Social Commentary

The British Schooling (Torture) System


Images courtesy of the internet. NHYM 2018. 

Lately, all we’ve (the mums) been talking about has been exams: it is January when most of the 7+/8+/11+ exams are happening and it’s been dire: chatter about who’s taking what exam, to what school and who’s been getting interviews etc…and those that say they aren’t taking them and you see them at the 7+ hiding in the bushes. I have consciously not yet entered this quite cutthroat world, but eventually, I too will have to face it.

I was having lunch with a friend who is slightly panicking because she has never tutored her kids but now has the 11+ coming up next year and is worried about her child not getting into any school. She is adamantly against tutoring, but I told her that the problem is that everyone else is tutoring, so you need to know what you are up against. She then said ‘This is crazy. What are we doing to our kids? And to what end?’

I have heard of people going on anxiety pills for the infamous 11+ – and that’s just the mums – and children not able to sleep at night because of exam stress as young as 7 years old. Everyone is getting stressed: fathers losing their s*&t and mums taking a year off prestigious jobs to overlook their children’s progress. But it is starting earlier and earlier. Children are already being tutored in Reception and by Year 2, everything accelerates when those looking to do the 7+ are already learning the Year 4 curriculum. I’m being advised by a friend on what activities my child should be doing right now for her future university application. It’s all very fast, too early and too soon.


So, why are we doing this to our children? The most prestigious girls school in the UK has an extremely high rate of mental health issues: anxiety, depression, eating disorders and personality disorders. Until this changes, I would never send my children there. And the girls consortium who is trying to scrap their exam because of exam stress. Isn’t it all a bit much for 11 year olds?

I understand the statistics though: the better school you get into, the higher chance of going to a good university, and the better the university, the better chance of getting a good job. This is all true, by all means. But it’s not the only way. There are ways of getting to the top without these illustrious diplomas and distinctions.

My alma mater receives 30,000 applications for something like 1,500 spots. There is no way I would get into it these days. But I have hope that there are plenty of great schools/universities – perhaps not the best but very good – that will provide my children with a great education. So, let’s all relax a bit. If you’re not trying to be a billionaire/Fortune 500 CEO/Entrepreneur of the year, then you should relax too (and if you are, good luck to you). Most of us are lucky enough to send our children to good schools, and most likely they will end up in good universities. So, let’s just take a step back and realise that the world will be run by robots anyway, so your kids might as well have fun along the way.




Here’s some advice to parents from Hannah Ogahara, who runs a local tutoring agency Love Learning Tutors:

How to be involved in your child’s school life without being overbearing

It is easy enough to be involved with your child’s studies when they are young but what do you do when your child grows into one of those moody teenagers? We’ve all been on the receiving end of some harsh backchat. It can leave you feeling helpless when all you want to do is to offer your years of experience. Let’s face the facts, it may be a challenge to be your child’s best friend over the next few years, but here are some simple things you can do to ease tension at home and stay involved without becoming overbearing.

Actively listen

One of the greatest frustration that teenagers face is when parents make assumptions about what they should be doing. This is quite a general one and includes friendship groups and interests as well as school life. It may be that you don’t remember the particular teacher they are talking about, or perhaps you weren’t really listening because you were juggling many tasks when they confided in you. We recommend discussing school life with your child and making an effort to really listen and retain what you are being told. This builds trust and the knowledge that they can come to you for guidance.

Be aware of your communication style

If you find yourself getting into frequent arguments with your child about school, change your approach. Try to avoid confrontation and change the focus to constructive solutions. Veer away from the nagging voice and steer towards calm, pragmatic tones. Ask open question rather than questions that can be quickly shut down.

Swap “Have you done your homework?” and “Where is your homework?” for “Do you have a lot of homework?”, “Tell me about your homework, is there anything interesting?”

Ask small questions often

Get into the habit of asking small school related questions often so that it doesn’t come as a surprise when you need to bring something up. Try remember who is teaching what, which teachers they like and which they don’t. This shows that you’re really listening and taking interest. It makes it easier for your child to keep you in the loop.


Let your child know when they are doing well and celebrate successes together. Everyone loves to feel successful and valued. No matter how big your child gets, no one is immune to a bit of praise (provided they feel they have earned it). This should encourage your child to tell you how things are going on a frequent basis.

Share stories

Carefully select stories to share about your school experiences. Regardless of whether they are things that went well or terribly wrong. A good story provided at the right time can allow for bonding between you and your child. It helps your child understand that you’ve been through the same things are sympathetic towards them and their academic journey. Be on the same team rather than opposing sides, “you are wrong” vs “I am right”.

