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Outstanding state primary or private prep school?

(26 Posts)
strawberry34 Thu 18-Jul-13 20:17:04

Dh and I are planning to move to a new area soon. We have the option to have a smaller house in the catchment area of an 'outstanding' state primary, where prices are higher, or we can get more house for our money in the catchment area of good/satisfactorily sta're primaries.

If we moved to the bigger house we'd probably want to send dd to a local private school. So my question is really whether 'outstanding' state primaries are comparable in quality to a private school or whether private is better?

Thanks in advance!

BoysRule Thu 18-Jul-13 20:29:53

The quality of prep schools does vary hugely so you should look into that. I have taught in an outstanding primary school and I do sadly think that they can't compare to a good prep school purely on the basis of class size and access to facilities.

There are other issues here though:
1. There will be a definite feeling of keeping up with the Jones'. A lot of the other children may have very wealthy parents and if you aren't (I can't tell from your post) there may be issues with the kind of holidays and activities they are doing.
2. It will provide a different social scene. If you live in a house surrounded by children who go the state primary your child may not have much of a sense of community. You may be ferrying them to other children's houses a lot of the time.
3. A good/satisfactory school ranked by OFSTED is not bad. You really should visit them and go with your gut instinct. So much of a child's success at school is about their home life and how they have been brought up.

Could you visit the schools in question before you look at houses and see what you think? Also, don't believe an estate agent when they say a school is in catchment area. They lie. You can check with your local authority the furthest person from the school that was offered a place last year. That is a good indicator although obviously not set in stone - if it is a high or low sibling year it will make a difference.

Lonecatwithkitten Thu 18-Jul-13 20:34:16

I was faced with a similar choice. The difference in price of a house in catchment for the outstanding school over the lifetime of the mortgage was going to be greater than the school fees for DD.
I decided that I preferred the prep school and would rather be up front that I was paying for her education. As I felt if I went for the house in the outstanding catchment I would be paying by the back door and it seemed wrong.

iseenodust Thu 18-Jul-13 21:04:17

It's down to the individual school and what will suit your DD. DS goes to great state primary, the class size is mid-20's and he has done well academically. It has an excellent community feel and is nurturing. However there are no male teachers or TA's. There are no football teams and they don't play rugby/cricket ever.

MrsJamin Thu 18-Jul-13 21:12:38

I don't believe there is much between 'good' and 'outstanding'- outstanding primaries often jump through hoops and do stupid stuff that they know is stupid just because it is what ofsted look for. I think it is very good advice to ask whether you will be able to socialise properly with the kind of families who send their children to private schools. I would save your money and go state unless state was truly dire- which it generally isn't.

Biscuitsneeded Thu 18-Jul-13 22:52:38

Hmmm, well, my kids are at an 'outstanding' state primary and they are doing fine. I don't doubt that they could be further ahead than they are at one of the very good local prep schools. But what really makes the school they do attend special is the fact that we feel so much a part of a community. When we step outside in the morning to walk to school we immediately meet the neighbours on their way to the same school. If my children want to play they only need to cross the road. We walk or cycle to school every day (5 minutes) and we have made so many wonderful friends who live a stone's throw away. None of this would be possible at the prep schools, to which children come from up to 20 miles around. The other realisation I have had after a bit of soul searching is this - yes, it's a bit galling when you're feeling proud of your children's achievements to discover that X from baby group, who now goes to the prep school, is reading chapter books when your own precious babe is still deciphering Biff and Chip books. But actually, it isn't a race. As long as my children grow up to be thoughtful and articulate adults with an awareness of other people's needs and differences I am sure it will not matter in the slightest whether they first read an Enid Blyton at 5 or at 7. Similarly, if they haven't quite got the string of A* at GCSE but they do have a solid set of passes and options for their future, I'm not sure who those 10 A*s would really be for. If they are only for my own gratification then I probably need to get over myself!

HarumScarum Thu 18-Jul-13 23:00:48

I didn't want to send my daughter to either of the local Outstanding schools near me. I didn't like them. I chose one graded Satisfactory (it's since gone up to Good) and she's absolutely thriving.

