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Quandaries about secondaries and moving house - N London vs Kent vs Surrey

(65 Posts)
lostlondoner Tue 26-Nov-19 21:07:57


I live in East Surrey. I have never felt at home here but it's got better I guess! We are considering moving either further out to Tun Wells for a bit more life, prettier countryside and a bit less of a commuter town feel or moving back in to N London where we used to live for shorter commute and to enjoy London with kids. We are planning on doing it sooner rather than later as I think it will just be harder as they grow older.

We need to consider v carefully as don't want to move again so I have some questions about schools:

Tun Well grammars - am aware it is v pressured and tutoring is needed. And you have to live close by now for any real chance. Does anyone have any real life info on what it's like? I would hope we would not get drawn into the stress and just keep calm and carry on. Am happy to tutor but am also concerned at the pressure kids may feel. Have DS6 and DS3 so I have no real idea if they will be academic other than DS6 is doing v well right now, he's bright and enthusiastic but who knows what DS3 will be like! Is Skinners really good? It sounds fab once you are in. My only concern is that it is single sex but it's not a deal breaker.
If they dont get in what is the state option?
We are fortunate that we could consider private but is Sevenoaks the only one nearby? I'd prefer a less hot housey private but I don't think there is one. Maybe I'm wrong about Sevenoaks! And how hard is it to get into Sevenoaks? If they don't pass the 11+ I'm thinking they probably are not the right fit for Sevenoaks anyway.

N London - Does anyone have any opinions about Fortismere and APS? Are they the best options in Muswell Hill now? I've read a lot and get the impression pastoral care is not great at Fortismere which puts me off. Do either have anything they focus on like sport or art? Again I have no idea what my sons would be interested in right now but they do seem to like sport, maths and English.
Is Highgate School hard to get into at secondary? This would be our private choice in the area but we'd like to do state primary and have no idea if it's super hard to get into at 11+ What is the pressure like?

East Surrey - if we stay does anyone have any opinions about Reigate Grammar and Whitgift? And Caterham? I've got the impression Caterham is quite sporty but also highly academic. How hard is it to get in at 11+ from state primary? The state option is not great.

I'd like an all round school that isn't too hot housey with good pastoral care but perhaps that's because my sons are only tiny right now!! So hard to base a decision on a future you don't know.

If you've got this far thank you. Basically any intel on any of the schools mentioned would be v useful as we try and make a difficult decision.

OP’s posts: |
Dodgeitornot Tue 26-Nov-19 21:38:43

I can only comment on north London. Fortismere is much easier to get into recently and APS has taken over with distance and results. Fortismere is definitely losing its popularity. Last year was 0.4 miles catchment for APS. It'll go down in the next couple of years as the bulge years dissipate but I don't see it being much further than 0.8 anytime soon. Highgate Wood has improved a lot and it's catchment has shrinked and so has its results. Heartlands is the favourite for families that would've previously got APS and it has a very good reputation. Both APS and Heartlands have an amazing SEN team.
Highgate is very difficult to get into and I'm sure them winning awards this year won't help.

FanDabbyFloozy Tue 26-Nov-19 21:59:00

The Archer in East Finchley is also a good state option but do read the admissions code carefully - it is more straightforward than it was but still needs planning!

Lobsterquadrille2 Tue 26-Nov-19 22:10:32

I can only comment on Tunbridge Wells. My DD went to the girls' grammar, which is opposite Skinners location wise. Most of my friends' sons went to Skinners or the boys' grammar. Tutoring was about half and half (DD didn't have any). All three of those schools have consistently good results - Skinners is sportier than boys' grammar and more emphasis on rugby (or that could just be DD's friends). There's a mixed state school close by, Bennett, also very good - they do prefer you to have a faith, used to be Christian but more widely accepting these days.

Tonbridge also has Judd, another boys' only grammar - again a great reputation and my nephew went there.

Lobsterquadrille2 Tue 26-Nov-19 22:12:33

Sorry, pressed send too soon. Tonbridge school is independent, all boys, highly thought of - I know several boys who've now left and done extremely well. E M Forster went there and there's a theatre in the school named after him 😀.

materridet Tue 26-Nov-19 22:48:26

Only know Tun Wells. The grammar entry system is..... unpleasant, for want of a better word. Parents get very angsty and competitive in Year 5 (and sometimes earlier), and it's hard on those kids with super-invested parents who don't pass. But - the schools are great. We preferred Judd to Skinners (seemed to us slightly more modern, slightly less alpha male, helped by having girls in the sixth form), but by all accounts they're both fantastic schools. If your DC don't pass or don't enter the 11+, then Bennett is the obvious academic choice, but it would have been too churchy for us (both in terms of entry criteria and also ethos). Skinners Kent Academy is also pretty well-regarded, as is St Greg's. With an 11+ pass you've also got the Boys' Grammar, which gets very mixed views, but we liked it when we visited. New head has made lots of changes though, I think it's had a slightly turbulent time.

