Perse Upper?(30 Posts)
Does anyone have any experience of the Perse Upper school? DC has been offered a place and we are trying to decide whether the atmosphere would be suitable for a very bright but anxious child.
Any comments would be really helpful. Thanks!
I have boys there and we are very happy with the school.
Don't think the school have a problem with very bright children fitting in, as lots of them are.
The anxious aspect I would guess it depends why they are anxious. We haven't found the school to be a hot house - homework levels seems reasonable to low, at least in the lower school, although you do need to be quite organised, but I'm not sure this is any different to other secondary schools. If not always coming top of the class would be a problem, then I guess that could be a problem, as even the scholarship boys we know aren't top in every subject. If they are worried about lunchtime there are clubs/talks every day so they don't have to feel they are sitting alone - ds1 went to lots of lectures in his first few terms and I think this was partly so he wasn't alone at lunchtime. There are also clubs (like Lego building) that run every lunchtime and I wonder if this is more as a social setting. The range of extra curricula stuff is huge so I'm sure your dc would find something they wanted to do and so meet similar minded children.
We have found the pastoral care to be good, small tutor groups which seem quite well balanced and thought out (my boys came from a small village school and knew no one else in their years, but met other boys in the tutor group in a similar situation which helped with initial friendships). I have been phoned by the school nurse and head of lower school before if they think there is something we need to know, and the tutors always reply quickly to email queries.
I guess the other thing to consider is what your alternatives are and if you think they will be a better fit.
My DS left years ago (and there's someone who posts here on Perse topics who has queried other posts by me stating that my experience is out of date and that the school is going downhill) but I would have thought it ideal for a very bright but anxious child. He would find himself one of the crowd ability wise - not sure what behaviour is like there now but DS had had a difficult time before he went to the Perse and he fitted in almost immediately: 1st day difficult - 2nd day to end of Upper Sixth absolutely fine.
(this is a repost as the systems seems to have lost the first message).
I have two kids there.
The Pastoral side is strong and they do a professsional job at induction but whereas the school talks about being full of academic and talented children it does not even stream for maths in year 7 (or e.g. physics for much later). Most of its feeder schools stream maths from year 2 or 3 so there is a huge spread of ability in the sets so the bored boys cause mayhem. Classroom control is poor, when each of mine arrived they were shocked at all the disruptive behaviour (all sorts of dare games, bullshit bingo etc) and general poor classroom discipline but the teachers with the problems do not seem to get much support or sympathy from the school.
I think the issue is mainly an "everyone is equally brilliant at everything" dogma. The school set mundane and trivial exams, tests, dull repetitive homework to try to paper over the spread in ability and make everyone feel good. I have been told that they have a poor reputation for rote learning exam questions versus teaching to think but I don't really know about that.
I think an anxious child would be stressed about the tension between fitting in socially and joining in with classroom misbehaviour. They might well be pretty bored too.
Just to add the poor classroom behaviour is not limited to maths or physics of course. It seems to be scattered across most subjects (except modern languages for some reason). But it does seem to be symptomatic of a failure to identify and challenge the smarter kids; at least if you ask mine who causes the most problems they always say the most bored/brightest boys. It is worth reading some of the headmaster's blogs especially about declining national exam standards where he should be screaming blue murder in defense of our children but instead is claiming all the A*s is a cause for celebration. They might make you uneasy if you know the topic.
I know of a couple of DC, very well, who are at the Perse Upper. They are doing OK, however, I would second what dad says.
I actually feel from what I now know that the school is resting on laurels it gained years ago but can no longer really honestly make such claims.
A few years ago, now, the school went co-ed. Why? Having spent years crowing about its special ability to educate boys, it wanted some of the League Table kudos that girls results bring. It made a huge song and dance about its academic exclusivity but I know for a fact that one DS I know very well would not have passed the Upper entrance exam (but was shooed in, without having to take the Exam, as a Prep pupil). The parents were told as much along with the caveat 'Don't blame us if your DC doesn't pass the key GCSEs/iGCEs. You have been warned'.
From what my friend has told me, I think the school would be fine for your DS as long as you don't think you're buying into academic, off-beat exclusivity. There are a lot of bright DS/Cs there (your DS would be in the 'C's. not the 'S's) but there are also a lot of less able (but still not SEN/disruptive) DC there, and some quite 'alpha'.
I get the feeling that the present Head is regarded as 'a safe pair of hands' rather than an innovator.
All this could well be fine for your DS but just don't be sold on the whole 'very, very clever' ethos because I get the distinct impression it isn't so much, any more.
Oh goodness, some very mixed reviews......thank you for taking the time to reply - lots to think about now!!
Yes very mixed reviews. Must say I don't recognise the idea of children from feeder schools and streaming from year 2. Surely the prep is the only feeder and as far as i know don't stream. Then with half of the new intake at 11 from state schools, so again not streamed, this leaves a quarter of children from other independents.
My boys describe some other children as arrogant, mess about in lessons and then score poorly on tests. Maybe it depends who your children are friendly with. Overall they see little disruption in lessons or avoid it.
