st paul's cathedral school

(27 Posts)
camflower Tue 28-Feb-17 21:13:09

hello, i'm just fishing for candid views from any parents who have children there as we are considering changing horse mid race, so to speak! haven't been to see it yet but would be keen to know if it is a happy, supportive school? any idea if parents are all tutoring as well (as so many do, despite handing over wads of cash to the school!). and where do you envisage your child going afterwards? obviously the school goes to 13 so i guess they would rather you stayed there until then but are they happy to prep for 11 plus? would be interested to hear if there is anything you don't like about it, or that they could do better. many thanks in advance ...

OP’s posts: |
JamDonutsRule Wed 01-Mar-17 21:07:33

I'm not a parent but I did look at this school and thought it seemed like a very well rounded sort of place. The Head said they discourage hothousing and tutoring and that they are selective but very reluctantly as they are oversubscribed.

JamDonutsRule Wed 01-Mar-17 21:08:45

^ I thought the school buildings seemed quite claustrophobic, but the flip side is the unique location!

Methren Thu 02-Mar-17 12:29:50

I am an SPCS parent. It's a great school. Definitely happy and supportive, lovely atmosphere. New headmaster this year who so far seems excellent, and is vocal about the importance of helping children to realise their individual potential wherever their strengths lie (academic or otherwise). Caters well for academically able children, but also good learning support for those who need it. Brilliant music, excellent extracurricular drama and reasonably inclusive sport. Parents are down-to-earth and "normal". Most families have 2 working parents.

Leavers' destinations for the past few years are available via the school website. There is quite a wide range as the school emphasises finding the right senior school for your child rather than feeding to specific schools. Choristers typically go on to boarding senior schools with music scholarships. A handful of day children also move on to boarding schools, and a handful to selective state schools, but most go on to independent day schools.

The school encourages children to stay until Year 8 and prepares for CE, but is pragmatic about the shift away from 13+ in London day school admissions and also prepares for 11+. A majority of girls leave at the end of Year 6, and some of the boys. Tutoring is reasonably common, but the school actively discourages it - my impression is that decisions to tutor are driven by anxiety about the competitiveness of the London senior school admission process rather than dissatisfaction with teaching.

The school looks small from the outside, but is quite Tardis-like once you're in there! A building project to increase space is in the pipeline. The children are bussed off-site for games and swimming.

camflower Thu 02-Mar-17 19:37:16

hi jam and methren (autosuggest just turned your name into methane!!) thanks very much for your replies, that is most helpful and i like what i'm hearing. we have an appointment there next week, and i can't wait to see it!

OP’s posts: |
Mandolinoparadiso Thu 02-Mar-17 20:02:02

I'd be put off by the high pollution level – it's near the top of the Guardian list of schools with nitrogen dioxide levels well over the legal limit, which has been proven to cause life-long lung deficiencies.
And the fact that they have to be bussed off site for sport is not great, and means more time spent inhaling fumes.

Methren Fri 03-Mar-17 00:57:51

It's a school located in the heart of a large city. Bussing offsite for sport is pretty standard for inner London schools, as very few have the space for extensive playing fields on campus. The school is mindful of the pollution issue and is working with the CoL council on measures for improvement. The school's location does mean, however, that pupils are within walking distance of numerous places of interest in London.


Mandolinoparadiso Fri 03-Mar-17 09:34:22

But given that there are so many very good prep schools in London, many with outside space and also near all that London has to offer, I couldn't in all conscience choose a school where my child would be breathing dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide five days a week for years. The school can't do anything about the pollution, and any measures being put in place now will take years to have an effect, and all the while the children's lungs are being irreparably damaged.

Claireblunderwood Fri 03-Mar-17 09:45:18

My kids go to a tutor for 11+ exams (they're at a state school and realistically it would be very difficult for them to take the exams without tutoring either at home or paid for) - she sees a lot of children from St Paul's and they seem to need just as much work as the children from bog-standard state schools.

The only reason I'd want to send my children to a private primary is to opt out of all that rubbish (tutoring, bond papers, pressure etc). Isn't it supposed to be a prep school?

CruCru Fri 03-Mar-17 10:34:35

I am also a SPCS parent. My son is in Reception and is so, so happy at school. He knows quite a few of the children in other years and I have the impression that the pre prep children all play together at playtime and lunch.

