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Primary school expectations - particularly prep schools

(28 Posts)
Cortina Fri 18-Sep-09 07:04:09

Wondering how true is this for prep schools in UK and primary schools?

Some rings very true for me, from what I know from friends with small children in Prep schools. Sunday is often 'homework' day where literally hours are spent on school work and 'improving' skills. From the state sector (which I am more familiar with) I have to say that the more involved you are with the school the more 'remembered' you child is by the staff it seems.

My son is in a UK prep school. I am sorry to say that despite the enormous fees and the fact that the school only employs teachers who have graduated with honours in a BA ed, there are many children who still struggle, approx 2/3. Parents have to get on board to get value for money - and that is incredibly difficult for families where both parents work. It is a common cry from parents that they are paying the school to educate their child whilst the parent goes to work to pay for that service. They do not expect to have to home tutor themselves or worse, pay extra for a specialist to do it.

From the teachers point of view, the fees the parents are paying serves no bearing on quality of education - in other words, the teacher doesn't go to work and consciously think about giving that child value for money. He or she has an extended workload with the expectation to take on a sports team, be available on Saturdays for school matches, available in the evenings for the functions put on by the school - information evenings etc.

At the school my son goes to, the classes are divided into specific sets in year 7. A little analysis of the class list shows that the children in the top set belong to parents whereby only one of them works, and the children in the bottom set belong to parents who both work. A generalisation certainly, but I know the kids and the parents so I know this to be true.

The parents of the children in the top set make no secret of how much they help at home, setting mini exams for their child on a regular basis and gradually gaining extensive knowledge of the very intensive curriculum. (On that note, the curriculum in private independent schools is about 3 years ahead of the state school system, so a child in year 7 is learning in chemisty the same as a year 10 at a state school.)These parents know that if they didn't do that, their child would struggle like the others. The point here is that it is not about an inherent intelligence, it is about who is getting the extra attention.

To add more fuel to the fire, many independent schools are run like commercial businesses with Headmasters behave like Prime Ministers of the micro community.Children are not rejected for admission as each child's fees are necessary to run 'the business', but certainly if a child is not meeting the standard and it appears obvious that the school will not be able to find placement for that child in a senior school, it is 'suggested' they leave before Common Entrance exams. There are always many on the waiting list to take that childs place and keep the ledger balanced.

And although children are not rejected at admission stage, the children that are favoured once in the system, are those that get involved in all the activities on offer, those who have parents who will help on the PTA, those who excel academically (because the parents are helping of course). IN other words, those that make the school look good.

It is a bit like knowing how to play the game. I might sound a little bitter and sometimes I am. My son is one in the top set and I know how much time I spend with her explaining algebra and chemical reactions. I complained once to the school about why I should need to do this and let's just say I wish I hadn't. My son's education is important to me and so I guess I will keep doing it. Pay up and shut up.

Finally though, my son absolutely loves his school and will leave for senior school with many fantastic memories and wonderful friends.

aig Fri 18-Sep-09 07:10:46

That's private education for you....

EldonAve Fri 18-Sep-09 07:24:22

The majority of children need parental support and input with school
Expecting to bypass this by going private is optimistic - perhaps you would get what you need if you went for boarding instead

Many independent schools are commercial business. If you want children rejected at admission you need to choose a selective school

Cortina Fri 18-Sep-09 08:19:19

I've found a surprising amount of input is expected in a state primary, don't know first hand re: prep schools just anecdotally.

In my day my parents were not expected to do anything (or at least I think so, mine didn't really).

There's input and there's being expected to teach them to write etc with the pressure put on you that you will be failing them if you don't set aside the time to do this. I am finding this a lot and didn't expect it at all.

Builde Fri 18-Sep-09 10:28:49

Poor modern children. Can't they be allowed to play like we did in the old days. (and some of us did very well on our diet of Enid Blyton, den building and lego.

At secondary level we did homework but in the end - because our innate intelligence had been allowed to flourish through play - we could still do the difficult sums required at A-level/University.

