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Why we changed our mind from state school to private and back again

Which is better private or state schools

Which is better private or state schoolsChoosing schools must be one of the most stressful experiences a parent ever goes through.

Changing where you child goes to school is even worse!

Rationally there is no way that just this one choice will be the making or breaking of them.  But for some reason we become complete nutters when bewildered by choices, social pressure, decisions between private vs state schools and ghosts from our own experiences.

I’ll never pay for primary I said!

I was always a big fan of state primary, it seemed daft to pay for something that was available for free.  But never say never!

When you are pregnant you just don’t look at schools as much as the older parents advise you to.  So although there were ‘problems’ with the local state school Bowmansgreen, there were plenty more around, so we didn’t think twice about it and moved into a new quite ‘posh’ estate in a ‘village’ called London Colney (it’s more like a suburb to St Albans).


Then the baby boom hit.

Panic and the rush for a Private school

Bowmansgreen was my only option and although it had a new headmistress with a great reputation, but she hadn’t sorted the problems out yet.

To be honest there’s not a lot of ‘problems’ where we live, but there are two little areas of the village where there are definite big problems.  Of course within those two areas are great and lovely families.  However a select few make a big impression, and it just so happens that I live quite near one of these areas.

I just wasn’t willing to let my ‘golden haired boy’ be an experiment that might go wrong – rightly or wrongly.

So along with my whole crescent I panicked.  I was late in preparing Curly Headed Boy and competition for private schools near London is intense.  He was lucky to get a place and so off he went to a private school called Radlett Prep.  (A prep school is one that is specifically preparing kids for getting into good private secondary schools).

After a few settling in problems he seemed to really start to enjoy it.  The school is very old fashioned, and hard core; but then most of the private schools are tough.  But it was always very clear what you were getting from them; maths and english.  Pretty much just that.

However, there was one problem.  I knew he was imaginative, creative and artistic, but apparently he is also bright, so the school just wouldn’t let him relax; after all he was a prime candidate for good results.  It wasn’t just the school either, as there were some kids who were ‘unusually competitive’; I’m talking critiquing his spelling, writing, reading and speech.

He said he was fine.  But I was worried that the ‘real him’ was getting squashed.  Plus he looked tired, really really tired and developed nervous ticks.

(Now don’t get me wrong; this is not a criticism of private schools as some of the kids were really thriving under the structure and pressure.  It’s very much a case of me not being sure that it suited my child, that is all.  Plus there are different types of private school; it’s just that he didn’t get into those ones).

The universe offers up an excuse

Then the big hairy northern one was made redundant.  I gave notice immediately ‘just incase’ he didn’t get a job quickly as previously he was off work for over a year.

I talked about not wanting him to choose a job just to pay for schooling; which I think shocked some parents, whose priorities are much more academic than mine and would sacrifice everything for their children’s education.

After 4 months the hairy one got a job, but I said that it was just a contracting job so it wasn’t secure enough for Curly Headed Boy to stay.

I went back to doing the school run and realised that I dreaded it; what should be 20mins was a 1.5hr round trip in the morning and 1hr round trip in the afternoon.

Then as we started to talk about the fact that he might have to change schools my son started to admit that he wanted to change schools, because all he ever did was ‘work’.  Even football classes and P.E. were ‘work’.  He’s in year 1 (6 years old); I started to have big concerns about where the ‘fun’ was in his learning.

Just incase I considered changing my mind, one of the senior teachers was very grumpy when she discovered he was definitely leaving and they were losing a cheque.  There was no ‘we’re going to miss your son so much etc etc, hope everything gets more settled for you soon and maybe we’ll see you back here’.

Learning about flowers at schoolThere was a choice of state school after all!

How ironic, after all that panic we had the choice between a small village school about 10 mins drive away with just one class per year and the local school Bomansgreen (2 classes per year in comparison to Radlett Prep which is 3 classes per year).

