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North London Schools - Duncombe or Highgate Primary

(35 Posts)
shen84 Thu 26-Jun-14 15:13:23

Hi all,

I'm starting this thread today for some advice and different perspectives regarding the following predicament.

My children have recently come to live with me full-time due to personal circumstances. As such, I applied to a number of different schools in the area with help from our local Labour MP through urgent priority referrals.

My eldest son is due to start reception this September. Initially we were only offered one school however now it seems I have the option of three. The first was Pooles Park which we have decided against due to the fact it is the lesser of the three.

The other two schools are Duncombe primary and Highgate Primary. The main benefit of Duncombe is that it is literally less than minutes away from where we live. The downside as I see it is that it used to have a terrible reputation, I know this is improving and I know that it does attain quite good results these days. However it also attracts the poorest sectors in the area.

The plus side regarding Highgate primary is that my brother attended the school and had a wonderful time there, it certainly is a decent school and has a nice and pleasant environment to it with high standards in education. The main problem is simply that it is harder to get to. I do drive however to get there every day would mean going through Archway, which can get incredibly busy especially heading further up towards Highgate.

I'm really unsure of what to do. Our first choice was Coleridge primary school, this is due to the fact that my mother and uncle attended the school, my brother and I attended and it would nice to be see a third-generation go to the same school. Nonetheless a place has not been offered there. So I'm torn between Duncombe and Highgate primary.

I suppose what it comes down to is this, would you prefer to send your child to middle-class or a working class school? We have both sides of the coin in our family.

Duncombe would certainly be easier, but Highgate primary does seem to produce better results. That being said, Duncombe isn't that far behind. The teachers seem to be dedicated, and give extra effort in attempts to give the children the best possible start.

But social groups do have a big impact on a child's development as well. For a lot of the children at Duncombe, their elder brothers and sisters will be wearing hoodies, speaking slang and smoking weed from their early teenage years if not younger. Whereas Highgate primary is likely to attract more of a middle-class interest, whereby the children's older siblings are more likely to be in good secondary schools, or studying for university or working respectable positions etc.

I don't mean to sound like a snob, but I'm really not sure what to do. In all honesty, I can't stand those who think they're better than others but at the same time I can't stand the Jeremy Kyle lot. I know there are shades of grey and it's not as simple as that, but studies have shown that those from middle class backgrounds tend to do better in life.

Don't get me wrong, we're not particularly well off at this moment in time. In fact, we represent one of the poorer elements in this borough. I know full well what it's like to grow up in this area, in both the nice and grubby parts, do you understand what I'm trying to articulate? (ya get me like?) it's not a question of snobbery, it's a question of serious contemplation regarding the best atmosphere and environment for my children.

There really is no right or wrong answer here, but I really am interested in other people's perspective on the matter.

Duncombe has good reviews online, but many of them contain spelling mistakes which isn't the best of signs when it comes to choosing a good school. highgate primary has a very good reputation, but is hard to get to and may have implications regarding my children's social life.

What would you do?

tabvase Thu 26-Jun-14 19:53:58

Why are you even asking? You seem to have already made up your mind.

shen84 Thu 26-Jun-14 21:10:06

Yes I am asking, any input would be most welcome. I have certainly not made up my mind. Leaning more towards Duncombe but Highgate Primary is a really good school. Really not sure what to do, I wish a place would open up at Coleridge, that would solve the problem immediately.

Mediumred Thu 26-Jun-14 21:26:32

Hi, it sounds really tricky. Obviously you don't sound very happy about either of your options. I would accept duncombe but keep your name down at other local schools, yes to coleridge but what about ashmount and st marks too? There's still time for a lot of waiting list movement before September. I just think highgate is a little far through such traffic.

If your ds does start duncomb, hopefully it will be lovely and he will have lots of local friends but you can still keep his name on the waiting list and decide whether to move him when a place comes up. Hope it all works out for you.

OsmiumPhazer Fri 27-Jun-14 14:24:04

Go with your heart and go with the 'posh' school, some families will travel halfway across London for their child. In effect you will just have to wake up earlier or get public transport, its as simple as that

frogs Fri 27-Jun-14 14:34:47

I know someone who is a peri music teacher who teaches in lots of islington schools as well as private. She thinks duncombe is a great school and doesnt understand why m/c islington parents are so negative about it.

