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Grappling with 11+ or 13+ entry to senior school?

Parents whose children attend prep schools which finish at the end of Year 8 often find themselves facing this dilemma. Many assume that starting senior school at age 11 is the right move and for many it is, but there are also great reasons to opt for 13+ entry. We speak to Matthew Godfrey, Deputy Head at Downe House to get his thoughts and perspective on this tricky choice that parents face.

Most senior schools that offer both entry points will advise your child to remain at their prep school until the end of Year 8 if that option exists. One of the reasons for this is because the final two years of a 13+ prep school can provide terrific opportunities: a chance to take on leadership roles, maybe, or to benefit from small class sizes, to name just two. Also, if your child is happy and making good progress at their prep school, what is the benefit of moving them early from a tried and tested preparation process?

Some parents assume that senior schools will want your child to join at 11+ rather than 13+. In fact, they benefit from a healthy 13+ entry: an influx of new pupils with a range of differing characters, talents and abilities is healthy and refreshing. Those pupils who joined the senior school during Years 7 and 8 always look forward to welcoming the new arrivals at the start of Year 9.

Parents sometimes worry that if their child misses the first two years of their senior school, they will find it harder to break into friendship groups which have already been established in Years 7 and 8. This concern is normally unfounded.

Good schools will ensure a rigorous induction programme, a buddy system and will maximise opportunities for pupils, old and new, to mix. For example, at Downe House, girls move into new Houses at 13+ so there is, in a way, a new start for all. Prep schools are excellent at building confidence, especially in the final two years. So, this means their pupils have the skills in place to make a success of joining their senior school in Year 9.

Most senior schools make 13+ entry offers during Year 6 – more than two years before the recipients are due to join. This means the children can make frequent visits to their chosen destination school during Years 7 and 8, thereby becoming familiar with their future teachers and pupils. Again, this means they are far less likely to be fazed at the prospect of joining them in Year 9.

Every child develops at their own pace, and so it is fair to say that while some pupils are mature enough to move on to senior school at 11+, others benefit from two more years of development before making the move.

If you are contemplating the 11+/13+ dilemma, here’s a useful Q&A:

If my child remains at their prep school for Year 7 and 8, how many pupils will be in their year group?

Many senior schools now offer 11+ entry, meaning that some 13+ prep schools lose pupils after Year 6. Some pupils may get frustrated if they are one of just a very small number of pupils remaining at their prep school for the final two years.

If my child receives a 13+ offer from a senior school while they are in Year 6, will they have the opportunity to visit their future school during Year 7 & 8?

Most senior schools will provide opportunities for your child to visit them during this period to familiarise them with their future school, but it is worth asking to see the programme.

What measures will be in place at my child’s senior school to ensure their transition at 13+ is smooth?

Ask if there is a buddy scheme and an induction programme. Also, ask how many pupils will join at 13+ – generally speaking, if the number is very small, integration will be more difficult. Finally, ask if there will be opportunities (such as Taster Days or Orientation Days) for your child to meet up with the other pupils who will be joining with them, as well as current pupils who will be in their year group.

Which is the more competitive entry point: 11+ or 13+?

The admissions process for both entry points is usually very similar, but it is worth asking how many apply at each. Entry to selective day schools at 13+ is increasingly rare and therefore likely to be more competitive than 11+ entry. By contrast, 11+ and 13+ entry at boarding schools tends to be equally competitive.

Is the likelihood of my child winning a scholarship affected by my choice of entry point?

It is unlikely to make a difference in terms of competitiveness. However, most senior schools do not assess 13+ candidates for scholarships until they in Year 8; so, while your child may not be a scholarship candidate in Year 6, they may have developed into one by the time they are in Year 8.

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