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Piepie

Concerns about vocational school

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We didn't choose vocational school for the academics. Like Billy above, with a boy, vocational school makes everything a lot easier ballet-wise.

 

Being 'in education' means I do see there are different options and routes and I have no doubts that even though being at a state school would have meant more top grades, the benefits of being at vocational school, if a contract doesn't materialise in due course, would enable him to do a whole range of things.

 

For me though, money would be a big decider. If we had a girl dancer, training options nearby are MUCH more possible and that might make the difference for a family as a whole, as well as for the daughter.

 

Finally, as my son says 'I'm going to be a dancer... What do I need A levels for?'... >:)

 

Edited to say, that was supposed to be an 'ironic' emoji

Edited by Stirrups36
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My DD was at voc school until end of Y8, then went to a local independent school. She says she felt she only caught up properly with the academics by Y11 - the experience at vocational school had put her back that much. She gained many things from being at the vocational school, including living in an international, multi-cultural community, but a good grounding in academics was not one of them. She also lost her reading habit - the boarding and full-on social environment is not conducive to reading. However, as has been said, a really determined reader and a really bright child will thrive wherever and those children do come out with excellent results.

 

It is the middle ground academics like her - those that need encouragement and inspiration that can flounder in the mixed-ability classes at vocational school, where the prevalent feeling is that the academics are not that important. We were attracted by the idea of small classes but they kept adding to the numbers (to keep up fee income, we thought) so that classes were 26 or so - not that small. I agree with Pups_mum - it's easy to be flattered into thinking your child has been specially selected so you must be grateful for what you are given. The vocational schools get away with a lot because of this culture. Parents feel unable to question, criticise or even approach the staff. 

 

Like the OP we got caught out by funding and the whole experience was far more expensive than we had been led to believe (the school initially gave us the figures for day fees not boarding - but only told us of this error after we had signed up). It was altogether a very expensive experience. I don't know whether it was worth it - probably not as our DD decided that a ballet career was not to be for her - but at least she had the opportunity and an experience open to very few.

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In case he doesn't become a dancer, or after he stops dancing as a career in dance is generally very short and unstable! You never know, you may need something you never thought you would use!

 

You might already have told him this though! 

 

Finally, as my son says 'I'm going to be a dancer... What do I need A levels for?'... > :)
 

Edited by DancingtoDance
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Harwel I am really sad to hear that the academics are not what they used to be as just a few years ago they were excellent. Prior to Tring my daughter did attend one of the leading prep schools and I have to say Tring within the top sets offered a comparable but slightly limited education. The head of academics would not allow dance to invade education and I always felt that the dance and education was very well balanced. I do know that many students who chose an academic route come away with excellent grades and are currently attending our top universities my daughter included.

Please don't misunderstand me, the academics are good and students who wish to follow an academic route can certainly do that from Tring. The top sets are certainly working at a level which will get A* if the students themselves put in the work. I just feel, from our own perspective, that some of the relief teachers have been very poor and the children are then left a little confused as to what they have to do, as before everything was fine, now they are being told they are doing everything wrong - this has happened in 2 subjects with my DC. I'm also sure this can happen in other schools too.

 

The head of academics certainly makes sure academic lessons are not sacrificed - DC had to miss 3 days of vocational to catch up on French GCSE work - which dc was horrified at, but which I fully supported!

 

I think the point I was trying to make is that the academics are not perfect, but also they won't be in many schools and they will have times where the teaching staff gets disrupted and the lessons get affected. When you send a child to vocational school, you are really choosing the vocational lessons over the academics - good academics yes, but if you are only interested in academic success and view the dance as a nice extra, because they love it and are talented and think that they will get the same academic education that you can get at a top flight educational establishment then I don't think that's really right (but also, no one needs more than 9 GCSE's, I understand that for medicine the schools only look at the 9 highest scoring GCSE's anyway)

 

Vocational dance schools don't have the large number of academic staff that purely academic schools have and therefore will find it more difficult to cover missing teachers. I view vocational schools as having to walk a fine line between everything they have to offer. Strong academics are often the parents priority as we see further than the dream of a dance career, but for most of the children they just want to do vocational and see academics as a necessary evil. My DC is very bright and I really want a strong bedrock of GCSE's to underpin him. I'm not too bothered about A'levels, they can be done anytime and dance training can't. I believe dc is getting the best mix of academics and dance that is available to us, but ultimately not all schools are perfect and there will be issues everywhere at some point throughout their school career.

