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Westminster- not super-rich

(25 Posts)
Bimmy76 Mon 02-Jul-18 16:45:51

Our DS is now 9 and at a London prep. His teacher suggested Westminster as one of his options for 13. This is also my husband’s old school- he had a great time there and so we’ve been feeling very positive about the idea.

However, I mentioned it to a friend who has put me off a bit. She says it’s full of oligarch’s kids and very few relatively normal families (obviously you’d expect rich parents at a fee paying school, but not necessarily super-rich).

DH says this wasn’t the case in his day- of course you had to be able to afford the fees but there was a mix, from the extremely wealthy to City lawyers and accountants to actors and academics... not just oligarchs and bankers.

I wondered whether anyone could offer a view? Particularly keen to hear from current parents.

OP’s posts: |
Oratory1 Mon 02-Jul-18 16:56:37

I don't know about the parents, not being a London Parent myself, but if you listen to the Head speaking he is one the most humble people I have ever heard and I am guessing that attitude must rub off on some of the students at least. His ideas of service (ie taking every opportunity and also giving something back) being the duty of privilege should be heard by all middle class independent school students (and parents !!)

jeanne16 Mon 02-Jul-18 17:09:07

My DD went to Westminster for the 6th form. It did not consist of all oligarchs’ children but the fees are on the high side, even for a private school. However my DD did actually receive an education rather than just being forced through an exam factory which is what most other schools seem to be. If you can afford it and your DS gets a place, it is a wonderful school.

ReservoirDogs Mon 02-Jul-18 18:50:17

A friend's daughter is there. She is not an oligarch by any means. I will have to let her know who she is supposedly hob nobbing with!

Needmoresleep Mon 02-Jul-18 19:16:04

Dc were certainly not super rich. They were not the poorest either. DS knew at least three who lived in rented ex-council flats.

Its a school where being clever matters, or rather being engaged in education and contributing to wider school activities. I was not aware of any pressure to flaunt wealth. They were aware that some of their friends were on bursaries, but they would have seen this as an achievement given how competive it is to get funding support. Because it is a city centre school, people tend not to be aware of where you live or what car your parents drive, so oddly wealth may be less obvious than in a country school.

In any case I would have descibed parents as sucessful professionals with a sprinkling of creatives and academics. Fairly international. They were probably older than most parent groups but that is London for you.

It is a fab school. Your friend has got it wrong and you should not let her put you off.

Bimmy76 Mon 02-Jul-18 21:06:32

Thanks to everyone for these replies. I am reassured.

OP’s posts: |
BubblesBuddy Mon 02-Jul-18 23:38:21

Children sniff out wealth, just as they sniff out who rents an ex council flat. Many London schools have very wealthy parents and it certainly can be obvious. Children do talk to each other! They know about the lives of others. It would be a bit odd if they didn’t. However it’s unlikely to be the majority. Being clever and being wealthy don’t always go hand in hand, hence bursaries, presumably to the tiny minority who rent the ex council flats.

RhythmStix Tue 03-Jul-18 05:57:26

"the tiny minority who rent the ex council flats"

"DS knew at least three who lived in ex-council flats".

Goodness me.......take a bow for fraternising with the proletariat. hmm

sanam2010 Tue 03-Jul-18 09:09:11

many are wealthy, not oligarchs I would say, more like former very senior bankers or entrepreneurs who sold their companies, that sort of thing. My impression is that they are very nice though, I recently went to a party frequented by many Westminster parents and refreshingly it was one of the few parties where no-one asked "what do you do?" and things like that, which I have found happens a lot among other private school parents. Maybe they are so comfortable and self-confident that they don't feel the need to compare and judge, most Westminster parents are particularly nice and interesting people. If you can afford the fees, I would not worry about that aspect.

