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good but grossly overcrowded local comp on our street versus boys only selective 15 miles away

(76 Posts)
lingle Tue 20-Nov-12 11:35:46

I don't know if anyone can help me here....

I want DS1 to be happy, but I would also like him to fulfill his potential. DS and I both had the experience of going to comps. being top of everything, everyone presuming we'd be off to Oxbridge and then not getting in because we weren't guided in the application process (I applied to read English at Kings Cambridge - the most popular subject+the most popular college - and ended up being put in the "pool"). DS1 is showing at least as much potential as we did......

We are just on the border between our comprehensive area and the neighbouring 11+ area. After Christmas we have to decide whether to start tutoring DS1 (9) for the selective boys only (groan) grammar. My heart isn't in it - I want to believe he can fulfill his potential in the school on our street. But it's grossly overcrowded - we just missed out on the building schools for the future programme. I've been working in the local overcrowded primary this year and I've seen for myself the impact of overcrowding on quality.

Anyone want to talk?

teacherwith2kids Fri 23-Nov-12 13:01:22


I was talking about primary schools - as I think were you? So the debate about secondary exams is perhaps a little separate.

I have very bright children, who go / went to a 'normal' state primary (DS is now in Year 7). I have no idea what spellings they did, because they weren't sent home [shock, gasp, horror] because it wasn't found to be an efficient or effective means of improving children's spelling IN THEIR INDEPENDENT WRITING which is where it matters. Instead of spending time setting and testing spellings that were sent home, time was spent teaching spelling explicitly in school, and embedding it into real writing. Both spell extremely well....

Equally, if teaching is directed at 'the average child' you might perhaps need to explain why 15% of DS's year got Level 6 Maths (so the level expected of children 3 years older) as a result of their normal maths lessons in Year 6 (it's a school which does no SATs preparation other than one trial set of papers per term during Year 6)...

I agree not all schools differentiate well across the full spectrum of abilities. Some schools - often the best regarded ones in terms of 'word on the street' - do not differentiate well for SEN children. Some schools target the 'just below some desired benchmark' pupils so hard that there is less resource available for others (though the question has to be asked whether that is the fault of the school, or the fault of political decisions which create such desperately high-stakes benchmarks for schools).

However, I do sometimes wonder whether the fact that every group of parents complains that schools do not differentiate sufficiently well for the group that their child belongs to while saying that all other groups have their needs met means that in fact most schools differentiate fine for all children at a 'group' level, but not down to the 'individual child' level which is the parents' sole perspective IYSWIM?

teacherwith2kids Fri 23-Nov-12 13:10:14

TheWave makes a critical point - that it is progress by each group of children which should be the hallmark of a good school, not its 'top level' results.

For some children, a C will be a much more significant achievement than an A* will be for another. A good school will ensure that both happen - and that is what teacher's targets relate to.

[FWIW, the secondary exams debate IMO arises because of a fundamental dichotomy which is unresolved in our exam system.

Should an exam be designed to show the level that a child has achieved against an absolute set of criteria [so a future employer, looking at a grade, will know what that child knew / could do at that point], in which case a growing number of top grades is a success - it shows that more people are achieving those absolute criteria?


Should an exam be designed to rank children from a particular cohort [so a future employer, looking at the grade, will not know what a child knew / could do, but would know how two or more candidates of the same age performed relative to one another in that test], in which case the number of top grades should remain constant because you want to know e.g. who the top 5% of each cohort were.

As it is not clear which of these two is required, it is unsurprising that the current system doesn't achieve either very well!]

Merrow Fri 23-Nov-12 13:22:52

Maybe I can help from a different perspective – I went to Oxbridge, from a private school. What we had in terms of preparation was:
- Practice interviews (it was a case of asking a teacher if they would. I applied for English and History, and so had a practice interview with one of my English teachers and one of my History teachers)
- A video. I imagine it was sent out from Oxford, and discussed things like the different colleges and the Bodleian.
- A talk from a tutor from Cambridge about the interview experience

Admittedly I'm from Scotland, where there isn't (or wasn't, it may have changed) a massive push towards Oxbridge, so maybe English schools provide more preparation. The only reason I applied was the Bodleian, I had never heard of a copywrite library before and that was what sold me.

mummytime Fri 23-Nov-12 13:39:23

My kids school provides: trips to Unis, careers and HE fairs, interview practise for all. For Oxbridge, they help prepare for the exams, have meetings and close links to outreach workers from Oxbridge and practice interviews.
All schools in the area have access to most of this, and some preparation is even carried out jointly with the local private schools.

