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How much influence does a prep school have in helping DCs get into senior schools?

(36 Posts)
millymollymandy988 Mon 16-Nov-20 12:16:59

Just interested in people's views on this? The whole pre-test situation is totally out of control in London and the South East and you would think that if prep schools actually had any influence things would have been sorted out by now......

Or has the tutoring epidemic muddied the waters so much that prep schools are no longer sure who the truly academic DCs in the cohort actually are?

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Fishingeveryday212 Mon 16-Nov-20 12:49:44

I agree it is totally out of control especially with respect to children sitting for 7-10 schools due to the ease of ISEB. I imagine though this year, more than most, the headmasters letter and the child’s previous results will have more weighting.

Tutoring does muddy the waters, especially those who start from an early age. Having been through this last year, the three boys that got into St Paul’s started their tutoring in year 3. Who knows if the same result would have been achieved without it but I’m guessing not...
It’s no wonder the secondary headmasters are saying how high the standards have become.

Lucinda76 Mon 16-Nov-20 12:53:15

I would say quite a lot..... not so much in the 11+ or 13+ pretest, or even the reference ....but in the relationships between the Heads. I know when my DD tooth fell out in the consortium test - her Prep Head made a phone call and she got a place in her first choice amazing NW London leading school - despite flunking the test!

millymollymandy988 Mon 16-Nov-20 13:03:41

@Fishingeveryday212 it does seem slightly ludicrous that the senior schools can't trust the opinions of a prep school that has huge amounts of data on each child - previous exam, CATS tests, performance in class etc At the very least the prep should be able to objectively assess if child A is relatively more able than child B. No-one should have to be sitting that many schools - surely it could just be a case of the prep school telling parents "your child is suitable for this list of schools" and I will 100% support your applications if you choose 3 and rank your preference....applications get sent off and kids receive offers.

I appreciate that for those applying from state school you might still need to run a competitive test as not all state schools are happy to write references....but dealing with the prep school kids in this way would simplify things massively.....

OP’s posts: |
millymollymandy988 Mon 16-Nov-20 13:09:12

@Lucinda76 that's a great story!....and actually gives me hope that some prep schools are doing their jobs. At the age of 10 or 11 your performance in one test shouldn't dictate your future...... which leads me to my other hypothesis that perhaps the Heads DO have influence and the pre-tests are just a ruse used by the Senior Schools to protect the Prep Schools from parents? It means that Senior Schools can tell the parents of Child A (who is totally unsuitable for a super selective school) that it is an "aspirational choice" but they should "have a go"....rather than saying "sorry but your child is just not clever enough and would not thrive there"....

OP’s posts: |
Zodlebud Mon 16-Nov-20 13:51:01

@millymollymandy988 We are just North of the M25 and have a wide range of schools in the area including Habs, NLCS, St Albans High etc. Our prep head is actually very blunt with parents and will tell them if a school is out of reach academically. Of course it’s good for pupil recruitment if ex students are heading to super top schools, but at our school, finding the RIGHT school is far more important.

He works very hard on maintaining relationships with the heads of all next schools. If he knows what a school is looking for then it’s much easier to make recommendations and match the child to the school. There was never any concept of an “aspirational” school for us, although two of the schools of best fit recommended by him for our eldest DD we just didn’t like. If it wasn’t for his other recommendations though then we probably would never have even looked at the school she’s at now. He knew what makes her tick and her love of sport, drama and music were just as important as academics. The school takes from a very wide area, including a lot of girls from north London, and many parents say the same - that the recommendation of the head led them to the school in the first place and whilst it might initially have been seen as a safer bet for getting a place, they ended up wanting it as first choice once they blocked out and rose above the put me downs from other parents.

Just because a school isn’t full of kids topping the leader boards in entrance test scores, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a contingent of very bright children.

Every single school she sat for did interviews and letter from current head prior to the exams. I guess these help try and explain any spiky profiles on exam day.

We moved out of London because I just couldn’t be doing with the whole thing. I honestly think that London parents have created this enormous beast of a system where they apply to so many schools that pressure for places seems much higher than it really is, meaning that exams have to come first as a way of whittling down numbers to interview, which means bonkers levels of tutoring. I definitely would expect my prep head to get on the phone to a school and use that relationship if, for example, my child failed the entrance exam to their “banker” school. I wouldn’t, however, be expecting them to be trying to get every single child who sat from their prep in. I think a good prep head with good working relationships can pull some strings, yes.

Sorry, I waffle.

millymollymandy988 Mon 16-Nov-20 14:20:11

@Zodlebud I absolutely agree that a head should be using their influence to get a child into a school that is the right school for them, and smoothing over any exam blips. If everyone went with the recommendations of their prep school head then people would only be applying for 3 schools. I just don't know how we got to the position where 6-8 schools is acceptable? At DS' prep school all the top set boys applied to 3 super selective schools but then also put down 2 less selective schools as "bankers"....consequently, most of them received all 5 school places meaning that the kids in the next set didn't all get places in the less selective schools as they didn't perform as well as the kids in the set above and this impact cascaded down into the sets below. After the fact, the parents of the top set boys said "well we never would have applied to those other schools had we known DS would definitely have received a place at one of his top 3 choices" its all caused by everyone feeling slightly hysterical and paranoid....

OP’s posts: |
MarshaBradyo Mon 16-Nov-20 14:22:24

You kind of do need bankers though

Does it shift around again when they accept one of the top ones?

