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Westminster Under 11+/

(11 Posts)
Bobsandbops Thu 20-Feb-14 10:37:15

We have just been offered a place for our son at WUS at 11+, along with other offers at excellent schools, including scholarships. In trying to cover our bases and keep options open we have overdone the applications, and we are now faced with an enviable but difficult choice. Without trying to brag our son is exceptionally bright, and pretty well balanced in spite of his neurotic parents. He's not into team sports but has a wide range of interests, music, astronomy, running. He's at a state school so we've had no direction from the head on independent school choices, and have picked up what we know from open days, prospectuses and other parents. But we don't know anyone with a child at W/WUS. We can't say money is no object, so in order to choose W over the other excellent offers we have we need to assure ourselves that paying full fees at WUS, and then twice as much at the Great School as other day schools once scholarships are factored in, is indeed worth it. There's an uncertain chance of scholarship at 13+ and we're not keen on/have no need for boarding. Plus we have found WUS and W less easy to get into and look around that the other schools, they don't have such well oiled systems to help you through the applications processes. Maybe they don't need PR? It's a moot point whether that's a good or not so good thing in my view. I would be really grateful to hear from anyone with personal experience of either school, what the 'feel' is once you're in. Does their hands off approach apply also in the classroom? Can you be so laid back and intellectually open that you fail your GCSEs? What's pastoral care like? And communication with parents? How do they tackle disorganised eggheads? My son is very bright but can't remember where he put his coat, and whether his homework is due this week or next year. What's the social scene like? We live in a terraced house in a gritty area, no swimming pool, no staff. Will his little friends be scared to visit us in case their Bentley gets scratched? Will he spend his teens with the sons of bankers and oligarchs in Mayfair clubs dancing with blond girls? Or will he find someone to play Minecraft with, and a band to plays his drums with? All help gratefully received.

PottyLottie123 Thu 20-Feb-14 11:05:51

Sorry I can't help you with experience of the school, but I have to write something in response to your post. Wow! Congratulations to your son on his amazing achievements and enviable choices! I hope you get the advice you need so that he finds somewhere to be happy and thrive. I just wanted to say don't be put off about "Bentleys getting scratched" (LOL), a friend of mine has a bright, musical son at a top public school and it's refreshing to see how his friends with staff, swimming pools (and helicopters: you can't beat that on the car park at parents' evening!) and country estates couldn't care less about where you come from, they all seem to mix together and accept kids' circumstances as just that - circumstances. Good luck!

Needmoresleep Thu 20-Feb-14 12:22:17

My son is at Westminster. They are very good with disorganised egg-heads. Lots of Minecraft. DS only vaguely aware of different wealth levels, and not bothered. He has two or three friends who are presumably on bursaries and who live in ex-Council flats. Again it makes no difference at all. A bigger problem would be if you were bumping along the bottom academically, but this does not sound if it would be the case.

We have found the pastoral care very strong. A house system so that you have one main contact all the way through. This also means that individual teachers are less bothered by parents and can get on with teaching. And much of the teaching is superb. Well beyond the syllabus. Education in the best sense. Plus lots of other things going on. If it feels right to and for your child, it is a fantastic place.

I assume they have a lot more applicants than places and so are not particularly helpful on first contact. Now you have a place, you might phone them and explain it is a big decision and ask for another look.

WorkingItOutAsIGo Thu 20-Feb-14 12:28:51

Oh he and you sound lovely. I think Westminster like other top schools don't need to market themselves very much so do have much less promotion than other 'lesser' establishments do.

I just wanted to tell you that my DS who just had his interview there but for a 13+ place spent his entire interview talking about Minecraft. There will be boys of all sorts and they tend to be terribly oblivious to stuff we neurotic parents worry about.

Bobsandbops Thu 20-Feb-14 13:13:13

I've never posted on here before. Gosh, instant responses!

Thanks for the replies, and the kind words.
Needmore: Your words on the social mix are reassuring. You are right that it needs to 'feel right'. We are indeed hoping to go back for a visit next week, to chat to the Master and do some more 'feeling' before decision deadline day. All is quiet at WUS this week, no one at home to answer the phone.

When searching for a description of the typical Westminster boy, the word I see everywhere is 'quirky'. How quirky do they mean? I think we're a pretty quirky family judging by the responses we get from our friends. In some respects DS represents the saner end of our family spectrum. At the 11+ exam and the interview day everyone looked normal, or quite well presented. We're often not well presented, in appearance or in ourselves. On the open day one of the Great School staff gave DH a long and bemused look up and down as he took in what even I felt was an odd sartorial choice for the visit... I like to think we go more for content, consistency and integrity. Which sometimes means swimming against the tide. It would be nice to be in a school where that wasn't awkward.

It's good that the teachers are left to teach. Given that, what is the parent/school interface like? Approachable? Flexible? Enough contact? Too much? How does the institution 'feel' to you as a parent? And how does it respond to you if you ask it something?

WorkingItOutAsIGo Thu 20-Feb-14 13:27:24

Quirky means many things but most essentially a quirky brain and intellect. For my older DS as he left prep school it was all straightforward and the bog standard clever boys of which he was one went to SPS and then the other quirkier, perhaps more interesting, more academic, more deeply one-sided in their interests, more eccentric boys went to Westminster. They all seemed to instinctively know where they would fit. And be very happy.

On the basis of your posts....Westminster all the way for you! Think he and you will love it.

Needmoresleep Thu 20-Feb-14 15:34:26

DS was not at WUS, so cant really comment, other than a lot come in then, a good proportion from state Primaries, and most seem to have enjoyed their time.

