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Private School for the Totally Uninitiated

(74 Posts)
JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 13:07:46


This is long so if you can't be bothered reading, please scroll to the bottom. Thank you!

OK, I'm a single parent to a really bright 6 year old boy. A couple of people suggested I tried to get him into a private school on a bursary but I completely dismissed it as it wasn't something that appealed at all.

He's at a lovely state primary school at the moment but I don't think he's sufficiently challenged. I've mentioned this to his class teacher and she agrees he's really clever and gives him extra sheets to work on when he's completed his work, but I have family members who are teachers and have said that it's really hard to serve the needs of 30 children where abilities vary so greatly. It's so hard to talk about without sounding like a tw*t but he is intelligent and that's that. The other thing that concerns me is that whilst we love the area where we live, none of the high schools are good.

One bored night, I went on Google and discovered that my son would be entitled to a full bursary at an extremely posh private school with an excellent reputation, a reasonable distance from our home. I felt uneasy about it but decided there was no harm in going to look around. I have a really open dialogue with my son so I explained to him what it was all about and took him with me - needless to say, he loved it - but that's probably just the novelty of it all.

I must admit it was impressive: especially the extra-curricular activities - my son is very musical and loves drama and there is an incredible amount of provision in those areas, not to mention the outstanding academic achievement of the pupils.

All this would be great - apart from the fact I am basically a massive lefty. I sort of wish I had never googled that day and didn't know the school or its bursaries exist. On the one hand, they do offer bursaries and want to open the school to children who wouldn't usually be able to afford the fees, but on the other, aren't schools like this essentially Tory institutions? I'm also uncomfortable with the fact it's an all boys school, but the local state high school is all boys so he might end up in a girl free school anyway.

Making huge parental decisions is so hard when you're on your own and this one is really getting me. It could literally shape who he becomes - for the better, or for the worse. I've got a few friends who went to private school and say 'don't do it' - but all of them are well-rounded individuals who've done alright for themselves. My son's really down to earth and tolerant and I would love him to always be this way, but I also want him to fulfil his potential and achieve. The pomp and circumstance of the place did terrify me a bit, but I suppose that's me, not him. I'm fully aware he may be one of only a handful of classmates who live in a two bedroomed house, or don't have a car, or can't afford to go on the school treks etc and this is another point to consider. This is really hard as it's all at odds with my politics but he is really bright. Like I said, I almost wish I didn't know about it! Of course, he might not even get in, but at the moment I need to know whether to apply (it's a junior to sixth form school.)

Does anyone have any feedback on children going to private schools on a bursary?

Succubi Sat 18-May-13 13:14:54

My parents couldn't afford to send me. I went to a well known London all girls public school. I was on a full academic scholarship. I am so glad that my parents made me sit the exam. I have hugely fond memories of my school years and I do not think I would be where I am today had I not got in. I would say go for it.

LIZS Sat 18-May-13 13:16:42

There are no guarantees , either that funding will be available form one year to next nor that it is the best education fro your child. Even if on paper you could qualify for the maximum the school may have several equally valid applicants but a finite amount and they often reassess each year. They may also require a long term commitment that your ds would remain there.

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 13:17:38

I don't know what this thread is about.

Is it about dealing with your political issues over private education?

Or is it about dealing with the issues of social exclusion because you will be one of few not particularly wealthy families?

FWIW I have never voted Tory in my life, but I have sent my DCs to private school. The facilities are amazing. You get what you pay for, which is a fantastic all-round education, where music is cool and everyone plays an instrument, where academic achievement is cool, and where sports are integral.

There is no issue about social exclusion. DS's friends are from a huge variety of backgrounds in terms of ethnicity and wealth. You get the full spectrum. His very best friend lives in a 3-bedroom semi, and is loved and accepted by everyone in the school. Why would he not be?

You worry too much. Just go for it.

scaevola Sat 18-May-13 13:19:17

The first thing you need to realise it that you are never "entitled" to a bursary, even if you meet the conditions under which a full bursary could be awarded. No school in UK can yet offer full "needs blind" admission (even the very, very rich ones) though there are quite a lot who are working very hard towards this.

