As you might already know, my husband and I are originally from Australia, and as expats in London, we were a little unprepared for the complexities and competitiveness synonymous with the independent school system in London. One morning at my weekly mother’s group, I was asked which schools I had applied for so far. I had initially thought they had surely meant nursery, however no, they in fact meant reception, as in primary school. My daughter is currently under 12 months old, and I didn’t think there was a need to consider applying for schools this early, however I was wrong.
Many of London’s leading independent schools close their main round applications before your child turns one. Smaller schools may require an application when you are pregnant, as I discovered with one school when I called to enquire about admission. Unfortunately it was a little late but there was a rather long waiting list I could join, in the event a vacancy arose.
Bearing this in mind, I have put together some tips I have learnt along the way, after recently researching and applying for independent schools in London. Hopefully, these tips will be of assistance to other parents in the same boat.
1. Do the research to understand the learning objectives and teaching environment
What are your important considerations as a parent when it comes to education for your child? Do you prefer structured classes with a focus on academic rigor or prefer a more holistic approach with plenty of outdoor play? Are you after a school with a solid sports emphasis or prefer a more arts focused school with drama, music and languages or both? How about single sex schools or co-ed? All relevant questions to consider when researching prospective schools. The Good Schools Guide and the Tatler Schools Guide are a great starting point and a valuable source of information on potential independent Schools, their internal dynamics and history.
If you after a more detailed governmental insight, then the Independent Schools Inspectorate (and a small number are listed on OFSTED) have detailed reports, which gives you an insight in understanding how the school is performing at a national level, compared to its competitors and if it is up to a certain standard. Lastly, speak to other parents at your next mother’s meeting, baby sensory class or other activity that brings parents together in your area. Nothing beats the advice and feedback of parents who already have children attending a prospective school you are considering.
2. Don’t be restricted to one location
My daughter is currently under 12 months old, and she won’t be starting School for a while yet. Thinking this far in advance and setting concrete plans in place is difficult, what if we move, change jobs or prefer another part of the city? Or on the other hand, you may have your heart set on a particular school in another area.
Therefore a solution is applying for schools in different areas and zones, as applications are not restricted to your postcode. For example, if you are considering a move from one end of London to another at some point in future before your child commences school, such as Fulham to Greenwich, it may be worthwhile considering schools in both these areas.
3. Keep your options open: selective and non-selective
There are both selective and non-selective prep schools in London so apply for both to keep your commencement options open. Selective schools will have entrance tests. These entrance tests are to gauge if your child is ready to commence school or whether the school is the right fit, and these activities range from puzzles to memory games. These are no pressure tests and children feel as if they are just playing with friends. If your child does not meet the requirements for entry at the time, it means they may not be ready and can apply again for the next intake term.
Non-selective schools offer the flexibility to start whenever you feel your child is ready as they do not have any entrance test. And the admissions process is usually by way of application and interview with the family. It has been recommended to me by an admissions officer, that parents usually on average apply for three schools in total, which are, two selective and one non selective.
4. Apply early and arrange a school tour
Securing a place in London can be competitive and starting the application process is usually recommended before your child turns one. However this can range anywhere from before your child is born to before their first birthday. Each school has different requirements, so it is best contacting the prospective school first to make sure.
Prior to submitting an application, it is beneficial to complete a school tour to explore the grounds, facilities, speak to teaching staff and students. It will give you a good idea of the school, if it is the right fit for your child and family, and of course, meets your expectations. As we all know, carefully curated marketing brochures may differ from what is actually on offer. Bear in mind, some Schools require a you to attend a compulsory tour or open day prior to submitting an application, while others allow you to apply online prior and then attend the tour closer to the start date or at your convenience.
5. Get to know the pathway to potential destination schools
Prep schools range from 4 to 11 (or 13) years before your child moves on. Therefore it is worthwhile understanding the ‘feeder’ upper or secondary schools where children progress too and when. Each school will differ and there may be different options for boys and girls. Some prep schools will have a strong focus on out of town boarding schools, while others city day schools or some will have a good choice of both. Many secondary schools will have a clear pathway, and this may sometimes start as early from nursery, primary/prep to secondary/upper school. Others however may be more broad, so it is best to do the research beforehand.
6. Engage the help of a school scout if all else fails
If the above process sounds too time consuming or complicated, then there are always agencies who can help you shortlist suitable schools based on your requirements. I like to refer to them as, schools scouts. For a fee they can do the research for you, fill in the application form and also arrange the school tour. Particularly handy if you do not have the time to spare.
Lastly, each family is different and so is their child. Finding a school which ticks all your boxes can be a laborious and time consuming task involving a lot of prior research. The good news however is, each admissions department I have spoken to have been very helpful and willing to answer any questions, no matter how silly they may be (and I have asked plenty of silly questions). So ask away, speak to other parents, do the research, put together an excel spreadsheet with all your findings, reflect and compare. Then confidently apply for the schools which are the right fit for your child, and your family.
If you have any additional tips or questions on the process, please do pop a comment below.
Kerstin // Lux Mumma