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Should I let DD go to a specialist music school?

(27 Posts)
cordobasarah Mon 03-Feb-14 13:51:44


My daughter is 13 and bright academically - potentially Oxbridge material I am told depending on how things went (and how she felt about this etc)

However, she is dead set on applying to the Purcell school as from September (Year 10). There is a good chance she would get in - the school have indicated interest in her - and obviously she is pretty good musically.

However I do worry that she is way too young to make a decision on what she wants to do in the future, now. She is adamant that she wants to be an orchestral musician - and the Purcell school would be a fabulous stepping stone for this, an amazing opportunity. But they very much prepare children for careers in performance and openly state that their focus is not on the academic.

On the one hand I don't want to deny her what she sees as the opportunity of a lifetime (if she gets in) and it is hugely flattering that they regard her as having the right potential.

On the other hand I don't want her to look back and regret that she didn't take the academic route when she could have done so.

Has anyone experience of this kind of thing (especially of this kind of school?) What did you do?


AMumInScotland Mon 03-Feb-14 14:09:52

What sort of numbers and grades do they tend to get in their academic qualifications? They could mean 'our focus is on music but they do ok' or they could mean 'we really don't worry about academics' which is totally different.

If they tend to get enough to get into a range of universities and courses, and your dd doesn't have her heart set on being a doctor, then I'd let her follow her heart. TBH the number of people applying for each place means its very competitve anyway so it still might not happen.

I think it is unkind not to let teens at least try to do what they love, even if you worry about backup plans.

We went through similar with DS, but have always pointed out that it's a good idea to have a decent set of academic qualifications to give you more options in life.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 03-Feb-14 14:19:48

Hello OP

It is a difficult decision in your position. My dd is interested in specialist music schools but isn't very bright at all, it may seem mean of me but its true.
What is the local provision like near you? She must have good teachers to have got this far?
I think you need to weigh up firstly what she wants and whether the school offers enough in the way of academic subjects.
I'm not familiar with this one I must admit, so can't help with specifics.
The one my dd is interested in also states that they mostly concentrate on music, with academic coming last, which is fair enough if this is what you want.
I too would suggest a back up plan if your dd is bright and would like to go to uni in the future. That said if she is bright and self motivated she could maybe manage the less focus on academic and do a lot herself.
I would be worried about her changing her mind, how long has she wanted to do this.
Also, has she thought of completing GCSE where she is and going to a specialist school for A levels.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 03-Feb-14 14:25:21


I just saw the Oxford bit. I read on here actually that Oxford is quite good for music, well the classical side anyway. i'm sure you know this already though. Maybe a specialist school and scholarship to Oxford then. I don't envy you your position, its easier if its all they have and aren't very bright to begin with. grin Mine is only 10 but driven somehow, don't ask me why or how.

MerryMarigold Mon 03-Feb-14 14:29:49

On their website they said they offer 'an enviable academic record'. It may not be as bad as you think. I think you need to talk about it a lot, but ultimately let her decide as she may resent you for the rest of her life, if this is where her heart lies.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 03-Feb-14 14:36:02

Have you visited the school? We went to one recently and it was a different world. You can guage so much from a visit.
Is it boarding or day school? If the former and your dd has her suitcase out when you get home, you really can't stop her.
I do agree that you have to let them follow their dreams. Who knows where this comes from? To deny them the opportunity is wrong, they have to find their own way, admittedly it must be hard to let them go though.
My advice is to do your homework, go to open days, talk to parents and children already attending. Look at future destinations of those who have left. Look at the academic results and what GCSE's and A level subjects they offer. We found they were quite narrow and obviously music is compulsory at both GCSE and A level.

cordobasarah Mon 03-Feb-14 14:59:04


Thanks for all replies, much appreciated!

We have visited the school, and they say they the issue with the academic side is that they don't have enough hours in the day because there is so much music going on. The general feel was that it is not that the academic results aren't good but that the students have to take responsibility for getting good academic grades and fitting the work in, that the school will focus on music. Also they can do a maximun of 8 GCSEs because of timetabling.

It seemed approx 90% of leavers go on to music academies (eg. Royal Academy of Music) and only 10% to university to read music. I think there was nobody who didn't go on to study music - so if she decided at Lower Sixth she wanted to do eg. Physics at uni it would be a non starter.

This said, it occurs to me it would be better to let her do the two years of GCSE (assuming of course she got in!) to give her time to discover if it's for her or not. Because otherwise she will want to go at Sixth Form anyway at which point it would be more difficult to change her mind afterwards.

I can't help worrying about it, I have to say.....

cordobasarah Mon 03-Feb-14 15:14:28

Sorry, also to add that yes, it is a boarding school. I guess this worries me too - firstly because suddenly it seems as though my 13 year old is proposing leaving home, the thought of which breaks my heart.
And - more rationally! - it means I would not be there to give the 'alternative view', to remind her how important it is to keep her academic work up and discuss how she feels about what she is doing. I worry she would be surrounded by a culture of performance and I don't want her to feel she would be on a moving staircase unable to get off etc

glorious Mon 03-Feb-14 15:17:29

Have you thought about Chetham's? They are a bit more academic I believe. I studied music at Cambridge and a friend from my course had come from Chetham's with 4 A grade a levels (only one was music related smile ). Or Wells Cathedral School which is also a music school but more mixed than the other two.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 03-Feb-14 15:21:38


What does your dd play? mine plays a few instruments and is now singing various arrangements of boring in accompaniment to piano scales and studies. grin not her most favourite of pastimes and her weakest instrument.

AMumInScotland Mon 03-Feb-14 15:29:18

If you're looking at boarding (or she is...) then do look around more generally to see whether you are more comfortable with the ethos of one than another. They're all desperately competitive, but if she's good enough to get an offer for one, she may well get offers from others as well.

