London/North London Secondary Schools Advice Please!!(28 Posts)
Hi All, I really would appreciate any help or advice and apologise for the long-winded story. I moved abroad from Islington 6 years ago, and now I'm in the process of deciding when to move back with my 9 year old boy and where he might go to school from 11. I've done a lot of research online and asked friends for ideas but feel very confused about schooling in London in general. I've started slowly doing some work towards 11+ for grammar and entrance exams for independent schools and I have noticed that he is clearly bright but is not really an academic sort of child and doesn't really want to study, would much rather do Anything Else! So although I'm sure I could tutor him to get a very high score in everything except creative writing, I don't really think he would thrive in a school which is highly competitive and academic. I do think that with the right school he will do really well and get into a good university, if that's what he wants. But I want to stay in Islington if I can, and so I'm looking for a day school which still gets good results, reasonably strict, preferably within an easy commute. Basically something in the middle! Our local secondaries as far as I can gather are not up to much, apart from St Mary Magdalene and Highbury grove, which we are unlikely to get into due to distance from the school; friends whose children go to them, tell me the other state secondaries in Islington are not good.
The grammars in north London, QE, Dame Alice Owens, Latymer sound like they are too academic for us. The independent schools in my area, city of London boys, Highgate, UCS also sound like they are very academic, and the non selective, Northbridge house sounds like it's not good academically past prep school. Does anyone have any insight or views which might help me decide what to do? Or any obvious schools I should look into? Or should I just look further afield? Is a commute across London what I should start thinking about and how do kids generally find it?
Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated.
Sounds like you've done your research and picked out the academic names.
City *(remember this has 10+ entry and 11+, two chances)
I know happy kids at all with a *, but don't know anyone with kids at the others. Don't underestimate your child's ability to rise to 11+ exams, especially if their peer group is thinking about it. Personally, I would advice you not to overload on tutoring, 3 months of 1 session weekly tutoring maximum, either leading up to the grammar exams (Sept of year 6) or the indies (Jan of year 6).
You might want to think about Forest school which has both a school bus and public bus (56?).
There are plenty of boys, including mine, that take longer journeys across to west London, but those journeys are similar to DAO (13 miles away), Latymer and QE boys would be. If there is a catholic flavour then some, who have enough catholic "points" travel to Oratory and Cardinal Vaughan.
With a 9 year old at hand, imagining them travelling across London on the tube for up to an hour each way feels wrong, but many do it (go to H&I tube at 7-7:30 a.m. and see. Those 11 year olds quickly grow into 16 year olds! It's something you should only consider if there is a school that is materially better suited for your kid than one closer.
You might want to think about schools like these that have a different feel, even if they aren't as nearby:
- King Alfred,
- Portland Place
Also consider some newer ones which I confess I haven't seen, such as UCL Academy. I think there is a new one in Paddington basin which sounds amazing and is looking to fill it's years up.
I was going to reply but the PP has covered what I was going to say (and more!).
Wetherby has also opened a senior school, which you could get to on the 19. I don't know how academically selective it is though.
If it's not too far then Mill Hill sounds like it might suit. Or there's Dwight if you want an international school. If you lived in Highgate there's a bus that goes from crouch end/Muswell hill/Highgate to Mill Hill.
I DM biased but I believe North Bridge House has good results considering it is muxed ability and they've got a school in Islington. Go and see it before you dismiss
St Marylebone Boys has just restarted a couple of years ago. I was wanting to watch it and see how it would go but I have no idea what it's like so can't help. I think they are more marylebone / paddington based so I thought I'd throw it out there. Best of luck.
Thank you everybody for some really excellent and detailed answers which have really helped.
Correct me if I'm wrong but is it true that the grammars require higher 11plus scores than highly selective independents which in turn require higher scores than the less selective independents like Emanuel? And schools like Emanuel seem to have much greater numbers of applicants these days and therefore their scores for entry have gone up? Or do non selectives tend to use other qualities than academic ability to determine who they give places to?
Since I don't have any advice from our school to help direct us to the school which would fit my child's abilities best, can anyone give me a rough idea of the kind of scores he needs to achieve for grammar vs city vs Highgate/ Ucs vs Portland/Emanuel/st Marylebone or is that impossible to gauge?
Also is it "easier" to get a place at 13 than 11, 11 than 10?
IME the grammars are much more difficult to get into and the numbers of applicants far higher. I think you need to be in top 10% of applicants to get in (and on the whole these aren't average children as they're self selecting). Certainly my child was nowhere near getting into the grammars, but did very well on the independents (in part, though, because he's very immature so the extra few months helped, also the grammars were his first ever exams and he had no idea of timing). I do, however, know of a child who didn't get interviews at the independents, but did get into one of the grammars, though I think that's rare.
City is no easier nor harder to get into than UCS/Highgate - I think they're all roughly the same with a random element. I know children that have got into all three, two of them, one of them or none of them with no particular logic.
St Marylebone is a state school.
I'd really look at Forest if I were you. Its diamond structure is appealing and there are lots of kids from N16/N5/N1. I think it has a good range of abilities too.