Have you spoken to the school about admissions? Is there a selection procedure, and what bursaries do they expect to be offering at the time you would want DS to join? Even though they say they can go to 100%, have they actually made any awards of this size recently, or do they split them, offering say 3 children a 1/3 reduction?

eminemmerdale Sat 18-May-13 13:23:38

you may think you would get a full bursary but beware - dd passed an entrance exam to a very lovely prep school this year and was offered a place. Our finances are so dire that we made it clear from the outset that nothing below at least a 90% bursary would enable us to accept it. We filled out the forms, had the meeting, told them every penny we (didn't) have and the best they could ofer was 50%. It was very isappointing and now she is still struggling to get the work she needs in a good, but led by LEA of course, primary. We are traditonally 'lefty' too but wouldhave done aything to have been able to send her there. tell thmbefore anything else that you must have the full bursary.

JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 13:37:23

Thanks all for your helpful replies.

@Wuldric - I guess this post is about me genuinely not having a clue about the culture of independent schools and wanting to find out more, so thanks for your comments - I probably do worry too much!

Re: fees - they do offer a lot of boys full bursaries and are particularly proud of this. It's done on a published sliding scale, according to your earnings, so if mine ever went up(ha ha), I might have to pay a proportion. They are definitely looking for long term commitment and for pupils who will stay there until they're 18. I've had a lengthy conversation with them about bursaries and been assured that I'd be entitled to a full one based on their means-tested system, but I will double-check with them again. The selection is according to an assessment.

@Eminemmerdale, I am sorry to hear your daughter missed out after passing the exam - that seems so unfair, especially after you'd made your circumstances clear. This one publishes a sliding scale and tells you what proportion of fees you have to pay, according to your household income. Presumably they all have different ways of doing it?

Thanks again everyone, all your posts are helping me to make my decision.

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 13:40:07

yy on the admissions stuff

You need to be clear on the name of the game. There is huge competition, with a limited number of bursaries available. If the bursary is available because of limited means (as opposed to scholarships, which can be purely nominal but in any event do not entitle you to full fees) then there will usually only be a small number, and there will be competition.

JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 13:44:21

Thanks, sounds like I need to really grill them on this. Competition is seriously stiff, even without the bursary aspect. Thank you.

Farewelltoarms Sat 18-May-13 13:57:40

I do slightly bristle at the idea that clever kids can never be catered for in a state primary. There are off-the-scale bright ones at my kids' school (and obviously I think mine are geniuses. Strangely unrecognised geniuses). I know private schools get disproportionate amounts of Oxbridge places (less disproportionate when you factor in the proportion of sixth formers they educate, plus all those they've creamed off in bursaries), but the majority of them come from state schools nonetheless.
A good state school can be far better at differentiating. Our local private just moved bright kids up a year, which to me sounds like an admission of failure.

eminemmerdale Sat 18-May-13 14:08:12

I think that they can be fine at state schools and ours is a very good one, it's just that because obviously they have to work at a certain level, when the ones who can easily go above that level have completed it, it seems that the teachers don't really know what to do. DD is taken out for 'special' maths and literacy sessions and she does lots of independant learnng at home. I commented because I was very disappointed that we went through an awful lot with high hopes and were a bit misled sad

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 14:12:51

No, you are incorrect Farewell. Academic private schools (there are non-academic private schools as well which are different) take the children on vastly ahead of state provision. The difference is around two years at age 11. They cover more ground, in more depth. They can do this by restricting their intake to the academically able.

So for example, there were three children who were accepted into DD's school (due to movers) in years 4 and 5. Those children spent the rest of their primary education in special classes to help them catch up.

JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 14:29:53

Farewelltoarms - I have always been of the same opinion of you, which is why I wish I had never found out about this school with its amazing music and sports and activities.

JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 14:31:22

Ah, I see Wuldric - that makes sense. I would like to see mine being more challenged than he is now. He says the work is too easy and does his homework very quickly. Mostly, I just want him to be happy. It's so hard when you don't know what will make your child so!