I would definitely say that it is a happy, supportive school. I looked at loads of schools in our search (I had a thread going at the time) and SPCS was definitely the one we really wanted.

It's a bit early for us (I think the school start having meetings about senior schools early in year 5) but schools that we have in mind (in 8 years so could easily change) are City of London, Forest, Highgate and UCS.

I haven't yet come across tutoring although I am sure it does happen (and know that the school is quite anti tutoring).

WingingIt79 Fri 03-Mar-17 10:54:18

This pollution issue is bigger than SPCS! It is a live issue for almost all the camden/islington schools - both state and private. There are many of those lovely leafy preps in Hampsted that have levels of nitrogen dioxide above the EU legal limit. Then all those holy grail academic privates we're probably all aiming for - City, SHHS, Highgate, Westminster - yup, they're above the limit too. Of course it is a question of degree, but still. I really hope action is taken by the Mayor asap.

OP, we're very happy with SPCS. We feel academics are strong, but the real clincher for me has been the amazing music/drama/extra-curricular opportunities. I have no doubt my daughter could do well at one of our wonderful local states, but I love the broad education (the music is just wonderful!) she is receiving before we enter 11+ ruckus.

Sadly, I am not sure there are any schools that allow you to completely opt out of 11+ madness re tutoring. I like to think I won't go down this route myself as ultimately I think it has become an arms race and long term, is a huge disservice to our children. I have heard this week that a huge amount of tutoring goes on at NLCS prep for goodness sake, and even at the 4-18 schools many of the kids have tutoring in order to compete for some of the fabulous scholarships available at 11+. Agh. Anyone else ever feel like taking the kids and running?!? x

Good luck with your decision OP!

Mandolinoparadiso Fri 03-Mar-17 11:15:01

I agree that there are many parts of London that are above the safe level of nitrogen dioxide (40 micrograms per cubic metre), but if you compare, say Heathside (37.8) (as an example of a leafy Hampstead prep), Westminster Under School (47.8), Wetherby (43.2), (both very urban), SCPS's measure of 60.30 is on a different scale of noxiousness. All I'm trying to say is that for some parents, including us, this would be make or break in deciding on a school. If it doesn't matter to you, that's fine.

Claireblunderwood Fri 03-Mar-17 11:24:16

My kids' primary is in a busy bit of Islington and is late 40s for nitrogen dioxide (not great but a lot better). I couldn't believe how high it was for City Boys.

As an aside, our tutor did my state-educated child and another from St Paul's for the same lot of 11+ exams. One got two out of the three v. academic schools tried for (mentioned above), the other got none of the academic ones... Of course the individual children transcend their schooling, but apparently my child was better at doing the homework because on account of having much shorter day at school and no commute.

I'm sure it is a great school, but it would really p* off if I had to pay that money, commute that distance, do the extra homework and it still didn't seem to make much material difference with regard to ease of getting into secondaries. Plus we had the additional benefit of being confident enough to only do three pretty selective schools because we were happy to go state if it didn't work out.

Claireblunderwood Fri 03-Mar-17 11:26:13

I tell a lie, kids' primary has nitrogen levels in the 30s. Again, still pretty bad, but...

Methren Fri 03-Mar-17 11:34:32

Mandolino, you have a valid point about air pollution being a problem for urban schools, but implying that you are a better parent because you factor this issue into school decisions isn't doing you any favours.

The reality is that most of us, including fee-paying parents, don't have the luxury of free choice. We choose from a small set of schools that are geographically, financially and academically accessible. Of the 3 schools you with lower air pollution levels that you choose to compare to SPCS, for us one is geographically too far away, one is prohibitively expensive, and the third is inaccessible as my DC wouldn't pass the entrance exam.

That's before you start to factor in things like school ethos, teaching quality, extracurricular provision, etc. Of course environmental factors do matter, but they don't necessarily matter most. To be blunt, I'm not going to send my DC to a school that I don't feel is a good fit for them just because its air is cleaner.

OP, I think you are doing the right thing by visiting the school yourself and making up your own mind. Knowing the headmaster, I am sure he would be happy to discuss the issue of air pollution and the measure the school is taking to minimise its effects.

