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How to decide on the best school for DD - academic vs pastoral excellence?

(38 Posts)
PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 17:21:28

By virtue of my job and risk issues around DD going to local schools, I am likely to be able to get DD into the school of my choice when I apply for her reception class by December.

But DH and I are confused and unsure about what school is the best for her. We have the option of 2 (well more, but they are the ones we are undecided against).

Choice 1. School a little way away, and likely in a different direction to baby 2 nursery and work. It has Excellent Ofsted reports for everything apart from pastoral care, which is has a Good for. It is renowned for being the best school in the area, people move to the local catchment area in the hope of getting their children there. They usually fill all their places by the first criteria, and occasionally the second criteria. They have something like 250 applications for 80 places.

It is very academic. They are extremely strict on home work from the outset, they are against taking children out of school for any reason, and they make parents attend an 'interview' before children start school to stress the importance of following their rules. Rumours are that they withdraw children if they are taken out for holiday etc, and for too many sickness absences, although I do not know how true this is. They will not accept any children on reduced hours in the reception year, or only 4 days, either the child does all week or not at all. They push the children hard from the off.

They have no outside area for the children to play, other than a very small playground. But they do have access to an enormous park which I beleive is used.

They have the best academic results in the area. Well above average. Some statemented children, and children with english as their second language, average I think. They forcefully encourage extra curricular activities.

Choice 2. Has good as its minimum assessment in all areas apart from Pastoral which is gets Excellent for. It has a good reputation as being a good all round school, it has extra curricular activities which are encourage but not forced, has excellent anti-bullying policies, great special support for those who need it. Has a slightly higher than average intake of Statemented (is that the right word?) children and children with English as their second language. It has a good all round reputation for academic input, but is not a High achiever (is above average, or average). It is more local, still not within catchment area, within 30 min walking distance from home and more easily accessible to and from work and nursery.

So. Our dilemma is that DD is very bright, active, needs pushing a little, needs to be occupied. We are worried if we send her to school 2 she might not be pushed enough. But then, worried if we send her to choice 1, she might be pushed too hard, being only 4/5. She has plenty of time to learn and grow and be pushed and encouraged and we don't want to be pushy parents, but on the other hand, we want to recognise and harness any potential she has, and give her the best possible start to academic study.

Also, pastroal care, is IMO very important. It is not just about maths and english, but about the whole experience of school - making friends, developing hobbies, having fun. I am not sure whether fun is too high on the agenda at the first choice, but is that for us to sort out, outside school?

I do not want to miss out on the chance of sending her to the best state school in the area, but I do not want to send her there if it is te wrong choice.

(Oh, and also, we will be taking her out of school in term time in the first couple of years. We have family in USA and it is costly to travel as a family of 4 each year, so we will go when it is cheaper and convenient for the whole family. I also beleive at this age, travel and family are just as valuable learning experiences as formal schooling. Please do not slate me for this, as this is not what the thread is about. I am not asking for opinions on this, but it has an impact potentially on school attitudes towards us).

So, how do you decide where to send your child to school if you are lucky enough to have a choice?

AMumInScotland Wed 04-Nov-09 17:28:16

I'd go with option 2 - it sounds far more in tune with your attitudes towards raising a child (and mine too...). Academic success will not come easily if a child is unhappy at school, however "good" the school is. But a bright child will shine in any reasonable school, if he/she is happy.

teafortwo Wed 04-Nov-09 17:36:35

wot AMumInScotland sayz! grin

TheArmadillo Wed 04-Nov-09 17:39:23

I would always go for pastoral care.

It was the main thing when I decided on a school for ds (5yo). Ds is also very bright.

I do have issues surrounding this though in that firstly I went to a school like school 1 - also being very bright I did benefit from the culture of high academic achievement at the time, but it made very little difference when I moved on to secondary school. However the 'caring' culture was not there and there are some things that I still have issue over. The culture of the school and parents was very pushy. I have issues with my parents who very much brought in to this culture so may not have a detached viewpoint.

Ds has been at a school like school 2 since september. He is getting on brilliantly and loves it. The 'feeling' of the school is lovely, although it is huge for a primary school it doesn't feel like it. Every parent I've spoken to feels happy with their child there adn with the culture of the teaching staff and head.

Ds went to a preschool similar to school 1 (a lot of the children would have gone on to the school I went to which is still the same). He hated it to the point that I removed him. The staff were nice and liked ds who they said was extremely clever but he never took to it. He was at the lower range of normal for social skills and I felt that there was little support given for this and it was all aimed towards academic acheivement.

I would choose the school wtih the higher rated pastoral care but as I said I have issues that skew things.

EldonAve Wed 04-Nov-09 17:43:56

Which one is nearer
Have you looked round both

(apols for lack of qu mark keyboard is set to another lang and I can*t work out how to change it back)

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 17:47:33

Thanks for your responses so far.

