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Where can I find the right secondary school for DD?

(21 Posts)
CottonWoolWrapper Sun 19-May-13 21:35:28

I was talking to a friend the other day about her DD's secondary school. A mixed sex comprehensive which has quite a reasonable reputation in our area and gets above average results. She mentioned, sexting, nude pictures of girls getting posted on facebook, smoking outside the school gates, lots of self harm going on (all this among a bunch of 13 years olds) and a general feeling that her DD was lost in a big school and there was no real push to help her achieve academically. She said that all her friends found their DDs secondary schools to be basically the same and she just thought that was how the world was nowadays with the internet and facebook etc.

I don't know if this is realistic or not but I would really love my DD to have a chance to be a child while she still is one. I would like to find a secondary school for her that is small, caring, nuturing and single sex but also good academically. She seems to be pretty academically inclined and I also feel that doing well at school will give her more choices in the future.

I live in South West London, so that would be my preference in terms of location but we have a few years to go so really could move anywhere in the South East of England for the right school.

I would consider state, faith or independent schools. We are practising Catholics but late baptism would rule her out for the schools that use this criteria. Independent school would be a stretch financially but potentially possible. I wouldn't consider boarding school or home education.

If anyone has any good ideas please let me know. Thanks.

tiredaftertwo Mon 20-May-13 08:21:26

Ummm, I am sorry your friend feels like that, and I am sure there is some truth in it, but I think pretty well all secondary schools have these or similar stories circulating - it depends to whom you talk. I cannot think of a secondary school that won't have some kids smoking as near to the school gates as they can get away with - that is a traditional symbol of teenage rebellion IMO. And these stories circulate.......At secondary school you know very little often about what is going on, in terms of hard facts.

I live in the area - tbh I would repost asking for advice about schools in SW London - there are lots of MNers round here. and take it from there. What schools have you been thinking about (SW London is a big area, at least for schools with distance criteria)?

The issue of feeling lost in a big school is a separate one - but I would say that means lost in a school with poor pastoral care. Some small schools have that too. I looked round some small schools looking for caring, but actually decided too small was not a good thing - not enough variety, so much less going on, less ambitious.Do you want all girls for a particular reason or because you think there will be less sex n drugs n stuff and that they are more nurturing (I would disagree with both those assumptions).

I would look for a school with good results that tackles problems well - not one that tries to present as being from an age of innocence that perhaps never existed. I don't mean that to sound harsh smile - when my dc were at primary school my hair stood on end too - and still does sometimes - but teenagers come in all shapes and sizes, and I suspect most schools will have a sprinkling of ones that behave in the way you describe, and many who do not. All the London secondary schools I know have stories circulating about drunken parties, for example. I know many children at those schools who do not drink.It is partly luck, a following wind, and giving your child the confidence and self esteem to make their own choices.

cavell Mon 20-May-13 10:51:59

DD1's grammar school (NW Kent) is nothing like the comprehensive you describe. Results are good, behaviour is good, pastoral care is good. If your daughter is academically inclined, maybe a grammar school might suit?
I used to think that all schools were basically the same, but having changed schools for both dds for various reasons, I know that is not the case.

Elibean Mon 20-May-13 10:58:45

I'm also in SW London, but my dds are still a couple of years away from secondary school.

I think pastoral care makes a huge difference, so I would look into that side of things as well as academics. I think some degree of 'exploring' so called 'adult' stuff is bound to happen anywhere (it certainly did in my small girl's private school a million years ago, though not as overtly) but I certainly wouldn't be ok with smoking outside school gates and nude pictures on FB shock

Sounds to me as though your friend may be rationalizing the fact that she can't stop this happening in her dd's class?

I have also heard that Y8 (13 year olds) is the hardest year for many - it's a tricky age in terms of confidence, and there is less focus. Y7=being new, and somewhat protected from the rest of the school in many schools, and Y9=choosing options for GCSE, and then work is far more focused. But Y8 a bit of a wasteland, so nonsense proliferates.

No idea of thats true, but it made sense when I heard it!

Agree that re-posting about SW London schools might help. Would be good to pinpoint the area a bit more, in order to help.

scaevola Mon 20-May-13 11:08:19

I think that your friend is right to point out that sexting etc is a widespread problem. And as London schools have pupils coming from so many backgrounds, it can crop up anywhere. So what you (probably) want is a school with excellent pastoral care, because as you cannot guarantee it will not happen, it is the response to it that matters (not dissimilar from other bullying, really).

