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St Pauls vs Harrow vs Merchant Taylors

(45 Posts)
HappyBirthday Mon 17-Feb-14 12:31:54

We are in a quandary. Our DS has managed to secure himself a place at all 3 schools, and we are really quite confused as to which one we should go with. We have no family history with any of them, but do have an initial perception of them all (we could be wrong, and would appreciate any corrective guidance here).

Our DS is really competitive, but has benefited from attending a fantastic junior school that had wonderful pastoral care and we have always focused on the social aspects, not just the academics. He has a preference to go to Harrow based on the entire experience of boarding, the ability to learn independence in such an environment, and the sports facilities. He is also open to St Pauls as a day school alternative, but he is less keen on MTS because he thinks it is too sporty. Mind you, all his closest classmates have been accepted at St Pauls and are likely to go there; and yet he still prefers Harrow slightly

Our perceptions on the schools are (in no particular order) -

St Pauls - academic, quite liberal, urban, edgy attitude.
Harrow - traditional, less academic, focus on boys life outside of the classroom (or is this just the nature of boarding?), friendly attitude.
Merchant Taylors - half way between them both, but quite sporty.

Can anyone provide some advice/guidance/experience on the above 3, given the choice? Between them, his mum is keen on St Pauls to naturally keep him closer at home, and his dad is open to Harrow because of the broader life experiences it will provide. I think all in all, we'd be happy with any of the 3, and we're quite thrilled that he's worked his socks off to get himself into this position!

barbour Mon 17-Feb-14 13:37:14

This really comes down to day vs boarding doesn't it surely Happy? Well done to your DS though.

But my vote would be St. Paul's but then it all depends on your outlook on what you are looking for.

grovel Mon 17-Feb-14 14:35:23

Harrow is still very sporty.

There is something to said for making a completely new set of friends at 13 (you can re-invent yourself). Prep school friends can still be seen in the holidays etc. Just a thought.

northlondoncat Mon 17-Feb-14 16:23:59

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ILoveChocolatePudding Mon 17-Feb-14 16:49:33

As Barbour pointed out, you really need to decide on day or boarding first as you are comparing apples with pears. They are very different beasts. Only after you have made that decision can you address which if you decide on day schools you should consider.

Neither my husband or I had any experience of the independent sector. My DS is a full boarder (not at Harrow) and loves it. Lots of sport and life in the dorm is never boring. We don't live too far from Merchant Taylor and it was not even a choice for our son. Sausage factory is how we refer to it. Boys not very pleasant, extremely arrogant. Not sure that Harrow is less academic, need a good score on CE to get in.

HappyBirthday Mon 17-Feb-14 20:47:19

Grovel, you're absolutely right about making new friends - I'm glad our DS is not choosing St Pauls just because the rest of his class is going.

Barbour and Chocolate, you're right that boarding vs day is a factor. But perhaps we are more flexible as our family is used to being spread around the world with periods of time away from each other.

Interesting thoughts on MTS: it's our least favourite, and to be honest we know a few people from MTS who just seem a little... average? So perhaps the real competition is between St Pauls and Harrow?

NLCat, I think the 'full on' experience is something that attracts, and we wouldn't want it any way otherwise given the price and commitment to boarding.

Our DS does love his sport and he's fiercely competitive enough to make the first team, if not the most physically gifted. He enjoys getting involved with activities/clubs as much as he enjoys his academics. What is St Pauls like in this regard? 'All work and no play' is not a great environment that we're keen to pursue.

Youorns Mon 17-Feb-14 20:55:55

If you want your son to be able to mix with all sorts of people, MErchant Taylor's. If you want to spend money then St Paul's. If you want nice but on another planet, then Harrow.

HappyBirthday Mon 17-Feb-14 21:06:31

Youorns, why does St Pauls = 'spending money'? Mixing with all sorts? Our son learns his values at our dinner table, and that means doing community service with all sorts on a regular basis - none of us came from privileged backgrounds. Another planet... I'm not sure this is a bad thing tbh - school should be pretty special.