Runningchick123 Fri 19-Jul-13 07:00:23

It depends on your child and what suits them as an individual. A few years ago I was totally against private education and the two tier system that it creates. However, after witnessing my child struggling socially in a medium sized school with classes of 30 and witnessing him not learning very much in two years and then having to supplement his education at home I decided to look at prep schools.
We chose a small prep school with classes of 15 and our son is happy and learning and enjoys school. The emphasis at his school is striking a good balance between work and fun and they do far more fun stuff than the state school but still manage to learn twice as much.
I wouldn't necessarily choose prep for any other children that I have as I think different schools suit different children.
As for people thinking that you will struggle to 'keep up with the joneses', don't believe the hype ; yes plenty of the parents are quite wealthy, but plenty are not so wealthy and make a lot of sacrifices to afford the school fees. But nobody really cares who's got money and who hasn't or who drives the best car etc, they are far more concerned with their children's education and happiness.

basildonbond Fri 19-Jul-13 08:40:36

It completely depends on the individual child and the state and private schools concerned and crucially the other children who are there at the same time as your child.

We took dd out of our local state primary at the end of Y2 as she was miserable, bored and socially isolated. Unfortunately demographic quirks in her year meant she was one of a very small number of girls to start off with, and when her 2 closest friends both moved out of London she was completely on her own - the ability level in the whole year group was fairly low and she was being taken out to do work with the Year 3s and 4s which isolated her even more. She's loved every minute of the private primary - she's stretched without being pushed, she has a great group of friends and they do much more sport, music and enrichment activities so it's much more fun.

This is in complete contrast to her brother's experience of school (up until Y6 which was pretty miserable) - he had lots of friends who'd been there since nursery and the ability levels were very high (>40% all level 5s at the end of ks2)

By the way the state primary had been outstanding when dd joined but 2 years later was 'satisfactory' - so things can change pretty quickly ...

youcouldnevermakeitup Fri 19-Jul-13 09:37:46

Honestly, do not believe this 'keeping up with the Jones's' business, there may be some schools like that, but many are not. In our area of over subscribed schools many go private because they live in catchment no-man's land; not because they are particularly wealthy.

Whilst I would be the first to agree that the highest achievers at a good state primary are probably not so different to the highest achievers at a private school we have found that overall the standard is higher. The biggest drawback for me, was as others have said, the lack of sense of community and we always previously enjoyed walking to school. However, the new school really has much more of a 'family feel' and we are both getting more involved in the private school than we did with the state, for that reason. Socially, for the children, there is a lot more going on.

DS is also getting far more involved with clubs and activities and we see his education as much more 'rounded'. I do not think you will necessarily see a huge difference in terms of literacy and mathematics teaching, but certainly at our school, we have been totally 'blown away' by the teaching of Science, Geog, History, RE and even subjects like Music, Art and ICT. As an example, he is now doing simple computer programming in yr3, which he has loved so much it has become a favourite activity at home.

Oh, and by definition a 'prep' school is just that. It will prepare your child for the next school and right from your first communication with the HM, they will be seeking to understand your child and will be discussing with you the next school.

There really is no difference between a 'good' and 'outstanding school' and knowing what I know now, I would choose a 'good' school everytime. A good school is less focussed on fiddling the box ticking for ofsted,

mrsshackleton Fri 19-Jul-13 10:01:01

I have one child in a "good" state primary, one in a private prep.

The primary is an absolutely lovely school and as others say the sense of community is fabulous, it's an enormous gift to you and your child to know most of the other 5 yr olds and their parents in the neighbourhood and for that reason I'm grateful every day we chose this school (considered "bad" school in area). The children are incredibly happy. DS is a high flier and extremely motivated and so is doing very well there. Yes, he could be pushed a little more but not to the extent I'd want to pay £15k a year for it.