I agree that some children move on from the prep who wouldn't have passed the exam. I assume their parents would prefer them to have the other benefits of the school even if they won't get stellar GCSE.
I think MrsMalinky you will just need to go with your gut feeling. I think it's a good school for bright dc and not especially pressured. Yawningdad thinks they would be stressed and bored.
TBF, crag, my friend who has 2 DCs there actively looked for alternative schools for her DC2, having been told that they were no guarantees he'd do as well as they might have hoped at the school, and they were a bit concerned that 'the benefits' of the school were as much that DCs did well academically- but there weren't any! They can't afford The Leys- so where else might you go with a boy in Cambridge? Assuming you were only looking private, of course! I wouldn't know.
I guess if the assumption is best fit for child must be private or within Cambridge then you are quite limited. Maybe Sancton Wood. If you go further afield or into state schools then there is quite a lot of choice.
Several other Preps send DC's to the Perse Cragside including DS's.
Maths is streamed from Year 4 at his school and the other local prep. I work in a state middle in Suffolk and we stream in Maths from Year 5.
They might send their children but that doesn't make them a feeder school surely - that implies to me the children get preferential treatment. The Perse may be one of several destinations for several local preps (well must be since that's where 25% of the year 7 pupils seem to come from) but that's like saying the Cambridge state primaries are feeder schools.
I guess middle schools are often bigger than primary schools so can stream. The average 1 form entry primary school does no realistic streaming of pupils. Lots of my dc friends come from schools like this.
OK - my state school is 3 or 4 form entry, even DS's prep is 2 form entry.
And no - it's not classed as a feeder school, (too far away) much as the Head Teacher would like it to be.
"Yawningdad thinks they would be stressed and bored. "
Well I think its a risk, yes. However I think the lower half of the year probably do as well as they would do anywhere. If your child struggled to get in then perhaps taking the place is a good plan. They run small sets and individual tuition around the borderline A GCSE (which is C in O level in old money). But if they really are very bright as you say I am not so sure.
On streaming Kings and Johns are both big providers of kids into PU and from the websites they stream for maths from y3 with much smaller year sizes. But these kids enter y7 Perse with the less bright ones and they are back in unstreamed sets with the ones they left behind four years earlier, repeating year 4 material and feeling thoroughly unchuffed about it.
This has been really interesting. We have a good state school option but thought it might be worth stretching to send DS to the Perse based on its reputation, but we are really questioning that now! Might be worth waiting a couple of years to see what happens.......
An aquaintance of mine went through complicated housing manoeuvres to get her very able DS into Parkside. He went there and was horrified there was no setting in maths, felt he was learning nothing. So they made a huge effort to get him to the Perse. He is happier in some respects there, has some good friends and enjoys the clubs etc, but doesn't feel the teaching is all that amazing. He actually wishes he had gone to his catchment school, Chesterton, which does set and seems to me to be getting better and better, if current parents' verdicts are anything to go by... They had an astronaut there the other day giving a talk!
Stumbled upon this and it made me smile a bit.
Someone I know plucked her DSs from an Infants in the NE of Cambs area to send them to the Perse. They're now both in the upper. This women is frankly incensed that the schools she walked away from offer French to primary schoolers, or (gasp) Latin at secondary! That my DC's state secondary has 25 per class in many lessons, hers have 22 per class at £12.5k a year. She is also pretty mad the school/s have gone co-ed as she thought she was buying into decades of single-sex educational excellence. She is madder still that someone she knows well's DS has just been offered a place in the Upper from KCS as she considers the PU to be by far and away a school that only accepts academic excellence.... how could a non-Perse prep DC possibly get a place?! (Yet the child in question has been mentioned in the past as being 'outstandingly bright'... - I thought that would please her, actually! But it could be that the PU demands a higher entry level than the DC from its own Prep who automatically get a place even if the 'promise' they showed at 7 hasn't been fulfilled?) Yet I know she looked at The Leys (££) as an alternative for one of hers, recently, as she's rather cross the P happily took her DS on yet told her he may not pass a tranche of GCEs or IGCSEs, which is after all what the school says it does on the tin- I think someone else mentioned something similar, up-thread? She also is beginning to feel that too much of their bags of homework is being set for the sake of setting it rather than it being directly beneficial, but, as with everything else I've put here, I don't have DCs at the PU so can only report what she 'admits' to me!
Sorry to apprently be, well, sniggering a bit at what amounts to her snobbery! But it's my opinion that the PU is a good school ticking all the facilities/smallish class sizes/good if not outstanding exam results/ A reputation (though one that may be a little over-blown these days??) boxes; I'm still not entirely sure the education her DSs are getting is worth the early grave her DH is driving himself into, paying for it, but that of course is always a personal decision.
Finally- again, purely from what I have been told, I really am not sure about the 'anxious' thing. The person of whom I spoke does talk of there being quite a macho thread running through the school. She has mentioned some bullying behaviour of the stronger towards the 'geekier', but only in an occasional aside, not as an ongoing issue so it may well have been a one-off or something you might find in any school.
