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Winchester College and alternatives

(45 Posts)
Justatiredmum Sat 12-Oct-13 10:02:42

Hello everyone,
I am new to Mumsnet and in need of advice!
My son is in Year 5 and we have just started the senior school discussion with the head at his prep. He described my son as "very bright", "a deep thinker" and "as enthusiastic as it gets". However, his academic results are inconsistent. He can range from 65% to 95% in all subjects, depending on the day. This is often because of bad time management on his part (e.g. he'll do 2/3 of a paper really well but will run out of time to complete the remaining 1/3) but sometimes because he has too many ideas buzzing in his headand fails to focus.

While my son is keen to do well and would be devastated if he went to a school where he bumps along at the bottom, he is not especially motivated by achieving top grades (and therefore wouldn't be particularly well suited for a result-driven academic hothouse). What drives him is a genuine intellectual curiosity, an urge to delve deep in whatever captures his mind—whether it is discussing theology or simply talking about superheroes. He's an avid reader and his interests are very wide-ranging, although perhaps he is naturally more drawn to humanities (especially philosophy/theology) than sciences. His music and sport are nothing to write home about (he's sitting Grade 1 for two instruments later this year on the music front and on the sport front he is good, but not great, at rugby, and dreadful at pretty much everything else). Art is a little better but not by much, although he loves drawing.

The school thinks that, on a good day, he could be Winchester College material. On a bad day...goodness knows.
Prep's head is, quite sensibly, advising that we step up the efforts to help him with time management and re-evaluate in a few months (my son is young for his year, as he was born in late summer). But I am not very good at waiting, which is why I am here picking your collective brains.

For those of you with children at Win College: were your boys all straight 98% in Year 5 or did they develop slightly later?

And for everyone: if Win College is a no go, what alternative would you suggest? My husband and I are pretty relaxed about day/boarding and co-ed/single sex, so long as the school is right and has a track record of exit to good universities.

All suggestions will be much appreciated!
Thank you so much!

summerends Sat 12-Oct-13 12:19:45

TBH, the best judge of whether your DS is suited to Winchester College would be Winchester College themselves through their in depth interview process. If you like enough what you hear and see of the school (don't base your judgement on the open day and headmaster's speech), put his name down, consider a housemaster with interests allied to your DS and let your DS and the housemaster find out during year 6 whether it is his sort of place. In the meantime keep looking for alternatives. He sounds as though he has huge academic potential but in view of his present erratic test results he might not be able to demonstrate that by year 6 in a standard written eleven plus type pretesting system, so it would probably be worth considering other schools that leave pretesting until year 7.

grovel Sat 12-Oct-13 12:31:23

Justatiredmum, where do you live?

Justatiredmum Sat 12-Oct-13 13:30:11

Summerends, yes, of course Winchester College would be the best judges - I suppose it's mostly a question of whether he is ready for that kind of interview process. Plus, if his results remain this inconsistent, I doubt very much he'd pass the Winchester entrance examination in Year 8 even should he make it at interview stage in Year 6 (a rare occurrence, I know, but it has happened). Good point about finding a school that tests later, but, with the exception of Sevenoaks, few of the academic ones seem to test later on?
Grovel, we are in the SW London/Surrey borders.

difficultpickle Sat 12-Oct-13 14:17:12

You need to go and visit schools you are interested in. We did the open day at Winchester last term which they have for yr 3 and 4 pupils. It was our first school visit and I found it hard to work out whether I liked it or not. I didn't like it as much as I expected but it was only doing other school visits I realised what I didn't like.

Ds is in year 5 with patchy results although academically very bright and has other interests that make him an attractive proposition for a number of schools we have visited. He is deemed gifted but I thought Winchester seemed very insular with a real focus on academic achievement. I think ds would be happier at a school that supports achievements in other spheres like sports, music, art etc as equal with academics. At the moment top of our list is Uppingham but it is a distance from us and I think maybe too far. We have also visited Charterhouse, Abingdon, Shiplake and Bradfield and we have appointments to visit Eton, Radley, Harrow and Cranleigh.

