Primary schools insights?

Sorry if this post is a bit Mumsnetty for this site, but: we're applying for school admissions for our son this January and would welcome any advice on pros and cons of local schools. We live roughly halfway between Stroud Green School and Duncombe. Stroud Green is getting a new head (Cal Shaw from Chestnuts in Haringey) which in theory should make a difference. Duncombe seem to have their act together. But it's difficult to know from the outside. So if anyone has experience of either or both and how they compare, we'd be very grateful for your insights, thanks!


  • There are lots of very long threads on this subject. Try putting primary school or schools into the search bar on the top right of the homepage.
  • edited December 2016
    Our son is currently at Stroud Green preschool, and we've just put it down as our first choice for reception next year. He loves it there, we've been very impressed with his nursery teachers (more so than those at the overly expensive Asquith nursery he attended previously) and have heard nothing but good things from parents with older kids at the school. Everyone seems really enthusiastic about the incoming head, too, as far as I can tell.
    I've heard good things about Duncombe too, but we live too far from it so didn't explore any further. Have you been to visit either one? I'm certain both schools would be very happy to show you around if you ask.
  • edited December 2016
    I strongly recommend that you arrange a visit to the schools you are interested in, have a look around and a chat. Trust your gut feelings and it will help you you making a decision. I have no personal experience of either schools but I have heard good things about both.
  • SG gas been very good for our kids. It has been a happy school which I am sure will improve academically once the new head gets in place. As a parent you will also get to meet other parents who will become good new friends. Also get involved with the Friends th school PTA
  • Thanks. We have been to visit both, yes. Gut feelings are split right down the middle, which is why we are seeking any extra advice...
  • edited December 2016
    We live halfway between Stroud Green and St Aidens and put St Aidens down as our first choice last year. Unfortunately we were 31st in the list so narrowly missed out on a place. However, we were first on the waiting list and kept hoping one would come up before September. It didn't. Our daughter therefore started reception at Stroud Green in September. She has settled in very well and enjoys going to the school. The teachers are warm and friendly, and always have time for a quick chat in the morning. They seem engaged and they also really seem to genuinely like my daughter. She's just brought home the workbook they've been working on tracking her progress throughout the term and they have picked up on all sorts of interesting things she has done. It's clear they are following her development very closely and also that they want to communicate about her with us and involve us in what she is doing. To give an example of how much she likes it: one day last term she was too sick to go to school. I put her in front of the Cbeebies with a duvet, and read stories to her, made her all her favourite meals etc. But all she wanted to do all day was to go to school! At different points in the day, she sighed and said: now the other children will be lining up for this, or doing that now. She really seemed to miss it. She still talks sadly about the day she missed, when all the other children learned the letter 'O'. A big plus point is that there are two forms and each class has only about 22 children in it this year. In other words, Stroud Green was heavily under-subscribed. This means she has a really lovely small class and already seems to know everyone's names. They are doing the jolly phonics system of learning to read. This only got underway after half term (so 1st November), to ensure the children had time to settle in. By the end of November, she was reading and writing full sentences by herself. It was astonishing! She's always loved books and I think that helped. Having said that even the teachers were a bit surprised I think and did take a little while to pick up on how quickly she was making progress. But now they have started giving her a slightly more advanced book each day as well as the one they all read in class. I think that's a really great approach for her. She loves reading in class with the other children and it builds up her confidence a lot to try the slightly more difficult books at home first. The other thing about her class is that two teachers job share. So they each do three days (they overlap on Wednesday so they can do a proper handover each week while the kids do art and PE). HOwever, they've been doing it for years and seem to have got the communication sorted. So far no issues to report, and I guess the advantage is that each teacher will take a slightly different approach and have their own relationship with each child. Obviously a new headteacher starts in January so it will be interesting to see what happens... fingers crossed there are no major changes. Would I recommend Stroud Green? Definitely, based on my daughter's experiences as well as my own. Is my daughter still on the waiting list for St Aidens? No. Hope that helps.
  • Thank you for taking the time to write that post, Donna, it's beyond helpful!
