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What is a 'elite' secondary school?

(26 Posts)
chismum65 Fri 16-Aug-13 10:02:36

My DS is 9 and we are beginning to think about secondary school education. We will be taking the private route, and we live in West London so there are a few schools which are on our minds. In the next few weeks or so school league tables will be published etc, and it's always difficult to look beyond just the academic ranking of a school.
So, in your opinion, what makes an 'elite' school? Is it the fact they are in the top 50 in the country (or the top 25)? Or their sports facilities (for example)? It would be good to see what others think!

Thank you!

Somethingyesterday Fri 16-Aug-13 10:27:11

Other people will be along with different answers but I've never actually heard the term "elite school" used in real life -as in talking to head teachers etc. I've only ever seen it used as shorthand by newspapers etc.

Perhaps it might be more helpful to think about what type of school would most suit your child? Highly academic; nurturing; sporty; strict; relaxed..... And then visit some of those that look a good fit.

frogs Fri 16-Aug-13 10:38:28

"elite" = generic media term for secondary school that is oversubscribed and perceived as difficult to get into. Can be state or private.
"prestigious" = generic media term for mainstream fee-paying school of any type, whether desirable or not (unless the subject of a scandal, in which case see 'troubled' below).
"exclusive" = as for 'prestigious'
"troubled" = school which has attracted negative media attention at any point in the past 20 years for any reason ranging from child slavery ring to controversies over uniform.

Hth smile

goodegg89 Fri 16-Aug-13 13:17:55

I've always thought that an 'elite' school was one of the academic public schools. It seems you have to have the whole package - my DS who's just finished his first year at Latymer Upper (I'm sure it's one of the ones you're looking at) came home on the last day of term and excitedly told us that the head master had ended the assembly by saying 'this is the best school in the country'! LU is about 20th in the country (so not the best) but it seems to have everything else, so perhaps 'elite' means everything is the best it can be, not just academics?

LadyMaryQuiteContrary Fri 16-Aug-13 13:33:10

I think every school in the top 50 is 'the best school in the country' as far as the heads are concerned, goodegg grin

I'd ignore the 'elite' status as it doesn't really exist. Just look for the school which suits your child the best. If he's not academic then don't put him in an academic school. If he loves languages then find somewhere which teaches a wide variety. If he loves art then look for somewhere that focuses on this.

sybilwibble Fri 16-Aug-13 14:53:12

I'd selective and superselective to frogs' list, with particular regard to west London:
selective: chooses parents rather than children. Parents often have very glamorous job and v shiny hair and cars
superselective: chooses most academically-suited children, via tough entrance exam and interview. Parents often drive muddy cars. Hair, not so muddy.

Somethingyesterday Fri 16-Aug-13 15:14:52

sybil You're so last year. All the cool people are wearing muddy hair now....

breward Fri 16-Aug-13 15:20:25

State superselective schools are not allowed to interview children... or parents!

keepsmiling12345 Fri 16-Aug-13 17:12:49

"Elite" school = one which parents feel they'll be able to brag about their DC attending
"Great" school = school (either state or independent) which really suits your DC and helps them be the best they can be whatever their talents and interests and enables them to really enjoy their secondary education.

sybilwibble Fri 16-Aug-13 19:19:00

But breward this is a thread about private education, not state. OP clearly asks about private schools.

lljkk Sat 17-Aug-13 09:54:18

I use the word "elite" to describe prestigious private secondary schools.
Elite because you have to have a very high or at least decent and steady income with very talented child to get a child in.
Elite because there is an admissions exam (some won't make it).
Elite because they expect and want to take and make the best and brightest.
Elite because they promote elitism.

We don't have true super-selectives. I could write "prestigious" instead, takes longer to type.

Somethingyesterday Sat 17-Aug-13 10:08:31

chismum I'm fairly certain that you do actually want some word of mouth guidance on the best school for your particular Dc. But no-one here is going to say that they set out to find an "elite" school for their offspring and so ended up at St X.

I think you may have to re-phrase your question. Because the one you have asked just sounds as if you want boasting rights rather than an education for a child...

VEBott Sat 17-Aug-13 12:05:22

Elite = very difficult to get into, sends a very high proportion of pupils on to Oxford, Cambridge, and perhaps a few to Sandhurst or Dartmouth.

VEBott Sat 17-Aug-13 12:09:04

Alternatively -- elite = most children ride.

DPotter Sat 17-Aug-13 12:21:12

Definitions are all very well but the best school for your son is one which will bring out the best in him. so Ignore the labels My advice would be to visit as many schools as you can - even the ones which make you pull a face - and open days season will be starting soon. It might seem a bit early but this way you can cross off schools which you don't like and still have time to re-visit the rest. I am serious about visiting all possible schools; my DD now goes to a school which she loves and is doing really well in. And yet when we were looking for primary schools, the junior school attached would have been the last school on the planet which I would have set her to. The school with the fantastic reputation, great grades etc was such a disappointment. So also don't get hung up on wanting a place at the school with the brilliant local reputation if it doesn't feel right for your DS.
Having said all that I do like VEBott's definition...............

DPotter Sat 17-Aug-13 12:22:33

Although where we are it could be rowing.....

