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Sixth Form Choice - Benenden or St. Swithun's

(39 Posts)
Thankfulone Sat 06-Dec-14 07:16:25

We are having a hard time choosing between Benenden and St Swithun's for our DD to study Sixth Form and would be grateful for views and opinions about the 2 schools.

We are a family from Hong Kong and it will be the first time that DD is leaving home to study abroad. DD is an academic girl, a self starter and have a strong sense of responsibility. She is of the quieter type though I would not term her as too much of an introvert. She aspires to go to medical school.

We want her to be in a school where she will be happy and will thrive. On the other hand, we want her to be in a suitably academic school, as obviously she would need very good grades in order to be able to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

As a mother, I have huge concerns that we are not making the right choice for our DD. Any opinions and views are most welcomed.

happygardening Sat 06-Dec-14 07:48:07

St Swithans is primarily a weekly boarding/day school, Benenden if full boarding school as your from outside of the UK you and will be requiring full boarding to me it's a no brainier; Benenden

Thankfulone Sat 06-Dec-14 08:13:22

Many thanks, happygardening. Benenden being a full boarding school does indeed carries heavy weight in our decision making. However in terms of academic results, St Swithun's seems to score slightly better, and our DD would need excellent grades in order to get into medical school ......

Chocolove Sat 06-Dec-14 10:05:42

In my opinion,St Swithuns has higher academic achievements. By the way, did your DD receive offers from both of the schools?

happygardening Sat 06-Dec-14 13:14:17

If your DD is bright and hard working then I suspect t she'll get the same exam grades at both, St Swithuns results might "score slightly better" or have 'higher academic achievement" but this has more to do with their admission criteria, how selective they are, rather than the fact that it's a better school.
You are sending your DD half way round the world to school if it was my DD I would want her to be in a full boarding school with all the infra structure and advantages that this brings. In a weekly/day school she could be lonely at the weekend, I would be especially concerned about this if she is a "quieter type".

TalkinPeace Sat 06-Dec-14 15:41:55

A family member went to Benenden and had an utterly fantastic time, and yes, its full boarding.

St Swithuns is near here : its a mixture of day, weekly boarding and full boarding
so is unlikely to feel as inclusive at weekends as a full boarding school

Results wise : if your kid is bright and supported they will do well in any school.

There are girls who were at St Swithuns who left there to go to the same college as my DD - with the same GCSEs as all the other bright, motivated girls.

Thankfulone Sat 06-Dec-14 21:37:40

Thank you so much for all your feedback.

As we are living thousands of miles away from these 2 schools, the information that we get from these schools is just from their website and our brief 2-hour visit. Any information regarding these 2 schools from you or others who are familiar with these schools would be very very helpful to us.

TalkinPeace Sat 06-Dec-14 21:43:13

thankful
it might be worth asking the killer expat question
"what provision do you have for overseas pupils who cannot go home during a full exceat weekend?"

Some schools are great at organising local families to stay with because they know that going home at short notice may not be an option

others are not

TBH any selective girls boarding school that could not get a bright kid into med school is taking the &&&

goinggetstough Sat 06-Dec-14 22:52:35

talkin overseas students will be expected to have appointed a UK guardian for exeats.
I agree with HG Benenden is a full boarding school with Saturday school and St Swithuns is not predominantly full boarding. I expect the numbers of full boarders though might increase for the sixth form. Again it is important to check the actual numbers in at weekends. As has been discussed before schools have a variety of definitions for the term full boarding. Sixth formers IME do not need to have wall to wall activities laid on for them, but there needs to be a core of full boarders. They need time to relax and do homework etc.
OP do ask how many new sixth formers there will be as it can be very difficult to break into friendships groups that have been together since age 11.

summerends Sun 07-Dec-14 01:10:22

thankful you may have already considered this but if your DD is aiming for medicine she will need to fit in some suitable voluntary work and medical experience during term time. It would be worth asking both schools how they arrange / facilitate this as it may contribute to your decision.

happygardening Sun 07-Dec-14 11:38:52

That's a good point summer (waves boys home in four days grin), Benenden is quite rural although closish to train stations etc, but not walkable, St Swithuns is obviously based in a city with excellent fast links into London. I suspect Benenden school puts on buses to the nearest station.
As I'm sure you're aware you DD will need a guardian I personally would try and find one locally.
"Full boarding" is a term for some reason open to some variation especially when it suits schools, but basically in most parents minds and in the few schools that truly offer full boarding it means living and sleeping at school 7 days a week. Those schools which offer day weekly and full boarding are happy to lie prone to being economical with the truth when someone is enquiring about the actual number of full boarders, Two friends have just removed their DC's from a big name boarding school that claimed to have 40-50% full boarders the reality was 10% and their DC's found weekends long and lonely. A mum I know has a DC at another well known boarding school both her and her DC love it, there only gripe is that the school didn't make it clear that it's basically a weekly boarding school they have to drive there every weekend to pick him up.
As your daughter is "quiet" I personally think she would benefit from full boarding school, getting in to study medicine I notoriously difficult, it's not just bout studying hard they look at personality communication skills, life experiences etc and the extra curricular activities and the camaraderie offered at full boarding school could boost her confidence.
So with this in mind my money if I was you my money would be on Benenden.

happygardening Sun 07-Dec-14 11:40:19

Sorry for the typos.

uilen Sun 07-Dec-14 14:41:46

St Swithuns is currently around 1/3 full boarders in the sixth form, in total around 60% board in the sixth form (far more than further down the school). The number of sixth form boarders is increasing and they just expanded their sixth form boarding house.

