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State or private for secondary?

(86 Posts)
CandyCrush77 Mon 16-May-16 11:21:25

I am sure this has been done to death but am having a bit of a dilemma as to what to do for secondary for DSs who are currently 8 and 6. The local state secondary is not good and so we are looking at either moving house into the catchment area of a good secondary (there are two excellent secondaries about 10-15 minutes away) or going private. We are in London and, thanks to stamp duty, it will cost around 100k to move and buy an equivalent or slightly smaller house in catchment. I had therefore decided we may as well go private but not really keen on the whole ethos of private school and, while we should be able to manage (just) it will be a stretch financially. I think I would go for private if they would definitely be getting a better education but I am not sure the private schools they will get into will be much better than the excellent state options. Interested in hearing from others who have been through this and what they decided.

Drinkstoomuchcoffee Mon 16-May-16 12:01:41

You are right that this topic has been done to death - and that in recent days!

It all depends on the schools. And if you do not name them you are unlikely to get focussed advice.

And if you are in London, your choice is not local school v a school 10 minutes away. You can look at schools which select on talent/aptitude (plenty of time to develop a sport, music, language), those with fair banding, academic aptitude if your DC are clever, denominational schools (plenty of time to convert) etc etc.

(And I know it is aptitude rather than ability, but you do not get many G4+ children turned down for music aptitude places)

Cleo1303 Mon 16-May-16 12:10:02


At the rate school fees are going up the fees will probably be at least £20,000 per year for each DS by the time they go, plus extras, so you are talking about £300,000 for the two of them over seven years which is considerably more than it would cost you to move.

As you say, the standard of education of the private school will depend on where they get into, and it will also depend on the state schools and what they offer and what they achieve.

If you want them to go to a really good private secondary you may need to have them tutored for a couple of years before the 11+ to get them up to the standard unless they go to a high performing state school who do 11+ preparation and have a reputation for getting a high percentage of their children into private secondary schools.

There is a lot of competition for the top London private schools with 8 to 10 children competing for each place, but good state schools will also be popular so I'd advise you to check the admissions criteria of the two state schools you are thinking of to see if your DSs would almost certainly get a place if you moved for that reason.

If you really don't like the ethos of private education you may prefer a state secondary.

sue51 Mon 16-May-16 12:45:25

If you think you can only just afford it, be careful. There are always extras to take into account.

CandyCrush77 Mon 16-May-16 13:43:41

Thanks both. We would apply to the usual schools (City, Highgate, UCS etc) but, even though both boys are bright, it's obviously unlikely they will get in as it's extremely competitive. We would also apply to Forest, Northbridge House etc. I am assuming for these purposes though that they would end up somewhere like Northbridge House and trying to work out if somewhere like that is preferable to moving to the catchment of a good state secondary. I realise of course that we will need to tutor, even though they are at an outstanding state primary where quite a few kids to get into selective private and grammar schools at secondary. We will of course apply to the state-selective schools but, again, just doing on what is most likely to happen here!

We can afford private, including the extras, but it will mean sacrifices of course and lifestyle changes - if we were super rich then maybe the financial side wouldn't be a consideration.

The two state secondaries we are considering have admissions based on catchment only so we would just need to (pay through the nose) and move into the catchment area. Not keen on doing this as really don't want to move house, especially given the costs, although could be worth it of course.

By not liking the ethos of private school. I meant that I don't want them to go to an elitist school where the parents are all bankers and it's normal to have 5 holidays a year. Just want them to go somewhere normal.

Cleo1303 Mon 16-May-16 14:27:42

I'm in SW London so don't know about Northridge or Forest. You could start a new thread asking for views about both of them.

What I would say though is that a lot of private secondary schools in my area which weren't considered particularly academic a few years ago have really upped their game over the past couple of years, so that could happen in your area too by the time the DSs get to 11+.

Very few private schools in SW London are elitist nowadays. Yes, there will be some bankers' children with five holidays a year, but most children will have two parents who are working in order to afford the fees!

