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Son moving from average primary school to Westminster Under school

(12 Posts)
irasciblemum Thu 07-Jul-11 11:49:54

Hi, my DS is 7 and is moving from our local, not particularly brilliant primary school to Westminster Under School next year. He's bright and really keen to learn, with a touch of tourette's syndrome and we have been advised by his current school that he would do well in a stimulating academic environment.
My main concern is that everyone there is going to be enormously rich - (we will really struggle to send him there). I don't care about this personally but I wonder if this will be an issue amongst the other children. I don't want him to feel left out.
Any advice, experience would be greatly appreciated.

wordfactory Thu 07-Jul-11 12:16:01

Neighbour's lad goes to the upper school and they are a very nice family. Very quirky, musical and academic. Single Mum. Not loaded.

My own DC attended a pretty swanky prep school and DS is now going off to public school. I can asure you that a. everyon eis not loaded. And b. I couldn't give a monkey's how much money people have or have not got.

Your DS will be fine.

wordfactory Thu 07-Jul-11 12:18:02

Should also say that whilst we are comfortable I certainly do not buy DC lots of expensive clothes. They don't have balckberrys. They don't have iphones. They don't have a TV in their room etc.

And I am not alone in my approach to money.

rosar Thu 07-Jul-11 12:57:06

Agree with wordfactory, they will love having him there. Achievement in every sense is cool there but worn easily, and anyway there are so many talents no single boy ever gets to dominate. The parents don't care at all about your background, they know some things cannot be bought, and your son has plenty of those things. The boys of course care even less.

Propitious Tue 13-Sep-11 14:35:38


I'm new to Mumsnet but may have some useful background on WUS that may help allay irasciblemum's fears or others contemplating the Under School for their offspring. I was on the teaching staff there for some time and can assure you that the wealth/social standing of parents counts for very little in the context of your son's overall success and feelings of acceptance at the school. In my day the exceptional wealth of a few parents (and I do mean only a few) was regarded as more than somewhat infra dig by the boys as well as staff. Friendship & peer groups cut right across social and wealth boundaries.

If your son is a bright and reasonably confident boy then he will prosper socially and academically. Even those who are a bit 'eccentric' - but without behavioural issues - do really well at the school and give the place an amazing diverse atmosphere (the same applies to the teachers!).

The Under School is unlike any other prep school I know of. The drab grey uniform with a flash of pink & the occasionally scruffy appearance of the boys belies the depth of quality of pretty much everything that goes on at the school. The institution is not 'polished' to appear something it is not. Parents who want conformity to the cliched prep school experience should look elsewhere. What you will get is a lot of discussion of ideas, a lot of penetrating questions about difficult concepts, huge achievement and a genuine desire to learn - more often than not for learning's sake. As well as the academic stuff there is a lot of high quality music teaching, competitive sport and a variety of trips both local and wider ranging.

Not long ago I was asked by a friend's son for some advice about WUS as a place to work as he was considering applying for a teaching post there. I wrote this:

“xxxx tells me you may be interested in prep school teaching. It's quite different to teaching in the state sector but mostly in a good way. You generally have a lot more freedom to teach the way you want to teach rather than follow the strictures of the National Curriculum (private schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum). However, your Head of Department may have very firm ideas about what and how you teach! The Common Entrance exam (taken by 13yr old) looms pretty large and all need a good pass to get into a better independent secondary school.

If you're applying for jobs in prep schools beware the boarding schools! Getting sucked into boarding will drain you completely (after you have had a full day's teaching)... and then there's week-ends.... My advice is to avoid at all costs since you now have a family of your own.

Day preps vary markedly. Not all independent schools are good schools, some are awful with low-calibre, "boisterous" pupils, poor/mediocre staff and are 'bums-on-seats' operations to generate income. Some of the best preps have brilliant kids, teachers out of the top drawer and are inspiring places to work. Day preps value teachers who can offer more than their subject, so if you're a good/half decent soccer player (and you're applying to a soccer playing school), or even at all 'gamesy', you need to emphasise this on your CV. It's a critical selling point, also your Cambridge background will be a really powerful selling tool.