 

These dancing children are amazing, they have to work so hard for both dance and academics from such a young age and have a maturity way beyond their years. The level of self motivation they require is more akin to that of university students. I hold my hat off to them, I really do view them as rather elite people!

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It doesn't have to be that a vocational school can't achieve good exam results. YDA are a non academically selecting school with excellent vocational training and their GCSE results in 2015 were top of the London borough of Hammersmith with 89% achieving 5 or more a-c GCSEs including English and Maths. Ballet is such an unpredictable career path even for the most naturally blessed and gifted I wouldn't be comfortable not taking academics into account.

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Those tables are misleading.

 

Tring, in line with many leading independent schools do IGCSE in core subjects (IGCSE are thought to be more rigorous & better preparation for A level) & these results are not included in league tables hence the O% score. My sons school which is in the top 100 for a levels also has 0% for GCSE.

 

I believe from searching that Elmhurst also do IGCSE in some non core subjects so anyone taking one if the affected subjects will not have it counted towards the 5.

 

(No personal score , dd doesn't go to either of those two schools)

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Btw I wasn't implying my dd was naturally blessed and gifted, just trying to make the point that anyone could get injured or fall out of love with dance, who knows what will happen over the course of their training and so academic stability seems vitally important to me!

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Not sure any top university would look favourably on 5 GCSE's at grade C for any subject! (Just being provocative!)

 

You can't tick all of the boxes in one swoop - you can hope to cover some bases for security, but In the end life has a habit of working out in very mysterious ways.

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Yes, the criteria I gave is simply the way all

Schools are measured if you look on the local authority tables. It doesn't mean that is all that the students achieved! Every school is measured at ks4 on the basis of % of students achieving 5 a-c GCSEs incl English and maths. Of course that is not all the students will have taken or passed but it is the accepted benchmark used to compare data from secondary schools at year 11.

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I can only comment on my DS at Tring . Achieved 9 great GCSE's and 2 AS levels . Hoping for two good A levels . His friend achieved straight A grades and is on track for 3 A grades at A level .

Great teachers and teaching .

The dance training speaks for itself - with students gaining upper school places at Royal and ENB most years .

Tutugirl

My Dd is also at Tring and we are really pleased with the academic teaching. The GCSE and A' Level results the past two years were a few percentages up on my Son's (non dance) academically selective private school.

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Worth pointing out that percentages can be very misleading when dealing with small numbers of students e.g. In a class of 10, one student equals 10%

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Yes, the criteria I gave is simply the way all

Schools are measured if you look on the local authority tables. It doesn't mean that is all that the students achieved! Every school is measured at ks4 on the basis of % of students achieving 5 a-c GCSEs incl English and maths. Of course that is not all the students will have taken or passed but it is the accepted benchmark used to compare data from secondary schools at year 11.

Oh I know. As I said, just being provocative and just shows how misleading % and league tables are, can mean anything!

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All the vocational schools have small year groups so this would be the case for all of them and should mean it is possible to directly compare the results of the diff vocational schools with each other.

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I think because the OP on this thread said specifically they were unhappy with the academics at the vocational school their child was at though it is relevant, as unfortunately the only way to look at the issue of academic attainment is through the admittedly flawed % criteria.

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It's why schools with very small cohorts are not obliged to report results.

 

Yes, I understand what you are saying Amos but if one ifvthevschools for example has a child with SEN then that one child may vastly skew the results for that particular year.

 

Which is why it's important to take a range of factors into account.

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I agree, and this would apply across the board to all of the schools, so they are all prone to the same pressures in terms of reporting these results for a small cohort.

