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Curious about differences between state & private at primary age: if your kids are in reception at a private school now, what are they doing?

(103 Posts)
tryhardrep Tue 12-Feb-13 12:44:44

Having a quick look at the coaching thread in this section has made me curious (in a friendly, non-confrontational way!) DD1 is at a state primary. We did look briefly at the private options but not in a really serious way because we were in the catchment for a good state school. I know families who have coached their kids from 2.5 plus but I don't want to probe them too much in RL about the whys and wherefores of how that has worked out because I've noticed that parents (of kids at state and private schools) often get a bit defensive about their choices. Which is understandable I guess. And to be completely transparent, I did post a related thread a couple of years ago (under a different talk name) when we were still deciding but things have moved on a bit since then and now that DD1 is at school I'm interested again, from a slightly different perspective.

So, what I really want to know is what the differences are, particularly in the early years of formal education. DD1 is in her second term of reception, she's reading well (moving up through the levels pretty rapidly), doing basic sums, is curious about the world around her and comes home with surprising facts about what she's learned at school. To me it feels like she's thriving and reaching her potential but when I hear of 3, 4 and 5 year olds being regularly coached to get into x,y,z london school (we're also in London), I do wonder whether 'thriving' is just subjective and whether academically those schools are just in a completely different league. Is it that the kids at pre-preps are reading longer, more complicated books and already learning their times tables? What do kids in reception at pre-preps do? If your DC is 5 and you opted for a private school what do you think they are getting that you wouldn't get at your local primary?

Virgil Tue 12-Feb-13 21:44:23

To add to that point, the Dss school used to be mixed until a few years ago. The teachers say that the boys are far more sensitive and considerate than they observed when the school was mixed. They also say the boys are doing far better from an academic perspective without the girls there. They are all ultra competitive with each other which spurs them on but are not hindered by feeling like the girls are always outperforming them.

NTitled Tue 12-Feb-13 21:47:20

I am completely sold on single sex schools. My others will be going to them for secondary...

LePetitPrince Tue 12-Feb-13 22:38:34

I've had experience of both sectors at this age. Differences in prep school reception:
- daily reading with teacher
- book home every night, either to read together or a reader
- lots of focus on phonics including phonemes
- small classes (18-ish)
- lots of extra-curricular work like art workshops for Chinese New Year etc
- bi-weekly European language class.

kilmuir Tue 12-Feb-13 23:19:47

Cursive writing from reception
reads every day to an adult
book changed as soon as read
great wrap around care
16 pupils intake for reception
Not convinced need for a specialist pe teacher when only 4/5 years old or need to learn Latin!
Local rural primary

montmartre Wed 13-Feb-13 00:57:58

My children's school cover what is essentially the NC Reception year work in the nursery year, i.e. start a year early- suits some, not others, but the school is selective. Specialist music teacher, French teacher (mother tongue) from nursery class, PE/games 4 times a week, new reading book every day from nursery-Y2 (don't know about juniors/prep as my dc are in infants/pre-prep), small class sizes, genuine actual playing fields.

Lots of things are same as the maintained sector though- smartboards in every classroom, access to outdoors at all times, a teacher and a TA to all infant classes, learning to read via phonics etc.

Many state schools near us don't have breakfast clubs and/or after school care, or the wait is 2-3 years. The school my children attend has before/after school care, and holiday care too - kind of essential considering how long independent school holidays are! The nice thing is, that the holiday car is staffed by all the usual school/after-school staff, so the children all know them well (and vice versa!).

WhichIsBest Wed 13-Feb-13 09:08:59

I have recent experience of two different outstanding state primary receptions.

One spent half the day outside, in all weather, split into ability sets from the start for maths, writing, and reading/phonics, taught using script.

The other taught two modern foreign languages from the start, had a specialist PE teacher, taught in cursive.

I found it interesting, how different they were. Both provide wraparound care.

Both class size of 25-30. Big schools.

sanam2010 Wed 13-Feb-13 09:22:45

DCs not in school yet but am deciding between state and private pre-prep. Am leaning towards pre-prep but as many have mentioned not because of the academics.

