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Westminster Under at 11+. A good choice or two additional years of stress while waiting for CE?

(47 Posts)
OhDearConfused Tue 02-Oct-12 12:58:07

DS is at a state primary and we are looking around at options for Year 7.

One option (he is bright), and we like the look of it, is Westminster (the main school, not the prep).

The prep (Westminster Under) is nice too and an obvious choice if we would like him to go to Westminster Upper. However, we are put off by the fact that entry at 11+ does not guarantee a place at Westminster Upper. You still need to pass common entrance at the appropriate level.

This came up at the open day the other day and the Head addressed it in her speech. She said that there is no guarantee, but that any boy that enters at 11+ "should" (easily) be able to get to the right standard. Indeed, asking around separately, that is the consistent theme from staff. If your son gets in at 11+, barring a catestrophe, he will make the standard.

This sounds all well and good, but it is still a risk. There can always be a catastrophe (illness, bereavement, emergence of special needs, a "bad" year, onset of a little laziness, bullying, and so on and so on).

Given the stress we are putting ourselves now in the run up to the Year 7 move, are we not just adding two year to the four three two year or so of stress we are going through now?

Or perhaps is it the case that if such a catastrophe happened at another school (eg City, Alleyns, Dulwich) which didn't have the 13+ test requirement once you have started, you'd get "managed" out anyway. So it amounts to the same thing.

Added to this, coming through the state system, I have absolutely no idea what the CE is all about anyway. Is that also something that people tutor to high heaven for to get the DCs to an appropriate standard? [Perhaps I should start a separate thread for this.]

Sorry for long OP.

Interested in people's views.

meditrina Wed 03-Oct-12 12:11:24

I'm a bit confused by OP. Westminster starts at 13+. If that's the school you want him to go to, then he will have to qualify for entry then, either by the Challenge (scholarship exam) or by passing the pretest at 11+ and then gaining the qualifying mark at CE (from another prep) or by entering WUS and gaining qualifying mark at CE. So a 13+ exam success (competitive by Challenge or qualifying by CE) is inevitable.

The WUS route is preferred by some because of the very close link, the selection at 11+ taking boys who are of the standard to progress at 13+, the certainty that teaching 11-13 will cover everything that Westminster is looking for, and the greater knowledge that WUS/Westminster have about the boy's real standard from knowing him in detail for two years before exams (thus mitigating impact should there be a difficult event at exam time).

Marni23 Wed 03-Oct-12 12:11:37

Annelongditton because 'highly selective' describes admission criteria but doesn't mean a school is superior to those which are less selective. So for example I know that KCS is highly selective but I, personally, disliked it and don't think it would be right for my DS.

'Second tier' implies inferiority.

propatria Wed 03-Oct-12 12:13:33


milkshake3 Wed 03-Oct-12 12:17:58

ALD - no, parents of boys in my part of London are not spoilt! You have a DC who has a place at KCS and so is by definition a bright boy (if I remember from previous threads, forgive me if I am wrong) which means you have choice. I too have a DS who would get into KCS if we wanted a day school. But for my friends who have boys not able to get into KCS, St Pauls, Westminster or Latymer the choice is extremely limited and the travel time to other day schools very off putting. Boarding is not an option for everyone, so that explains the pressure to shoehorn these boys into those few schools, and the huge numbers that sit for those entry exams.

Annelongditton Wed 03-Oct-12 13:14:21

There is a lot more choice for boys than there is for girls, and I would be more inclined to co-ed a boy than a girl,(particularly as some schools were previously all boys) which I accept is a personal preference, also I would be more inclined to let a boy make a longer journey, again a personal preference.
So I would add Hampton,RGS, Dulwich, Emmanuels, Reeds, Epsom and I could go on forvever to your list. It is different for girls, DD is not going to make it into a super selective/top tier school and I don't have any problems with labelling schools I look at for her as second tier, there is not much point me attending the SPGS open day and admiring the facilities - she won't get in. I am very comfortable using the term second tier for these schools, I can't understand why anyone would find that offensive, to me is just means less selective. What I'm cross about is that the less selective girls schools do not offer the same facilities as the boy equivalents.
I do think you need to look at these comments in context of this thread, OP is looking at WUS, it does only take the academically elite, to be worrying about CE if you get in at 11+ is ludicrous, and I am trying to emphasise that. If we were seriously streaming day schools, I would put Westminster on it's own, I think it attracts a particular sort of boy, not my DS, I don't honestly think he would have got in. I see WUS as above KCS academically and I don't have a problem with that, it is, why pretend otherwise? Would I be offended if a WUS parent said that KCS is in a lower tier or is less selective? no.

Copthallresident Wed 03-Oct-12 15:11:35

Marni23 OMG propatria had better advise IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) and LEH, Latymer, Bute House, JAGS etc they have got it all wrong. If I had realised that I would never have signed my DDs up to one of these schools. Clearly what was needed to get them to the "best" was a sex change and being squished, squashedand tutored into the right intellectual and social mould. Strangely in spite of all this, one, so far, has got to an elite uni, only to discover, shock horror, some of her peers went to schools in lower teirs and even, aghast, state schools, some are even "northern" shock, and they are very clever and perfectly civilised and nice.