TheNewBrown Mon 30-Jun-14 08:47:40

Has anyone mentioned Whitehall Park School to you? It is a new school opening in September not too far from Coleridge (towards Archway). It still has a few spaces left and in my opinion has the potential to be a great school with families of all economic and ethnic backgrounds. I am very excited to be sending my DC there and would recommend looking at the website and speaking to Laura Birkett, the new head teacher.

nlondondad Mon 30-Jun-14 15:49:33

Better check out the cost of the Whitehall Park uniform compared with the cost of fulfilling the dress code for either Duncombe or Highgate primary.

frogs Mon 30-Jun-14 16:39:44

Haha, yes! Plus the school with established track record vs unknown quantity equation.

TheNewBrown Mon 30-Jun-14 20:31:55

Oh, I forgot to mention there are a handful of quite vicious posters on Mumsnet who make derogatory comments about the new primary school whenever it is mentioned on a thread. They tend to be people who are politically opposed to the school rather than parents in the area with primary school age children. (One of the worst offenders is a governor of a rival local school). My advice would be to take anything they say with a pinch of salt and ensure you get the facts about the school yourself so you can make a properly informed decision.

frogs Mon 30-Jun-14 21:31:10

I don't see anyone being vicious here. Just pointing out that it's hard to make a "properly informed decision" regarding a school that doesn't actually exist yet.

sallywinter Mon 30-Jun-14 22:30:18

It's not a rival school.

OP have you been to look around either Highgate or Duncombe? One might jump out at you as your kind of place.

kreme Tue 01-Jul-14 00:31:15

I grew up on the local council estate hillcrest and went to St Michaels in Highgate. I received a fantastic primary education which stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. I wore hand me down clothes etc etc and never experienced any snobbery from the rich middle class kids or their parents. If anything the children on the council estate who had a bit more money behind them were more snobby!

I think Highgate Primary would be worth the travel time.

Playfortoday Tue 01-Jul-14 07:57:05

I've never heard state primary schools described as 'rivals'. The ones I know try to foster cooperation rather than competition.

A rabid free market in education is a wondrous thing.

Theas18 Tue 01-Jul-14 08:04:47

Are these state primaries? If you are looking for a place for September I suspect you ain' t got any choice, I'm not sure I believe you when you say " you have a choice of 3" all places for sept have been allocated and appeals heard etc. If they are half decent you will have to go on both waiting lists and hope, whilst asking the LA to allocate you a place somewhere that has a vacancy.

Sorry if i've missed the point totally and these are independents or very undersubscribed...

nlondondad Tue 01-Jul-14 10:54:29

The OP has said they have been offered a choice of places through what they call an "urgent priority referral" and the local MP was involved. Also the children have only come to live with the OP recently. From this I infer that we do not know the full story as it were, but we ought to respect the OPs privacy on this matter and just take at face value that they do, in fact, have a choice, and are seeking advice in making it.

nlondondad Tue 01-Jul-14 11:00:24

Sorry @theas that last might read like a rebuke of you, and I did not intend that at all. I should have started by saying that you do ask a good question, but as things appear to be, we cant expect an answer. Yes, by the way they all are state schools, and at this time of the year will be filling places that become available due to people relinquishing previous accepted offers by going down the waiting list. The OP is getting some kind of special treatment, which they will only be getting as there is a really good reason for it.

TheNewBrown Tue 01-Jul-14 21:53:47

I see my use of the word 'rival' has caused controversy but when the school you are going to be sending 4 year old child to is under constant, vicious attacks from a governor of its nearest neighbouring primary school one can only assume the reason these attacks are happening is because the existing school is feeling threatened in some way by the presence of the new school.

PythagorousPlannedIt Wed 02-Jul-14 10:33:12


OP - Regarding Duncombe and Highgate I know them both to be good, well run schools. The main difference between the two is that Duncombe has a really high level of Free School meals, but its results are really good.

So really its a highly personal decision on your part. On the one hand Highgate does have a higher MC component if that matters to you, but on the other hand Duncombe you say much closer.


When you have local knowledge as I have, I am a parent at Coleridge, you will know that Coleridge is the closest school to the new Whitehall Park School and frankly to describe the two schools as "rivals" bemuses me. I mean, no one "in the playground" even discusses the new school except to find the whole idea of it really odd. Its the mixture of rather slick marketing by the people pushing it combined with the awful building they are going to be using. I mean we all know that Ashmount parents were struggling to get out of that building for years. in fact a number of parents got so dismayed by it, and Islington's delay in doing anything about it, that they moved to Coleridge. We just think, if we bother to think about it at all, how strange it is that anyone is going to use that old building.There is no ill will. But this is nothing to do with the OP's question anyway. Its your judgement to send your child there, I think you should respect other peoples judgement if they choose not to send them to the school you choose, which as you are still trying to recruit children at this stage of the year is obviously common enough.

I hope you dont regard this as a "vicious attack". Just telling it as it is.