Less “When I was at school it was much harder because…”

More “I had a similar teacher who used to…”

Don’t take it personally

This is one of the hardest tips to put into practice. Having your child snap at you can leave you feeling distraught; and feeling that your constant efforts to provide them with the best you can, aren’t being appreciated. Unfortunately, adolescence is a difficult time for everybody. The above suggestions will help with positive and open communication, but things will not always go to plan. When this happens take a deep breath and step away for a moment, rather than letting things escalate.


How to choose a primary school? Top Notting Hill Schools


I have received a number of emails from mothers asking me questions about schools; from how to get in, to how to choose a school, to what to wear in the interview (!) and also asking me to write up a review on schools in West London/Notting Hill. They felt that it would be very informative and that it would be helpful for mothers going through the process of choosing a school. So here goes. This is a work-in-progress-post, and I will be adding to it so feel free to send me your opinions on the below schools.

As we all know, choosing a school for your child after nursery can be a head-throbbing, stomach-twisting, heart-pounding experience. So, how does one choose a school? Its proximity? Its Leavers Results? Like-minded parents? Co-ed vs Single Sex? Adorable uniforms? Every parent has his/her own agendas and desires (Pushy Parent vs. Laid Back Parent, Academic Parent vs Artsy Parent, Bling vs. Hippy, location, location, location etc…) and it is very subjective. Parents can have a completely different opinion on the same school.

To preface this post, I am reviewing schools that I think are all great. I would happily send my child to any of them, but I am here to give more nuanced opinions from various mums who have been through the process and to help new mums make informed decisions. So I am including mostly pros and some cons.  This is meant to be a positive and helpful exercise rather than a critical one, but I can’t just gush about all of them like in Tatler’s School Guide

In Alphabetical Order

Bassett House:

Bassett House is a great little school in North Kensington that may be considered ‘less pushy’ than some of the other competitive schools in the area. For the parents who are not too keen on Oxbridge and the bling that some of the other schools may have, it is a good alternative. There is less pressure and parents here are probably more down-to-earth, and less intense about competition. For those who want a school that is more relaxed than some of the others, this may be a good choice. It still gets pretty good results, and children go off to good schools, but here it isn’t all about St. Paul’s/Oxbridge/The Ivys.

Chepstow House:

A relatively new school from the Alpha Plus Group, it is gaining popularity as we speak. One of its greatest qualities is that it is a co-ed school that strives academically, trying to build a reputation to equal Wetherby’s. It is still finding its feet, but based on the most recent results, it is doing well. As a new school, it does have the pressure of ‘proving itself’ and therefore is known to have 1 hour of homework marathons starting from Reception. It does prepare the boys for the 7+ exams and needs to show that it can do the same as Wetherby. Some feel that it is a ‘big’ school with 4 classes per year and is still growing into itself, but many of the parents and children are very happy. Other parents do feel that it is still ‘experimental’ but that in 5 years time after it has found its feet, it will be one of the schools to watch. It is considered less ‘bling’ at the moment than its sister schools Wetherby/Pembridge, but I think this will soon change.


Everyone should want a place at Fox’s. It is after all one of the best state schools in the country and is often at the top of League Tables. The children are happy, down to earth and there is an exciting curriculum which includes beekeeping and jazz. There, the children can mix with all backgrounds, which can teach your children a thing or two about real life. Oh and did I mention that it’s free! Well, almost free, you just have to move within two feet of the school to even be considered. The biggest drawback about this school is that you have to literally live on the school’s street to get a place. Some parents buy a flat around the corner to get a place, even if they don’t plan on living there, just to get a spot. So if you are ready to move/buy around Notting Hill Gate, this school is one to be considered. Some parents do mention though that if you ever want your children to go private at some point, this school does not prepare for the private school examinations and this will be need to be done with the help of a tutor.

Norland Place:

In the heart of Holland Park, Norland Place is a favourite and no-brainer for those who live in the area. It is a good, traditional, English school that is non-selective and highly over-subscribed. It is important to bear in mind that it is only co-ed for the first few years: the classes are split after Year 2 into girls and boys classes, where the boys are ‘honed’ for the 8+ exams, whereas the girls continue on until the 11+ exams. It has good leaver’s results for the boys going to Colet Court and Westminster Under and girls going Godolphin and Latymer. Some parents say it has a very ‘English feel’ to it, so if you are a proper Anglophile, Norland is a great place to go.