At the moment we have managed to dismiss Winchester, Charterhouse and Shiplake for a variety of different reasons. We visited Bradfield today and really liked it so I think our current top three would be Uppingham, Bradfield and Abingdon. Abingdon's expansion and large class sizes put me off a bit and if it wasn't for that it would be higher up our list.

I'm hoping that by the end of this term we have a solid list of three schools that we want to revisit.

summerends Sat 12-Oct-13 14:25:28

I did n't express what I meant very well. I think that that the Winchester interview system has the benefit and experience to see through your son's immaturity with relatively poor concentration and timekeeping in exams and explore his curiosity and interests and whether he has the intellectual potential to get the most out of their system. His love of reading and delving deep suggests that he does. Year 8 is a long way away but it is good to have at least another alternative. My thought about choosing alternatives with year 7 pretesting would be so that his enthusiasms would n't be dampened by too early (for him) a m
repetitive focus on exam technique

difficultpickle Sat 12-Oct-13 14:30:22

That's interesting. I'm under the (maybe mistaken) impression that the pre-tests run by various senior schools aren't too arduous as they are testing potential rather than acquired knowledge. <<waits to be corrected>>

Justatiredmum Sat 12-Oct-13 14:33:57

Thanks Bisjo! Wow, you are organised! I have only visited Sevenoaks and Hampton so far and perhaps it's because it is early days I found it hard to figure out whether they are a good fit. Hampton felt very impersonal to me and Sevenoaks, it's hard to explain, there was nothing really wrong with it but I was expecting to be wowed--and wasn't.
Your comments on Winchester College are interesting. I'm trying to arrange a visit with some Housemasters, as I understand the open day can be quite underwhelming.
I also have appointments to visit a number of other schools (City of London Freemen, Harrow) and a few more are on my radar, including Kings College Wimbledon, Tonbridge and Radley, but I am not sure that they would suit my son for different reasons (kings sounds too pushy, the other two too sporty). I had ruled out Uppingham as too far away, but perhaps is worth considering? Bradfield wasn't at all on my list, but maybe I should add it!

peteneras Sat 12-Oct-13 14:37:23

”The school thinks that, on a good day, he could be Winchester College material.”

Hmmm . . . just wondering, how do you define “Winchester College material”.

OP, care to enlighten me? Or anyone else for that matter.

Justatiredmum Sat 12-Oct-13 14:41:38

Thanks Summerends that's very encouraging. I guess I am worried that, if he doesn't mature, he'll flunk the Year 8 Winchester exam, but maybe it's just early days and I need to let him mature and come into his potential (fingers firmly crossed here). Bisjo, my impression is that it really depends on the school. Some mostly test for potential (eg. ISEB and Eton pretests), others focus heavily on what you know in English and Maths. But, either way, any offer would be conditional to passing CE (or, in Winchester College's case, their own exam) with a sufficiently high pass mark, and he still would need to get his academic act together by then.

summerends Sat 12-Oct-13 14:43:05

Bisjo, not saying that your instincts are wrong that Winchester is not the right place for your DS but believe me it does put a huge emphasis on music and drama, and I believe art / history of art. Sport is also deemed important if that is what a boy enjoys and many of the boys are very enthusiastic sportsmen and have very good choice of sports (bar rugby) and (mainly) good coaches ( BTW Abingdon's head of rowing has just returned to Winchester). However perhaps reported comments relate to not wanting sporting success to be at the expense of academic success?