If it doesn't clash with your Catholic faith, then a set of schools with a consistently good reputation for this are Quaker ones but the nearest would be the one in Reading.

CottonWoolWrapper Mon 20-May-13 15:57:51

Thanks for the replies. Agreed that really small schools might not be good, if nothing else in terms of subjects offered. I guess if independent they also might have financial issues if undersubscribed.

Cavell really interested to hear about your DDs grammar school being different. Back in the 80s/90s I went to an all girls grammar. There was no smoking anywhere near the school. In the first few years I was just busy being a slightly immature kid doing handstands in the school field and making stuff I saw on Blue Peter. Not everyone was quite like that but lots were and I wasn't bullied or teased because of it, despite being deeply uncool and having some really nerdy hobbies and wearing unfashionable clothes on non uniform days. I am not sure the pastoral care was any good I just think the overall culture of the school was tolerant of difference and the girls were well behaved.

Later on at around 15/16 a few of us (but by no means all) started to discover boys and drink but I feel that I was free to be a child and didn't have to rush into the teenage years before I was ready. I would like the same for DD.

DH on the other hand went to a Catholic Comp that was much more Grange Hill like in nature. Kids smoked outside the school gates and girls were teased and harassed for being well developed. Obviously there weren't mobiles or the internet though to complicate things further.

A couple of you have mentioned posting in a local forum about South West london but I am also interested in schools further afield. A move and a grammar in Kent could work out cheaper for us as a family than an Independent in South West London. I will also look into the Quaker schools that Scaevola mentioned as I like the Quaker ethos, from what I remember of it based on a school RE project over 20 years ago!

tiredaftertwo Mon 20-May-13 16:29:46

All schools are not basically the same. But I think the rumours and semi-facts spread about them often are. It just depends who is talking (I speak as one who hears a huge range of opinions - from other parents who have children there - about my dcs' school). I discovered - after I had left - that my secondary school was famously druggie.

Lots of schools in South London have "nerdy" children wearing unfashionable clothes and not being teased, IME, and certainly plenty taking their time growing up and finding their own - often eccentric - ways of doing it. I would concentrate on giving your dd the tools to recognise and resist peer pressure, rather than trying to find somewhere it doesn't exist. If you move to a GS area and she doesn't get in, what then? Or what if the admissions policies which somehow up till then had excluded kids likely to start smoking at 13 (struggling to imagine what those might be smile), change?

I have heard - first hand - of appalling cases of bullying being dealt with badly at all types of secondary school, including all girls' church schools. If bullying is dealt with well, then teasing probably is, and people have less to fear from being different. Everything follows from good pastoral care, IMO.

What I meant about posting a new thread title, is I would report in this section but mentioning SW London, and also search previous threads. SOuth London is packed full of MNers interested in schools!

Mumzy Mon 20-May-13 16:34:21

The only problem is if she doesn't get into the grammar ( all of which are v competitive and everyone tutors for) your dd might end up in a school like you describe. Not being nasty but just saying you need a good back up plan.

cavell Mon 20-May-13 17:34:55

If you are prepared to move to Kent and want a Catholic school, I can say I have heard nothing but good things about St Gregory's in Tunbridge Wells. From what I can see in the admissions criteria, late baptism wouldn't count against you as long as you have been attending church regularly.

Elibean Mon 20-May-13 17:37:04

I have a friend with a very bright, nerdy son at our local state secondary. He loves it, and his mother is very happy with his progress too.

If you talk to parents of children further up the school, they have more varied views. This is because the school is changing, and the cohort is starting to change too. And if you talk to people who live in the area, but have never visited the school, you get some very out of date nasty reputation stuff.

Times change, schools change (quite fast, in some cases).

The reason I mention this is because you do have a bit of time before your dd starts maybe worth looking at local schools yourself, before deciding to move, rather than going by what others say?

xyx Mon 20-May-13 18:54:05

How about Ursuline Wimbledon? Not sure about criteria re: late baptism, but has a good reputation. Good luck.

SanityClause Mon 20-May-13 21:38:35

Remember that grammars are selective (top 20% approx). Some are super selective (top 5% approx).

Moving to Kent will give you more chance of getting a secondary modern place than a grammar place.

DD1 is at a grammar. I'm very happy with it, but know of self harming and girls with eating disorders at the school. (The pastoral care WRT these is fabulous, but help for SEN is a bit thin on the ground.)

teacherwith2kids Mon 20-May-13 22:12:51

I have a deeply nerdy son at our local comprehensive.

He loves it, and is doing brilliantly.