Parents (and schools) should have the confidence that children want to learn and let it come from them a bit more.

Just do what you think is right in the home environment and enjoy watching them play - abandon the homework until they are 11.

NormaSnorks Fri 18-Sep-09 11:12:16

You sound very bitter about your son's prep school sad.

Some of your comments are certainly valid, but I don't think it's as bleak as you paint it.

We have experienced state infant (3 years) and Prep (2 + years).

In both, the children who did best were the ones who had parents, and/or high quality after-school carers who invested lots of time with them outside of school. I don't think it's all about after-school tutoring and 'mini-exams' though. It's probably as much about spending time with children - playing games, talking to them, going places together.
And it doesn't necessarily HAVE to me Mum/Dad either. My eldest DS (now 10) had an au pair between the ages of 5-7 and she weas BRILLIANT with him. She loved drawing, and when he came home from school they used to get big pieces of flip-chart paper out and draw fantastic pictures. smile
Now, this may be a complete co-incidence, but he still adores drawing, and is very good at it.

In ANY school, being involved with fund-raising etc, and getting to know the teachers helps your child's relationships in the school. It's just a fact of life. It's the same in the real world - it's how people get jobs, make friends etc.

I'm a bit confused by your 2nd post:
"I've found a surprising amount of input is expected in a state primary, don't know first hand re: prep schools just anecdotally. "
I thought your son was in a prep school?

Cortina Fri 18-Sep-09 11:45:21

Hi Norma - no quoting someone else in the second part of my post, did not make it as clear as I meant to looking back at it.

Curious to know about what schools, state and private, expect etc in terms of parental involvement, etc.

MollieO Fri 18-Sep-09 12:28:32

It is very hard to have any involvement in the school when you work full time. I know that my ds suffers as a result of the fact that I have to work and cannot be there for the school run, participating with the PTA etc.

BonsoirAnna Fri 18-Sep-09 12:34:51

"A little analysis of the class list shows that the children in the top set belong to parents whereby only one of them works, and the children in the bottom set belong to parents who both work."

I know that at least two of the three most selective private schools here in Paris select children at least in part on the availability of a SAHP to help with homework. Why not? There is a high correlation between active input on the part of educated parents in their children's education, and their children's academic success.

MollieO Fri 18-Sep-09 12:43:22

Anna why assume though that working parents cannot help their children with homework? I can't do PTA meetings that seem to occur straight after school and I don't do the school run which is why I chose a school that does good wraparound care.

I would be astounded if my ds was discriminated against on the basis that there is no SAHP in our house. Surely it is all do to with parents' level of involvement with their children which has everything to do with motivation and little to do with working/not-working?

EldonAve Fri 18-Sep-09 12:44:15

Cortina - are you a journo?

BonsoirAnna Fri 18-Sep-09 12:44:34

MollieO - I think that the schools in question make that assumption based on many years of experience smile. They have been going for quite some time...

MollieO Fri 18-Sep-09 12:52:17

It just makes me sad that ds may be discriminated against because of his mother!

Cortina Fri 18-Sep-09 12:54:39

No. Interesting in exploring issues like this though and might be considering prep school a bit further down the line. Sounds like my kids would have a lot of catching up to do if so!

The level of parental input that seems to be expected these days has genuinely shocked me. Friends of mine honestly dedicate the whole of Sunday to supporting learning of their children. This isn't unusual it seems.

To me family time is more important and having fun! Although feel strongly about the educational side too.

My parents told me to look up the words in the dictionary if unsure and that's about the level of help that I got!

BonsoirAnna Fri 18-Sep-09 12:56:35

I think it's just modern life.

Certainly we spend quite a lot of time with the DSSs (14 and 12) on homework - and they are bright, and right at the top of their classes in all subjects. We are also happy to help and glad that between us we have skills in nearly everything they tackle at school.

motomoto Fri 18-Sep-09 13:19:37

but you said "My son is in a UK prep school" and then you say later "might be considering prep school a bit further down the line"

are they or are they not at prep school?

stealthsquiggle Fri 18-Sep-09 13:28:42

This so smells like a journalist fishing to me... so I am not going to comment even though I 'qualify' as a WOHM of a prep school child.