In the end we chose Sevenoaks over Judd (bloody lucky choice to have), and personally I think it's a fantastic school. I think 'hot-housey' is unfair; yes, the kids are very motivated and achieve fabulous results, but the staff are generally trying hard to create a relaxed atmosphere, the kids are strongly encouraged to do loads of extra-curricular stuff as well as academics, and I'd say my son has had less pressure of homework and academic targets so far than his friends at the grammars. The ethos is very firmly modern, co-ed, non-church, international and pro-service, which was very appealing to us. Kids need to be bright to get in and thrive though - probably a broadly similar 'level' to the 11+ (some who fail 11+ get in, and vice versa).

There really are a lot of good schools around here. Some parents do have a 'grammar or nothing' view towards the state schools, but if you can afford independent then you have the luxury of choice anyway.

materridet Tue 26-Nov-19 22:54:24

Meant to say, I think Sevenoaks is a bit easier to get into than it would be if it were located in another county, as so many of the clever kids go to the grammars. Not easy, but not stupidly hard. If a child is a good fit, they've got a good chance. And no boarding now at Year 7/8, so the competition is a bit more local? Our son went from a state primary, as did a number of those in his year.

SJane48S Wed 27-Nov-19 06:14:55

Another Kent poster! Price wise, Tunbridge Wells would make a lot more sense than Muswell Hill for which I would have thought you’d need a small fortune to buy a shoebox these days! As PP has said, grammar entry is all rather pressurised and I personally don’t know anyone who didn’t either externally tutor or dedicate time themselves to tutor. You’ve got wider options in TW than you’ve listed - as well as Skinners there is Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar. Of the two, Skinners is the better regarded on the academic front but I’ve friends with boys in both who only have good things to say. Both have excellent results. There is also Judd in Tonbridge - a really easy commute up the train line. Sevenoaks is only one stop further up. Judd tends to be the ‘most desired’ option for parents with boys going the grammar route. A friend commented on it all being a bit ‘robotic’ when she went on an open day but I know 2 boys who go there and both seem to be doing well.

Sounds like you’ll go independent if your DC don’t pass the 11+ - there are some decent State schools in the area. Bennett’s though is heavily oversubscribed and unless you are able to secure a faith place you stand little chance of getting in. Skinners Academy has a much much better reputation than it used to have and there is also Uplands in Wadhurst which is relatively decent (although I’ve heard some mixed reports).

Sevenoaks is really easy to get to from TW & the train station is packed every morning/afternoon with grammar and indie pupils going in both directions. For boys, as well as Sevenoaks school there is also Radnor House which is independent.

lostlondoner Wed 27-Nov-19 07:49:56

Thank you everyone this is really useful and also very reassuring!

OP’s posts: |
JoJoSM2 Wed 27-Nov-19 08:20:44

From where you are, for coed indies you could probably also look at Epsom (similar to Caterham academically, though), Lingfield or Royal Russell. Reigate Grammar is a Top 100 indie so not easy.

If you’re after good sport and Art provision, then I’d really look into independent over state as they have far better facilities and generally have the ethos of participation in co-curriculars. I’m not sure where in N London those schools are.
However, you’d have plenty of options in SW London if you want to be in London (that side is also greener and safer).

XelaM Wed 27-Nov-19 08:51:46

I'm in North London and currently have a daughter in Year 5, so I have been looking into schools quite seriously. If I were flexible and could mive anywhere in North London to get into a school in catchment - I would not hesitate to move next door to either Dame Alice Owen or Wren Academy over Firtismere or APS.

XelaM Wed 27-Nov-19 08:56:25

And both DAO and Wren Academy have sibling policies.

Lightsabre Wed 27-Nov-19 10:47:39

Look at the elevenplusexams website- they have a talk forum for independent schools and also for the Kent region Grammar exams. As a pp says, Sevenoaks not majorly difficult to get into and Tonbridge starts at 13+ - both great schools. Sevenoaks does the IB in sixth form which can put some off.
Grammar tutoring in Kent is endemic. North London selectives very competitive.

squeaver Wed 27-Nov-19 10:52:45

Just on Highgate: the junior school is now bigger and that makes the squeeze on 11+ places even tighter.

I have heard very good things about APS and also Dame Alice Owen.