There may well be sexting, smoking etc etc, but he and his immediate peer group (he has fallen in with a similar group of friends - like attracts like, and all that - they all do things like orchestra and offbeat sports clubs) don't get involved and it doesn't affect them.

Self harm, on the other hand, is almost unknown there but is very well known in the local superselective grammar - and the worst schools for drugs are the local privates, with the religious private being the one with the suicide problem.

No 'type' of school is immune from the issues that affect 'teens in general' - but equally it is wrong to assume that the issues will affect your child in particular just because they exist somewhere in the school. Having a peer group - and it may only be small, DS's seems to be a core of about 5 or 6, who vie with one another to get top marks and play in the concernt and get into the minority sports teams - that doesn't do these things is quite remarkably 'insulating' whatever the wider context.

FreckledLeopard Mon 20-May-13 22:16:50

I'd second the idea of a Quaker school. DD is in Year 7 at a Quaker school in the South West and its values, atmosphere and pastoral care is great.

alpinemeadow Mon 20-May-13 22:56:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

anniesw Mon 20-May-13 23:12:44

In some ways it is the more mixed schools which are less likely to create problems for your daughter because she stands a better chance of finding like-minded people. A cultural and religious mix can also provide a good and wide range of views on life and the upbringing.

cory Tue 21-May-13 10:24:18

I remember rumours about my school- and the moral panic when a questionnaire went round asking "if you wanted to purchase drugs would you know where to go" to which we all answered yes. In actual fact, not a single person in my class took drugs or was planning to do so, but we thought it likely that a girl in the other class would probably have known who to ask to get her in touch with a drug dealer... So in one sense, the drug dealing was out there, but it didn't touch our lives.

Dd has gone to parties with alcohol. She has never come home drunk.

Otoh she has self-harmed- not because of anything wrong with her morals or the ethos of her school- but because she has a painful chronic condition which sometimes makes her extremely stressed and unable to cope. I can assure you she would not be a danger to your dd or to anybody else.

I agree with the posters who said look for good pastoral care above all.
And avoid like the plague a school that claims that they have never had any problems with bullying/behaviour/mental health issues among their pupils. That is a school that is refusing to see what is under their eyes.

Given the frequency of MH issues among the general population and the vulnerability of hormonal teens it is totally implausible that your dd could go through the whole of secondary and never sit next to anyone who was struggling in some way or another. That doesn't matter. What does matter is how it is dealt with. A good school will support both the struggling puil and the children around her.

miranpr Tue 21-May-13 16:21:17

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

BackforGood Tue 21-May-13 17:31:48

Good posts by tiredaftertwo.
We can all give you tales of our own experiences though OP - I went to a Girls' Grammar school in the 70s and can assure you there were girls there who smked, just as there are at every school.
I think what is true though is that 'like find like' in a school situation - because there are some right plonkers in my dd's school year, or my ds's school year, it doesn't mean that my dc are going to behave like them. All dc naturally gravitate to other dcs that are like them.

tiredaftertwo Wed 22-May-13 08:20:27

OP, given you say you can consider such a wide range of schools (including independent, church; and you say she is academically inclined), and you live in SW London, then I would stay put smile. You will probably have as wide a "choice" as it is possible to get, lots of good schools that she might get places at, all within reasonably easy travelling distance.

Also, I do understand your concerns about your dd. I am sure many of us worried about the same things. One thing I would suggest is to try to engage with facebook and so on yourself, so you understand it. It is merely another method of communication and when I did I found I had misunderstood quite a lot. I now feel better able to talk to my dc about it, especially about privacy, in a realistic way. I know of a few people who have had negative experiences with facebook but they are very much in the minority - for many it is very useful and fun.

I hope the last few posts from different people have reassured you a little. They make very good points. I am not sure comparing with our own schooldays is helpful - I think attitudes to difference, mental heath, bullying, pastoral care, inclusion etc etc are all very different now, and in decent schools, policies and practice reflect that. and most schools will be more diverse anyway.

CottonWoolWrapper Wed 22-May-13 17:52:47

Thanks for all your replies. I think I will take a look closer to home for a school with good pastoral care and a good academic record before moving to Kent for a grammar school that DD may or may not get into and where the academic pressure may or may not increase the chances of her developing some type of stress related problem!

Cory, I just wanted to say I am sorry to hear your DD has self harmed. My original post was unclear. My friend actually said was she felt a culture had developed at her DDs school where self harm was widespread and considered in some way to be cool. Which obviously isnt helpful to anyone. I certainly didnt mean to imply that I wished to prevent my daughter from mixing with children with problems.

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