JoanMalone Sat 18-May-13 14:32:37

eminemmerdale - I'm glad you gave them feedback - it sounds really unfair.

AmItheBadOne Sat 18-May-13 14:48:09

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Farewelltoarms Sat 18-May-13 15:26:03

But there are loads of kids at state school who are two years ahead too. My not v exceptional son for starters. Yes the average will be lower, but at the top end it is possible (not always I'm sure) to differentiate. If it weren't why do the majority of Oxbridge places go to state school kids?
I was a mildly amused to see how much further ahead my daughters (and one an academic year younger) in reading than my friend's son in one of the most academically selective preps in London...

ofstedconfused Sat 18-May-13 15:36:43

Wulric, you need to understand that there are some excellent state primaries out there (many in fact) which challenge able students at least as much as many of the better private schools. Not only this but they offer them a rounded social education too, ensuring that their EQ is in line with their IQ.

OP - if it were me I would stick with state. As soon as you enter the private sector you are placing yourself in the position of always needing finance, irrespective of bursary, you will, of course, need to purchase uniform and pay any aditional costs (music fees, trips etc.) which you will be under considerable pressure to meet. I think it is rare that you truly get what you pay for.

AlienAttack Sat 18-May-13 16:01:17

Agree with farewell that loads of kids are 2 years ahead by aged 11 at state schools. Check out all the MN threads about their children getting all level 5s in their year 6 SATS - that is 2 years ahead of national expectations. And, depending on the school, area, intake etc, a school could see some 50% of children achieve this.
I think this line about private schools getting children 2 years ahead is disingenuous at best and positively fraudulent at worst. It preys on parents' fears that their bright child can't be catered for at state school.

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 16:12:37

With respect, you do not understand the environment. All level 5 at SAT is a given at academic preps. That's the baseline. Not that most actually do SATs because they are a distraction.

They cover more material. That is why tutoring has become endemic in certain geographies, because the state schools simply do not cover the material. So even with 11+ examinations (for publicly funded state schools) require extensive tutoring just to cover the ground that state primaries have not covered - to level the playing field, if you will.

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 16:20:12

And talking of disingenuous, which we were, this point needs addressing

why do the majority of Oxbridge places go to state school kids?

Approximately 94% of school children are state educated. Some figures vary down down to 93%. Go and check the proportion of private school educated children at Oxbridge. Then come back and agree with me that private schools do confer an advantage. That advantage continues through life. People with a private school education earn so much more, through their lives.

I know it's not fair. I really do know that it's not fair. But to pretend that it isn't so is disingenuous.

ipadquietly Sat 18-May-13 16:22:24

That is rubbish about the 11+. The well-off pay for 11+ tutoring in order to raise little Johnny's chance of getting into grammar school. It is nothing to do with the school curriculum.

A cohort at level 5 will compare with state grammars and the top sets at comprehensive schools. There are, surprisingly, children all over England working at those levels!

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 16:25:27

Oh FGS - they have to tutor because there are maths tests which cover maths that state primaries have not taught. Nothing to do with little johnny. Please deal with this factually.

I have no interest in persuading the OP to do something that will undoubtedly be onerous for her.

KatyDid02 Sat 18-May-13 16:27:56

I work in the state sector, in the class I work in we have one third of the children working about two years ahead of their age when it comes to reading and comprehension. It's not unheard of, far from it.

Farewelltoarms Sat 18-May-13 16:34:29

And all the children at private schools round here are tutored too for 11+ exams...
At a
At A level it's more like 20% of kids educated privately. This includes some exceptional schools (your westminster and spg) who boost the Oxbridge numbers hugely. It also includes some v clever kids creamed off via scholarships from the state system. Yes private confers advantage, but I'm not sure that merely doubling your chances of a top univ place is quite as advantageous as many paying in would expect.
Really not getting into private v state thing, just wanting to offer a corrective to the idea that there are no clever kids flourishing at state schools.

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