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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?

Timetoask Mon 20-May-13 13:46:23

OP, are you still reading? My ds is in a prep school.
We kind of fell into it (moved from abroad, no good school available for him, so decided to put him in the prep until a good state school became available.
Once you are in that environment, it feels like you are hooked for life and leaving it feels like you are letting your child down.

I can tell you, that there in our case there is definitely a (large) percentage of parents that will not look at you unless you have the right blood colour. There are also a number of average families who are friendly and nice.

I would stick with the state primary, do your best to stretch your son's education. He is bright, he will do well regardless, emotional and social development is just as important (if not more). Feeling like you are the poor relation is not ideal.

Farewelltoarms Mon 20-May-13 10:58:03

Hmm I'm not sure VenusUprising's comments about sink estates are necessarily going to encourage the OP to throw her lot in with private-school parents...
Another thought OP, 6 is very very young. There's a good section in Nurture Shock about how impossible it to really judge intelligence until 7 at the very earliest.

VenusUprising Mon 20-May-13 10:41:55

I have a bright kid.
She's in a fee paying school, and even then she's not stretched.
I dread to think what she'd be up to in the local state school, with the massive classes, majority non English speakers, sink estate catchments and over stretched teachers.

OP I think you need to let your own opinions and worries go, and do what's best for your bright kid.

You don't buy him too-small shoes do you?
So let his intellect be your guide, and don't stuff him into a too-small box where he will be bored and unchallenged.

Your opinions about your politics today aren't relevant to your bright boy and his future shock grin
Opinions change and intellect can be wasted.

HabbaDabba Mon 20-May-13 10:28:47

Same story here wordfactory.

Teacher friend told us that DS wasn't going to get pushed at the local comp and that he was good enough to get a scholarship. So we went to a few open days at nearby Indies. At the 2nd one, even before we got out of the car, DS said "mum, I want to come here". DS is quite sporty and once he saw the running track, the tennis courts and rugby pitches as we drove in ....

There was no going back after that. And since DS was going private it didn't seem fair to DD not to go private with her even though we were happy with her allocated state school.

And all because a friend said 'go for the open day and have a look. It's not as if it commits you to anything" smile

wordfactory Mon 20-May-13 10:07:08

OP, I feel for you.

I always assumed my DC would go to state school until someone suggested I look at my nearest school, which happened to be private. Fell for it. Hook. Line. And bloody sinker.

So that's where they went. I couldn't have not sent them there once I'd seen the place grin.'s what I'd be considering if I were you.

Does the prep offer rigorous and flexible setting? IMVHO this is much superior to differentiation within a class.
Does the prep offer early access to subject specialist teaching?
Does the prep offer access to decent MFL teaching?

mrsshackleton Mon 20-May-13 09:47:33

I'd add another thought

The school is aware of inequality. It is addressing this issue by offering bursaries and scholarships. It is committed to improving its social mix. Of course, you can argue it's a drop in the ocean, tokenism etc but isn't it better that schools like this are trying hard to widen their intake than doing nothing at all?

Wuldric Sun 19-May-13 21:30:48

I want to add one thought to the mix

We all worry, as parents, whether or not we are making the right choices for our children. Whether or not the choices we make now are a fork in the road - one leading to prestige, success and a happy and fulfilled life, and the other to lack of fulfillment, under achievement and general uselessness.

You cannot predict the outcome of your decisions. Either could work well or be disastrous. Your child might be brilliant and gifted, get a bursary to the outstanding private school, yet fall in with the wrong crowd, develop a cocaine addiction and worse still (from your perspective) become a Tory. Or you might send him to the state school, where he underachieves, has a rotten career and worse still blames you for his underachievement.

It's better to think that you cannot influence the outcome, because there are too many variables. You have already influenced the person. If his values are sound and he has a good work ethic, he will do well wherever he goes. He is your son. It shouldn't matter where he goes, fundamentally. He will be fine.

claraschu Sun 19-May-13 21:03:40

Send your son to the best, most interesting school you can. I wouldn't make decisions about a child based on political ideology. Life is a compromise.

There are snobs and Torys at state schools too.

Private schools can be full of boring rich people or they can be diverse, exciting, liberal places. State schools can be wonderful, or they can be full of boring narrow minded rich people or boring narrow minded poor people. Don't make assumptions about any of this.

Of course, you are supporting a system that leads to more inequality if you send your son to a private school, but that is the world we are living in right now unfortunately.

