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Where do we start? ... Secondary schools W/SW London

(31 Posts)
secondarychoices Fri 27-Sep-19 13:23:51

... Why, ask MN of course!

We're from abroad (Switzerland, to be precise) where the education system is rather different. DS is in Y5 now and we are struggling to get our minds around how secondary schools work here (England), what route to pursue for DS (and later potentially DD who is Y1), and where to start. DC are at a bog-standard state primary, so no guidance from there.

What we struggle to understand is the early specialisation, or rather, how children must drop subjects already from Y9 when their three-year GCSE courses start. With both DC being summer born, they'd be 12 when making those choices - and moreover, I gather they often don't get much choice as schools restrict who is 'allowed' to do which (and how many) GCSEs.

What we experienced as children was that everybody (short of SEN) studied two MFL, with able children adding a third language (either Latin or third MFL). In addition to that, maths, and language&literature in first language were of course a given, but also history, geography, biology, physics, chemistry, art, music, PE, RE, and a number of more practical subjects such as crafts/woodworking, cookery and housekeeping. Able students could choose to add extras to that.
Now of course each of these subjects was not studied in the same depth, and most of them (except main language, MFLs, and maths) certainly not to GCSE level. The focus was much more on a broad general education. We do understand that the workload for each individual GCSE would be much too high to make it reasonable for a child to study 'everything' up to GCSE level, so there is a necessity to drop some subjects and specialise.

The "broad general education" matters a lot to us though. So within the constraints of the system, we are looking for a school that will allow as much as possible of this.

We always thought it would be a choice between a very popular, high achieving, very big (280 intake) comprehensive, or one of two grammar schools in the neighbouring LA - Slough.

going for a super-selective in Kingston; or going private - which we couldn't afford, so would depend on a bursary.

But having looked at them in more detail, they seem to achieve their great results on the back of restricting their students' GCSE choices. It was this that got us looking for other options e.g. super-selectives in Kingston, and Indies in W/SW London (we would need a bursary). But we don't know where to start!

None of the schools we looked at online are close enough to visit on a whim, so what I am really looking for is some guidance on how to go about this. How do we choose which schools to visit and take into consideration? Obviously DS would have to pass the entrance exams, but which exams should we prepare him for - he can't take them all.

We live outside of London. Many of the SW and W London schools seem just about accessible, distance and public transport wise. But none of them is within easy distance, so those schools would really need to offer something 'more' for us to choose them (or rather, for us to make the effort and prepare DS for the entrance exam).

DS is quite academically able. Always got 'greater depth' at everything so far. Despite being summer born, he's always been within top 3 of his quite highly achieving class. In maths - his favourite subject - he's about two years ahead (though patchy as we've never done any 'systematic' work with him, just reading Murderous Maths books and such). He is well read and has a very good vocabulary. He has some areas of interest (e.g. Greek mythology) in which he has an astounding amount of knowledge. Obviously he is bilingual. His behaviour at school is excellent - he tries very hard to please the teachers. I think every single parents' evening, we've been told something amounting to 'DS is a pleasure to teach, I wish I had a class full of DSs'.
At home he is not 'studious', he would watch TV/play on the console all day every day if I let him, though he does get passionate about something every now and then and will go off on a reading binge. His approach to homework is 'do the minimum you can get away with' (unless it happens to coincide with one of his passions).
He is not especially sporty (in that sports isn't a high priority to him), but very fit and enjoys football which he plays twice a week, swimming, cycling. He is fairly good at chess, possibly in 1.5 years he could be at scholarship level for e.g. Hampton Boys.

Any suggestions on how we go about this? How do we short-list schools we want to pursue further, e.g. go visit? Does anyone know a school that is particularly strong on this 'broad general education' thing, or a school that DS might fit particularly well into, given above description?

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secondarychoices Fri 27-Sep-19 13:29:03

Sorry, editing mistake - and sorry, didn't realise quite how long this became! Well done if you read all the way to the end!

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Gingercat1223 Fri 27-Sep-19 16:36:32

I suggest you start visiting Open Days this Autumn to gauge what the private sector offers. As you have realised more academic schools often have a narrower GCSE option package (but it does start in year 10 rather than 9). It might help you if you read some of the current Higher education threads on MN too to see how gcse selection leads to alevel selection onto UCAS application to uni.

If you can't afford private fees then really consider whether you want to go down the bursary route, if you follow the website - forum - independent schools section - there always bursary threads. For scholarships be aware of high level needed, ie for Hampton chess scholarship 1 of current holders represent his country at chess for his age group.

Elevenplusexams has lots of Tiffin info too esp as the first stage entrance tests are at the moment.