Dd was at the primary, now at a private prep, one of the reasons for moving her was two of her closest friends left and it was clear another two (expats) would also leave sooner than later. Had friends stayed I would have kept her there. She is undoubtedly working to higher standards. She is a much less confident child and needs more (gentle) pushing academically to achieve her potential.

The prep provides this, but it's definitely worth bearing in mind that its excellent results are because they're dealing with pre-selected (entrance exam) kids of generally successful people who hold education at a premium, while the primary has to take on every kind of child. The school has a happy atmosphere too but the intake is spread geographically so playdates etc are more of a hassle.

I wouldn't go too much on Ofsted saying the school is outstanding. I'd personally choose the bigger house, look at the satisfactories and goods and if you like one, start your child there and see how they get on. School fees are a worry and if you can't comfortably afford them, they're best avoided as long as possible.

pinkdelight Fri 19-Jul-13 10:21:42

Have you visited the schools? You might find the 'good' ones are perfectly good enough and save your money, getting both the bigger house and the free education.

strawberry34 Sat 20-Jul-13 06:53:42

Wow thank you for all the responses! Very useful food for thought. Dd is currently at a childminder four days a week while I work, her private school fees would be the same as we pay for childcare atm so we would be able to afford them, assuming neither of us lost our jobs!

I'm slightly biased towards the prep schools as I went to private school and feel I had a fantastic education and I loved it, the teachers were brilliant! Unfortunately it was in a different area. We are planning to attend the open days in September.

Dd is just under two, but seems quite shy and quiet, I was the same, so I take the point about smaller class sizes helping quieter children.

Boysrule (and any other teachers/those in the know) it is great to hear a teachers perspective! I read a lot in the press about teachers being unhappy with working conditions, pay etc and wondered if teachers generally prefer and are happier at private schools? As I said previously, I had some incredible teachers at my schooland so wonder if the type of school influences this? (im sure you get great teachers at state and private, I'd rather dd was where they were most satisfied though). I know I need to visit the schools to understand this too.

Thanks again.

loveinthemist Sat 20-Jul-13 18:15:23

I'd go for the State option every time. Go on - I dare you! You might even find that your DD gets a very good education and meets a wide range of lovely children from all different backgrounds. All my 4DC are at a great State primary and are doing very well - both socially and academically.

My youngest DS was very shy when he started but came out of his shell six months after starting school and is now flourishing. IMO a good State school can provide an excellent start to a child's education provided it's backed up by proactive parenting. I'd rather my children were mixing with all sorts of people rather than a privileged minority.

Think of all the cash you could save - perhaps you could donate it to a charity if you don't need it. Just a thought!!

TheOneWithTheHair Sat 20-Jul-13 18:30:43

Ds1 went state all the way and was really happy. He's now heading for the career he wants and is a lovely almost adult.

Dd is leaving state primary for prep this year as she was headhunted for a scholarship. What is in offer to her in terms of class size, facilities, academics has blown me away. We have a bursary on top of the scholarship and I have no worries about keeping up with the Jonses.

Ds2 is about to start the state primary that dd is leaving and I'm very happy that he is there. I really think he will thrive and have only thought of moving him for logistical purposes. Dh and I decided that ds2 will be happy where he is.

I really think it depends on your own child. Mine are all so different that one size would never have fitted all. A lot of it can be based on your own gut instinct but you really have to see all the schools to decide.

mrsshackleton Sat 20-Jul-13 22:20:52

My dd is/was shy and quiet and actually really blossomed in her state primary, one of the disadvantages of her private school has been the smaller pool for friendships. I wouldn't let that worry you too much. I had similar reservations to you, having been to fantastic private schools but the ethos at her school at least was very much about bringing each child out as an individual.

sittinginthesun Sat 20-Jul-13 22:31:57

I also think you need to keep an open mind and look around the schools. My boys are at the local state school (currently "good", and with a mixed catchment). They are thriving, both socially and academically.

I have friends at most of the local state and private primaries - I deliberately didn't apply for the local "outstanding" school, as I didn't like their ethos.

Of the three preps - one is a decent school, and I think the children thrive. As for the others, I wouldn't put my children there if they paid me!