happygardening Sat 12-Oct-13 14:45:21

"I suppose it's mostly a question of whether he is ready for that kind of interview process"
I might be hopelessly out of date here as my DS was interviewed when he was in yr 6 and he's now yr 11 at Win Coll and things might have changed drastically. But I don't recall my DS finding the Win Coll interview particularly onerous. Labelled a "conversation" it lasts for a good 1 1/2 hours and is informal to enable the HM interviewing to really get a feel for if a boy is right for his house and Win Coll in general.
With regard to bumping along the bottom I doubt any one wants to be any super selective and bumping along the bottom. But you are right. Bisjo is probably right it is focused on academic achievement or at least on academia, there's wide choice of sports of course and no rugby and music is big and the lots of plays and the art can be very impressive. But academia remains the main focus.
I dont know where you live but we know lots at Kings Canterbury all different strengths and weaknesses all bar one are happy. We also know lots at Harrow same story all different all happy bar one.
I liked Tonbridge although only weekly boarding or day but very sporty. PM if you want to know more about Win Coll.

Justatiredmum Sat 12-Oct-13 14:53:02

Peteneras, what I meant is that he has the intellectual hunger you apparently need to enjoy Winchester and, on a good day, this is matched by the academic ability that's also expected to do well there. However, if is academic results remain erratic, he probably would risk not meeting their exam requirements. If he matures a little, improving his time management and concentration, Winchester could be the right school for him. If he doesn't, it wouldn't be.
Either way, I need to look for alternative options that will challenge him intellectually but not reject him if his CE eventually turns out to be 60-65% rather than 70 or more. As it's still early days, I am mostly looking for schools that might sound like the right place so I can go and visit them.

difficultpickle Sat 12-Oct-13 14:55:24

I only organised a load of school visits for this term because I was so completely freaked out by the other parents we met at Winchester's open day. Bearing in mind it was for years 3 and 4 everyone we spoke to had already looked at a number of other schools. I came home and spent the following Monday on the phone to all the senior schools I could think of booking their open days.

I'm hoping that choosing the right school is like choosing a house - something will click and we'll know it is the right school for ds.

One thing I quickly got over was the school facilities. Every school we've looked at bar one has the most amazing facilities. In a way I'd rather spend my visits quizzing pupils and staff rather than doing a tour but I assume I'll get to do that in more detail on second visits.

I think one of the reasons that Uppingham is our current favourite was the organisation of the open day meant we did get proper time to talk to staff and pupils. I'm not a fan of the cocktail party approach where you wander around a room and have to be pushy lucky to speak to staff. Uppingham had a sit down lunch so I easily got to talk to four teachers (plus more on our tour).

It may just have been the staff I met but I didn't like the ones I met at Winchester or Charterhouse. Although what really put me off Charterhouse was the access for all gym/pool facilities which meant pupils and general public there at the same time. An arrangment that so far seems to be unique to Charterhouse.

I also want a school that acknowledges they would be lucky to have ds as a pupil rather than making me feel they would be doing me a favour to take my money have ds.

peteneras Sat 12-Oct-13 15:04:11

Thanks OP for the explanation. It is quite apparent your boy is bright and has the academic potential. Regarding “good” and so-called “bad” days, I think it’s just a simple matter of good guidance re exam techniques, time management etc. Any good teacher would/should be able to do that.

But what I really want to know is the concept of “Winchester College material”. smile

Bink Sat 12-Oct-13 16:11:26

I think it is a tricky one for you. I think quite strongly that Winchester - nowadays - is a place for diligent boys, or at the very least ones who can find it in themselves fairly easily to be diligent when it's required of them, so eg authority-pleasers or competitive types. (It might have been different in a different generation.)

Anyway, ds's prep school thought ds perfect Winchester material, Winchester thought ds perfect Winchester material (so I wouldn't actually rely on their view!) - but it unravelled spectacularly. And the problem was precisely about (not) being able to apply himself when it was required of him, ie not when his intellectual hunger had led him somewhere and he wanted to understand something for his own sake. So if your son like mine has a powerful agenda of his own but in formal learning setting a 'horse that can be led to water' type I would say concentration difficulties and time management would be a pretty strong contra-indicator. (Description given of ds: 'hard to recruit his attention, but fearsome focus when engaged' - does that describe yours?)

