I’m delighted to share this guest post from Mia of School Links. Mia and I got chatting after my stories last month about thinking about secondary school choices for my children. She’s written this blog post which is so helpful. Lots of useful advice here – let me know what you think in the comments. Over to Mia.
Schools come in many different shapes and sizes, with different admissions points, academic and co-curricular programmes. For many parents, navigating the UK education system is a challenge and often using a School Consultant is a great way to demystify the process.
There are 3 types of secondary schools for parents to choose from: Comprehensive (State), Grammar Schools and Private (or Independent) Schools.
What might work for one child, may not work for the other and it is important that this is considered by us as parents when looking at the next step for our children. It can be a very overwhelming process for both parents and children therefore having lots of information beforehand and open conversations as a family is hugely important. I would always advise getting some professional guidance on the next step, if you’re feeling the process is taking its toll.
Education has been seriously stress tested over the last year and a half and post-pandemic, many schools are creating a more immersive experience for children, mostly to make up for the missed time last year. Many schools are now robust in delivering a fully equipped online learning platform – this is an important aspect to consider and ask about when selecting an appropriate school. It not only serves a purpose if there is another national lockdown (we cross fingers there’s not), but if your child is absent then there is an added security of catch-up work being readily available and lessons being physically caught up on.
Starting the School Search
In our opinion, it is never too early to start mapping out your child’s educational path, and to allow for that path to change and develop over time, but to have a skeleton plan is important. As your child grows and develops, he or she will begin to show a natural interest in certain areas of life, which will begin to show in their classroom learning.
However, If we were to put a maximum age limit on it, we would suggest that by the time your child reaches the age of 8, you have started thinking about a list of ‘wants & want nots’ when it comes to schooling.
Private (Independent) Schools v Grammar Schools – how do they differ?
Without sounding too obvious, the biggest difference is private schools charge a tuition fee and grammar schools don’t. However, there are a few other differences that you should be aware of before making a decision.
Grammar schools and private schools have a similar admissions process, which is usually based on an applicant’s academic ability rather than where they live (which is how a Comprehensive School selects). Though, it would not be unfair to say that when applying to a private school, there is a little more leeway in terms of ability. With this in mind, private and grammar schools are very popular with parents who are looking for schools where their child will excel academically and where there is a proven record with high achieving results year on year. However, as mentioned above, there is so much more to consider when looking at schooling for your child, therefore it is important to weigh up everything each option has to offer.
Private schools are known and chosen (very often) for their small class sizes. They are able to create new classes and staff them in order to keep the class sizes within a limited number (usually 15-18 per class, some classes will be smaller as the child progresses to GCSE and A Level). Having smaller class sizes has many benefits; more teaching contact time, fewer classroom distractions for the teacher to handle, a more personal relationship between student & teacher meaning that often the teaching can be adapted for each pupil.
Facilities; the facilities of a private school are often much better, or at least much broader, meaning that extra classes/clubs can be offered which in turn enriches the education on offer.
Curriculum: The curriculum offered by a private school, whilst erring on the more traditional side of education (however this is changing with many now offering BTEC options), is able to deliver a vast range of subjects that aren’t available at a state or grammar schools such as; Latin, Russian, Classics, Philosophy and History of Art. Lastly, private schools have the freedom to choose from a greater range of exam boards which can stretch those very academic children.
However, grammar schools have their merit and depending on what you’re looking for, can be a wonderful option for many children and families. You tend to get a bigger and more diverse student body and academic children are definitely stretched. Grammar schools are single sex, therefore parents need to consider whether this would be the right choice for their child. Given the narrow selection process of a grammar school, it is a highly pressured environment, which can be a fantastic environment for some children but for others it can be very difficult to manage, especially if that child has a tendency to self-pressurise.
Sitting for Entrance Exams, Scholarships and Bursary applications:
Nurture, Communicate and support.
These are the three pillars to helping your child perform at their best. Open and supportive communication with your child will be the best and most effective way to help them feel at ease regarding the entrance process.
We will always recommend the Bonds books from 7+ which will help your child understand how to answer multiple choice questions, whether you are considering private, grammar or state these are brilliant exercise books for all children to use.
Speaking to your children over the dinner table about their interests, travel, current affairs (start a subscription with The Week, if you can) is an excellent way of getting them used to conversation outside of “what is your favourite subject and why?” in a Secondary School Interview, the person interviewing is far more likely to ask “What was your favourite holiday activity and why?” or “What book do you love and who is your favourite character?” those questions are far more revealing. Group interviews are also growing in popularity – these are a great way to show how your child behaves in a group setting. No way is wrong or right, but keeping them engaged in extra curricular activities helps with self-image and confidence.
Scholarships and bursaries are very School dependant, and each school will take a view on many different factors. If you are considering this route for your child, we would recommend using advisors to help with the application process, as each school is very different. We have a Scholarship/Bursary package to help explain the process.
A school search overview:
We haven’t touched on comprehensive schools which are, for the majority the best option. It is true that state schools have large class sizes which can often mean that children who sit at a national average do get overlooked and perhaps not stretched enough. This is down to resource and time, the average day at a state school is much shorter than that of a private one.
However, parents can supplement and support a state education with a super tutor (again, we offer a service for this) and by signing their child up to lots of different classes to expose them to a vast variety of opportunities and outside interests. I must stress here though, be guided by your child and their current workload/energy levels and natural interests.
As mentioned above, family discussions are so important to long term development, less screen time and more independent play are all wonderful additions to a well-rounded education.
As with any parenting decision, it is so important to listen and talk with your child. Their needs and wants are important and valid, if they are desperate to follow a friend to a certain school but you know it is not right for them, talk about it and be honest with them. Look at school Prospectus’ together and once you have done an initial visit, take them along too. It is important that they feel part of the process and like they are in control of their life too.
If you are a confused parent looking for some support or guidance, please do not hesitate to contact Mia at School Links International for a discovery call. They work with SEN specialists, Speech therapists, Sleep consultants and many more childhood experts to help you navigate parenting as smoothly as possible.
Our UK School Search Service is delivered by a team of education experts with over 10 years’ experience working in UK Schools.