Notting Hill Prep:

Calling itself the ‘thinking school,’ Notting Hill Prep prides itself on being different than many of the schools in the neighbourhood. Slow and easy settling in period in Reception? Check. No homework for the first year? Check. Learn reading whenever you want to read? Check. So for parents who are less interested in rote learning and are Montessori-Mad, this is a good alternative to many of the hothouses in London. It is not for the neurotic parent who likes structure and routine or those with Oxbridge as their sole goal in mind, but more for parents who are a bit more laid back and shall we say it, cool? The Artsy Crowd is all about NHP; fashion designers, actors, musicians etc… love it there and there is a big emphasis on Drama and the Arts. Until recently, it was thought that NHP didn’t prepare the children enough for the exams into top private schools and those who wanted to prepare them would have to resort to private tutors, but I hear from the inside that they are upping their game. So, for a holistic approach to teaching, hipster/organic parents, NHP is a nurturing, happy environment.

Pembridge Hall:

Oh the uniform. Half of the parents at this school choose it purely based on sartorial choices. The girls with their red and white plaid dresses, elfin hats and boater hats are heart-melting. It is single sex, which some may not like as much and some say this can lead to cliques and bitch-fests, but the head says that that happens everywhere and the teachers say that it helps the girls’ concentration not to have boisterous boys around. It went through some ups and downs with the previous head, but the new-ish head is genuinely interested and invested and promises a school that is not ‘girly’ and is putting more emphasis on sports. Of course, there are still cooking and sewing after school activities, but the girls do enjoy them. Some parents feel that it doesn’t prepare the girls for the real world and that they live in a ‘bubble,’ but academically, it does very well as a first-come, first serve, non-selective school, getting 6 girls into St. Paul’s last year and into other top London schools without the hassle of the assessment at 3 yo like Glendower and Falkner, but getting comparable results. In the same conversation, you could hear one parent saying it’s not academic enough and another saying it is too pushy, depending on who you talk to. Generally, it is a very popular girls school in the neighbourhood if you are looking at single sex education that is full of locals, and thus very international.

Thomas’ Kensington:

This is another very popular day school that parents just love. It is apparently very difficult to get in, with something like 11 spots for boys and 11 spots for girls in Reception as they operate by a sibling policy and that’s all that’s left over after sibling priority. There is an assessment at 3 y.o. which assesses you and the child. If you have a ‘connection,’ you may have an easier time getting into it, so keep networking. The children mostly head towards Thomas’ Battersea after this school, but it is generally considered quite academic. The other kids go off to top schools like St. Paul’s or Latymer Upper. It has a focus on Sports and extracurricular activities like breakdancing and Lego. If your child is not that academic though, there might be a struggle to keep up with the academics. It is considered a ‘busy’ school, so intended for children who will thrive in a busy atmosphere. Seen as a school that offers the breadth of a boarding school, it has more of a British and European feel to it than some of the other more international schools.


‘If you get a spot at Wetherby, you don’t think, you just take it.’ This is one quote I have heard from a number of parents from this school. It has acquired a reputation for preparing the boys for the top prep schools including Westminster Under and Colet Court. It is located next to Pembridge Hall, and as one mum puts it, it is ‘rougher’ than its sister school Pembridge which is considered ‘softer’. So, for boys boys, who like a rough and tumble approach, this a great school. Some parents go at length to try to get a spot including buying chocolates for the Headmaster Mr. Snell. Of course some wonder whether ‘all boys’ schools is an outdated system that leaves boys incapable of speaking to girls, but if you have decided to go for single sex and from a purely academic point of view, there seems to be little competition with Wetherby. You might encounter some Tiger moms here, but it is London after all, and these parents are the ones striving for Oxbridge/The Ivys/Westminster/St. Pauls. Some think it can get highly competitive and intense, as one mum describes her son becoming very anxious at the 7+ exams but now that Wetherby Prep exists, there is less stress and tension for those parents who do think there is life outside Westminster Under/Colet Court.


Other important schools around are Bute House in Hammersmith, which some consider the ‘top’ girls school around, ‘the golden ticket’ into St. Paul’s Girls School, but others do confirm that there is some hothousing by the parents. Otherwise, it is a lovely school with great facilities, no homework/testing for the first few years. There is a ballot from 4 yo entry then an assessment system at 7+.

Southbank is for those parents only here for a few years and want to remain in the International schooling system and for children who are better off in a less academic environment. One mum whose son was never destined to be in an academically pressurised school is doing well in this school.

Then there are the French and American schools for those looking to move back home one day, both excellent.

Please let me know your (positive) thoughts on the above schools, reply below or by email: