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“Choice of housemaster actually more important than choice of school in the case of both Eton and Winchester” Thoughts on this?

41 replies

artistmother · 09/01/2024 15:47

“Choice of housemaster actually more important than choice of school in the case of both Eton and Winchester”. Thoughts on this? If people aren't done discussing these schools! I know there have been a lot of threads around Win Coll recently 😅. Just trying to understand current parents' feelings on the two schools as my son may have to choose between them in a few months. Thank you 🙏

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Calliopespa · 09/01/2024 22:42

It’s true that HM is incredibly important however I’m not sure I could say more important than the choice btw these two schools in themselves. They are both mentioned in the same breath as very academic, traditional, (mostly!) all boys schools that have similar admissions requirements; however they are really quite different in focus and each suit quite different boys in some ways. That said, if you really didn’t like the HM at one, you should build that into the decision.

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artistmother · 10/01/2024 00:16

Thank you Calliopespa. My son's headmaster prefers Eton for him but I loved Winchester when I visited and liked the fact it was a smaller school. My son loved both schools and apparently both could suit him. He's bright and hard-working, loves school, loves his friends, is into sport (B teams) and chess and making jokes about farts (!)... he's not alpha, more of an introvert. Quiet and kind but knows how to get his way and is a good leader, apparently. We are an international family, I'm Spanish and my husband is French, if that makes any kind of difference! I grew up in London and we live here. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, if you feel one school might be better suited than the other. My heart was set on Winchester as I felt it was the "gentler" school but comments I've read here on Mumsnet are making me wonder whether Eton might not be the "safer" choice, with better pastoral care across the houses.

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Calliopespa · 10/01/2024 08:05

He’s a Winchester type IMO! Mind you the fart jokes will see him right at any boarding school! I think people tend to respond to one or the other. Winchester is a little more “otherworldly” in a way: more removed and compact physically, smaller, beautiful setting and buildings, water meadows and then Div which totally sets the school apart in the sense that the focus is not really on the exam system in quite the same way as most other schools. They still score well, but the education is happening at a different level so the exam results probably belie a richer education going on in the background. It’s a place for the genuinely scholastic and maths is important. Eton is much more “switched on,” from a busier location to being a place that suits busy boys whose focus is on getting on in the world. There’s lots happening and being a sportsman will probably bring more adulation there, though you’d need to be a firm A team candidate to make any discernible ripples! They are both amazing schools but with a different vibe and focus. I’ve known boys to have a fabulous time pastorally at both and a bad time at both. That’s fundamentally a housemaster issue, so will necessarily vary (and will also often change during a boy’s time passing through the school). Good luck - and nothing wrong with your family choosing with the heart!

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artistmother · 10/01/2024 12:03

Thanks @Calliopespa I really appreciate hearing your opinion. It sounds like you understand both schools, without having a personal preference for either. DS’s favourite subject is maths so that might work with Winchester too. All the best!

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Marjoribanks · 10/01/2024 23:30

There's a fundamental difference, @artistmother in that at Winchester the candidate and HM choose each other before a place is gained and at Eton the house selection comes after a place has been achieved. At Winchester the process slightly resembles an arranged marriage in that the Registrar suggests a couple of Houses, applicant and HM meet and a discernment takes place as to whether the fit is good- if not, a further couple of choices are offered and so on until there is a combined agreement. The HM is then at the heart of the admissions process. At Eton admissions are done centrally. I think Winchester admissions suit a thoughtful child who might take longer to come out of their shell- the interviews are significantly longer at Winchester. The mainstream selection to Eton requires a boy to impress quickly, because the interviews are pretty short. This might underpin the generalisation Winchester suits introverts and Eton extraverts. Because the House system is so powerful at Winchester I'd say it is akin to a collegiate university- a federation of Houses, I don't see Eton in the same light, for instance half the houses have no dining so boys eat in a shared facility. For these reasons I would say the choice of House is more important at Winchester and slightly less so at Eton. Of course this is problematic when the HM who accepts a 10 year old prospective pupil leaves the school before the child completes their time at the school- you may make a choice that isn't what you eventually get, and the incoming HM may take a different view of the individuals he inherits who were chosen by his predecessor.
I wouldn't discount your Headmaster's view- your son sounds like he would flourish anywhere.

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artistmother · 11/01/2024 12:11

Thank you @Marjoribanks , these are really important points. When we visited Winchester we actually toured one of the houses with the HM that would be in place in 2026, when my son would attend, not the current HM, which made sense. We've actually already chosen a house at Winchester and loved the HM, who really clicked with our son, so I have a feeling this will work out. If this HM were to leave the school before our son arrived, we'd be very worried. I think I would choose HM above school, in the case of Winchester and Eton. They are both such good schools, I'd go with the option where I felt most comfortable with the pastoral care (and pray chosen HM would stay put!). I am having trouble considering Eton as an option, at this stage, because I haven't met any potential Housemasters yet.

Thank you for saying you think my son would flourish anywhere, I’m touched. And curious to see how that Eton interview goes! It’s happening next term and DS is definitely an introvert so it will be interesting to see the result.

