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Going to look around independent secondary

(16 Posts)
igivein Fri 15-Apr-16 14:21:55

DS is in yr5 in a lovely village school and doing well. We're starting to think about senior school, and in theory have a choice of about five different schools, but to be honest we aren't impressed by any of them.
The one DS prefers (purely because it's the one his best friend is likely to go to) we know one of the heads of department, who told us 'it's getting better, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be' - not exactly a ringing endorsement!
So, to the point of the post. There is an independent school fairly local to us that has an excellent reputation, and I've booked an appointment for us to go and see the head / have a tour.
We've got no experience of independent schools so don't know what to expect. When I booked the appointment the admissions officer asked who would be coming, what my son's favourite subjects were, what hobbies he had etc. Was she just wanting to prime the Head so he can chat to DS, or is this part of 'sizing us up?'
When I've mentioned our plans to the Head of DS' current school to ask advice about whether this independent school would be good for DS she thought it would be fab and that he'd love it. I asked her advice about whether or not he'd need tutoring for the entrance exam, as I assumed he would. She said he might and he might not, as he's a bright kid and doing well. She also said to ask the school to supply some sample papers and she'd look them over and advise what we needed to do to prepare him. Would the school think we were incredibly cheeky, or is this normal?
The Head of his current school also said if we decided on tutoring, that she'd help us find someone suitable. Would the independent school have a list of tutors, or do they not get involved?
Lastly, any tips on what I should be looking for / asking about?

Sorry for the epic post!

bojorojo Fri 15-Apr-16 15:01:46

I can only speak about my experience. Lots of independent schools do not like children to be tutored for the exams. They know it happens, but it is very unlikely they will support you in this. In fact many schools would like to weed out the over tutored ones. So, frankly, do not mention it to them! If your current Head can help, that is kind and helpful.

I think schools always ask what a child is interested in. This is so they can tailor your visit. It is not part of the selection process. If your DS had a particular interest in music, you would nsturally want to see the music provision and have a chat about it. Likewise sport. It could be science, drama - anything really. However do say something interests him! (Not just computer games). The only thing a school needs to know about you is whether you can pay the fees! They also like supportive parents and ones who support their ethos.

Not all schools supply past papers. If they do, and everyone is given access to them, then you can ask and this is fine. You do need to find out if the tests are based on the national curriculum or whether verbal and non-verbal reasoning are tested too. What about an interview? Is there an assessment day? Some schools like children to attend these.

Regarding looking around the school, do not just be wowed by great buildings and facilities. Look more deeply into the type of child that is there. Would your DS fit in? What subjects are taught and do the staff seem approachable? Never forget they are trying to sell you a place at this school. They will try to impress you. The first Rugby XV may win everything in sight, but what about provision for the less sporty child? I often feel that a "first look" should be followed up by a second visit just to check the things you may have missed first time. However, you are only looking at one school so you are not making comparisons. You must weigh up if the school will meet the needs of your DS and what is important to you. Write down what you would like to ask before you go and visit. Do you want strong music or sport? Are you just there for the academics? Do you care about school trips or a strong Christian ethos? Do you get the impression the school caters for very robust confident children and do you want somewhere more nurturing? Or vice versa? After the visit, what do think are the strengths and weaknesses. Has it met your expectations? If there are weaknesses, are you prepared to overlook them?

Have a good visit!

ShutUpAndPour Fri 15-Apr-16 15:36:05

We moved DD1 in year 4 to an independent school, that's ten years ago now and we've never looked back. We were also first timers with no experience of the private education and it was a little at daunting at first tbh.
I would definitely advise you to look at more than one independent school - don't forget you are making a purchase and like anything else you buy you should make damn sure you are going to get vfm. It's so easy to be impressed by the first one you look at.
IMHO there are public schools and minor public schools (we are in the minor category) and unless you are looking round Eaton or the like I would not worry a great deal about entrance exams. I think they are there to check the child has a certain level of education - independent schools are certainly not crammed full of mini Einsteins, that said however I would definitely ask for question examples when you take the tour so DC is confident going into the exam.
The prep feeder school to my DDs independent secondary coach their brightest children for the entrance exam in special lunchtime and after school sessions ( the entrance exam is the same one as the academic scholarship exam) so do not concern yourself one little bit about coaching your own child if that is what you want to do. Have a look at verbal reasoning and non verbal reasoning 11+ workbooks - available from t'internet.
Good luck

Gruach Fri 15-Apr-16 15:52:30

Start with what you want from a school. Then look for that.

