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Girls School chat, North London

(28 Posts)
lolabeetea Sat 31-Aug-19 15:16:06

Looking at options for girls schools within reasonable radius from a North London base. DD starting year 6 and we have had some light tutoring so far to keep options. She is super bright but we are still concerned not quite "programmed" like other girls to pass 11+ at top marks because we started turning relatively late. She is also training 4 days a week in a gymnastics squad. For state Grammar (girls only) school options, as far as I'm aware Henrietta Barnett in the only one, but we don't like the idea of it anyway being a pressure house and slim chance of getting in if not tutored long enough.
So we are also considering independent schools. Are we right to assume Habs and NLC are not as hard core as HB? Just for the sake of comparison, if we targeted these schools, will she likely end up still being endlessly pressured? The new Head for NLC seems like a down to earth individual with well-rounded agenda for the girls education program. We have not yet visited Channing and City.. And how is South Hampstead? Any thing you can share here around this topic would be amazing!!
Also, how would you suggest to best use the time between now and exam time, January 2020, for practicing for the entry exams? Thanks

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Huffthemagicdragon Sat 31-Aug-19 21:41:45

We're North London (but centralish) and have ridden a couple of rounds the 11+ rodeo and survived (just).

First time round I really liked Channing but went off them with their exploding offers. Second time round I was maybe looking for reasons to be glad that the first dd's offer had exploded, but the process seemed kind of lazy and as if they were a bit complacent. The head has been there a very long time (has she left now? Can't remember), which can be a negative.

We didn't try for City although it was an obvious choice as it's near us and I think, appealingly, appears to make more an effort to attract state primary applicants. However (see above) the exploding offer thing put me off and one daughter attended a special state school open day and really didn't enjoy it so we couldn't see the point of making her apply for a school she didn't want to go to, especially since she probably wouldn't have been offered a place. But loads of people love it and it's genuinely more diverse than most of these schools (though there's an argument that if you want diversity, go to your local state, which is what I sometimes wish we'd done).

Don't know much about Habs and NLC as they're too far away for us.

Francis Holland impressed us loads through the process. I get the sense that it's becoming a positive first choice for many families and rightly so.

We've ended up with SHHS and it's great, fab building, excellent head, a real effort to address the mental health issues that can be rampant in these sort of girls' schools. Don't want to say too much for fear of outing, but it's exceeded our expectations. Very sensitive to girls' needs.

Huffthemagicdragon Sat 31-Aug-19 21:43:42

ps dds had one hour's tutoring a week from a non-high-achieving state primary so not intensively tutored. Both above average but not super bright. Got offered everywhere they applied to, with a few scholarships.

lolabeetea Sat 31-Aug-19 22:44:25

Thanks, wow, glad you had choice.
Few questions..just for clarity, SHHS is that South Hampstead? What do you mean by 'exploding offers'? Did they offer to anyone that tried? So I take it you didn't go to Channing after all?

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Zodlebud Sun 01-Sep-19 09:00:40

NLCS and Habs are quite hardcore I’m afraid. For the right girl they are exceptional schools and I have friends with girls at both and they all sing their praises.

I also have a friend with a daughter at one of them who is suffering from anxiety due to the competitive and pressurised environment. Her parents are not happy with the pastoral support and the way it is being dealt with by the school. It’s a bit of a “just get over it” attitude. She is moving schools as a result.

Depending on where in North London you are, you might also want to have a look at St Albans High School for Girls - buses run from Stanmore, Mill Hill and Winchmore Hill.

More of a curve ball school take a look at Queenswood. Door to door transportation service. Known for getting results without the pain. Beyond fabulous extra curricular. Not on many parents radar as it used to be the backup school if you didn’t get a place at the academic North London academic schools. In such a competitive environment of course their results aren’t as high as the other schools in the area as they are not selecting the very brightest. What is astonishing though is that girls get, on average, one to two grades higher than would be expected at similar comparative schools. Girls do walk away with nine A stars. A very different vibe to all the other schools you are looking at and obviously not Uber selective. But a school that really blew me away.

lolabeetea Sun 01-Sep-19 09:21:52

@Zod, yes, never heard of it and did not thing about st Albans either. It might be doable as we are not far from Mill Hill. Going to have a look right away... Thank you for opening new options to explore!