Remember the new head with a good reputation?  She’s not daft at all.  She did a resounding sales job on Curly Headed Boy, and so he picked Bowmansgreen.

So he’s just started at our local school in term 3 of year 1 and can now walk to school (unless it’s pissing it down, because I’m a wimp!).

He gets school dinners (it was packed lunch at Radlett), free morning snacks and encouraged to try different fruits in govt campaigns.  There’s loads more art, lots of time on the computer (maybe too much!), no drama but lots of music, and I got to see him in his school assembly with him dressed as a flower (oh yes, there were tears!)

Two weeks in and I can see the stress falling off my son, although Little Dimples seems unimpressed if her tantrums to and from have been anything to go by!

There are some problems with fitting in with the kids and it is VERY different; but he’s pragmatic about it and we’ll tackle it.  His emotions have been very up and down with the nerves and excitement, but he is adamant that he is happier.

He might be a bit bored and ahead, but they have already changed his view of reading and he  is now reading books for fun, which I’m really chuffed about.

Most of all I’ve come to understand that I want my children to have rich lives, and that academic qualifications don’t necessarily create a full life.

So the story continues …… I’ll let you know how we do!

I’d love to hear if you’ve made similar decisions to move your children at any time?


31 thoughts on “Why we changed our mind from state school to private and back again

  1. Absolutely fascinating to read and I totally agree about wanting your kids to enjoy school especially sad that your son was starting to regard sport and reading as ‘work’ while in the private school. Here I made the big decision to take my v
    ery clever son out of mainstream and into an asperger outreach unit, where he is now thriving. Instead of disrupting class of 30, he is being challenged with really difficult work in a class of 6 🙂

  2. Hi Lisa,
    I taught in a state school as you know for years in London, ironically all of my external tutoring was sought by parents who were paying large sums of money to have their children in Private schools!
    I thought it was weird at the time “you’re employing a state teacher to teach your child who is at a private school and paying for it too!” .

    Glad you are choosing appropriately for the little one’s, I had great fun as a Teacher and with my pupils in my state run school GX

    1. Thanks lovely – funnily enough his new teacher is very like you – pretty and young, a little boys dream of a primary school teacher!

      1. Ha ha gosh not sure my Boys thought I was a dream but the balance was somewhere i’m sure.Miss my pupils sooooo much but enjoying this new style of teaching here GX

  3. We have chosen the private education route for our two boys (6 and 8), and to be honest, yes we are bankrupting ourselves, but we see two very happy, confident, sporty young boys emerging. Luckily for us the school the boys go to isn’t academic heavy, and is very sporty (which suits them – and us- down to the ground). Don’t get me wrong, the work is hard, but the fact that they do sport every day for at least an hour, have acres of woodland to play in, are actively encouraged to build tree-houses and dens in the woods and have extra curricular activities like golf and horse-riding makes it just an amazing environment for them to experience. Oh yes, and also class sizes of 16 helps too!! However, I must say that, if the school wasn’t right for either one of them, I wouldn’t hesitate in moving them – whether to another private school or to our local state. I am a firm believer that the school has to be right for your children, and if that means them going to two different schools, then logistic nightmare that it is, it has to be done. We literally have no idea where we are going for secondary, but for now, we are sticking with private. They will probably never become brain surgeons, but who cares!!! Now, where are those lottery numbers….!!!

    1. That’s very unusual nowadays to get sport every day, I can totally see why you’ve picked that school. Curly Headed Boy is sporty, but I’m unsure at the moment which way he’s going to focus – art / sport / science – we’ll see. I might have to reconsider when he’s older.

      Ironically his private school only had 2 less in the class – isn’t that weird!

      You are brave to be willing to do the logistical nightmare – I’m not sure I would be, but thank fully I reckon that Little Dimples will fit in anywhere with her ‘whatever’ kind of attitude lol. Let’s hope so anyway!

