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Secondary choices - middle class angst

(248 Posts)
Wincher Mon 16-Nov-20 23:02:28

Name changer here, been on MN donkey’s years...

We’ve just done my eldest’s secondary application. We’ve gone for the local company - it’s 5 mins walk away, has rave reviews from parents I know with kids there, seems really welcoming and inclusive. Ofsted Good. Not great results, about 43% 5 good grades, basically in line with national average.

I just keep worrying that we’re not doing the best for my child and I need some sense knocked into me by MN. Both DH and I were privately educated. We are now very comfortably off. We were lucky enough to buy in London zone 3 before prices went crazy and we have a small but comfortable terraced house in a slightly grotty area a mile from the tube. We could afford something bigger in a better area but we have a brilliant group of friends here and our whole life is here. We could also - probably not as well as moving - afford private school for both our kids. But DH is against it in principle and it does seem like a crazy amount of money to spend - at £18k per year or so that’s the best part of £100k for each child just to get to GCSEs. Plus there’s the not minor point that my eldest is bright but not outstanding and really we should have been tutoring him for the last two years if he was going to stand a chance of passing entrance exams.

But I do really think private would suit him - he’s not bothered about being with his friends, he’d love to learn Latin, he’s little and got a posh accent and I worry he’ll be ripped to shreds in a big London state comp.

I think as the deadline for applying to private schools approaches (1 dec I think) I’m just worrying whether Sending him to the local school is really us doing our best by him. People say bright kids will do well wherever they go but is that really true? We still have a couple of months before the exams would be, we could intensively tutor him until then?!

Please tell me I’m being ridiculous and he will do well at the local school! I need to stop the yearning for rugby fields and wood-panelled halls.

OP’s posts: |
SheepandCow Mon 16-Nov-20 23:08:30

It's probably not a popular view but I think if you can afford it why not go private. It's about way more than academic results (and not all private schools are academic). Private offers smaller class sizes (and therefore more attention), more options - academic, sporting, and vocational, and more opportunity to develop each child's individual strengths. I also don't see it as anything to feel angst or guilt about. Certainly not whilst good state schools are oversubscribed.

MarshaBradyo Mon 16-Nov-20 23:11:57

I didn’t realise private application was still open but tests are very soon here (SE London), some students have already taken them.

GrammarHopeful Mon 16-Nov-20 23:12:09

Most applications for Sep-21 are already closed, so you are too late to do anything about it anyway.

FWIW, I'd have gone private in your situation.

SheepandCow Mon 16-Nov-20 23:12:53

If you do decide to send him to the state school and he still wants to learn Latin, perhaps get him a tutor?

I'm sure he'd be fine at the state school. There's a very diverse mix of backgrounds and accents (including posh ones) in London. Have you all been able to visit the school? That would help give you an idea of whether you think he'll fit in there.

Why not apply private as well? If you're uncertain. Keep your options open.

lobsteroll Mon 16-Nov-20 23:14:53

I'm probably not the best to give advice because we chose private from infants onwards but if you can afford it then I'd say go for it.

If he's bright then I suppose he would only need tutoring in exam techniques rather than anything else so I imagine that's something you could do if you decided to go for it.

The local school you've mentioned does sound lovely though. Do you know the children of the people who gave rave reviews about it? Do they seem happy, confident etc?

What is it that your husband doesn't like about private schools?

I think the thing about private schools is, like you said, it isn't going to make a bright kid any brighter, but I do think there is usually a bigger range of extra curriculars, more opportunities in terms of trips etc. and of course smaller class sizes. So it all depends on what you actually want to get out of it.

floridapalmtree Mon 16-Nov-20 23:36:33

Just remember that the cost doesn't end at GCSEs, you will still have A levels to pay for. Then you need to factor in trips, university, driving lessons, car etc. The costs keep going into their twenties.

SheepandCow Mon 16-Nov-20 23:44:11


Just remember that the cost doesn't end at GCSEs, you will still have A levels to pay for. Then you need to factor in trips, university, driving lessons, car etc. The costs keep going into their twenties.

Every child and situation is different, but I had a friend who left her private school at 16 to attend the local 6th form college. Her choice, nothing to do with finances. It worked for her. They also might not necessarily want or need driving lessons straight away, especially if they plan on staying in London.

Cam2020 Tue 17-Nov-20 00:11:27

Just to put a few positives out there for state school from my experience, just for balance:

I went from a 'nice' Catholic primary school to a non religious senior school that had children from more varied backgrounds and families. For the first time, I came into contact with (a very small minority of) children with turbulent family lives, who would certainly be called disadvantaged these days. Sometimes those children were aggressive and tried to domineer/bully. It taught me a great deal about understanding people and why they behave the way they do. I was a quiet, well mannered child and it definitely taught me resilience and how to deal with difficult people - it also taught me empathy and not to judge people by their accent or family etc. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't Borstal - the majority of children were just nice, normal kids. I achieved better than average grades for the 90s, went on to A levels and then a RG uni and it has in no way hindered me.

No school is without its issues, as society and people as a whole are not without issues. If your son really hates it, perhaps there might be he could transfer to a private school at a later date?

