Meeting with Head Teacher about the choice of senior (private) schools for DS - what questions to ask?

(52 Posts)
PrettyBelle Wed 02-Oct-13 15:13:50

DS is sitting 11+ exams in January and soon I am meeting with his prep school's HT who is reported to be very knowledgeable about boys seniors in the area. I am a bit overwhelmed with the choice - most schools are quite far away so I am really not sure how to make a distinction between them in terms of suitability. They all claim to have "superb facilities", be "pursuing excellence", "nurturing", "instilling confidence", etc. Not sure how much help the HT would offer - but I would appreciate any advice on what kind of questions to ask him in order to get a clearer picture of our options. Thanks in advance!

ErrolTheDragon Wed 02-Oct-13 15:27:51

What information have you had about the schools so far (other than their own glossy leaflets)? Presumably you've been on open days already and got some sort of idea of their 'feel'? DDs school gave us information of the CAT scores of children (anonymous of course) in previous years who'd been offered places at the various private/GSs in the area so that parents could get a realistic idea of their own child's likelihood of getting a place - that's the first level of filtering, to stop unrealistic parents from putting their kids in for exams for inappropriate schools. Have you had that sort of feedback yet?

Beyond that - well, there are some obvious things like whether your child is sporty/academic/musical etc etc and what the particular strengths of each school is. If your HT is any good at his job he ought to be able to help quite a bit with getting the right fit for your DS.

One other thing is that the HT may have knowledge about aspects of the school which they don't publicise - for instance whether they suffer from bullying (ours gave us a 'strictly between ourselves' warning off one school after we posed a specific question).

Ladymuck Wed 02-Oct-13 15:37:00

Is this your first meeting with the HT on this? And is this for year 7 entry or year 9?

I only ask as many of the public schools with year 9 entry have quite early registration dates (eg you are a week too late for Westminster and by several months for St Pauls). Even some of the year 7 schools have early registration (eg Sevenoaks was 1 September I think).

In terms of your HT, he will see your son in a different context from you, so I would agree with Errol, you want to find our where your ds lies in the pecking order academically, the HT's impressions as to where he might thrive.

KiplingBag Wed 02-Oct-13 15:43:29

Agree, ask the HT which category of schools he feels your DS would be suited to.

Then start whittling it down from there.

I remember my parents having this discussion with us lot. First they would tell the HT the budget for the education, and he would find the right school.

No point hankering after something that is a) out of your price range and b) not suited to DS

homebythesea Wed 02-Oct-13 15:52:05

Take the heads advice seriously- they know the senior schools and which are suitable for each type of child (and in some respects they know your child better than you do). The prep school does not want to have children going to schools they are not suited for so they will he careful and considered in their advice. If more than one school is recommended then you go with feel and take your DS's view into account

ErrolTheDragon Wed 02-Oct-13 15:53:53

>you go with feel and take your DS's view into account
yes - and if you haven't already, make sure that you visit any schools you're seriously interested in during the school day, not just open day.

homebythesea Wed 02-Oct-13 15:54:17

I too an amazed it us this late in the day to have such a meeting- surely you have had to register for particular senior schools before now??

LIZS Wed 02-Oct-13 15:57:21

If this is your first discussion it is pretty late . We had meetings form Year 4 onwards which included an assessment of the most recent CAT and PIP tests and which would be a good fit academically and socially. Have you been to open days , know anyone how has moved dc in previous years who can give you a feel for the culture and strengths of each ?

Focus on where would be the best fit. What his strengths and weaknesses are and which school would best support him. If he is very sporty or musical which school would match that best? Is he better in a school that pushes him, does he thrive on competition or does it demoralise him?

PrettyBelle Wed 02-Oct-13 17:57:43

Thanks for all your responses so far. I only moved DS to prep school this year and the HT asked to give him a month before any recommendations can be made. Until now we considered only one senior school but, having seen a big difference now compared to his previous state school, we are now looking at other private senior options as well. The schools I looked at have a registration deadline in November.

