What words do you think of when someone says “Independent schools” to you?
Many people say; Eton, Winchester or super rich and recoil at the thought of £45,000 a year school fees.
Yes, there are elite schools that charge those fees, but they are very few and far between. Schools aren’t ‘one size fit all’ and in reality, independent schools offer parents choice as there is a whole spectrum. As they don’t receive funding from the government, they have more flexibility to offer their vision of what education should be which gives parents the opportunity to join a school that they truly believe in.
As part of my job, I speak to numerous independent schools, some advertise with us (they haven’t asked me to write this article or paid me to, I just think it’s important to share in case someone who needs them has been deterred by stereotypes) and some we visit every season to distribute our magazines. All of them are incredibly friendly but offer very different settings.
Talbot Heath is a beautiful school for girls that runs all the way through from kindergarten to a-levels. I remember them sharing their view on technology a few years ago. The technology needed for jobs in 10 years’ time hasn’t even been invented yet which makes you realise the importance of children being absolutely up to date now to give them the best advantage in 10 years’ time. Talbot Heath are recognised as an ‘Apple Distinguished School’ for 2021-2024. I watched in admiration but not surprise when they pivoted so seamlessly during covid lockdowns to provide online learning and I wave my imaginary TH flag every exam results day as we see their girls do so well.
St Martin’s is another independently run school in Bournemouth. The school visually could be mistaken for a home. I’ve had many chats with their lovely Head Teacher over the years and been in for the tour. I’m sure they’d rather I point out their success rates for the 11+ exam to grammar school (their students are age 4-11) but homely is exactly how I’d describe it. Classes are small so everyone knows all the teachers, they all know the head teacher and she knows them. She doesn’t just know their name, she knows their personality, what they like, what they don’t like and they flourish in that environment.
My daughter was happy at our state school (Twynham Primary) and I know thousands of local children are perfectly happy at theirs too, the important thing is that parents have choice to decide what is best for their own child.
Selina, New Forest Small School parent.
“I chose to move my son to an independent school at the end of year 2. He was finding the infant school environment difficult; he’d developed a nervous tick which became much worse during SATS and we knew he wasn’t going to handle the move up to Juniors.
I didn’t realise there was such a variety in independent schools and had always presumed they were only wealthy people until a friend told me New Forest Small School which is a great middle ground between state schools and the more elite independent schools.
It’s a myth that all parents who send their children to private school are a certain type of person, they have thousands of pounds of disposable income, flash cars and it’s out of reach for what you call a regular person.
At first look, we didn’t have the money spare to start paying school fees but my maternal instinct was that I needed to make this happen. We made sacrifices and juggled things around so that my husband’s job could cover our essential overheads, I then made it my goal to earn enough to make things happen. I’m self-employed, I’m entrepreneurial so I go out and create that income. Some months it has been harder than others for sure, but I deem it necessary for my children’s overall wellbeing and when something is necessary you make it work.
For the first year we flexi-schooled and Oliver attended 3 days a week and we home schooled for 2 days. Ruby, my youngest attended kindergarten and the pre-school funding actually paid for place until she was compulsory school age (the term after children turn 5).
People often presume that we’re ‘rich’ because our children are at independent school but that really isn’t true. We just strongly believe that our school is the right place for our children to be and we had to make it happen.”
Kailiegh’s story – St Martin’s School, Bournemouth parent
“My husband is in the armed forces, and I’m a nurse- there are all walks of life at the school – and we all know, that no matter what job you have, or what car you’re in, you’re all there for the same reason. We all want the best for our children.
“The fees aren’t horrendous – they’re three times a year so you can plan ahead, and we share the cost as a family, with help from both sets of grandparents. Also, there are no hidden fees or extras.
“While I wasn’t anxious about going to a private school, I wasn’t aware just how positive an experience it would be.
“My child suffered really badly during the pandemic and his anxiety was presenting with some physical symptoms. The teachers at St Martin’s not only noticed, but spotted the triggers, and when they spoke to me about it, they’d already put things in place to support him. They asked how we felt about it, and if we needed any support at home too.
“What we love is the ethos that pervades the whole school; compassion and care come not just from the teachers, but the other children too. There is such a family feeling, and my child now comes home a happy and smiling boy.”
Stephanie’s story, a parent at St Martin’s School, Bournemouth
“We moved both children over from a state school last summer, the main reason being for my son as he really didn’t get on well with the bigger class sizes. St Martin’s is a completely different environment. The small classes are a key factor, and it also feels like the children are involved in their education. The teachers have the freedom to take what they enjoy and what are interested in and expand on it, integrating that into their learning. It is so personalised.
“I can’t tell you the difference it’s made. My son is like a different child there – he’s happy to go to school every day.
“My daughter was very shy and quiet in school before, but she has been given so many opportunities to grow in confidence, whether that’s giving assemblies, or speaking in drama lessons. She’s so confident now she stood up on stage at the Southern Theatre Festival and read a poem.
“Not every independent school is the same. We looked at some that felt more like an institution or a business – St Martin’s felt like a breath of fresh air.”