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Decent private & no commute vs. commute to prestigious grammar

(54 Posts)
isa2 Mon 05-Mar-18 15:34:03

We are a bit stuck (even after paying a private school deposit!!!) and would love to hear any thoughts on two options we still have open for our son, who is pretty academic, but not super-dedicated to work & very outgoing and sociable. Music is no. 1 other interest, but he's a normal fairly musical boy, not a prodigy.
It's def a problem we are lucky to have, in that they are two I think vg schools. He has a good-sized academic scholarship at private St Dunstan's in lovely Catford, which is in walking distance for us, with lots of pupils in our local area. It's not traditionally highly academic, but seems to be getting more so as far as we can see. It seems like a happy, fun school with lots to do, but some people we know cast doubt on its suitability for kids on the more academic end of the spectrum (though I think they may be out of date). It's not particularly difficult for us to find the money now that we have the scholarship offer, though obviously we could think of other ways of spending it! He also has an offer from Wilson's grammar in Sutton, which is a high achieving super-selective grammar. It's 50-60 minutes commute though (but people say that boys meet up on the train, making it quite fun), and I'm not sure whether or not it has the same cheery atmosphere as St D (opinions seem to vary). Music seems fab there. Our priorities are in this order: (1) emotional well-being (2) teaching that is really interesting and engaging, especially for clever kids & (3) co-curricular, especially music, but could do with musical life that is active and fun, not necessarily fantastically high-level. No other kids to take into account. What to do, mumsnetters? Delighted if anyone with any relevant experience has time to share thoughts as we will need to relinquish one of those places!

OP’s posts: |
IntheMotherhood Mon 05-Mar-18 15:50:56

Hi - we're in a similar predicament- I'll message you this evening.

MrsFantastic Mon 05-Mar-18 16:09:34

I don't know anything about the private school, but 50-60 minutes is a very common commute to Wilson's. It has boys coming from a wide area

Wilson's is a great school, especially for music. They put a lot of emphasis on extra-curricular and the teachers are very approachable. There are high expectations, but the homework has never been excessive for my sons.

user1471451327 Mon 05-Mar-18 16:50:39

We had the same, nice predicament about five years ago (different region) but similar distance to both independent and GS. My son ended up at the Independent (with big scholarship) for various reasons; the travelling would have eaten into his day; my husband preferred mixed to single sex school; I liked the strong focus on music, sport and the arts as well as academics.

Five years on and it has been totally the right choice. Being close to the school has given him a lot more time for out of school activities and downtime; the school have lots of resources to stretch him (minibuses to lectures at Cambridge Uni; challenges; early GCSE & AS level in particular subjects etc) as well as support in subjects he is weak in. And he has a nice girlfriend and lots of friends at school.

Luna9 Mon 05-Mar-18 17:10:16

You may get more replies if you put the schools name on the tittle

spacecadet48 Mon 05-Mar-18 20:25:38

isa2 both schools are great and having a scholarship for St D is an added bonus. The issue is whether you want to pay or not. My DD is at St D in Yr9 and its a fantastic school, with a very aspirational head who has made a number of changes in his short time at the school. Scholars have separate induction evenings which is a lovely start and really makes the DC feel rather special. St D has a strong focus on extra curricular and my DD plays the Cello and Piano, is part of the orchestra and performs both at the school and externally. She also does Lamda, CCF and will be starting D of E. What surprised me though was she started at St D not really being sporty and within 3 months was in the A team for Hockey and Netball and has recently returned from a Hockey tour in Holland! In terms of academic challenge the children are streamed in maths and you know exactly where you are within the class. My DD is in the top group and she is expected to achieve A */9 and the teacher is very tough with them and will drop them down to the next group if they don't maintain that standard. The school set very high standards academically and also the old attitude of 'St D' is an easy option is no longer the case with a number of friends DC not being offered an interview and that included a Dulwich Prep child. So I wouldn't be worried about your DS not being challenged academically. Good Luck with your decision!

isa2 Mon 05-Mar-18 22:38:22

Thanks v much all! Enthusiasm on both sides - great to hear, but not so helpful in stopping us being stuck! Inthemotherhood, I'd be delighted to hear from you and anyone else who can shed any light! Spacecade48 - challenge in maths sounds great! Do other subjects seem quite stretching too?

OP’s posts: |
spacecadet48 Mon 05-Mar-18 23:41:08

isa2 they are challenged in all subjects and are set target grades every term . Lots of homework too...

MrsFantastic Tue 06-Mar-18 08:01:32

Re some of the information from spacecadet48. Wilson's is very strong on cadets and they do D of E. They do drama, but not Lamda.

Wilson's is obviously very successful at maths, but a difference is that Wilson's doesn't tell you exactly where a child is in the class or threaten them with moving down the sets. My sons have sometimes done less well than expected in a test, but the teachers accept that something went wrong and that they're really fine.

I went to look at private schools for the first time recently for a younger child and they boast about this or that activity or trips and I've thought "the state schools do that too". Yes, state schools struggle for money and Wilson's does ask for voluntary contributions, but they do provide extra curricular and various trips and have excellent teachers. Wilson's also does Latin (and Classical Greek as a twilight course), which most state schools don't.

isa2 Tue 06-Mar-18 08:51:57

Thanks v much! Two great schools, evidently, we are very fortunate. I think what we are mainly struggling with is paying (tho grateful for a considerably reduced scholarship rate) vs. travelling - at the moment school is under 10 minutes walk, so a big commute via Croydon does seem like a big deal, but perhaps it wouldn't once started. As our son is a very lively and outgoing only child who loves to have lots of friends and see them as much as possible, St D also has the advantage that we are in the general area where most people live.