OP Forget the labels. Help your child to choose the school that is right for them. I am surprised Westminster goes on Common Entrance. I understand it is more quantity than quality and not an especially high fence, which is why many schools choose to set their own more intellectually demanding exams. Have a look at the papers, the ones I have seen bear that out. My worry wouldn't be whether an able child got through but do you want your child to be confined to that curriculum. Up to Year 10 is when the schools get to actually educate your child, before they have to become exam factories.

Marni23 Wed 03-Oct-12 15:26:41


meditrina Wed 03-Oct-12 15:29:08

Well, Westminster has its own exam as well. And CE is marked by the first choice school, which sets its own pass mark. For the very academic schools, they're looking for about 75% across the board, and that's not a low fence.

Annelongditton Wed 03-Oct-12 16:44:30

I am giving up with this thread its gone so off piste as to be pointless, and I can't understand what people are trying to say.
Is someone now seriously suggesting that LEH isn't "super selective" as I believe the pc acceptable term is? I don't know the other schools mentioned, but LEH??. Actually thinking about it today, I find this term very offensive, it suggests that only the super can come and everyone else is rejected. I think I'll go off in a sulk and nurse the chip on my shoulder.

Good Luck with your school choice OP.

Copthallresident Wed 03-Oct-12 19:36:20

Annelongditton I didn't want to provoke chippyness sad quite the opposite. My comment was about the danger of labels, since propatria believes that no private school that goes to 11, including OPs, should label itself a prep, for reasons I can only assume are about perpetuating illusions of superiority. That discounts most of the members of IAPS and most girls' preps, including some famous names. I know sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but if anything I was emphasising that LEH and the like would be regarded by most as comparable academically with schools propatria appears with highly subjective judgement to exclusively label as somehow superior. In fact you might not think given the perceptions of tiers that get perpetrated that Latymer belonged in a group with LEH but then this year they out performed LEH's GCSE scores.....tiers seem to be in the eye of the beholder! Anyway I shan't go on, I'm just playing to their silly perceptions. People lose sight of the fact that DCs do do well in all sorts of schools and get to good universities. I can assure you some girls at LEH are very far from super ......

School choice should be about supporting DC to find the right school for them not to get them into the school with the label that the parents think will be most impressive mentioned at dinner parties or even on Mumsnet wink. IMO (and experience) far too many DCs' self esteem are sacrificed to that goal.

I get your point about some of the less selective girls' private schools which I think is partly because these silly labels lead people to underestimate the very real advantages they might have for your child's education especially in terms of a supportive and encouraging ethos v. a pressuring one, less bums on seats equals less money to invest in facilities. On the other hand friends with boys did feel they did not have the same range of local choice, especially given the existence of the Girls' Highs, at 11. I suspect that is part of OPs dilemma.

meditrina A* at GCSE is 90+ %, that doesn't mean it's a high hurdle. My view as an academic was that in my subject area the Common Entrance was rather old fashioned and favoured quantity over quality and intellectual challenge. However parents should look at the papers and decide for themselves.

propatria Thu 04-Oct-12 10:58:59

Gosh,it doesnt take much to upset the london centric chippy classes does it.
A prep school is a school that prepares you for common entrance,the name is a rather big clue,now Im sure all those chippy types love to say over a skinny latte in nappy valley that the little darlings attend prep school,if that makes you feel better so be it,doesnt change the fact that they dont,the major schools still admit at 13,if your school doesnt cater for that then it isnt a true prep,simple. The iaps has 600 schools as members,,the real number of prep schools is prob say 50 or so,the Oxford group and about the same number again that dont have boarding,oh and heres another one the HMC has nearly 300 members,the majority of those arent public schools either.
Constant talk on here by the chippy ones about other children being squished,pushed , and tutored to get into the right schools and social mould(whatever that is),doesnt bear any resemblance to the reality of my children or their pals but then they are all at real prep schools not private schools with delusions,get out of London and visit a couple of real prep schools.
Copthall-If you wish to be sarcastic about state school pupils and Northerners attending good unis,please feel free to do so but please dont pretend those are my views.
Must dash ,have more illusions of superiority to perpetuate.

mimbleandlittlemy Thu 04-Oct-12 13:53:15

Dragging the thread briefly back to the point the OP made, my ds is at our local state primary so similarly we don't have the option of going on to 13 and consequently did an awful lot of humming and hahing about both Westminster and KCS for exactly the OP's reasons - did we want to make him sit an exam again two years later to get in to an upper school? Our answer, finally, was no, we didn't especially after our tour of Westminster by two boys, one Scholarship and one Common Entrance, and a teacher. The Scholarship boy was incredibly patronising to us and mindbogglingly rude to the teacher and once he'd said for the third or fourth time "I'm sorry, I don't know what these text books are, I'm Scholarship. Buggins Minor, do you know - you're common entrance?" we decided that it wasn't the school for us anyway. I don't know if that helps much, OP, but I do absolutely understand your concern.