ICanTotallyDance Sun 19-May-13 20:46:13


A few decades back, my parents were in a similar position to you. None of my aunts or uncles, or indeed my parents, had been privately educated and neither had my cousins or grandfathers (although both grandmothers had gone to private secondary schools, but they were rural girls who needed boarding).

My mother had my education all planned out- all the local state schools, in fact. Then life threw her a curveball. My sister's kindergarten teacher recommended an IQ test, and my sister came up as highly gifted (genius level). My father immediately launched himself into a search through all the local pre-schools in the hopes of finding something a bit more challenging (my sister (2 and a bit years older, so I was around one at this point) was incredibly bored) and then my mother's friend, who lived several suburbs over recommended the pre-school her daughter had just risen to the top of the waiting list for- attached to a highly prestigious girls' school. My parents laughed. My parents scoffed. My parents went to the open evening and enrolled us both on the spot.

In the end, I was extremely happy for it. In the primary section, fees were low enough that we could afford it (just), and in in the upper section I won a scholarship (although when that ran out my parents paid my last three years of fees). School trips etc, didn't really matter in our school. Years 1-9 they were all local and cheap (under 10 pounds) and once a term or so. From Year 10 they became expensive but optional (e.g. Japanese class trip to Japan, French exchange etc) and many girls simply didn't go.

The school was great fun and I would recommend it to most people. IF I were you, I would go for it, because in the end, you can always remove your son and send him to a state school, but you probably can't always move him from state to private. However, I don't have very strong state vs. private convictions and my children will be going to nicest local school I can afford, be it state or private.

If you were that impressed with the school that you're really agonising over it, it's probably worth it. If you think it would suit you son, go ahead. If not, don't!

Not an easy decision but one I hope you'll make and be happy with.

Good luck.

BadgerB Sun 19-May-13 16:53:45

I don't envy you your decision OP. If you don't let your DS try you will always feel that maybe you didn't do your best for him. If you do go for it, and he gets it, you will wonder if you have betrayed your principles.

I know what I'd do, but I'm not you.

HKTekGuy Sun 19-May-13 14:07:22

grin at the networking comment.

Apart from the 'posh' Public schools like Eton, those who go to private schools are an ordinary lot.

cory Sun 19-May-13 13:27:43

Another point to consider is that while an independent school may have more facilities for musical tuition, sports, language tuition etc, school is not the only place in which these needs can be supplied for a gifted child.

My db went to a school where music tuition was pretty uninspiring. But my parents spent the money they might have spent on school fees on having him tutored by an internationally renowned maestro. The tuition was not inferior because it didn't go through school.

Again, dd is heavily into drama: her school may not have particularly wonderful facilities, but there are all sorts of opportunities locally and even more nationally as she matures. Not having to splash out on school fees means I can save up for the National Youth Theatre. Basically, to us not paying school fees means more flexibility in supporting dc's education as and when we see fit, because surplus money is still under our control.

My friend is home schooling her son using a range of facilities from local HE groups to youth theatre and college courses. He is not getting a less in depth education: he is just getting it in different places.

It's what suits the individual family.

JoanMalone Sun 19-May-13 13:17:50

And thanks @Mutteroo - yes decisions are riddled with anxiety and guilt!

JoanMalone Sun 19-May-13 13:15:51

Precisely, @Bowlersarm - that's why it's causing me such a struggle. Again, I almost wish I hadn't googled that day and didn't know about it.

Mutteroo Sun 19-May-13 13:07:11

Both my children had bursaries & we never felt like the poor relation. I think it depends on the school you choose anyway. My son's original 1st choice school was an old fashioned public school. I felt uncomfortable with this but if DS was happy, that was all that mattered. Eventually he chose an alternate school which wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but suited us as a family. He gained a substantial bursary to board at this school & had no idea who else was on bursaries as it wasn't the done thing to brag about money or lack of money.

I was a chair of governors at my kids primary school & fully supported state education. My 'lefty' philosophies went out the window when DD was being bullied at her outstanding secondary school & we had no other state choices. Your children come first & while I'm not suggesting you follow this private school option through, it's worth considering. I would say we were not treated any differently to full fee paying parents, however that wasn't the case. An example of this was in Year 9, when they had a residential trip that all the pupils go on. We couldn't afford it & so the school paid.

Look at what the school could offer your son & look at the other state options. It may be that he would feel more settled at one school over the other? Don't be swayed by fancy facilities, be swayed by the teaching & pastoral care & never feel guilty about what decision you make.