OP’s posts: |
omnishambles Tue 06-Mar-18 09:52:57

If you can afford it I would stay local and look to move at sixth form. He would probably do better at Wilson's but be pastorally happier at St D's and that's the choice isnt it.

Backingvocals Tue 06-Mar-18 10:00:50

I don't know these schools but I would go for no commute. If he's sociable he'll want local friends. I had a long commute to school and I never saw my friends at the weekend for this reason.

Firefox1066 Tue 06-Mar-18 10:07:23

If I were in this situation, I'd be going with Wilsons tbh.

TJsAunt Tue 06-Mar-18 10:21:04

I'd go Wilson's?

You need to decide quickly though - you might already be liable for the first term's fees at St D's so delaying this decision is getting expensive. Also not really fair on kids on waiting lists for these schools.

isa2 Tue 06-Mar-18 10:32:33

As you say we need to take the plunge quickly although we have some reasons related to personal uncertainties for having put off the decision a week or two. This thread seems to confirm pros and cons quite finely balanced, as we feel! Thanks all for your thoughts.

OP’s posts: |
Astronotus Tue 06-Mar-18 10:32:52

The two schools are excellent. I know a teacher at St Ds and it sounds a very happy school. I think living near to school is a major advantage, especially as an indie will have lots of after school activities and friends may be more local. But, as an indie parent, I would advise that fees do increase each year above the level of inflation and have done for the last few years, 5% or 6% for us each year. To maintain the scholarship your son will have to continue to fulfil the requirements, whether musical, sporty, academic or all, for each year he is there. Do you or your son have any ultimate ambitions for him? Are you dead set on Oxbridge or a prestigious music college, in which case I'd take at a look at the leavers' destinations for each school. The other end of school life is a long time away but I'm assuming your son will want to go all the way through once he is settled.

BubblesBuddy Tue 06-Mar-18 10:52:24

How do children commute for an hour on top of after school enrichment activity and then do loads of homework? A really long day!

I think knowing where you are in a set is wrong. Children tend to know who the bright ones are but they don’t need confirmation of who is bottom! That was my grammar school experience and I would not want my children repeating it. It’s awful and not motivating. It always surprises me that parents never consider the feelings of those who are bottom of the pile. It’s not great to reinforce the superiority of those at the top either.

If I could live with the attitude of the private school, I would go because it’s local and you have the scholarship. An hour for travelling and possible delays is just too long.

ReelingLush18 Tue 06-Mar-18 11:31:58

isa2 which did your DS prefer? Are more of the St D pupils local(ish)? Wilson's doesn't have a catchment, so it could well be the case that your DS's potential friendship group could come from all over the place, making out of school meet-ups just much more of a PITA. Aside from the school commute issue (and I agree about not subjecting a child to one that's long if there is an equally good school option closer to home), you cannot underestimate the importance of having friends nearby, rather than a schlep away. Obviously, it's less of an issue as they grow up and become more confident using public transport, but still...

Good luck with your decision making. I don't envy you.

omnishambles Tue 06-Mar-18 11:34:03

I think you should probably do the journey yourself in the morning at the right time and see how it is for yourself. Look at the after school activities and see what your son is likely to be doing and then work out what time they will get home. If all of these things work out then go for it and promise them a car when they are 17 with the money saved.

nocampinghere Tue 06-Mar-18 11:48:46

i think it's hideous to know where everyone is in each set /year group. how on earth is it helpful?

OP, do the journey to wilson's one morning. Make sure you are carrying something awkward. That will be your ds's reality. It may be fine, but the commute is such a critical part of their day / school experience.

omnishambles Tue 06-Mar-18 11:57:16

Agree with nocamping. I see boys on my train in the morning going to Wilsons and they are getting off at Waddon at 7.45 - what time would you need to leave from Catford?

Helspopje Tue 06-Mar-18 12:02:28

I thought dustbins had been having a tough time of late. Has that resolved?
If not i would do wilsons

OuchBollocks Tue 06-Mar-18 12:03:34

I struggle to imagine how magnificent a school would have to be to make up for losing 10+ hours every week to a shitty commute, even when it goes well. Imagine he got stuck on a train for hours on end like the one at Lewisham last week. Imagine how much extra studying or sport or music practise he can do with 10 or more hours.

Elibean Tue 06-Mar-18 12:12:43

Another who agrees with avoiding hideous commutes when possible - though it does depend on the child, to some extent.

I don't know either school, so am going only on my own experiences and views but....we hesitated over an identical dilemma with dd2 and in the end, given that she gets tired easily, chose a more mixed ability school 20 mins train ride away over a more academic school 50-60 mins bus ride away. Distance and local friends matters enormously when there are endless other pressures going on in their rapidly changing lives, I think. I'd also listen to whatever your ds wants, and take it into account...it helps when they're 15 and you can say 'you chose this' wink

Academics-wise, I think some highly academic kids thrive in an academic environment but others fly higher in a more relaxed environment: horses for courses. And flying high later requires resilience and a healthy balance, as well as decent academic support. But only you - and your ds - know whats right for him.

Good luck deciding!

TJsAunt Tue 06-Mar-18 13:29:50

just on the commute question - an hour each way is not disastrous? they're still home at 4.30 - leaves a lot of time for after school clubs/homework? I used to love my daily train journey - and both of mine now enjoy their coach journeys - they've made friends with kids in different classes/from different schools and it sounds like quite a social experience.

St D's does seem to be on the up - but I don't know that I'd assume it would be better pastorally than Wilson's? Schools take these responsibilities v seriously now. Have you revisited both schools? What is your gut feel?

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