My own school spent a lot of time helping the "few" students who aimed at University, and even more for the even fewer who aimed at Oxbridge.

lingle Fri 23-Nov-12 19:08:53

"The way they saw it homework just got in the way of scouts etc "

I've noticed that attitude too - strange isn't it? our parent partnership agreement says we have to bring the kids in "well rested". anyway - hijacking there....

lingle Fri 23-Nov-12 19:15:38

Merrow what's your point?

lingle Fri 23-Nov-12 19:16:25

Teacherwith2kids and APMF - both your responses are really helpful - thank you.

lingle Fri 23-Nov-12 19:27:51

teacherwith2kids, my gut feeling is that we will end up making a decision similar to yours, and going local up to GCSE will all options open after that.

you just dread making a mistake and having your child lose all their lovely curiosity though don't you?

lots of sympathy for your position though APMF. I suspect that a school can be excellent - fantastic - overcoming problems that would completely floor lesser headteachers, etc - but without perhaps being as useful for your child as a mediocre school with an exceptional intake. And I guess that's why some people do end up going private. I think it would be quite easy to teach in a selective!

teacherwith2kids Fri 23-Nov-12 19:39:07

Lingle, for what it's worth, I was very anxious about DS's transfer to secondary.

On his last 'planned' major transition [from pre-school to primary] he went from being a bright, chatty child with a huge curiousity and an unusual ability for a selective mute, seen by the Ed Psych for extreme anxiety...

So he had a couple of 'unplanned' transitions - to be HEd, and then back iunto a very different primary school after a house move - which mended him to some exent.

By the end of Year 6, I had my son back again. Bright, chatty, hugely curious, very able in Maths but also in History. So it was with great trepidation that I sent him off on his first day to secondary (wondering whether I whould have chosen the grammar route, wondering whether he would adapt).

He is absolutely thriving....

APMF Fri 23-Nov-12 20:20:38

@teacher - Real world debate - Many teachers/schools/experts are against SATs. Why? It forces teachers to teach to a test which is then used to rank the school and to assess the teacher. The motivation for the school and the teacher is to hit their targets which is to have as much of the class at the national average.
That is the national debate. Now, feel free to tell me that mine is an isolated experience and that schools do cater for the very bright child.

teacherwith2kids Fri 23-Nov-12 20:48:36


Actually, the debate in education is slightly more subtle than that - because the league tables look not just at how many children get Level 4b+, but also at those who get Level 5, and presumably for this year, those who get Level 6.

Equally, Ofsted, based on RAISEonline [the basic reporting tool for education statistics] look at progress for ALL groups of children. No school can get away with just bringing children to the national average - that's a surefire way to get into Special Measures UNLESS you start with children way below national average on intake. The only way to get Good or above is for children to make above-expected progress from their starting points - so an able child has to get Level 3 in Year 2 and at least Level 5 in Year 6... and that progress has to be tracked robustly through school data for every term of every year between those points, as Ofsted doesn't just rely on national test data ...

squeezedatbothends Fri 23-Nov-12 22:12:17

AMPF - which experts exactly are you talking about? All the educational experts I've read (independent empirical studies) seem to agree that standards are actually significantly higher. I could list hundreds of independent research papers which suggest this. Your 'experts' seem to be the media and politicians and the CBI all of whom have vested interests in presenting an 'education in crisis' scenario, none of which are based on evidence. It's a complicated issue, but to use an analogy, why is it that when Bolt ran the 100 metres faster than anyone else had ever run it, no- one said that the track or the sport must have been dumbed down - we praise his achievement. When teaching becomes more effective (helped by advances in technology, training, neuroscience and so on) standards 'must' be slipping. Hmm.

