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Private schools 101, I am clueless

(74 Posts)
MilesHuntsWig Fri 06-Feb-15 08:57:26


I'm wondering if you can help, I am completely clueless about private schools, I went to a comp and my husband went to a state grammar. We don't live in an area that has state grammars. DH and I both went to Oxbridge but I had a pretty horrible time at school being interested in learning and was underprepared for the Oxbridge lifestyle. Bottom line is, if DD does like learning, which we hope she does, I'd like her to be in an environment that encourages it and gives her all the opportunities she could have.

Anyway, we are very lucky and both have pretty good jobs and so private school might be an option for our DD (just turned 3). I am absolutely not saying that I think they are all better than state schools and we will visit both and see which school(s) we think DD will fit in at best, but I don't want DD to lose out due to my ignorance.

Basic questions from me:

1) What are the different types of private (primary age) schools. I see just general independent schools and prep schools, are they the same?
2) Does sending your child to a certain type of primary age school preclude them from going to certain secondary schools?
3) Do all private schools have entrance exams/interviews? What are the different entrance years (I've heard of 7+, 11+, 13+ ) is this the same at all schools?

Any advice gratefully received! Thanks.

BathTangle Fri 06-Feb-15 09:14:50

OK. There are single sex and mixed independent primary - type schools: girls' and mixed ones tend to start at reception and go to Y6, like state primaries. Boys ones, often called prep schools, start at Y3 (called 7+ entry) and go to Y8, at which point they do 13+ or Common Entrance to go to "Public School" (eg Eton or similar) or other independent secondaries. Prep schools may also have "pre-prep" which is Reception to Y2.

Most independent primary schools will have some form of entry assessment, which is sometimes called 4+. The entry requirements will vary from school to school with some putting more emphasis on academic achievement or potential and some looking for social skills. Specific info can be found on each school's website but you will get good advice on here too.

I would say that sending your child to one type of primary will not prevent your child going to any specific secondary school, but just like your Oxbridge experience some schools will be better at preparing children for particular schools because they have the experience to ensure that the child has done what is expected of them.

Hope that helps!

MilesHuntsWig Fri 06-Feb-15 09:24:05

Thanks BathTangle, that's certainly a good start!

uilen Fri 06-Feb-15 09:26:47

I don't think that most private schools outside London (maybe some parts of the South East) do entrance assessments at 4. Filtering by academic achievement starts later, at 7 or more often 11.

whatsagoodusername Fri 06-Feb-15 09:33:26

I've just registered DS for reception next year at a small private school in London - there wasn't an assessment as such. Just a half hour play at their nursery to see if everyone suited each other. Definitely not an academic assessment at least.

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Fri 06-Feb-15 09:41:43

Are you in London? It's much more complicated there. Outside London, entrance is (with some exceptions) fairly straightforward.

BathTangle Fri 06-Feb-15 09:42:01

Interesting uilen, I live in SE (but not London) and made a classic southerner assumption that most indy schools would be similar to the ones round here!

Glad to hear that not all London schools "assess" at 4 whatsa. My boys went to state primary up to Y2 and moved to prep school at Y3, so we didn't do the assessments that various friends' children did: one friend was told that her son (aged 4) did not have sufficient social skills....

TheWordFactory Fri 06-Feb-15 10:14:09

OP private primary schools are all different.

You get tiny ones. Big ones with four/five form entry. Single sex. Mixed. Ones where there is a secondary school attached and nearly everyone goes.
Ones that go to 11 and prepare for the 11 plus. Ones that go to 14 and prep for the common entrance.

Then there's boarding and not...

You need to ask yourself what you want.

The very best thing about going private is that you get a choice.

Once you've decided what you want, you then look around to see if you can find it locally.

TheWordFactory Fri 06-Feb-15 10:14:34

13 not 14.

MilesHuntsWig Fri 06-Feb-15 10:15:35

I'm not in London, I'm on the Hampshire/Surrey border so SE.

MilesHuntsWig Fri 06-Feb-15 10:20:36

Thanks wordfactory, what's the common entrance?

Nolim Fri 06-Feb-15 10:27:52

Watching with interest.

grovel Fri 06-Feb-15 10:34:22

This site explains Common Entrance

meditrina Fri 06-Feb-15 10:35:55

All over-subscribed schools have some sort of selection criteria.

In the state sector, it often comes down to distance from the school gates within each category of applicant.

Private schools can more or less do what they like. The two main methods are 'first come first served' (exactly what it says) or assessment, which can be a 'come in to see if we're suited' approach, or something (only slightly) more structured if they are hunting particular qualities. At 4+ even the most academic schools are not looking for specific skills, but more whether the potential pupil falls within 'normal' and has the sort of (teachable) personality they are looking for.

A child is unlikely to notice at 4+ that it is an assessment (especially of you present it as 'chance to play at a school and we'll see if we both like it') but may well do so at 7/8+ and damn well will at 11+

So it's worth looking now at all the potential routes through education. I think it's kinder to children if you can manage to move them only at the main transfer points, but that can't always happen and most children will do just fine whatever the route.

uilen Fri 06-Feb-15 10:43:14

If OP states where she is people can probably comment more on schools. On the Hampshire side very few private schools will be selecting at 4 because they aren't over-subscribed but maybe in the specific location of OP this isn't true.

