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Would you send a child to a specialist music school?

(62 Posts)
Colleger Tue 02-Aug-11 19:03:44

DC has asked to audition for the Purcell and I'm not sure what to do. I don't mind DC auditioning but if it is a YES, then I'm unsure what to do. The place would be for entry into Year 7.

Has anyone gone through such a school at a young age and was the academic education up to scratch? Where did the school fall short - was PE/Games adequate, were there opportunities to debate and take part in academic competitions such as the Olympiads?

roisin Wed 03-Aug-11 08:12:20

If I had a child with that sort of musical ability, then yes, I definitely would, no question about it.

Some music schools don't have such a good reputation for maintaining academic excellence, but many do.

A good alternative for musically gifted youngsters is a school with a choir school attached. IMO these offer superb musical education for children, usually alongside academic rigour as well. It might be too late for your DC though, as many want children to start before yr7.

notcitrus Wed 03-Aug-11 08:20:39

Friend of mine went there and got into Cambridge on academic merit. SIL at music college also knows people who went there and they seem as well-adjusted as anyone else.

Theas18 Wed 03-Aug-11 08:31:12

Not sure. Eldest looked at this. As she was/ is a real academic high flier and didn't want to do music as an undergraduate degree we stuck with her current school. She didn't audition in the end as she could have been left with and impossible choice. Academic standards look good at specialist music schools but it isn't the main focus

GraduallyGoingInsane Wed 03-Aug-11 14:45:57

I was at school with a boy who went to a very prestigious music school (not the one you are looking at). He did Years 7 and 8 at my school, then went away to the music school for Years 9-11. He came back to my school for Sixth Form.

In Year 7/8, he was captain of the football team, top of the year for maths/science, generally very bright, a very popular boy. He was also incredibly talented at the trumpet.

When he came back in Sixth Form, we were universally shocked. He had failed GCSE Maths and English, and had to resit them in lower sixth. He'd not done very well at all across the subjects, with the exception of music. He had also developed anorexia, and was very very withdrawn. I don't know what went on in his life in Years 9-11, but once he was back at my school he soon blossomed back into the boy we all remembered, and ended up with great A levels.

I'm sure ALL music schools aren't like this, and with the benefit of hindsight and an adult eye he was a sensitive boy, from a very high achieving family, with an incredibly pushy dedicated mother. So the anorexia may have come on anyway. What I do know is, he should NOT have failed GCSEs in anything, and that must therefore be a failing of the school. I'd think very carefully.

mummytime Thu 04-Aug-11 08:34:37

Kids fail GCSEs because of emotional pressures all the time. You can't pass them if you are having a "breakdown" for example.
However Music schools on the whole are very good, if you are dedicated to music. So you need to look at the school and your son carefully. What does he want to do with his life? What is his back up plan? Does he know what the life of a professional musician is like? really?
My ILs considered it for my very talented DH, in the end he didn't go, which is probably just as well as although Music is still very important to him it is not his life. Lots of professional musicians do not go to Music school as well.

Colleger Thu 04-Aug-11 09:49:35

I wouldn't say music is his life but he is frustrated with the level of music he is getting and wants to be in an environment where music is the norm. To pursue music he has to give up other things and watch his class mates do them. He feels that at a music school everyone will practice and then everyone will go on a trip/do an activity. I don't know what he will do when he grows up but I know he loves performing and we would make sure he was enriched in the summer holidays for any lack of activities at school. The other upside is that the schools he currently goes to expect full participation in all sports and this is not good for a musician. After all, who wants to see a singer at a concert with a massive bruise on his head after a Rugby match or even worse - broken fingers! At least Purcell and Chets don't have Rugby! wink

AMumInScotland Thu 04-Aug-11 10:02:29

You need to look at the academic results for the individual school - some will be very good academically, but that will just depend on the school. It is certainly a different experience spending all your time with people who are passionate about music, and makes it much easier to fit in your practice when everyone else is doing the same.

Also look at where the children go when they leave - how many of them go on to do other subjects at university?

DS was at music school as a chorister, and applied to stay on (didn't get in). But that school gets excellent academic results, and a proportion of the children each year go on to univeristy to do things other than music.

