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I’m slightly puzzled by Winchester, and would like some help. It’s one of the schools we are considering for our son. The school has always has a very strong academic reputation. It shares this with a handful of other schools, including St Paul’s, Westminster, KCS Wimbledon, Eton and a few others. There is a lot to like about the school. But am I right in thinking that there has been very little investment in the school over a long period of time? On a tour, I don’t recall being shown the facilities you would expect to see (classrooms, indoor/ outdoor sports facilities, theatres and music schools in particular), only a scruffy school hall and the beautiful ancient buildings. There are no photos of these facilities on the website. The boarding house I saw had a wonderful housemaster, but the boys were crammed into very old fashioned dormitories, and had to do prep in some very cramped commonrooms. Other boarding schools (certainly Eton, Harrow and Radley) offer a shared room in the first and possibly second year, and then your own room thereafter, if not your own room throughout. It does look as if no money has been spent on the school at all for some time.
It’s possible to make a virtue out of a necessity, and say that it’s more fun in a dormitory, or that money can be spent on better projects than flashy new facilities, or that boys are better off without the latest IT, but that doesn’t really wash here. Winchester is producing similar results to other super selective schools, and charges almost identical fees, and shares with some of them a beautiful location, some historic buildings and hundreds of years of scholarship. However they appear to have upped their game as well as their fees considerably, renovating the old Victorian buildings and rebuilding the postwar buildings, and adding world class sports and drama facilities. Unless I’ve missed something, Winchester hasn’t. Is this a case of long term mismanagement, and if so, is the new and Headmaster the right person to make some fairly rapid changes? I really liked the school, but I’m reluctant to spend a heat deal of money on what look to be second rate facilities.
Only on the fringes here: married to a (v.) old boy so have attended a few events during the time we have been living on the edge of Winchester for the last 15+ years. I think your perceptions are largely correct but I wouldn't expect any changes, rapid or otherwise, nor would I expect a headmaster to be 'new' to the school. My impression is that Winchester has long been a (proud) byword for austerity compared to the others but, as you observe, delivers an excellent education. Other friends and colleagues have been very pleased with their sons' experiences. The rooms for scholars in College, due to their location, will be very old fashioned, despite being refurbished as much as their Grade I (?) listing allowed. My husband, a College Man, well remembers sharing a ward-style room with 9 other boys in his first years. He was allowed to bring a blanket of his choice from home. He also fondly remembers pillow fights after lights out. And also recalls moving in to better and better digs over the years. Commoners' houses are more modern, I believe.
If you have any interest in WinColl (or any fee-paying school) but didn't see what you wanted to see first time around, you should contact their offices and say so because I'm sure they will hastily arrange to take you around at your convenience and show you anything you feel you missed.
OP your tour was incomplete then. There is a very nice separate music school and also theatre building. The most recent refurbishment under the old headmaster has been for New Hall which was very successful. The next project is the sports hall, again started under the previous headmaster. A bit of googling for all the above should show you some pictures to save you another visit. The houses do vary, some have been fairly recently refurbished with double and then single rooms after the first couple of years in dormitories.
Having said all that if you want state of the art sports facilities, several theatres and concert halls, pristine boarding houses I don't think Winchester will ever be that school unlike Harrow, Eton and Radley. It does have the Quiristers for the Chapel choir and some really beautiful historic buildings and grounds as well as of course its Div programme. The latter means that all boys including committed STEM specialists will continue to study humanities with weekly essays throughout their school career.
I like many parents would rather the school continues to invest in staff and upkeep of it historical buildings than prioritise new buildings. However it does seem to be managing both.
Why the lecture OP? Surely you’d expect people who open your thread to know which schools it might be compared with? (I cannot help feeling you have some other agenda ...)
No agenda, other than to find the right school for DS. The reason for the “lecture” was to balance what might be interpreted as criticisms, with genuine praise for its academic reputation, the beauty of the buildings, the housemaster and even the porters, who were ex Devon and Dorsets. I’m not trying to knock it, or provoke a Eton v Winchester thread. But we looked at the school separately, and when we compared notes, we realised neither of us have seen much of the facilities, other than the ancient buildings, the boarding house and the school hall which looked very basic. I’ve looked on the website (and googled) and can’t find any photos of the theatre, gym, swimming pool, sports pitches, indoor cricket nets or music school. We will definitively visit again, because I do want to see these things. However the boarding house which we did see was very basic. Please don’t misunderstand me, I also saw reassuringly scruffy Victorian boarding houses at Eton, Harrow and Radley as well, but they’ve got rid of their dormitories, and provide rooms for two to share in the first year and your own room after that, with Eton providing your own room throughout. More importantly, you had your own desk in your room, which is a pretty basic requirement. The Winchester house I saw had a common room where everyone had to work in lockers. I’m troubled by this, because if DS has better facilities to work, play sport and practise his musical instruments at home in London, there isn’t much point sending him to a boarding school that doesn’t have these things.
