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independent schools, how many, and interviews

(63 Posts)
MrsSteptoe Mon 07-Oct-13 21:53:15

As always, turning to you lovely peeps for a couple of independent school questions (how did you all get to know so much? Why don't I know the answers to these questions myself? Those aren't my questions.)

1. how many indie schools do you normally put kids in for (actually thru exams, that is, not just register)? Yes, OK, there's no straight answer, but I don't want to send him to too many exams. At the same time, I don't want to end up with no offers. I'm not going to confess how many schools we're registered for, but I haven't run out of fingers. Yet.

2. was hoping that the interview would just be a character assessment of an 11 year old, a chat. I fear I'm wrong. I have suddenly come across description of prep school project books, parents who prepare their kids with professional coaches... I didn't even want to TALK to DS about the interviews, just let him come across naturally. How naive am I being? Any info? Do I really have to prepare him? How utterly unspeakable. He's ten, for heaven's sake.

You guys rock.

ColdFusion Mon 07-Oct-13 22:01:22

It depends on boy/girl 11+ or 13+. It also depends on how strong the advice from your prep school is, and whether you are going for a non-selective or selective school.

We've just gone with one school for our DCs.

MrsSteptoe Mon 07-Oct-13 22:20:20

Thanks, ColdFusion. Boy 11+, and he's in a state primary so we have no advice whatsoever from our school - they are encyclopaedic on the subject of Catholic secondary schools and refuse to be drawn into conversations about independent schools. Indie schools we're trying for are all selective from the less demanding Emanuel through to Dulwich/Alleyn's. We're not trying KCS/St Paul's etc. - he may turn out to be much brighter than he is now, if you see what I mean, but at the moment he's quite immature which inevitably affects exam performance. His tutor thinks he's able, and certainly wants him to try for Dulwich/Alleyn's/City of London.

Labro Mon 07-Oct-13 22:23:42

Normally the advice is to have 2, one of which is the reserve.
Interviews vary hugely depending on how selective the school is. Your current head should be able to help with what sort of questions they ask and may even do mock interviews.

snowsjoke Mon 07-Oct-13 22:24:56

have a look at the Independent schools section on www.elevenplusexams forum. Very useful for all things 11 plus related.

Labro Mon 07-Oct-13 22:29:09

Ah ok, check each schools website as some put rough guidelines as to what the interview is. Ds has been to 2 - one the questions were 'if you could be any superhero what would you be called and what would your special power be' and 'if I gave you 1 million pounds what would you do with it' then the other one was far more a chat about interests, why do you want to come to this school and reading from a novel so hugely variable!

MrsSteptoe Mon 07-Oct-13 22:33:30

Thanks, people, highly appreciated. Our head knows nothing about independent schools, sadly. In his defence, he goes the extra million miles to help parents with their state paperwork. So I can't complain.

meditrina Mon 07-Oct-13 22:36:39

Do you have a good state school fallback? If not, then you need to be trying 3 or 4 in London, and some families are up to 5 or 6.

Alleyns is always a toss up, Dulwich is more academic than it was, CLB currently fashionable. Emanuel is reputedly easier to get in to.

Interviews may include mental maths questions, a couple of (usually dead easy) questions in whatever MFL has been studied, and an aural comprehension. It's not just a friendly chat.

Clavinova Mon 07-Oct-13 23:06:45

I would say 3 is not unusual in your part of London. I wouldn't worry about project books and interview coaches at all but a run-through of some possible questions would be helpful. My children were asked:
Why do you want to come to this school?
What book are you reading at the moment?
What are your favourite subjects at school?
What do you like doing in your spare time?
What would you change at your school if you were Headmaster?
What law would you pass if you were Prime Minister?
Who is the Prime Minister/US President?
Can you tell me about something in the news this week?
What do you think has been the best invention so far?
Nothing a fairly intelligent 10 year old can't answer but a totally unprepared child might struggle. There may be a few mental maths/fun maths problems or a short comprehension but that's usually if your child has shown a weakness in the exam paper or is being considered for a scholarship. The interviewer should know your son hasn't come from a prep school and make a few allowances.

MrsSteptoe Mon 07-Oct-13 23:42:23

Super, Clavinova, thanks v much x

basildonbond Mon 07-Oct-13 23:52:19

at dd's prep school the advice is no more than 4 (and fewer than that if your child is particularly strong academically) - because there are so many children chasing the places at those schools you can get the odd unexpected result

as far as the interview goes as long as your child doesn't completely clam up and go into full 'i dunno' mode he should be fine - you don't need loads of preparation but it's a good idea to make sure he listens to the news headlines every now and then and to be reading a book he can talk about

GetMeOut Tue 08-Oct-13 08:40:10

This might sound a bit silly and/ or pretentious shock but I actually got my Dcs to practice shaking hands with an adult and looking people in the eye ! I had noticed that, particularly when nervous , they tended to shuffle around with their hands in their pockets starring at the floor ! I was like you and thought it was all a bit Ott and didn't do much prep but I actually wish I had done more. I didn't take into account the effect of nerves on a normally quite confident child. Whilst I agree with other posters in that you are unlikely to fail at interview and I have heard some very funny stories of alleged comments made by Dcs and they were still offered places , it is still a very nerve racking process and preparation and practice can help to overcome this ( hopefully ). Good luck smile