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Araminta1003 · 11/01/2024 17:25

Does your DS befriend boys more like him or does he choose lots of different types of boys as friends?

Boys change a lot between 10-13. This is why many people with academic boys accept offers from both, go through the process and then decide finally at the end of year 7/sometimes even at the beginning of Year 8. Of course, if you are sure earlier it would help the schools and boys on the waiting list to make a decision sooner.

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MomfromCanada · 11/01/2024 17:50

We had offers from both and waited until the beginning of year 8 before making the final decision.

There were also three boys at our prep who had offers from Winchester and were wait listed at Eton.Two of them received offers from Eton at the end of year 7 so the relinquished their Winchester offers.

It might be best to except any offers and remain on the wait list ( if that's the outcome) until closer to the admission date.

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TonTonMacoute · 11/01/2024 17:51

My DS was at Eton and I would say that the school is definitely more important than the house.

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MomfromCanada · 11/01/2024 17:52

I would agree with that @TonTonMacoute .

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MomfromCanada · 11/01/2024 18:01

Accept*

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Marjoribanks · 11/01/2024 19:55

@artistmother If pastoral care is your priority you might be better off with Eton; if you read other threads featuring Winchester there is much unhappiness on that score. And the central importance of the House to a pupil's wellbeing at Winchester will intensify any issues experienced within.

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artistmother · 12/01/2024 10:08

Thanks @Araminta1003 that's a good question, his best friend is very different from him, a loud extrovert! His other close friends are different types; loud and quiet, more or less hard-working, all are passionate about football.

The deadline for confirming a Winchester offer is earlier than the date when we'd hear back from Eton so we may well find ourselves having to accept two offers (if we're lucky enough to receive offers from both schools).

Thank you for your comments @MomfromCanada @TonTonMacoute . I would have liked to make a choice on one school or the other quite quickly so my son can know where he's going and get excited about that option and go along to the future school's events knowing that's where he'll be, etc. but you're right boys change a lot between 10 and 13 and it might be worth waiting, if we're not sure... plus my son is young for his year. Thanks for your feedback 🙏

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Araminta1003 · 12/01/2024 10:54

“The deadline for confirming a Winchester offer is earlier than the date when we'd hear back from Eton so we may well find ourselves having to accept two offers (if we're lucky enough to receive offers from both schools).”

Do you think that may be deliberate so Winchester get to keep some “acceptance” fee?

Regarding friendships sounds like your DS would thrive at Eton and cope with a bigger school and not be stifled by Sixth Form. I think most people would chose Eton. Right now Winchester will have courted you and you are more involved in their process. If you get an A list offer from Eton you should see it through unless you see anything particular that puts you off.

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artistmother · 12/01/2024 12:56

@Araminta1003 We get Eton's response later than most applicants because DS is young for his year and will be interviewed in the Summer term, instead of this term, so offers are made later. I suspect Winchester don't mind the fact some parents will be stuck with this situation... they may get it and give us the extra couple of weeks we need to respond, though... it would be the right thing to do. I can let you know how this plays out later in the year...

It's very true that the Winchester process, at this stage, has us much more involved and emotionally attached than the Eton one. It's good to read different people's experiences of the schools on this forum to get a more objective point of view, and hear the stories the schools are not going to tell you!

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artistmother · 12/01/2024 12:59

Thanks @Marjoribanks Pastoral care is indeed our priority 🙏

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Marjoribanks · 12/01/2024 13:20

Winchester get their offers out sooner, but will 100% anticipate that a percentage of those who accept will continue to hold multiple offers, so don't hold back through any sense of obligation. In the second term of Y8 you will be asked to sign contracts and pay a much heftier deposit. That is the point when final choices are being made and there will be lots of movement on waiting lists. You make a good point about wanting your DS to have certainty in his planning and the opportunity to look forward and get excited about his new school- it's not easy for young boys to hold multiple potential futures simultaneously. I felt the whole process was designed with very little thought to the wellbeing of children involved; it's both cut-throat and cynical.

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Oscarsix · 12/01/2024 15:20

Boys at our London prep apply to a mix of boarding schools along with London schools.
Many will end up with multiple offers and St Paul's or Westminster are usually their first choices.

We had an offer for Winchester and Eton we let them go early in year 7, we accepted our son's offer to St Paul's. His friends who went on to Eton are much happier than those who went to Winchester, I don't know the details but they will be applying for St Paul's or Westminster again at 6th form. They are also looking at other boarding schools.

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Araminta1003 · 12/01/2024 15:25

“I felt the whole process was designed with very little thought to the wellbeing of children involved; it's both cut-throat and cynical.”

For Westminster now I believe you can just apply in Year 6 for Year 9 entry and you are done.
Winchester and Eton have a very long complicated 3 year process that must cost a lot to oversee and goes on and on and I don’t think they are seeing better results than other similar schools. They should make it far more transparent and straightforward for all. Definitely not for the faint hearted to have to go through so many hurdles to get there in the end. And the further testing in year 8 isn’t necessary either. The type of boy they are taking isn’t going to stop working completely in Year 7 or 8. They should make it voluntary for academic/music/drama/sports scholars only in year 8 and be done and dusted for most in Year 6.
It is almost like they want to be like Oxbridge, the process being enough extra hurdles to put many off, even if they are otherwise good enough. Too much hassle.