  • My daughter went to SG nursery and we were very happy with it. When it came to school applications we were torn with whether to put SG as first choice or our nearest school, which was St Aidan's. We went with St Aidan's largely on the basis that we weren't very impressed with SG's head - we got the impression that the school functioned quite well but if you needed her to step in for any reason you might be disappointed. That might be unfair, but it was our impression on the basis of limited interactions, so we went with our gut and put St Aidan's though would have been happy with SG if we'd been allocated it as second choice. Now that there's a new head, I don't know what my decision would be. Things I preferred about Stroud Green as compared to St Aidan's were: greater diversity, larger classrooms, better out of hours provision, better food(!) (though it turns out the YMCA after school club that serves St Aidan's is very good). Things I liked less well: didn't quite trust the old head's judgment, slightly chaotic feeling around nursery admissions etc, possible financial difficulties which may or may not impact on the provision. These are very subjective opinions though - I agree with you that it's very hard to make a decision based on the very limited impression you get - even as a nursery parent I don't feel I knew a lot about the school. I'm afraid I don't know Duncombe at all though so can't comment on how they compare. Fwiw I know quite a few families with children at Chestnuts. Most of them really rave about the head there (is it the head that is moving?) and people clamour to get in, but one family were less happy to the point that they moved schools - though they said it might have been a problem peculiar to that year group. I think schooling is ultimately a very personal decision and it's hard to really get a feel on a show round. Best approach is to go in with an open mind and prepared to make the most of it, but be prepared to speak up if there are things you think aren't working.
  • PS don't feel at all bad about posting. There are not lots of lengthy threads about schools on here. There was one, but it's years out of date.
  • edited January 2017
    Our daughter goes to St Aidan's. She's in her first year there. It's a well organised school with a good feel to it. It was our first choice but while we were doing visits to weigh up the pros and cons of the local options I thought Stroud Green Primary was good. As has been said, it has a much more diverse mix. The new head on her way there is indeed the ex-Chestnuts head and comes highly recommended. Our friend is a governor at SGP and she loves it. We went with St Aidan's mainly because of its proximity to us - we're very close - and the convenience that brings is great. Remember that regarding Offsted reports, a school can be outstanding one day and good the next. It's not the be all and end all at all. St Aidan's has a tiny catchment. The classrooms are not big, but the school in general has a happy vibe to it. The food is great, they invite you to try it. We haven't had any issues that need addressing, so can't comment on that, but the communication has been fine. Being C of E it does have a religious slant, make of that what you will, but it doesn't seem to be heavily applied. I think that in the long term SGR could be a very good choice and would be very happy if my children were to spend their next seven years there.

    Edit: Sorry OP just re-read your first post and saw you haven't even mentioned St. Aidan's...
  • Thanks odd stewart (and everyone who has commented). We aren't in St Aidan's catchment really, otherwise it'd be an option. What everyone's answers do seem to reveal is that Duncombe isn't on the Stroud Green radar, as no one seems to have kids there or have considered it! It's definitely more on the Holloway side of things. Which doesn't make it a bad option, just means school life / bday parties etc would revolve around a different geographical community.
  • First time post from a lurker of a few months (great site by the way!), as I do have experience of Duncombe as our little one went there til we moved last year. On the whole I'd say its a well-resourced, well-managed school with some v good teachers. Within the education community, the school is well regarded. The head has been there for a long time - he's a strong character who's clearly achieved a lot, and he's also quite influential, as he heads up a local pan-borough schools forum. For us, the positives were: After-school club provision - they have strong partnership with neighbouring St Marks school, making up the Sussex Way Extended Schools. This is well-run and had a good range of activities across the 2 school sites, and also 1 day a week at Sobell Centre. There is also a Breakfast club which runs from 7:30am. The school is well-resourced - they've made v good use of funding from schools' premium monies, etc, towards extra supporting staff, art/music provision etc. They run lots of incentives - e.g. for full attendance the children get to see a film and have non-uniform day, and there are certificates given out for good behaviour/performance. They seem to deal well with behaviour issues. Our experience with nursery and early years was that they had v good teachers who relate well to the children. Local MP - some guy called Corbyn :) is a long-term supporter of the school and still visits from time to time. One of the notable things about the school is that it has quite a deprived intake, which isn't necessarily reflective of the more mixed community in the immediate catchment. Compared to other schools in the area it has a lower proportion of white middle class children and other than Somali, a lower proportion of children from afro- caribbean background compared to neighbouring schools. The main 3 ethnic minority groups in the school are Turkish, Bengali and Somali. From our experience, whilst there is good integration between children of different backgrounds in the school, and the school makes an effort on cross-cultural understanding (e.g. learning about EID/Ramadan, Diwali and other religious festivals, and participation in school nativity play, other Christmas activities) the communities of the 3 main ethnic groups are quite close-knit and we found it a bit difficult to get to know other parents. The language barrier probably doesn't help, as many parents speak English as a 2nd language. Starting at 7:30am, the Breakfast Club provision is pretty convenient, although it isn't supervised by teaching staff (dinner ladies run it) and younger children can find it a bit daunting. The head has clearly done a lot for the school but can be a bit omni-present and domineering, and not always especially approachable when there are issues to be discussed. He has a certain way of doing things and running his school which has proven effective but may not be to everyone's tastes. Children from reception onwards have weekly homework - typically simple additions, drawing a picture and learning key words. From Year 1 they have spelling tests on 5 words a week. We didn't find the homework too excessive - normally taking half hour to complete and our child generally enjoyed doing it. Sorry for lengthy post, but hope this helps.