Obviously there has to be a compromise somewhere - the range of subjects to choose from was much smaller than in a normal school, largely because the school itself is small. Also they didn't have much chance for team sports, or any sports at a high level as they could not commit to practice for that as well as music. But the children were all committed and put the effort into music, academics, and a social life - they just had much less time for "hanging around" than the average teenager!

Colleger Thu 04-Aug-11 10:23:26

So the question is - will he get in to Chets or Purcell?

He has got grade 5 bassoon with distinction in June and he is tackling a few grade 7 pieces at the moment but I'll err on the side of caution that he is just grade 5 - I am convinced, with the right teaching he could be grade 7 in a years time at the end of Year 6. He has also been a chorister and has a lovely voice, but is this enough to audition on grade 5 pieces this coming term for a place in Y7 next year? He starts the RCM JD in September and of course we would wait to see how he got on there before accepting a specialist school place.

AMumInScotland Thu 04-Aug-11 13:05:59

Have you spoken to his bassoon teacher about it? They can often give you an idea whether they think he is up to the expected kind of standard or not. Of course you can always apply even if the teacher doesn't think so - you wil get feedback which will give an idea if he is in with a chance or not, and roughly what they might expect to convince them.

So long as you have thought through the finances and other practicalities and would be able to accept a place if they offered of course.

snorkie Thu 04-Aug-11 14:08:33

I would think he'd be very likely to get in. Especially considering most bassoonists don't even start the instrument until about year 6, he is doing incredibly well. The only child I know that went to Purcell didn't like it and dropped out after 2 years, but you have to try it to know. It's a tricky choice though, so few musicians make it right to the top that you are right to be concerned to keep his academics going at least to the extent that other options are still open.

cupofteainpeace Thu 04-Aug-11 14:16:45

I have a friend with one child at Purcell and second child starting in sept. They are very happy with it. DD1 wants to be a scientist eventually (y7 in sept). Both were grade 4+ when they auditioned during y4.
The fees are calculated on income of family.
You can only go for it and try it. Good luck!

2rebecca Sat 06-Aug-11 20:26:20

The only disadvantage of our local music school is the kids miss out on some of the other arty subjects to do more music, which can be a disadvantage if the child decides they want to do art not music.
I have a close relative who went to music school and is now working in an arty field and plays none of his instruments and wishes he had done more art at school.
It is excellent if your child is very musical though and willing to practice and you don't mind incessantly nagging them to practice.
Musicians are abysmally paid for the amount of talent and dedication needed though, so be sure you really want to push your child in that direction and not towards something better paid and more laid back.
I think if they aren't nagging you to get them into music school I wouldn't bother.

rufus8 Tue 09-Aug-11 10:14:32

I am having the same debate....offer from a music/choir school with bursary for Y8 or try for scholarships elsewhere. Sometimes as experience has shown me it can be tough being at a very expensive school on a bursary...expectations etc whereas with music school you are with the same kind of parent sacrificing everything for child etc. Although this may produce a particular kind of pushy parent!
Oh dear dilemma!

Katisha Tue 09-Aug-11 10:19:52

I don't think I would send my child to the specialist music schools actually. I know quite a few people who went to various of them and weren't particularly happy.
The one I have heard the best reports of is Winchester.

Colleger Tue 09-Aug-11 13:41:39

A choir school is not a specialist music school and Winchester is certainly not a specialist music school but a top Public school. I wouldn't have any issue sending to the latter and DS is currently in the former but it still does not office him with enough opportunities.

Katisha Tue 09-Aug-11 14:07:50

Ah yes sorry - I meant Wells.

rufus8 Tue 09-Aug-11 14:12:14

I have heard good things about Wells.The specialist muisic school is part of the main school?

