A handy guide to help your decision process
By Marieke Audsley
‘School entrance exams’, just whispering it is enough to induce anxiety and a few nervous beads of sweat. Indeed, even before they start their exams, choosing a secondary school for your child is a big decision. After all, it’s where they are likely to spend the next five to seven years of their life.
However, as with most things, the ‘hype’ is often worse than the reality of the process itself, and there are lots of ways to get advice and support. Certainly here at Enjoy Education we are always happy to discuss the process with both parents and students, and below we have some tips for embarking on the journey…
The first thing to do is to start identify where your child will be applying to and there are a few criteria to consider. The big ones are: boarding or day schools? Single sex or co-ed? If you really haven’t a clue then fear not, but don’t start booking gazillions of open days until you have done a bit of research and thinking. You don’t want to spend the entirety of the next two months schlepping down corridors and peeking in classrooms.
Enjoy Education offers a brilliant consultancy service to try and help you whittle down those choices, based on your child’s learning style, personality and what you are hoping to achieve. Don’t forget to look through some of the schools’ prospectuses and have a look at their websites. If you haven’t decided on the boarding/day school or single sex/co-ed questions yet, then keep your options open, all will soon become clear.
Having browsed a prospectus and website or twenty, hopefully some institutions will appeal more than others and now is the time to book a few open days. Ideally you should take your son/daughter along with you, so spread out the bookings in order to prevent them from missing too many lessons at their current school. Personally I think it is absolutely vital for your child to attend the open days with you. Remember they are the ones who will actually have to attend the school, not you.
In preparation for the open days, start compiling a list of questions together. Perhaps you want to ask the teachers why they chose to work at the school, or find out what the extra-curricular activities are like. Many of these questions will be answered throughout the open days, but you will have opportunities to talk to staff and pupils so it’s a good idea to have a list of questions up your sleeve. You and your child will also want to think about priorities: is it essential that the school has sports pitches on site or would you prefer somewhere that has its own drama studio? Are you more interested in a school that offers a vast array of modern languages or would you prefer to be somewhere that has top-notch science labs?
One of the most important factors to consider (if you are going for a day school that is) is what your child’s journey to school will be like. You may have found what you consider to be the ‘perfect’ school, but is it really fair to ask them to get up at 6am every day to catch a train, two tubes and a bus to get there…? Try and stick to looking at places that are easy and quick to get to. If your son/daughter is likely to be involved in after-school clubs and wants to get their homework done before 10pm each night, then it is imperative that they can get to and from school swiftly and easily.
Walking around each school will soon give you a sense of the ‘vibe’ and certainly I remember feeling quite strongly as a 10 year old the atmospheres I liked and didn’t. If you know then and there that you really don’t like a school then cross it off your list and don’t waste any more time on it.
Once you have ticked off the open days, compile a new list of places to apply to. By now you should have a strong sense of whether you are opting to stay in London or board, and if single sex or co-ed appeals most. However if not, just keep options open still. I think it is best to apply to a wide range of schools so that you don’t shut down possibilities. It is also vital to have a few ‘back up’ options that are easier to get into. You will cause yourself and your child unnecessary stress if you only apply to schools that are notoriously difficult to get places at. Even if they are the brightest spark in their primary school class, have at least one ‘easier’ option on there.
Having posted off the application forms, it’s now time to think about the examinations. Your child may already be getting support from a tutor, but if not now is a good time to start. Let your tutor know which schools you are applying to so that they can bring appropriate preparation materials. Many schools publish past examination papers and I highly recommend getting your offspring to do some of these so that they know what will be expected of them ‘on the day’. Doing a little work often between now and January is also much better than cramming over the Christmas holidays. That said, some schools have ‘pre-tests’ before Christmas, so when you go on those open days ensure that you gather all of the information about the entire application/examination procedure.
Hopefully this has provided a helpful overview, but if you do want any more detailed advice then call the Enjoy Education office for a chat. Try to stay calm throughout the process – it’ll be all over sooner than you think.