  • I think that's a really excellent account of a local primary school, N19lurker. Well done. I taught music in quite a few Islington primary schools, including one local one which never gets a mention in this debate, although it's closer to FP than Duncombe, and that's Pooles Park. Similar in some respects to D, I would say D was more involved with its various communities. Families are actively supported by social workers employed by the school, for example: is that right?
  • edited January 2017
    There was a meeting to meet the new headteacher at Stroud Green today. Wow, she was so impressive! Really passionate about both improving children's learning and the teaching at the school, as well as improving the school environment and atmosphere at the school. And she wants to improve communication with parents. She seems really switched on and experienced and I was just blown away by her - totally exceeded my expectations. Lets just hope she puts into practice what she preaches - she wants parents to be saying in two years' time, oh no there's a massive waiting list at Stroud green!
  • FPDweller, what did you go for in the end? Any thoughts on Ashmount or Whitehall Park anyone? Donna - did the new head mention anything about any changes to their outside space? thanks!
  • Pie eater - yes, the outside space is going to be revamped and they are hoping to cut down or address the trees and make the playground a lot more inspiring. They are also going to put in a new kitchen. The new head used to be the head of Chestnuts, she seems really really good. Email her: - she's very keen to attract new parents to the school, she could answer any questions.
  • Oh great, thanks for that. I'll email her.
  • Pie eater - in answer to your question, in the end we put Stroud Green School as first choice. This was largely down to the new head. We went to hear her talk about her vision. She's keen to raise standards all-round and seems to have a plan with priorities and other plan-like features. She also answered everyone's questions clearly and honestly, which is not always a given! Anyway, we were duly impressed with her, hopefully she'll deliver... Watch this space, and again thanks to everyone who volunteered their thoughts.
  • Might see you there then FPDweller (and Donna)! We put it 1st too. After Donna's suggestion I emailed the new head and was invited in for a chat and cuppa! Had a good chat and felt confident that it was the right first choice for us. We shall see!
  • edited January 2017
    Cool, she does seem really good doesn't she? The way I see it, it can only improve under her leadership. And as I say my daughter is really happy there anyway at the moment.
  • Our son went to Duncombe many years ago (he's now 21). As white middle class parents, I would endorse N19lurkers' comments, although the kids are of course (in the early years anyway) colour and class blind. Suffice to say we had some interesting birthday parties! As far as the Head, Barrie O'Shea, is concerned, I cannot speak highly enough of him. As foresaid WMC parents, we bottled Islington secondaries (IAMS is at the bottom of our garden), and went for the private option. Long story short, number one and only son managed to get himself chucked out half way through year 9. While trying (desperately , I might say) to get him into another school, we had also to work out what to do with son in the largest dog house in the world while both parents were at work. Enter aforesaid Barrie, who completely non-judgementally took him into Duncombe to help the early years with reading for three weeks while we moved heaven and earth. Punishment which wasn't really, a fantastic experience for our son, and a total commitment from B O'S to a child who had left his school years before, but for whom he continued to feel responsible. Apart from us being dicks for going for the private option, what more can I say?
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