Each year we conduct some telephone interviews amongst those parents who have enquired about the High School but who have not gone onto apply for places. Clearly we are looking to see if there are any lessons for the future and are particularly interested in those factors which we can influence. I am pleased to say that most of those we survey have been impressed with the school and it is often due to their own circumstances, financial or otherwise, why they do not chose the School for their son.
Every time we undertake this research though it shows that there are some misconceptions that people have and I thought it would make for an interesting blog post to address these.
Misconception 1: Pressure: There are people who look at our fantastic academic success as a school and perceive there to be a great deal of pressure on pupils. This is absolutely not the picture I recognise as I walk around the School. The High School is all about developing boys with all round personality. This is why we put such emphasis on our activities and clubs and just today we have held an activities day for all of our students – Year 7 visited the Zoo, Year 8 undertook lessons in life skills such as DIY, cooking, sewing and ironing, Year 9 made their own short movies. All of these as well as the regular activities such as scouts, Duke of Edinburgh, cadets as well as all the music, sport and drama mean that boys enjoy a rich variety of experience. Whilst all of us here at the School have high aspirations they are very much individualised, each boy is encouraged to do his best but we understand that what this will be will vary from individual to individual. Boys enjoy their lessons, there are really positive relations with the staff and if you talk to any of our students they will tell you that this really is not a pressured environment. Some parents feel that their son might be overwhelmed by the pressure of academic and sporting achievements expected – this could not be further from the truth. Boys are encouraged to do their best but we believe that they must become self-motivated and that they should enjoy their learning. They will never be pushed to achieve what they are not capable of. Whilst our sporting programme is strong, boys only ever play with those of similar ability which is why we are so proud of putting out D teams on occasion as well as providing opportunities for the most able.
It is though pleasing to note that our survey also showed that our staff are friendly, inspirational and welcoming and our pupils are seen to be polite and mature but equally importantly warm in their welcome and confident. Not all boys arrive here with confidence but this is built through our regular activities programme so that by the time that boys leave us they are well-rounded, quietly confident but not arrogant young men. This quiet, understated confidence is important to us. Parents were impressed with the facilities, the clubs and the learning was seen to be fun and interesting – just what we aim for.
Misconception 2: The nature of our bursary fund. We do produce a Frequently Asked Questions sheet about our bursary fund but there are some misconceptions here. Help is available towards fees and this can range from a small amount of assistance for middle-earners through to full fees. There are also funds which we can use to support bursary boys going on school trips. Despite our best efforts not all those who enquire to the School are aware of our bursary scheme but I would encourage every parent to read the FAQs sheet on our website as this talks you through the whole scheme and allows you to see if it applies to you. We do also include all of the curriculum trips, sports fixtures and even entrance to all our plays and concerts within our published fees structure. Again this is not the case in all independent schools.
Misconception 3: Lack of local friends: We are aware that some families do not choose us because their sons want to stay near their local friends. This is understandable but I would say that you do not have to lose your local friends just because you join the High School. Here you will make new friends but there is still plenty of time in the week when boys can stay in touch with their local friends. Many of the boys here are still involved in activities in their local area and would say that they get the best of both worlds with friends made through the High School alongside those they have in their local areas. For those that use the school buses that too is an opportunity to chat with their friends as well as meeting girls from the Girls High School! In Year 7 we set no homework in the first couple of weeks and this is partly to allow boys to go to see any friends from their old school that they may be missing as they start at their new one.
Misconception 4: Nature of results in comparison to other schools. Schools are increasingly good at marketing themselves and can be very selective about what results they publish. At the High School we believe in being very transparent about this which is why we publish on our website a full set of GCSE and A Level results both for this year and the last few which includes every exam taken in every subject. We do put our results in for League Table purposes again because we want to be transparent in our dealings with those considering our schools. It is a pity that there is not a standard way that all schools have to publish their results to enable parents to see the differences between schools.
Misconception 5: Social Mix. Many people feel that independent schools are full of the privileged rich. At the High School over 10% of our intake receive bursaries but more importantly even than that is the fact that we have a real socially diverse mix of families who have chosen our school. Many parents are making significant sacrifices in order to afford the fees and thus we really do have a mix of all backgrounds. Our parents are more likely to be taxi drivers than hedge-fund managers! There will be many state schools in leafy suburbs where there is less of a genuine social mix as parents have had to pay a premium on their house price to afford to live in the catchment areas of the best schools. We have a map of where all our pupils live and it covers the full city and county area and shows visually the diversity of areas where our pupils come from.
In conclusion, it is fascinating to try to understand the complicated decision making process in choosing schools. We prefer it when parents and boys come to visit us as that way they can get a better feel of what to expect. Above all if they come on a school day they can see the enjoyment on the faces of the boys they will encounter, they can talk with them about any of their concerns and they can really start to understand our ethos. It really is a friendly, welcoming place with a soft heart and an enjoyable place both to work and to come to school.