Advanced search

Independent or grammar?

(122 Posts)
forestfriends Tue 08-Jan-19 19:00:05

Hi all, I would appreciate some thoughts on selective future schools for our children. I'm not looking for opinions on non-selective state schools or state v independent so with respect please keep those for another thread.

We currently have one DC in Y2 and one in Pre-school so they're both young and we have time to consider some future options.
Both are at independent school and I'm getting really frustrated by the ever increasing fees, decreasing days in the school calendar and amount of homework for the one in Y2... this experience is shared by parents of older children in the school and at other schools (SW London).

Whilst I gladly recognise the work the children do in school time, I feel like the holidays are becoming a joke (they're not even back yet) and the work is increasingly being overseen by parents and tutors at home which increases pressure on the children and means we get less proportionately from the school than we are paying for.

The schools get superb grades but I'm really falling out of love with the system and am questioning whether it will work for us as a family in the future due to the huge level of input that seems to be required from families in so many ways, not least almost 22 weeks of holidays a year. Both DH and I want to be able to support our kids in their academic and non-academic lives, but likewise we both want to sustain careers (I was at home until recently, now part time from home and am finding it impossible to be everything to everyone all the time), we also want to be able to enjoy time as a family without having to constantly worry about homework and tests and hot housing and what everyone else is doing to get ahead. FWIW, for DC1 I don't have too many concerns about ability re 11+ at this age, no reason to think it's not achievable with effort.

For those who have experience with grammar and independent school systems (and recognising every school is different), please can you share what you thought the pros, cons and expectations are?

We would gladly move to an area with grammars if offered a place. We aren't focusing on the money as the cost of a move would net out some of the savings in school fees anyway. It's more about finding the right balance for us all.

Thanks for your help

goodbyestranger Tue 08-Jan-19 21:46:35

Some grammars are sleepy/weak so if you do move, take care to select your area with care.

My own view is that your perception is blurred by living in London and being part of the London independent school network.

In other areas (eg mine), with DC at a grammar (I have no experience of comps), parents can have minimal input (ie attend annual parents' meetings and read termly reports) and let the school get on with educating the DC. I can't recall ever helping a DC with homework - I'm pretty confident I'd do more harm than good with most subjects so that saves a lot of angst and time smile

forestfriends Tue 08-Jan-19 21:58:33

Thanks, yes this is exactly our feeling. So much is expected of the kids both from inside and outside the school that you feel like you're on duty the whole time. I feel like we are being sucked into this rat race for school spaces that just isn't going to be what really defines our children in the future. I feel like the benefit in outcome is marginal but the sacrifice in process is huge.

The main areas we have looked at for grammar are Kent but I'm also keen to find out about really good independents outside the commuter belt that don't have such demanding schedules (and maybe slightly less holiday??)

forestfriends Tue 08-Jan-19 21:59:57

And good grammar areas of course... we have a couple of years before thinking about 11+ so want to take the time to consider everything

Teacakesandcoffee01 Tue 08-Jan-19 23:12:35

The grammar system in Kent is crazy, so much pressure on your dc for 1 exam. Spend some time on the website on the Kent and Bucks pages to see the pressure created by parents.
You should look a bit further outside London to Surrey where there are loads of options for dc of all abilities and schools that go through to 18.
Almost all private schools are term time 30-33 weeks per year.

forestfriends Wed 09-Jan-19 03:53:40

Thanks teacakes, we are actually in North Surrey on edge of SW London and it feels like everyone here is being sucked into the rat race. DC1 would best suit an academic school but I feel like we get fleeced for everything living in this area and schooling is no exception. We came here to get away from it but seems it just as expensive and just as competitive. I'm interested in applying for an out of area place for a grammar school so it doesn't feel as much pressure to get in for dc, then we would move if he got It.

jessstan2 Wed 09-Jan-19 07:34:17

Either, depending on whether or not you like the school in an all round way.

Kent grammars are great, don't leave out Chislehurst and Sidcup which is marvellous by the accounts of all parents of pupils that I've known over the years. Co-ed.