The best preps pay their staff well - significantly better than equivalent state sector scales. When I was at Westminster we were the second best paid teachers in the country (by some distance), second only to Eton who pay their staff astonishing amounts of money. Holidays are usually longer but you will have earned them. End of term reports are a lot of work, as are exams (the kids get examined a lot) but that goes with the territory.

Westminster Under School is an academic powerhouse. 20% of the kids are officially classified as 'gifted'. It has produced Britain’s youngest chess Grand Master and regularly scoops an armful of top scholarships to Westminster, Eton and Winchester. (Westminster School has produced more Nobel Prize winners than Japan). The kids come from a catchment that is centred on Chelsea and Kensington, whose parents are big in the media, business and the City. Some disappear off their 'country house' for the week-end. There was a strong American contingent when I was there (very demanding mothers!) but there are also a lot of kids who come from less wealthy professional homes whose parents strive hard to pay the fees. As a teacher there I was always impressed by the parents, of course there were a few arrogant types but most were fully supportive if they felt you were fair, took a personal interest and worked hard for their kids. I was embarrassed by their generosity at Christmas time.

There is a full fees bursary scheme for bright kids from less-well off backgrounds. I remember one boy from a Bermondsey council tower block with a single-parent Mum, who did really well at the school. Strange as it may seem, the school is not at all snobby or up itself; it's a meritocracy with a lot of hard-working, happy kids. Entry to the school is by competitive exam - there are 6 or 7 applicants for each place. I've seen parents weeping with anxiety whilst waiting outside the school to collect their kids after the exam. It is one of the top schools in the country (and possibly beyond) and places at it are coveted. 90% of the kids go on to Westminster School but only if they do really well at the Common Entrance exam.

I cannot recommend the place too highly. It was/is a brilliant place to teach and immensely rewarding in all sorts of different ways. If you do end up working there (or any really good prep school) my advice would be to set the bar high in your teaching (they will almost certainly surpass it) and work them hard because it will be expected. You will have much more freedom in your teaching but they will expect results, however you will enjoy it.

Don't hesitate to get in touch if you need more advice of any sort.”

Of course I am a bit partial about the place given my background but quite a few other contributors to this forum also mark the place out as different to most other prep schools.

Hope this helps.

decime Wed 06-Feb-13 18:12:33

I'm a little late to the game, but thanks for sharing that inspiring letter. I truly believe that WUS is a unique and special school and that the negative hype over the snobbishness of the place is an unfortunate misconception by the public.

rabbitstew Thu 07-Feb-13 16:32:38

My approach has always been to assume my children will be happy unless proven otherwise. You are taking up an opportunity for your child, following advice from his school, careful thought, knowing your own son and presumably your own beliefs. Now all you need to do is be positive about it and react to the reality rather than any residual fears. If you are not the sort of person to be bothered by the trappings of wealth and whether or not you can display them, then it is more likely that your son is not the sort to be bothered by that, either. Wealthy or poor, children can and do have fun without expensive props, in wealthy schools and in average state schools.

zigzagzigzag Thu 07-Feb-13 17:09:51

My husband went to Westminster and the underschool. He says he had absolutely no idea how much money anyone had

rabbitstew Thu 07-Feb-13 17:18:30

Presumably he was never invited to anyone's house then, zigzagzigzag? Or there wasn't any great disparity of wealth between the richest and the poorest of his actual friends?

zigzagzigzag Thu 07-Feb-13 17:23:48

he did go to some friends houses - but listening to him, they genuinely were more interested in playing than comparing how many bedrooms/how luxurious/where their friends houses were. I would expect that of any 7/8 year old?

zigzagzigzag Thu 07-Feb-13 17:25:05

I don't know re the disparity of wealth - as noted he said he had absolutely no idea!

Lizzzar Mon 29-Apr-13 04:20:35

Westminster Under has burseries to help with the fees and I'd
say the majority of families are not hugely well off. Quite a few families making
sacrifices, even if they are paying the fees themselves. My brother
went to the Under School - it was a while ago, but it is certainly not
the kind of school in which a boy would be looked down on for not being
well off if he was bright. Westminster Under is definitely for the academically capable, but does not want to be financially or socially exclusive.

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