Dodgeitornot Wed 27-Nov-19 11:32:51

You can't apply to Brit school until you're due to take your GCSEs so not really an option for 11 plus.

lostlondoner Wed 27-Nov-19 12:46:19

Does anyone have any more details about Highgate School and probability of getting in at 11+? I'll search the education threads as well. I think our preference would be there if we went for N London. Or have I missed any other great indies up there? I'll take a look at Wren and Dame Alice too thanks.

Great to know that Sevenoaks isn't too hot housey. If we go for Kent it's good to know there are some alternatives to the grammars - both state and private.

@JoJoSM2 we thought about SW London but it doesn't make sense for us. Work is in the city and my folks up in the east. I do agree I'd feel more comfortable there with littleys, though without kids I would never have left north London!

I think Tun Wells has the edge at the moment. We've got the trauma of primary school moves to sort out as well if we do this. Gah!

OP’s posts: |
XelaM Wed 27-Nov-19 13:17:39

Highgate is a great school and one that I have been looking at for my daughter. I have heard (from other parents in years above as well as her headteacher and tutor) that the 11+ exam is one of the toughest, but I have no personal experience of it. Someone told me that it's slightly easier for girls than boys to get in (due to less girls applying) but that's completely anecdotal evidence. If you work in the City (as do I) have you considered City boys? Another great school and one that many try to get into.

However, if you're considering North London and are flexible in terms of address I would definitely move next door to a good state school, as there are so many. You can't go wrong with DAO - one of the most sought after schools in London and people would give and do A LOT to try to get one of those (I think) 20 catchment places (the others are sibling and music places and 65 are on aptitude).

Wren Academy has superb results and everything is very new. We're sadly out of catchment, but it would be my daughter's dream school. Like DAO it's also co-ed.

The other school many kids in my daughter's school (a prep school in North London) are looking it is Ashmole Academy. Again, superb results and a tight catchment.

lostlondoner Wed 27-Nov-19 13:47:16

Thanks @XelaM sounds like Highgate will be a tough one! I stupidly thought you'd get into any private school if you were paying ha ha ha 😂 So I'll look into the other options you have mentioned.

The whole process makes me feel very ill but silver lining I guess if we move now we won't have the issue later on, or we will have at least thought about it all!

OP’s posts: |
lostlondoner Wed 27-Nov-19 13:52:32

Does anyone have any intel about Reigate Grammar and Whitgift? Again I'll google but be good to compare them all somehow 😩🙃

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lostlondoner Wed 27-Nov-19 13:54:59

I think the issue we may have with N London is we love around N6 so wouldn't want to move much further from there really which knocks out the other excellent state options further up. I'll look at City Boys - is it pressured? Hard to get into? Highgate really appealed as it seemed like a very liberal with a broad curriculum as well as getting great results but I obviously now know I can't guarantee a place there...

OP’s posts: |
FanDabbyFloozy Wed 27-Nov-19 13:55:23

If you're moving into the DAO region just to get a place, do read the admissions very closely. Renting is now impossible if you have an existing home, you need to live there for years (not just year 5/6) and the distance is measured in metres.

materridet Wed 27-Nov-19 13:58:05

If you do plump for Kent, bear in mind that it's not just as simple as 11+ or not. Judd and Skinners are 'super-selective', ie they don't just need a pass, they need a certain score - Skinners fixed in advance, Judd just highest scoring first; plus they've both recently introduced geographical priority areas, which complicates things (though helps you get in if you live in the inner area). Boys' Grammar is just a pass, you should be fine living anywhere in TW. Bennett and Greg's will have some non-faith places, but the 'catchment' distance (for Bennett in particular) will be very small. Not v familiar with SKA. So you might want to think quite carefully about location. Obviously if you go independent you escape this issue.

lostlondoner Wed 27-Nov-19 13:58:05

The other idea we did have was Dulwich as there is the option of Charter or the privates and the commute is not bad plus still easy to get out to Kent countryside. Charter seems great. Comparable to APS maybe? I think Dulwich College may be a bit too old boys for me thought I could be wrong. Is Alleyns the same? We prefer N6 and around though really.....

OP’s posts: |
lostlondoner Wed 27-Nov-19 14:00:19

@materridet thank you yes I heard about this. We'd be living in TW itself. I'll double check the distance criteria for all the grammars though. We thought about living in one of the villages but thought it was too risky and also we like being in the centre of things and getting out to the country for a day rather than living there.

OP’s posts: |
materridet Wed 27-Nov-19 14:09:35

We're in a village out of preference. Not a problem for the grammars, but we would have struggled to get into any of the oversubscribed high schools unless we'd played the god game, which we wouldn't. So town might be a safer option. Though bear in mind that places at the best TW primaries are like gold dust! (incidentally, if you're looking for a liberal education, then Bennett might not be for you. We found it very strait-laced, but that might have been a wrong impression.)

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