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And to add to Pictures comment above if the school accepts two or three overseas students into year 11 with little or no English who then maybe take 1or 2 GCSE the statistics are skewed

 

But going back to the OP isn't the problem that financially they are struggling to cope and don't feel they are getting value for money. I think you need to investigate your options both locally and further afield for classes, coaching and associates. You then need to have a family discussion involving your dd, make your position clear about the financial situation, your concerns regarding academics, suitability of career and other options. My feeling is you need to do this ASAP because most independent schools require a terms notice if withdrawing a pupil.

 

Even on an MDS we found our contribution was a large part of our income and although we didn't see a notable pay rise over last few years the school bill increased year on year as school trips increased, text books and incidentals were added to the bill. And not forgetting the increasing amount spent on pointe shoes as dance classes increased. So expect to be paying out more in year 11 than year 7.

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I hope that you are able to make the right decision for both your DD and your family.  What is right for one child is not right for another.  It's true that academics can be done at a later stage as many have said, and ballet is a short term career, but be aware that due to government funding, the only GCSE's left available to most adults are Maths & English, and with luck Science.  A levels are more available, however anyone over the age of 24 has to take out a learning loan to achieve them.  If your DD ends up with a funded dance degree, then she will have to pay in full for an academic degree should she want to change path.

 

We chose to go down the academic route first with CAT programme and excellent ballet lessons as my dd is very bright and expected to get all A* - B in her 10 GCSE's.  I wanted her to have a good education to support whatever she chose to do in life.  It's not easy though.  Dancing 4 nights per week and all day Saturday means we never get home before 9.30 during the week and therefore homework and now revision is a regimented procedure.  Luckily my dd is quite dedicated to studies as well as her dance, and she also has a very good and supportive secondary school.  With GCSE's looming (start in 13 days) it is still quite stressful and we will end up dropping a couple of dance classes just to cope.  Plus the running around as a working mum is tiring and takes over your life with little time for anything else but work, dance and bed.  

 

Whichever way you go there is a cost.  I'm know that the CAT programme is much cheaper than vocational school, but if I add up the lessons, the cost of petrol and the time out of work, I don't think it would be amazingly cheaper.  You don't say whether you have other children at home.  I only have one and it's a good job as any other child would have to fend for themselves as my dd keeps me fully occupied all week.  We both live for Wednesday nights when we can sit down for 5 minutes and eat a leisurely meal before starting homework/housework etc.

 

Sorry if this post seems long and rambling.  I just wanted you to have a viewpoint from someone who is on the other side of the coin to you to perhaps give some perspective.

 

And welcome to the forum!!

Edited by Huddsballetmum
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I've followed this with interest, and cannot resist adding my two penneth, both from the point of view of a dance and music MDS establishment.

 

The bottom line, as I see it, is does your daughter want to dance?  Does she want it badly enough to accept that other things - and this includes the best GCSE results - may have to go by board.  Lamentably, rarely can you have it all.

 

My son was assessed out of one vocational ballet school at the end of year 9, and found that the new one had far higher standards of academics than the one he had left.  This lead to some fairly unwise GCSE options as he hadn't realised how far behind he had fallen (and neither had we).  He went straight from GCSEs to a degree and feels he has missed out on the academic rigour of A levels, something he regrets.

 

My daughter unexpectedly went to a mixed cathedral and music school on an MDS - she started at the beginning of year 10.  Coming from a secure academic background (high achieving state grammar), I felt she would have enough good training to come out with a reasonable set of GCSEs come what may.  In fact, she has flourished both musically and academically and I feel the reason is that she has superb pastoral care, both in the boarding house and from her form tutor.

 

Regarding the finances - we are not rich and did not expect to put a second child through private education, MDS or otherwise it still costs.  A lot.  But somehow you manage, you have to ask yourself if it is important enough and a good enough set up to justify the cost.

 

This is a long and rambling post but I would summarise :

 

  • Does your child want to be a dancer - it has to be their choice not yours
  • Is the whole school set up good enough - do you trust them with your child
  • Life isn't fair, you can't allocate money equally.  Different children have different needs at different times.
  • Which is more important to you, and your child - the academic or vocational training.

 

There is never a simple or right answer.  You have to have faith in your child, in the school, in your Gods, and make the best decision you can on the information you have at the time.