I’m asking the question here because we haven’t seen these things and can’t find pictures of them. I thought the housemaster I met was brilliant. But it’s not a question of prioritising one thing over the other. At £38K Winchester is charging similar fees to schools that also have ancient buildings and outstanding academic results but also offer outstanding facilities for sports, drama and music. I’m left with a nagging feeling that Winchester has been left behind by St Paul’s, Eton, King’s and Westminster (I accept of course that Harrow and Radley aren’t comparable academically). I’d love to be proved wrong, which is why I have invited your comments because you can give a unique perspective of the school.
Globaliser honestly I would n't worry about Winchester, concentrate on the other schools. I think the extent of your present angst about facilities including for the boarding houses means that it is not the the school for you as a parent. Facilities are important but I never expected my DS to have equivalent bedroom space to home. He appreciates home comforts but does not need them. Winchester has provided exactly what he wanted for his interests as well as the close friendships and learning to compromise and get along with others as part of communal living.
BTW Harrow will do very well with very academic boys as well if you are attracted by what else it offers.
Years ago when we toured Winchester one Alpha mother insisted on looking at the loos and bathrooms, the house master initially thought she was joking but on realising she wasn't exclaimed,
"my God madam you really do want to look at them, you don't choose Winchester because of its loos and bathrooms!"
Yup its tatty in places, boys share dorms often right through to the end of yr 11, its not a brand (unlike others that I'm not allowed to mention) but that is not what Winchester is about. Its ethos and atmosphere is unique and that's what parents believe in and pay for but it doesn't suit all.
My DS also had place at one of the other handful of schools you mention in your OP with a very very strong academic reputation yup its facilities are very impressive and we ummmed and arrrrrhed for over year trying to decide which one we would chose; neither my DS or I have ever regretted our choice.
"The Winchester house I saw had a common room where everyone had to work in lockers. I’m troubled by this,"
Why? My DS gad these in his house in fact I think on the same tour I mentioned above (over 10 years ago) the same HM said that the bursar wanted to get rid of them and make more dorms/smaller bedrooms but the HM's and bus opposed this.
"I’m troubled by this, because if DS has better facilities to work, play sport and practise his musical instruments at home in London, there isn’t much point sending him to a boarding school that doesn’t have these things."
DS's house had its own music practice rooms and squash court the houses do vary including the size of the dorms. I personally didn't send my DS to boarding school to get better facilities than at home. But if yo do, which is fine if you do, we'd be so boring if we all wanted the same thing then look at others you've mentioned, I think you'll prefer them.
"The latter means that all boys including committed STEM specialists will continue to study humanities with weekly essays throughout their school career."
This was very important for us, above anything else we wanted a very broad intellectual education, exceptional camaraderie amongst boys and staff and also totally dedicated staff. Winchester certainly provided that, frankly I couldn't care less if it was delivered in tatty portacabins or Mediaeval buildings.
"but the HM's and bus opposed this"
boys not bus!
If your son is musical and playing well already, you may be able to arrange an informal meeting with the music department fairly soon. They are interested in potential music scholars and happy to see how they are developing over time - when my son went for a "pre-audition" they were able to look back at notes from 2 years ago and comment meaningfully on his progress. We have liked what we've seen of the music department. (My son starts there in September).
Study bedrooms vs separate areas. My son was actively attracted to College by the model where they do prep with groups of boys across the years. So my understanding is that even in 6th form (but certainly in the younger years) they can maintain a "no work in dorms" rule in the scholars' house, and ensure sleep is happening.
I absolutely agree with happygardening that the role of div in continuing humanities education for a STEM oriented boy is one of the attractions for us. I was educated overseas and glad to have been able to continue English and Latin beside my maths and science; my son has thrived on the humanities side of scholarship prep this year even though he is absolutely a maths/music type.
I hope you can get the information you need to sort out what schools might be a "fit" for your son - it is so hard when they are young to really work this out! I would have only partially predicted what my 12 year old is now like if you'd asked me even 2 years ago, let alone 3-4.
Expanding a bit on access to practice pianos.
My DS boarded at his prep and got used to having to organise himself there to fit in walking a few minutes to a separate building from his boarding house for practice during a full-on day. (Of course unlike home when he can just walk downstairs). At Winchester his house has a very reasonable piano but a lot of the boys will actually choose to walk a few minutes to the music school and practice there due to the added choice of quality pianos and practice rooms. I always enjoy hearing the sounds of practice emanating from the music school during Sunday visits.
Pythonesque my DS has got so much out of the music at Winchester both from being with lots of very musical boys as well as the teachers. His instrument teachers have been amazing both for progressing his music and as mentors.