  4. You know me: Not that wild about ANY current education system! The tide is turning and the campaign to reform education for 21st century learners is reaching a tipping point. In the meantime, a setting that brings out your child’s strengths and passions at this crucial development stage is more important than its postcode for sure. Glad to hear you and M are happy in t’village 🙂 x

    1. Thank you lovely! So very nearly ended up at the same school as you – that would have been fun, but I’d have spent a long time chatting in the school car park!

  5. Good for you Lisa. Every move takes courage and at least you’re not frightened of change or going with the flow – excellent lessons for your son in themselves. His pragmatism comes from you. I’m glad it’s all working out. X

  6. It sounds to me like your son is the type of boy who will thrive in any environment and do well academically, regardless of where he is taught. I went to a state primary and secondary. In fact, my secondary was known as the “rough” school because it was in one of Bristol’s biggest council housing estates. I went to school with a really varied range of people, from all sorts of different backgrounds. I came out with 11 GCSE’s, As and A stars, so academically it certainly didn’t hold me back. In fact, I think in lots of ways it made me more determined and dedicated, because I was driving myself forward. I was quite anxious and used to work really hard, so I’m not sure any added pressure would have been right for me when I was a kid. Having said that, I realise all children are different and have friends whose kids thrive at private schools. In fact, one of my friends has two sons, both of whom are at the same private school. She recently told me that she thinks her younger son would do just as well in our local state primary, as he’s so different from his brother. But because of fairness, they want him to go to the same school, which is clearly fair enough.

  7. I was reading up about Bristol schools the other day Molly as there is a potential job there for the big hairy northern one, and I quite fancy going home. Apparently it’s well known that because of the amount of private schools there it did cause a problem for the state schools like the one you attended, but they say it’s all been on the mend for the last few years. Hope so, if I end up back there!

    I went to a private all girls school in bristol which was miserable – I was bullied from the day I arrived to the day I left. But I did come out with bucket loads of qualifications. Personally I would have liked more fun, as I also had a lot of responsibility at home – I suppose thats what drives a lot of my decisions now a days.

  8. Interesting post – as you say, it is about finding the environment that is right for the child

    Part of our reasons behind private school are in having some of the wrap around that is hard for us to do as working parents – everything is in one place as opposed to having to package it up ourselves. It also meant we avoided the stresses of school applications in an enviroment where nearly 100 children didn’t get a primary place at all

    1. Absolutely muddling along – it’s sometimes not worth the risk when the price is that high.

      There are parents near me who ‘risked’ getting into other local primaries and because they were so few, they did get in. Whereas if all of us had tried we would have failed. Saying that, it’s really different for those with children 1-2 years younger than Curly Headed Boy, because by then the signs were that the local school was on the mend.

  9. I found this fascinating. I’m in no financial position to pay for schooling, but I have always thought that there is no point in paying the silly-money house prices to live somewhere like we do without reaping the benefit of one of the reasons that it is so high in the first place. I think you’re hard pressed to find a truly bad school around here, and most kids will thrive in most of the environments offered. We’re just starting to think about senior schools and I’ve had it recommended that my oldest tries for a scholarship to one of the boys schools, and knowing the facilities very well I can understand how easy it is to be seduced. But the stories of what happens to the kids once they’re there are enough to make me recoil. I take everything with a pinch of salt, but as my brother, who also got a scholorship there bitterly recalls, it’s all part and parcel of the ‘traditions’ of the school. The academic side is one part of a whole, but how that is delivered is vital. Location (so they can have a social life with their friends), friends, following interests, being engaged, fostering self esteem… they all rank just as high in my book.

    1. Don’t be fooled Renata, there are some big problem schools in St Albans and around!

      One of the ‘problems’ is the what Bristol faced when I was a kid (way back when!!) – the parents who can afford it send their kids to private (not something they should feel guilty about) hence reducing the diversity in the state schools. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to pay for a private school of course and I totally agree with what you are saying. However, it does mean that some areas suffer. Thankfully for me a head teacher with a great track record decided she wanted a challenge lol!

