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Securing a place for a child at a good local primary school, can be one of the biggest concerns parents face. With reports frequently highlighting the shortage of school places, and supersize classes of 30 or more on the rise, it’s little wonder that even future parents consider catchment areas when house hunting.

All too often, parents can find themselves priced out of the areas surrounding the best state primary schools, while in the independent sector, some prep and pre-prep schools have waiting lists ‘from birth’.

It could be easy for parents to assume that if they don’t have a plan mapped out for any future children, then they will be condemning them to a life lacking opportunity. But is this really the case?

In the first of a new series, we put your questions to the education professionals, who will provide their expert answers to your queries.

This week, we look at a common concern dealt with by The Good Schools Guide Advisory Service about planning a child’s education.

Question: Should we map out our son’s education?

“We are expecting our first baby in June. Friends are telling us that we will need to register him at schools we like practically on the day he is born. Is this true? Is it possible to map out a route through schooling from 0-18? Is it necessary and is it sensible? We live in London which seems incredibly pressurised but we don’t want him to miss out on any vital opportunities through any slowness on our part.”

Susan Hamlyn: Do your research but it’s to early to plan that much in advance

Tempting, isn’t it? Map it out now and sit back when everyone else is in parental panic over registration forms and pre-tests! Sadly, babies, like life, are seldom that predictable.

The important thing is to educate yourselves. Check out the local options. A good local state school, especially at primary level, is a good idea. Early years in a local community make for stability and security in childhood.

You don’t need to apply for places at state schools until the autumn before your son is due to start. If no local primary looks acceptable, then, yes, move into in the catchment area of, ideally, more than one primary with good reports.

“If you have the means, register at the best local prep. You have nothing to lose but the registration fee if you change your mind later.” Susan Hamlyn

If you have the means, register at the best local prep. You have nothing to lose but the registration fee if you change your mind later.

Be wary of preps which insist on “name down at birth”. It may seem like an insurance policy but this is only a way for some preps to insure that their rolls are full year on year with no guarantee of quality.

You can also research secondary schools and the best of the best will always be good.

A very few independent boarding schools want name down at birth or in the first year or two. But it’s really too early to do more than educate yourselves as to what the options will be later on, when you know who your son is and understand his aptitudes, enthusiasms, personality. That should always be your touchstone.

Susan Hamlyn, director of The Good Schools Guide Advice Service

Stuart Dorrian: Mapping out a route now will put too much pressure on your child and on you

It’s a sign of the times that parental anxiety caused by the often bewildering array of educational choices on offer, can begin well before a child is born. But with some basic research, good organisation and a pinch of common sense, it’s very possible to limit the angst and find the school best suited to your child.

It is indeed true that some prep/pre-prep schools both in and outside of London require you to register your son as soon after birth as possible. But there are many that don’t. Make time to do your research before the birth and check the registration dates on the websites of your chosen schools so that you don’t miss their deadlines.

Dates for prep/pre-prep schools that don’t require registration at birth vary. For example at Latymer Prep School, where I’m principal, your son would need to be registered for the 7+ exam on the first day of the December before the following September intake – i.e when he’s in Year 2.

The next stage in education is a different ball game. Attempting to map out an independent school route from babyhood that will see him to adulthood may well put pressure on both you and your child.

“Make time to do your research before the birth and check the registration dates on the websites of your chosen schools so that you don’t miss their deadlines.” Stuart Dorrian

As he grows, consider your son’s character and academic potential and ask yourself what the best ‘fit’ would be school-wise for his needs. Listen to your pre/prep school teachers – they will have a good idea of which school would best suit your child and will advise you accordingly.

For the 11+ you’ll be encouraged to attend open days and register when your son is in Year 5 – or at the very latest at the beginning of Year 6. The same applies to the 13+ as many pre-tests are held in Year 6. You may need to register by Year 5.

Again, listen to advice from your prep school on suitability and make sure you scour the admissions pages of the school’s website for dates and deadlines.

Perhaps the best steer you will have on making this decision is from your child. By the time he’s 11 years old, he will have his own opinions on where he will want to study, formed in part from open days, from his prep teachers and of course from talking to you, his parent. A winning combination.

Stuart Dorrian, principal of Latymer Prep School, London

Vivienne Durham: It’s wise to think ahead, so check with each school to avoid a rush

First of all, congratulations. This is an exciting but bewildering time and it’s good to be prepared.

To a certain extent, your friends are right. Places at some pre-prep schools are so keenly sought, particularly for boys, that registering within 24 hours or so of the birth is essential – and even this will not guarantee a place.

Some of the most selective independent prep and pre-prep schools in central London advise registering your child at birth, because they are so popular. It seems mad, but a day or two can matter.

“Don’t panic, London’s schools are better than ever and you will find a school that is right for you and your son.”

Vivienne Durham

However, don’t panic, London’s schools are better than ever and you will find a school that is right for you and your son. The important thing to do is arm yourself with information and visit as many potential schools as possible. Compile a shortlist – and register sooner rather than later at those pre-prep schools that you like.

We often have soon-to-be parents seeking advice and support. It is wise to think ahead. Notice the senior schools to which pupils transfer from your chosen prep school; the admissions processes and expectations of these senior schools will undoubtedly be well known by the prep school.

However, this doesn’t mean you are tied down to one route from 0 – 18. We often help families who have decided to take a different route for senior school, once their child’s styles of learning and talents outside the classroom have become apparent.

Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park

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