It's a tricky thing with Habs and NLCS. We went to visit and DD loved both, admittedly us parents were pretty impressed as well (loved Habs environment and loved NLCS Head talk). If she will be offered a place I will have a serious diallema as I am not sure she would deal with the stress so well.

She is pretty tuagh but still, you never know how she will respond because there are other virables in play this time. The fact that it's a girls school can be a positive or a negative under pressure, I honestly don't know, but I know that she would love the academic side and focus on learning as she loves it. But again, we only had the experiance of a lovely co-ed small state school so far so who know what would happen with all girls around and super high expectations?

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malmontar Sun 01-Sep-19 10:03:13

I would say Henrietta barnett is very comparable to NLCS and habs so if you're avoiding that then makes no sense to go for the two privates. Channing and SHHS are I think the middle men in your list although I know during this massive bulge year it's horribly difficult to get in anywhere.

Nodressrehearsal Sun 01-Sep-19 15:27:33

Channing is refreshingly down to earth the staff are just amazing, girls vibrant and new theatre is a fantastic asset. Sadly the wonderful headteacher retires in 2020 but there is a blurb about the new one on the website.

FanDabbyFloozy Sun 01-Sep-19 16:04:38

In terms of pressure, there is little to separate Henrietta, NLCS and Habs. I am increasingly hearing that St Albans is getting more high pressured but the change of head may revert that. For what it is worth, my view is that if you and your child thrive on competition and being the best, then these schools will suit your family well. If your child is a worrier or squeaks in having missed out on all the state options by a big margin (if attempted), the schools may be too pressured for your DD.

Exam wise, all the state selective options are much harder to get into than any independents on the above list because of the large number trying to get places and the level of extreme prep. Many do try some state schools and then panic when the results are released in October. Do not be concerned and just view it as a good trial run, as many unsuccessful kids get into all the above schools.

Someone mentioned Queenswood above - a great school indeed!

FanDabbyFloozy Sun 01-Sep-19 16:06:43

I don't know it personally but hear good things about St Helens in Northwood.

Huffthemagicdragon Sun 01-Sep-19 16:17:23

Hello just to clarify yes SHHS is South Hampstead.

Exploding offers - search mumsnet for more details but in short all private schools offers have a deadline for acceptance just after the state school offers (early March). However some schools (SHHS, City boys, UCS, NLCS to name a few) will honour all offers made to this date. Others - chiefly City Girls, Channing, Highgate - operate 'exploding offers'. The official acceptance date is the same but when they get as many acceptances as places, they'll rescind the offers they've already made. I think it's pretty shit but others will argue that it's completely fair enough. Read the threads and make your mind up, here's one

I hate league tables as actually a bright child will do the same in any of the reasonably academic schools. However having said that, I'd disagree that Haps and NLCS are in a different league to SHHS - I've just looked and Has is lower than SHHS for both GSCEs and A levels and NLCS is lower in one of them (can't remember which). Either way I wouldn't make any conclusions based on tables (and I'd argue that the grammar schools are harder to get into than any of them).

Huffthemagicdragon Sun 01-Sep-19 16:19:21

PS results at SHHS equal to NLCS and Habs, have no idea if the pressure is the same as we're not into GSCEs. So far, homework pretty light.

lolabeetea Sun 01-Sep-19 22:19:26

@Haff, thanks! Exploding offers sounds brutal.
Do you think that the fact class sizes at Habs and NLC or alike are smaller actually makes a difference to how the girls manage pressure? Henrietta after all much bigger no? But maybe that's a non-issue and pressure is pressure is pressure..?
Disappointing to hear that Habs can be stressful as we really liked it but can't see from the inside.
Need to start applying to places and still have few schools to visit.. this is a full time job honestly 😓

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PetraDelphiki Sun 01-Sep-19 22:22:46

Fwiw the new Channing head is the current deputy at dd’s School and she’s fabulous! Will really miss her!

lolabeetea Mon 02-Sep-19 20:05:19

Queenswood looks great. Will be heading to one of the open mornings soon. Thanks for those who recommended. Anyone have DDs there?