DD is in an excellent nursery, the best. We actually took her out of another relatively ok nursery because we were not happy with a few things namely that they did not do very much with the children. We had her on the waiting list for the nursery she is in now, which is a filter for the local RC school, and some independent schools, or choice 1. Which we did not realise until she was offered a place! When we first visited we liked it but had some doubts, decided to keep her on the list and wait and see if and when a place came up, as time went on we felt it was far too pushy for us. And then, when we visited the second time, when the offer was made, we felt it was right for her. (i think I was spooked by her having to call them 'mrs smith' or whatever, and they are teachers rather than carers!).

They are very regimented, have a tight structure, and DD seems to respond very very well to this. She has excellent reports from them and is happy there, although she is exhausted by the end of the day. However, their pastoral care is also amazing, the friendliness and buzz in the nursery is amazing, and I know this will not necessarily reflect how it will be at school, and she is only at nursery 2 days a week, not 5.

In relation to choice 2. I forgot to mention that a primary school teacher who I know (vague friend, not close) moved to catchment area of school 1, and her child goes to school 2. She decided not to change schools as she felt school 1 was too strict, she does not approve of excessive home work at primary school for example.

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 17:48:25

I have not actually looked around either - see, how dumb am I? I did not know you could!!!

I shall add that to my list of Things To Do grin

roisin Wed 04-Nov-09 17:51:57

From your descriptions I would go for school 2 like a shot. School 1 sounds a bit grim to me in many ways.

My boys are very bright, attended an "excellent" primary, but not the one with the highest academic results in the area. They've both done incredibly well there in all sorts of different ways, including academically.

By the way, would you care to expand on your assertion that you will be able to get dd into the school of your choice because of your job? Are you a politician or something?! I'm very intrigued.

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 17:52:12

One is around 30 mins walking distance (choice 2) (probably 15 mins but I am thinking how long with a 4 year old and a baby in a carrier/buggy) or 5 mins in the car, possibly 10 in school run time. Then 15 mins max on bus to nursery and 5 min walk to work. 30-45 mins round trip?

The other is only accessible by car. Logistically it is a nightmare as it will mean driving in school run/office hours time through/close to town and out the other side, takes normally about 15 mins in car, possibly 30 mins. Then, back through same traffic to the other side of town again for nursery, then work which is 2 mins up the road but no parking (or expensive parking). So would mean dropping car off at home, then bus into town for nursery/work. Likely 1.5 hours round trip at a guess?

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 17:53:17

I work for the criminal justice sector, and my catchment area has some of my 'clients' in, including some-one I sent to prison who has a daughter same age as mine...

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 17:54:33

I should say 'a higher than average number', as there is possibility that all the schools DD might go to could have a 'client' of mine.

GuyFawkesIsMyLoveSlave Wed 04-Nov-09 18:06:15

I'd go for 2. Option 1 isn't bad, necessarily, and I can see that in some ways it might be appropriate if you think your DD needs to be pushed a little. But it seems to be fundamentally at odds with your general philosophy and I think that will give you issues over the seven years she's there. The time out in term time thing, for example -- you already know that at school 1 that's going to bring you into conflict with the head and the school policies on several occasions.

And developing emotionally and socially is more important for your DD's future happiness (and statistically more important for her earning power and employment prospects, too) than being academically pushed right from Reception.

roisin Wed 04-Nov-09 18:18:43

hmm interesting.

Do you have any reason/grounds/evidence to think that this will be taken into account for school place allocations? I'm not saying I think it unreasonable, but IME generally those sort of things don't get taken into account until you get to the point of appealing for places. And appealing successfully for primary places is very difficult, because of the class size limits.

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 18:25:09

Roisin - yes, I spoke to the allocations people who stated that under the circumstances of my role, and the possible risks posed to DD, and myself if our identities/personal details are exposed mean that my catchment area will be changed. unfortunately the closest catchment areas where I don't know specific clients, or where there are a high volume of potential clients are these two schools.

I also know that this has applied to other colleagues in similar circumstances. I have been advised that I need to identify this as a special circumstance at the beginning and 'extenuating circumstances' will be applied.

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Wed 04-Nov-09 18:26:31

I will also, I beleive need to provide a letter from my employers to confirm I work there, and my post to back it up. Need to find out when they need that by actually.

tkband3 Wed 04-Nov-09 18:59:46

We moved to our house to get our children into a school which sounds very similar to your choice 1 - high achievement levels, very pushy, quite strict and limited playground and internal space. Their OFSTED is excellent and their SAT results are in the top 3 in the borough. We were as close as we could afford to be to this school and in the 2 years leading up to applying for DD1's reception place, we would have got a place. The year we applied for DD1, the catchment shrank by over a half, due to people renting flats close to the school and generally cheating playing the system in order to get into this school.

