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St Albans / Harpenden primary schools

(46 Posts)
sarshe Fri 01-Oct-10 03:59:58

Hi there,

We are a kiwi family relocating from NZ to St Albans or possibly Harpenden in March 2011. As part of my research for the move I've been exploring the school admissions systems over there and have become hopelessly confused!

Our DD turns 6 in May 2011 (in March 2011, she'll be part way through Year 1 in NZ). Our DS will turn 4 in January 2011.

We have called the Herts County Council, but have been advised that we can't apply for a school for our DD without a permanent UK address. So we called some schools to find out if they'll have places available, but were told they couldn't say until once an application is made.

So our dilemma is: how do we go about deciding where to rent. Do we just choose a school and rent as close as possible, or is it not that simple? Obviously we're keen for them to attend a decent school, especially on top of such a big move, so I'm a bit anxious about the whole thing. Having said that, most of the schools in these two towns look pretty good?

I understand that the popular primaries are heavily over-subscribed. Would it be right to assume that there would be little chance of an in-year admission to the very central schools or those ranked 'outstanding' by Ofsted? Could anyone suggest some good schools more likely to have space for an in-year Year 1 admission?

Work is in Welwyn G.C, so we'd prefer to be in a nice part of town handy for that drive (eg, in St Albans, possibly north of Hatfield Rd, east of Harpenden Rd - I've been looking at Fleetville, Bernards Heath, etc). However we?re completely open to any advice on where to live too! We really love character homes and being close to nice shops, restaurants, pubs, etc. We're obviously looking for somewhere family friendly - but from my research both these towns seem to be very much that way (?).

Anyway, I'm waffling on now. But any advice on this whole schools / where to live thing would be hugely and most gratefully appreciated. I'm in a right muddle about it all, and need to get a clue, fast! Sorry if I'm being totally ignorant!

Many thanks for reading

chuckeyegg Fri 01-Oct-10 13:40:31

Hello Sarshe, I am only just starting on the school thing myself. I've put a link in St Albans local section for this thread and hopefully you'll get some replies soon.

edam Fri 01-Oct-10 14:11:06

Hi Sarshe - you've chosen the right part of the world for good schools. Herts schools don't have defined catchment areas - changes every year depending how many people apply and where they live and, importantly, how many ruddy siblings there are (siblings get in first even if the family has moved some distance i.e. into a village instead of in Harpenden itself).

You are right that in-year admissions can be tricky. I knew one family at ds's school that waited six months to get one child into the school where the other three were. BUT people do move house and leave the school so you may be lucky.

Guess the only advice you can follow is buy a house as close as possible to a good school. Avoid the centre of St Albans where every year there's a fuss about kids not getting places locally - too many children for the small local schools and too much competition for the surburban schools which are already quite full. Several St Albans primaries had to have 'bulge' classes (i.e. creating a whole new class) a year or two ago so the siblings of that cohort will be coming along and taking places over families who live in the area but don't have kids already in schools.

In Harpenden, all the primaries are v. good EXCEPT The Lea so avoid Westfield Road area unless you are feeling brave. Sauncey Wood in Batford used to be one to avoid but gather it is on the up. Roundwood, Wood End, The Grove, High Beeches, Manland are all in demand. Crabtree well-thought of. St Nicholas's is CofE and you to have proof of church attendance, ditto St Dominics for Catholics.

If you want state schools, don't buy a house in West Common in Harpenden - very expensive but no state schools nearby. Residents are all wealthy enough to send their kids private.

HTH!

sarshe Sat 02-Oct-10 08:05:36

Thanks so much chuckeyegg - I didn't realise there was a St Albans local thread on here. Fantastic.

Edam, thanks too. I was starting to get really confused so it's good to hear we're on the right track with the thoughts of simply finding a home close to a preferred school. Also reassuring to hear that the area is known for good schools in general.