At primary level OP is probably looking at a handful of possible schools anyhow, since most people wouldn't want to travel very far with a 4 year old.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Fri 06-Feb-15 11:05:43

In summary

Primary age
Pre- Prep - KS1 - YR-Y2
Prep - KS2 Y2-Y6
13+ Prep also covers Y7-8

Prep and Pre-Prep often combined into the same school
It's usually only boys who would stay on for 13+ so often its boys only preps that run to 13.
Main entry points are 4+(Pre-Prep) and 7+(Prep) although ad hoc entries do occur outside of these points.
4+ entry may be first come first served or after an assessment session
7+ entry is usually based on academic ability

Exit - Girls usually move to Senior School at 11+ i.e. at the end of Yr6 as in the state sector
Boys may move at 11+ but many of the big public schools have their main or only entry at 13+.
Senior Schools either set their own entrance exams or rely on the Common Entrance exams.

Huge generalisation but you tend to find more all through girls schools (YR - 6th Form) than boys schools.
Senior Schools can be single sex or co-ed.

Some preps offer boarding in the later years
Senior schools can be
Day only
Combination of Day and Boarding
Boarding can be
Flexi - ad hoc
Weekly - come home on Friday or Sat and go back Sunday or Monday
Full - only come home for specified holidays.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Fri 06-Feb-15 11:10:52

Two more points
If you are looking for Girls Schools then check out the Girls Day School Trust

Some preps (this particularly a London thing) require you to register quite early so you might need to double check with your local schools just to make sure you don't miss a deadline. Registration doesn't commit you to anything it just puts your name on the list, usually there is a fee but it shouldn't be more than around �100 for most schools.

Lonecatwithkitten Fri 06-Feb-15 11:59:09

Berkshire/Hampshire state till eight is very common. So the independent schools have reception, year 1 and 2 classes, but often these are fairly small. The year groups at least double if not more in size at year 3. Entry is usually mildly selective.

MN164 Fri 06-Feb-15 12:26:04

Please don't discount state primary school. Your local school may be just as good as a prep school and do a great job of teaching from ages 5-11 (reception to year 6). I'd urge you to visit your local state primary school(s).

Almost every private school has an entry point at 11+ (year 7), but you need to check your local private schools to confirm.

If your kid is bright, they will learn 95% of what they need from the national curriculum in primary school. All you will need to do in year 5/6 is think about a bit of exam practice and potentially some "reasoning" questions that aren't on the curriculum but might be in an entrance exam.

We did state primary for 7 years and added 10 hours with a tutor. Child 1 got offers both London private schools, one of which is supposedly "really hard to get into".

MilesHuntsWig Fri 06-Feb-15 14:15:00

Thanks everybody! Loads of useful info and advice.

We're not discounting anything at all at the moment, I would just like to ensure we make an informed decision.

TalkinPeace Fri 06-Feb-15 14:21:18

Please also bear in mind that the shit that many bright kids were put through at State schools 20 years ago is not tolerated nowadays.

There are some crackingly good state schools in the area you live - academically, socially, and the admission process is very low stress.

The uber madness of Central London private school competition is a source of some amusement to those living out in the sticks smile

Bonsoir Fri 06-Feb-15 17:58:02

In 1969 I failed the 4+ assessment to a locally (but not nationally) well-reputed girls day school that was not in London.

4+ selection has been alive and well for a long time in areas where private schooling is popular.

roguedad Sat 07-Feb-15 08:45:13

I was state-educated all the way and then went to Cambridge, and then more recently faced the state-private issue with my own kids. The local state primary rather let my son down and we removed to a private, and for a while things were much better. What really hacked me off was that as he got older the school really did not develop the kind of focus on academics I'd expected, reaping the benefits of faster academic progress from more individual attention from smaller class sizes. Instead time was spent more on sports, bunking off on trips, and on a wide range of peripheral twaddle of no academic value. Having looked around, it seems to me that a huge part of the English private sector is selling a cocktail of holistics and sports, and not really delivering on academics. My point is that you need to check very carefully indeed on what is on offer and how it matches your kids' needs and your expectations. If your children are less academic the schools focusing on sports and/or all-round might well suit, but if you have bright kids you really need to watch out. By no means all private schools are focused on the academics. We are now being a lot more careful with the secondary school choices and for our younger child. There is a lot of diversity in the private sector and you really do worry about "fit". How time and resources are allocated between academics, music, drama, sports and other stuff I reckon should be a key research point. In regard to point 2 - a private primary doing the holistic nurturing uncompetitive classes thing might well be a very poor preparation for a selective secondary, or you might feel that "having a childhood" takes priority. We worry about that balancing act a lot!

MN164 Sat 07-Feb-15 08:56:36


I haven't seen any stats but I'd guess there are a large number of private schools delivering no better academic results than neighbouring state schools. Perhaps someone has done this analysis?

I put academic performance first but attach a lot of importance to the extra-curricular opportunities available. Both private and state schools do well on the latter but the picture is mixed on the former.

I'm not sure I'd see the point of paying for private if it couldn't evidence either "value added" to middling performers or "top results" from highly selective intake. In London there appear to be a few of those not worth paying for ......

goshhhhhh Sat 07-Feb-15 09:03:31

I would also be flexible. Me dd goes to an excellent secondary (semi selective) state school. Gets better results than most if not all of the privates at gcse & a very very good sixth form with high Oxbridge entry.
I would look at and consider both & work out what is best for your child.

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