APMF Fri 23-Nov-12 23:57:16

I'm referring to various articles that I've read over the years. I obviously can't recall who/what/where except to say that it wasn't the Daily Mail smile The sources were invariably academic studies and international reports as opposed to conclusions drawn by questionable 'experts'.

However, I do see your point. Every year since I left school we've been told that standards have been falling which seem to suggest that the human race is getting dumber year by year smile

APMF Sat 24-Nov-12 00:10:33

@teacher - All I can say is that based on my personal experience and that of other parents that I've spoken to my 'problem' is relatively common.

Even in this current economic climate private schools are doing well. Agreed that some parents are well off people who want their children educated alongside children of other well off families. However, there are a lot of 'ordinary' families who go private because they feel that the state system has failed their children. There are too many disgruntled 'customers' like myself for you to argue that my experiences are the exception.

squeezedatbothends Sat 24-Nov-12 09:24:50

APMF, the OECD, who I'm sure you can't claim to be a questionable expert since they administer the very international comparisons you refer to APFM, point out that the UK's standing in those international tables is not accurate as there are not enough UK schools who take the PISA tests to give a reliable sample. In Canada, for example, all schools enter. In addition, the PISA tests shift focus every time they are done (in a four year cycle) - so the last one had a focus on reading comprehension, the one before on Maths, so comparing fromtesting point to testing point is not really reliable either. Shanghai sits at the very top. To live and work in Shanghai, you have to have a permit - the population is comparatively affluent. When we compare ourselves to 'China', we are really comparing ourselves to Shanghai. It's a bit like us submitting data only from Surrey. This is the internationally flawed data that finds its way into our media.

Second in the international lists is Finland. In Finland teachers are very highly respected. Teachers assess all pupils work and they are trusted to mark it accurately. Here and in Sweden, it is the teachers who pass on information to the Universities about thier pupil's progress. It is considered to be more prestigious, and it is certainly more difficult in Finland, to get a place on a teacher training course than it is to get a place a medical course. The Finnish government leave the profession free to manage its own affairs. Children don't start school until they are 7. By the time they are 8 they are generally outperforming pupils in the UK who started school at 5. This is considered by various international studies to be down to the ore- school system, which is free to all parents from the age of 2. There is no formal teaching at pre-school, but a huge emphasis on developing spoken language, imagination and social responsibility - the building blocks of intelligence. In the UK, we leave these important building blocks to parents and off a patchy access to high quality per- school education. Now we see the huge discrepancies in our system. For example..

Picture a supermarket.

Mother One : Look at these beans, one is 80 pence, one is 70 pence, which one is more expensive....

Mother Two : Do you want a smack?

Those differences are largely eliminated in the Scandinavian system.

I could go on and on, but my point is that simplistic data is just that - simplistic. If we want to improve education, we have to embrace ideas that might seem alien to us. We have to stop seeing the world and the ideas in it as 'left' or 'right' wing. We need to stop putting people off joining the teaching profession and to give the ones who are already in it reason to stop leaving ( a staggering 50% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years - a national scandal).

squeezedatbothends Sat 24-Nov-12 09:27:23

Excuse typos - am rushing out!

RedHelenB Sat 24-Nov-12 10:07:44

Go and ask to look round both schools during a normal day - you will get a much more realistic vibe!

losingtrust Sat 24-Nov-12 11:39:33

There is lot of pressure on comps do get as many a* as possible now. Certainly all those near me publish their results and teach in ability groups from day one to stretch the brightest and to bring the weaker ones up to a c level. Parents expect their child to be pushed to their maximum and my sister who taught in one of the best comps near us had a lot of parental pressure for weak children to be pushed to get an A when there was no way they were going to get there. It is not just in the leafy suburbs but also in inner city schools with large immigrant populations where education is very important. There has been a lot in the press about the outcomes of children from different ethnic backgrounds and as a result this has led to many inner city kids being pushed by their parents to break the molds. I am not sure about smaller towns but this is the case certainly in the city I am from. My ds was set targets from day one but there is encouragement to exceed those targets with letters of praise home, certificates and telephone calls to parents to recognize outperformance. It is very different from the days when I went to a comp when you could be lazy. It is rather a shame nowadays when sometimes secretly you want your child to exceed targets even when they are the targets of a much older child. It puts a lot if pressure on the kids and you forget really that education should be about a willingness to learn new things but if all comps do this which they will need to to stay open the days of the sink comp from my youth are limited.

teacherwith2kids Sat 24-Nov-12 11:49:32

Squeezed, the other source of variation in the PISA stats is that countries vary in the percentage of children they exclude from taking the test.