Edited by meadowblythe
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I think the question of whether it justifies the cost is key. And the answer to that is very individual. What your alternatives are will hugely influence how you see the situation. I've no experience of vocational schools but I did take my children out of the independent sector simply because I didn't feel I was getting value for money. There was nothing "bad"about the school we left and nobody was unhappy as such, but when I looked at what the local state schools had to offer,the difference just didn't justify the large amount of money that the independent school was costing. The bottom line was that we didn't feel it offered value for money. Had our local state schools been less good of course we may have seen it very differently - value is a very subjective thing.

I am living proof of the idea that a bright child can achieve highly in a poor environment. I excelled academically in spite of my schooling, not because of it. But my parents weren't paying thousands of pounds a year for it and basically had no alternative. I am sure they wouldn't have tolerated the situation if they had the choice.

Those who are fortunate enough to have choices have to weigh up the value and cost of those options and keep an open mind if it turns out that what originally seemed like the right choice might not be. If someone does change their mind it doesn't necessarily reflect badly on any given school or mean that those who choose to stay are wrong of course - just that it wasn't the best option for that particular family at that particular time. The fact that different people have such different experiences of and views on the various schools just goes to confirm that, to my mind at least.

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My DDs didn't go vocational full time sch but still feel that their education especially for DD1 suffered as very difficult travelling from sch then she often did 4 hours of ballet plus Saturday classes and feel that she had to rush homework and although did ok at GCSE s could of done better ! Also at time we were relaxed about it as she was going to full time ballet at 16 but after 2 and half hrs gave up because sometimes what they think they want at 15 is different to when they get to 18 !! She is doing RAD teaching cert now so has worked out ok. Other DD who saw what happened to her sister decided that when GCSE s were coming up to not go ballet as much and pushed herself stayed behind at sch to do extra and did very well, she told us that she knew she didn't want to do A levels so felt she had to get good GCSE s and then concentrate on dance however she is not going down ballet path as is at MT sch on dance course . It was a difficult time as ballet sch were not happy that she wasn't going as much and she often came home upset !! I am quite surprised that some of these full time schs aren't as academic as I always thought that as they had small classes students would do well especially if we are talking about the top 4 in UK !!

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How easy is it to take A Levels once you have left school? In my day, school leavers commonly retook their A Levels in one year at the local college. Apart from (very expensive) private crammers where can you study A Levels from scratch?

 

I understand that as part of widening access to higher education it's possible to do university degrees even in 'competitive' subjects with poor or no A Levels by doing a foundation year first.

 

Getting back to the OP's dilemma, I think that she has to work out whether vocational school really is unaffordable / places an unbearable financial strain on the family first. If it does, then there really is no option but to remove her child from the school. Unlike some other posters, I believe that this is not the child's decision; it's the parents' as the parents have to decide what's in the best interests of the whole family, which includes the parents.

 

If paying for vocational school involves many sacrifices but is doable then there is more of a dilemma. What are you paying for? Elite ballet training, academics and a school and social environment which your child would not have (particularly if your child is a boy) if s/he attended a local school. What priority do you give to each of these three things? How satisfactory would these things be if your child was not at that particular vocational school? Then there are the practicalities of trying to combine school and many hours of dance training with parental work and the needs and wishes of the rest of family, particularly any other children. For some families these practicalities are overwhelmingly difficult and vocational school is by far the best option despite the considerable cost.

 

If you are comparing a vocational school with a top independent school then I don't think that they compare academically. Parents of children at top independent schools are, first and foremost, paying for a top academic education with a wide choice of subject options and much academic 'enrichment' in the form of outside speakers, lectures, subject related societies, non-examined short courses and self-initiated extra-curricular research which is written up in the form of a dissertation. Sport, music, art, drama etc are also very important but the school is judged on the results of its public examinations and, to a lesser extent, the destinations of its school leavers. Vocational schools are elite schools but they are elite for their particular speciality (ballet, music etc). Top independent schools are 'top' primarily for their academic results.

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How easy is it to take A Levels once you have left school? In my day, school leavers commonly retook their A Levels in one year at the local college. Apart from (very expensive) private crammers where can you study A Levels from scratch?