Cleo1303 Mon 16-May-16 14:29:25

What I meant by my second paragraph is that you could have a larger choice of good private secondary schools in three years' time.

mummytime Mon 16-May-16 14:38:28

There is also the basic economic point - if you move close to a good state school, the money you put in, you can get out when your children are older by selling the house. Money you spend on private education cannot be cashed in.

CandyCrush77 Mon 16-May-16 15:05:40

Thanks again Mummytime and Cleo.

Cleo, that is reassuring that not many of the private schools are elitist. I had
the impression that many of the private schools in north London have an extremely privileged intake/lots of kids of ex-pat parents. I know quite a few other parents who are also considering private and are far from rich so maybe you are right.

I think there is also a good chance of our local school improving in the next 3-4 years although it would have to improve quite significantly to be within the realms of ok. Not sure why their results are as bad as they are as there are lots of good state primaries in the area that feed into that school.

Re moving, I hear what you say but the 100k we would spend moving is basically wasted money. I also really don't want the hassle of moving and am not keen on living in the areas where the state secondaries are but maybe it is worth it. There are no guarantees though and it would be awful to move and then find we are not in catchment.

Traalaa Tue 17-May-16 09:11:53

It depends what you mean by elitist doesn't it? Yes lots of private schools have a lot of v.normal families, but that's normal in a v.narrow way. One of the huge pluses of state education is that kids are part of society in a way they can't be in a private school. You'll get people on here who'll tell you that there's a huge mix at private schools too, but let's be realistic, as there won't be a lot of kids from poorer backgrounds, or from the local estates, or children whose families are trying to claim asylum (for example). Yes there will be a few on full bursaries, but even then they're relatively privileged kids, as they're from backgrounds where they have parents clued up enough to get them to sit the exams, etc, etc. The huge plus of state education is that all meet and in a big inner city comp (if it's good), kids thrive no matter what their background. Barriers come down, simply because they're all together. Your child learns far more about society by being part of it in a school environment and seeing that basically kids are kids.

Popocatapetl1234 Tue 17-May-16 10:09:52

I think if you "want them to go somewhere normal" you should send them to your catchment school. Private schools cater to the rich and exclude the poor, so that is not normal. Comps whose students all live in in £1.5 million + houses aren't normal either.

If however you want to pay for a specific peer group - no poor children, no badly behaved children, everyone nice and MC so you will be happy for your DC to mix with them, (but not super rich which might make them feel bad because you can't compete,) and you have the money, choose a nice private MC school and don't feel bad about it. . Your money, your kids, your choice.

Cleo1303 Tue 17-May-16 10:11:58

It's funny that you say that barriers come down, Traalaa, because at any of the state secondary comps near me it's obvious when the children come out in the afternoon that the white children are walking with white children, the black children are with black children, the Muslim boys are together and the Muslim girls are together.

I pass three state secondary schools on my school run and it's the same at every one.

At the primary schools it's the parents who don't mix and stand in their separate groups - black parents, Muslim parents, white English parents and white Polish parents at the one nearest to me. The highest achieving state primary schools have predominantly white middle-class children because the catchment area is full of houses worth £1-2 million. Those schools will be full of children who will do the 11+ and be destined for a private secondary school.

I have friends whose children go to state schools and it's pretty obvious that the children of middle-class home-owning families make their friends with similar children. Hardly any of those children will mix with the asylum seekers or estate children outside school.

The other thing about private education is that most of the children I have come across at DD's prep and now her secondary school actually love school and are enthusiastic about it, and most of the state school educated children I've spoken to see it as something to be got through and describe it as "boring".

Every time I asked one little boy what he had done at his primary school the answer was always, "maths and literacy." Another little boy was pleased that he was going to a particular secondary school "because we finish at 3.00." Neither of those boys can get their heads around the fact that my daughter through choice will go in at 8 am for the school choir and stay until 5 or 6 for sport, and go in at weekends for other activities.