GreatGooglyMoogly Sat 02-Oct-10 10:57:02

I live in St Albans and believe that most schools here are very good. The only one I have heard negative things about is Margaret Wix (and there seems to be mixed views on Mandeville, though it does have an outstanding Ofsted). I would agree that your best chance of a place is to choose a (good) school that takes more than one class per year, eg. Bernards' Heath Infant, and then get a house as close as you can! Good Luck.

edam Sat 02-Oct-10 13:20:28

Ooh, just remembered, The Grove schools in Harpenden are expanding - think to three form entry (Grove has infant and middle school - there's a mix of set-ups here, some primaries and others with linked infant and middles). So you might want to look at Southdown. Don't go too close to the edge near St Albans though as there seem to be a few children every year who don't get Harpenden secondary schools from that end of town.

StarlightMcKenzie Sat 02-Oct-10 13:30:45

Message withdrawn

sarshe Sat 02-Oct-10 21:02:54

Thanks all!

GGM - I have been looking at homes online and there seems to be some lovely character homes around the Clarence Park area (north of Hatfield Rd, east of Harpenden Rd), where we could apply for Bernards' Heath and Fleetville schools... would this be a good area to focus on? Is this a good community/area for families? Seems to be close to central without having all the parking/school problems... but of course there's only so much you can glean from looking at google maps!

Edam, do you have any advice on life in Harpenden in general? Are there many younger families living there, or is it more an older area? We lived in Crouch End several years ago and really liked it there (urban but villagey, family-friendly, green spaces, great shops, pubs, restaurants, heaps of other mums to meet, etc). We're looking for somewhere closer to Welwyn Garden City, and obviously schools are a huge part of the equation now...

Starlight McKenzie, I only know that Aboyne is heavily over-subscribed... I've discounted it for us purely on that basis, as I can't see them having a place for our DD in-year. Think it's a great school tho??

Thanks once again everyone, all this advice is really, really appreciated. It's such a big move, so I want to be as informed as possible, esp when it comes to the kids and schools! Cheers.

GreatGooglyMoogly Sun 03-Oct-10 08:35:30

Yes, sarshe, I think you're spot on with your house search .

oddgirl Sun 03-Oct-10 18:55:12

I live in the area-schools great in Harpenden and life in Harpenden very good for family life with loads to do..loads of parent/child groups from music to craft all aimed at families...have met some great friends here and where we live nearly all our neighbours have kids same age so lots of going between houses etc.

Only one proviso re life in Harpenden...can be a little on the competitive side particularly within schools where the Harpenden Yummy Mummy can lurk around every corner waiting to leap out at you and declare her 2 year old is starting Russian lessons and applied geometry..otherwise life here is lovely with a village feel and some nice individual shops.

As for schools-all great afaik-BUT would highly recommend you live as close as poss to your chosen schools as competition fierce...also go round each school as each has something different to offer and different strengths so it kind of depends what you are looking for.

Ultimately would recommend life in harpenden!!

HTH

sarshe Sun 03-Oct-10 21:34:59

Thanks oddgirl, good to hear. Will definitely keep Harpenden open as an option. Re the competitive mummies, thanks for the word to the wise... we have a few where I live now too, but I find a general air of frazzled incompetance (combined with bad hair) usually keeps them at bay! ;)

sarshe Sun 03-Oct-10 21:36:43

Just saw your message GGM - thanks.

sausagesoup Thu 14-Oct-10 14:17:48

Interesting thread ...wanted to correct something though...
Don't know how to do the posh thing where you link to an earlier post but Edam said "In Harpenden, all the primaries are v. good EXCEPT The Lea so avoid Westfield Road area unless you are feeling brave".