Mandolinoparadiso Fri 03-Mar-17 11:52:27

Methren, I was in no way implying that I am a better parent. But, as a fee-paying parent it's disingenuous in the extreme to say that you don't have a choice of where to educate your child. Those parents who have to send their children to the primary school allocated to them, pollution or not, are the ones who have no choice: as the Guardian article made clear, many of schools most badly affected are state schools. The fact remains that SPCS is the prep school that has the second worst air quality in London. As a fee-paying parent you are free to make of that information what you will.

Methren Fri 03-Mar-17 11:57:26

Sorry, bad proof-reading - the measures the school are taking to minimise its effects.

Claire, my impression (as my DC approaches the age where we are thinking about senior schools) is that the London tutoring frenzy is largely driven by the perception that everyone is doing it and your child will be at a disadvantage if you don't. My DC isn't tutored, and I hope very much to continue avoiding that route, but the external pressure is there even though I am very happy with the standard of academics at the school.

I'm glad your DC had a positive 11+ experience. As for the long SPCS school day you mention as detrimental to the other child's engagement with the tutor, the prep school timetable begins at 8.50am and ends at 3.40pm (5.00pm if attending an after-school club). The length of the day reflects the fact that the school timetable contains a large allocation of excellent co-curricular lessons, including music, drama, art and sport, in addition to academic work.

Methren Fri 03-Mar-17 12:02:35

Mandolino, at no point did I say I don't have a choice of where to educate my DC. I did say that I don't have a free, unrestricted choice, which is correct.

Mandolinoparadiso Fri 03-Mar-17 12:09:45

Methren: None of us do, but you have more choice than most.

BoboChic Fri 03-Mar-17 12:15:50

I have a relative whose DD is in Y5 at SPCS and the family seem very happy with it. The little girl is a super happy, well-rounded high achiever without any arrogance.

Methren Fri 03-Mar-17 12:44:30

Mandolino, I'm not disputing that I have more choice than most. Still doesn't mean it's feasible for me to make air pollution levels an absolute priority when looking at schools though. The idea that I can choose to send my DC to WUS because it has lower pollution levels is illusory: my DC wouldn't get through the academic selection process.

It's not that air pollution "doesn't matter" to me as a parent, but speaking personally this issue is only one of a number of factors that I need to take into consideration when making decisions about schools for my DC. Likewise, I'm sure the OP will make school decisions based on their own personal circumstances and priorities.

Mandolinoparadiso Fri 03-Mar-17 13:03:46

Methren: those three examples were plucked randomly from the list. I wasn't, of course, suggesting that they were suitable for your child. In fact, I could have picked any three prep schools in London – all but one prep schools have lower pollution levels than SPCS.
However, the danger of pollution is very real and the fact that one can now find out the exact level at a prospective school can only help parents in making such an important choice. There are many factors, of course, and we all have different priorities, but the fact that this information is out there has to be a good thing for those having to make that decision.

Methren Fri 03-Mar-17 13:15:32

Yes, I agree that it is a good thing the information is available to parents.

Popinpopout Fri 03-Mar-17 13:22:31

The school was lovely when I visited and I really liked the head. The children were happy and lively. The school is strong in music so if your child has musical talent it would be a good choice. We ruled it out though because of the commute (central line!), the relatively high fees, and the possible disruption of a building project. Good luck in your school search!

Claireblunderwood Fri 03-Mar-17 14:23:39

I visited it too and really liked it - mostly didn't apply as didn't think my dc would have a hope of getting in! (ironically as evidently turned out quite academic, but late talker).

The thing is all parents have a choice in that they can just opt for their local state school (and for the record, my kids' one is ofsted requires improvement with very high pupil premium etc). And most state schools will have a lower level of pollution.

The school day you've outlined is half an hour longer than the average state school. Add to that the 45-50 minutes each way the boy we know commuted and you're looking at an extra two hours on each day. That does make a difference to how fresh they feel about tackling more bloody homework from the tutor... I know that many children will have less a commute, but I do think it's very hard to expect a child to do work on top of that - to me it just seems easier to have a nice time at a local primary and do the extra work (especially if you'd have to do it anyway).

But you're right that there's a London frenzy which is completely ridiculous, evidenced by the fact that the tutor we use used to see no private school kids unless they had some additional needs. Now it seems standard. I know of one private primary that even advises parents to get a tutor.

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