What attracts me about the private school I am looking at:
- they do sport outdoors every day
- they have amazing music and art teachers from top London art/music schools and win a lot of secondary scholarships because of it
- due to class size, better individual care and lesson planning. For example, they told me if my DC is ahead in French let's say, she could skip French some days and do violin lessons during that time - things like that

No-one has mentioned here but for me the food is actually a big issue. It may not be the case at all prep schools but in general the quality of food in the pre-preps in Chelsea etc. will be much higher than at state schools. I was looking at the only community primary we have a chance of getting a place at, and they do juice, toast and jam for breakfast club and get lunch delivered by a council wide caterer - while the prep school has yoghurt and fresh fruit and their own cool onsite.

In our case wrap around care at the state schools is actually much better, all from 7.45 - 6pm while the preps kind of say "it's better for the children to go home at 3, if you work just get a nanny!"

I don't think the posts here about mediocre prep schools (which of course exist) address the OP as she seems to be talking about the very oversubscribed top London preps that feed into Westminster, St Pauls and so on - these are never struggling to fill places and have no problem telling parents that their less academic child will be better off elsewhere.

But it comes down to the state options available, there are many great state primaries in London that I would happily send my children to, but for many of us who aren't RC / CofE and don't live within 0.2m of the top state schools, it's not that easy.

Kendodd Wed 13-Feb-13 09:58:15

Mine are at state school. I have three in YR, Y1 and Y2.

- Small village school about 90 seconds walk away.
- Class sizes of 25 and 26.
- A different reading book home every night.
- Reading with an adult most days but only about once/twice a week with their teacher.
- Y1 and Y2 get homework once a week and a few spellings.
- YR just has a homework book with whatever her library book is printed in it and some information about what they have been doing. She can write/draw/stick whatever she likes in this.
- Each year gets a ten week swimming course but they have to travel half an hour on a coach each way to the swimming pool. Parents have to pay for this.
- Y1 and Y2 have 20 minutes 1 to 1 piano lesson at school once a week. This is a private teacher who visits the school and we have to pay for the lesson. YR could also go but we decided to wait until she's in Y1.
- The school has great outdoor space and makes the most of it doing forest school etc.
- Poor indoor space with no indoor sports hall/large assembly hall, they have one but have to also use it as a classroom.
- No school meals, all packed lunches, they could come home but don't want to.
- Some language provision but no very good IMO.

Overall we're happy enough. The biggest thing for us is that the school is so close, I really didn't want to have to drive them to school. Plus the reception teacher particularly is absolutely brilliant, amazing, we could not have possibility wished for a better teacher. She is also head of early years. She has won national and local teaching awards and I'm sure she'll be headhunted away before to long. The other teachers are good as well.

Wallison Wed 13-Feb-13 10:11:45

Mine is at a state school as well and I'm very happy with it.

- He has been taught cursive writing from the start.
- By Xmas in reception he was reading. He gets reading every night and read to an adult every day at school to begin with although that is less frequent now that he is in Y3.
- They were streamed quite early on and his table is now doing fractions and percentages in maths.
- Specialist teachers for PE (the guy who does this also coaches the local City FC), French and Music.
- School has a supply of musical instruments for free loan and also bursaries for 1-to-1 teaching (he is on one).
- In addition, all of Y3 pupils get free instrumental coaching and play in an ensemble.
- The meals are nutritious with a veggie option each day and unlimited access to a salad bar in addition to the veggies they get with their mains.
- Wrap-around care has recently been extended to 7.45-5.45.
- Free after-school clubs every day, often with more than one running on each day, for things like chess, football, cookery, Spanish, Art etc.

He has progressed loads there and shows no signs of slowing down yet - has already gone up two sub-levels compared to how he did in his SATs last May. And this from a school in the middle of a council estate.

mrsshackleton Wed 13-Feb-13 10:17:48

Back to the state primaries bigging up thing - possibly bad prep schools do the same to keep numbers up, but not the oversubscribed London ones we're talking about.

Ime the (lovely) primary school my dd used to attend had such a wide variety of children that mediocre work from a child who could do a lot more was deemed acceptable. My child was struggling at maths and hadn't mastered basic concepts but because a lot of children in the class were doing even worse, hers was deemed to be "fine." Similarly, because so many children in the class could barely write in y2, her appalling handwriting and spelling was allowed a pass. None of this is allowed in her prep school and she is achieving so much more. I don't think ultra-able, ultra-supported children need private education, but the ones in the middle can really benefit.