Oratory1 Tue 03-Jul-18 09:41:52

I think that comes from the Ethos/leadership Sanam. Focus on education and learning and the whole person with an element of service and humility - not just competition and result driven

Needmoresleep Tue 03-Jul-18 10:36:50

"Children sniff out wealth, just as they sniff out who rents an ex council flat. Many London schools have very wealthy parents and it certainly can be obvious. Children do talk to each other! "

I bow to other posters greater experience, but that was not our experience at all. The great thing about London is its anonymity. Of course there were some very rich, some kids on bursaries, and some just about managing to pay the fees. But it did not matter, not in our experience. (Just as well in our case.) The school operates as a boarding school so you can come in early and leave late. You have Saturday morning school and can go in and meet your friends on Sunday. It is reasonably rare to go to other people's houses, and when you do you are more likely to go somewhere close, so more likely to be rented. Parents too will come from all over London and beyond, so when meeting them you have no idea how senior they are, what car they drive, what kind of house they live in, or what golf club they belong to. Indeed I am not sure I ever met a Westminster parent who belonged to a golf club, because conversation was usually around children and the school. I would agree with Sanam that parents were normally interesting and nice. Quiz night though was quite an eye-opener. quite a number were very very clever indeed.

Westminster is selective. There are some extra ordinarily talented pupils. You would hear about kids because of academic, sporting, musical or other achievements. Or for being nice, or daft or whatever. Wealth really never came up, other than the odd mention of a kid who unwisely flaunted it...decidedly uncool.

But I think that London, especially Central London, is different in that respect. I spend a lot of time in an expensive bit of Dorset, where I manage rental property for a relative, and am surprised at the number of personalised number places, flash cars, interior designers, and so on. Because of house inflation our London house is probably worth more then theirs, but we don't look rich, our car is old and there is a sense of being judged, in a way that never happened at Westminster.

Oratory1 Tue 03-Jul-18 11:07:57

Needsmore, I think Westminster is quite special though - it would be interesting to know whether you and your DD had a similar experience at her previous school, wherever that was

Needmoresleep Tue 03-Jul-18 11:50:11

Oratory, interesting question. We had no problem there either, though Westminster is special. In London I assume it depends on the school and the parent make up. There is so much choice and people tend to self select.

So you do get the schools supposedly catering to the "cream of Richmond", ie rich and thick. Or a prep school where it was apparently de rigour to be a SAHM with a banker husband, so you could be part of the after-school play-date circuit. Mine when to the sort of prep where prospective parents would discretely ask on the tour (parents would help out at open days) about before and after school care as this was needed. (Actually it was very good, so you got a high proportion of working mums.) One mother told me that when they looked round the other school someone asked the Head what the difference was between the two schools. The immediate response was "the parents". They looked round at others in the room and chose not to send their child there.

DDs secondary school took 60% from state primaries. I suspect more than a few had narrowly missed out on Tiffin or the state school of their choice. There was a richer contingent who found their tribe, but they too tended to be fine. There were other schools that appealed more to those who felt status was important.

I can imagion that this is quite different in places without the choice and variety of London. We would probably have chosen state if we had not lived in an education black hole, had our children not ticked any religion boxes, or had passed the 11+, and this would have been true of other parents we knew. Private schools outside may well have fewer of the stretched-middle, and more obvious trappings of wealth (you know where people live so what their house is worth, you see their car and bump into them at the golf club) and using wealth to confirm status may be more common.

I sometimes find descriptions of schools outside London and the social expectations, quite eye-opening and a reminder of why I like living in London. Oddly in a London school the most affluent kids can be relatively neglected. A few tales of bodyguards taking the child to school whilst mum is off shopping in Paris. Teenagers are not stupid. Having supportive parents who have time for them is worth more in their currency than, say, designer clothes or the latest iPhone. Especially at a school where the focus is on education and learning and the whole person with an element of service and humility.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 03-Jul-18 12:13:59

Oratory - I have a DS at one of the other London boys schools and the super wealthy do stand out, as Scott Fitzgerald famously said they are different. Start of year where you spent your summer chats are quite enlightening. It is particularly noticeable in 6th form when the weekly 18th birthday parties start and budgets go up to £500k!!! (I'm still recovering from that one) and the search for American uni places start and the parents make large donations to get places.

