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PostPosted: Tue Feb 23, 2016 10:51 pm 
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Starting to think about senior schools for our year 5 daughter. We aren't prepared to have her tutored and in order to reasonably manage her/our expectations, I'm wondering if someone could please answer a couple of questions re the degree of selection at St Albans High School for Girls? I should add that my daughter is reasonably bright but she's no boffin. (Definitely Russell Group but probably not Oxbridge (unless she discovers a love for classics).

How hard is it to get into St Albans High School for Girls?

I've heard it's recruiting from London increasingly. And I know many local parents who've abandoned the idea of it under the new head (apparently she would rather recruit brighter girls from Highgate than serve the community of St Albans and Harpenden). Not sure how fair that all is. Just talk in the city is that people are heading off to St Hilda's in Harpenden rather than Wheathampstead House and heading to Abbott's Hill instead of engaging with an increasingly dispiriting process at St Albans High School for Girls. And apparently many Wheathampstead House girls didn't make the grade for their own High School. And of course many didn't want to go. That isn't encouraging.

I'm really confused about how selective it actually is. Can an above average girl get in there without being tutored?
Or would we be better off just applying for Abbot's Hill (we liked the ethos at Abbot's Hill and girls there seem to go on to do all sorts of things at their various different sixth forms). It's just the journey's a bit of a schlep. And the fees are more.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2016 9:21 am 
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I haven't heard that the new head's strategy is as you say, but I wouldn't be surprised. She is, of course, keen to drive up results and seems to get in Oxbridge aspiration/application/ success into most of her speeches, whatever the context. My opinion is it's important for a school to value all pupils for whatever their skills and interests. Wheathampstead House parents still hold the senior school in high regard. Some leave for different reasons but the majority remain. The new head has not been in post long, so there's a feeling that going forward she might raise the bar and make it harder for the Wheathampstead girls to make the grade (and external candidates too). The new head came from St Paul's after all!
Both WH and St Hilda's are wonderful schools- the key difference is that St H is not a direct feeder prep. This means they do their utmost to make sure the child reaches their potential, to succeed at gaining a place at your school of choice, hopefully with scholarships if your child is able. Abbot's Hill is a great school too- A common reason for turning it down is because the journey/early start/ late finish doesn't work for some people. However, it does suit some families e.g. where the school day corresponds to one parent's working day. Many girls/parents like the idea of moving on again for 6th form....though many parents don't. Many girls leave SAHS at 6th form anyway as they are ready for a change by then.
I'm not sure I've answered your question, but just a few thoughts...


Last edited by schoolnavigator on Wed Feb 24, 2016 9:51 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2016 9:33 am 
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I don't know these schools, so forgive me for poking my nose in, but I wouldn't think an independent school would be particularly bothered about serving the local community. They are businesses first & foremost who have to show parents that their child may well come out with a clutch of A*s and heading for Oxbridge (that's a whole other discussion which is frequently held on here). If that means recruiting girls from further afield, that is what they will do.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2016 10:29 am 
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Is your dd in a state school or a prep school? What data do you have to indicate that she is above average?

The High School is a member of the North London Consortium for Girls School which means that dds can sit just one exam and the result can be sent to nine different private secondary schools.

So the High School is a player on a larger field even though there has always been a lot of local interest in the school.

The new Head has come from St Pauls Hammersmith and clearly has been given the job of securing the school more firmly in the minds of those considering City, Habs, NLCS, Highgate. Channing , St Helens etc. If you read some of the current threads on here you will see parents considering the school who live a lot closer to one of the above.

The Wheathampstead uptake is very high but ultimately the Head is there to move the school up the league tables and I have no doubt that it is going to become harder for the preps to secure a place over those who have already prepared for state grammars such as DAO, HBS and the Watford grammars.

I am very very interested in your comments about parents feeling that it is impossible to get in so looking at Abbots Hill instead. I have definitely seen heightened interest from North London parents in the last two years and I think this will get stronger with the ST Pauls connection now in place. I consider St Albans to be joint second in the consortium rankings and many students from Harrow, Barnet and Enfield now target the school.

There is no requirement for you to have a tutor but you will need to prepare her yourself. You will be up against dds who will spend the summer preparing for DAO, HBS and Latymer and then will work over the xmas holidays on the consortium format.

If local students are no longer getting in that is simply because other students have prepared well. The marks required to secure a place have risen considerably in the last two years. Three years ago every dd who I knew applying would get in. This is no longer the case. There is more I could say but not publically. You can pm me if you like. No dd from our local primary has ever failed to get in but I am sure this situation will not remain much longer. The High school has no mandate to be a local school but it does have a mandate to secure the best candidates and not lose them to HBS, Habs, NLCS and St Helens. I am not really surprised to hear this change is causing ripples in the local community as it is likely that local students will not have prepared sufficiently compared to the London crew. It is fair that all applicants sit the same exam and are ranked accordingly. DG


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2016 11:48 am 
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Thanks for your thoughts.