LIZS Wed 02-Oct-13 18:46:32

but will your ds be up to speed for 11+ this year ? Does the prep school go up to 13 or is there an attached senior?

PrettyBelle Wed 02-Oct-13 19:29:24

LiSZ, prep school goes until 13 so he is likely to stay there until that age. There is no senior school attached. He had an 11+ tutor over Year 5 and it's not only prep school boys that get into selective seniors anyway.

Ladymuck Wed 02-Oct-13 19:43:07

Are you looking at boarding or day? I mainly ask as obviously boarding throws an awful lot more schools into the pot.

I guess in terms of questions then, you will be hoping that the prep has assessed him, and if so, you want to know what the results of the assessments are. CAT scores or PIP test results are also useful, but if he is going to have to sit CE at 13, then you need to know where he is across a range of subjects, including languages in particular. I would be prepared to say that the overwhelming majority of entrants to private schools at 13 do come from prep, not state. There will be overseas students as well of course.

At the end of your meeting, I guess I would hope that you have an idea as to what level of academic selection you might be looking at, details of when pretests are, whether you are looking at 13+ or CE exams, any areas where you should be considering scholarships and what may be required. Depending on how many schools are open to you, then there may also be an initial few names discussed. Obviously if you are looking at day schools, then the selection will be more limited to travel time.

LIZS Wed 02-Oct-13 20:59:27

I'd be surprised if the head recommends 11+ entry after such a short period of time at his school. They are business after all ! If you don't plan to board him or move then that will narrow down the choice based on logistics. Do you have other dc to consider ?

homebythesea Thu 03-Oct-13 08:21:52

I would also mention that pre testing will happen for 13+ CE schools (if they do) in the new year and you will need to make sure your DS has covered the curriculum which from a state school he may not have done. Also I know where we are lists have already closed for 13+ entry some time ago so this may influence your choices also

LIZS Thu 03-Oct-13 08:43:28

iirc some pre-test in year5 and yes registration lists may well have closed for some, even for 13+. Depends whether they select on CE or set their own 13+ exams

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 09:24:41

Thanks so much for your responses. I am planning on day school for DS and have a few options in mind - but need to check how academic they are in reality and what are the chances of getting a scholarship in others, more expensive ones. I have a DD and education is funded from my income so money is a consideration.

THe HT at DS's previous (state) school thought he would be "comfortably at the middle level". In his new school, he scored the top of his class in the recent Maths paper and 98% in 11+/12+ NVR. So I am quite positive that DS would be successful in at least some of the schools where he will be sitting exams.

I understand that he has to sit 11+ exams and then either moves next year or has his place deferred until the age of 13 and then takes CE exams. So I am a bit puzzled that there are so many responses about CE - all boys in his year are taking 11+ next January.

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 09:26:16

Would it make sense, as a back-up option, to sit exams at a less selective school in the hope that he would be a strong candidate and would qualify for a scholarship?

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 09:28:36

Sorry, sentence got cut off from the earlier post - THe HT at DS's previous (state) school thought he would be "comfortably at the middle level" at our first choice private selective.

Ladymuck Thu 03-Oct-13 11:19:52

I'm not surprised that all of the boys will be doing exams for senior schools in year 6 in a prep school.

I would be very surprised a) if all the boys are sitting 11+ and not pre-entry for 13+; b) if a headmaster of a 13+ school promotes 11+ entry to any parent (doesn't he believe in his own product?); c) many senior schools allowed candidates sitting 11+ to "defer" to 13+. I'm not anti 11+ entry by the way, just would be surprised that any decent prep school headmaster would even suggest it as a possibility!

But obviously schools across the UK operate quite differently. Many of the day schools within reach of me offer entry at 11+ and 13+, but you cannot defer from one to the other: they are separate applications and if you choose not to take up an 11+ place you start from scratch at 13+. Eg here, "We do not allow boys to be entered for both the 11+ examinations and the 13+ Pre-test, even though they are both taken by boys in their Year 6. Thus, parents have to decide if they want 11+ entry or 13+ entry two years later."

