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Luxury problem - but I don't know what to do, Harrow, Radley or Winchester?

(40 Posts)
earsarehurting Sun 06-Dec-15 16:47:47

Here we go again I can imagine you thinking, but before I get shot down, I am aware that we are in a very privileged position to have the choice between such excellent schools (we have offers from all for 2017) - but I am bewildered and confused by the choice and all my reasoning and lists of pros and cons are each leaving me with utterly different results, so I am hoping for some insight from you wise people.

I have read all the threads I can come over siting the schools above. I see that there is a lot of passionate support for Winchester which is great, but I haven't had the same sense for the other schools and to be honest - no matter how much I try to research, read, ask people in my community - we are left wanting one school one day and one the other, depending on my (and DS') mood. confused

A little about DS:
We live in similar distance from all the schools, so travel will not be a deciding factor. DS is academic, very sporty, loves rugby (but will not make him dismiss Winchester for this reason as he will never be a pro rugby player if i have anything to do with it...)he is a true team player, though very competitive, plays music, but is not too keen on drama and art.

Dilemma 1) got a place on Wardens list at Radley, thus will not know which Social (house) until after CE - which worries me as everyone I speak to say the house and mostly the HM is so important?
Dilemma 2) Does Harrow really have a bad reputation (Nice but dim, monied, frightfully snobbish etc), a lot of "baggage" as another poster put it?
Dilemma 3) DS is far removed from being either quirky or a nerd, very normal, very outgoing boy and I am hard pushed to see him as Winchester boys seem to be described (or aren't they and I have just got the wrong end of the stick?)
Dilemma 4) Winchester has a new Head coming in, how will this impact on the school for better, worse or not much at all?
Dilemma 5) A registrar (not at one of the above schools) told me to hold on to any places we have for as long as possible, just in case. I understand what he is saying, but it seems almost immoral to me that if you have made a choice to hold on to a place you do not want and thus making waiting list boys hang on unnessesarily long?

Any input much appreciated, I don't think I can be more confused than I am already.

DarklingJane Sun 06-Dec-15 17:43:04

If you've read the threads you'll have seen pretty much all I have to say about Winchester grin. It was great for DS. But re your dilemmas

1& 2 can't comment on, obviously.

3. The quirkiness / geekiness description of W boys is vastly overstated IMHO. DS and the friends of his I have met are normal outgoing boys. Clever, but normal, outgoing, confident (but not braggy) boys by and large.

4. W has been going for a long time and has a very strong ethos. My instinct is that changing it into a school not recognisable from the one it is today would be like turning round an oil tanker rather than a speed boat. BUT I have no inside knowledge of any changes the new head might want to make. It is just a feeling. It wouldn't have put me off in your shoes.

There are loads of sporty boys - lots of opportunity for sport whether that be team or individual sport at W but Radley from what I can gather places a different emphasis on it. If your son shows any interest or aptitude for Winkies (Winchester College football - from what I can see a mixture of rugby and mass hand to hand combat ) he will find a warm welcome from his house.

Loads of opportunity for music at any level , also lots of opportunities for Drama and Art but they are by and large by choice.

A small point but I think Radley is a campus whereas W is in town. This will give a different feeling. I don't know what the rules are at R but as they get older at W the boys have more freedom to go out into town in free time.

If your son had a strong preference I'd say go with that. How far wrong can you go with a choice like you have (wrong being a very relative term in this context).

Good luck.

Millymollymama Sun 06-Dec-15 18:02:31

Are you joking about Harrow? Nice but DIM??!! I don't think so. Plenty of brains there and it is a fabulous school. Very traditional but orderly. I do know there is a pecking order at Harrow in that boys know how to find other boys like them but Eton is the same. In fact, all schools are like this. Like minded people are attracted to each other. Therefore if other people are rich, snobbish and generally not like you, (but you must be rich!) then you just ignore them! Your DS will be friends with pleasant boys and all the Harrow Boys I have met (and it is quite a few) have been well mannered, very intelligent and superb people. Harrow is a "club" like all the other schools you mention so there will be good and bad in all such institutions. I am surprised you applied if you thought it was full of rich but dim pupils!

earsarehurting Sun 06-Dec-15 18:17:59

Milly - you misunderstood me, it is what I have read (time and time again on here, and heard on the grapevine) is the perception of Harrow. We had no pre-conceptions at all when we applied. I am relieved that you don't think it resembles the reality at all.

Darkling - I have indeed read your comments with interest and your insight is much appreciated smile

TinkerBellThree Sun 06-Dec-15 20:07:00

OP - we are struggling with similar "problem".
Here is my take on it - and I might be completely off the wall as we have no first hand knowledge of any of these schools as DS is still at prep...

Winchester has a reputation of being not sporty - but do well for the boys who enjoy sport, I think I have understood this correctly?
It is indeed very academic, and provides a broader intellectual challenge than just the curriculum.

