownership as a secondary factor.
Re: the comment about high staff turnover, that may be because when Cognita first go into a school there is always the inevitable shake-up of systems and management structure etc, and in our case this was followed by massive investment in the school and its facilities, but also a massive expansion in numbers. It was a bumpy path at first, and somewhat chaotic, but ultimately the school is better for it. Some teachers of the old regime may not take kindly to the change of environment and what may be seen as head office meddling that they'd never experienced before, in the cosy, quirky non-PC, autonomous world of small independent schools. There is bound to be a high turnover initially. But in the case of our school, much of it was for the better. A few bits of dead wood were eased out, lots of new teachers brought in because of greater numbers of pupils, but reassuringly, very many of the previous regime's teachers are still there too.
My best advice would be to ask questions about how long Cognita have been involved, have they changed the head, how has staff turnover been since, have they invested much in the school, and have they expanded numbers, or do they have plans for its expansion. If they are expanding numbers first in order to pay for upgrading the facilities, then that's when you may have a few hiccups and a bit of chaos, and your child being educated through the changes could have disadvantages. If, however, Cognita is well established and all the teething problems have been sorted you shouldn't have too much to worry about.
Cognita very much stay in the background and you will not be aware of their involvement at all really, but it is reassuring to know that in the event of any serious concerns about standards you can go to them, as obviously they cannot afford to allow any school's reputation to slip as it will affect business. I can only speak for my school, but I have to say that whenever I have had any concerns or problems they have been dealt with fantastically, and the pastoral care has been second to none.
Also must just add, that in the GCSE results for the last two or three years, our school (non-selective) came third in the whole LEA area, way ahead of all the state schools, with the exception of the two grammars (which are consistently in the top 10 nationally, and are in that small group of super-elite, nationally). We even came ahead of two other much more well known, much more expensive public schools, that set 11+ type entrance exams.
I think for the previous poster to suggest you avoid the entire group on the basis of one 'bizarre' headmaster who allegedly likes a drink, is very short sighted. For a start, she is not a parent there, so she only has gossip to go on. If the parents at that school have any real concerns about that particular head then I'm sure they are contacting Cognita in their droves and insisting on intervention, or legal action to recover their fees. People who pay for education do not sit back and accept poor standards without question. I'd take that comment with a if I were you.
Just noticed how old this original post is! God knows why it got bumped but OP probably made her mind up ages ago!
Ah, I see it's been bumped by the complainant, who perhaps is a parent after all, or just someone with a grudge against the group.
Wow! I was the OP on this and have not been online for ages! Thank you everyone for all this info. We did go ahead with the cognita school in the end and so far so good in most respects. There are a lot of French kids and kids from various international backgrounds but it tends to add to a happily varied atmosphere.
My children attend a Cognita school, and they have been very happy there but I'm a little worried because I hear they are on the brink of collapse, after all, they are technically owned by a bank.
If anyone else knows anything about this I would love to know, it is scaring me a little.
Someone has got their wires twisted. The Cognita group are now owned by Bregal Capital, which is the investment arm of the Brenninkmeijer family (the founders of C&A, and holders of a 20bn+ euro fortune). The fund has done very well to date and Cognita is one of the financial success stories.
I have to say though again staff turnover seems very high at the local Cognita school, and the new staff are all newly qualifieds from UK and elsewhere. Not that a newly qualified can't be good, but you are hoping for more. At ds1's school the 3 Year 5 form tutors have a total of 2 years teaching experience between the 3 of them.
I was also worried, but have sat down and talked to the Headmaster, who is confident that the school, and Cognita are doing very well.
Sindy and myself had overheard things from the other parents on how some things were being cut back, and that one business woman at the school said she had heard they (She was referring to Englefield Capital, who have, as Ladymuck said, been taken over by Bregal Capital) had suffered problems.
The Headmaster has answered our concerns, and deliberated that the takeover of Englefield was because they were doing well, not vice versa.
When I asked him why some things had been refused finance, he pointed out that these were mainly "cap ex" projects, some of which were merely postponed, others however had been cancelled because they were not viable.
I also queried another problem that Ladymuck touches on, that being the turnover of staff; specifically that an ex-colleague of mine who works at the school in a fairly menial job was overheard boasting that he was paid more than his foreman.
The Headmaster wouldn't (quite rightly) divulge any information about the employee - although he will be asked about loud-mouthed bragging - but admitted he had inherited a rather unusual pay structure that Cognita budgets for, being a manager myself I understand the problem there, in that he can't adjust the staff pay, and I get the impression he'd really like Cognita to negotiate better structured pay levels that link the job to the pay, rather than the person to the pay.