BluthsFrozenBananas Wed 09-Jan-19 07:45:18

Out of area places, in Kent at least, are dependent on not just passing the 11 plus but getting a very high score. For context this year the maximum a child could score was 423, the minimum pass mark was 321 and the super selectives which offer out of county places required scores in excess of 400 for the first round of offers.

W00t Wed 09-Jan-19 07:47:00

Your OP sounds like a journalist fishing... However, a couple of points:

the work is increasingly being overseen by parents and tutors

This is the situation in every English school, regardless of funding status.
Children are at home more than at school, of course most input comes from home.
You can choose not to be part of the tutoring mill, but it takes balls to do it.

Avoid Kent like the plague. If your child doesn't get in, the schools for those that don't pass are not good.

BluthsFrozenBananas Wed 09-Jan-19 07:57:21

Avoid Kent like the plague. If your child doesn't get in, the schools for those that don't pass are not good

This isn’t entirely true. I live in a town with three grammars and three comps, all the comps are rated outstanding. The most sought after one does restrict entry to children from church going families, so back door selection, but the other two don’t.

goodbyestranger Wed 09-Jan-19 08:02:58


the work is increasingly being overseen by parents and tutors

"This is the situation in every English school"

That is completely wrong for many, many, many parents. It probably reflects your own practice but it's not the norm in our area.

Quartz2208 Wed 09-Jan-19 08:11:20

Whereabouts are you north surrey sw borders can be a grammar area (where I live is)

TeenTimesTwo Wed 09-Jan-19 08:14:27

I live in Hampshire where many people commute to London e.g. from Winchester. You don't want to hear about our schools. smile

AnotherNewt Wed 09-Jan-19 08:14:51

You need to look at the grammar school admissions procedures for the areas where you may want to live. Because you will prob ind ou need to move first and then hope you qualify (score and dance) as going for a superselective (score only) can be considerably more stressful.

Do not overlook comprehensives - you need to find out how they set/stream, as you may find there are ones you like after all. Though if course you'll need to be living close by the time applications are due.

NicolaStart Wed 09-Jan-19 08:17:02

But you yourself are caught up in the pressurised competitive mindset. Your declining to consider good comprehensive schools is by definition funnelling you into the very systems you with to avoid.

Grammars are by their very nature competitive and if you move for the Grammar system you are putting a lot of pressure on yourselves and your children to get in. In year 2, (and especially pre- school) you can’t predict how your child will perform in one exam on one day in 4 years time.

Independent schools all have much more holiday than state. If they are selective / academic they are competitive....

The Grammars accessible from where you live are, I suspect, all
Super-selective, I.e top scores from miles around rather than just passing the 11+. There will be frenzied tutoring going on for places.

But maybe MN can point you to an area with highly thought of Grammars that don’t require tutoring and selective academic private schools that have plenty of places.

Remember that in areas like Kent there is a hierarchy amongst Grammars, with some harder to get into than others, with more prestige etc.

Look deeply at how you would really react in that situation before making any moved.

NicolaStart Wed 09-Jan-19 08:19:31

Do you realise that most Comprehensives are selective within the school?

Top sets, top streams?

goodbyestranger Wed 09-Jan-19 08:21:40

Superselectives such as ours have no catchment area by definition and therefore OP's DC could take the admissions test from her current home. No need to move at all for superselective tests.

BertrandRussell Wed 09-Jan-19 08:21:53

“I'm interested in applying for an out of area place for a grammar school so it doesn't feel as much pressure to get in for dc, then we would move if he got It.”
You can’t do this for “ordinary” grammar schools in Kent- they have catchments like any other schools and you would only get a place if the school was undersubscribed. Which it won’t be. You can for the super selectives- but then you really are into crazy competitive.

jeanne16 Wed 09-Jan-19 08:34:13

I think you are under estimating how similar the grammar schools are to independents in terms of pressure and parental involvement, certainly in sw London. Obviously you don’t have to pay fees but you say that is not a big factor. When you hear of the pressure of getting into schools such as Tiffin, it is actually even worse than the independents.