SheepandCow Tue 17-Nov-20 00:14:10

Slightly off topic but it's important to remember that turbulent family lives happen (behind closed doors) in middle class homes too.

MarjorytheTrashHeap Tue 17-Nov-20 00:33:39

I had a huge dilemma over which school to choose, although my choice was still between state schools so not quite the same issues as you. Nearby average state comprehensive or further away very good faith school (we meet the entry criteria). Local school is within walking distance, faith school is a real palaver with difficult public transport options or having to spend a fortune on taxis.

I decided on the local school in the end and feel very comfortable with my decision. I think the positives are having local friends, being able to walk, being part of the local community. The money we are not spending on transport can be used to pay towards tutoring later if necessary. I would also describe my DC as bright but not outstanding. The sort of child who I think would be in top sets at the local school but maybe not at the more academic faith school. In your situation, going to a very academic school where many of the others have been tutored could be demoralising.

Also, wood panelling and rugby pitches? That would actually put me off! Makes me think of BoJo, David Cameron and their over-privileged Bullingdon club pals who have no idea what life is really like for the majority of people who live in this country.

SheepandCow Tue 17-Nov-20 00:50:06

Private schools do not exist in a bubble. There are lots of scholarships and bursaries available for underprivileged children. Many private schools are very diverse nowadays.

They're also not just for academic children. It depends which school. Some are ideal for less academic children.

coolingbreezes Tue 17-Nov-20 07:17:13

The problem with these decisions is that nobody can ever really give you an informed view, because they all made one choice or another. We went for independent (over grammar, so a bit different from you) and we are incredibly happy with our choice. It was a hard decision but we were pretty clear about our reasons (didn't want single sex, did want greater subject choice esp ancient and modern languages, smaller classes, even better extra curricular opportunities). DS adores school and we couldn't be happier with our choice and we think it was the right one. BUT - we will never know if he would have been just as happy or more happy at the grammar. If he'd gone to the grammar and been happy, we'd probably be sitting here congratulating ourselves on the fact that we didn't waste the money on private. Parents who say their child was very happy at the local comp, got great grades and did lots of clubs will never know if their child would have been even better off in private. The same is true of anyone who makes these choices, because every child is unique, and will only ever have one school experience. Sometimes parents who moved from one to the other will have a good insight - but even then it's hard to know whether their experience will be relevant to your child.

Sorry, not terribly helpful. All you can do is think really really hard about the benefits and disadvantages for your child, while accepting that these are partly unknowable. This will depend a lot on how good the private option(s) are (in our case we'd only have considered private for a really good school which we thought would be perfect for DS.) As well as obviously looking at the impact of the costs on your family.

DonLewis Tue 17-Nov-20 07:22:03

Or look at it a different way. Use that money that you would have spent on different life experiences for the kids. Take them to see the northern lights, to Thailand, to the Gambia, to New Zealand, off the beaten track in Europe. Pay for music lessons, drama lessons, singing lessons.

Sound alike you're too late now, anyhow. And there's a lot to be said for being a 5 minute walk from school.

Pikachubaby Tue 17-Nov-20 07:30:11

Hard to know!

The comp does not sound that good with only 43% getting decent grades?

But is there a tiered system? Is your DS hardworking/clever enough to get into the higher tiers? Have you met any of the teachers?

My kids went to the local comp, and they are the only ones of their cousins to not be going to private school. But their comp and local sixth form are pretty good, so then it’s an easy choice, though PILs are very worried

DH has been through public school and has vowed never to do this to his own kids grin

RedskyAtnight Tue 17-Nov-20 08:29:33

I was in your position and also chose the local comprehensive.
In my case my niece and nephew go to a local private school (one that I would potentially have chosen) and they are similar age to my DC, so I've had a little bit of a comparison point.

I can categorically say that I'm really pleased with my decision. DD (bright, self starter) is in line for a string of high grades. DS (more average, not so bothered child) arguably would have done better, in terms of grades, in a school where he was pushed more, but he did well enough (in a school that heavily moderated their GCSE results, so lost out in this summer's debacle) to go and do what he wanted Post 16.

There are huge benefits to a local school, rather than spending a large proportion of the day in travelling - you simply have more time! Both children have developed good social skills from mixing with a cross section of others, and have the advantage of their friends close at hand, so have good social interactions (well, pre Covid) and have built up a lot of independence as they are able to facilitate all their own plans.

My experience of the comp is that my DC have had more extra-curricular opportunities than their cousins - simply because the comp offers more inclusive activities. For example, anyone is allowed to join the school orchestra, even if you play a non-typical instrument, whereas at the private school you have to be of a certain standard and they only allow so many of each instrument.

In our case, if we'd used the money for private, it would have taken away from things like holidays, and days out, which are enriching and important in other ways. We've also been able to spend on focused tutoring, where needed. We're also now in a position to give the DC a reasonable house deposit - we would not have afforded this if we'd paid for private school, and my observation of people I know is that one of the big differences in their lives of adults, is not how they were educated, but how much their parents were able to financially support them as adults - all the people who were able to buy younger due to parental help are in more stable financial positions.