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Answerthequestion Mon 02-Sep-19 20:20:46

Habs doesn’t have small class sizes I think they’re about 27/28. Habs NLCS and HBS are all tough environments. Habs probably slightly less so than the other 2. There’s also St Helens in Northwood but ultimately if you’re going for highly selective schools they’re all going to be fairly hardcore.

If you want somewhere more balanced you’re looking at St Margaret’s royal Masonic Northwood college and the like who all get excellent results. If you’re in mill hill area don’t discount mill hill county, an excellent school or if you have a faith then the faith secondaries are generally excellent academically.

PhonicTheHedgehog Tue 03-Sep-19 18:28:25

A friend of ours prepared their daughter for the schools you have mentioned with Queens College as a back up. They ended up loving that.

lolabeetea Wed 04-Sep-19 23:02:57

Queenswood? I keep hearing good things. Thanks

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Polyjuice Wed 04-Sep-19 23:29:01

Just to throw in another opinion if your DD is super bright then one of these schools may actually suit her needs better than a school with a broader remit. I always think that one child’s so-called hothouse is another’s stimulating environment! I guess it’s our job to help them find the school that gets the balance right for them. My DD was also attracted by the most academic schools and having been in seniors for some time she absolutely loves it; I can’t imagine her anywhere else. There are many girls in her school who pursue extra curricular to a super high level; so long as your DD isn’t travelling too far (as commuting is v time consuming) I wouldn’t say she needs to worry about that and certainly not in the first couple of years.

lolabeetea Thu 05-Sep-19 07:30:47

Thanks Poly, I guess your are refering to the likes of Habs NLCS and City?

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barristermum Fri 06-Sep-19 15:20:51

Have just been through all of this. We looked at all North London privates and grammars and I would say the most important thing you can do is visit with your dd on the open days, do taster sessions if you can and get a feel for them. Then choose your top choice, 2nd choice and insurance choice and leave it there - or there are a ton of exams and interviews and it's lowering if you're not getting through or stressful making the decision if you get offered everything.
As to tutoring - I'd say there is a limit to what you can achieve, in hindsight I started my DD too early and she began to run out of steam so don't worry for starting late - you're looking to build familiarity with the formats, not bring them up to a standard they can't sustain.
These are my anecdotal, not at all authoritative impressions:
Habs - amazing facilities, bulge year ahead, interesting ideas for schools of the future. Gets excellent results.
NLCS - slightly more of a closed shop - interviews far fewer than any other school, markets far more internationally, again, amazing results, facilities on site and(expensive) bus but least outgoing and quite pressured.
City - very ambitious academically - your DD will love if capable of getting in but less likely to enjoy if shouldn't be there. They do an amazing job of fitting stuff in to a small site, and have a very outgoing feel - all girls arriving on public transport, links with the city, one of the most egalitarian, least interest in your wealth.
SHHS - part of the GDST group, splendidly feminist, also academically ambitious but leavened by a slightly socialite Hampstead ethos.
Channing - very nurturing, more quietly ambitious for their girls. Tries to interview every applicant which suggests not wanting to miss someone who has an off day on the exam. New head coming with strong background in pastoral care.
Highgate - extraordinary facilities. More than any other we got the impression even were we to be expected we would be/feel like the poorest family there. Biology field trips to the Galapagos and the like. Co-ed gives a different feel - and perhaps the feel is that girls are still not the priority - this is a boys school that girls have been invited into rather than a school designed for girls from the get-go.
HBS - an amazing place, not sure the pressure is as bad as people say - I know a lot of girls and staff who have been very very happy there but entrance is a lottery. Might as well have a go but you can't build your entire plan around it.
The exploding offer is simply a way of dealing with the fact these schools are all looking at very similar pools of applicants and they need a way of knowing who really wants them and who is holding out for someone else. You just need to be organised. Or prepared to pay a large insurance penalty...
Hope this helps.

