Decision Time

1. Which school?

First and foremost, get to grips with the basics: single sex or co-ed? Day or boarding? Location? Cost? Academic suitability? Once you have honed in on a handful of suitable schools, you will want to visit them – without your children in the first instance and then show your child the few schools which you have chosen to pursue.


2. Securing a place

Once you have decided on a school, you need to register your interest. This requires a fee (usually about £200), and ensures that your child is in the system. For most schools, it is advisable to register your interest before your child completes year six. A small number of more traditional boarding schools (Radley, Eton, Winchester) require you to register even earlier, and it is important to adhere to these deadlines. At this point, the procedures diverge. Increasingly, schools will ask your child to come for interview and to sit a pre-assessment test. This will usually be in year seven. If the result is good, you will be offered a place at the school – usually described as being ‘subject to passing Common Entrance’.

Other schools do not use the pre-assessment process. They will merely ask your child to sit Common Entrance. This takes place in the summer term of year eight and involves exams in all academic subjects. Senior schools do their best to ensure that children do not fail at this hurdle, and will try to match applicants with places. However, there is always the possibility that too many children have taken Common Entrance for a particular school, and that places cannot be offered to them all.


3. Interviews, assessment tests and references

For schools following the pre-assessment route, your child will usually be asked to attend an assessment day during year six or seven. There will almost always be tests in English and maths, and often in science too. Many of these tests are now done on the computer, and are not dissimilar to the 11+ and CAT tests. There will also be an interview, and some schools require the children to take part in group activities.

Your prep school will also be asked to provide a reference for your child. This is usually prepared by your child’s tutor and signed off by the head. It will report on all aspects of your child’s involvement at school – with specific sections on academic progress, sport, drama, art and technology. Schools will also be asked to give a general overview of your child’s personality, and to comment on his or her suitability as a pupil to the senior school in question. Senior schools also often request a comment on parental support for the school.


4. Scholarships and bursaries

While almost all schools are prepared to offer bursarial support, the level of financial assistance varies wildly. On the whole, the richer the school, the more bursarial help is on offer.

There are two ways to access this support. Firstly, there is the scholarship route. All schools aim to recognise academic excellence. Many also offer scholarships for art, drama, sport, music and technology or an all-round award. These carry an automatic reduction in fees, ranging from about 5 per cent to 25 per cent.

If more support is needed, then you will have to apply for a means-tested bursary. You will need to fill out a lengthy form. Schools will apply different criteria when assessing applications. Obviously, there must be a real need for assistance and there is often an expectation that both parents are working. 

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