  10. So much relies on the leadership of a school. Given that state schools have to focus on league table results and passing Ofsted inspections, it does not leave much room for nurturing a kid’s natural talent.

    I feel for teachers, I really do. Anyone with more than 5yrs experience must suffer terrible “Policy Fatigue”? [Don’t bother writing this years’ guidelines down – it will all change next year :(]

    As the owner of The Khan Academy said at TED recently, it’s like teaching kids to ride a bike: 80% don’t fall off, so next semester – Unicycling! No wonder the statistics for the UK are so poor and rarely through the fault of the individual school/teacher who are doing their best to follow policy. Time for a Plan B I say. Off to burn my bra (again)x

    1. You know I’m with you there lovely! Hope you start to write up more of your thoughts on your blog.

      I did consider training as a teacher, but I know I just wouldn’t be able to deal with the bureaucracy of it. A friend of mine tried but only managed a year of the training.

      1. It just sucks the joy right out of it. I have friends in Health who despair of the situation but Education (esp Primary) is right up there:the 90% female, giving way more than they get, dipping into their own pockets, putting in hours they are not paid for, because it is a vocation rubbish!

        Although I am all vocal about the need for a radical change to Education for the 21st century, I really am in awe of most teachers.

  11. Ooooh you don’t shy away from controversy Lisa, do you? I love that you’ve come right out and said what you think, because lots of us have views and feel that it isn’t the done thing to state them in case we offend someone. I admire your honesty, and your tenacity in doing what is right for your son. I recently had cause to come into contact on a regular basis with some boys from a local private school and what an arrogant bunch they were. No wonder, when they’re told every day that they are the best, better than the rest!

  12. Maybe I am giving the wrong impression Helen? I don’t really care whether the setting is private or state, I just think the WHOLE THING needs updating! (I’m an equal opportunities upsetter – wink!)

    When we were readying street urchins for the factory during the Industrial Revolution, education for all was fan-bloody-tastic. But this is not that era and one-size does not fit all. How are we to prepare children for a world that we cannot predict in 12 months, let alone 12 yrs?

    When we were at school we were told “It’s no good being good at Art. It’s not like you are going to be an Artist” (or musician, dancer, writer etc etc). With the advent of YouTube, social media, the proliferation of TV channels today – this ain’t necessarily so.

    A few state schools are doing amazing things for Individual Learning, despite the tight yoke of guidelines and scant resources. Naturally, fee-paying schools have the autonomy and funding to update and reform, but maybe due to their heritage, are not always willing to.

    I think Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney said it best “There’s good and bad, in everyone …”

    Or were you talking to Lisa P? :o)

  13. With my first we sent him to a state primary (always were going to do state primary), and our second followed to the same local state primary. Then when our first went to secondary we chose a private school because the state schools in our area are well, lest say not good 🙂 Anyway, after he had been there a year he seamed to be loving it, his school had a prep and pre prep school and our third was due to start primary so we made the decision to place him in the private school. This worked for another year but our first started to get stressed really easily and very bad tempered. We discovered it was all the pressure the school was putting him under (he was in S3/Year 10). At the end of the autumn term of S3 we took him our of his private school and in the January he went to the local comp. He is loving it. He is a much happier person and doesn’t get as stresses. As well as this he did one more standard grade than he would have done at his private school and received higher grades than the private school predicted because the teachers saw his potential.We were going to send our second child to a private school that year but took the decision to withdraw the application and send her to the local comp. Our third child stayed at the private school until the end of P2 but we could see he was a lot less happier than the other two had been at that age so placed him in the local primary school our other children had been to, at the start of P3. All of our children are much happier in the state system and they certainly have a lot more time to themselves. Instead of me or dad doing the hour round school run the kids walk to school which is a 10 minute walk. Its ironic really how we avoided the “nasty, horrible, had a bad reputation, gets bad results” local comp when in reality its a very supportive school which wants the best for its pupils and got my son very good standard results. Is very multicultural unlike the supposedly non denominational private school full of middle class christians. So my children get to see life as life today really is.

