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Head of St Pauls Girl’s School

(113 Posts)
jeanne16 Mon 27-May-19 19:30:16

Anyone else find the article about the forthcoming book by Clarissa Farr about her time as Head of SPGS extraordinary. She complains that parents are too pushy and that independent schools are too focused on getting the top academic results.

Since that is an exact description of St Paul’s itself, it seems odd to complain about it.

OP’s posts: |
Mominatrix Mon 27-May-19 19:44:33

I read the article and I think that the level of pushiness she describes is definitely OTT. Unfortunately, I know parents like this very well - too well. My son is at a similar school, but boys only and at a recent coffee morning, one mother was aghast at how poor the school's GCSE results are currently (96.1% A and A* or equivalent with 78.5% A*) and thought it was shocking that the school wasn't actively addressing this. Parents like her email teachers when they receive their children's reports asking why their child didn't get the top grade insubjects as inconsequential as Music (the child has no aspirations to become a musician or do anything in music). It is too much.

In terms of focusing on getting the top academic results, I read her concern as discomfort that schools who have high multiples per spot and who can broaden the qualities they look for in successful candidates to their schools are missing out by continuing to have the principle aim to allow the children who score the highest on entrance exams and not relaxing them to allow for other great attributes. TBH, I think this is a greater problem at girls schools as I think that boys schools are slightly more flexible in their intake criteria. This extreme selection is only getting worse and thus more problematic which is what she is also probably concerned about.

bevelino Mon 27-May-19 20:07:04

@Jeanne16, I agree with you. One of my dds left SPGS last year and under Clarissa Farr the school was very, very competitive. The school is all about achieving the best exam results in the U.K. and nothing less will do.

FanDabbyFloozy Mon 27-May-19 20:30:06

I think these schools realise the tide has turned and there is a wane in appetite for results at the cost of mental health and wellbeing. It is a turn off for many wealthy parents who pay full fees.

It is a very delicate act to have both high results and strong pastoral care and wellbeing. It read to me that Ms Farr was acknowledging that tightrope.

Jossina Tue 28-May-19 06:21:23

I've been happy to read more and more recently heads asking, almost begging, parents to not tutor and realise the amount of stress their children are under. Hopefully there will be real changes.

Michaelahpurple Tue 28-May-19 07:13:27

The problem with the "begging not to tutor" is that schools have become very lazy or perhaps deluded about this topic. For instance, there is a longstanding structural problem with the classics department and its curiculum at our prep school, but if one tries to talk to the school about it, they cite the good exit exam results. But that is because parents either teach latin themselves or get tutors - it seems one has to have a few years of stepping back and letting whole years fail to expose the point.
This is woven right through the London school system.

NancyJoan Tue 28-May-19 07:15:46

Do you have a link to the article, please?

nylon14 Tue 28-May-19 08:47:20

Michaelahpurple, I was just having this conversation with a friend. Sadly, this is only getting worse.

nylon14 Tue 28-May-19 08:57:27

Mominatrix Tue 28-May-19 11:19:41

Times link for those who don't want to click on the Hate Mail.

BubblesBuddy Tue 28-May-19 12:06:10

I think the High Mistress is not the only one setting the Agenda for this school. It has almost set its own agenda over many decades and no doubt it’s Governors want the success to continue.

I don’t know what evidence people have about the exact selection procedures. Is it solely on exam marks or are other factors taken into account at interview? You will never ever stop coaching and tutoring so parents are highly invested in their DDs from a very young age. They are not going to stop at age 11.

No parent at St Paul’s has gone there thinking their DDs will coast and often parents are high achievers and driven themselves. There are a number of schools like this but parents don’t have to choose them! Most independent schools are results driven because this is what parents expect. How do you separate parents out that want a different attitude? Interview the parents? Tell the obnoxious ones to go to The Harrodian?

I knew CF at her former school. She wanted strong academics but didn’t have to deal with the type of London parent she dealt with at St Paul’s. We knew our DDs were not gifted! Most of didn’t tutor and let the school get on with it. London is mad and the school is a product of that pressure. Perhaps the new Head will ratchet down the expectations?

There are significantly less pressurised schools outside London but they are not considered because some are weekly boarding. They might be a better bet and CF should know! That’s where she came from!

FlumePlume Tue 28-May-19 12:24:09

Bubbles The entrance process is set out on their website, but in summary:

1) Online CAT test taken at the school (adaptive, not purely VR and NVR)
2) A day of exams - maths (three short papers, third designed to be unfinishable), English and what they call a comprehension paper but is really sort of creative thinking (this year based on linguistics, previous year was a mixture of chemistry and history).
3) Interview (no exam style questions, more of an intellectual chat)

What we were told about the process is that it’s about finding girls who will thrive there - and certainly the experience on the (very long) SW London 11+ threads was that some very clever girls who got many other offers and scholarships did not get an SPGS offer. Similarly, some girls who were offered SPGS weren’t offered other schools that are viewed as ‘easier’. Which could be SPGS looking for something different, or just that children perform differently on different days.

BubblesBuddy Tue 28-May-19 12:37:19

I think state pupils would know little about chemistry! That’s a bit off beam!