This is a concern to me, because if Cognita don't at least help with the pay structure, that will inevitably lead to bad feeling amongst staff, then the bickering, gossiping and eventually leading to an "I-don't-care" attitude, and these staff have an influence on the education of my son.
If I want my son to witness that sort of thing the local comprehensive would be equally as obliging, and with less expense on my part.
Cognita really need to do some proactive HR, if it's not already too late.
James, hubby of Sind39
Interesting topic due to Cognita are currently considering closing down Ffynone House School in Wales, despite it being one of their top performing schools educationally. I would warn any parent, in any of the Cognita schools to be wary in these tough financial times, if they can close such a academically successful school like Ffynone then they could close anything! Mostly what upset the staff, parents and children was the way in which it was handled, they did not show us any respect and they had the audacity to send a representative who could not answer any of the questions put to him. They have no concern for the students, especially those in the middle of doing their AS- Levels and GCSE candidates, who could face difficulties finding schools which do the same exam boards and also the same subjects, not to mention the disruption it causes the individual in a year that's academically challenging anyway! So whilst I realise that Cognita is primarily a business, when children are involved there should be morals.
However we have had great support from the community, parents and staff! These past days have shown us the true spirit of Ffynone House, much more than simply a school, a family. Positive meetings and outstanding support could lead to the school remaining open, we will continue to fight and do all we can to ensure the staff and students don't lose their extended family.
Cognita seem to have planned this closure quite cynically, the students in years 10 and 12 are being held hostage, at this point in their studies they have passed the point of no return, and the offer to bus them to the nearest Cognita school to finish their courses, holds little appeal without the teachers who achieve such good results.
The only lesson these pupils have learned from Cognita is that there is no sentiment in business.
I would avoid Cognita like the plague. The way that they are treating staff, parents and pupils in Ffynone is appalling, they don't even acknowledge emails. We are really hoping that the school can be saved but if not then I think the majority of parents will opt not to transfer their children to another Cognita school. Cognita say that their other school will offer 'continuity of education', however, they do different exam boards and don't offer some of the subjects that pupils already part way through exam courses are studying. Add this to a 2 hour, 50 mile round trip and there are other more attractive options closer to home.
Suddenly things seem to be moving very fast.
If an Academy "outsources" all the running of a school to a for profit company, and that company were to get into financial difficulty and be forced to withdraw from the contract -which can happen overnight - then who steps in to bail out the school, or like Ffynone does it just close? This is not a rhetorical question, but one to which an answer would be useful.
I wish I had an answer to that question, unfortunately Cognita have not left Ffynone time to deal with the possible options that are available to them, which I feel shows their true colours as an educational firm. They seem to not want the school to stay open, even if Ffynone went on without Cognita, which leaves you with the question: why? Finally after all this discussion since they closed the school last week, with upset of teachers, parents and most importantly KIDS today there is a Cognita rep meeting with the school. Why they could not do this last week it is not clear, it shows total disregard for all those in Ffynone. I would simply warn anyone in a Cognita school that we had NO beforehand warning, we were simply given a term, which is not enough time but again most importantly heartbreaking for the children.
Cognita are very much a business totally focused upon financial results at the sacrifice of everything else including students, teachers and parents. Their stated goal is Teaching Excellence however their actions as stated before are anything but. Ffynone School is one of their best performing schools academically, in 2010 Ffynone achieved 97% A* to C pass rate at GCSE with similar results at A level.
The cynical and cowardly way this board of directors (Cognita) has set about closing this school is shameful. The announcement happened just minutes before a group of sixth formers were sitting down to an A level exam. So much for caring about the childrens welfare Teachers have been treated abominably with little or no information regarding the pending closure prior to announcement.
Cognita boast about bringing financial stability to schools they operate/target because of group purchasing power and expert managerial help. However in this case it seems they just werent up to the job despite acquiring all the things they say make a great school namely; great teachers dedicated to teaching excellence proven time and time again by outstanding academic results. This shower have only managed the school since June 2007 and havent been able to make it work allegedly. Which should be a worry for the other 53 schools in the group.
Tonight a representative from Cognita will be at Ffynone to try and justify their actions with some financial re-engineering hocus-pocus (remember profit is a matter of opinion). However no board member is brave enough to attend what a surprise!. Maybe real purpose for the closure is to try and increase numbers at another Cognita School 21 miles away - How sad they only used Google maps to justify such a catastrophic decision, ah well thats money men for you they know the price of everything and value of nothing
Not sure I would be totally happy with a child of mine at a school that let this happen.
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