The 'needing to be self-motivated' can be less of a problem than you might think, as there can be a very focussed attitude which keeps them determined to do well at everthing.

I tend to the view that a teenager who is doing what he/she really wants to do is going to be more motivated and therefore achieve more than one who has not had that chance. But I may be biased since DS was always quite motivated, and I never doubted he'd get an adequate set of academic results in any school. If he had not been a hard-working person, or had been struggling academically, I might have been a lot less relaxed about him wanting to pursue music in any way he could.

MiddleAgeMiddleEngland Mon 03-Feb-14 18:32:19

We decided to stick with a 'normal' school, did loads of music outside of that, and then apply to music college. DD is very happy with that, looking back. She was fitting in about 3 hours playing/practice a day on top of school work and music groups.

Most university courses are academic-biased, the conservatoires/colleges are more geared towards performance, and include teaching in how to run what is generally a freelance career.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 03-Feb-14 19:12:07


Do you mean if your son had struggled academically you would have been less likely to want him to pursue music?

My dd struggles but is improving slightly all the time. It is very unlikely she will get much more than C's at GCSE though, I know that now.
I'm not saying I'm right but I think if they struggle academically and they excel in other areas a specialist school would be better.
I haven't written my dd off in terms of academia but am realistic about her abilities.
Now hear her sing and I don't know where it comes from grin

AMumInScotland Mon 03-Feb-14 20:54:09

morethan I think it was more about making sure that he got the results he was capable of academically, so that he wouldn't have limited his choices by focussing too much on the music. If they excel at something, and that's not academic, then that's different. But if DS had not done okay academically, I would have felt that was because the school wasn't doing it well enough, not because it was where his ability level was at. It sounds like, for your dd, it's not going to be 'music or university' but more likely 'music or college' or 'music or finding a job that suits her', so it is increasing rather than decreasing her options to go with the music side.

It's startling, isn't it, to realise they have a real talent. I am so unmusical I find it astounding what DS can do. It definitely skipped a generation with me!

KathySeldon Mon 03-Feb-14 21:28:04

We have friends with both dc at purcell. One wants to do medicine, one music. They are day pupils, and very happy there. even the dc who doesn't want to do music. Parents happy too.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 03-Feb-14 22:06:42


Her dad/ my dh is very musical, quite well known and world class, only in his own little thing though.
She scares him senseless, and the voice is astounding. Can't add 2 and 2 though. Writing is slowly improving. Don't think Mensa are interested grin

Picturesinthefirelight Tue 04-Feb-14 19:34:21

My dd is at a similar school for dance. She is also very academic & turned down a selective school place to go there.

However after par ents evening last week I a s ogled we decided t send her there. She's actually doing better there than at her previous academic private school because she is happy, motivated and amongst children just like her.

She will do 9 gcses. The big decision comes at a level. They only do 2 because they do a level 6 diploma so anyone considering
unit will go elsewhere so yes at6th formats openlynot a academic but at gcse it can't be faulted

Perhaps look around at some other MDS schools to compare what is offer.

AngelFalls Tue 04-Feb-14 21:43:40

DD is into drama, and very good, but also v academic.

A lot of her drama friends have gone onto performing arts courses at not-terribly-shiningly-academic institutions, but DD went for an academic subject at Oxford. She reckoned that she could do drama as an extra curricular then move into theatre later on if she really wanted, but have a mainstream degree behind her.

I don't know if it would have been different if she had a blazing, unmistakeable, certain-to-get-into RADA talent - she's good, but I don't know if she's RADA good. In a choice between Oxford and a performing arts college / random drama school, I think she made the right choice.

FastLoris Thu 06-Feb-14 23:35:52

It seemed approx 90% of leavers go on to music academies (eg. Royal Academy of Music) and only 10% to university to read music. I think there was nobody who didn't go on to study music - so if she decided at Lower Sixth she wanted to do eg. Physics at uni it would be a non starter.

That may have been the case one particular year but it certainly isn't in general. I researched the Purcell school once and for each of the previous few years, there were a few leavers who went to study other subjects than music. I also noticed that the results were very good, with a very large proportion of As and Bs.

FastLoris Thu 06-Feb-14 23:36:44

What instrument does she play?

Dromedary Fri 07-Feb-14 00:12:35

Which is the best specialist music school academically, in case they decide not to go for a music career, or it doesn't work out?

WeekendsAreHappyDays Fri 07-Feb-14 00:25:09

I had the same pressure you put dd under academically bright, talk of a levels at 11 - I hated it all.

Let her deicde she isn't a baby.

morethanpotatoprints Sat 08-Feb-14 16:06:25

I think the majority go on to study music because of the ethos of the schools.
They are primarily for dc who want a career in music, and part of the audition process is spotting the potential for this.
Music is the priority and academic is a definite second to this.
I'm told they practice for 3 hours a day and have groups, orchestras etc on top of this.

maggiethecat Tue 11-Feb-14 09:53:44

Difficult situation Cordo. Ultimately, you know your child and you will have to decide how her path is chosen.
An overwhelming desire to do something at which you are very good, although other talent exists, is very difficult to deny.

I have situation with my dd, who is average academics, and wants to go to music school. But we worry about narrowing options so soon. On other hand I have gut feeling that we will regret not sending her.

fizzly Sun 23-Feb-14 18:51:09

Just to say re Chethams, in case of any interest, I knew three people who went there (grew up nearby), two went to Cambridge with a third going to another solid RG uni. So very possible to be at a music specialist school and achieve academically. Only one of the above three has a musical career now, 15 yrs post uni.

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