I think the grammars and the independents require slightly different preparation. The grammar tests are all multiple choice. They winnow out children based on speed, to a large extent. The independent schools on the other hand have essays to write and sometimes complicated word problems in the maths were they can see how the pupil is thinking and award partial points.
In either case, children in my area usually have a year to two years preparation which is comprised of going to a tutor once a week for an hour. (Some families do much more, but I don't know any children doing less who gained places.)
As a cautionary tale: I know two children from our local primary school, both "top table" children (that is children being given the more difficult work when the teacher differentiates and sitting level 6 SATs papers) who were not offered places at Forest. They had no tutoring. It used to be that DC like that would be offered places, but things have become more competitive. Sometimes posters on MumsNet downplay the amount of preparation that goes into winning selective school places in London. Or opine, that the DC wasn't clever enough for the school anyway, if they needed so much tutoring. Selective school places are not a matter of passing a certain level, but they are more of a "tournament." There are not enough places to satisfy the demand, even if all the DC are clever enough, so the bar keeps being raised in a competitive manner. To see what I mean, check out the 11+ Forum. It's an eye opener!
The grammars do not have an interview component which all the privates do. So if you have a kid who tests well but doesn't present well they tend to do better at the 11+ for Grammar schools. We know a few very bright State boys who flew through the Highgate written tests only to be rejected at the interview stage. The prep schools do heavily prepare them for the interviews which is a tremendous help.
I implore you to look at Central Foundation Boys School. I had always imagined that my DS would attend City Boys but withdrew my application on account of this incredible school. The results there are by far the best in Islington with 85% achieving 5 good GCSE results (a* - C) compared 40% at another you mentioned that you've considered. I'm not sure where you are but the catchment is fairly wide depending on his banding. This is due to it being a single sex but also such a hidden gem. My son started this year and is absolutely loving it there. The teachers are utterly compelling and I can't recommend it enough.
*I don't really think he would thrive in a school which is highly competitive and academic. *
I'm confused, I don't understand why you're considering some of these schools, e.g. Highgate
Brilliantly helpful answers everyone, thank you. It's really helped me do some research on schools I'd never heard of. Davros, I'm living in another country. When I left Islington, highgate was a good school, but not what you would call highly academic. I get the impression that a lot of the London schools have become more competitive to get into, I doubt their level of academic pressure has changed dramatically since I left , correct me if I'm wrong through, I'm guessing you have first hand knowledge of highgate.
I live nearby and I would consider Highgate academic and hard to get into. With the random element of course it's always worth a try, it's a great school with a good reputation. Good luck whatever you do
A place at Highgate is like hens teeth. I can't remember where I saw it quoted but it was something like 450 applicants for 38 places last year. Their A level results put them up there with the best in the country.
Highgate's A Levels results were less good this year. I don't think it's necessarily an amazingly academic school, it's just super hard to get into because it's such a lovely looking school and it's co-ed. Though there are way more places than 38 (more like 80 or 90 I think, though maybe you're referring to boys' places).
I do know kids who've got places there and not at other schools and vice versa. As Grumpus says, apart from for the extraordinary, there's a lottery element to all of them.
I was referring to the 3+ entry being 38 places. I'm not sure how many they have at 7+/11+.
On Highgate, at 11+, if it's super hard to get into but their results aren't super amazing, that suggests the "value add" falls short.
That's not to say it isn't a good school and that kids don't do well there, but if you can afford to be super selective then your results will naturally take a boost.
another endorsement for Forest - academic enough, extraordinarily good pastoral care and a wide range of activities from sport to art.... a great option for an academic-enough kid but not pressurised.... He will still have to work to get in though - they are popular! Lots of boys from Islington and around.... and gorgeous school bus journey there, boys and girls, making local friends....
Word of warning re Emanuel - it closes its list for 11+ applicants when the list reaches 600 so if you want to put your son's name down for there do it quickly.
Other schools to consider (which are reachable via overground/tube) are Kew House and Heathside Prep (which is now going up to year 9).
And go visit these schools - North Bridge House isn't super academic but has a nice vibe and supportive engaged teachers so may well be the right fit for your son.
Remember that applicants per place can be quite misleading, as the same kids will all be applying for the same schools. Schools therefore make more offers than they have places.
RE St Mary Magdalene. It is a fabulous school. Quite rightly has a great reputation as it offers a wonderful education all round. You say you aren't near enough to get in. But they do an aptitude test so if you don't live near enough to get in on distance, but come in the top 20 (I think) in the test,you can travel in from anywhere.
I also hear nothing but good stuff about Central Foundation. I know about 10 boys who go there, they are all very different (from very sporty and not too clever, to uber clever and quite quirky) they are all thriving.
My son went to North Bridge House because I faced the same issue as you when he was in Year 5,6. He is s16 years now. He got 2 A* 4 As and the rest were B's. If you want results NBH will get your results without the academic hoo haa of QEBoys or UCL. If you look at Camden Sec Sch League tables you will see that the top schools are UCL NBH Camden School for Girls and La Sante Union.
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