In terms of sitting for a less selective school for the hope of a scholarship, I think you have to look at how best will that school suit your ds. It will depend on the geography of your area and the number of candidates competing, but from my experience locally the academic differences between the top selective schools in an area and the next tier can be quite significant. But it may be worth exploring with the head. I doubt that he would give you poor advice, but of course he may not be upset at the idea of you sitting other schools in order to add to his scholarship count. Don't be too tempted to overdo it - it can be an exhausting time for the boys as they have to do interviews and scholarship assessments as well.

homebythesea Thu 03-Oct-13 11:20:09

Not all (many) schools do the defer till 13 route. My experience with boys is that those who want to go to a senior school with an 11+ entry (not many in Surrey) will do 11+ in year 6. Most others who have in mind a 13+ school will be doing pre tests around the same time which will if successful give then the right to take the 13+ CE for that school when they get to year 8. They will still have to meet the schools requirement in terms of pass mark. I have never heard of a situation where all boys take 11+ regardless of whether they are moving or not- is it a Grammar school area?

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 11:34:15

Ladymuck, are pre-entry tests for 13+ different from 11+? In DS's school all preparation papers that he is working on now are called 11+ exams - which further confirmed my earlier understanding that it's the same exam but some boys leave prep schools at 11 whereas other stay until 13.

That's something I will have to ask the HT very precisely about. Thank you very much for brnging this up.

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 11:38:47

How many schools is it reasonable to apply to? My friend's DD sat exams to 4 private schools and one grammar.

How many depends on the schools in question, I would imagine. Admittedly we are only looking at 13+ CE/scholarship entry, but my understanding is that most if not all are only going for one school. I may be wrong.

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 11:46:07

stealthsquiggle - really? What happens if the boy fails? Presumably, good schools have more candidates than places so even if only sufficiently capable students (following recommendations from their prep schools) are sitting exams there is a chance that they will not get a place?


My DS1 is in Yr6 and did bring an 11+ ISEB english practice paper to work on. Some boys in his prep will move at 11+ to a local co-ed day school but most (like DS1) will do the CE for a 13+ move.

However, DS1 will be sitting the ISEB Common Pre-Test later this year for 13+ schools. The school is using the 11+ papers as part of the prep process for that as well as direct preparation for those boys taking the 11+

I would get the HM to talk you through the process.

PrettyBelle, even as I typed that I thought exactly what you have said.

Co-incidentally, an invitation to a talk on CE landed in my mailbox (from DC's school) at the same time. Clearly, I need to go grin. TBH I haven't been paying enough attention because it is clear DS will be going through the scholarship exam route.

Somethingyesterday Thu 03-Oct-13 12:07:40

I'm confused. Prep schools go up to 13 to prepare boys for CE to a school they will join at 13. What would be the point of taking the 11+ (Except as an internal thing - to get a clear idea of where a boy sits in the cohort?)

And why would you consider moving a boy at 11+ when he has only just arrived at this school and is presumably close to that age now.

Regarding more expensive schools and scholarship. A scholarship is very unlikely to significantly reduce fees. For that you would need a means-tested bursary.

If a prep school head and the pre-testing / interview process has worked well the boys shouldn't be going for schools where they are not likely to get in. The schools do have a discretion if someone gets a lower mark as it is the school that specifies their CE pass mark anyway. Its my understanding that the first choice school marks the CE papers but they could be passed on to second choice school if the boy didn't get into the first.

Some boys might move at 11+ if they are moving to a co-ed school rather than boys only. e.g. the main entry point for Latymer Upper in London is 11+ with only a few places at 13+.

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 12:28:26

Somethingyesterday, if after 11+ DS gets a place at his preferred school he will move at 13. If he doesn't - it depends on how strong academically other senior schools are. There are not many in our area, unfortunately.

I am still surprised - from what I read here it looks like a place is more or less guaranteed if the boy applies to the "right" school. Where do hundreds of applicants, sitting for most popular schools, come from then? And why are parents on other MN threads are so anxious about the whole 11+ process?

Somethingyesterday Thu 03-Oct-13 12:29:39

No it's definitely not me! OP you mention scholarships first in the context of "more expensive" schools and then later in the context of "less selective" schools.