JoJoSM2 Fri 27-Sep-19 16:51:52

I think I would focus on less academic indies. They probably won’t be too pushy as to the choice of GCSEs as they probably won’t mind if your son gets a 6 or 7 instead of an 8 or 9 in a subject that he enjoys but isn’t good at. They’re also more likely to be more generous with scholarships for a bright + a bit of a bursary and it might be affordable.

secondarychoices Fri 27-Sep-19 16:54:21

Thanks Gingercat, I'll definitely head to elevenplusexams forum then!

(See, I can be concise!) grin

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stucknoue Fri 27-Sep-19 16:55:03

First of all look at the school last near where you live, these are the ones that your child is most likely to get a place at, kids select their subjects in year 9 typically not year 8, and GCSEs take 2 years not 3 (a few super selective schools do select early but it's not the norm). At my kids schools they did 10 subjects which 6 were mandated (maths, science x2, English x2, re, then they chose 4 on top plus could take pe as well meaning 11 quantifications. My daughter took 2 mfl as did many. Normal comprehensive school no admissions exams. The "choice" is not as it seems because these super selective schools have massive catchment areas. Btw my DD's school has a admissions number of 560 (per year!)

stucknoue Fri 27-Sep-19 16:56:41

Ps both DD's at university now, A's and a*'s from comprehensive school, one was in special measures. Don't worry too much

secondarychoices Fri 27-Sep-19 17:00:18

That is very helpful JoJo, and not something I would have intuitively thought! I'd have thought very academic -> high expectations -> children take lots of GCSEs and do lots of other stuff on the side too.
But your reasoning makes sense, a school that doesn't live of stellar exam results can afford to let a child spread themself thinner.

I feel like I am really floundering with the indies though. Can anyone say, broadly, which ones have a more academic/pushy/exam results focused reputation, and which ones less so? Or where I can find that out?

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JoJoSM2 Fri 27-Sep-19 17:08:17

You can google schools’ GCSE results. Eg Hampton is very academic with 91% grades 7-9 this year.

I’m not too sure about schools on the West side of London but for comparison, you could have a look at Royal Russell. Less academic but still perfectly able to support able children + tons and tons of co-curricular options. I’m sure someone will be able to advise on similar places more West.

secondarychoices Fri 27-Sep-19 17:12:09

stucknoue, I am not worried about results, both our local comprehensive and our nearby grammar schools get great results, and great progress scores.

But they all run three-year GCSE courses now - the grammar school we visited this week, is doing that since this year. The comprehensive since two years ago. So choose options in Y8 for Y9-Y11 GCSE course.
The comprehensive has 2x English, maths, 2x science, RE mandatory, and for all kids apart from the exceptional, limits them to 9 in total - so only three to choose. DS would probably want to do triple science and two MFL - that would mean no history/geography/computer science/art/music/anything from age 13, which just seems ridiculous to me. The grammar we visited, they usually do 9 or 10 GCSEs so not much different.
I assume that this restriction and the three-year courses help the schools get the good results they do get, but we were really hoping to find something a bit broader, hence starting to look further abroad at different options.

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LIZS Fri 27-Sep-19 17:16:57

Agree you should look more locally and possibly for schools offering IB rather than or as well as A levels at 16-18. There are plenty of good state and private schools outside m25, those in London are not the be all and end all. GCSE years still allow for music, arts, sport etc within the timetabled day or you could do as extracurricular, non exam subjects. Where are you based? The ACS sites in Surrey offer a broader curriculum and international clientele, if at a significant cost.

LIZS Fri 27-Sep-19 17:21:44

RS at gcse is not mandatory in most schools. Dd took 2 mfl , history and drama options alongside triple science (even double is all 3 disciplines) , maths, English lit and language at gcse plus music as extracurricular, pe/dance in timetable.

Oblomov19 Fri 27-Sep-19 17:23:13

I'm in Surrey and have some friends who live in Kingston.

We are visiting secondaries now. I have submitted my form already, but the deadline isn't till end of October.

Our two closest schools are fabulous. Ds1 walks to this secondary that I'm now applying for Ds2 for. We are in a catholic primary and are a feeder to the local catholic comprehensive which is superb. I know I'll get in. The other local school is also fab.

Are you sure the Kingston comprehensives aren't good ? Most schools round here are good. What is your local school like?

A lot of local schools get a high % of their kids into oxford Cambridge and Durham , Bristol etc. Is that what you are aiming for?

JoJoSM2 Fri 27-Sep-19 17:34:22

I thought of the IB schools as well for a more rounded education. They do cost a lot, though, and not sure if they offer bursaries at all. Another thing to bear in mind is that they have quite a turnover of pupils as the parents are often transient expats.