So we ended up with our third choice school, which sounds very similar to your choice 2...a high level of children with English as a second language, quite a high level of statemented children (the school is quite new and was specifically designed with children with special needs in mind) and excellent internal facilities and outdoor space. Their most recent OFSTED report has 'good' for everything except pastoral care, which is 'excellent'. Their SATs results are ok, but not brilliant.

DD1 also sounds similar to your DD - bright, but needs 'encouragement'.

Despite our initial disappointment at our allocation, we couldn't be happier now. DD1 has flourished - she gets the attention and encouragement she needs and is performing at the top of her class in all subjects. The only downside for me is that school 1 is walking distance away, whereas we have to drive to school 2 (and parking is a nightmare). The parent/school communication is excellent and the way the school involves parents in the children's learning is fantastic - many of my friends whose children attend different schools are amazed at the way we are welcomed into the school.

We did visit both schools before applying, but I recently visited school 1 again, when I was going through the process for my that I am more experienced (and am very involved at DD1's school, so have seen it in action at close hand), I found school 1 less impressive and the headmistress smug, overbearing and heavily reliant on their results in her presentation of the school.

So, apologies for the long ramble blush grin. Definitely visit both schools before you make your decision, but based on my experience and your description of the schools, my choice would be number 2.

bonfirewithaheartofgold Wed 04-Nov-09 19:05:39

sounds like a no-brainer to me, especially given the commute to school 1. we were faced with very similar optioins, chose our equivalent of school 2, never looked back. BUT i don't think you can make a final decision without visiting the schools, rather than relying on hearsay/reputation/reports.

thegrammerpolicesic Wed 04-Nov-09 20:20:12

A small thing which might help is to try and imagine it's the night before her first day. Which one would you be most excited about her going to/ most comfortable with?

The journey to school one sounds awful tbh.

StillSquiffy Wed 04-Nov-09 20:32:45

Visit the schools and make the decision then.

FWIW, we had a similar choice with DS, but we were lucky because those children who did not thrive academically in Option 1 were almost always able to switch to Option 2. So we went for Option 1. Turns out it has far better pastoral care than I ever imagined, but this aspect of the school kind of got lost in the fearsome reputation for academic standards and manners and general competitiveness.

NowtonTelly Wed 04-Nov-09 20:37:28

Go and see the schools before you make your mind up.

On paper, Option 2 sounds a much happier place for a young child. But seeing is believing.

Uriel Wed 04-Nov-09 20:54:28

Option 2.

You can always tutor but you need good pastoral care in place.

hocuspontas Wed 04-Nov-09 21:01:27

I don't think you are suited to school 1. grin They obviously get their reputation and results by having parents who support their ethos. Already you don't agree with this! Also I'm surprised that in the light of EYFS they can get away with a results driven reception class. School 2 sounds much better. Don't be taken in by the 'best school in the area'. That's parent talk and not necessarily best for your child.

BTW school 2 won't take too kindly to term time holidays either. There is a lot of pressure on schools now to tighten up on this and in a lot of cases the 10-day allowance is a thing of the past. You will have to brazen this out wherever you go!

Hope you make the right decision!

PollyParanoia Wed 04-Nov-09 21:28:58

hello I think you know what you want by the way you've described them.
BTW how do you and other posters know your four year old is "very bright"? I have to say I never would have thought that of my ds at that age because I'd have always assumed that it's a bit too early to tell especially when you haven't seen them in the context of a classroom with varying abilities. I'm very wary of defining children at such a young age...

PavlovtheForgetfulCat Thu 05-Nov-09 15:39:20

polly ego perhaps? grin she is currently 3.3, not 4. She will be 4 when she starts school.

I think she is bright, as she can do many things that others her age struggle to do, not saying she is clever than most, but her learning abilities, speed, style, and need for constant input means I, and many who meet her, refer to her as a veru bright child. I shall not list all the things I think mean she is bright, as this is not a child competition thread, but can if you really want me to!

She has been described as a very bright child who needs structure, by her old nursery and her new pre-school, where she does some more formal work now.

I am not saying she is a genuis, only that she is bright. Which she is.

I don't think other posters have said she is bright, only responded to me saying it.

I will go to visit the schools. As I said, did not realise I could.

The journey to school 1 is horrendous but i would do it if the school was the right one.

mrsshackleton Thu 05-Nov-09 15:43:33

From your description I'm almost certain I know which school 1 is grin and I say school 2.No brainer for all reasons mentioned above, but especially if you'll be taking your dd out in termtime, head of school 1 simply will not stand for such behaviour - the rumours are all true. Good luck

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