However, if parents are going to enter this scattergun approach of high status schools it says what they want. The best. They then, it appears, push and push and push! Some of what she says is unbelievable! Obviously most parents are not like this but parents are not honest about what they are prepared to do to ensure their DDs get a place! This unhealthy activity starts very early.

Do they tell you the scores? And cut off points?

jeanne16 Tue 28-May-19 12:38:10

Bubbles. I think it is most unlikely the new head will ratchet down expectations. Can you imagine the fuss if the results went down under a new Head. Parents would be up in arms and many questions would be asked. In fact, results in all schools are expected to only ever go up!
The pressure on our kids is immense and getting worse every year.

I do think it’s a bit much for Mrs Farr to now say how awful it all is when she presumably bought into the whole ethos. You just have to read their admissions criteria to know this.

OP’s posts: |
BubblesBuddy Tue 28-May-19 12:42:57

I think what CF wanted was parents to trust the school and back off. Two sets of pressure as well as self imposed pressure, isn’t great.

There are huge advantages about being a bright fish in a smaller pond if not so many bright fish. Less comparison. Less peer pressure to succeed and some schools are grateful for success. No DD has to be in a tank full of the brightest and the most driven with parents to match!

FlumePlume Tue 28-May-19 12:44:11

Bubbles No scores or cut-off points. And the chemistry / history one had all the information you needed, no issue for a state primary child (my dd did it as a practice paper - she’s at a state primary). It’s more about thinking creatively (it wasn’t exactly chemistry, I’ve just looked at it again and it’s radiocarbon dating). If you want to have a look, that particular comprehension paper is here and the blurb about the whole process is here.

BubblesBuddy Tue 28-May-19 12:45:54

What option did CF have? By your own admission, there would be a furore if results dipped! She was employed to keep standards up. However that doesn’t mean parents have to micromanage the school and their DC. This is very much the thrust of what she is saying. The school can do it without parents being involved in every little detail! The wrong Oxford college is breathtaking!

BubblesBuddy Tue 28-May-19 12:47:44

Thanks for the info. It’s very interesting . So parents don’t know how they choose. It’s not a published mark or cut off point. There is no way out of this other than parents calming down!

FlumePlume Tue 28-May-19 13:05:56

Bubbles I agree - though it is, of course, true for all the private schools. Only state grammars publish marks / cut-offs.

Fan I hope so, and it’s how I read the piece. I think she was trying to get parents to have a greater emphasis on overall wellbeing (while being clear that that doesn’t meant stopping catering for the fact these are girls who learn fast and are intellectually curious).

jeanne I don’t see that in the admissions criteria? Or do you mean the bit about ‘taking girls of outstanding intellectual potential’? In fact, its the only school I know of that asks on the application form if the child is being tutored, though of course lots of schools say they don’t want over-tutored candidates.

Rockylady Tue 28-May-19 13:22:28

Here is the cynical in me, but I think her main agenda is to promote her book. Very timely article ahead of book release. Yes lets stir up the public media discussion on her subject. She is out of education. She has two gigs, the book and the board member positions. She has fabulous presence (new amazing hairdressing helps too) but she is known for shutting you down if you do not comply with her script so wonder how effective she can be in a board of grown ups once everyone can see beyond the window dressing and one hot name CV. Disclosure: I am not one of those pushy parents, in fact this is an outsiders view.

Rockylady Tue 28-May-19 13:30:37

Ah third revenue stream obviously consulting. But this will be done ever so discreetly as fees as inversely proportional to repute or risk profile of the project (eg big fee to support a new school in China but then that would carry a lot of reputational risks and they would more want her name and less her advice)

Passthecherrycoke Tue 28-May-19 13:40:19

Op I couldn’t not comment although I don’t have children at SPGS I was aghast at the article! Her extreme example was a girl falling to the floor because she got an A. Ummm... falling to the floor? Wtf?

But... I’m going to be brave here... why such pressure and difficulty to get A* at GCSE? It’s selective, a top top school, I’m struggling to see why high grades on a population wide qualification wouldn’t be pretty much a breeze?!

Passthecherrycoke Tue 28-May-19 13:41:36

(Oh I agree this interview is for no other reason than to promote the book- which I worked for me can’t wait to read!)

Rockylady Tue 28-May-19 13:46:01

must confess I may buy the book too (when the price comes down, as I am sure it will, or second hand from other mums).
I met her once (non educational environment) and I asked her a mildly challenging question. I got the eyes of fire and no meaningful answer. She is a lot of presence, the personification of presence, confidence and presentational skills that you would want for your girl. But not sure what is below that.

Glaciferous Tue 28-May-19 15:53:56

I remember a girl in my year at SPGS crying because she had got 93% in a Latin exam, rather than 100%. Equally you had me who got 36% in her geography exam and didn't care. Different people react differently to the same environment and pressures. There are always going to be some in any environment who deal with disappointment badly (and some who are just lazy or not interested).

FWIW, the current environment at SPGS seems to be very focused on limiting the pressure and stopping girls from doing too much unnecessarily. My DD is still only young but was really disappointed to find out that she wasn't allowed to write 3000 words for a recent project (which is what she had been planning) and was instead restricted to a pithy 500.

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