Edam ...on what facts do you base this misinformation. I am well aware that the Lea has had a poor press in recent years and unfortunately this is a difficult thing to shake off. Your comment is totally wrong. The Lea has small classes, a very dedicated teaching team, good behaviour, improving results, caring ethos ...depends what you want from a school but there are certainly some schools where the focus only appears to be on the SATS in class sizes of 30+.

sarshe Fri 15-Oct-10 19:55:23

Hey thanks sausagesoup.
Lea has a pretty good write-up on the Ofsted thingy, by memory - but I know reading these things is nowhere near as useful as visiting in person!
Where we're coming from now DD has 13 in her class, so we're used to small. She'll also skip about a half year, and go from being one of the eldest in her year to being one of the younger ones. Plus she'll miss a couple of terms of year 1 as our school year runs Feb-Dec.
I'm a bit concerned that if she goes into a really academic environment it'll knock her confidence, because she'll have to skip part of year 1 and also because her current school has a big focus on sports and social/personal development, rather than academic, in the early years. She's a bright enough kid, but if there's a massive leap it might be tricky for her.
I'm thinking that once we know our arrival date I might just bother some of the schools over there again and find out the kind of academic milestones they aim for the kids to reach by end of year 1. In an ideal world I'd know where she was going and be able to talk to her teacher, but hopefully I'll be able to find someone to talk to. It'll also be good to get over there and visit all these schools and make some quick decisions (then get placed wherever HCC can find a space for her, by the sound of it! ).
Cheers!

Hiyamaya Sat 16-Oct-10 09:00:00

Primary schools in St Albans are all pretty good, so not too much to worry about (although I'm sure it's nerve-wracking making such a big move).

Schools that tend to have places spare for kids joining midstream are Mandeville, Bernards Heath, Camp and Windermere. They are all good schools but have a more socially mixed intake than the oversubscribed schools....but that's no bad thing.

For midstream entries it doesn't matter so much how close you live as whether they have spaces at the right ages when you arrive. If you speak to the Heads they should tell you if they have current spaces, although they can't guarantee they won't be filled.

Clarence Park is a nice area, but not quite walking distance to Bernards Heath. You tend to pay a commuting premium on houses around here for being so close to the train station - so it depends whether you need to get the train to London everyday as to whether that's worth it

Swedes2 Sun 17-Oct-10 20:50:03

I live in Harpenden and think there's nothing wrong with the Lea AT ALL. In fact I'm really impressed with it. Some of my friends send their kids there and they are v v pleased with it. I'm amazed you make such swingeing remarks, Edam. Have you ever even been to the Lea Primary?

OP Grove School in Harpenden ISN'T a middle school - it's in fant and primary like all the rest: in Harpenden

Just one thing to ask really. Why aren't you thinking of living in WGC if that's where your work's going to be? You have all the amentities of Harpenden and St Albans, equally fast trains into London and also John Lewis AND sailing. There aren't many places in the commuterbelt that offer all that tbh.

Swedes2 Sun 17-Oct-10 20:54:41

Also new straight line disatance rules for Herts LEA mean that West Common is much nearer to Roundwood and Roundwood Park.

ExcessAdrenaline Sun 17-Oct-10 22:36:30

We were warned off The Lea when we were considering a move to Harpenden - I think it's reputation is a little out of date. It has improved enormously.

Schools in St Albans & Harpenden are fairly pushy. My biggest shock after enrolling my ds was another parent expressing surprise that I had assumed it was good teaching that had led to good results at the school - instead she suggested it was pressure on the children and parents. And she was unfortunately right, if your child doesn't perform don't expect the school to help - they'll let you know there's a problem but it's up to you to fix it - you'll find plenty of Harpenden parents use tutors at primary level - can't have a child struggling at school - especially at a very successful school.
Saying that it's a great place to live as long as you don't get too caught up in the pushy parent competitive side of things.

edam Sun 17-Oct-10 22:43:27

OK, OK, sorry if I offended anyone re. The Lea.