I think that what often comes out from these threads is that you have to directly compare the schools available to you. If you have the choice of a satisfactory prep or an outstanding state school then its logical to choose the state school. If, on the other hand, as was my case, you have the choice between a satisfactory state school and an outstanding prep (& can afford the choice) then you choose the prep.

catinhat Wed 13-Feb-13 11:00:08

I was state educated and my children are.

I think that the differences are class size and specialist teachers and money - but then infant classes in state schools will typically have a teacher and a TA. And for 12k a year you could probably pay for private language and music lessons. (We pay for our dds music tuition on piano and violin).

I think state school pupils are monitored very closely for achievement and progress. Partly because this is what schools are judged against.

I have observed that our local private schools won't let children carry on past the age of 7 if they're not able; they have to back into the state sector (seems a bit harsh at 7!)

Some of our year 6s have specialist maths teaching at a local secondary. (The ones destined for Level 6 in their Sats).

Parents are obsessed by their children being read with each day, but I can't see it's that important; in my dds state school the strugglers are read with every day but my two - who learned to read quickly - weren't. We were meant to read with them every day at home but I sort of lost interest once I realised they could read as well as an adult.

Our two also did cursive (joined-up) from reception.

Our two also swim every week. They actually do far too much sport at school; we live in a sport obsessed town!

When I was at University (Oxford) I couldn't tell the difference between those who had been privately educated or state educated.

catinhat Wed 13-Feb-13 11:02:34

Wallinson - your school sounds like ours - we have lots of one-to-one tuition, reading buddies, free ensemble playing (year 4) and subsidised instrument hire.

We're also an 'estate' school.

Farewelltoarms Wed 13-Feb-13 11:33:54

I'm with you catinhat re. the reading every day thing not being a priority. I'm not sure it's a particularly effective use of a teacher's time especially since it's something we do at home and I enjoy doing. Certainly find it easier to read every day to my three than to earn the 40k that I would need to for them to have this privilege at school...

SocietyClowns Wed 13-Feb-13 12:56:20

Those of you with fantastic state schools on your doorstep, can you tell me where you live please? grin I'd happily relocate to get everything our independent offers, but without paying for it!!

We had to make a tough choice for our summer born, shy, speech delayed, hearing impaired, glue eared dd and when it came down to it there was no choice. The alternative to the independent was a faith school with a reception intake of 37 (!), over half of those Polish speaking, with a TA who was a native Polish speaker, a NQ panicky looking teacher, a slightly deranged appearing HT, and no breakfast or after school care or clubs. The school has recently been reported to be failing badly with significant weaknesses in all areas.

tryhardrep Wed 13-Feb-13 13:07:10

Thanks again, folks. What strikes me from the responses is the huge variety in provision. I think we're more or less happy where we are for now but just need to have a proper look at the alternatives when the 7+ question comes up.

Seriously though: do a lot of adults use cursive writing in real life? I honestly have never joined up my letters since I was a child. I'm a journalist so do almost everything on a keyboard these days, perhaps that explains it?! But actually I can't think of any adults I know who do it either. I had no idea children were still taught it at school.

catinhat interesting point about noticing later in life re private/state education. I also went to Oxford and would agree with you for the most part, only obvious difference in modern languages was that the students who had been to major public schools had a really sound knowledge of grammar, they just didn't seem to have to think about it, it had been drummed in from such a young age.

BuiltForComfort Wed 13-Feb-13 13:19:54

In case helpful, ds is in yr1 of a very large state primary. He gets 2 x PE lessons a week, one outdoors "sports" type activity, the other indoor "gym / dance" focus. Specialist Art teacher, specialist Music teacher, specialist French teacher (all give 1 lesson per week), specialist PE coaches.

Guided reading once a week in a small group of 5 I think. The teachers continually learn and the school invests when necessary in new schemes such as Jolly Phonics or Maths programs after serious research. Lots of technology (Apple mac in each classroom, interactive computer boards (not white boards but massive computer screens that can be written on with special pens or linked to by the teacher's pc), iPads in YR for children to use (one or two, not one each!).

What he doesn't get is more individual attention due to being in a class of 30, nor does he get much more than 5 mins of 1-to-1 reading time a week. No homework until Yr2 but does have a weekly reading book for the guided group, plus free choice of books to bring home each week and a reading diary for me and his teacher to comment in.

I can afford and have time for after school activities - some run by the school, some run at school by outside companies, some organised by me away from school. I also, in theory, have more time to help him with reading, maths etc if I felt inclined though we do lots of other stuff rather than focus on things he's learning in school anyway. I have to pay for uniform, school meals and small contributions to trips out, they seem to do one per term. Given that where I live private primary school would cost upwards of £12,000 a year, I think ds is getting a pretty good deal!