Scattiness is quite a persistent trait I think - ds (now year 10) now has some insight into his scattiness, and therefore a bit of control over it, but it's been a huge part of who he is all along. I would think scatty in year 5 doesn't mean 'not scatty' in year 8. And with that sort of child you might want an actively supportive environment, not a 'sixth form college for teenagers' which is the GSG's description of Winchester.

summerends Sat 12-Oct-13 18:32:40

I agree with Bink that children who are nonconformist are unlikely to enjoy any boarding school (apart from Bedales perhaps). I certainly would not inflict boarding life, however good the perceived education on a child who does not enjoy spending a lot of time with their peers including those on the HFA spectrum, that would be really unfair. Unfortunately Winchester seems to be the suggestion of some prep heads when they see a child as very bright but socially out of sync with their peers. Some of these children are best supported at home in a day school.
Sorry OP, this is off topic for your DS

summerends Sat 12-Oct-13 21:08:27

Bink, having now fully read your post blush I don't think you can blame Winchester for seeing a highly intelligent boy such as your son and not wanting him. Perhaps you could argue that they should have realised that they would not be able to help with his issues (assuming that the prep school head gave Winchester a clear indication of them) and dissuaded you from sending him there. However ultimately it is up to parents to follow their instincts as to what is the right environment for their children when there are known issues that make the social life of boarding and self organisation potentially unpleasant

Erebus Sat 12-Oct-13 21:48:59

Of the above the only sentence that attracted my attention was this: "I also want a school that acknowledges they would be lucky to have ds as a pupil rather than making me feel they would be doing me a favour to take my money have ds."

Oh dear. What poor parenting to teach your young son that he is a gift to all that cross his glittering path.

What a burden to carry.

difficultpickle Sat 12-Oct-13 21:51:59

What poor parenting to teach your young son that he is a gift to all that cross his glittering path.

And where does my post say I have said that to my ds? confused

Maybe I am unique but I want ds to go to a school where he is valued and respected.

difficultpickle Sat 12-Oct-13 22:14:11

Actually you may have a point but I'm not sure how to change it. Nothing I've said to ds but we do get a lot of 'we really like to take boys who are x and have x and y to offer'. Not sure how to get around that other than to tell ds not to answer when he's asked these questions (which would make him seem rather rude).

summerends Sat 12-Oct-13 22:18:50

Nope you are not unique bisjo, I would think most of us want that Discounting slick marketing which can be effective at persuading parents how much a school wants one's child, it is may be choice between a school where one's child is a star or another school where they are perhaps more ordinary. If the latter, then the child should still feel very much valued and respected, maintain or gain self confidence and hopefully benefit from the interactions with differently talented peers. A school that does not bother to get to know a child and value their abilities is potentially unlikely to develop them.

happygardening Sat 12-Oct-13 23:49:27

I can only speak for my DS bink no one would describe him as an "authority-pleaser".
summerends like me my DS is a fully signed up non conformist he over time became thoroughly miserable at his boarding prep school but is very happy at Win Coll where he feels under no pressure to conform at all. Interestingly he has a friend who's even more of a non conformist than my DS he was sent to Bedales and absolutely loathed it.

summerends Sun 13-Oct-13 03:04:10

HG, I used the word "conformist" above to equate to Bink's "authority-pleaser" which in that specific scenario seems to be somebody who can conform to a structured busy school day and produce as required the homework set following on from lessons. TBH, "academic conformity" rightly or wrongly is a prerequisite for any academic school day or boarding but in a boarding school the child has to be able to do it themselves without parental input. Winchester seems to positively encourage extended deep thinking but the basic work has to be done.

Sharpkat Sun 13-Oct-13 06:32:47

If you are considering Uppingham then I would definitely look at Oakham. My brother was middle of the road on going there but they got him and he flourished.

I had an amazing 7 years there. State primary but went to Oxford.

I could not fault it and their facilities are out of this world.

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