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When to start visiting senior schools?

(24 Posts)
CruCru Thu 25-Jul-19 18:45:29

It’s really early (my son is about to go into year 3) but I’m wondering when it would be sensible to start looking at schools? A few people with older children have said that years 5 and 6 were really busy with school visits (all open mornings etc seem to be in September) and that it’s worth starting to go a bit earlier.

However my husband has said that if I start visiting now, it will mark me out as being “keen” and possibly a bit odd.

I’ll be looking at independent schools in central(ish) London. Quite a few have said that we can only look once my son is in year 5 but not all.

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Celeriacacaca Thu 25-Jul-19 18:53:52

Year 5 is plenty of time. You need to do your research first and identify those you want to see so you know when they have open events and you can plan your visits.

Please don't be one of those parents who has their child sit entrance tests at a large number of schools, as it's too much unnecessary pressure for them. Close your ears to all the "chatter" you'll hear from other parents and just think of your child, and your child only. Good luck.

CruCru Thu 25-Jul-19 20:20:43

Thank you! I was planning to apply to about four schools. Does this sound about right?

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JoJoSM2 Thu 25-Jul-19 20:24:44

DS is 1 and we’ve already been round most of the local preps. I’m sure we’ll be going round senior schools when he’s in Y3/4 (if we’re allowed). In London, you’ll have a high number of schools that are easily accessible so it’s good to have a look round a few early on to narrow your options down to a short list. You can then have a really good look at the shortlisted schools in Y5/6 to pick the best options.

troppibambini Thu 25-Jul-19 20:32:37

I took my eldest in year four.
They sit entrance exams at the start of year six so have to work hard in year five to prepare.
I would find it hard to work for an exam for school I'd never seen. Also it helped her decide which one she liked best.

PerspicaciaTick Thu 25-Jul-19 20:45:45

I took mine in y4 to look at the grammar schools and decide if they wanted to prepare for the 11±. Summer term in y5 we revisited the grammars to see if they still liked them. Autumn term y6 went to the local comprehensives to decide which we liked.
I think in y3 your DC is likely to be overwhelmed by the size of the schools, the busyness and the size of the students. If you want to go, go in your own.

Enpot2007 Thu 25-Jul-19 20:52:32

Started very gently in Year 4 and then ramped it up in Year 5 with DS. It’s also good to see how schools fare over the years.

By Y6 you should (hopefully)be just confirming your choices and your child in my opinion should see all schools you are seriously considering.

I am always astounded when I hear that children have never even been to a school they are sitting an exam for!

CruCru Thu 25-Jul-19 21:17:36

Yes, I was planning to visit by myself first then take my son to see the ones we are most serious about in a year or so.

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JoJoSM2 Thu 25-Jul-19 21:25:25

I think that sounds like a sensible plan.

Zodlebud Thu 25-Jul-19 21:49:58

I went and looked at all the options by myself (sometimes with husband) in Y4 and then we only took DD to see the schools that we wanted / were happy for her to go to.

It really helped whittle things down to be honest and meant that she wasn’t dragged around every single school. It worked for us.

Zodlebud Thu 25-Jul-19 21:50:58

Sorry, that meant to say we took her along when she was in Y5.

What I did was perfectly normal in the world of independent schools and nobody batted an eyelid

Nodressrehearsal Thu 25-Jul-19 21:53:36

Go along to the concerts, school plays etc you’ll get a much better feel of a place when it’s not all spruced up for Open Days.

BarbariansMum Thu 25-Jul-19 22:31:17

We started in Y4 (just dh and I), then with ds1 in Y5 and again in Y6. We were trying to decide whether to send him out of catchment (we did in the end) so it was a less straightforward decision than for some.

Huffthemagicdragon Fri 26-Jul-19 12:28:57

God school visits are so tedious. You end up playing head's talk bingo ('we're not just about exam results, though our exam results are excellent, we take a holistic approach' blah blah blah). And so arbitrary, it can really depend on which child takes you round.

So in contrast to everyone else's advice, I'd leave it until at the earliest y5 or don't do them at all. You'll end up going to the schools at least twice for exams and interviews and you get a much better idea of them through that. And should your child be offered a place, you then get a chance to go round again on an offer holders' morning where you see it from the totally different perspective of having a place in the bag.

Caveat - this doesn't work for City Girls and Channing and their exploding offers, and possibly not Highgate though their offer day was definitely before any offer deadline this year.

There really aren't that many schools to choose from. Am I right in thinking you're in Islington? Do you want to do 11+ or 13+? We only did three for our son (City, Highgate, UCS) as those were the only ones that seemed easily commutable. At the time it was stressful not having a less selective backup but you should know how academic your son is.