Good luck with a difficult and expensive decision.
Mrs M, I would suggest that if you're at all unsure about the Perse, try and speak to a few parents with children at the school - most of the people who've replied to your post, don't actually have kids at the school so they're probably not the best people to listen to!
My son is at the prep and we're very happy with it. The pastoral care is excellent, and we've been very impressed with the teaching too. My DS has a number of friends with older brothers in the senior school and some of our neighbours have kids there too. I've never heard anyone complain about lack of discipline, by and large everyone seems pretty happy with the school (other than the fees anyway!) My neighbour's son went there a couple of years ago, having been bullied at one of the (allegedly) best comprehensives in Cambridge, and is now thriving there. They're very pleased with the school, despite the considerable financial sacrifices they've had to make to send him there.
Anyway, do try and speak to a few parents, and perhaps try and visit the school again. I hope you don't base your decision on a few negative comments from people who don't actually have kids at the school. Good Luck.
My DSCs both go there. They both went in at 13, so I can't comment on the not setting at 11 thing that's been mentioned. That said, my own DS failed the entrance exam at 11 though is now at a state secondary and in all the top sets and on their gifted and talented register - so unless the standard of kids that the Perse uppler lets in via the prep is a lot lower, I'd assume they're only really taking pretty bright kids - so not setting shouldn't matter too much at 11. They definitely do set by 13 for all the academic subjects. The DSC are both very happy there and DP seems happy with it as a choice of school. DSC2 is a very nerdy boy who I think would probably struggle socially at a lot of schools, but seems to be OK there. DSC1 has mentioned that kids do mess around in some of her lessons though. And she also struggles with physics and says the teacher is crap. I do know that their teachers aren't all qualified teachers (a friend was circulating an advert for a science teacher lately that made it clear you didn't need to be), so possible I guess that some don't have the class management skills you would hope they would. Main differences I can see between what DSC get at the Perse and what my own DS gets at state secondary is that the class sizes are smaller (though not hugely), facilities much nicer and range of extra curriculum activities much better at the Perse. My DS has much more local friends though and a better social life I would say. Also a much shorter school day (DSC have longer day plus travel time). And they get to study classics and Latin at the Perse - if that's important to you.
You seemed to have missed that the comments above which you refer to as "not Perse Upper parents" are in fact from PU parents... whereas you by your own admission do not seem in fact to have a child at Perse Upper? Perhaps you have been listening to the parents you know with this same attention to detail? I have two kids there for example and mentioned the issue of poor class control above. It is a general issue and other people's kids who I drive in complain too. YD.
Hmm. Plenty of people think your argument about not needing streaming for a selective population of school children is not well founded. There is even an "infogram" on an exam benchmarking site I have found for you to look at although you do need to understand Venn diagrams to get the point.
Another point is, and tbf, in some ways, you may not necessarily be getting an unbiased opinion from parents who have made, in many cases, huge financial sacrifices to pay for the Perse- they are hardly likely to say 'I really think I've been stupid/overly aspirational/snobby/swayed by a purple striped blazer/whatever, and I now realise I really am paying rather a lot of money for a product that doesn't necessarily live up to the hype'- are you? I mean, any of your friends with DC there would be unlikely to be particularly critical about the school as a) you'd wonder why they sent their DC there and b) you'd feel they were tacitly implying you were stupid for not seeing through it, too, wouldn't you?'
Most of us who have replied but who do not currently have DC there have gleaned our info from the horse's mouth of people who can speak far more freely about some of the 'cons' than maybe they'd dare in front of fellow parents. And most of it has been pretty positive, to be fair, hasn't it? But it has chucked some caveats in, which surely is likely to be helpful to a prospective parent who wants to glean as much info as possible, and can decide on the 'veracity' of the info based on whence it comes- we've all been open about our sources!
I could say 'my source' is now very scathing about the state of the Prep, for instance (but this is a thread about the Upper!). They feel the school has become very pedestrian and 'safe' under the 'new' head (and have been a bit [ about the degree of opportunity available now at the state schools they withdrew from, assuming as they do all state schools are chairs whizzing past the teacher's ear as little they hear, mixing as they now do with the fellow 'converted' is likely to have disabused them of that notion!). They feel the co-ed thing wasn't handled well. They had similar reservations about the Upper but, by and large, apart from the extortionate amount of money they are forking out and their 'concerns' at how often they are 'reminded' that one of their DCs may not do as well as a traditional Perse graduate might have once have done (and the fact their DC just aren't interested in the extra-curricular, though they are paying for it!!), they aren't about to pluck any out and send them to a local village college (though they may go to HR6F to overcome private school 'bias' for uni ).
Thanks for all your replies - we're going to look around again. It's a lot of money to find if its not going to be what we thought it was
Looking around again is a very good idea. And raise anything you are concerned about. There are a lot of new staff including a new younger head of maths since Sept and I am sure fresh eyes will help them to identify and work on their weaknesses. If the maths and physics teaching raised its game to the level of the modern languages it would be an awesome school and as I said the pastoral side is very good.
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