MarchingFrogs Wed 09-Jan-19 08:51:40

Kent grammars are great, don't leave out Chislehurst and Sidcup which is marvellous by the accounts

And is a London Borough of Bexley grammar school, with a completely separate entrance exam from the Kent Test...

But there you go - Bexley currently has the 'top 180'. The top 180 (-ish, depending on how many share the score of the 180th candidate) scorers in the Bexley test are guaranteed a place at the gender-appropriate Bexley grammar school of their choice, regardless of place of residence at the time of taking the exam / submission of CAF/ any other cut-off date applicable to lesser mortals.

Caveat - under this system, I believe, a significant number of the out of area 'top 180' never do take up a Bexley grammar school place and the '180' is set, so the guarantee is not passed on down the rankings. Since the Admisdions Code doesn't allow the LA to restrict the top 180 ranking to local candidates, there is always the possibility that they will decide at some point to try to change the system altogether.

MrsPatmore Wed 09-Jan-19 08:54:42

As others have said, competition for super selectives with no catchment is high - a 1/10 chance for some of the Kent schools such as Dartford Grammar or, in Bromley, St Olaves. Probably the same all over the South East and anyway near to London.

If money is no object then I would look at a less pressured independent secondary school. Places like Sevenoaks and Tonbridge in Kent are not top tier but will serve all children very well and get amazing results with all of the other whistles and bells you pay for. The children are hand held a lot more than at a state school so you can take your foot off the pedal a bit- after all, that is what you are paying for. If your child is academic, then they qualify for a scholarship which may bring some fee remission (not always though!). Parents don't get involved as much at secondary so you won't be faced too much with the endless playground competition- it's a big relief!

happygardening Wed 09-Jan-19 09:03:16

Have you thought about a good (please notes the word good) traditional rural prep that prepares for the 13+?. Perhaps with a bit of flexi/weekly boarding? My DS2 passed two pre tests at yr 6 both for super selectives one was very over subscribed and we were told at the interview he was unlikely to get a place as he hadn’t come from their usual prep schools (these would have been pushy London ones with parents tutoring obsessively) he had no tutoring just a couple of interview practices. We tutored for the entrance exam in yr 8 in one subject (Latin) because the Latin teacher retired and the new teacher didn’t know any Latin! But at a good prep hopefully this shouldnt happen,
Watching friends with children who were sitting the 11+ I was struck by how frenetic it was for their children loads of tutoring sitting 5-6 entrance exams etc. Mine did significantly less home work their school life was significantly less frenetic and high pressured it was just much more relaxed there was more fun stuff basically until until yr 8 when they sat CE/entrance exams. Also preps like my DSs attended seemed to really only encourage you to enter for a couple of pre tests at Year 6 and they would strongly discourage weak candidates unlike the 5-6 entrance exams that many friends in 11+ preps did and parents seemed to enter their DCs into entrance exams knowing they were unlikely to pas “but it was good practice”. At 13+ preps by the time you’re sitting CE or entrance exams at yr 8 success is almost guaranteed. I do accept that in some areas there are lots of children fighting for day places.
Doesn’t resolve your holiday thing 22 weeks holiday is the norm personally I loved it especially the long summer break (often 9 weeks) no school work just time to chill out and have fun but ai appreciate work commitments can make it difficult.
Should just add my info may be out of date as both DSs are now at uni maybe 13+ preps have turned into frenetic pushy hot houses with every parent frantically tutoring!

cakeisalwaystheanswer Wed 09-Jan-19 09:26:13

Only on MN could Tonbridge and Sevenoaks be described as less pressured. Sevenoaks is one of the top IB schools in the world and Tonbridge is well within the top 50 A level schools in the UK govt league tables with better results than most grammars (including Tiffin Boys) other than a few super selectives - Wilsons, QE, Reading etc. Those results are achieved as a result of a lot of hard work.