MrsSteptoe Tue 08-Oct-13 09:15:07

Thanks, GetMeOut! Doesn't sound silly at all. That balance between prepping children and sending them in looking as though they've been coached to within an inch of their lives is perilous. xx

Seeline Tue 08-Oct-13 09:22:50

Some schools request that the child take along something to the interview that they can talk about. Sometimes, but not always, this cold be a piece of school work, but often something they ae interested in, something they have made, or something to to do with a hobby/out of school activity. They can use this as an ice-breaker - particularly with a shy/less confident child.
Whilst we didn't coach our DS for his interviews, we did ask him to consider things like what book he had enjoyed reading and why, any authors he liked, why he might like to go to a particular school, what school subjects he liked, and to have a vague eye on the news the week before. He came from a state primary and we had no assistance at all. The schools are used to dealing with 10 yo boys from all backgrounds and are very good at getting the most out of them.

wordfactory Tue 08-Oct-13 09:24:56

I agree with getmeout

It's well worth preparing DC with things like a handshake, a warm smile, eye contact and sitting still (hands pressed between knees if DC are fiddlers).

FWIW my DC have had several interviews between them (though not for the schools you mention) and the styles varied hugely.

Some have been one to ones where it's just been a chat. What do you like about school? What do you dislike? What are you reading? Which sports do you like?

One of DDs was a group interview where three or four girls were given a task and then observed.

DS had a pretty challenging one where he was given a piece of poetry to read and then he discussed it with the interviewer.

Don't be afraid to pick up the phone OP and ask admissions at the schools in question. Just ask the format.

JourneyThroughLife Tue 08-Oct-13 09:29:23

Just remember, there is coaching and coaching! If you mean general things like practising a handshake, looking someone in the eye when speaking and getting your child to genuinely read books that she/he can talk about, then fine. But over-coached children stand out a mile. I have some contact with independent schools and I can assure you that they are well versed in interviewing children. They do not mind that at times they shuffle, look bored, yawn and can't spout off Einstein's theory with footnotes. They are looking for the real child and an over-coached one isn't real, and it shows.
Questions are usually asked to see how the child thinks and answers. Often it's useful to ask question that the child cannot possibly answer, beauase then she/he will have to think on their feet. It shows their attitude to tackling stuff they don't know - that cannot be taught, it's an in-built attitude. Interviewers are also looking for the 'spark' which lights a child up....doesn't matter if it's Harry Potter, dead insects or making paper 'planes, the child will be enthusiastic, bright, chatty and off-the-cuff. That cannot be coached in that either, and if parents try, it comes across as a stiff, forced child trying to please parents and give the right answer....and can go against them rather than winning a place...

Needmoresleep Tue 08-Oct-13 11:25:16

Hi standard advice is three schools. Aspirational, achievable and a fall back. However this depends a little on both the child and the school.

DS tried 2 academic schools and, as predicted, got both. DD (dyslexic) tried five, all a bit aspirational, and got two. No point in having a string of acceptances as you can only attend one school!

Watch out for schools like Alleyns. Popular mixed schools only have half the places for girls or boys and has a proportion of places taken up by their prep, so as Meditrina suggests, will be a bit of a lottery. Perhaps worth thinking of it as additional to the three standard choices. Emanuel used to be seen as a reliable "fall back" but is becoming tougher.

On interviews I was told by someone who does them that what schools are looking for is a child who can talk to adults and who has something to say. What they say is less important than the ability to engage. Teachers are used to talking to children and so will do their best to put them at their ease. My friend suggested that those who had been coached or done too many interviews can end up appearing quite "flat". Instead I might get a friend to have a conversation with your child using the questions and suggestions above.

You might also consider listening to Newsbeat or similar for a few weeks leading up to the interview and perhaps a bit of a family discussion on the main stories of the day.

Some schools will ask the odd maths or English question if the child has performed less well in one of the exams. I guess the solution is to not be fazed by this and get on and do your best.

Schools have to manage their acceptance lists and wait lists, so may ask about siblings and other schools applied for. On the latter you might as well be honest. I dont know if Registrars talk to each other, but if they do and your child had not been straightforward you might be sunk. And another reason to restrict the number of applications.

It varies but the proportion of acceptances to interviews at some schools is quite high. If your child gets an interview you are almost there so worth relaxing and being yourself.

EdithWeston Tue 08-Oct-13 11:41:40

IIRC, Dulwich only interviews boys who they intend to make offers or high wait list offers to. Alleyns invites the top however many from the exam passes (could be as many as 2:1 candidates:places, can't remember exactly) and the interviewing staff, confident that the on paper academic level is to standard, are picking the ones they think they'd like in the classroom.

Might be worth asking at open days, if you're still doing the rounds, what the call for interview policy is.

