A question that many of us have been asking! We all know our children change so much from year 5 to year 8 so how do you find the perfect fit when they are still so little? We ask Fiona Kelly, Deputy Head of Twyford School for her advice and top tips for parents who are embarking on this confusing journey.
We always start by reminding the parents to do their homework! There are so many impressive websites this can be rather overwhelming but you must start somewhere. In some ways the choice has narrowed with families choosing schools near to home, especially now with families being more centralised around the home and a growing number of parents working from home. However, if parents are looking for a more specific type of school or a school with specific facilities and areas of expertise then we find that they are happy to cast a wider net.
The other big questions are: coeducational or single sex, boarding, day or flexi-boarding, urban or rural and likely fit for siblings. Most importantly – can you imagine your child there? This is where it becomes so difficult. Your child may have only just started in the prep school and that slightly too big blazer and their little size 13 shoes can be difficult to imagine in a large senior school.
The websites will nearly always advertise the next Open Day and I suggest that you book in. The Open Days are very busy now, due to most schools not offering a full programme of Open Days for the last two years, and so book early to avoid disappointment.
There is plenty of reading that you can do online before an Open Day. Key policies are on websites which will include the aims and values of the school and details such as class sizes as well as academic and pastoral policies. Schools always showcase the range of extra-curricular activities on websites and so look to see what you think your child/children might like to be involved it. If you like the image of the school portrayed on the website and you like the sound of it when reading the policies, then book your place on the Open Day.
Top tips when visiting a school
- Be alert and absorb as much information as you can. To understand the culture of a school look to see if the pupils and staff are happy and motivated. Watch and see how staff and pupils interact and if there are happy smiling greetings to one another.
- Ask about the tutor system, ask the pupils how it works and what they do if they have any concerns. Talking to the pupils can give you a good feel of what life is really like at the school.
- Find out what pupils do at the weekends or in the evening and if all the facilities are always open and available. Ask about the end of a school day, does everyone go straight home or stay on for extra activities? Is there is a bus available and any flexibility on bus times? Never underestimate family practicalities!
- If you have a chance to talk to staff, ask them about how they help pupils to move from predicted grade 6 to grade 8 or 9 at GCSE and convert from a B to an A at A level. You would hope to hear about extra sessions and individual support. See if you can talk to members of the music or sport department if you child is passionate about these areas or indeed how they ignite the fire in the reluctant!
- Ask the question to yourself – what would my child be like as a sixth former here?
- The next stage is all about communication. Talk to your child’s prep school about your visits and plans. Discuss the schools that you are considering registering your child for and ask their advice. Try to narrow it down to 3 or 4 and keep your options open for school type if you are unsure.
You may not imagine your child at a boarding school now but they (and you!) are often keen for boarding when a child leaves Year 8.
- Make sure that you understand the different admissions processes. Many schools use the ISEB Pre-test which takes place in Year 6 and prep schools will prepare pupils for these tests and interviews. The interviews are now moving back to onsite and in person and this is often the time when children begin to develop some opinions about schools.
- Book another school visit. A tour with a different senior school pupil to last time can often give you a very different perspective. It is when you are lucky enough to receive offers and waiting lists places that the decisions are hard to make.
- Think about your child and try not to be influenced by other parents around you. Think long term and what will suit your child best in the future.
- If your child is on a waiting list, be confident and stick it out if it is the school that you really want. Waiting lists move and be in regular contact with the senior school about your child’s position on the list. t is never an easy decision but make sure that you are happy with it before you narrow down to one school.