Radley is a "Rugby school" but it is far from all about the Rugby. Boys doing football or indeed minor sports do well there too. I know of a wonderfully unsporty boy who has really come into his own at Radley.

Harrow has some very very rich families (as do all these schools), but it does not seem to matter to the school itself if you see what I mean? There seem to be this historical rivalry between Eton and Harrow where neither would touch the other with a bargepole - but that is just a bit like the Brits and the French having a go at each other (historically)? As for Harrow being for the less bright - I do believe (and again, I might be wrong) this is really old thinking? I seem to remember that someone wrote it was the hardest school to get into, and that this also has to do with the fact that the entry is not just on academic ability but more of a whole package?

New head at WinCol is interesting as he has not been a head for a boarding school before. Will be interesting to hear if anyone has any thoughts as to what he might look to do at the school.

Not sure if I have helped at all really reading through my comments... We haven't made a decision yet either.

PM me if you like.

happygardening Sun 06-Dec-15 21:19:33

For me one big difference is Harrow inflicts expects its boys to wear a ridiculous uniform and doff their boaters when they meet staff. Radley inflicts expects its boys to wear gowns.
Darkling is correct there are "normal out going boys" at Winchester there but IME it's also the last bastion of the quirky non conformist lone wolf.
I know Radley and I also have friends with DC's at Harrow and many others, people will tell you sport is very strong at Winchester but read the sporting results of the major sports and decide for yourself. The major sports football rowing (yes I know about the current very soon very successful junior crew), cricket, (there's no rugby) will never be as successful as they will be at Harrow or Radley it just depends how keen you DS is on these. On the other hand minor sports; sailing, fencing and others often field very good teams primarily because there is no major/minor sports at Winchester boys can opt to do, what in many schools is just a weekly extra curricular activity once a week, three times a week.
I've heard very mixed things from both current parents and even some staff about the pastoral care at Radley. If you DS is generally a robust type then hopefully this is not something to worry about. Radley is definitely a rugby school (all the school on their fixtures list will tell you they are the ones to beat) they have lots of teams, strength in depth and they play hard, if your DS is not into rugby then check what else is on offer. Over the years I've met lots of boys from Radley and I've always thought they were very polite and but a couple of shells I met this year frankly I thought were rather arrogant and rude
I wouldn't say Harrow is for nice but dim but nearly all we know (from DS's prep) with DS's there are pretty snobbish (could be a coincidence) and like the smartness of it and that it has a "posh" reputation.
Winchester on the other hand doesn't have that feeling, parents are definitely less smart, and there are few social events at Winchester so you hardly ever meet the other parents. It's is hands off parenting that doesn't suit all, sometimes it's a bit petty and a couple of mums I know with DS's there think it's rather serious; "not a lot of fun". We've found the pastoral care to be pretty amazing but others I know might say something no different.
Money just goes with the territory, if your stumping up 36k+ a year in school fees your "monied".
I always try to be honest on these kind of threads. I hope the new head won't change things, but truthfully I'm not as optimistic as Darkling I know a little about him and I personally have some reservations, someone who knows him well said he does like a bit of "meaningless ritual" which Win Coll currently is surprisingly devoid of, I suspect he won't like the autonomy the HMs have or the significant variation that exists. My gut feeling is that the Pre U will go, sport will become compulsory, and I fear he'll try and make it more homogenous, and thus IMO take away what makes it special for those of us who wanted something that is just different. I could be wrong of course but a few others who I've spoken too also voice concerns.

incaseithelps Mon 07-Dec-15 03:45:02

A registrar (not at one of the above schools) told me to hold on to any places we have for as long as possible, just in case.
I did n't think that option was possible for the Warden's List Place in the mix, when accepting it don't you have to commit to making Radley your first choice?
I think you have to decide whether your DS would prefer to be somewhere where his sports teams have a chance to be very competitive on the schools circuit combined with a more conventional public exam orientated academic education (with some frills). Alternatively would he enjoy the opportunity of more academic exploration for the sake of it rather than improving exam grades knowing that that it would take a bit more work plus less chance to be very competitive in a team sport.
Just a couple of other points. If he is an intermediate orchestral musician he will probably have more chance of playing in an ensemble with concerts at Radley or possibly Harrow than Winchester. Also Radley still does n't have many international pupils which would be a relative disadvantage from my POV although your DS sounds as though he would do very well there. TBH if he is a very competitive team player he would probably be happier at Harrow or Radley than Winchester. Harrow can provide the whole package plus has less hit and miss pastoral care from the point of view of boarding house than Radley from what I hear.

earsarehurting Mon 07-Dec-15 07:07:15

Tinkerbell - Thank you for your answer, it is rather tricky isn't it? It is funny isn't it with the rivalry between Eton and Harrow - it seems to be more from Eton than from Harrow? I will PM you - thank you!