Btw, I know someone who has just pulled her son out of Aboyne Lodge - wasn't happy with the new head. No idea whether there is a real issue there or not, though.

hobbgoblin Sun 17-Oct-10 22:46:30

Just wanted to add that Fleetville has a great community feel and is vibrant as well as multicultural. Have heard mixed reviews of Fleetville school. Mine went to Bernard's Heath Infants and the area itself again is very family orientated but perhaps has less of a buzz.

We are now down the road in Sandridge which is comfortably a few miles out of town (towards Wheathampstead and Harpenden) and is comparably rural and yet feasibly a walk into St Albans City. Our local schools are very good and generally not a problem in terms of getting places (though Wheatfields has been oversubscribed).

mellicauli Sun 17-Oct-10 23:37:38

I wouldn't discount Fleetville. Most people I know are very happy there. My son certainly is. The head inspires a lot of confidence and the teachers are good.

It also has a 3 form intake (ie 90 kids in a year rather than normal 60 or 30) so it makes it statistically a better bet for you to get a place. The infants and juniors are separate, so the school isn't too huge.

It is also one of the few schools with a breakfast club/after school club, which is a consideration if you want to work yourself.

sarshe Mon 18-Oct-10 00:16:42

Wow, so much info, it's great. Will save me lots of time when we touch down.

Hiyamaya, thanks - BH school is on the northern side of town, so will ask there (and probably Fleetville) first as we were hoping to stay north for the work commute. Also thanks for heads-up on premium on Clarence Park.

Swedes2, re: WGC, no reason other than utterly subjective preference on the part of DH (who's been to both towns). Go figure. Friends have also recommended St Albans or Harpenden as areas they think we'd enjoy.

Hobgoblin, mellicauli, thanks - will add Sandridge to the list of places to check out and we're already looking at Fleetville. Can you walk to a cafe in Sandridge, or is it super rural?

EA - wow, really? That's so full on! Scary!

Edam - thanks heaps for your useful advice... just maybe seems like your info on the lea is a bit out of date is all.

Thanks again everyone, so helpful.

sarshe Mon 18-Oct-10 00:39:40

So... have I got this right? In a nutshell...

* St A schools (north of Hatfield Rd) that might have space: BH or possibly Fleetville. Others likely to have places are in south of St A.

* Harpenden schools that are more likely to have places: Grove?? Lea??

* Sandridge and other villages between St A and Harpenden more likely to have space though not Wheatfields.

* Important to ask schools about their approach/attitude toward academic achievement... some may be overly invested / put disproportionate emphasis on this.

sarshe Mon 18-Oct-10 00:51:00

(meant Wheathamstead, not Wheatfields)... you Brits with your fabulous place names... so much cooler than 'the north shore'.

Swedes2 Mon 18-Oct-10 08:56:19

Sarshe - You'll be arriving outside of the normal admissions time for your daughter and so the normal admissions rules won't actually apply to you in the same way. I think some schools are consitutionally compelled to apply LEA admissions rules even for occasional admissions outside of the normal times. But others aren't. You'll have to phone the schools directly to see if they have a place for your daughter. It's my guess they won't be able to be terribly helpful UNTIL you have an address. And you will also be arriving after the closing date for the normal admissions for your son too. So again you'll be dealing directly with the schools.

Applecroft School and Templewood School in WGC are incredibly good schools. I am particularly impressed with Applecroft.

In general intellectuals live in WGC and Harpenden people are pretty shallow but wealthy (I live in H so I am allowed to say that grin) My sons go to school in St A and the traffic is horrendous.

If I was going to live in St A, I would choose to live near the Abbey conservation area so as to be near to the Abbey and Verulamium Park (and Abbey School) and a short stroll from the shops. Or St Michaels. If you are going to live in St A defintely live within walking distance of the station and town centre because of the traffic problems.

www.classicsovereign.co.uk are very good for rentals in Harpenden. You could send them an email and ask them what people do about schools in circumstances such as yours. They do a lot of relocations from overseas and so they likely have some good experience of how it might work out.

Best of luck.

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