... with the benefit of hindsight I would opt for the state school.
The indy has worked well for us as a family, one son is still there doing v well and another has gone off to study something competitive at a Russell Group uni, so no sour grapes or anything. But I can't shake the feeling that what looked so clear when my eldest was sitting his entrance exam, seems very silly now, with hindsight. Luckily we could afford the fees so there's been no taking in washing to meet the bills or anything. But I know the fees aren't easy for everyone, and some people seem to be willing to make unbelievable lifestyle sacrifices when a perfectly good state school has been offered.
1) Interested and motivated parents make for pupils who'll do well anywhere. Independent schools are a self-selecting group in that respect: you can't get more interested and motivated than jumping through all the hoops necessary to get Ptolemy to compete for a place at various schools and then making often whole-family sacrifices to meet the fees and extras.
2) Lots of independent school students are tutored both to get into the school in the first place and then some more for GCSE, AS and A level exams (these are motivated parents and they're not averse to spending money on education). Independent schools take ALL the credit for the high exam grades, even though much of it was down to the parents n some cases helped by private tutors. These high grades then become the very reason for opting for the indy in the first place: it's a lot of self-perpetuating nonsense.
3) It often looks as though indy schools get everyone through their exams at high grades. This is not true. Having now lived through the exam bit (my eldest is now at university) I saw boys asked to leave at various points in the snr school, you don't see this at the bottom of the school because the school is happy to accept your fees as you are no threat to its immaculate exams stats at that time. Academically competitive independent schools often ask students to leave if they're underperforming as they don't want the poor exam grades on their books. When these students leave they go to the local state school. So an indy-educated boy can have his rubbish exam results chalked up to the state school, while the indy keeps its record clean. Several pupils at my sons' school are asked to leave each year prior to GCSEs, after GCSEs or after AS exams as it looks likely their performance in exams isn't going to pass muster. And again the high grades in the indy are often the reason why parents chose the indy in the first place. And the lower grades at the state school are the main reason parents reject that option, not realising that the low grades contain the indy's dross. Again it's self-perpetuating of this indy-good/state school bad/mixed perception.
4) Some academically selective indy schools make it compulsory to sit General Studies AS and they allow students to choose to carry it on to A2. This is not for the benefit of the student since selective universities sspecifcally exclude Gen Studies from their admissions criteria. It's entirely for the benefit of the school, to boost its A level points score for the league tables. An academically selective independent has no business offering General Studies exams to its students, let alone making them compulsory. At Habs Boys' General Studies is taught but not examined: this is how it should be but it isn't so at all academically selective schools, so do look carefully. Make sure you aren't comparing apples with pears.
I write all this to try and help those struggling to decide between a decent state school and an indy (there seems to be a lot of people struggling with those difficult decision on here atm). If I had my time over again, I would opt for the state school (we have a good comp on our doorstep) and stand ready to hire the odd 1:1 tutor as necessary.
Some indy schools are truly excellent, but some are just slick marketing machines preying on parents' fears.
And use the Sutton Trust research tools to look up the schools, this one for example: http://www.suttontrust.com/research/deg ... ns-tables/
The worst-performing state school in Harpenden, Sir John Lawes, procured eight Oxbridge offers this year, a not dissimilar number to either St Albans High School for Girls or St Albans School. http://www.sjlsixthform.co.uk/latest-ne ... s-2012.php
Anyway, good luck to those making difficult choices this week. I'm glad it's not me.