As long as the school is "good enough" (and your comp sounds much like mine - not stellar), your DC will be able to achieve. Largely it's down to them. You can lead a horse to water, and all that!

PresentingPercy Tue 17-Nov-20 09:00:42

I live n a grammar county and the results at your school are in line with several secondary moderns around me. So the top stream seems small. Obviously our top stream is in the grammar schools. Where is yours op? In the private schools? So those results are limiting. How many DC get 7,8,9s at gcse? 5 isn’t high enough for A levels. So what is the 6th form like.

As you have missed exam registration for private isn’t it all academic anyway?

We gave up a grammar place for DD1 for a private school. There were huge differences. Everything at the grammar was over subscribed. Trips, sports clubs, drama club, other clubs - all had waiting lists. At DDs school she made choices along with her interests and it happened. It’s not all about academics - it’s about stretching the curiousity and offering a broader education. She never looked back either. None of our friends had sent dc to private school so we were unique and some people think you are mad.

I rather think not doing the best for dc is bad. Private school should never ever be looked at as expense to get GCSEs. It’s far more than that. If the results are the same, I’m wondering why there’s so much fuss about the success of private school DC at elite university entrance? I’m sure there is added value. Does your school add value?

Ploughingthrough Tue 17-Nov-20 09:31:35

Might not be want you want to hear but if you can afford it and you dont need to move I would go private in your shoes. I've taught in leafy state comps and independents over a 12 year period and I would always pick the indie.
For my children I would always give them the best education i could afford, whatever that is.

teachcolate Tue 17-Nov-20 10:09:45

From my experience, it's too late to start preparation for exams because preparation is not just pushing your child to study but also you need to find a right school for him. I don't think all indies are always better than comp. Each school is different.

You have missed open events for 2021 entry and it's too risky to choose a private blindly.

In addition, isn't it difficult to send your child to private without your husband's consent?

If I were in your position, I will send him to a local comp but keep private option opened for 13+ entry and start research schools in case if he wouldn't thrive at local comp.

flipflopping Tue 17-Nov-20 10:21:48

Have you asked your son what he wants? In your shoes, I'd make a list of possible schools (entry still open, not a stretch academically) and take it from there.

When you say your DH is against it in principle, do you mean not keen in theory but persuadable in practice, or that he has a strong principled objection? I think you both need to be agreed before you do anything.

uggbooted Tue 17-Nov-20 10:43:32

We were in a similar position some years ago. Went State and spent our money on wonderful holidays and experiences. Did pay for some private tutoring for DC1, who is now in third year of a medicine degree. DC2 has just started a physics degree, no tutoring required.

Was definitely the right choice for our family, their friends live close by so it's easy to meet up on weekends and holidays. We don't have the financial pressure we would have had if gone private, so could take advantage of all the school trips and extra curricular activities that they wanted to join.

EithneBlue Tue 17-Nov-20 11:18:51

For context, I'm a teacher in an inner city comprehensive: my experience is that students who have parents like you, who clearly care about the education of their children, tend to do well. Whatever your final decision, the fact that you so clearly care about doing the right thing WILL have a positive impact on your child.

I will say that I'm definitely biased, here: I wouldn't send my own children to a private school because I would worry too much about a lack of true social diversity (but acknowledge this could be snobbery on my part). That said, have you been to look around any of the local private schools? They could be worth a visit if you've not seen them?

I like the suggestions from previous posters about investing that extra money in music lessons/trips/visits/tutoring - perhaps you could consider continuing with the state school route for now but review the situation at the end of each academic year?

GreyishDays Tue 17-Nov-20 11:27:13

Have you friends or friends’ children who can give you a warts and all on the comprehensive?

We made our decision based on this really, plus two long conversations with people who had moved from one of the schools we were considering.

It’s worth asking a pupil how much class time is lost to disruption in general. 10%? 50%? 90%?

How many fights do they see each day/week? Do they feel safe? How many times have there been knives brought in?

These questions sound awful, but the answers may be reassuring so please don’t be too alarmed.

Camdenish Tue 17-Nov-20 11:54:58

In my anecdotal anecdata bright children have a nice time at the local comp! Kids are just people too. They take one of their own and get behind them in a “we’ve got a clever kid in “our” form kind of way. He may not be the cleverest or the poshest or the smallest. Lots of boys are tiny in year 7.

flipflo Tue 17-Nov-20 12:01:56

Mine went to the local inner city comp. My brother's went to a selective private school. My two did as well as his academically. He sent his two private because his wife was privately educated - she just couldn't believe that state school children could do as well. All 4 kids have turned into lovely young adults.
Everyone gets nervous about schools. Talk to other parents if you can - people who actually know the comp your son will go to - do kids do well there? If so, stop worrying. With a genuine comp, they'll have a wide cohort and that massively alters the stats. Look at the newsletter for August - I bet there's photos of kids with loads of grade 9's and 8's. I'm a bit of a lefty, but there's more to school than results - if your son goes to the comp, he'll meet a wider cross section of people. That's an education in itself and in a good way! Let your son try it if that's where he wants to go and remember over 90% of people are state educated!

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