There are some countries which which exclude ALL SEN children from the tests, so they are sampling from the top 75% or so of their students only. Other countries exclude none or very few of the cohort, so they may be sampling from 99% of their students. I remember mrz linking to some really enlightening papers on the subject a while ago.

APMF Sat 24-Nov-12 12:15:46

@squeeze - I'm glad that you mentioned the record numbers of teachers leaving the profession. Given the economic situation one can't really argue that they are leaving for better pay and conditions.

My BIL's girlfriend was a teacher. She chucked it in after 5 years. She found, not surprisingly, that Indies and GSs like to recruit in their image. So not being GS/indie/Russell Group educated, she tended to work in poorer schools.

She started off thinking that she could be like one of those characters in the movies. You know, the teacher that goes into a gang infested school, inspires the students and turn their lives around. Well, as I said, she left the profession after 5 years. Many of the students that she taught didn't want to be there. One parent told her that she was a 'stuck up bitch' when she reprimanded the daughter for wearing too much make up and a skirt that was too short. That was the last straw as far as she was concerned. She is now training to be an accountant.

Now, one can dissect the stats till the cows come home and argue that every thing is great and that the negativity comes from unreliable sources and that I am ignorant of what is really going on. The Big Picture is that despite the bad economy a significant number of families with modest incomes and teachers are deserting the state system.

squeezedatbothends Sat 24-Nov-12 17:04:46

Teacherwith2kids, yes, I'd forgotten that stat - thanks.

APMF, I'm not denying that at all - I just think that one of the reasons is the amount of scaremongering going on. As someone who was educated first in the state system (11-16) and then in the private system (16-18), I'd say that I got a better quality of education in the former in terms of quality of teaching, but what I liked about my private school was that it was cool to be clever when it definitely wasn't in the comp. Having said that, my comp was in the middle of a massive council estate. Now I work at a comp, we put loads of kids through AS levels in Year 11 to stretch them and my year 7s are presenting their ideas for a better Britain to memers of parliament next week - we have strong links with the International Schools through ISTA and take all year groups abroad for festivals and so on. It's about having high expectations and an imagination. I'd definitely say we rival any private school, but then I'm doing that personal experience/anecdote thing now that I criticise other people for so I'd better shut up!!!

APMF Sat 24-Nov-12 23:07:26

@squeeze - I know families with kids at outstanding state schools like Tiffins and St Olaves. The education their DCs get are equal, if not better, then a lot of fee paying schools. Where we differ is over the question of whether these schools are in the majority or the minority.

squeezedatbothends Sun 25-Nov-12 00:25:43

APMF, yes it's a complicated picture, but the thing is, it's not straightforward and too many people assume that private is better. There are some very poor private schools that only survive on the quality of students selected and parent power behind them. The O E C D data suggests that in terms of pupil to teacher ratio and output, the British private schools are among the worst in the world. That's not great.

APMF Sun 25-Nov-12 08:42:30

No one, certainly not me, is generalizing that private education is universally superior to state education. All we are saying is that, based on our local state schools and the needs of our respective DCs, the private school is a better option.
We get it that sometimes our private school may not be as good as Tiffin & Co BUT they/we don't live near Tiffin & Co.

APMF Sun 25-Nov-12 09:00:37

.... as for the pupil to teacher ratio at private schools being the 'worst' in the world, if we were discussing UK private schools versus overseas schools then your point would be relevant. As it is, the ratio at UK private schools are usually better than that at UK state schools.

In anycase, just looking at the published ratio tells you nothing.

DC's form size is 25 for some lessons but for lessons where teachers need to interact with the children like when conducting science experiments the class size drops down to 8 kids. If the teacher is going on about the Roman Empire it doesn't really matter if the class is 25 or 8.

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