I know there are some great state schools where children are enthusiastic and keen to excel but you will definitely find a higher percentage of those children in private education.

Coffeeismycupoftea Tue 17-May-16 10:14:55

OP, you must live near me and last year we did the three schools you mention. They're not impossible to get into with (quite a lot of) preparation and a reasonably bright child. It's not 10 applicants per place as there aren't any children that are only applying for one school.

Ds is now at one of the three (having had two offers) and it's great and he's very happy, but it is amazingly privileged in comparison to his primary school. His new friends are lovely, but my god they've no idea about what life is like for the majority of people. Not sure my son does either, but I think he's got more of an understanding having been to a state primary with high FSM. I agree with Traalaa, there is no way you can argue that the kids who go to private schools are in any way comparable to those that go to the comprehensives.

We didn't apply for Northbridge etc because, like you, I wasn't particularly keen on private so I felt that we'd only opt for one which we felt was offering something really, really good. Our local state secondaries are not Fortismere types, they serve very, very diverse backgrounds (properly so, not private school 'diverse') but we felt that we'd have far rather our kids went there than to an arguably less good private school like Northbridge so we could go for broke, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't be devastated if he didn't get into any of the three.

During the 11+ process, however, I rather regretted that stance as I was convinced he'd get no offers, which would be confidence-knocking and it would have been nice to have a banker school if only to turn it down.

Erm, having written a long post, I'm not sure what my conclusions are. I still feel a bit of regret that he's not walking to the local school. Have you actually visited yours? How is it not good?

CandyCrush77 Tue 17-May-16 11:56:15

Hi Popacata - going to a fairly rough and very mixed comprehensive with crap results is not "normal" from my perspective. I went to a state secondary and it wasn't brilliant but it was ok and enabled me to do well and get the results I needed to do A-levels etc. I honestly don't think that DS would have those same opportunities to learn in the local comp nor do I want them in a really rough environment. I want better for them, or at least what I had. I know of several other parents who also don't like the idea of the local comp and will try, some way or other, to move or go private. I also think, the London, it's relatively normal to live in a 1.5 million pound house. I would say at least half of my DS's class do but would not say any of them are rich. If you live in a 3 or 4 bed house, as a lot of families do, then in most areas your property will be worth 1-1.5 million. Just London house prices I'm afraid. The value becomes almost meaningless though unless you want to sell up and cash in.

Thanks Cleo, that's interesting. I think private school does seem to provide more a rounded learning experience, especially with all the extras they offer. That's definitely something to take into account. Our state primary sounds very much like the one you describe. It is predominately white middle class and has a really nice atmosphere/mix of kids. If our local state secondary had a similar feel then I would be delighted to send them there.

Coffee, do you mind me asking which school your DS goes to? Was the application process really not that bad? The only thing about just applying for the top tier schools is what if they don't get in? I have been to the local comp - if the results were good then I could definitely get past the other issues, but sadly they aren't.

Traalaa Tue 17-May-16 12:16:42

Cleo, well where to start with your sweeping generalisations.. Okay, so all we both have to go on is our own anecdotal experiences, but in your own admission you are only driving past state secondaries, whilst my kid actually goes to one. He also went to a state primary. I'm guessing yours did not.

At his primary school there was a huge ethnic and social mix of families and in contrast to what you describe, we did all mix in the playground. It took a while mainly due to language barriers, but over 7 years of course you get to know other parents.

You might be amazed too to hear it, but my son just like your kids, loves going to school. This isn't an 'outstanding' school, it's classified as 'good', yet he definitely isn't bored and just like your children he has a wide range of clubs and activities to go to. Also, just like your DD, he chooses to get to school at 8am, because he has things he wants to do before school.

Most of the kids I know go to state schools and they all seem v.happy. Fact! My niece and nephew go to private schools and they and all of their friends seem v. happy too. Fact! It's great to see happy kids and in both sectors I'm sure we could find examples of kids who aren't happy too. This isn't about that though, as my original point was about the wider mix in a state school and how important that is.

