Fellow Beckenham parents often ask me for my thoughts about the local secondary schools. Having responded to this question to someone in writing today, I’ve decided to also share my response here in case it’s of interest to others. However, please understand this is just my subjective impressions as a local parent and not based on extensive research so I could have got things wrong. Do seek multiple opinions before making any decisions – and follow your instinct about what’s right for your child.
Harris Academy Beckenham
DS1’s at Harris Beckenham (HABE), which geographically is the obvious choice if you live near the centre of Beckenham. HABE has massively improved since Harris took it over 10 yrs ago when it was Kelsey Park Sports College. I don’t think the local community quite recognises how much it’s changed. A lot more local children are going there now. It is a genuinely comprehensive school – i.e. very socially and ethnically mixed.
HABE are quite ambitious and try to provide interesting opportunities for the children. So for example, DS1 is very good at maths and generally does well academically, so he’s in a “Harris Experience” group where they have the option to attend special lectures by the teachers (which he doesn’t) and a debating club (which he reluctantly does!). Teachers have also encouraged and supported him to enter maths olympiads and to have maths mentoring etc. The teachers are very responsive if there’s ever a problem and they’re proactive about writing home when your child has done something good, or if there’s a problem.
On the flip side, they do have quite a strong emphasis on uniform and discipline which I sometimes find a bit much and can be a bit stressful for some of the more sensitive children – but I expect that’s part of how they managed to turn the school around so quickly.
Over the last year, it’s been a bit harder to judge because of COVID. DS1 enjoyed it a lot more before the pandemic because there were lots of enrichment clubs and they had longer breaks and moved around the school more. During the pandemic it’s felt like all the boring bits of school without the more fun bits.
I think Harris might not be the best option if your children are into the arts as their music, art and drama i think are probably a bit less developed than some other schools.
DS1 probably could have gone to a grammar school, but chose Harris because his friends were going there and because he wanted to go to a normal school where he wasn’t going to feel under pressure to do lots of extracurricular sport, music, etc. I was pleasantly surprised when he started that he did go to quite a few clubs – chess, board games, film club, mandarin and maths challenge club. He’s doing Mandarin as his language – he didn’t have a choice about it, they just allocated the top English set children to Mandarin, but he’s actually really enjoying it. The others do French or Spanish I think.
Eden Park High
I can’t tell you so much about the other schools because our children haven’t experienced them, but a lot of people are now choosing Eden Park High. I think they seem to have a slightly more relaxed approach, maybe a bit more holistic. They have a compulsory long school day, which might suit you if you go out to work. The idea is that the students get all their homework done at school so you don’t have to have arguments about it at home. I’m not sure that the reality actually works out quite like that for everyone though. DH and I are both at home during the day, so the long school day just feels a bit restrictive to us, but a lot of people like it.
Then there’s Langley, which you may or may not get into from central Beckenham. The Langley schools have always had a great reputation. Langley boys certainly has a lovely building – I haven’t been to Langley girls. I think the Langley schools are more traditional and less diverse. When we looked round Langley boys, the headteacher had a very big emphasis on children getting a “well-rounded education”. This totally put DS1 off, because he just wants to do maths and chess, he doesn’t want to be well-rounded, but for children who like to do lots of extracurriculur stuff and who like sport, music, etc, it could be brilliant. Langley boys has awards you get when you’ve ticked off a certain number of extracurricular experiences you’ve participated in. The Langley schools are single sex, so if that appeals to you then you might want to try them. Langley boys has really good music and sport. Some people feel they’re a bit elitist (e.g. rugby and cricket, not football) though. A friend of mine whose child is dyslexic is moving closer to the Langley Schools because she thinks Langley Girls will have the best provision for her daughter.
Then there’s Kingsdale, which seems like an amazing school. It’s a bit further away in Sydenham, so children get a train there, but they have a lottery system for allocating places so it’s possible to get in from here, although unlikely. And you can get a place by audition if you have an aptitude for music or sport. I really liked it when we looked round – the art looks amazing there.
And there are grammar schools or private schools. We looked at St Olaves, the grammar school, for Arthur. DH took strongly against it, feeling it was elitist and old-fashioned. It’s a long journey and Arthur wanted a local mixed-sex comprehensive school. But I have a friend whose son is there and she absolutely loves it. It’s very competitive to get in there. If you’re interested, be aware that their open day is normally in June when your child is still in year 5. The equivalent grammar for girls is Newstead Woods. We didn’t look at any private schools.
Which one should I pick then?
You’ll probably need to ask around and get a range of opinions because this is just my experience. I think the reality is, we’re very lucky in this area to have a range of good options – probably none of them are perfect but they’re all actually good schools and it’s just a question of which one you feel will be best for your child/family.
Have I said something you disagree with? Do you have other information to share? Please add your comments below as I’m sure readers will appreciate a range of perspectives.