From the moment parents realise that they are pregnant, all sorts of preparations for the baby’s arrival start. With great excitement parents start shopping, planning maternity and paternity leave, getting a nursery ready, attending prenatal classes, meeting your NTC group, and thousands of other things. If you live in the high-pressured environment of London, one of the considerations couples start thinking about is their child’s education. Yes- from very early on- it’s one of the most stressful decisions parents have to make about raising their children.
The chatter about independent London schools is pervasive. Anywhere you go where there are parents, especially of younger children, you hear snippets of conversations and most often it’s about schools. “Where is your child registered?” “Have you started tutoring yet?” “What do they test at the 4+ evaluations?” “The 11+ almost did my daughter in!” To help parents navigate through the land-mines that school selection hurls at us, KIDSORTED welcomed a group of parents to hear from Leyla daCosta, a top educational consultant. The group of parents was varied. Some were first-timers who hadn’t realised they should have stop to register their children at a nursery on their way back home from the delivery ward. Others were expats trying to learn how the whole thing worked from nursery to university. All who were there wanted to do the very best they could for their children’s education.
Leyla, a consultant with over 20 years experience, started with nursery schools. Nursery schools are pretty much the same for girls and boys. The only choice at this age is whether you are willing to move your child again at age 4. If you choose a nursery school which is attached to a prep-school then your child can continue at the same school for more years to come. The one consideration was that these nursery schools are quite popular due to the convenience they offer so you need to register your children much earlier. She gave other tips for keeping in mind when you’re visiting a school: what is the play-space like? What activities are offered? Do they teach through play?
If you have to move your child at 4 then she or he will have to go through the 4+ in order to be offered a reception place at a school. Leyla reassured parents that there aren’t any academics tested in this assessment. The teachers mostly look at the behavioral attributes of the child. Can the child sit still and listen to a story? Does the child seem to engage with the other children and teachers?
After your son or daughter is successfully in reception it’s time to start thinking about 7+ or 8+. Yikes! Things start to get tough here. The school your child is currently at may not be teaching your child what he or she needs for these exams so it’s time to also start thinking about a tutor. You need to first identify which schools you’d like your children to register for and then you need to find out what material will be tested on the exams. Leyla’s most salient piece of advice which she reiterated over the course of her talk, was the importance of reading to and with your child. She advocates not just going through the book or story, but actively engaging with the characters and the plot by asking your child questions as you read. The pro and cons of sitting the 7+ versus the 8+? There are usually more spaces available at 7+ and the test is a little easier. The 8+ is a whole level harder, however, your child will have had a whole year of growth and maturing at his or her pre-prep so get him or her more ready for the 8+.
So now your son or daughter is in prep school (if you didn’t choose a school that goes all the way to 18). Now it’s time to start thinking about 11+/13+. The 11+ is especially important if you have a daughter. Most girls leave for their senior school at the age of 11. At the Tatler Schools Live!2017 conference it was announced that one of the North London Girl School Consortiums will be dropping the comprehensive 11+ plus exams. Instead, these schools will focus their decision on whether to extend an offer to a child based on her performance on the interview. This news has many parents thrilled as they feel is will take a lot of stress of their daughters. Girls applying to these school will soon again be able to enjoy their Christmas holidays instead of being buried in the books that school break! Yay!
Boys who do not take the 11+ and stay at their schools until 13 are usually on their way to boarding schools. These have changed so much in recent years. Some schools are flexi boarding or weekly boarding which means your son can come home often. In order to gain an offer to a boarding school your child will first sit an assessment on the computer. The candidates who are successful will then go onto to sit a written pre-test and are invited for interviews. Children successful on these exams will be offered a conditional place at the school. The final hurdle to clear is the Common Entrance exams which happens in June of Year 8. This exam is a beast consisting of about 10 separate tests spanning all the disciplines students have studied in years 7 and 8. Yikes!
Leyla’s overreaching pearls of wisdom, applicable to all stages of your child’s life, came at the end: when looking at schools trust your instinct- it’s your greatest asset in the path to finding the right school for your child. And finally do not get discouraged or overwhelmed- ultimately ALL schools cover the same curriculum and all schools have the ability of helping your child reach his or her highest potential!