EldonAve Fri 18-Sep-09 13:31:34

You also have threads going on reading and grammar hmm

HoorahHilda Fri 18-Sep-09 13:34:39

mmm not sure about this one. Agree with stealthsqiggle

happywomble Fri 18-Sep-09 13:48:17

my first thought was is this a journalist?

It is an interesting subject to debate though.

I would like to return to work part time but do wonder how I will be able to manage helping the DCs with homework and taking them to after school activities as well as doing a job.

There seems to be a lot of pressure to return to work after the DCs start school. Yet as far as I know after school clubs don't help children with homework. So are parents supposed to sit down and do homework with their children at 6pm when the children have had breakfast club a day at school followed by after school club.

I'm not workshy but I feel it would be unfair on my DCs if I were to work as they would have such a long day at school and then have to struggle through homework after tea and then go to bed.

Society doesn't seem to regard it as a good thing to be a SAHM once the DCs are at school. I feel SAHMs are viewed as lazy.

GrungeBlobPrimpants Fri 18-Sep-09 13:58:35

What stealthsquiggle said.

Bit about the curriculum in indy schools being 3 years ahead of state schools is not correct ime. Also the bit about it only emplying teachers with a BA Ed ... doesn't sound right. Does sound like the sort of thing you read in the Sunday Twat though. <cynic emoticon>

thedolly Fri 18-Sep-09 14:07:50

get your 'his' and 'hers' in order OP

LadyMuck Fri 18-Sep-09 14:09:35

If the curriculum is 3 years ahead a) how would those at state primaries manage when transferring to independent secondaries, and b) wouldn't private school pupils all be sitting A levels at 15?

Builde Fri 18-Sep-09 14:58:16

I would have thought that there are advantages to not having a parent help with homework...it might enable the child to be self-motivated and develop their own skills.

But this doesn't seem to be how it is done now; parents even attend University Open Days whereas - in my day - these were seen as a great opportunity to escape the parents.

And what happens when these children becomes adults? Do the parents have to get them up in the morning to go to work?

Hulababy Fri 18-Sep-09 15:10:15

"Some rings very true for me, from what I know from friends with small children in Prep schools. Sunday is often 'homework' day where literally hours are spent on school work and 'improving' skills. "

My DD is in prep school, just gone into Y3. They currently get 10-20 minutes homework a night, and same amount over weeend. This will increase over the next three years but never to that extent. I know of knoone higher doing full days, unless they are in the few weeks run up to the entrance exams in Y6. And TBH children in the state and private secor will eb the same if they are doing entrance exams or 11+ exams.

"From the state sector (which I am more familiar with) I have to say that the more involved you are with the school the more 'remembered' you child is by the staff it seems. "

This is true of any school, especially in those classes were there are many children in the class. Infact I think this is true in most areas of life - the more you shout, the more you are heard, the more you are known.


"My son is in a UK prep school. I am sorry to say that despite the enormous fees and the fact that the school only employs teachers who have graduated with honours in a BA ed, there are many children who still struggle, approx 2/3. "

If this was the case in my DD's school (which it most certainly is not) I would not be happy, regardless of state or private sector. I would be wanting to knwow what the inspecion reports said about it and how the school were working on it. TBH though if it was that bad I may well be looking elsewhere.

"Parents have to get on board to get value for money - and that is incredibly difficult for families where both parents work. It is a common cry from parents that they are paying the school to educate their child whilst the parent goes to work to pay for that service. "

School shoudl always be a three way deal between teacher, child and parent. Parents in all sectors ought to be supporting and helping This doesn't have to mean going into school. Parents in the state sector work too you know!