Bowlersarm Sun 19-May-13 13:01:34

I would have thought that if you are a 'massive lefty' you would have trouble squaring sending your son to a private school with your conscience.

JoanMalone Sun 19-May-13 12:57:11

Thanks also elibean, farewelltoarms, cooper44 and everyone else who offered much needed advice.

SanityClause Sun 19-May-13 12:55:36

To answer only part of your question, I am a huge believer in single sex education. Not because I believe that boys and girls learn differently, or any such twaddle, but because they are treated differently, at school.

My girls at all girls schools don't think of maths or physics as being boy things. All the people in their class who are good at physics are girls.

Equally, boys can be comfortable learning art or drama, without it being a girl thing.

At DS's school, last year, the play was Cinderella (the Roald Dahl version). DS's class were part of the chorus - older boys played the parts. They had to dress up as "disco divas". They really went for it - pink tutus, spangly leggings, blonde wigs, high heeled sandals, tiaras. Would they have got to do that at a co-ed school?

JoanMalone Sun 19-May-13 12:51:41

Wow, I didn't mean to spark a debate - but I suppose I knew I would with an issue as contentious as this!
@Jinsei - you're right, there are some amazing state primaries, including the one on our doorstep - but it's packed to the rafters and impossible to get in: for this year's nursery intake, applications amounted to almost four times the available places. You know, when my son was a baby, people used to ask me about schools and I'd wonder what all the fuss was about: surely all the schools met certain standards and one was as good as another. I quickly discovered what all the stories about people buying houses / getting their children baptised etc were all about! I almost feel guilty for considering this, because his current school is a lovely, happy place with great children and teachers, but he could be more challenged. I need to think about this some more. @Badgerb, Thanks for your advice and reassurance. I'm told that after school activities are included at the school, but obviously that doesn't count for overseas trips etc.

BadgerB Sun 19-May-13 12:45:04

Jinsei - just asked one of the 3 friends mentioned in my post above whether he had ever benefited from the 'old school tie' network. He said no - then, "Oh yes. When I went to buy granite for the kitchen worktops the guy running the business recognised me from school and gave us a good discount"
Hardly life-changing!

Jinsei Sun 19-May-13 08:22:08

No, I think there are advantages to private school, but these are more in terms of networking than the actual education that is on offer. It's who you know, not what you know.

BadgerB Sun 19-May-13 05:43:26

Same arguments - (1) Private schools confer no advantages, therefore you are wasting your money; and (2) private schools confer massive advantages, therefore they are unfair and we'd be better off without them.
The OP is not talking about private schools in general but one in particular which she and her DS have seen and liked. His current school agrees he is v bright and the indie school seem to think he stands an excellent chance of a bursary.
As for 'political' considerations, of 3 friends who went to private schools with financial help, two are members of the Labour Party and the other one (younger) is apolitical. It won't make your DS into a little Tory, OP! The home has at least as much influence on social attitudes, and good indie schools encourage diversity and acceptance of differences.
At a school with such a generous bursary policy he won't be the only one from a less than wealthy background.

Go for it OP! Your DS is bright enough to understand that it might not be possible, though no fault of his, but it's a good idea to give it a go anyway 'just for fun'.

Jinsei Sun 19-May-13 00:52:14

I think the op needs to consider other options too. It isn't just a case of state or private. Could you look at moving him to another state primary instead where his needs will be better catered for?

Jinsei Sun 19-May-13 00:48:25

It's ridiculous to make claims about all state schools being 2 years behind just because some children who switch to private schools have to work hard to catch up. Obviously, those kids have been moved because their parents were unhappy with their previous schools, and so you wouldn't expect those kids to be at a very high level anyway. They are not in any way representative of the state system in general. It's pretty obvious when you think about it that there is no need to move the kids who are already doing well at good state schools - why on earth would you bother?!

A reading age of five years ahead is nothing much to write home about, regardless of the school tbh. Reading ages don't actually mean a lot in any case. As for the other skills being more advanced, I am less than convinced. I have plenty of friends with kids in the private sector, and don't notice any discernible difference on the academic side of things. In fact, from what I've heard, our outstanding state primary is actually better at differentiating work for different abilities than some private schools.

Where I think private schools do have a slight edge is with regard to all the extra-curricular stuff - there is usually a better range and the schools have better facilities. Having said that, if you save money on school fees, you'll have plenty left over to pay for these outside school in any case!

ipadquietly Sun 19-May-13 00:26:42

Then I'm even more amazed that some well-off parents choose to send their children to these dreadful state-run, under-performing institutions.

Heaven forbid.

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