DianaPalmer Mon 27-Feb-17 14:51:20


I am in same dilemma now. My daughter is in a nursery since 7 months and socially doing very well. Academically we started her the basics since age 3 on english and maths and at 3 abd half years she is able to read and write simple sentences.
We both work and sunce only have a single child can probably manage her fees comfortably. But I am worried about how we will mingle with the Jones. We are keeping our options open but one of our friends had much issues while sending her daughter to a private school in our locality, as her daughter never had any close friends due to this social gap. We want our daughter to have the best all round education but the only worry is about the social mismatch

IamFriedSpam Mon 27-Feb-17 15:04:18

As others have said "private" can vary enormously. I wouldn't necessarily choose an "outstanding" state school over a "good" one either. Personally I'd look at all the available options - try to get a feel for the ethos of each school and what provisions they have that you might need (e.g. SEN, Gifted program, extra curricular, wrap around care). In the private school I'd want to check whether most children have tutors, do kids tend to stay there all the way through or is there a lot of movement?

bangingmyheadoffabrickwall Mon 27-Feb-17 22:04:38

My DS goes to a state primary (good). He was originally going to prep school as prep chill fees were not much more than the childminders fees.
But we had DD and I went part time and we could never afford both to go so it was a "both or neither" situation.
Personally (as a teacher speaking and only from your own experiences), I would be happy to send my child to a state primary as there is little difference between state and prep. A friend/colleague went from state to prep as a teacher and she states there is little difference - only smaller classes, more specialised teaching from Y5 onwards but at primary the difference in quality and attainment Is small.
I would rather save and send DCs to private senior school. But then again, in my area, the private school languishes behind in GCSE success than the state schools in the town where I teach and they are considered schools in a town with 'inner city problems' and high proportion of LA children and PP children.

BikeRunSki Mon 27-Feb-17 22:18:00

Zombie thread!! I'm sure the OP has sorted things out in the last 3 years.

DianaPalmer Tue 28-Feb-17 02:51:41

Yes perhaps she had. But I haven't and is great to know the views

ThermoScan Tue 28-Feb-17 23:01:50

Diana you may get social mismatch in state primary too as I am finding. We looked at both private and state options and opted for the local good state primary.It is inner city and is in a deprived area.We are local but are not typical of the demographic.
Whilst going to the local school has many advantages in terms of convenience, it hasn't actually been great for making local friends as there is very little going on socially outside of school,no birthday parties,no play dates ,that culture just isn't there probably due to a mixture of factors, religion and poverty among them.
Academically my children are achieving well due to the great teachers and efforts by them to put on various interesting after school clubs , but socially they are missing out. My eldest (nearly 8) has even asked to move schools and has found he has more in common with friends made doing sport outside of school and children of friends in my own social group.
I had my reservations about putting them into a socially elite private setting and chose not to ( finance and other factors came into it too of course) but if you don't fit the local state demographic this can end up being a problem too. I don't have to deal with them asking for the latest iPad/trainers/ski trip /whatever but they would like more social cohesion beyond the school gates which I know happens elsewhere so choose your school area carefully .

MSGwtaf Tue 28-Feb-17 23:10:39

I agree with PP's. I don't fully believe in Ofsted reports, schools are well aware of what boxes they need to tick over those few days.
My sisters school is an Outstanding (secondary) school and they apparently used to give 'difficult' pupils home study leave which was basically exclusion.
I think you really should just see how you feel when you see the schools. Speak to other parents if possible?
I went to a prep school that was an absolute shambles and people sent their children their because it was prep. I then went to a 'good' school that was fantastic.
Family friends of ours sent all 3 of their children to one of the best private schools in London. Their first 2 children excelled brilliantly but their 3rd child has dyslexia and dyspraxia and had much more of an interest in the arts and they did very very little to help her, and she became overlooked and eventually very depressed.
All schools depend on the child. Hope I haven't just made it more difficult!

MSGwtaf Tue 28-Feb-17 23:11:09

*their children there. Doh!

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