Shootingatpigeons Sat 17-Aug-13 12:45:13

VEBott Not in London, and then outside London you don't have to be rich /elite/prestigious/whatever to ride. In fact have regretted that we didn't have time /resources to distract our West London princesses with a pony. All those elite pupils necking back the vodka on Wimbledon Common of a summer's night would think twice if they had to be up at dawn to muck out.

OP my DDs went to a west London school that describes itself as one of the foremost academic schools in the country so I suppose it would regard itself as elite. DD1 knew it was the right school for her, indeed she rejected SPGS in it's favour, and she did thrive there. DD2 made her decision based on sibling rivalry and it definitely wasn't right for her, compounded by the fact that she found herself in an extremely dysfunctional year. Doesn't matter how elite the school they can't guarantee that having selected on academic ability the pupils won't bring along their baggage and insecurities, and disrupt and manipulate the rest of the year.

She is now at a less elite school, the one I felt originally felt right for her, and couldn't have done better at AS level. Moreover she is with a peer group who are not having to deal with some "difficult characters" . She says she thinks the teaching is better, her old school was too focused on results whereas this school is focused on educating them and on encouraging them to fulfil her potential. The old school gets better results but that is because it gets the brightest most motivated pupils.

Visit the schools, it is intangible but you and DS will know which school feels right for him, if you trust your instincts regardless of league tables, elite ness etc.

We are very lucky in West London to have many schools that are in the top 100 in the country and anywhere else would be regarded as elite but because of the ridiculous levels of parental anxiety and competitiveness notional league tables crop up based on the most minute differences in results, facilities etc. ignore all that if you are going to make the best choice for your DC

Somethingyesterday Sat 17-Aug-13 12:45:37


There is one other thing. Serious point, not teasing. You may want to be looking for a prep school rather than waiting for "senior school" age. If so, you should be looking now for next year, so he has sufficient time to prepare for Common Entrance. (Obv not all schools divide at 13 but now would be a good time to find out.)

What type of school do you want? Single sex or coed? Presumably day not boarding as you've mentioned your locality?

There are so many things to think about..... (What the Daily Mail thinks of a school is neither here nor there...)

chismum65 Mon 19-Aug-13 18:33:02

Thanks all for the suggestions. My DS is already at a prep school which will continue until 13 if need be so I don't need to worry about that. We did think about boarding and that could still be an option but why pay extra if the best boys (and mixed) school really are on our doorstep? I suppose the extra space etc could be worth it but st paul's and latymer etc all have great grounds.

Somethingyesterday Mon 19-Aug-13 19:49:36

So do you have a more specific query? What does your prep school head suggest for senior school?

JenaiMorris Tue 20-Aug-13 08:05:07

Do people really choose schools on the basis of their 'elite' status?

What frogs said, basically. And others.

I sometimes wonder if threads like these are started by pupils looking for responses dissing the schools they/their friends go to.

Shootingatpigeons Tue 20-Aug-13 11:43:32

jenai oh but they do, you have clearly never been in a west London prep school playground with Year 6/8 mothers whose DCs are sitting the entrance exams at pick up time. Between November and February there is a miasma of competitiveness, vicarious ambition, anxiety, secret tutoring, chinese whispers about what is required to get into certain schools etc etc etc. It borders on child abuse and is more to do with which school will most impress other parents at dinner parties and in the office than any actual differences in schools or what is actually right for their DCs.

SonorousBip Tue 20-Aug-13 12:29:09

[BTW - and I am not a crazy stalker - but shootingatpigeons if you are who I think you are (prev name - I have no idea who you are in RL!) -and your DD is where I think she is, my DS is starting at that school next week. You have always been v positive about it which has been very helpful to me as we had a bit of a rough ride through 11+last year smile]

Mominatrix Tue 20-Aug-13 13:28:17

OP, I find your post fairly odd. If your son is 9 and your goal is an "elite" school, I am surprised you did not pursue the 7+/8+ routes into the prep schools of the very well known senior schools in your area (I have a feeling we live in the same area). Also, if he is at a prep, I am surprised that the Head has not given you an indication of which schools you would be targeting for 11+ prep tests for these schools.

Not sure what "elite" means - my son goes to the prep of one of those "elite" schools on our doorstep, but I have never thought of it in those terms. He is there simply because it was the right school for him and he happened to also be what the school was looking for.

I would find out which schools your son's teachers and Head feel would be a good fit, visit them, then make up your mind which schools to target. Ignore labels, schoolyard gossip (much of it is untrue), league tables (does it really matter if a school is number 25, 12 or number 3?), and think about where your son would thrive.

Shootingatpigeons Tue 20-Aug-13 15:27:51

sonorous I probably am, <peeps out from undercover> . Yes I do feel that DD proves what rubbish these supposed league tables of eliteness are. She really does feel that she is in a more positive and encouraging atmosphere and I suspect that has enabled her to fulfil her potential far better than the school up the league tables. If you want some reassurance about that schools ethos being in the right place, assuming it is where your DS is starting, then the head just put all the letters to parents on the website, in which they comment on the educational environment and the school's strategies for dealing with it. They invariably make me want to give a standing ovation.

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