State comps for obvious reasons (funding) won’t ever match the offer at an independent school. However, there will be some with a broad curriculum and a very good co-curricular provision (not a patch on an indie, though). However, your son could always do the 9 subjects at GCSE and not having the workload of doing 12-13 subjects should allow plenty of time to do sport/art/music outside school.

secondarychoices Fri 27-Sep-19 17:36:06

We are (just) outside M25 LIZS, due west from London, but though there seem to be plenty of prep schools around, there are few independent secondaries. You really have to travel south to Ascot area or East towards London. But even the comprehensive is nearly an hour on the school bus, though a bit faster by public transport, and the grammars also an hour by school bus but even longer by public transport. So travelling will be a feature wherever DS goes.

There is an ACS nearby. I happen to have just started working in an ACS (that one a bit further afield) and it is lovely. It is very international though and has high fluctuations of students, which is a bit of a worry (similar considerations regarding German School in Richmond), and somehow I assumed they wouldn't have much in the way of bursaries. Now that everything is becoming more concrete, I might review all this!

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LIZS Fri 27-Sep-19 17:39:17

Some state schools offer IB list here of both private and state -

secondarychoices Fri 27-Sep-19 17:44:56

Oblomov the local schools ARE good! We are rather privileged that at worst, DC will go to the comprehensive that gets great results and has, from all we've heard, great extracurriculars and pastoral care.

We were just wondering if there is a way to go more broad and avoid the early specialisation - at least to some extent. Hence starting to consider options that had never been on our horizon before, like the Kingston super-selectives and some private schools.

The IB thing looks interesting, will look further into that, thanks.

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LIZS Fri 27-Sep-19 18:02:54

But few offer IB before diploma (6 th form) so do gcse until then.

JoJoSM2 Fri 27-Sep-19 19:37:33

Are you in the Inner Priority Area for the Tiffin? You sound quite far away and might not have a genuine chance if you are.

secondarychoices Sat 28-Sep-19 00:08:20

Thanks for that JoJo - we're not and I realise now that means I can discount Tiffin.
I see that DS could theoretically get a place at Sutton Grammar, but that will be too far - over an hour on trains, via Clapham Junction <shudder> - that can't be worth it.

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JoJoSM2 Sat 28-Sep-19 00:25:20

There’s are 3 boys’ grammars in the borough of Sutton (my neck of the woods): Sutton Grammar, Wilson’s and Wallington County Grammar. People do apply from far away but tend to move into the area if they are offered a place. They’re really lovely schools.

Aren’t ACS schools commercial business rather than charities? It’s schools with charitable status that offer bursaries.

secondarychoices Sat 28-Sep-19 01:12:46

I've meanwhile checked the local ACS, they do offer bursaries 10-100%, means tested. Though they don't shout about them as much as other schools whose webpages I've visited.
Like so many other indies, they require the child to pass the entry requirements first, in this case that means that the school decides the child would be well suited 'for an international education' whatever that means. As well as an exam to test for ability.

They do IB - Middle Years Programme, rather than GCSEs, which looks interesting and more in line with what we'd expect from secondary education. And they are actually our closest secondary school, I believe! A lot closer than the 'local' comprehensive. I value quality of life deriving from short commutes a lot.
So it would mean buying into this very different approach, with different types of educational certificates at the end. (DH is a bit worried about how it would affect university applications.) Maybe it is exactly what we are looking for ... But we could never in a million years afford it - despite saving significantly on travel costs. My current annual income (part-time, term-time only, self-employed - but no way to increase that, currently) would not even cover a third of their annual fees ... and unfortunately my gig at a different ACS doesn't qualify us for bursaries ...
I guess, with it being nearby, and potentially just right for us, we'll book onto a tour.

Yes we did consider going for schools that are really too far, and moving closer in the event of gaining a place (and a bursary, in the case of indies). But that doesn't help reduce the bewildering amount of choice! Arrgh.

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JoJoSM2 Sat 28-Sep-19 07:50:55

I’m sorry OP, I thought they didn’t do bursaries.

I think that if you’re willing to move, that really helps the situation. You could ring around schools to see what the situation with GCSE choices is and narrow your options right down.

Fifthtimelucky Sat 28-Sep-19 10:19:54

I don't know the area, or the schools, but if you're interested in grammar schools, surely you're better off looking at Slough or Buckinghamshire if you are west of London and outside the M25?

I think it's a real shame that so many secondary schools have made GCSEs a 3 year course rather than the traditional two. I was glad mine didn't. It shouldn't be necessary, especially in a selective school, and it means children are having to drop some subjects too early.

10 GCSEs rather than 12/13 is very sensible though!

Michaelahpurple Sat 28-Sep-19 11:41:59

Gosh, the combination reducing to just the gcse subjects in year 9 plus only doing 9 is a bit grim. Surely they still keep a selection of "soft" subjects going?

My year 9 DS does english, maths, physios, bio, chem, geog, history, RS , extension science, Latin, Greek, french, art, music, drama, computing and electronics this year, which is much more fun, lucky child

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