Happy - I am so glad you replied to my thread, you always bring some great information to the table. Very interesting to hear what you say re new WinCol HM - would you care to elaborate or would you mind PMing me if you don't want to write too much in a public forum? Particularly re the continued (or not) autonomy of the HouseMs.

Incase - you are right - you are indeed expected to put Radley as your number one choice, but I believe this is the case for all the schools you accept (although R are very direct about it), however - you only forfeit your deposit. Personally, I do feel that it is not right to hold on to more than one place, when we have made a decision, which I hope we can do before the deadline.

incaseithelps Mon 07-Dec-15 08:08:24

earsarehurting my understanding is that it is different for the Warden's place since the prep school puts your DS forward. Our prep school made it clear that their proposing of our DS came with the expectation that we should abide by Radley's conditions since it would reflect on the prep school's position for proposing future candidates.

incaseithelps Mon 07-Dec-15 08:29:52

Just to add that the future headmaster of W would have to had presented a clear vision for Winchester when interviewed and that vision would not have been well regarded should it just steer Winchester away from its unique ethos. Also the autonomy of the housemasters has worked very well with the present headmaster who is an excellent manager and has had very good judgement for housemaster appointments. I can't see how the new headmaster would want to appear less of a good manager than his predecessor by removing that autonomy.

wurzeldrink Mon 07-Dec-15 11:14:58

I would think your prep will not be happy if you dont take the Wardens place,failure to do so will make it much harder for them to convince Radley of the suitabilty of the next candidate.
I notice Eton isnt on your list,did you not get a place,or not apply?

earsarehurting Mon 07-Dec-15 11:57:54

Incase /wurzel - I agree it would not be good to say yes to the Wardens list place for then to reject it. We feel very lucky to have been offered.

Wurzel - no, we did not apply to Eton. Went to visit several times (also outside tour) and just didn't "get it". Seemed too big for DS, somewhat "sterile" and we just did not find a connection there as we did at the others.

Wrt the new head at WinCol, I have heard others with similar concern to Happy, so it was interesting to read your points Incase, they make a lot of sense - however a lot of new HMs want to make their mark and will more often than not make changes, question is I guess, where and how these changes will be implemented.

Does anyone have any knowledge of his tenures at his previous two schools?

Millymollymama Mon 07-Dec-15 18:05:04

I know nothing of the new Head at Winchester, but what I do know is that new Heads rarely change things immediately. Most take stock of what they have and then work with the Governors to produce a plan to improve the school, eg new buildings, enhanced pastoral care, introduction of IB, expansion of the school brand in China or whatever! Clearly some schools need little improvement but it is unwise for a new Head to tinker and upset everyone who has bought in to the ethos of a school without very good reason. The school a Head comes from may have had a totally different set of priorities. Therefore you cannot really say they have a modus operandi which is good or otherwise.

I agree that many parents at Harrow do appreciate the tradition but of course many Dads went there themselves. However there are some very battered boaters and I have met parents who are not remotely snobby. Harrow give scholarships to boys who definitely do not fall into this category. I think the school fosters a strong sense of belonging where working and playing hard are the norm! Music and drama are valued and not every boy is sporty. They also have a superb tradition of photography. I also believe the support the boys get to follow their career choices is outstanding. However, any boy would be very fortunate to go to any of the schools you mention.

Millymollymama Mon 07-Dec-15 18:06:15

Sorry to disagree with everyone re new Heads- just my experience!

incaseithelps Mon 07-Dec-15 18:42:30

I agree with your view about new heads MillyMolly. Any rapid changes will be those prioritised by the governors / council.
This may be a tad controversial with some parents but if I had a confident DS I would be wary of an environment where that confidence can turn to arrogance. Out of the three schools I think that is least likely to happen at Winchester.

incaseithelps Mon 07-Dec-15 18:46:04

I also agree that the career network at Harrow is a real positive for the school

1805 Mon 07-Dec-15 20:39:27

I have a ds at Radley - through the Wardens list, and the pastoral care has been brilliant. DS had a wobbly start and they really couldn't do enough to help him through.
HG - I have never really understood your comments on R being such a Rugby school. The boys only HAVE to do rugby for 1 term in the first year, then they can opt to do other sports. Even then, there are some boys who are not in any rugby teams even in the first term. So although rugby is hotly pursued by the boys who want to, the other less enthusiastic boys drop rugby after the first term.
Re being allocated a Social - I was actually quite relieved about this as it took a decision away from us! We viewed 4 socials and housemasters, and came away with the opinion that they were all good, so it didn't really matter! The only thing I would take into consideration are a) location to music school for early morning practise sessions if applicable, b) would you rather modern or old? corridor like dorms, or small room dorms?
I like the new Warden too.

earsarehurting Tue 08-Dec-15 07:50:06

Milly Thank you for your insight re Harrow - very pleased to hear that there is diversity and not all the "rumours" re snobbery is true. I did not know about the photgraphy - how wonderful!

