Mary Lonsdale of London Home Tutors looks at the questions that need to be asked when choosing a school for your child
What is a selective school?
A selective school is a school that admits students on the basis of some sort of criteria, usually academic. The term may have different connotations in different systems and is the opposite to a comprehensive school, which accepts all students, regardless of aptitude.
The main groups of selective schools in the UK are grammar schools, faith schools and independent schools. There are also state schools that have selection criteria. For the purpose of this article, we will concentrate on schools selecting via academic criteria.
How do I know if my child is suitable for a selective school?
This is a very common problem mentioned by parents for the following reasons:
- Parents with children in state primary schools are not usually given data that would inform a decision about entry into selective secondary education. It’s just not one of the aims of the school and teachers are already sinking under admin and bureaucracy. Frustratingly state primaries do collect excellent data on their pupils’ progress each term relative to the pupil population in England as a whole, which would be the best intel a parent facing these sort of decisions could have, but it is very unlikely that as a parent you can get hold of this.
- Parents with children in prep schools are often given more access to information about their academic progress but the quality of information may be variable, especially if the classes are small and the school as a whole is small. For example, what does it mean if a child is top of the class in Maths if there are only 14 kids in the class and there is not benchmark to a larger pool of pupils to provide a wider context for this result?
- Parents often try to make their own decisions about their child’s suitability for selective education based on where they would like their children to attend but we sense a real backlash against children being hot housed and pushed into schools where they may not thrive and may not be happy.
- Parents are asking us more and more how they can determine at the outset which schools their children will be suitable for so that they are not made to sit too many or inappropriate examinations. These can cause over working, stress and anxiety to 9 and 10 year old children and this is unacceptable to all involved.
In response to this problem, we have created an Academic Assessment service which has been carefully put together by experienced London school teachers and is always
undertaken by the child with a qualified teacher to support them and guide them through the work. Following age appropriate tests in Maths, English, Verbal and Non Verbal reasoning we can give parents feedback on how their child is currently performing relative to their peers, what their academic potential is and sign post appropriate schools for families to visit and consider.
At what stage should we start thinking about selective schools?
Start thinking early as you will need to visit multiple target schools and the main open days tend to occur only twice a year around October and May time. If you are considering an 11+
Campaign start evaluating your options and visiting schools in Years 4 and 5 so that you have time to visit and find out what the entrance procedures entail. This also gives you time to
prepare your child in a gentle paced way without any stressful last minute cramming.
How can you help me find the right school for my child?
Our Academic Assessment can help you find the right school as we test Verbal and Non Verbal reasoning and this gives the best indicator of academic potential and hence is the best way to sign post schools to you as parents.
Once we have the results of these tests, we plot them on a bell curve against the known ability markers of schools in your area (London only) and can give you approximately five schools that your child can comfortably aspire to.
If my child is performing significantly above their year group, what type of school should we be looking for?
If your child is performing very well at primary school you may rightly feel that they will benefit from an academic environment in their senior school. Don’t forget though to consider their temperament and social behaviours in your decision. A particularly sensitive child may not flourish in a competitive environment, even if they are near the top of the class. A shy child may not flourish in a boisterous school even if they have the credentials on paper. Also consider your broader family life such as the demands of the school run and other children in the family’s needs. A long commute may cause misery for the whole family
or conversely your child may have bags of fun with friends on the school coach. Only you can tell.
If my child isn’t naturally academic, what kind of school should we be looking for?
All children have talents and passions and it’s your job as a parent to identify them and find them a school environment where these are nurtured and valued.
What are some of the most prestigious schools in London?
The most prestigious schools in London tend to be those with great history and tradition and consistently excellent exam results. They also tend to prepare children for the best universities and ultimately the most sought after jobs!
Should I hire a tutor to help my child prepare for entrance exams?
Not necessarily! If you have picked appropriate schools and have a good knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses you can prepare your child yourself. There is so much help available online so that you can easily source specimen papers and Bond books series offer a great source of practice questions.
Think of it as if you were preparing for a job interview – you wouldn’t turn up totally unprepared and would definitely run through some practice questions before you went. Obviously if your child is at a prep school you can expect that they should be practising all
elements of the entrance exams including verbal and non verbal reasoning and hopefully a bit of exam technique. If your child is at a state primary school, you should assume these are not being taught and these areas would be a good place to start practising with your child.
Is getting into a selective school the be all and end all?
Obviously not! Families should always consider the broader aspects of their child’s education and think about what is going to work for your family as a whole. One child going to a particular school can have a lot of collateral impact on their siblings for example.
If your hope is that your child will end up a happy, fulfilled adult and enjoying a meaningful, balanced life, there are certainly multiple paths to get there and that path is rarely linear and rarely requires 100% perfect academic achievement!