Winchester College and alternatives(45 Posts)
I am new to Mumsnet and in need of advice!
My son is in Year 5 and we have just started the senior school discussion with the head at his prep. He described my son as "very bright", "a deep thinker" and "as enthusiastic as it gets". However, his academic results are inconsistent. He can range from 65% to 95% in all subjects, depending on the day. This is often because of bad time management on his part (e.g. he'll do 2/3 of a paper really well but will run out of time to complete the remaining 1/3) but sometimes because he has too many ideas buzzing in his headand fails to focus.
While my son is keen to do well and would be devastated if he went to a school where he bumps along at the bottom, he is not especially motivated by achieving top grades (and therefore wouldn't be particularly well suited for a result-driven academic hothouse). What drives him is a genuine intellectual curiosity, an urge to delve deep in whatever captures his mind—whether it is discussing theology or simply talking about superheroes. He's an avid reader and his interests are very wide-ranging, although perhaps he is naturally more drawn to humanities (especially philosophy/theology) than sciences. His music and sport are nothing to write home about (he's sitting Grade 1 for two instruments later this year on the music front and on the sport front he is good, but not great, at rugby, and dreadful at pretty much everything else). Art is a little better but not by much, although he loves drawing.
The school thinks that, on a good day, he could be Winchester College material. On a bad day...goodness knows.
Prep's head is, quite sensibly, advising that we step up the efforts to help him with time management and re-evaluate in a few months (my son is young for his year, as he was born in late summer). But I am not very good at waiting, which is why I am here picking your collective brains.
For those of you with children at Win College: were your boys all straight 98% in Year 5 or did they develop slightly later?
And for everyone: if Win College is a no go, what alternative would you suggest? My husband and I are pretty relaxed about day/boarding and co-ed/single sex, so long as the school is right and has a track record of exit to good universities.
All suggestions will be much appreciated!
Thank you so much!
My son went to wincoll and absolutely hated every second of it as it is very challenging and there are very long hours. It is also a full boarding school which you have to consider as well
Understand you and your DS may actually now prefer another school but he will know at least from his interview, for what it's worth, that academically he would be comfortable at a school like Winchester.
Summerends- thanks for your comments. I hope you are right. In fact the registrar pretty much said the same as you, so we are hanging on a little longer, but we are not prepared to leave it to the last minute.
Yotty, re waiting list candidates - I was told once by a friend that the previous Winchester registrar said that the boys who are on the waiting list for Winchester are "bona fida" candidates for the school and that they did n't usually get much movement until October of year 8 (assume parents at that stage are starting to fix on their CE/scholarship choice). I think perhaps deciding who is a firm candidate compared to a waiting list sometimes comes to a housemaster making a choice of a balance of boys with different talents / personalities. Somebody who has a very strong talent may be put on the general list rather than the waiting list if the housemaster already has the right balance and there is no gap in another house. However if a boy is on the waiting list, from that phrase they must think they are academically up to it and potentially good candidates, even if not stellar.
My advice when looking at HMs is to pick one that you think you could work with if things go wrong or your DC has a bad patch or will be sympathetic if there is homesickness. When it's all going well things are great but if your DC is struggling and you are not there you need to feel he can knock on the HMs door at 11pm and burst into tears and be received with a hot chocolate and a sympathetic ear. I think having similar interests come second to this - we looked for a HM who would be kind and fair, not sweat the small stuff and who fostered good relationships between the year groups in the house. We felt it was a gut instinct thing - we just knew when we had met the right person.
As to alternatives to Win Coll, I would decide geographically where you want the school to be (I agree with HGs advice on many posts that 1.5hrs is about as far as you want to be away from the school - it was important at the beginning for my DS that we could turn up for concerts, matches, house competitions etc - and I liked seeing him even if for a short period of time). Then draw up a short list and go and visit without your DS. Once you have a shortlist, take DS.
Follow your prep school head's advice. I agree with what has been said and if you see a school not suggested go and discuss it with him and explain why you liked it. IME they are always keen to expand their relationships with senior schools!
I am currently doing the rounds of London day schools as DS1 is Yr6. One of the recommendations had from the HM of one of the long established Public Schools at the Open Day was to go and see at least a few schools because you can't properly judge what school will suit your child until you have seen a few of them.
Heads of Prep schools do take their reputation with Senior Schools quite seriously so would be quite careful about recommending someone who really wasn't suited to a particular school as the Senior School might be a bit wary of any future recommendation.