Huffthemagicdragon Fri 06-Sep-19 18:17:51

Alternatively the exploding offer just gets the pupils who don't have better options... for example we were waiting on a couple of scholarships for a school that only sent letters out a week later as well as having lots of alternative offers that came on the day of the Channing offers.

I don't think organisation comes into it as you don't necessarily know which is the favourite until you actually have some birds in hand.

Other than that I completely agree with your assessments of the different schools, v observant, and of limiting applications. I'd also add that when making those decisions please don't underestimate journey times/ease. Also don't overestimate the appeal of a 'school bus' type transport option. Really expensive and they outgrow them really quickly. Ideally you want walking or one form of public transport and no more than 40 mins.

needsandwants Fri 06-Sep-19 23:44:07

@Barristermum, thanks for sharing. We felt very similar when visited Habs and NLCS. Overall I get the impression that Habs is more pressure but between these two tbh it's probably quite nuanced and will depend on the child and their peers in that particular year.
Do you not think that applying to only 3 schools limits your options?
It would definitely be my preference as it is 1. bloody expensive (!!) 2. time consuming 3. exams stress etc ..but what if you are not getting offers? Are you thinking it is relatively easy to pass the entry criteria that one would definitely get at least one offer? How much emphasis there is on the entry exams vs the interview in these schools? Channing sounds good in that respect.
Off to see City later this month but the daily commute on the tube feels wrong to start at this age, that really puts me off. AIBU?
And finally SHS, also looked amazing. What's with all the stories about anorexia and mental issues in this school?
HBS? which school is that?

mumofthree321 Sat 07-Sep-19 07:07:09

There are so many options in north London for girls in both single sex / co-ed schools, fee/non-fee paying. My DD used to be at one of the high achieving schools you mention. She was there for 4+ years and although very happy and doing well academically it wasn't right for us. From experience I would say approx a quarter of the girls there were naturally very bright and needed the challenge of the school. The rest didn't know any different but the constant expectation on the girls, even by the age of 7yrs old was unhealthy. Tests set beyond what they'd learnt in class (I guess because most were also being taught outside of school too) had groups of primary age girls crying in the toilets scared to go home and tell their parents the result. The list was endless and we value mental health above academic results. Results will come if they are mentally happy and have self belief, not being set up to fail by too high target setting. I guess I'm just saying to think whether, if your child was left to their own devices, no tutor etc, would they relish the challenge of a highly academic school. These schools don't get their position in the results tables by luck. Personally I'd rather my children achieved everything they could from inspirational teaching and realistic expectations. They come out well balanced, employable and with happy memories of school.

barristermum Sat 07-Sep-19 15:42:28

@HuffthemagicdragonI would say choose your dream, choose the one you would be really happy with and then your insurance. If you're not getting an interview at your insurance you will not be getting offers from the most academic - and so there really is no point paying all their registration fees. Top flight are prob City, St Pauls for Girls, Habs, NLCS. Mid range - SHHS, Channing, Highgate. Insurance - Francis Holland, Queens, maybe Mill Hill.
HBS is Henrietta Barnet School. State grammar in Hampstead Garden Suburb.
I think interviews are probably very important for all but the super bright who will be accepted on any terms. Once you are through the threshold set by the exam they are looking at who they want to teach. Highgate do quite an intensive assessment process setting challenges for them to do in groups as well as an interview. SHHS set some problems and philosophical questions to discuss. Channing asked them to look at a picture and used that as a start point for discussion.
Totally agree with @Huff on the length and manner of the journey. You will want to think about ease of travel for you and partner too - getting to parents evenings from work and concerts and the like - the timings are better for working parents than primary but it's still an organisational feat.

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