TheNewBrown Wed 02-Jul-14 20:14:46


Apologies for any confusion caused the school I was referring to with the governor who seems desperate for my child's school to be a failure is from Ashmount not Coleridge.

I agree with you about the horrible old Ashmount building. Luckily they are knocking it all down and building a brand new building which I am very excited about. It will mean a year in modern temporary classrooms but that seems a worthwhile trade-off for 6 years in a brand new building.

I respect everyone's decision to send their child to whichever school they choose. My concern (and the reason I originally posted on this thread) was that it sounded like the OP hadn't been told at any point that there was a new, non-selective, non-religious state school, with a few places left, opening about 500m from where she lives. If she was informed about it and had ruled it out that is fine and I respect her decision to choose a different school. If her local MP (and Islington school admissions) neglected to tell her about it then, frankly, that would be disgraceful.

nlondondad Wed 02-Jul-14 23:27:31

Demolishing the old building and building a new one is certainly a good idea. But the notion that this can all be done in time to open a new building in 2015....... Just not realistic. Much longer than that. And the children to be on site, in portocabins, through the midst of all these building works....

Oh well.

Indeed, your decision. But it does make it plain why the school is having difficulty recruiting pupils, which, no doubt, is why you have come on here to publicise it. Which is both your right, and a bit of a give away.

It also makes it plain why our poster from Coleridge found the idea of being considered a "rival" to Whitehall Park so odd. A point which applies even more to the other schools, further away.

It would also explain why the OP might not be interested either, when they have a choice of two, good, existing schools, that already have buildings.

And they would like to get into Coleridge, if they could, anyway.

TheNewBrown Thu 03-Jul-14 22:12:51


That is all very pessimistic of you. You'll forgive me if I take all your assertions about how long it takes to build a school with a heavy dose of scepticism as all your previous assertions relating to how long it takes to set up and open a new school have been proved categorically wrong.

I don't believe that Whitehall Park is having trouble recruiting pupils. I "came on here" as you put it because the OP was asking for assistance choosing between a local school she is clearly not comfortable with and a school that is logistically difficult for her to get to. I was just trying to be helpful and point out that there was another school a 10-15 min walk from her house that she might like to consider as a 3rd choice. My guess is that Islington Admissions and her MP probably neglected to mention Whitehall Park to her like have done to other parents in similar situations.

nlondondad Thu 03-Jul-14 23:09:31


What previous assertions?

But anyway Whitehall Park School have confirmed they are going to use portocabins for the first year; now they CAN be put on site really quickly. I imagine the biggest delay is whatever the order time the supplier requires. Weeks at most. But they say they will have a new building ready for September 2015, and thats what I am sceptical of, its only 13 Months away and they havent even applied for planning permission yet.

They have said (on their web site) that they expect to get a contractor in by January. Even if they meet the January deadline, which at this stage is already tight enough, (no planning permission applied for yet, and after that tenders have to be invited, christmas holidays get in the way) that only leaves 8 months to do a complex demolition, made slower becasue you are sharing the demolition site with children, then the new build, the easier and faster bit.

Then after that bit of intensive work, assuming it is ready by September 2015, Islington are scheduled to move in to the space you have just left and build houses.... so further building beside the new school.

Generally you would expect a build on this scale to take two years from signing the contract, based on experience with other builds.

But you have assurances from Whitehall Park, and you accept them. Just as the parents sending their children to Fulham Boy's school had assurances they accepted.

TheNewBrown Fri 04-Jul-14 17:31:51


At every step of the process leading to the opening of Whitehall Park School in 2 months you have asserted that, whatever the next stage of the process is, it will fail, or be delayed, or won't happen. You know, things like, there is no interest in the school, they won't get the site, the school won't be able to open this year, they won't get enough pupils... At every step of the way you have postulated that the worst case scenario will happen (and been far off the mark) and every step of the way the team behind Whitehall Park have kept all their promises to us parents.

With that track record I have every reason to trust the assurances I get from the school and every reason to discount your pessimistic ramblings.

ShoeWhore Fri 04-Jul-14 17:45:24

Have you had a chance to visit either school OP? I would try and visit and talk to the Headteacher, in my experience this is an invaluable way to get a good feel for a school and whether it would suit your children's needs.

My children's schools have a pretty mixed demographic and I would say that is a really positive thing. I am glad though that there are some other parents with a similar parenting approach to us - it's quite useful when there are others also saying "No" to a 10 year old's demands (they of course protest that everyone else is allowed grin )

It might also be worth asking how far other children travel to either school - if there are others who are quite scattered then it's probably less of an issue than if everyone else lives within 3 feet of the school gate.

re the Highgate school - would the tube be an option to avoid driving through Archway?

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