Some practical advice from DS's prep school head (DS is going for 13+ entry)

If they ask you about the book you are reading and you are only 23 pages in then tell them about the last book you have read as you can't say much about a book that you have only just started.

Ditto if they ask you what you are doing in history, for example, and you have had just had your first lesson on the Black Death then talk about your previous topic e.g. Magna Carta as you will know a lot more about it.

Have dinner table conversations about what is happening in the world with your DS so he gets practice at discussing topics one-on-one with an adult.

nextyearitsbigschool Tue 08-Oct-13 12:20:07

3. Wildcard, probable and back up. We have also done state applications for schools we are happy for DD to go to. The state schools are on par with probable and better than back up so we are in a comfortable position of being confident that we will have somewhere good regardless. If we didn't have state options I would go for 4 and do 2 probables. I have heard of children sitting for 10 schools which is just insane and very unfair on them IMO.

Shootingatpigeons Tue 08-Oct-13 12:20:24

This is all good advice. Just be careful not to listen to the Chinese whispers amongst parents who are applying, there will be lots of scaremongering, exaggeration and evidence free analysis. They should give Valium to some of them.

My own DD ended up in an argument with the Head of the school she eventually went to about whether North Korea should have nuclear weapons which instantly had the playground buzzing about the interviews at that school and the need to be swotting up to degree level on international relations, but actually she had Korean friends and it was just the way the conversation flowed. I think DD pursued the argument that if The US wanted North Korea to give up it's weapons it should give up it's own grin

I have reason to know that Dulwich have absolutely outstanding pastoral care, exceptional. They went way beyond what the other "top " London schools I am familiar with would have done in a situation I can't elaborate on.

MrsSteptoe Tue 08-Oct-13 13:44:48

Fab advice from everyone and really, really helpful. Much of it has been new; most of it chimes with my own feeling on the thing, except that it's hard to restrict to 3 schools as I have no real sense of what is "probable" for DS - and his school are not helpful, simply because they have so few parents going on to indies so they just don't have the experience. Many thanks to all. x

Ladymuck Tue 08-Oct-13 14:17:44

I'm not sure that many people register for schools that they don't then sit tbh. For 11+ the registration dates and exam dates aren't that far apart - I think that Sevenoaks for example had a 1 September registration date, but plenty are still having open days for next year's entry.

I don't think that Dulwich/Alleyn's/CLSB gives you a sound back up to be honest (D takes 70 at 11+, A 40 and CLSB 60), but I guess it depends on whether you have a good state school back up as well. I would think about whether you think your ds would thrive more in a co-ed or single sex environment and possibly look for one more school in that category? Whitgift to the south takes 100 at 11+, Trinity 70. Your ds may be pitched at the right level for these schools, but I think that in part it is a numbers game, with only a limited number of places available.

Preparing for an interview with a professional coach is OTT, and ds's headmaster points out that interviews with a 100 boys who have all been told to maintain eye contact can also be a bit unnerving, especially if the child can't think of anything to say! 15 minutes with a 10 year old boy can go quickly, or can be a very long time! I don't think that there is any harm running through the sorts of questions already listed, and to try to give more than a one-word answer! I think it is worth preparing your son that he may be asked for specific informations as to why he wants to go to that school - the schools will want an idea of who is likely to accept an offer, and I'm sure that some children appear for interview without knowing which school they are in!

apatchylass Tue 08-Oct-13 16:08:13

Our DC sat for 3 schools, all of which were genuine contenders, but one of which was easier to get into as the others were quite academic and sought after. Any more and there's a danger of burnout. The worst case would be that the preferred school is the final exam, when they are exhausted and bored, after a string of them. As you say - they're only 10 at the time!

In addition, as prep, they did a few grammar school mocks - Sutton organises some and there are a few companies who do similar. they charge, but not a lot. These exams weren't identical in format to the independent exams, and the DC knew it, so they didn't expect to do especially well in them and we didn't even bother telling them the results. It was training for getting used to exam conditions, finishing papers on time and shutting up and sitting still for up to three hours at a stretch, which no state primary school child I've ever met has practise in!

I agree, practise the interview a bit, but don't do what I did and start asking questions as though you were the interviewer. That idea was ditched after one question. My, how that bombed! Just ask what they might answer if asked xyz, and then, if you think they are way off beam, chat to them a bit.

DC were asked, among other things:
Tell me a joke
If you had to spend a million pounds, but not on yourself, who or what would you spend it on and why?
Where did you last go on holiday?
They were also asked some mental maths questions. Square roots or primes - that sort of thing.

And the killers:
What is your favourite school from the ones you are applying to?
What is your parents' favourite school?

Those two questions could throw a child if he or she hasn't thought a bit about the answer in advance.

Needmoresleep Wed 09-Oct-13 08:13:47

Agree with Ladymuck. How about adding Emanuel to your list? There are good reasons why it is growing in popularity. Though they may take in a wider range they also do well for more academic children, have a strong top set and are pretty generous with scholarships.

Trinity and Whitgift are also reasonably selective, though probably not as tough as CLB, which takes from all over London.

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