1805 thank you too for your insight re Radley. I got the impression too that Rugby only is a must in first term. We were told we have no input at all in the Social (I have tried) so I am not sure it is worth seeing any more?

Incase Milly I see where you are coming from re a new head, but at our prep we got a new head last year, and though only superficial changes were made to start with, some quite fundemental changes are happening now. I think you can see the same at Radley who got their new Warden last year and changes are now coming in that according to some current parents I know, will change quite a bit of the schools fundemental building blocks such as the entrance system (probably overdue an overhaul), becoming more international etc? Change feels like it is inevitable within the medium to long term with a new leader (unless he walks in the same path as the old one, which is rare, especially when recruited from outside) - I might be very wrong of course!

happygardening Tue 08-Dec-15 09:23:27

1805 a lot I suspect depends on your DS's individual perspective/personality; I recently and separately was talking to two boys at Winchester one thought there was to much sport with too many sports obsessed boys which I have to say is not a comment I've ever heard before but this boy loathed all sport, another felt that there was not enough sport and that most boys didn't take it very seriously or were that interested he was moaning about the lack of team sports.
With regard to the new head if as a parent your generally happy with a school then obviously any change in leadership is viewed with concern and even suspicion thus applies not just to schools of course change in leadership in most areas in viewed with concern by those who are happy with the current leadership. But I think because he's previously been a head at day schools it's inevitable that parents will wonder about him becoming the head of a schol that's very definitely full boarding and therefore has a completely different ethos.

incaseithelps Tue 08-Dec-15 11:24:39

I know a fair number of Radley boys / families. When I say the housemasters are variable it concerns how active they are in helping the boys get the most out of school as individuals with thoughtful opportunities put their way rather than sitting back and just allowing the school system to do the work. That system functions best for boys who fit into the moulds. For example boys who don't do drama as a GCSE usually get sidelined for main school plays. The top rugby team players may include some very good singers but usually they remain quite rugby cliquey. (BTW Rugby is a must for the first term of each school year and certainly dominates for the kudos it gives to be a good player). A musical boy who also likes sport but not top team level will do fine. Radley's A level choice is similarly quite regimented. As a school it works well for many and with very high quality teaching staff. Obviously the first years have the standard good pastoral care but as they get older they may not have the sort of relationship with the housemasters which allows them to easily and comfortably tap into good advice etc.

incaseithelps Tue 08-Dec-15 11:29:29

earsarehurting I am not saying that change does n't happen but it is usually in line with a shared vision with the governors. For example the present Warden of Radley has obviously been selected and encouraged to shake off the closed 'country set' view of Radley and diversify the intake.

earsarehurting Tue 08-Dec-15 11:59:49

incase I see what you mean now - and yes I agree, new leadership will inevitably bring change, it just depends on where the change comes. It seems the Radley parents I know are very happy with the changes made, the Win Col parents a little more and I am still rather surprised at the WinCol appointment though as Happy says, he comes from day schools who's ethos and work methods surely would differ quite dramatically from that of a full boarding school.

My DS is mad about Rugby (although as I said earlier, I wont let that be a deciding factor in this decision) so the Rugby at Radley (or Harrow) will not put him off at all.

You say the a-level choices are regimented at Radlley incase what do you mean with that?

Happy - isnt it funny how differently we see things (ref the two boys take on sports at Win Col).

I am learning a lot from this thread - thank you all!

incaseithelps Tue 08-Dec-15 14:50:07

The A level choices have to be made from certain grouped subjects. That is not unique to Radley and for most boys would n't be a problem but many other of these schools try and accommodate any combination. Winchester does for example which demonstrates making that extra effort in time tabling to accommodate the individual. Radley's approach just (perhaps unjustly) reinforces my personal impression of Radley fitting a boy to a system rather than the other way round.

happygardening Tue 08-Dec-15 17:04:09

"The present warden of Radley has obviously been selected to shake off the closed 'country set' view of Radly"
The one thing about 'county set' types is that they usually have good manners as I said sadly lacking in the couple of boys I met the other week.

earsarehurting Tue 08-Dec-15 17:49:01

Incase thank you for the clarification. Does this mean that Radley are completely fixed on their block system with no flexibility? I am not saying it would matter to us, but it is, as I think you are alluding to - a matter of attitude towards the individuals choice which I guess would fit into the ethos of the boys fits the school rather than the school fitting around the boys?

I get the impression Happy that the "country set" referenced has more to do with being inward looking and middle England (another expression I have often heard in the same sentence as Radley) and not very international or forward thinking?

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