I'm not sure that a school that is both more expensive and less selective would be worth the anxiety and expense.....

In my experience the HM would generally suggest perhaps three schools. But if their entry procedures are staggered you should have results from one or two (at pre-test stage) before going on to the third.

Somethingyesterday Thu 03-Oct-13 12:36:29

X posted with you OP! I'm still certain you are conflating 2 different exams.

For boys:

Prep school "11+" is pre-testing.

Grammar school 11+ is something entirely different. (It looks extremely fraught but you don't need to concern yourself with it if your Ds is in a prep school and going on to public school.)

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 12:39:21

Somethingyesterday, all schools that I looked at have exams in January.

About the scholarships: yes, I meant less selective and more expensive. My reasoning that popular academic schools will have higher criteria for scholarship applicants - incidentally such schools are also cheaper. But there is, for example, one school which I really liked but it costs about 60% more per term, and it is far less selective at that.

I like DS's current prep school and I would like to keep him in the private system - but paying full fees for an average school doesn't seem good value to me.

We probably won't qualify for bursary, with the combined income of around 82K.

homebythesea Thu 03-Oct-13 12:52:06

The 11+ angst you read about is for Grammar schools where they exist as there are usually way more entrants than places.

If an independent school has an 11+ entrance there are two possibilities. Either they do CE common entrance or their own entrance exam. Either way they will have their own expectations of pass mark. Usually at 11+ you will have in mind 2 or 3 schools who will be sent the marks (CE) or mark their own papers and tell you yay or nay. Some schools are cheeky and ask for confirmation (and often large deposit) before you hear from your other target schools....

If you do 13+ CE or scholarship 13+ you are only going for ONE school. The target school marks the papers and if you meet the criteria then you are in. This is why pre tasting is so important- they very rarely massively over offer after the pre test as they pretty much expect the child to be able to meet the relevant pass mark when it comes to the year 8 exams. This does mean that if there is a massive blip (they will often excuse a dip in one subject) you are left with no senior school offer but honestly I have never heard of this happening in practice because preps will only guide you to the school the child is capable of getting in IYSWIM .

homebythesea Thu 03-Oct-13 12:54:27

Also bear in mind most scholarships nowadays only have a minimal financial value- one of my DC's has one worth £250 a year and that is generous!!

Somethingyesterday Thu 03-Oct-13 12:57:45

(Just to clarify - yes I meant the HM would suggest 2/3 schools for pre tests. And if you're successful at your first choice first you can ignore the others...)

And then you go on to take CE for that one school as everyone has said.)

Less academic schools do offer more generous scholarships, though - we are debating that balance now - super academic school, max 10%, vs less academic school (who want to pull the standard up), max 50% scholarship but DS would be being used to pull general standard up.

Ladymuck Thu 03-Oct-13 13:01:22

If you were willing to tell us the rough geographical area, then you may find that there is a lot of fairly specific (though also hideously biased!) knowledge on here.

For day schools you are mainly looking at 3 types of entry -

a) 11+ (exams in Nov-Jan of Year 6)
b) pre-entry tests in year 6 or 7 followed by Common Entrance in Year 8
c) 13+ (exams in Nov-Jan of Year 8)

Your headmaster will not want you to go for option a. That does not mean that you should dismiss it. But for this first meeting, bear at the back of your mind that it isn't on the agenda. If you then come up with a list of schools which include ones which do take at 11+, then you need to consider whether that is a real option. Alas your headmaster will almost be professionally obliged to tell you to wait until 13, so you will need other sources of information and advice. In my experience there is no harm in going to talk to the registrar or even head of your target school. They will be very familiar with the dilemma of prep school parents, and will be ale to reassure you as to your best option. The other thing to look are fee levels. Some children stay at prep until 13+ as it is cheaper.