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Araminta1003 · 12/01/2024 15:30

Or another take on this is: if your child is boarding at either, would you not rather have a nice enough HM who focusses on your child once there, rather than having to focus endlessly on rounds and rounds of showing round the houses and endless interviews with prospective candidates who may never show up. Maybe that is why the pastoral care isn’t 100 per cent because they end up having to spend too much time marketing/interviewing? Is that possible? Other schools just leave most of it to the admissions department. There is some value in that.

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Neptune24 · 12/01/2024 16:46

Araminta1003 · 12/01/2024 15:30

Or another take on this is: if your child is boarding at either, would you not rather have a nice enough HM who focusses on your child once there, rather than having to focus endlessly on rounds and rounds of showing round the houses and endless interviews with prospective candidates who may never show up. Maybe that is why the pastoral care isn’t 100 per cent because they end up having to spend too much time marketing/interviewing? Is that possible? Other schools just leave most of it to the admissions department. There is some value in that.

This is a very good point.I'm an ex Winchester parent ,the pastoral care issue was a major factor in our decision to leave. My son moved to a day school for 6th form.
The pastoral care was super, they had the right people in place.... This should be a basic requirement.
They were completely on the ball so nothing can escalate. My son felt they actually cared about the welfare of all the boys.

The headmaster knew my son well despite being a 6th form entry. He wrote the most wonderful reference for him when he was applying for university in the US, I was so impressed at how much time he has taken to get know him.

The reality of the Winchester is nothing like the vision they sell to parents..The long entrance process does make it very difficult to leave after year 11 but we are so glad that we did. My son received very little attention from the housemaster once he joined the school, he said some received even less. I find that hard to imagine.

I knew we would receive an offer from the housemaster when we picked DS up after the interview. This makes a parent think positively about the school, we all open to flattery when it comes to our DC.



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TonTonMacoute · 12/01/2024 18:21

I think that’s a very good point @Araminta1003, and I think prospective parents tend to overestimate how much the HM himself will do anyway, a lot of it is admin, overseeing overall progress and stepping in for more serious matters - like the odd fight.

We certainly found the pastoral care at Eton excellent. There are various deputy HMs, the Dame and domestic staff, older boys who have been given pastor roles, personal tutors and Beaks who are all involved - there is a massive network of people throughout the school all keeping an eye on things, ready to step in if things start to go sideways.

The idea of these schools is to allow boys to develop into able and confident adults and, to put it bluntly, if you are worried your son won’t manage without an HM holding their hand then you should probably be looking elsewhere.

By the way, over-solicitous mothers are a big turn off for the best House Masters at Eton…

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Calliopespa · 12/01/2024 18:36

Neptune24 · 12/01/2024 16:46

This is a very good point.I'm an ex Winchester parent ,the pastoral care issue was a major factor in our decision to leave. My son moved to a day school for 6th form.
The pastoral care was super, they had the right people in place.... This should be a basic requirement.
They were completely on the ball so nothing can escalate. My son felt they actually cared about the welfare of all the boys.

The headmaster knew my son well despite being a 6th form entry. He wrote the most wonderful reference for him when he was applying for university in the US, I was so impressed at how much time he has taken to get know him.

The reality of the Winchester is nothing like the vision they sell to parents..The long entrance process does make it very difficult to leave after year 11 but we are so glad that we did. My son received very little attention from the housemaster once he joined the school, he said some received even less. I find that hard to imagine.

I knew we would receive an offer from the housemaster when we picked DS up after the interview. This makes a parent think positively about the school, we all open to flattery when it comes to our DC.



.

In fairness, I think the crucial role played by an individual HM on the pastoral side ( as opposed to day schools where there is no such integral relationship) means that you can’t really blanket statement the issue. There will always be some HMs better than others, and occasionally the particular HM/ boy relationship just won’t work for whatever reason - which is in fact why so much time is spent trying to mitigate against this risk. I know plenty of pupils at both Eton and Wincoll who really have had amazing support from their HM and have really flourished under their supervision. I just think that, as a house system means that pastoral care is primarily particular to that relationship, it is oversimplification to say one such school “just isn’t good” at pastoral, or that another is. There are almost as many experiences as there are individual HM/boy relationship, and certainly as many experiences as there are different HMs. I’m sorry Neptune to hear of your experience, which must have been disappointing and distressing, but it really doesn’t mean everyone has the same experience. I know of many cases to the contrary. But every so often there will be a “dud.”

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Oscarsix · 12/01/2024 20:06

@Neptune24 You mentioned a reference for American universities in your post did your DS go on to study there? My DS is very keen any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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Neptune24 · 12/01/2024 23:58

DS was very lucky @Oscarsix he had offers from two Ivy leagues and Cambridge. He is studying in the US at his first choice and loving it.
I would be happy to help if I can, feel free to message me.

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