I think headmasters tend to be honest. On the one hand they like seeing the "top" schools on their list of leavers' destinations. On the other hand they don't want to irritate these schools by sending them children who won't fit. Balances out.
Thanks for your thoughts everyone. I'll definitely register him for Winchester and go and visit a few housemasters - I agree with Happygardening that you need one who is on the same page as you when it comes to values and views or it could all go pretty bad pretty quickly. After that...well, it'll depend on him and how he develops, but I think i really need to borrow a leaf from Bisjo and go and see many more schools.
Just out of curiosity: how much did you/do you trust the headmaster's recommendations? Ours seems pretty on the ball, but I always worry that they may be keeping an eye on having an exit that looks "good" on paper....Maybe I am being just too cynical?
I suppose with the housemaster choice a boy who for example is weak at science may be at a relative disadvantage if interviewed by a housemaster who is a scientist. Not sure if that is actually the case, others might have more experience.
Justatired, thinking about your comment re self starters (as apart from just self organisation), I think boarding at its best can give the child the independence and space to develop into self starters as they are freer to follow their own path. Perhaps with children who rely on their parents to always give them a push when required, then it might take a lot longer to happen, especially if they are not motivated by competitiveness.
I'm not totally convinced you have to choose an HM with the same interests as your DS. I'm not necessarily drawn to those who share my interests. Most importantly in my view you need a similar outlook on life; you as parents need to be confident that he and you are singing from the same hymn sheet and ideally have a similar attitude on life and that you and your DS genuinely like and respect him. When we met HM's what seems like a million years ago now they were keen to tell you about their outlook on life, how they organised their houses and what was expected of the boys thus enabling us to decide if we shared common ground. I feel we picked well, fortunately I've not had to go to him with many issues but the few trivial things I have approached him about I'm been pleased to find his attitude/solution/approach has always been the same as mine. I haven't the faintest idea what he teaches it's an irrelevance.
For what it is worth, maybe include Fearons in your choice of houses to visit. Head teaches theology and philosophy and seems lovely when we toured last term might be a goo starting point given your son's interests.
I'm not sure any school always makes the right choice of pupil 100% of the time. However long and careful the interview process children are often lightly or even heavily coached and it must be hard to see the real person sometimes. I frequently here at work "they interviewed so well when they applied for the job but something seems to have happened now they're here". It is inevitable that mistakes are sometimes made. I personally don't think this is a reflection on the school my workplace or the child/adult.
Boarding is not for everyone and I suspect the less academic boarding schools maybe do spend more effort helping with organisational skills etc. A friends DS at Bryanston seemed to have at one time virtually his every waking moment organised for him although I'm sceptical it's paid off!
I agree with Amber2. I would at least go and visit a couple of houses and then apply. They are so young at this stage that it is hard to tell how they will be at 13.
As far as I can see, there is no obvious alternative to Winchester, but that doesn't mean a less well known school wouldn't suit your DS equally well.
My DS is on the waiting list for WinColl, but in the meantime he has a place at a coed boarding school. He is now beginning to say he may prefer to go to the coed school having had a go at their scholarship. He said 'I want to go to a school where they want me!' This may be a self preservation response, but completely understandable.
However, if your DS's academics are a bit up and down I wouldn't apply to more than 2 really selective schools, as I think it must be really hard on the child to keep getting rejected. There are plenty of really bright children at less academic schools.
Bink, it is excellent news that your DS is happy. Sounds as though flexibility from the school and continuing support from you at home is doing the trick. He probably would be completely fine as an autodidact homeschooled but that would not provide the social interactions.
My understanding from your previous posts on threads was that Winchester was the only "academic school" that recognised his potential and wanted to take him and that must have been hard to turn down even against your better instincts when you knew how hard he would find self organisation and the rest.
The Winchester homework demands at least in the earlier years is no more than 13/4 hrs on weekdays, less on Saturday and from experience boys do very well without doing more than that. I don't think that is excessive compared to other academic schools and certainly boys seem enthused by their teachers even in subjects that are n't initially obvious for them, that is a big part of what makes the Winchester package
OP, let Winchester decide whether your DS is academically capable then in
year 7 or 8, if he gets a place you can all make the final decision about whether he is a selfstarter who would enjoy boarding. He is still very young and erratic at tests seems common at that age. Sometimes boys who are not initially "alert" all-rounders only come into their own in sixth form or beyond.