Youorns Mon 17-Feb-14 21:52:39

It was tongue in cheek - your decision is hardly a tough one. You're debating which top private school to send your son to. Whichever school you choose your son will get a privileged education.

grovel Tue 18-Feb-14 09:51:55

HappyBirthday, just one more observation. Be cautious about sporting expectations. A couple of years ago Radley had +/- 120 new boys. 70 of them had played in their prep school first XVs. Some boys were a bit disconcerted to find themselves playing in the 5th XV after being something of a star at prep! Harrow might be similar.

motherstongue Tue 18-Feb-14 15:32:19

Hello Happybirthday, I've PM'd you.

reddidi Tue 18-Feb-14 15:53:42

@northlondoncat - I just wanted to say that that is probably the best, most objective summary of the strengths of 3 very different schools I have seen on Mumsnet! Do you know any South London cats who can do the same for say KCS/Hampton/KGS/Wellington?

WorkingItOutAsIGo Tue 18-Feb-14 16:59:24

Hb when do you need to decide? If he has just got his offers then you have 2.5 years to decide and many people pay the initial deposits to give their sons time to develop and see which is right. Choices made at 11 and 13 can be quite different.

Having said which, most people wouldn't be choosing between harrow and SPS as one is much more academic than the other. This might mean your DS would be an academic big shot if he went to harrow which could be cool or limiting. Teaching at SPS is first rate.

Sport is VERY serious at SPS. The school is organised so boys can do two hours at lunch every day on top if games lessons. My DS once didn't turn up to a practice as he had something else on and was quite seriously told by his rugby coach that his order of priorities needed to be his sport, then his house, then his academics!

HappyBirthday Tue 18-Feb-14 20:56:58

Grovel,
If our DS doesn't make the first XV, that's not a huge loss- he enjoys the sport and competition the most and hopes the school has an active programme where it is a significant part of life.

MothersT, thanks for your mail - much appreciated.

Workingitout,
D day is imminent!

Nowadays I do wonder how important the pure academics count. Increasingly every graduate trainee candidate with the top employers are like identical RichTea cookies with 1sts from Oxbridge. Academia has been numbed down despite being ultra selective, and the characteristic that separates the intelligent from the successful are softer people skills and the fact they are interesting people... not just grade A calculators.

Would SPS bring out the best or would Harrow? Does the academic results really matter at this level where both schools are generally producing top performers?

Schmedz Tue 18-Feb-14 21:19:29

They are obviously all great schools for academic results (who really cares about the difference between 95% A* and 94%A*? Statistics pulled from thin air, btw wink).
If he gets the best 'feeling' about going to Harrow, then it would be a sensible choice.
Is is the boys themselves who earn the academic results (you can lead a horse to water and all that) and if he is in an environment that is his first choice, his motivation is likely to be high! He is obviously very bright and would probably get outstanding academic results at a bog standard comp, so it will surely be the co-curricular activities (and potential old boys network) that will swing the decision.

OldRoan Tue 18-Feb-14 21:25:19

Massive, sweeping generalisation coming up, but...

I boarded from 14 to 18 and would categorise 90% of the Harrow boys I know as being fun, but not people I would spend extended periods of time with (slightly odd, self absorbed whilst trying to give off an air of not caring). I also thought the TV documentary was a stunningly bad idea, and devalued the brand slightly. It came across as quite institutional (more than I was expecting).

I went to Merchant Taylors' girls briefly (in the north west) and hated it, so that rules MTS out for me.

That leaves St Paul's. I agree it is nice to make new friends, but I wouldn't send my children to Harrow or MTS. As I say, though, sweeping generalisation, possibly outdated and my personal views may be very different to yours.

Schools depend so much on the cohort. One year group will have a very different feel to the next, even within the same school.

WorkingItOutAsIGo Tue 18-Feb-14 21:45:17

HB I see where you are leaning now.
I think you are wanting to take harrow but finding it hard to forego the natural choice of SPS your sons friends have made.

I totally get your point about academics - I have recruited for blue chip institutions for the last 25 years and really regret how everyone has had to become more and more serious about careers and can't just relax at university for example but instead compete to have more and more extra to offer. And as I say to my DC, charm and good manners go an awful long way.

But - academics do matter too even if they are non differentiating as a criteria. Sounds to me like your DS comes from a great home background which will stand him in great stead wherever he goes and whatever he does. So if your heart or his is set on boarding then go for it and enjoy it! But let's be frank, on an academic basis alone, Harrow and SPS are not in the same league: one is top of the Premier league and the other is second division. And as a recruiter I would view it that way.