    1. That is a REALLY interesting story Niki, thank you so much for sharing. I was just talking to a local mum who has gone for state secondary as well and she is really happy with it, so I’m hoping to follow your lead and stick to state.
      Well done for being so aware of your kids; I think it’s really difficult to make decisions like that!

  14. Totally disagree with you. My son is a year 6 Radlett prep boy and has flourished from a very shy boy in reception who would throw up to a loving, confident young man and this is all down to the teachers at Radlett. He has more choice of activities at private school and the education is so much better. However, I feel that they don’t do enough work – they are always off on school trips, having various dress up days and lots of sport. He has kept his innocence – I compare him with state educated children of his age and I know with all my heart that I have most definitely made the right decision choosing private.

    1. Hi ‘PA’, everyone is welcome to disagree, otherwise we’d never have discussions!

      I did say that “Now don’t get me wrong; this is not a criticism of private schools as some of the kids were really thriving under the structure and pressure. It’s very much a case of me not being sure that it suited my child, that is all. Plus there are different types of private school; it’s just that he didn’t get into those ones” and it would of course depend on what your alternatives were.

      My son wasn’t shy, just creative, so maybe it’s just as I said that different kids thrive in a different environment?
      I don’t believe in mistakes anyway ;o)
      Glad you are so happy with your son’s progress.

  15. I can’t help wondering if children who are moved from private to state (or vice versa) get the best of both worlds. Having been at private, they know how to work hard and do their best. Or, having been at state, they know how to get on with anyone and relax, rather than over stress about grades.
    We’re moving from a blissfully happy but very laid back village primary which never stretched our children, and massively under-estimated their capabilities, to a highly academic school. We looked at three private schools, from the laid-back, sporty, arty one, to the work hard, play hard one, to the really academically challenging one. Both my sons both desperately wanted the academic school. They begged me to let them choose it when they got in to all three! Their reason was that they’ve been bored and undervalued at state school. As long as they jogged along and met government targets, no one cared whether they could, or would prefer to, have tougher mental challenges.

    Of course, I’ll watch like a hawk for signs of stress, and whisk them off to the lovely nearby comp if they do lose their joy in life. But I must say that it used to frustrate me hugely that they spent all day at school gardening and singing but I had to teach them times tables when they got home because they never seemed to get orund to it during their endless activities. Much rather it was the other way round, and that my job in the evenings is to make sure they have as much fun and down time as possible.

    1. @CherryM this is a VERY good point.
      My husband went to both and he seemed to do well from it. I agree that I don’t know how my son would be doing without the initial focus on good behaviour. We’ll have to see how my daughter does when she does!!
      We always thought previously that a mixture was a good idea and had talked about going state and then private for secondary – but panicked and went primary private. We might now surprise ourselves though and stick with state secondary – it depends. I think that the recession has made everyone think differently about money and where we spend it.

  16. I was a student at Radlett Prep and from there went on to stay in private education. I remember, as long ago as it was, my time at Radlett very well. Yes it was a strict school, there was lots of work to be done and the pressure was up. However, at the same time I also remember reading aloud every day in class, ‘fun’ books as well no less. I remember the games lessons which although actually requiring some physical effort could be described as nothing else than fun. I also recall being given every encouragement to develop my piano, which I did. I am sure that in the late 80’s, Radlett was stricter than it is today in soft touch Britain. Despite this, I can still look back on my time there with fond memories.

    I do not mean to attack you, but it seems to me that what you have essentially done, is seen that a 6 year old is being worked very hard, and he is getting tired. Good! You stated yourself that he is streets ahead of the children at his state school. I would suggest this is because he has been studying hard at maths and english, rather than dressing up as a flower and spending, as you again admitted yourself, too much time on the computer. I fail to see why anybody in the education industry could justify sacrificing quality, old fashioned teaching time, for the computer.