"They do not expect to have to home tutor themselves or worse, pay extra for a specialist to do it. "

Again, no parent should have to pay for a tutor. All schools, regardless of sector, should be offering pupils the right level of education and support where required too.

"From the teachers point of view, the fees the parents are paying serves no bearing on quality of education - in other words, the teacher doesn't go to work and consciously think about giving that child value for money. He or she has an extended workload with the expectation to take on a sports team, be available on Saturdays for school matches, available in the evenings for the functions put on by the school - information evenings etc."

The teachers should not be thinking of the fees being paid. They should be providing a good level of education regardless of this, and again it should be the same in both sectors. Teachers in all sectors have such extended workloads; it is not just those in private schools. However if you feel you are not getting value for money (be it in fees or in taxes) then it should be flagged up and, as aI said before, I would be wanting to know what was happening to address the issues and if necessary looking elsewhere for my child.


"At the school my son goes to, the classes are divided into specific sets in year 7. A little analysis of the class list shows that the children in the top set belong to parents whereby only one of them works, and the children in the bottom set belong to parents who both work. A generalisation certainly, but I know the kids and the parents so I know this to be true."

Our prep only goes up to Y6, s can't comment on Y7 and above. So you truely think that the school teachers go to the hassle of finding out which parents work and don't work, and plan all their groupings according to that, and set all their work according to who has a SAHP or not? hmm I can honestly say that this is definitely not the case in DD's school, nor any other school I have worked in or know of.

"The parents of the children in the top set make no secret of how much they help at home, setting mini exams for their child on a regular basis and gradually gaining extensive knowledge of the very intensive curriculum. "

Hey, if that is what their parents want to do, so be it. I'd feel sorry for the child being forced to do it. But at least the parents are involved in their education I guess. The tests and exams are hmm but no problem wih encouraging your child to find out more about their school topics. Oh, and again - happens in both sectors!

"On that note, the curriculum in private independent schools is about 3 years ahead of the state school system, so a child in year 7 is learning in chemisty the same as a year 10 at a state school.)These parents know that if they didn't do that, their child would struggle like the others. The point here is that it is not about an inherent intelligence, it is about who is getting the extra attention."

You know a lot about the other parents! If the school curriculum is 3 years ahead but children are struggling this should have been picked up on in inspections or through complaints from parents. As stated earlier when you mentioned the struggling numbers - investigate, ask questions, etc...

"To add more fuel to the fire, many independent schools are run like commercial businesses with Headmasters behave like Prime Ministers of the micro community. Children are not rejected for admission as each child's fees are necessary to run 'the business', but certainly if a child is not meeting the standard and it appears obvious that the school will not be able to find placement for that child in a senior school, it is 'suggested' they leave before Common Entrance exams. There are always many on the waiting list to take that childs place and keep the ledger balanced."

Independent schools are a business, albeit many are non profit making businesses. They do need fees and they should use those fees to provide their children with a good education, both academically, emotionally, etc. Those struggling with to complete the entrance exams are sometimes talked to to decide if it is the right way forward for them. However, in DD's school these children are definitely not asked to leave befre completeing their full time at the school. I can't answer for others as I don't know.

"And although children are not rejected at admission stage, the children that are favoured once in the system, are those that get involved in all the activities on offer, those who have parents who will help on the PTA, those who excel academically (because the parents are helping of course). IN other words, those that make the school look good. "

Parental involvement is always going to go down well with all schools, regardless of sector.


"It is a bit like knowing how to play the game. I might sound a little bitter and sometimes I am. My son is one in the top set and I know how much time I spend with her explaining algebra and chemical reactions. I complained once to the school about why I should need to do this and let's just say I wish I hadn't. My son's education is important to me and so I guess I will keep doing it. Pay up and shut up."

Your choice to pay up and shut up. But not a stance I ould take You do seem bitter and tit does make me wonder why you keep your child at a school you so obviously thing is not a good school.

"Finally though, my son absolutely loves his school and will leave for senior school with many fantastic memories and wonderful friends. "

Maybe this is why you keep in here. But at what expense???

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