 

I understand that as part of widening access to higher education it's possible to do university degrees even in 'competitive' subjects with poor or no A Levels by doing a foundation year first.

 

 

It is very difficult to take A levels once you are over 18. Further education colleges offer them but if you have already done some level 3 qualifications e.g. A level or BTEC, then you usually have to pay, or if over 24, you can access a learning loan. This is usually a 2 year course.

 

There are a number of private / independent schools which take over 18s for A level in a fast track one year course, but they tend to be in London or the South and typically cost around £16-18k for tuition fees and then accommodation is a further £10k.

 

Then there are the distance / online learning options which offer some online tutor help but require a high level of self-reliance.

 

With regard to university access, the entrance requirements are marked clearly on their website for each course and you generally need good A levels. Foundation courses are only for overseas students who haven't done A levels apart from in exceptional cases.

 

Widening participation means that you have to satisfy at least two of the criteria below and entry requirements are typically dropped by one grade e.g. instead of AAB, it might be BBC, but it does not mean that students with poor grades can get in without meeting the following circumstances:

  • Being from a less advantaged family environment in terms of income, education and experience. We normally use a postcode tool to assess this, but some courses may consider whether: 
  • your parents have not been to university
  • you or your family are on a low income or receive a means-tested benefit or tax credit
  • Being from a school or college where high academic achievement is not the norm
  • Being in local authority care (‘looked after’), or having been in care, for at least three months
  • Being responsible for the long-term care of a sick or disabled family member
  • Having childcare responsibilities
  • Being from a travelling background or having had a disrupted education
  • Having refugee status. 

Also worth noting that some universities do not accept re-takes of A levels.

Edited by tabitha

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Thanks for this, tabitha. Are the widening participation criteria and consideration for 'contextual offers' given by universities different things?

 

I wonder whether a lot of people who have missed out on / dropped out of education opt for the Open University route. Tbh, I'm quite surprised that university requirements are so strict. I've often read about people going to university as mature students, perhaps in their thirties or forties, having left school at 15 or 16 with limited qualifications. Have the rules changed? I don't get the impression that they had to pay to do their A Level courses (if they did them) either.

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Contextual and widening participation are the same and are aimed at 'disadvantaged' students.

 

However you are right that offers for 'mature' students (over 24ish) can be much lower as 'life experience' is taken into account. However, many mature students without any qualifications are encouraged to do an "Access Course" to demonstrate aptitude, but these can be hugely variable and not all unis accept them for all courses.

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My family has had a few go through the system at Tring.

 

It is fair to say that they had their heads turned by dance, however the academic staff did their utmost to keep me informed of any lapses in homework, missing coursework, poor effort (you get the picture :) Happy to say the last two left with really  good sets of results.  I do not dispute they may have done better at our local (at the time) comprehensive which was and still is graded 'Outstanding'. However, not only have they done well enough to pursue whatever A levels they choose, but they have also gained many other valuable skills which will be useful in the job market.

In addition, the smaller class sizes have been beneficial to my youngest dd who is performing above her target grades.

 

My  other DS was also kept nose to the grindstone while at the Hammond and left with a good crop of A and A stars :)

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From the perspective of having a dd who was non-vocational until 16...

 

In Y11 she was at school all day and taking 10 GCSE's; on top of that there was dancing every evening after school, every Saturday, most Sundays, an EYB performance, umpteen auditions and finals, dance school rehearsals and performances, and two RAD exams.

 

She found it incredibly difficult to keep up with her GCSE work and revision, and her grades overall were 1 (possibly 2) lower then they might otherwise have been had she not been a dancer. Some of her teachers at school were very understanding and accommodating - other less so. The whole thing was extremely stressful for her, and she was permanently physically and mentally exhausted. I suppose that being at vocational school probably does have an impact on academic work and will affect GCSE results, but in our experience being non-vocational had a considerable influence as well. 

 

Maybe there is no easy answer for dancers, and sacrifices in academic achievement will have to be made whichever type of school you go to. Perhaps it is just one of those things and you have to decide whether it is worth it in the long run.

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