You seem to be arguing that it's irrelevant, as kids will always stick to others from similar backgrounds. Well I'm sure you're right in some cases (even if just driving past does seem rather random proof!), but even if that were always the case, in most state schools your child would still be in classes with all manner of children, from a wide range of backgrounds. By putting your child into a private school, there's no chance of that.

My son's friends are from very diverse backgrounds and the friendships seem to be based on similar interests, humour and intellect. If he was in a private school he'd make friendships in a similar way. The point though is that his choice now is from a wider range of children. He's learning more about the whole of society at his school by encountering that wide range. I can't see how you can develop that if you're filtered off into the more narrow mix of a private school.

Coffeeismycupoftea Tue 17-May-16 13:55:21

Candycrush - he goes to one of the three I mentioned! Don't want to be more specific. I would say that while there are variations in the pupils within them (City possibly most 'mixed', Highgate possibly least), they are only small variations. They're private schools and the main body of pupils is nothing like a mixed state school. Probably more similar to a Yerbury than my kids' primary, but still very different.

Agree with Traalaa, all the y7 kids who've moved on seem to be thriving wherever they are, regardless of sector.

The application process was horrific, I'm afraid. I hated putting my child up for judgment and I was terrified he'd be rejected, not so much because I was desperate for him to go private, but because I hated the idea of him feeling a failure.

The reason we only applied to the top tier schools was because they were the only ones we wanted him to go to. If he hadn't got in, we'd have gone to local state school with all the advantages that brings. We weren't wedded to private for the sake of private.

CandyCrush77 Tue 17-May-16 15:06:42

Thanks Coffee. So in your view is a bog standard state better than a mediocre private secondary? I thought long and hard about this and am veering towards thinking that a mediocre private secondary (e.g. Northbridge House where 91 % of kids get A-C at GCSE including English and Maths) is better than local comp where only 62% get those results. Obviously we would apply for the top schools but seems sensible to assume we will not get into those and decide on basis of ok private v crap state OR moving. Not easy!! Am already terrified re application process. Hate the way they are judged so early and even being reasonably clever isn't enough.

Traalaa Tue 17-May-16 15:16:42

Sorry to interject (again!) and please feel to ignore me, but just on those stats, of course the privates do so well academically as they select. So the comps are getting 62% of all kids no matter what starting point to A-C. That's pretty good comparatively. You say your two are bright, so they'll be easily in the 62%. Anyway, good luck whatever you decide!

Cleo1303 Tue 17-May-16 16:25:22

CandyCrush, I don't know Northbridge, but I've been astonished by the speed at which some private schools have changed from being arty and low key academically to shooting up the results lists.

Ibstock in SW London jumped 60 places in their A Level results in a year and now sees itself competing with Latymer Upper apparently. Four years ago one of DD's friend's siblings joined them in Year 7. She was not that academic but very, very talented musically which is why her parents liked the school. Their second daughter, along with DD and many others from her school, took the 11+ at Ibstock last year and it was very tough - several children said it was harder than Latymer or KGS which are both seen to be more academic.

Northbridge might seem more attractive by the time your DDs are applying.

Don't worry too much about the application process as far as your DSs are concerned. The children all seemed to take it in their stride - it was the parents who were fretting. Your current school head should point you in the direction of the schools where your DSs should be okay with the exams.

CandyCrush77 Tue 17-May-16 16:25:50

Thanks Traalaa. good point, and maybe the results will get better in 3-4 years. Have to say though, I don't think GCSEs are particularly challenging so another interpretation would be that 62% is really not good, considering how low standards are. Most outstanding state secondaries seem to get between 78 and 80%. My point was that there is some value add in sending them private, even if not to one of the top private schools, if you go on results alone. If 91% of kids get 9 GCSEs, A-C inc English & Maths, then the likelihood is that they will do pretty well. Seems to be there's a lot more that can go wrong in a state school and more chance of being in the 38% that doesn't do so well.

I would also still be a bit worried about the fairly rough environment and whether they would go off the rails and do better where they are more looked after. Very difficult to weigh it all up. We've been happy-ish with a state primary but I think we've been lucky in that it's a good school and may find a state secondary very different. Yes, they are both bright but I'm not sure how self motivated they are, especially my eldest. Curious to know what makes people decide one way or the other.

Cleo1303 Tue 17-May-16 16:26:26

Sorry, I meant when your DSs are applying!

Cleo1303 Tue 17-May-16 17:02:43

Traalaa, As well as driving past the three schools I mentioned I also know children who attend other state schools who have told me about their own experiences, one of which is too dreadful to repeat here. A number of these children would not be described as middle class and they have not been having a great time at school.

One child says she feels out of it and feels inferior to those girls whose parents live in their own houses. She has good voice but won't join the school choir or clubs for that reason. I think that is very sad.

I did say that there are some great state schools where the children are enthusiastic and keen to excel and it's great that your DS goes to one of those and is having a lovely time.

DD meets all sorts of people out of school. She doesn't need to go to a school to mix with asylum seekers and rowdy children from the estate to give her a well-rounded education. Her friends come from sensible hard-working families who send them to a private school because they want their children to learn in an atmosphere where good behaviour is expected and the norm, and any form of bullying is taken very seriously and dealt with - and that is not the case at all state schools.

Expectations are generally higher for all children in a private school, not just the highflyers. A friend describes her son as "not incredibly bright" but he still managed 10 A*/A at GCSE because he was encouraged to aim for that. Surely that is a good thing?

As far as ethnic diversity is concerned, all private schools in London are full of non-English children. They may look English and they may sound English but that isn't necessarily the case. DD at her two schools has had friends and classmates from Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Tajikistan, India, America, Canada, Thailand, Brazil and Australia, to name just a few. She certainly isn't missing out on the ethnic mix!

Coffeeismycupoftea Tue 17-May-16 17:11:03

OP, yes I feel that a good state is better than a mediocre private. I don't know your nearest state school but the three we put down at the top of the CAF were all what I'd call good - two had better GSCEs than yours, one had less good results (incidentally was the one I liked best). Money wasn't in fact an issue for us in that we don't have to make any sacrifices to go private, though of course there's always an argument that the money would be better spent on something else.

And 62% isn't bad in itself, it's really cohort dependent. It doesn't mean that your child has only a 62% chance of passing 5 GSCEs. Probably for a bright, supported child the odds are the same at Northbridge as at a reasonable comprehensive. (Disclaimer I've never visited Northbridge, but I'm guessing that at any state secondary there will be brighter children at the top than there because the bright private-school children will likely be elsewhere).

Anyway, I'm being hypocritical as we've opted for a private, I just still feel wistful about that decision.

Traalaa Wed 18-May-16 09:23:53

Cleo, why do you assume children who live on an estate are 'rowdy'?! You more than slightly give your prejudices away in your posts...! No point in my arguing with you as I don't think we'll ever agree, but yes of course there are lots of children from a range of families at private schools. I'm not denying that, but there can never be the same mix as there will be at state. Surely as a base line that's just a fact.

Candy, I think on the stats the 62% is comparatively impressive as if it's a true comprehensive they'll have children of all abilities. The private school selects, so only takes those that they feel can get the results. I can see what you mean about it feeling less risky to put them in private though!

Needmoresleep Wed 18-May-16 09:34:37

Treat 13-16 and sixth form as two seperate decisions. If you feel that the local state school won't allow your DC to gain the focus, work ethic and condfendence that will serve them well in the future, look closly at your local private schools. I am not sure I agree with your rather blanket statement "but not really keen on the whole ethos of private school". Schools and their ethos' will differ, and state schools with affluent middle class catchments may be just as entitled as some private schools with a good mix of parents working hard to pay the fees and a good sprinkling of bursary pupils.

Get the GCSE results and you then have a good choice of state sicxth forms.

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