You want a school that will keep him academically interested, sociably happy and in his case, introduce him to "extracurricular" stuff that he might not otherwise have considered but could well be a future enjoyment for him. That does n't have to be an academic powerhouse but Winchester does sound as though it would suit his inclinations.
Justa, it's fine, we're fine and he's completely fine.
I just wanted to counter the idea that Winchester (maybe any school) can always know what they want, and actually to support what others said about needing to make an independent decision as a parent. I was persuaded into WC by ds's prep school and WC itself, against my own doubts - so I definitely put too much weight on WC's own confidence in its own experience. It's tricky, as we do look for input from those who apparently should know and be able to advise - but in our case it turned out they just didn't.
Ds is kind of extreme though. It may be that he is an exception that proves a rule rather than otherwise, if that makes sense. And your enthusiastic boy may (ie, by way of his enthusiasm) have the motivation for getting through the output that mine couldn't muster, so it may be that it would be fine for him ...
Anyway, for ds with his ability and independent thinking, he is very happy (and completely on the rails) at a very ordinary non-prestigious independent school whose self-presentation is 'getting the best out of individuals' and nothing about league tables for results and universities. What he needs is interested teachers, flexibility and support - he does all the rest himself. My point being, you don't need the big name schools to reach potential.
OP- Why not apply anyway- at least it keeps your options open and as others have said the Winchester pre-test and interview at 11+ will help identify whether he is suitable (not infallible i know but they spend considerable time on the interview). I know successful academics and professionals that could be described as sometimes scatty (read absent-minded). At least applying will give you time to decide on your options and a lot can change between year 5 and 13+ in terms of maturity. I would think he should comfortably be in the top 5% academically of his year (obviously that can vary from school to school and in a very selective prep that % could be considerably bigger) to think about Winchester.
OP, my son is similar to yours and in Yr6 at the moment. However, we are not keen to get into the highly academic schools.
Our HM recommended Christ's Hospital and we went to see Brighton College last week - they are not top of the selective bunch (60 - 65% CE), but much more nurturing ...... I'd seriously think about whether the super selectives are really for him ....
Bink, I am sorry to hear about your son's bad experience--food for thought. I too tend to think that being scatty is a personality trait, but the school seems to think it's down to age and experience, at least in my son's case. I definitely need to see how thing evolve during the course of the year.
Bisjo, I completely see your point. I don't believe my son is a gift to humanity, nor do I tell him so, but I too would like a school that takes the trouble to acknowledge what he can offer, whatever that may be, and works to draw the best out of him. I haven't visited many schools but I have been at many future schools evenings and heard many senior school heads talk: well, some of them really put me off as they seemed very firmly focused on the handful of children that can make the school shine. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe the true worth of a school is measured on what it does to make each child, whatever their talent, shine - not the other way around.
Summerends and HappyGardening, I think academic conformity helps in every school context but perhaps being a self-starter is crucial to boarding school success?
If you are considering Uppingham then I would definitely look at Oakham. My brother was middle of the road on going there but they got him and he flourished.
I had an amazing 7 years there. State primary but went to Oxford.
I could not fault it and their facilities are out of this world.
HG, I used the word "conformist" above to equate to Bink's "authority-pleaser" which in that specific scenario seems to be somebody who can conform to a structured busy school day and produce as required the homework set following on from lessons. TBH, "academic conformity" rightly or wrongly is a prerequisite for any academic school day or boarding but in a boarding school the child has to be able to do it themselves without parental input. Winchester seems to positively encourage extended deep thinking but the basic work has to be done.
I can only speak for my DS bink no one would describe him as an "authority-pleaser".
summerends like me my DS is a fully signed up non conformist he over time became thoroughly miserable at his boarding prep school but is very happy at Win Coll where he feels under no pressure to conform at all. Interestingly he has a friend who's even more of a non conformist than my DS he was sent to Bedales and absolutely loathed it.
Nope you are not unique bisjo, I would think most of us want that Discounting slick marketing which can be effective at persuading parents how much a school wants one's child, it is may be choice between a school where one's child is a star or another school where they are perhaps more ordinary. If the latter, then the child should still feel very much valued and respected, maintain or gain self confidence and hopefully benefit from the interactions with differently talented peers. A school that does not bother to get to know a child and value their abilities is potentially unlikely to develop them.
Actually you may have a point but I'm not sure how to change it. Nothing I've said to ds but we do get a lot of 'we really like to take boys who are x and have x and y to offer'. Not sure how to get around that other than to tell ds not to answer when he's asked these questions (which would make him seem rather rude).
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