For study arrangements, in most houses (except for College) boys of the first two years do their homework in individual cubicle desks in the house 'Mugging Hall'. That creates quite a conducive atmosphere for focussing on study I hear, sounds rather similar to the fellow feeling of study at university libraries. Thereafter the boys do their homework in their shared or individual rooms.
With regards Div, we have enjoyed conversations steming from what my DS has studied. It has been a real eclectic mix of areas selected by the Div Dons particularly after the first two years. Lucky boys to have access to such a broad culture with some inspiring teaching and debates rather like Oxbridge tutorials.
Thank you for some very helpful replies. I was focusing on a perceived weakness at Winchester, but I’d like to make clear that it has many strengths, and the other schools I mentioned have their own weaknesses. Any more thoughts on Winchester (or indeed the other schools I mentioned) would be welcome.
Gobaliser my advice at the 'pre' pretest stage is not to overthink as choices that appear difficult now may well become obvious later when. your DS is at the stage of final decisions in year 8. Keep your options open and let the selection process and time after familiarise you and your DS more with the different schools whilst your DS is getting older.
It does sound as though you are not even sure about boarding versus day which I can understand if you are in London with lots of good schools and you want boarding to be a better version of home to live in. Boarding is not like being at home. Many of my DS''s peers come from not just wealthy but super rich international circles. Their parents do not even think of expecting the lifestyle and living facilities of their sons ' boarding houses to match those of their different homes and nor do their sons complain, except if the food is below par (that is worth finding out about).
If you are leaning more towards a choice between the three day schools that you mention, perhaps narrow down the boarding school pretests to two. As HappyGardening would say don't go for a school that does n't play rugby if rugby is what your DS wants to do.
If two school attract you for diffferent reasons go for those two rather than two very similar in ethos and package.
As an add-on, I honestly don't think Winchester has been undermanaged, just had different priorities to wowing with facilities. It is rare to have a boys' school where the kudos from music is at least on par to that of sport in the eyes of the boys but that is the case for Winchester. Having said that one of the recent leavers came in as a music scholar and left as an England rower so he did n't get pigeon holed but changed his focus according to developing interests.
When we looked at schools (1/2 a million years ago) I felt that many
pushed down our necks really sold their wonderful facilities be it swimming pools, rowing lakes, theatres etc and that many parents are impressed by them. I also think that as a society we now expect everything to be perfect, and that we want to see what our money is buying, so in boarding schools (and some day) this translates into en suite bathrooms, top of the range sporting faciliites, glass fronted science blocks with every conceivable piece of technology etc, these like fab exam results are easily quantifiable. I suspect some parents can justify to themselves paying £38K+ a year because of this. But IMO (for what its worth) our children don't need this, life in general including school is not about shinny glass fronted science blocks or Olympic facilities or meticulously maintained branded environments. Our children need to learn to make the best of what they've got not expect the best of everything at every turn.
I personally also hate this branding of everything, Win Coll walks its own path (least it did) what makes it unique is not quantifiable, you wont meet buffed and polished
clones boys in perfectly ironed matching track suits, or be shown round jaw dropping facilities. But if you go there on a non open day the place has a wonderful tranquility about it, lots of people comment on it, amongst the boys you will observe a camaraderie which I believe is unique (I've worked in boarding schools and not seen it anywhere else), the boys are totally allowed to be themselves which in the 21 st century must be a relief. If you can get chance to talk to the boys and the dons when there just going about their everyday life they will not hard sell you the school they will talk honestly about it, warts and all, and there are warts, and minor irritations and you may not like what you hear, and decide its not for you and thats fine. Winchester very much has a 'this is us take it or leave it' ethos because as as someone at the school once said to me "we only need 700 parents who do like what we do".
I found most of the posts above very encouraging, but this post encapsulates what troubled me most about Winchester. The inference that parents who have the choice of Winchester, and one or more of the of the other schools I named, but who do not choose Winchester, have had their heads turned by flashy facilities or slick branding is nonsense. It’s not an either or approach. The other schools have far more similarities with Winchester than differences, which is not surprising given that (with the exception of King’s) they are all ancient public schools. The other schools achieve very similar academic results, sometimes better than Winchester, which is the standard by which Winchester chooses to judge itself, but also have modern facilities. Having visited these schools it appeared to me (and this is where I sought help in case I am wrong) that Winchester has not modernised its facilities and has fallen behind the others, and is possibly two boarding houses too small, perhaps because of the old head and a semi-detached governing body. None of the considerable strengths that posters have identified above are incompatible with modern sporting, drama and teaching facilities. I loved much of what I saw at Winchester, but I also loved meeting an inspirational housemaster at Eton, and a brilliant teacher at St Paul’s who clearly loved his job and was exactly the sort of person you would want teaching your son. But the “as long as we can get 700 parents to fill the places we don’t have to change anything” approach fills me with despair, quite frankly. I appreciate that schools are one area where leadership can make a huge difference, and a new head can transform the fortunes of a school. Is the new head someone who is going to gently nudge a venerable and distinguished institution that has fallen behind its competitors into the 21st century?