Personally I would go much more on the impressions I got from the 2 hour visits than comments on the internet. Both schools are good schools in which a high achieving girl will do well. Both have a significant fraction of children from Hong Kong (I think 10% or more in the sixth form?). Both are experienced at getting girls into medicine. But, even leaving aside the full v weekly boarding issue, the schools have a different feel and I would think you would have a gut instinct as to which would suit your child better.

TalkinPeace Sun 07-Dec-14 15:04:15

St Swithuns is obviously based in a city with excellent fast links into London
Um, no
Its a good half hour walk along roads with no footpath into town and there are no reliable buses.
WinCol is in the city, Swithuns is out on the edge of it (fabulous views from their hall, but not in the city)

uilen Sun 07-Dec-14 16:37:04

St Swithuns runs its own minibuses into town. 6th form boarders can go into town during the week between the end of lessons and supper but there isn't that much time so most of them don't, especially in the winter. Day girls come to St Swithuns from quite large distances because of the proximity to the M3 but indeed most public transport goes into the centre of Winchester rather than up to Alresford Road.

TalkinPeace Sun 07-Dec-14 17:14:14

Uilen
Which is cool if you want to go to LK Bennett or the Buttercross
but is a bugger if you need to be at work placement at 9am

OP
My DD wanted to be a vet till she realised the unpaid hours insanity
and is now looking at biochemistry
but I can see why schools like KES in Southampton who have form for producing medic undergrads get away with it

it might be better for your DD to go to a more city centre, less boarding type school with a splendid set of guardians who are her home from home and able to support her into her career choice

just a thought

happygardening Sun 07-Dec-14 18:37:57

"But is a bugger if you want to be at a work placement at 9 am"
What about a taxi? Globally the station at 1.5 miles isn't far away from St Swithans. Most people who can afford 30k+ can probably stretch to the cost of an 8 minute (according to google maps) taxi to the station. Once there London, Southampton and even Oxford are pretty accessible. Secondly there is a hospital at Winchester.
If you wish to be a doctor then the fact that you've got up early and caught a train to get the relevant experience in my book indicates a degree of determination and also sets you up for long anti social hours.

TalkinPeace Sun 07-Dec-14 18:51:06

LOL
Do you secretly live in London?
2008
DH and I booked at taxi from Romsey to Southampton one Saturday to be told they were "both" busy
we could wait for the midnight horse and buggy if we wished

the gels can splash the cash, but if the taxis are asleep ...

happy
ask your son about how many SS girls are in town before 9am - he can walk to it, the girls cannot

goinggetstough Sun 07-Dec-14 19:17:10

Talkin although I would send my DD to Benenden if I was abroad, can I correct you. You make St Swithuns sound as if it is in the sticks. There are pavements from the school into town, yet you say there is not even a footpath. I was brought up in this area and have just checked on google maps in case I was imagining the pavements. I was not!
As for whether HG's DS knows how many SS girls are in town before 9am, I expect he doesn't as he has Saturday school and will be occupied in lessons.
OP I have just spoken to my DD who went to an all girls academic boarding school with the majority full boarding and she says that all her friends who were prospective medics did their work experience in the holidays. Some did help in an old peoples home but that was for the volunteering part of her D of E gold award.
Both schools have a proven track record of sending girls to med school and similar results in the important subjects for UCAS. The few percent difference could be due to the initial selectivity of the schools.
Good luck with your decision.

TalkinPeace Sun 07-Dec-14 20:01:59

I've run events at St Swithuns and in the area
I say you'd be mad assuming a DD will walk along that road in the dark / winter
going has used google maps
you have used websites to choose schools
you can see where my train of thought leads

happygardening Sun 07-Dec-14 21:04:15

Are there really no taxi's in Winchester? This isn't the Scotish Highlands we're talking a pit here. I just find this hard to believe especially as I see them outside DS2's boarding houses picking up boys at all hours. We've friends who live in some of the nice villages around Winchester their DH's get taxis to the station every morning well before 9 am in fact I understood this is one of the reasons property prices are so high because of ease of access to the station and quick links with London. We live in a village total population 3000 and I can get taxi day or night even Xmas day, especially if I book one an hour before I want one or even more revolutionary the day before, us rural types have learnt to be quite rescourcful! I think it would be fair to say that any one doing work experience which generally lacks spontaneity and immediacy is I'm sure organised enough to book a taxi in advance.

TalkinPeace Sun 07-Dec-14 21:17:44

Winchester better for taxis ...
but StS sure as heck ain't as central as Wincol

happygardening Sun 07-Dec-14 21:27:29

I don't really know why I'm continuing with this slightly ridiculous discussion but hey ho! If you're at St S which I understand is not out in the middle of no where but 1 1/2 miles from the station then if you can't walk it for whatever reason; phobia of the dark, no pavements, fear of winter morning or whatever then like me when I want to go the station (25 miles away) you just ring you nearest taxi company (15 miles away in my case) and ask them to come and get you. I find it works every time. When I'm at the station wanting to go home I just jump in one of those taxis outside, I happen to know for sure that Winchester Station has those because I've been in one.

happygardening Sun 07-Dec-14 21:29:09

Anyway my advise to the OP choose Benenden if you want full boarding.

Thankfulone Mon 08-Dec-14 00:28:52

Dear all, thank you so much for your feedback which is very helpful information for our decision making process.

In fact in our brief touring of the 2 schools DD likes both schools very much, and our impression is that DD should likely be able to fit into either, and both are encouraging to students. Also that in both the students are nice and kind, which gives us confidence that DD, though a new comer, should be able to make it through. That's why we have such a difficult task choosing, and are enquiring if someone out there will have some more "insider" information that is more deep down than what an outsider will easily find out in a brief school visit; or some points of consideration that we may have to note.

Thank you so much again.

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