Michaelahpurple Thu 04-Oct-12 20:23:53

WUS makes a pretty food effort to encourage state school applicants, given the non-matching top year issue. They took extra bits in this year's year 7 intake, in the high 20s rather than the usual 21 and have split them into two small classes to help catch-up in areas generally covered in less detail elsewhere (chiefly Latin and French). This means the 11+ intake makes up more than a third of the year and I believe that state school buys make up a large proportion of them. You do however have to so Latin summer school. It is a wonderful school

OhDearConfused Thu 04-Oct-12 22:16:20

Thank you Micheala and Mimble for bringing us back. Yes, we did go off-topic for a while.

For those of you who understood and replied to my OP, thanks for your thoughts.

I am inclined (like Marni, Farewelltoarms, and others) to give Westminster a mix for just the reason I said above. No matter how “stress free” its supposed to be, I would rather have the assurance of a clear 7 years, and not have an “unnecessary” testing threshold at 13?

Thanks though also to those encouraging me not to worry (eg wordfactory and bink). Yes, I get that if he got in at 11+ he should sail through, but I know I do tend to over-worry and stress even when there is no need to, so think I’d like to have a break for a few more years (up to GCSE).

In any case, I thought it was supposed to be the state sector that “over tests” – but when it comes to a school like Westminster with both an 11+ and 13+ entry, it seems not. (Those that go to a proper prep (per propratia definition), will of course not have the 11+ test (although I suppose the pre-test replaces that). Of all the central London / SW London (Alleyns, Dulwich, City etc) indies we are looking at it seems Westminster is the only one. I may nonetheless apply to Westminster as a back-up to the others. (Yes, I know its supposed to be the other way round, first tier and all that, but ho hum.) smile

This thread has been an education! Who knew there was a difference between “private” and “public” school; or “prep” or “private primary”. Well, I never! (Can’t pretend to fully understand these differences yet, but some here seem very keen on their own meaning – when I always thought use determined meaning!).) For my part, I put it down to being state educated and DC (to date) in the state system – a lot of catching up to do.

Copthallresident Thu 04-Oct-12 23:08:27

OhDear I have had a lot of contact with Dulwich College as a result of supporting two boys through a traumatic family tragedy. I cannot speak too highly of their pastoral care, they were just amazing and it is largely due to the fact that they went well beyond the call of being in loco parentis that the boys have emerged as the amazing young men they are. I was quite stunned that a Headmaster would ring you up and display quite astonishing levels of empathy and care for two individual pupils, and a real investment of his own emotions in helping them to deal with their awful experiences and emerge the stronger. I wouldn't hesitate to send a boy there, regardless of what some people would or wouldn't call it!! The same cannot be said for some of the "real prep" schools that I have to deal with acting as Guardian to DCs of expat parents.....

meditrina Fri 05-Oct-12 07:35:23

You'll find more and more schools are pretesting at 11 for 13+ entry, as a means to manage their list. As well as Westminster, CLB, Eton, and KCS certainly do, and Harrow in year 7, and I suspect more do too. St pails doesn't, but they close their list in year 3.

The Dulwich foundation schools don't pretest, and I agree with previous poster that Dr Spence is an amazing headmaster and Dulwich during his tenure is definitely one to consider.

Mominatrix Fri 05-Oct-12 09:28:17

St. Paul's may close its list early, however they might add on to it if you have missed the deadline. Additionally, they do pretest at 11 and make conditional acceptances dependant on CE results, just like the other oversubscribed public schools.


St Paul's have now pushed back their registration period a bit so you have to register when your son between May in Yr4 and May in Yr5 and as Mominatrix says they do pretest in Yr6.

interest Fri 05-Oct-12 10:50:07

Confused: I'd go for 11+ at Westminster Under and Colet Court. If your son gets a place at that stage, then transfer W or St Paul's (both are the same academically speaking) is pretty much a formality. We were told that only 7+ or 8+ boys sometimes don't progress as expected. Parents are warned well in advance that their child won't make the grade. This will save you and your son the bother of transferring to a prep school for 2 years.

OhDearConfused Fri 05-Oct-12 17:33:44

Thanks, Interest, but my choice is not WU or other prep school, but WU or go straight to a secondary school (City, Dulwich, etc). Most certainly do not want to go to the bother of chosing a prep and then move again.

Copthall - thank you for that. We saw Dulwich in its open day this week and really liked it .... so its good to have that impression reinforced.

As I say, I think WU will be our short list, but probably below all the others.

Marni23 Fri 05-Oct-12 20:21:08

Yes, we're going for 11+ schools too OhDear

Good luck with it all, and don't worry about the terminology bollocks-I'm yet to meet anyone who cares about all that in RL.

Frontpaw Fri 23-Nov-12 10:03:37

So what year do you need to register? I think some test a year either way (depending on private or state school). Added confusion!

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