In terms of numbers of schools, it really depends on which route you choose. I would say that for route a, the average child seems to sit for 3, whereas for b, it seems more common to sit for 2. For route 3, again 3 would be the maximum, though it is a less common option to be honest. If your son does any music or sports scholarship assessment, then days are needed for these too, so sitting for 5 schools would mean 15 days of assessment (exam, interview, sports/music assessment) - possibly more with sport as some schools have a 2 stage assessment. It is a lot to try and fit in, and if you have clashes then you will be forced to show your hand early. And of course the schools talk to one another! Especially about scholarship candidates...

One reason as to why you need to understand which schools have which entry route is that typically for a and c Maths, English and Reasoning are tested, whereas with a CE offer, a lot of subjects are tested, and in particular languages can be an issue.

Ladymuck Thu 03-Oct-13 13:03:36

OK, x-posted with everyone whilst putting that essay together (as well as answering the phone!)

Ladymuck Thu 03-Oct-13 13:11:52

11+ angst only seems to exist in London and Home Counties, and seems more common amongst parents who have gone state for primary and therefore don't have a such a supportive environment in terms of school and headmaster etc (with respect to selective senior schools that is). At the prep school gate, the discussion since birth has been about different senior schools, their pros and cons, and which boys would be "Westminster boy" or a "Dulwich boy" or whatever.

At the state schools everyone denies that their child is doing any exams, until they are spotted in the queue on exam morning.

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 13:34:21

Ladymuck, thank you so much for the detailed information. We are looking at the area between Guildford and South London, so mostly Surrey. DS is really good at Maths, hard-working and I would say is quite academic, he is also into sports a lot, enjoys music (but only started learning an instrument last year), not into visual or performing arts so far... I think I would prefer a boys school. Both DH and I commute to South London/Kingston area so it would be easier if the school would be along that route.

I realise that CE covers a wider range of subjects and languages is a concern since Ds barely did any French at his previous school. However, judging at the level of their current French lessons I imagine he will catch up easily in time for CE.

PrettyBelle Thu 03-Oct-13 13:35:25

Our first choice school indicates that appliacants for both Year 7 and Year 9 entries sit the 11+ exam but the latter defer their place.

It seems that if a child gets a place at 11+ it's easier for him to move at that point rather than having to take CE 2 years later. Or am I missing something?

Ladymuck Thu 03-Oct-13 14:09:22

Tiffinland - now I understand the reference to 11+ mania!

I can only think of one school where the 11+ and pretest is the one and the same exam, and that is one which requires 70% in all higher level CE papers.

I suggest that you have a chat with the secondary school as well.

There are all sorts of reasons as to why a boy would wait until 13 if they are currently thriving at prep school. But I wonder whether you'll be able to make a fully-informed decision as to whether your son will be better at the prep or the senior school in years 7 & 8.

homebythesea Thu 03-Oct-13 14:14:05

Is it CLFS?

Ladymuck Thu 03-Oct-13 14:50:49

CLFS is co-ed.

homebythesea Thu 03-Oct-13 14:55:57

Ah missed that bit smile it's the only one I know of that does the deferred entry thing!

LIZS Thu 03-Oct-13 15:16:41

I've not come across the deferred option and am on the edge of your area. The schools we looked at all expected those sitting 11+ to take up a year 7 place or resit at 13+ for Year 9. Pretests for 13+ entry are not the same entrance tests as 11+ and are conditional on achieving certain CE results.

Labro Thu 03-Oct-13 16:38:45

The only one I know is RGS and you have to state whether you are doing 11+ or 13+ deferred.
The exam is in January of the boys Yr 6.
The other schools in Surrey close their lists by the end of the boys year 6 and then pretest September/October.
Ones like St Johns leatherhead and Epsom college close their lists very early and I seem to remember pretest in the boys yr 6 as well.
If they pass 13+ pretest then they still have to pass CE in yr 8 as well at the requested %.

Loopytiles Thu 03-Oct-13 21:52:55

Whitgift/trinity do 11+

Lots of prep school boys do those tests.

Loopytiles Thu 03-Oct-13 21:53:34

And the prep schools to the sutton / kingston state super-selective grammars.

LIZS Fri 04-Oct-13 07:17:08

Think op has missed the boat as far as state 11+ is concerned.

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