I think you "cream of Richmond" remark is unfair Needsmore, you are fortunate to have very bright DCs and there is no need to ridicule children less bright. And the only Richmond Indy senior schools not getting great results are very new.

Needmoresleep Tue 03-Jul-18 12:32:09

Do offense meant. There are schools that seem, on the outside at least, to appeal to the very rich. Not the one in Richmond, which I dont know much about.

Different schools have different cultures. I think Westminster is helped by the fact it runs like a boarding school. We preferred the feel to that of comparable schools. But then knew others who felt the opposite.

EglantineP Tue 03-Jul-18 15:08:55

OP, I think most London private secondaries have their share of ultra-wealthy parents. But Westminster is a bit more expensive than most and also has a cachet that means the super-rich will go to any lengths to assist their child into obtaining a place so there may be a slightly higher proportion there. I certainly agree that the wealthiest children are often the most neglected, brought up by nannie/chauffeurs etc. It's a great school though and there are certainly "ordinary" children there too, inasmuch as any lucky, privately-educated London child is ordinary. I'd take a tour and see what you think.

Oratory1 Tue 03-Jul-18 15:17:16

The point I was trying to make is that the head and leadership in a school set the tone and the culture (and as needmore said the parents sometimes self select in line with that culture) and the head at Westminster, largely based in his background, very much promotes a culture of humility and service and education not results (which he can do with a super bright intake) which I think dampens the impact of the super rich, amongst the pupils at least.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 03-Jul-18 18:02:06

I see your point oratory. And i think that the reason this is not the case at DS's school is because the HT is always chasing the super rich for donations. There are regular announcements in newsletters saying things like 4 sets of parents donated £500k, 6 donated £100k etc. I think you are right and the HT sets the tone.

Wincollparent Tue 03-Jul-18 18:02:27

IME although affluence may make like difference amongst pupils for friendships when at a school like Westminster (or equivalent boarding schools) it does for spending power when these friends socialise at sixth form and after. Very affluent (super rich) students don't have to think twice about what they spend for evenings out and often gravitate unconsciously to very expensive venues. It means that their less affluent friends may have to miss out or keep on asking for alternatives.

EglantineP Wed 04-Jul-18 11:18:59

Heads can try to set the tone and the head at my dcs' school (Not W but W is a school I know a lot about) certainly does, butas just said the super-rich do lead different lives and that difference is felt by the children in terms of parties thrown/holidays/abundance of staff. However, the super-rich are for now a part of London's culture and I think children just have to learn the lesson that we can't all keep up with the Joneses.

stourton Wed 04-Jul-18 14:41:45

OP, my cousin's boys go to W. And I see where your friend is coming from. While there are a lot of normal (not super rich) kids at the school, it is not as mixed as you might think, certainly not as diverse as London itself is. It's not just Westminster, but all the top schools, especially the top 3 - W, St Pauls, Kings. Ultimately these schools have their eyes on league tables. While there are a lot of clever kids in the council estates, it's usually just not enough to be naturally bright, they also need heavy tutoring on top. Something the council estate kid cannot afford, while his rich counterparts can do for months on end - before and after entrance exams. Westminster atleast does not bit around the bush and clearly state that for bursary you must live close and be a high level scholarship to apply, we all know that very few kids are actually svengali enough to do this without help and it does smack of riches (can pay, will get in) over poor. While my cousin is not rich, they are well off, and their son is clever, but even they admitted to intense tutoring, and will continue to do so. They know some kids that have not got in from state school, way more clever than their boy because they could not pay for tutoring and needed bursaries.
Business is business in the end I guess.

All that being said, there are a lot of kids from hard working families like my cousin, who are just humble people who have gone through all that extra length to put their kids in.

Needmoresleep Wed 04-Jul-18 15:25:14

Hmm. No tutoring for either of mine. And...I'm pretty sure, for most of their friends. I think that in whatever school there are different types of parenting. So the kids at the top of a Grammar might still be tutored yet someone further down might not be, perhaps because their parents see education as a marathon rather than a sprint.