    You say that he is much happier at this school, well he is 6 and not having to work very hard. He gets to sit on the computer and play ‘everyone gets a prize’ sports in games lessons every day. What do you think he is going to say! That’s why we are parents, we make decisions they are not mature enough to decide yet for themselves. The medicine is hard but essential. You then have to see the other factor in choosing your child’s education. Look beyond the happy clappy lets all get along, and face the facts. The friends that children make in life and the social circles they move in there, will stay with them for life. If your son is going to a primary near a rough area of London Colney, as nice as some of the families there may be, he will not have the same opportunities as he would if he were friends with children from more elitist backgrounds. That money you spend on the private school could be the difference between your son spending his spare time at the polo field or the golf course, or in a hoody outside Tesco express.

    It’s not fair, children should just be happy etc etc, but this is the real world. There is nothing to say your son will not go on to become a nuclear physicist or self made millionaire. It is just much easier for him to become successful if his friends are in positions of power in everything from the financial sector to the armed forces. People forget, but this is also what you are paying for. In order for your child to mix in that sort of company.

    1. Thank you for your comment HCR1. I’m sorry if you felt that I was attacking Radlett Prep, as that was not my intention. I don’t think it has changed much since your time there as there were the same teachers ;o) I’m very glad that you enjoyed your time and came out feeling confident and happy.

      Remember thought that as the mother of MY child, I know him best, not you. I’m now a couple of years along and he is doing a lot better than at Radlett Prep and I don’t regret my decision at all. I’m not just ‘happy clappy’ as you would see from the rest of my blog – there is plenty of boundaries and old fashioned values. I’m also a highly trained therapist who has worked with thousands of people and their problems. Success doesn’t make a happy, balanced, healthy person. A happy person can be successful. But for me, my first priority is that my son is contented, confident and fulfilled – that will lead to success, whatever success means to him. It may come as a surprise to you, but success isn’t just about a job. However I have no doubt that my son will NOT be held back at all, especially as I have the ability to show him the way myself.

      As it happens, this blog post was written some time ago, so you probably don’t know that soon afterwards I became ill. Later on I was diagnosed with a Chronic pain condition called Fibromyalgia. If I had been attempting the 1.5hrs in the morning and 1hr commute in the afternoon every day, I would never have gotten better. It was so lucky that we moved him to a school that is a 10min walk (although I couldn’t have walked it for a year) or a 5 min drive. I thank god for that decision.

      You probably also don’t know that I was also right about my husbands job situation, which changed again. We are so lucky that we didn’t have the added pressure of having to try an pay another school term.

      I wondered for years why I had sent my son to Radlett, as I always believe that there is a balance in life, and I tried to work out what it was. As I have now started a business in Radlett, which wouldn’t have happened without my driving through it so regularly, I can totally see why it was worth it. So can my son – he loves what he is learning from my new business.

      I also look back to my own private education and that of my brothers (in much more exclusive private schools) and sadly I can tell you that with many it didn’t breed those connections, that success or the happiness that we are often promised when we pay for education.

      However, for some children Radlett Prep is undoubtedly the right school. Just as for others they would be better at Habs, Edgegrove, Aldenham or Manor Lodge. Or others would be better off at their local school.

      I must do an update on Bowmansgreen and the changes there – especially as we now have an amazing new head – will put it on my to do list for 2014.

      Children are all different. The same rules will not apply for them all.

    2. Ha! A lot of these points are completely fair for those children who have traditionally academic “brains”. However, there does need to be a Plan B (and C + D) for the right-brained among us! The science around how individuals brains work is evolving daily. Once upon a time, when someone was unwell, a highly qualified physician would prescribe leeches. When you know better, you do better x

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