When I went to school 40 odd years ago, we slept in dormitories and did prep in shared common rooms until we were 16, but there is no sensible argument for facilities like that now, and it’s not something day boys have to put up with, and they do just as well as their boarding counterparts.
fills me with despair, quite frankly
Why so over invested emotionally in caring about the future of a school that is just on your long list of choices? As I said before just leave the angst behind and move on to the other possibilities open to you. Winchester is not your worry.
Fallen behind its competitors IMO choice of schools is not about selecting the 'winner' for facilities and exam grades, rather a fit with a set of values and a type of education.
Seriously, OP, how do you have the energy for all this? As a poster above has said - why not just move on if Winchester doesn’t suit?
I’m sorry I can’t raise much empathy for your approach. What is the point of berating a school that you are entirely free to reject?
". . . rather a fit with a set of values and a type of education."
A set of values and a type of education? Seriously, somebody please enlighten me . . . how many "types of education" are there?
OP here’s another perspective. We ended up applying for Eton and Winchester almost by accident: it wasn’t even part of the plan to send ds to a few-paying school. We had offers from both. I loved Winchester and thought the philosophy and the staff I met were fantastic. Ds loved it too, but chose Eton, not because of the facilities (I don’t think that sort of thing registers with him) but because he thought he might want to do some subjects not offered at Winchester and he didn’t want to narrow his options now.
I’m comfortable with all sorts of educational philosophies - other dc are at different state schools, and leave it up to my children to weigh up the pros and cons as they see them and decide for themselves. So far, it seems they have chosen well. If I was choosing for me, I’d have opted for Winchester rather than Eton as it seemed like a little slice of academic heaven, but we left the choice to ds. We’d also have been happy if he’d chosen the state school his brother chose.
I have to agree with some PPs. You sound as if you had a particular image of Winchester, and are disappointed because the reality hasn’t quite lived up to your imaginings.
My DS left Eton last summer, and when he talks about his time there he never ever mentions facilities, he talks about the beaks and his friends. Teenage boys really don’t seem to care about stuff like that.
Winchester, like all the schools you mention, can take its pick of boys, and your DS will be lucky to get a place at any of them.
I hadn’t realised how many threads there were about Winchester here. I’ve now mastered the search function! For the benefit of anyone with similar questions to mine, this one is particularly informative, both for the detailed and informed replies, and because of the uncanny similarity to some of the questions DP and I asked ourselves, but in a thread that’s 5 years old. www.mumsnet.com/Talk/secondary/1767858-Winchester-College-Open-Day?pg=1
If it’s possibe to move the discussion on, looking at the website, I note that the new head appears to be trying to modernise the school by introducing sports scholarships, and laptops for all new pupils, amongst other things. This is encouraging. Can any current parents tell me if there are other changes proposed, for example in relation to the quality of the boarding accommodation, or to the broadening of the curriculum?
I am a current parent. DS1 has been at Wincol for 3 years and we are very happy with it. So much so that we are crossing our fingers that DS2 will get a positive response following his pre test any day now.
The facilities and subjects on offer have never given us cause for concern. The boys seem happy with the boarding accommodation in DS1's house at least. I think sharing a room in the first two years helped prevent loneliness and improved friendships and tolerance amongst the boys. The system of doing toy time / prep together in their cubicles rather than alone in their rooms instilled a good work routine so that as DS1 has got older he now just works those hours each evening out of habit. I think working in that supervised way for the first two years was entirely positive whilst the maturity to work alone developed.
The new sports centre will be a great asset to the school and is needed in today's world. IT systems have improved with WiFi across the school and in the houses which wasn't the case in our first year at the school. I expect the laptops for all policy from day one is also positive but DS1 also benefitted from not having one for the first year and a bit as was the norm at that time as he needed to (and still does), work on writing things out by hand as is required in exams.
I don't imagine the curriculum developing to offer more subjects at exam level as I believe the school focuses on doing the basic academic subjects well and so much more is covered in Div throughout a boys life at the school, which is one of the unique characteristics that drew us to the school in the first place.
Op - at Eton the boys have their own rooms from the start. There are no dorms.
Dapplegrey if you have time worth reading the thread. The OP is aware of the facilities at Eton and other schools and should clearly leave well alone with Winchester. Despite this there appears to be an obsession for this school even though it does not fit their requirements. Alternatively there is an agenda in continuing this thread possibly relating to the change in headmasters at Winchester or they are a current parent trying to put pressure on the school.
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