Apart from one or two super bright and one or two super lazy, you tend not to be very aware about how well other children are performing. Westminster does not make a big thing about marks, class placement or prize giving. DC soon learnt to do enough to keep teachers happy, but did not feel under pressure to do more.

Money too. We never had a problem. In every school in the country there will be kids who are richer than others and it will be tough for those who try to keep up but can't afford to.

But then mine were not particuarly into any party culture. I think there is more pressure on boarders as they decend on London certain weekends and there is a distinct boarders London party circuit. And it was noticeable that single sex schools seemed to socialise more outside their school than co-eds.

At Westminster you are discouraged from parties on school nights, which given Saturday school, slightly limits things. There was a party group at Westminster. But neither of mine belonged. I think only one of mine ever went to a Kings Road nightclub, and that was once only and because she was following others. Central London clubs do not cater well for teenagers. Clubs tend to be too sophisticated, too gay, or too touristy, and carding is universal. (University and a heavy clubbing culture then turned out to be a real eye-opener.) Instead they mainly went to each others houses to watch films or play computer games.

It is hard to generalise about a school. Different DC will have different experiences. Mine really enjoyed Westminster to the extent it would be hard to think of a more perfect school, without being either tutored or super-rich.

stourton Wed 04-Jul-18 15:48:36

Moresleep, are you saying your kids were not tutored and still got bursaries? In that case I would say they were the exception.

My point is that if you are not paying you are not equal to your richer counterparts, because the bar is set higher for you, you have to be very high level scholarship which may be quite hard to reach without tutoring - while your rich counterparts do not have to reach that level.

I am not stating it as fare or not, afterall, the parents who pay worked hard to afford sending their kids to these schools. But it's hardly the poor child's fault their parents are not well off enough, just a hand they were dealt at birth.

A few schools (like Eton for eg.) do not discuss finance/ bursaries till your child is actually accepted to the school (though you could argue that they can see your postcode, current school location, etc. on the form and make conclusions).
Other schools also categorically state that they are 'generous' and will deliver on that, you therefore get the feel of more diversity.

Needmoresleep Wed 04-Jul-18 16:41:43

Mine were not on bursaries and academically in the middle of the year group. Tutoring never entered our heads. Well it may have done if we felt our DC were struggling in a specific subject, but instead we just let them and the school get in with it.

I know DS and his friends were quite surprised when one of their group, of about 8 was not able to join them in a pre-gcse revision break one weekend because he was having tutoring in several different subjects. But he seemed to be an exception, as was the boarder friend from East Asia who later revealed he went to tutor college every vacation.

Honestly Westminster is pretty full on. (Both mine took 5 Alevels a played an active part in school life.) There are a lot of very good schools in London. If a child needs tutoring to keep up and so can’t explore the wider opportunities offered by the school, I would be looking for a (slightly) gentler academic environment. Over the years we have seen a number of kids (mainly via DDs extra-curricula) who were being prepped and coached for top US Universities, sometimes at the expense of their well being and emotional development. I am certain Westminster does not advise tutoring, indeed almost certainly advises against it. The greatest thing you can get from the school is a capacity to enjoy education. This will carry you a lot further than GCSE grades.

I don’t know about tutoring to get into the school. Some kids on bursaries were super bright and rather special. But most we knew, judging from where they went after, were on a similar level to their peers. Being on a bursary itself was not a big deal. Some kids probably kept quiet whilst others talked openly. Same as their parents. Teenagers, or at least the ones we knew at Westminster do not seem as obsessed about money as MN.

RoadToRivendell Tue 10-Jul-18 13:07:44

My son is at W and his friends are a mix, but all have at least a basic London level of wealth (i.e. I doubt many or any of his friends are living in a house that's worth less than £700K - certainly many are in the £4-5M+ range).

Based on what I overhear they all seem to be trying out a bit of intellectual snobbery and they seem fairly plugged into cultural capital.

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