My observation is that WUS parents know each other better than parents whose sons started at 13. This is probably inevitable. The boys travel around London on their own so i know my son's friends, but not their mothers.

That said being a Westminster parent is fun. Matches at Vincent Sq, the annual Carol concert in the Abbey, some really first class musicality, great plays and so on. Actually forget your son. There might be scope for a thread aiming to select the best school to be a parent, and Westminster would have a good case. (Other than the fees.) The diversity is huge, with kids coming from all over London, and boarders adding to the mix.

Westminster is a boarding school and this makes a difference. There appears to be quite a lot of staff accommodation and there certainly appears to be more boarding school type activities than you would expect to find at a London day school. Sport is not necessarily of high quality but has huge diversity, and previously non sporty boys discover interests in sports like fencing or climbing. House competitions give lots of opportunities for the less talented, to participate, and there are plenty of outstanding societies. The list of John Locke speakers is astonishing. Staff are active in activities as well as the classroom, and my impression has been that a good number see their role as educating as well as teaching my son, so at parents evening will comment on his growing maturity etc, as well as his academic progress.

I am sure not all pupils will have had the same very positive experience. The best you can do is try to "feel" whether it seems right.

Thymeout Sat 22-Feb-14 09:41:45

'No one home to answer the phone' I have a close friend who teaches at Westminster. It's half term. She told me that she is going to spend the entire week in her pyjamas, watching box sets on TV, all food ordered in. She works enormously hard, and I teach in a state school, so I know about hard work.

I've visited the school on several occasions. I am against private education - that's why I teach in a state school. But I must say I have been impressed by the boys and their relationship with the staff. They don't seem to have that arrogant sense of entitlement I've encountered at other places. I'd say your son will fit in very well - and they wouldn't have selected him if they'd had any doubts about that. They have plenty of others to choose from!

Michaelahpurple Sat 22-Feb-14 12:31:26

My son is at WUS and would be in your boy's year.

WUS is very gentle and closely supervised (much more so than the preps my DS's friends went to eg Sussex house , colet, Harrodian ) The pastoral care is excellent and form teachers very approachable. Communications from the school are copious.

They do totally shut at half term, this term particularly. Remember that the whole staff has had two six day weeks to invigilate and mark close to 500 7&8+ candidates' papers, then the 11+ marking, plus interviewing the short lists for all three entry points, all on top of the usual very packed curriculum. The pace is one of the joys of the school - as the intakes are selected to be fairly homogenous academically the lessons can clip along and because the boys are all v keen and able they can afford to be a bit more informal where appropriate as there is limited risk of anyone taking the p*ss. However, they don't take anything for granted eg boys who get the lower marks in the end of unit maths tests are immediately given a bit of help to get the topic nailed down, and there seems to be no opprobrium attached.

There are loads of state school boys of all economic circumstances in the 11+ intake, and a few in the 8+ cadre and the school in general is hugely more ethnically and economically diverse than the schools where we live (admittedly in Chelsea). I think that my DS's year at intake lived in about 15 postcodes and barely a third come from West London. This doesn't leave much scope for pavement sociability as everyone is nursing cars on yellow lines or dashing for the tube (there is a system to avoid tickets on the yellows) but the parents are generally very friendly. My DSs' pre-prep doesn't have one of the most glammed-up school gates but the presentation at the WUS gate is definitely more varied and has a longer scruffy tail to the distribution and no one cares a bit. On the one hand the school is relatively varied, on the other hand there is a strong common commitment and enthusiasm for education, inquiry and learning and this binds the community.

As you probably know the 11+ boys are in their own forms for the first year which probably gives a more gradual integration.

I can't speak to the Great School from experience, but as boys from the Under School make up close to half the intake, I would expect there to be a fairly strong cultural carry-through. I really don't think there is much scope for flunking GCSEs smile

On organisation, it is my DS's main challenge too. I sometimes wonder if the more brutal sink or swim of Colet might have bludgeoned it out of him faster, but he is getting there and a small school is certainly an easier place to learn these skills. I hate to think how much he would have missed if he hadn't had the time to master his kit.

I suppose the Easter and summer French and Latin classes for 11+ are a bit of a downside but I imagine that other places require this too

Can't comment relative to your other choices , but I think WUS is a great choice for bright and curious little boys.

Bobsandbops Sat 22-Feb-14 14:54:56

Once again, thanks to everyone for the really helpful responses.
It's rather wonderful that you have stepped forward to answer my questions in this way.

I certainly appreciate that the staff must have worked very hard to turn around all the entrance exams in such a short space of time. Of all the exams we entered it was the last, some having been nearly a month earlier, but the results came at about the same time. My comment about the phone was meant as an observation, not a criticism. Some schools have one or two of their administrative team on duty this week. No offence intended to the school or anyone else for that matter.

If my posts seem a little flippant, it may be because I opted for a light approach rather than starting with some of the confusion and anxiety that we are feeling faced with a big decision.

I think you have collectively highlighted the main issues we see as relevant in our choice. We are definitely in favour of an enthusiasm for education, learning and inquiry. It's reassuring to hear that that the school is a gentle environment, communication is good and the teachers are approachable, that the less organised boy is supported, and less importantly that a bit of school gate dishevelment is OK, as I think between the lot of us we won't be making much headway with that any time soon.

Making the leap from state to the prep/CE system is a bit of a challenge. The hurdle of extra exams at 13 is one DS wouldn't face in the other schools we have applied to. One just has to believe what one is told, that being selected at 11+ means the school is pretty certain that he can leap it.

Michaelahpurple Sat 22-Feb-14 18:56:16

I think it is unheard if for them not to from 11+. It is very rare even for the ones selected at 7/8 not to, and that decision is done with far less visibility.

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