Colleger Tue 09-Aug-11 14:36:17

Wells is poor academically and I've known a number of musicians who have discounted it because of this. On the face of it, having specialist music within a normal school seems like a great idea but I have had experience of such set ups and it is not for my son. There were many great activities/ opportunities that my son missed out on because music came first and this not only impacted his happiness but did not help him fully bond socially with his peer group. At least at Purcell, the opportunities are available to all and when a child is practicing , all children are practicing so no one is missing out on something.

confidence Fri 12-Aug-11 22:51:24


I have met several people during my (music) studies and working life who went to Chets, Purcell and Wells. I have to say they were all just pretty "normal" people, with the obvious exception that they were all fantastic musicians. I think one often-overlooked factor is that these schools (maybe excepting the choir schools like Wells) are pretty small. That has certain disadvantages of subject choice, but it also brings with it some advantages in terms of pastoral care. The staff have the opportunity to really nurture each individual and the specialist expertise in what that requires for a budding musician. For a kid like your DC who wants to be doing music all the time and be around other people who are, that can probably be a much healthier environment than being in a normal school.

I can certainly relate to how your DC feels. I grew up in a very non-cultural area and was always "the wierd one" doing music. When I started playing in youth orchestras and later doing a music degree, I was acutely aware of the different assumptions and confidence of the kids who had grown up with it like a natural, assumed part of life. In a field as hard and competitive as music, I think that goes a long way.

As for what happens if he decides not to do music, my impression is that these schools get very good academic results, though not top of the league. Somewhere on the Purcell website is some information about previous A level results, which seem to contain a majority of As and Bs, and destinations of previous leavers which include non-music degrees in several different fields. I think the main problem is likely to be not standards as such, but subject choice. Might be an issue if he leans towards science for example.

On standard required, it's hard to say. They do give guidelines on the website, but these are not black and white and they have ways of looking for potential rather than absolute current ability. The bassoon is a rare and sought-after instrument so that would help. I think most of these places are pretty open about discussing such issues with you, and even letting him come in for an informal "pre-audition" if appropriate, since they understand the difficulties involved.

If he's fanatical about music and has a strong sense that that's what he'll do for a living, I'd say go for it. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages. If not, it's hard to say and would depend on all the circumstances. They accept kids in most year groups so you could always wait a year or two and see.

Namechangeoshame Sun 14-Aug-11 19:35:14

I went to Wells despite being practically tone deaf (20 years ago, obv) and found it more or less fine. It couldn't compare academically with the specialist academic schools, but I thought it struck a decent balance in serving the competing needs of the "pure" musicians, the (few) hardcore academics, the less-academic children of the local farmers who just wanted a solid private education and the many children who were somewhere inbetween.

MrsHoolie Sun 14-Aug-11 22:25:16

I went to Chet's at the age of ten (I'm now 34).
I'm now a professional musician and I am in one of the London orchestras.

My parents aren't remotely musical and I think they were shocked that I got a place. In fact they didn't even know about specialist music schools until my teacher suggested it.

Many of my school friends went on to top universities to read non music subjects. I think the environment completely put them off,not that they were unhappy necessarily.

Many kids were unhappy but I think you could say that for a lot of schools. My parents would have removed me from the school had I hated it.
I was very lucky though as my instrumental teachers were great and very inspiring but there were some who weren't so great.

I come from the west country and it was too far to travel to one of the London college Saturday schools so music school definitely helped me to thrive.

It definitely depends on the child but for me Chet's was a good school and I did very much enjoy the social and musical environment. I am not very academic so opted to do minimal GCSE's and A levels although passed them quite well. The class sizes are small so that was something I wouldn't have got at my local comp.
The school has changed a lot since I was there but it was a bit lacking in the sport/PE side of things due to it being inner city. Obviously Purcell would have more space.

MrsHoolie Sun 14-Aug-11 22:45:23

I forgot to ask,where do you live?
Would Saturday morning school at one of the music colleges be an option for your DS?

Colleger Mon 15-Aug-11 17:07:13

Mrs Hoolie, thanks for your post. I was wondering - I have heard that most join in the sixth form so how did it feel going through the whole school and being one of only a small few at 10?

MrsWeasley Mon 15-Aug-11 17:18:04

If my DC wanted to go and it was possible (and I could cope ;) ) I would let them go. If its their passion I would encourage that side and not focus on working future, just yet IYSWIM

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