MonkeySea Wed 13-Feb-13 13:24:51

Gilded toilet seats.

And teak desks.


tryhardrep Wed 13-Feb-13 13:52:42

damn, if only I'd known grin

NTitled Wed 13-Feb-13 14:43:11

tryhardrep: I always join up my writing (and always use a fountain pen). I'm a journo too, so like handwriting as a break from keyboarding...

Wallison Wed 13-Feb-13 15:01:19

catinhat, yes, that does sound very similar.

It's all down to luck of the draw and timing I think. Ten years ago, nobody would have wanted to send their kids to his school because it was failing. But then it got put into special measures and the Head they put in was at the council all the time for grants for this that and the other. It got money thrown at it and started getting Outstanding from Ofsted. So we are just very very lucky that we live close by (it is our closest school) and also that we were looking for him to go to school at the time he did.

itstrainingmen Wed 13-Feb-13 16:56:12

So hard to generalise. Our state primary has a specialist language teacher for juniors and a good range of clubs.

No sports matches but some specialist coaching. Music lessons in school but no orchestra.

The differences in levels of children are so individual. Several friends with dc in pre-preps used to assume their dc would be way ahead of mine but from what they said about reading levels it was the opposite and our top group is working at a good level in theory when the teacher can differentiate (not always easy in a class of 30).

The differences seem to be that if I have a problem, it's a struggle to see the teacher as she is stressed and busy, whereas in a class of say 15 or 18, they seem less so and as you're paying, they're more accountable to you. There also seem to be more very disruptive kids at our primary -suspect they'd be managed out at private schools. Dc have sort of benefited from learning to deal with this/ all sorts of kids but it probably has disrupted learning.

We also find that there is much more faffing about doing nothing at the start and end of each term (not just a day settling back in and a day at the end of term doing fun stuff) and a lot of missed core subjects. I get the impression that happens less at local preps.

catinhat Thu 14-Feb-13 16:12:11


Our school still not out of the woods yet; last Ofsted only SATISFACTORY.

But, it's been great for our dds and it's lovely not having the pressures of wealthy classmates. (We live in an exceptionally leafy village only a miles from the estate school with rock stars and IT millionaires for neighbours, so we need some variety!)

Unfortunately, school intake getting wealthier each year and far more birthday parties to take the girls to. We want our weekends back.

(Hasten to add, our house one of the smaller ones!)

take3 Thu 14-Feb-13 18:46:26

We all know that many good state school are better than some poor private schools... but if you are doing a general comparison, I would say that

1. Private school teachers have more time to focus on the individual child.
2. Private school teachers tend to pick up on minor problems and deal with them better (I mean... a child holding a pencil incorrectly or perhaps not forming letters correctly etc).
3. Private schools tend to tell you exactly how your child is doing and give it straight - in many, not all, but many state schools, it is easy to just be positive as this keeps the parents happy.
4. In most private schools, children will get reading sooner... in our local school the children to do start reading scheme books until year 1, which suits some but not others.
5. Better resources and more specialist teaching eg PE and music.

blueberryupsidedown Thu 14-Feb-13 19:21:40

My kids go to a state (faith) school, small (one intake) but 30 pupils per class and one or two TAs in KS1.
- Lots of focus on social skills and learning through play in Rec and year 1
- PE facilities poor, and not enough outdoor space or time
- Could read fluently by Christmas in year 1
- homework few and not very exciting
- Some music teaching but not that much
- poor language facilities
- changes books whenever he finishes one, which is probably twice a week
- Paired reading with child from year 6 every week, and with teacher once a week ish (sometimes every couple of weeks)
- Now in year 2 has only just started doing joined up writing
- has only done the Two times table.

The school is OK but not super academic, I am a bit dissapointed with the results, but he is happy there and it's well balanced. We do lots of extra work with the kids at home, and we probably could afford private school if I was to go back to work full time. But when we applied for schools I was unemployed and my husband had only just started teaching (he retrained) so salaries were too low we couldn't afford it.

What I miss the most are good sport facilities. It's not good enough at our school, and so so much better at the local fee paying schools. Plus all the other benefits like good after school care, etc. And better teaching, more adapted to inidividual needs.

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