If you want somewhere less pressured go a lot further down the league tables, I would say at least outside the top 250, but it won't help you with the short school year at Indy schools. You live in an area of excellent comps and I'm not sure why you have dismissed them.®ion=all-england&for=16to18&show=All+pupils+2018&datasetfilter=provisional&searchtype=&orderby=ks5.0.TALLPPE_ALEV_1618&orderdir=asc&datatype=integer&sortpolicy=inversepolicy

BubblesBuddy Wed 09-Jan-19 09:27:03

We live in Bucks and that opens up the possibility of Grammars and independents. It’s a county wide grammar entrance test taken in the first few weeks of y6. Many preps tutor for this but the state primaries don’t. It’s less difficult to pass than for a super selective. All the schools are excellent and some are a bit more excellent than others.

The secondary schools are hit and miss but you can enroll at an independent school if it all goes wrong and plenty do this. If you think you want independent, then choose where you live carefully because boys independents are thin on the ground.

Or go to a traditional prep and do 13 plus for an independent. Some girls do this too!

forestfriends Wed 09-Jan-19 09:44:52

These are great replies, thanks. I'll try to answer a few of the points you've all raised. I'm looking for somewhere that quite honestly offers either better value for money for the same results (ie a good but not super-selective independent further out of london.. but this is for another thread), or is super-selective but doesn't cost us £40,000+ a year for two kids in which case we would gladly put a bit more effort in ourselves.

If we are going to go super-selective then I would rather a grammar over independent as we would put the work in without having to pay the fees. I feel here that we are paying the fees AND doing way too much work out of school. If we are not going super selective then I would rather move out of the area as I think the schools here are offering less and less value for money. In part because the calendars are shortening by 2-3 days a YEAR and the fees are going up 3-5%. To put it into perspective, a Y2 place locally costs upwards of £4,000 a term.

your OP sounds like a journalist fishing - I can assure you I'm not, I'm a really regular poster but have changed names as inevitably discussion will come up on where we live and what our school is like

W00t and Bluth they are helpful insights, we would be applying from our of area as we wouldn't move without a guaranteed place. The information on scores is very interesting. The good thing is if we applied we wouldn't have anything to lose if DC didn't pass as we wouldn't have moved.

Quartz2208 we are just outside Oxshott near Esher

TeenTimesTwo do you mean because they are mostly state? There are some great independents there too aren't there, I would be interested of hearing of any. We considered Eagle House but the problem at the time was the commute was too far for DH who has to be in Canary Wharf very early. That could change in a couple of years which is why we are exploring options so if you have some good ones please say!

MrsPatmore and happygardening, we would be very happy to consider a less pressurised independent out of area and again open to suggestions. That was really going to be my next line of investigation after considering grammars. The problem here is that there isn't a lot in the middle, a bit like PP said about non-grammar schools in Kent. There are the super selective amazing academic schools which remain high pressured all the way through, or else there is everything else. The "everything else" type schools are seriously expensive and I don't honestly think good value for money compared to a really good independent out of town.

But you yourself are caught up in the pressurised competitive mindset. Your declining to consider good comprehensive schools is by definition funnelling you into the very systems you with to avoid There are degrees of this mindset, what we are looking for is to find somewhere with a degree of competition that reflects the true benefits of the process. I feel around here people are doing it because it's what everyone else does and the schools get as much as they can out of the parents by perpetuating the mindset that their children are lucky to be there.

Do you realise that most Comprehensives are selective within the school? Top sets, top streams? I'm well aware of how comprehensives stream as I went to one and moved because of a bad experience. I'm not considering comprehensives at this point in time and I don't want to go off topic by explaining our reasons for that.

BertrandRussell sorry I should have been clearer about less pressure applying as an out of area applicant to a super selective - if we didn't get in it wouldn't matter as we would only make the move if successful. Therefore DC1 wouldn't be aware of any expectations.

Really appreciate all this insight, it's hard to talk to parents locally as people feel like you're judging their choices by exploring a different route which I'm not, I just feel there must be a better balance.

a) Super-selective with no fees (or other really good grammar if anyone can recommend)
b) Great independent that doesn't fleece you for everything you've got because they make you think you're just lucky to be there

Join the discussion

Registering is free, quick, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Get started »