To answer a few enquiries in no particular order.

How do I know she's above average? Feedback from school and our entirely biased observations as informed parents. (She's not my eldest so we've been through this schools application thing before with older children. (At a different academically selective independent.) We didn't tutor the other two either. One of them got in on a scholarship and the other just got in (they both went to the same school which is v similar to SAHSfG in terms of aptitude at intake.). Interestingly, the child that got a scholarship went on to be less academically impressive (but still absolutely fine: RG uni and on course for a first) than the child who did not get a scholarship (Oxbridge offer, insurance LSE). So that in itself tells you all you need to know about the value of entrance tests.

It's interesting that people don't think independent day schools have a duty to serve the community. If you remove all the St Albans and Harpenden (and environs) girls from St Albans High School for Girls, the school will be unrecognisable. And perhaps turn into something people are unwilling to travel from London for? It's the Groucho Marx paradox.

I don't want to put my daughter through stress as I'm sure she'll be fine wherever she goes to school. But I was just trying to make sense of what's going on at St Albans High School. Wondering if the general consensus on the street was an accurate picture? And wondering about the alternatives.

I wouldn't consider sending her to any of those other schools in the consortium. They are too far away. I'd really like for her to be able to walk to school. All these girls and boys being bussed around North London and the home counties. It's a special kind of mad isn't it?

We had a conversation about it late last night and I think we are leaning towards the local comp. Which is excellent and we liked it very much. But we feel compelled to opt for an indy out of fairness as her, as her older siblings received paid-for educations. But perhaps that doesn't matter.

It's quite tiring being a parent isn't it? :D


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2016 7:03 pm 
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We are in a similar situation - Yr 5 DD, local to St Albans, not our eldest child etc. We didn't get a warm feeling about StAHS from the head and despite it being on our doorstep are considering not getting our DD to sit it.

Abbots Hill seemed a little too far the other way for us on the academic spectrum and I'm not keen on there not being a sixth form. We really like St Margarets Bushey - if only their coaches came a little further In the direction of St Albans... We don't have an issue with a commute as long as it is straightforward.

Personally I think a tutor is a good idea, to prepare them for the exam format, and for us it is better if it is not us doing that - too many clashes! I don't think they can compete on a level playing field with no prep.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2016 7:08 pm 
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As the school is contemplating leaving the consortium, things may very well change and the admissions process become even more stringent.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2016 8:51 am 
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There is definitely a 'feeling' that the new head is progressively going to make it harder to get a place. Time will tell. Having said that, she has said that she considers the school to offer 7 yrs education in the prep and continue to 7 yrs education in the seniors, and therefore very much views the school as 'one'. This has reassured WH parents.
However, this perception, and also the fact that there has been a recent change at the top, is making parents look more critically at the high school - what they will be getting for any perceived extra effort of getting their child a place, and what they will be getting for their money when they get there e.g. A lot of people are wise enough, and actively seeking, to see through the hyperbole - ' Independent School of the Year' etc- and ask the right questions of the right people as to what it's really like to be a pupil there. Generally, what's going on is that parents are challenging the school more.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2016 12:36 pm 
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I have watched the school closely through three heads for the past eight years. I think the New Head was brought in to bring St Albans into the North London inner circle of schools.

Being in the consortium is a huge advantage to them and NLCS coming out has cemented their No 2 position.

Some parents apply who don't even know where it is as their dd can sit at their local consortium school.

HBS, QE and St Pauls have all proved that distance is not the stumbling block to some parents that you think it would be.

I don't think they Head will be making it harder to get a place, they need to fill their places. It is just that the more North London parents that become interested in the school the higher the pass mark will be to secure a place. It is all supply and demand. DG


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 9:10 am 
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Thanks for so many interesting thoughts/replies.

It's interesting that so many people don't feel very warmly towards the head's new strategy of courting London pupils. Many people move out of London in order to raise their children in a less competitive environment, and choose SAHSfG over Habs, say, precisely because it has (or had!) a gentler way about it.

But it would seem those days are over. I can't help but think this is very short sighted marketing strategy and a bit of a vanity project for the head. What are the benefits of increasing the aptitude of the cohort at intake?

There are plenty of girls from Abbot's Hill who go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, attend Oxbridge, etc. And the format of only going up to 16 gives you the opportunity to make the choice of sixth form a really good fit for your daughter and what she wants to study.

Does anyone know anything about Queenswood? What sort of girls go there?


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