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Choosing your Child’s Next School

It can be daunting and bewildering to choose a new school for your child, whether it’s a change in school driven by a family relocation, or the move from primary to secondary education.  Armed with the right information and your in-depth knowledge of your own child, however, it is possible to identify the ideal school for them.

Deciding What You Want

You can establish some basic school selection criteria by being clear about what is important to your family and your child. You need to decide where the school needs to be in relation to home, for example, whether you want a day school or one that offers boarding or flexi-boarding, and whether or not you want your child taught in a single-sex environment. Bear in mind which specialist areas are important to you, both in the curriculum and in extra-curricular activities such as sports and the arts, then establish which schools support and indeed excel in those areas.

Evaluating your child’s options for senior school can be particularly stressful, and the amount of information can be quite bewildering. For secondary school, the basic options are state, state selective and independent.  A state school’s admissions criteria will often simply come down to the distance you live from the school; for state selective and independent schools, your child needs to pass their entrance assessments!

Doing your Homework

It sounds obvious, but the first step is to thoroughly research the schools. You can do your initial research online, noting Ofsted reports or Independent Schools Inspectorate reports, but look at when the inspection took place and whether there have been major changes since then, such as a change in Headteacher. The Good Schools Guide is always a great additional resource.

It’s helpful to look at league tables as well as senior schools’ GCSE and A Level or IB results and leavers’ destinations but do remember that these results are attained by groups of individual children and cohorts might differ in ability and ambition. This is where Value Added figures can reveal a lot about the quality of teaching in schools with less exacting academic entrance requirements. Those requirements are a key piece of the research jigsaw of course, particularly if the schools are academically selective.

Competition for school places in London seems to get more competitive by the year, and part of your early research might involve choosing your entry point. The 4+ and 7+ are becoming increasingly popular routes into selective independent schools, but the 11+ remains the major competitive entry point to both independent and state selective senior schools. Some combined day and boarding senior schools in the independent sector have also added two-year lower schools, therefore adding an 11 plus admissions opportunity to what used to be simply 13+ Common Entrance.

Making a Longlist

To create an initial list of schools to consider, it is a good idea to focus initially on academic standards to ensure that your child will be able to cope, but also won’t be bored. It is vital that a child goes to an appropriate school. It can be as difficult for a child to go to a school that is below their academic level as it is to go to one which is beyond their ability. In both cases it can be a negative experience for the child, which is why it is essential to find out your child’s academic potential.

How do you know which schools offer the right academic level for your child? The first step in fact is to establish how our child is performing at school in relation to the national average and assess their academic potential to establish whether they should be looking at selective schools. Equipped with detailed academic knowledge of both your child and potential schools, you can create a longlist of potential destination schools that would be the best academic fit for them.

Knowing Your Child’s Academic Potential

How do you establish your child’s true academic performance and potential? This is where professional academic assessments come in – a tailored assessment provides a benchmark that gauges how they are doing compared to others. Academic assessments show how a child learns and highlight their strengths and weaknesses, as well as establishing their academic potential. It is this depth of information that allows consultants and parents to work together to identify the right school environment for a child’s future education.

To gain entry to most state selective schools, the child would need to be scoring in the top 5% nationally. So, if the child was performing at that level or showed clear potential to do so, JK would be happy to offer tutoring to help them show their best on the examination day. However, we firmly believe children should only be prepared to sit entrance examinations for schools that are appropriate for them, not tutored to get them into a school beyond their natural ability where they would ultimately struggle.category/tutoring

Visiting the Schools

Open Day events can give you an overview of the facilities and how a school rises to an occasion, but it’s also very important to visit schools during a typical working day.  First impressions are very important. Just like buying a new house, you will get an immediate feel for a school, based on its architecture, atmosphere and people.

Pay attention to the class sizes and pastoral care, and whether students seem focused and well-behaved. Ask questions about extra-curricular activities on offer and whether the school has special resources that might fit your child’s interests, e.g. a music recording suite.  Go back to the basic criteria you decided upon at the start of your school research and take along a list of things to look for and a list of questions about anything you are concerned about regarding the school.

Speak to students, parents and teachers at the schools if you can and make a definite point of meeting the Headteacher so you can ask about any specific issues you’ve identified from your research or through the local grapevine. Ask questions about discipline, anti-bullying measures, staff turnover and school trips, to help you get a feel for the environment.

Always take your child with you on school visits and watch their responses to the school as you move around it: do they seem engaged, relaxed and enthusiastic? Different schools have different styles and it is important to choose one where your child will feel comfortable and motivated.

Creating your Shortlist

Take time to weigh up all the different aspects of possible school options before making important decisions. Each child is different, so you need to think in terms of the best school for your individual child. Schools have different styles and academic standards, and it is important to choose one where your child feels comfortable, motivated and will thrive. You need to stay focused on what is important for the development of your own child and their needs.

You can then evaluate your longlist of schools against all the other criteria that are important to you as a family. These might include location, provision for sports and the arts, facilities and extra-curricular activities, culture and discipline, pastoral care, and simply how the school “felt” when you visited it. Those that match your needs the closest will become your shortlist of chosen schools for which your child will study and sit the entrance exams.

If you need help with this, JK’s extensive knowledge of the school system and of specific schools allows us to guide you in your choice. We can help you target your school applications carefully so that your child only sits examinations for schools that would suit them best. As in many areas of life, information and preparation are the best possible foundation.

Getting it Right

Our advice is to do your homework early and if appropriate, ensure that your child has the right preparation to achieve a place at a school where they will thrive, be happy, and achieve their full potential.  Listen to advice, listen to your child, and never assume that the “best school” for your child is always the one at the top of the league tables. It is always the school that best suits your individual child – academically, socially, ethically and geographically.



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