As pointed out above, never limit your considerations to just one independent school. Even if you have no intention of choosing anywhere further away you really must do some research on other schools that meet your criteria - so you can judge whether the local school is the best of its kind or not.

How do you know this school has an excellent reputation? Word of mouth? Close perusal of the website and prospectus? Inspection reports? All of these could be outdated, misleading or plain wrong - so keep your eyes and ears open and your wits about you. And remember that the place has to suit your son - regardless of its reputation.

Do your research and then ask about anything you want. Worry less about what they think of you.

Gruach Fri 15-Apr-16 16:11:31

A couple of other points.

You don't say, OP, whether you are looking for a single sex or co-ed school. Which do you think would suit your DC most right now?

Secondly, assuming you're looking for yr 7 - as you specify senior school - are you looking for somewhere that does just go straight through from yr7 or have you considered a prep school (finishing end of yr 8) followed by entry to a public school in yr 9?

You will find it invaluable to investigate the several varied routes to 18 offered by different independent schools - so that you can find the ideal path for your child.

happygardening Fri 15-Apr-16 16:17:53

Definitely dont be swayed by stunning facilities, this is not always easy if you've come from the state sector and you're looking at a big wealthy school but IMO they don't actually mean that much.
Do you feel comfortable there, can you see your DS fitting in, do you like their ethos? So for example I run a mile when a heads opening line is things like "academic results are very important to us" or even worse "our position in the league tables is very important to us" but that's just my view, you should decide what you personally want and expect for your DS. No where is perfect. Also if it matters ask don't just assume it will be there, whether it's regular Sandskrit lessons, tiddlywinks at world championship standards or a macrame club. I know many parents who didn't check things they just assumed it would be there so for example whether the school has a basketball club for their fanantical basketball playing DD or a golf course for their golf nut DS and then moan (a lot) when they find out these don't exist. Also check things like length of school day, compulsory attendance on Saturday for a team sport etc.

igivein Fri 15-Apr-16 17:00:49

Thanks Bojo, Shutup (that seems terribly rude as I type it!) Gruach and Happy.
We live oop north and a bit out in the country, so there aren't that many independent schools within striking distance (grand total of three!) and the one we're visiting seems like the best fit for us. Of the other two, one is losing lots of students and appears to be in financial difficulty and the other is very academically focussed -it does very well in the league tables, but I have a sneaking suspicion that might be because if a student doesn't make the grade they're asked to leave.
The one we're looking at prides itself on its 'holistic approach' to developing well-rounded individuals. We've looked at the website / glossy brochures, but we've also spoken to past / present pupils and parents, teachers and others who've had dealings with the school and everyone's opinions seem to be very positive.
But it will boil down to whether DS likes it and whether we think he'll fit in there.
With regard to the tutoring, I wouldn't want to tutor him to within an inch of his life - I'm a firm believer that kids should do their homework but they also need to play out on their bikes and muck about with their friends.
My concern is more if the entrance exam would cover things that the National Curriculum doesn't, in which case he might need a bit of help just to get him on a level playing field. So maybe it would be better to ask what form the exam takes and what areas are covered, and if there are areas he needs to explore that won't have been covered in the National Curriculum?

happygardening Fri 15-Apr-16 17:25:36

Just ask the school for some past papers when you meet the head or whoever and ask if your DS would need any extra help with the entrance exam because he's currently at a state school. If it's a year 7 entry I suspect your DS won't be the only one from the state sector and unless it's a super selective if your DS is bright and in a good school I doubt he'll need too much prep maybe just a little exam practice which is beneficial for anyone sitting exams.