CruCru Fri 26-Jul-19 15:51:49

Hello, yes I am in Islington and am planning to look at the three you mentioned. I think the reason I’m thinking about this now is our next door neighbours gave us a copy of what they wrote on their son’s application (he went to school a few years back and is now grown up). I think one of the questions was along the lines of “Have you visited the school? When did you visit the school?” Plus it looks as though City and UCS have open mornings on the same days this year (unless I’ve got it wrong) so, if we are going to visit, we’ll have to stagger the years.

I think City and Westminster only let you look round when your son is in year 5 and Highgate recommend that parents and children look round together (it’s too early for my son to be looking at senior schools).

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Huffthemagicdragon Fri 26-Jul-19 16:48:50

We've done three lots of N London 11+ over the last five years and we've never been asked if we've visited the school. Kids no 2 and 3 hadn't seen most/any of them and could still quite easily answer the question 'what do you like about this school?'.

The open days are complete bunfights, there's no way the schools have any idea of who's attended nor do they seem to care. It can feel quite dispiriting and overwhelming especially since you're very much looking round with the protective belief that they won't be offering a place anyway. The few that my children attended were only differentiated by the quality of the biscuits/chocolate on offer, but by the end of the process and going to the offers days, they had strong preferences.

CruCru Fri 26-Jul-19 18:49:35

Ah, thank you. So they don’t keep spreadsheet lists of who attended when?

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PerspicaciaTick Fri 26-Jul-19 22:24:09

I think you might be underestimating the levels of (barely) controlled chaos.

WhyAmIPayingFees Sat 27-Jul-19 12:18:44

I do not think there is one right answer to this, especially if like us you look at both state and independent options. There are some things to find out like the schedule run by a school for admissions. In particular the nature of the registration deadline needs to be evaluated. It is to be taken at face value or in practice does the school anticipate that parents will show commitment from an early stage? We started looking around schools at least two and in some case three years ahead of time. It wasn’t to look keen so much as a reflection of the fact that one open day was just not enough to find out all there was. We did the official tour with a kid the first time and then filled in the gaps and visited departments of particular interest on later visits not always on open days. You also want to give yourself time to judge the ethos and emphasis on things that matter to your child. We were put off by heads who did not say much about academics and marked them down if they used expressions like “wellbeing” and “whole child” or talked a lot about rugby. (We were only looking at day provision so took the view that the “whole child” was a parental responsibility, while the school was for teaching subjects, running a decent orchestra etc. Boarding would be different.) Equally if every department had A* % pasted over the entrance that worried us. Any signs of obsessions with the Ebacc or compulsory GCSE RS were fatal. I think devoting a lot time to looking at extra curricular provision is very important. This was another reason for us doing multiple visits. We wanted to find out to what extent a school would make an effort to find both at least one sport and one other activity that would engage our kids’ interests and be suited to them, rather than by default assuming that our kids were just raw materials for their obsession with netball or rugby. Heads’ speeches we often skipped, unless they were part of a wider presentation with pupils speaking. We might listen to a head on one occasion. If they talked a lot about themselves or mentioned god that was usually fatal. I’m not at all expecting others to agree with my criteria but whatever matters to you, give yourselves plenty of time to find out if the school is going to support it.

NellyBarney Mon 29-Jul-19 10:42:21

It really depends how much time you think you will have in year 5 to go to visit schools. I have to work on weekends and in the evenings, so to find an open day I can go to is very difficult. I therefore try to visit 1 school per year. I started when dd was in year 2, and come 11 or 13 plus I will hopefully have seen all the contenders. Some senior schools have junior departments, though, so parents looking around from reception would be normal there anyway, as noone would choose the junior school without an idea of where most or in some cases all pupils would go to.

NellyBarney Mon 29-Jul-19 10:49:06

I would take the feel of your local options early on, as you might decide it's not a fit for DC and you want to consider alternatives that need planning ahead (e.g. moving house/changing jobs to do so/ changing jobs to affort private or even boarding as alternative if DC doesn't get place in local day school).

CruCru Mon 29-Jul-19 10:51:54

Thank you! I think I’ll visit one this September and maybe another later in the year. September is a really busy month for us (for various reasons) so realistically I won’t be able to fit all five or six in in year 5.

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Chochito Mon 29-Jul-19 10:52:46

You or your husband could go this autumn but bear in mind you'll probably want to go back in Year 6 as headteachers etc. can change and the school won't be the same in 4 years' time when your son would start studying there.

For your son I'd take him in year 5.

CruCru Mon 29-Jul-19 10:55:36

I was thinking that for at least some (the ones where it doesn’t have to be in year 5 or where we are told to come with our children), I’d visit first then bring my son a year or two later. I think he’d had to sit an assessment for most of them so he’d also visit them as well.

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