Tag Archives: NSB

Don’t kid yourself, there’s no magic formula to getting into NSB

STAYING on the subject of Northampton School for Boys, I’ve had calls from friends recently, asking me: “How did you get yours in?”

Well, if you’ve followed these ramblings over recent years, you’ll know that I didn’t.

Yes, Jed and Dougie are now both NSB pupils, but I certainly didn’t ‘get them in.’

And if you are helping your Year Six son choose a school for next September, there’s nothing you can do to ‘get them in’ either, other than fill in the forms and hope for the best. So don’t hold your breath.

There’s no ‘points criterion’ like there was in the past. You have to take them to do a ‘banding’ test on a Saturday morning, and might take the technology and music exams which share a handful places among genius kids. Other than that, the school insists its selection is random.

The number of available places – once you’ve taken out those with siblings already there, those with statements of special needs and the aforementioned geniuses – is probably less than 100.

Yet there will be over 700 applicants for those places from across the county and beyond as there’s no catchment area, which may explain the huge amount of pupils who seem to come not from Northampton, but from wealthy villages.

When our first-born Jed applied three years ago, he didn’t get in. We appealed, he still didn’t get in. He went to another school, which he quite enjoyed, but stubbornly stayed on the NSB waiting list, even though we were told it was highly unlikely a place would come up.

A year later, second son Dougie, keen to stay with his friends from primary school, also applied for NSB as his first choice. And he DID get in.

Things were a little awkward at home between brothers, mostly over the vastly differing sporting opportunities at their respective schools.

Then a week before the start of the 2011 summer holidays, we had a letter, saying a place had come up at NSB, and would Jed still like it?

I won’t bore you with further repetition, but he took the place, and started this term in Year 9, two years after his peers.

A note of caution to prospective parents: If your son hates sport, it might not be an ideal first-choice school. (Just ask any pupils about the ‘levels run.’) Discipline is strict, expectations are high, and curiously for a school with no selection, you can really feel like a pauper when you see the rows of Range Rovers and Mercs doing the school run.

There’s no doubt it’s a good school, but try not to let yourself become blinkered – there are other good schools out there too.


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Don’t hate me, but the NSB waiting list has come up trumps

IT was Dougie who brought me The Letter. Our second son, proffering the manilla envelope with a Northampton School for Boys franking mark. His school.

With just a week left before the summer holidays, he wondered if he was in trouble.

As previously detailed in these columns, we have three sons in three different schools around Northampton.

Our first-born, Jed, didn’t get his first choice of the ridiculously oversubscribed school for boys, and has attended Malcolm Arnold Academy-nee-Unity-nee-Trinity for the past two years.

Much to our surprise, Dougie, a year younger, did get into NSB, where he has spent the first year of his secondary education happily knee-deep in sport, more sport, testosterone and sport.

Meanwhile seven-year-old Billy is endeavouring to make his own mark, noisily, at the large urban primary school his two brothers attended before him.

Back to the letter: it wasn’t about Dougie – it was about Jed. It was offering him a Year 9 place at NSB to start in September as two boys in his age group have left.

To say it’s come as a shock is an understatement. We’d applied two years ago, and along with hundreds of other parents, had failed to get a place. We’d appealed, and while 11 appeals had been successful, ours hadn’t.

We were told we could join a waiting list, but warned that the likelihood a place coming up was very remote. Indeed we reasoned that having been forced to take 11 more pupils in than they wanted, the chances of a place becoming available was about as likely as Jeremy Clarkson buying an electric car and joining the Green Party.

Stubbornly, I put him on the waiting list anyway.

And then last week The Letter arrived.

Jed was understandably conflicted. Having settled well at MAA, made friends, worked out which teachers he liked, been given opportunities to tour the Olympic Park, have lunch with Boris Johnson, act as a mock lawyer in a real magistrates court, play bass guitar, argue politics with Tory sponsor David Ross and talk on the radio about his experiences of the new academy, he was now going to have to decide if he wanted to leave, at age 13. We told him to sleep on it.

It was Dougie who volunteered the first advice. Dougie, 12, who has spent his entire life being known as ‘Jed’s brother,’ who was pleased to be at NSB without his older sibling.

“You should take it,” he said. “Think of the sport. Think how mad you get when you can’t do the sport you want at MA. . . Plus I want everyone to refer to you as ‘Dougie’s brother.’”

We discussed the pros and cons of each school. And although he was grateful for those friends and teachers who’d encouraged him at MA, and would certainly miss having girls around, he was resolute: NSB had been his first choice school.

Their facilities, like it or not, are amazing and the standard of teaching is proven. The range of subjects offered at GCSE is wider and the discipline strict. We agreed that while we felt disloyal, MA still needed a few more years to settle and that NSB could simply offer Jed more now.

I have spent the last week feeling guilty at our luck. I’ve so many friends whose sons also didn’t get in, and have spent hours, and plenty of column inches, raging about the unfairness of NSBs refusal to have a catchment area. I still stand by that opinion. If fewer boys were being bused in from Bedford, Brackley, Oundle and upmarket villages, there would be more places for boys who actually live in and around Northampton. It is, after all, NORTHAMPTON School for Boys.

Ultimately, however much we want all schools to have the same facilities as NSB, making ‘parental choice’ a redundant concept, they don’t.

We don’t even know if we’ve done the right thing. You take the best chances you can for your children and hope it all works out in the end.

One thing I will miss though: Malcolm Arnold’s uniform is far nicer than NSB’s.

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