Having now been with my son to Judd and Skinners twice each and St.Olave's once, I am starting to feel - slightly despondently - that this school viewing process is like interviewing candidates for a job. Once you have done it for a few years you start to realise that you really can't tell from the short exposure to the candidate/ school whether the decision you come to is the correct long-term one. It's easy to get fooled by the smooth presentation or the shiny new building or the one good boy who shows you round. But you have to live with your decision for many years (probably) and you might well learn more from references than from the actual interview/ viewing. When I was interviewing regularly we used an internal cross-checking system by interviewing each candidate 8 or 10 times (different interviewers from different levels of the organisation) and having a final interview that was always with the same senior "gatekeeper" director.
So, let's have some cross-references on these schools from others who have seen them. And from parents who actually have children there - preferably at more than one of the schools.
Here is my take on these three schools: biased towards my attempts to work out what would suit a highly-strung, obsessive, lazy, academic and mathematical but uncreative (ie. literal) boy who is modestly sporty but hates football.
The boys we met: there seemed to be a scale of intensity and geekiness/quirkyness ranging from St.Olave's at the high end to Skinners at the low end, with Judd somewhere between but closer to St.O's on this imaginary and arbitrary scale. Put another way, the Skinners boys seemed more rounded and keener on extra-curricular stuff like CCF whereas the St.O's boys were keen on stuff that was parallel to the curriculum like science clubs/ maths clubs etc. The Skinners end of the scale was more laid back and generally relaxed. I was left with the impression that the St.O's boys would pursue activities obsessively and without too much regard for what might be cool. Obviously all of the schools are pretty keen on rugby and St.O's, quirkily again, seem to have their kids excited about playing Fives (which is frankly a bit of a dead-end sport but I expect it is fun for the school days if not beyond). St.Olave's is MUCH more culturally and racially diverse than the other schools, since it draws many peoples from South London rather than West Kent/Sussex. I liked that.
The teachers we met: clearly this is selective and a small sample at that (so give me YOUR views!) but I found much more enthusiasm among the St.O's and Judd staff I spoke to than the staff at Skinners. All were rightly proud of their boys' achievements in exams but there was more feeling at Judd and St.O's of pushing boys further beyond that. The Heads all seemed OK, if rather public school-like. All were proud of their schools, none were overly complacent about their achievements. Skinner's head was big on guns and rugby (but joked about the fact that there was more to the school). St.O's second presentation was given by an hilariously precocious and charming Year 7 or 8 boy who will have a career in politics or stand-up comedy ahead of him (the professions may well have merged by then).
The facilities: St.O's is well funded with attractive grounds and new buildings. Skinners has a beautiful new theatre inside the old chapel and a mix of really old cramped classrooms and some newer blocks. Sports fields are down the road and sports hall is decrepit but being rebuilt. Judd has a mix of the old and new again in terms of classrooms (but more new than Skinners). Judd has better sports facilities having built a new sports hall recently and has an all weather pitch.
I've written enough. Tell me what you think - especially if you have kids at the schools.
Did you visit TWGSB as part of your GS assessment..?
Comments from anyone else would be welcomed