igivein Fri 15-Apr-16 21:29:28

Thanks Happy, let's hope so. I think he's doing well - he was born right at the end of August and he's left-handed, so he didn't have a lot going for him, but he's on the 'top table' for all subjects.

bojorojo Sat 16-Apr-16 23:17:43

My dd went from a state school to an independent selective school and I never asked for any past papers. However she had a place at a grammar school so I felt we had a very suitable back up. I probably should have asked but I had no intention of coaching so she just did the exams and the interview. She got a place and was in the top set for everything - even for French in Y8 and she only started it Y7. Don't expect every other child to be a genuius. You may well find your Dc has been well taught and is more than capable. I would check about v r and non v r as they are not national curriculum. Familiarisation at these and speed of completing the papers might be useful.

Elvesandthepoomaker Sun 17-Apr-16 14:16:35

I would also ask to see some students' exercise books to get an idea of how well the books are marked. I've worked at a pretty lazy independent school where only the 'squares' marked books and gave detailed advice on how to improve work, so that many of the students didn't achieve their potential. Most of the staff loved working there as there were such low expectations of their workload... Unforgivable given the amount the school charged.

bojorojo Mon 18-Apr-16 14:01:39

I am a July birthday and left handed - really - it is not a problem! Be positive. He has plenty going for him! None of the above affects his ability at school work. My Dd mentioned above is an August birthday.

igivein Mon 18-Apr-16 15:12:32

Thanks Elves, that's a good idea about asking to see exercise books.
Bojo it's reassuring to know how well your daughter did without any tutoring. I just assumed that there would be areas that DS wouldn't have covered that he'd need some help with. I will explore the verbal and non-verbal reasoning.
I'm not saying he's a no-hoper because of his birthday etc, just that maybe he started off at a disadvantage. When he first started school he seemed so much 'younger' than the others and did seem quite behind. I was concerned, but his lovely teacher told us not to worry, he'd catch up, but it might take a few years. She told us he was very bright and that she expected really good things from him by the end of primary. We thought she was just being kind, but here he is, year 5 and near the top of the class.
I do worry that we try and get them to do too much too young, when if we just let them develop a little more before we started trying to get them to understand complex concepts they'd grasp things so much more quickly and easily - but that's a whole other thread!

bojorojo Tue 19-Apr-16 12:56:26

So there you are, igivein. Be positive. An August birthday is not an indicator of SEN for life - it is a short term blip for many and irrelevant for some!

There may be things your DS needs help with but this will really depend on the exams he will be sitting and how selective the school is. If it is a fairly straightforward school and not a "big name", nationally or locally, consider how much tutoring he really needs. I found with DD that doing tests in a given time was the main challenge. English tests, for example, were rarely set at school so pacing herself was the biggest problem. Maths tests had been set and she was more used to them. She had, fortunately, been well taught, so there was not a gap of knowledge.

I strongly believe over-tutoring is counter-productive and I also think independent schools like to see children with a breadth of interests. If there is an interview he will probably be asked about them. It is usual for a child to know why they want to go that particular school so linking a hobby with what the school offers is usually a good idea, eg sport, music, drama, etc. I think some independent schools like a rounded child as much as a gifted one! They certainly prefer them to an over-tutored one who has had no time for hobbies or interests. My DD went to a primary school that rarely set homework so we were fortunate to have time for her to have hobbies and interests such as Brownies, singing, junior strings orchestra, summer schools, swimming club and piano and violin lessons. She thrived on variety and her enthusiasm came accross to the independent school. She could "sell" herself and did not have any tutoring for the interview. If there is an interview, just make sure your DS has something to talk about and feels comfortable in that situation. A child does not have to be billiant, they just have to be interesting!

igivein Tue 19-Apr-16 15:55:55

Thanks for your advice - I'll let you know how we get on!

FatFrillyFilly Wed 20-Apr-16 00:01:34

Independent schools take into account that a child has come from a state school. My DS's Headteacher told me they looked for potential & a lot was decided at the interview stage.

My children really enjoyed their education. I believe that was because when viewing their schools, we considered where they would be happy 2-3 years down the line? I feel we selected well using this approach, while our DC did their job of passing the entrance exams.

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