Having said which, I think a good chunk of what a child achieves is totally innate and will happen regardless of their school so it doesn't matter too much and we fret too much about choices between equally fabulous choices. So whilst I think you'd be crazy to choose harrow over SPS, I'm the first to say go ahead and do it if you want to try that overall wrap around experience for your DS. Am sure you won't regret it.

WorkingItOutAsIGo Tue 18-Feb-14 21:45:38

HB I see where you are leaning now.
I think you are wanting to take harrow but finding it hard to forego the natural choice of SPS your sons friends have made.

I totally get your point about academics - I have recruited for blue chip institutions for the last 25 years and really regret how everyone has had to become more and more serious about careers and can't just relax at university for example but instead compete to have more and more extra to offer. And as I say to my DC, charm and good manners go an awful long way.

But - academics do matter too even if they are non differentiating as a criteria. Sounds to me like your DS comes from a great home background which will stand him in great stead wherever he goes and whatever he does. So if your heart or his is set on boarding then go for it and enjoy it! But let's be frank, on an academic basis alone, Harrow and SPS are not in the same league: one is top of the Premier league and the other is second division. And as a recruiter I would view it that way.

Having said which, I think a good chunk of what a child achieves is totally innate and will happen regardless of their school so it doesn't matter too much and we fret too much about choices between equally fabulous choices. So whilst I think you'd be crazy to choose harrow over SPS, I'm the first to say go ahead and do it if you want to try that overall wrap around experience for your DS. Am sure you won't regret it.

HappyBirthday Tue 18-Feb-14 22:12:24

OldRoan, if looking at the pure MTS vs SPS comparison, I must admit I see no reason why one would choose MTS unless there was a big financial incentive (MTS do give out a fair number of 100% scholarships). But if having to pay and given equal opportunity to attend either, I think SPS wipes MTS on all counts.

So that leaves just SPS vs Harrow.

Workingitout, you're spot on with our dilemma. In speaking with other colleagues, they all echo the consistent message that SPS is the 'superior' academic school for geeks, producing boys with edge and attitude. Does that make them better or more interesting people? Comments about old Harrovians being less than the sharpest pencil in the box, yet many are very successful because of their social skills and simply knowing how to get on with others and generating an intangible 'trust' with others.

We assume that our DS will continue on to uni, and we hope his love of learning will continue. Not sure if recuiters make a decision based on secondary school alone though?

summerends Tue 18-Feb-14 22:33:03

Dipping into this discussion, I would agree with WorkingIt that academics matter (not least because enthusiasms for academic subjects shape career directions) but the academic results of Harrow can't be compared to SPS as it is not superselective (at least academically). The real question is how inspiring and effective the teachers are for boys as bright as your DS HB. I suspect that Harrow is equally able to provide excellent teaching but your DS might need to be more self organised and strong minded to achieve his academic potential at Harrow with distractions from other boys and the myriad of activities.

tryingreallytrying Tue 18-Feb-14 22:33:36

Or you could send him to a good comp.

But you might not mix with parents called Barbour...

This thread is most (unintentionally) amusing.

WorkingItOutAsIGo Tue 18-Feb-14 22:56:07

Yes, but how much of those old school tie attributes really work now? Maybe for people in their 40s but not now.

The best guys at Harrow will am sure be as successful as if they were at anywhere else. And you can never tell what would have happened elsewhere. So you have to be happy with your choice and I promise you most are.

I know some fab guys from Harrow and some fab guys from SPS both with fabulous extra buzz and I don't think the schools made a huge difference. Those boys would be like that wherever they went.

But my own DS went to SPS as very much a middle to low ranker...and got his academic interest and passion fired up there and ended up with straight a stars, a place at Oxbridge and still views himself as cool and sporty and totally not geeky. So I am a bit biased.

WorkingItOutAsIGo Tue 18-Feb-14 23:02:43

Trying - I know - these are truly first world problems I know! But no less concerning to parents trying to do their best for their kids.

NigellasDealer Tue 18-Feb-14 23:07:24

St Pauls as it is most urban

Youorns Wed 19-Feb-14 19:33:19

How about The Archbishop Llanfranc School? - that's well-known now. Sounds like your son would fit in perfectly there

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