Zodlebud Mon 16-Nov-20 14:35:22

@MarshaBradyo Yes it does tend to all sort itself out by way of the waiting lists, but then you have people who release a few offers but still hold onto two or three whilst they make a decision. I find it incredibly hard that people don’t have a first choice school prior to exams, but again this is probably because people get offers from schools they weren’t expecting, but then didn’t get them from ones they were. Also fuelled by rich patents who can afford to lose acceptance deposits to buy themselves more time.

It is an exceptionally stressful time for both parents and children. My friend’s daughter sat five schools. Two outright no’s and three waitlist places. She finally got an offer at the end of April from her first choice school where she is thriving.

KindKylie Mon 16-Nov-20 14:49:01

'At the age of 10 or 11 your performance in one test shouldn't dictate your future.....'

Nor should your parents' ability to pay, engage, transport you etc. Or the word of a head teacher in another head teacher's ear..... Urgh

This thread makes you all/your systems/schools sound mad. The stress and pressure must be awful.

V glad to live in the SW where my (very academically able, sporty (county level), book loving, musical etc etc) dc just go to the shabby looking village school round the corner and will be bussed to the local shabby comp with every other child in our road/village/catchment of similar age.

MarshaBradyo Mon 16-Nov-20 14:54:25

I didn’t find it that bad tbh. We did tests and people accepted the school they wanted straight away.

Also having done state process - that felt more stressful. Very small catchment areas.

But for the first para the school said don’t bother with tutoring and still got them in. In other groups people get more intense.

Zodlebud Mon 16-Nov-20 15:09:23

@KindKylie It is, indeed, bonkers. It’s a system that works exceptionally well for the bright child but not for those average and below. It’s the private school system in London though. It’s a choice to engage in it or leave well alone.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a “shabby” local comprehensive with a guaranteed catchment place though. Some of the top state schools in the country can be found in London. So can some of the very worst. I’ll bet there are several county and even higher level players in a multitude of London state schools now who have never 1) had that talent identified, 2) had opportunities to even try it 3) have the family backing to support it 4) have the finances to fund it or 5) been given the time to be able to pursue it due to additional responsibilities at home such looking after younger siblings whilst their parents work several jobs.

Yes, the whole London independent school thing is yuck, but what’s far worse is the huge inequalities in the state school system depending on where you live. If every state school was amazing and children were properly supported then far fewer would probably end up in private.

coolingbreezes Mon 16-Nov-20 15:44:07

Lucky for my DS that it doesn't all go on the head's recommendation, or he might not have got his scholarship at a very competitive academic secondary from his bog standard state primary. I think his primary head did kindly write him a reference, but she certainly wouldn't have had any sway beyond that. I know you said in your op that some sort of test is needed for state applicants - but surely any prep applicant who gets in on the encouragement of the prep head is reducing the chances for state applicants? (If DS had not performed well in the entrance exam he certainly wouldn't have had anyone to fight his corner for him.)

GU24Mum Mon 16-Nov-20 16:45:53

I'm sure it would work better (at least in theory) if there was a central application form (possible confidential from the schools) where parents could input their actual preference and could finesse it with A then B then C etc...... but C over B if we get a scholarship. Schools could input their ranking of pupils and the system could then allocate the pupils.

Sounds good in theory but no doubt unworkable in practice?

I think it's got worse over the past few years as the cohort sizes increase but they are I think off the peak after this year and will then drop off considerably a few years down the line so it's likely to feel very different in a few years' time when the schools will have fewer numbers applying.

MarshaBradyo Mon 16-Nov-20 16:49:35

State to private can do well, and with scholarship. Just very academic and able and I think independent are good at taking state on their ability alone.

I do wonder how much pressure there would be though, maybe if student had a bad day, but the school they go into wants high results as possible so if a prep convinces them to take a student that struggles the next year they might not be convinced.

coolingbreezes Mon 16-Nov-20 17:34:08

I agree that an extremely able state school pupil is likely to have a very good chance of a place unless they screw up on the day. But what about an averagely able or less able student? I imagine they would be significantly less likely to get an independent secondary school place without a prep school coaching them for entrance exams, putting lots of effort into the reference, preparing them for interview, and possibly 'having a word' with the senior school head.

MarshaBradyo Mon 16-Nov-20 17:52:35

I guess that’s what people pay for - the prep. Although I question the impact of head over actual results. Top academic schools don’t want to be fudged either.

Although I’d say if you can afford it someone will take you. Some schools are more mixed so if not highly academic you can get a spot.

jeanne16 Mon 16-Nov-20 18:15:47

I think the influence prep school heads have is totally exaggerated. They will have had massive influence in previous decades (pre 1980s) but they have very little influence now, hence all the pre testing. I think prep schools like to maintain the illusion they do have influence.

My DS went to a London all boys prep and we got minimal help.

MGMidget Mon 16-Nov-20 19:49:22

Yes in my DCs school the head has some influencewith s small handful of schools and they are all boarding schools where competition is not as stiff as day schools. Amongst the London day schools the influence is minimal, so much so that the head gives very little encouragement to aim for them. Therefore for us private school wasnt great value in te4ms of helping get into the next school. They do still boast of their leavers list though but behind the scenes many parents are quietly or not so quietly tutoring.

Fishingeveryday212 Mon 16-Nov-20 19:56:45

@MGMidget your prep school sounds exactly like ours!

whataboutbob Mon 16-Nov-20 21:17:29

@KindKylie I agree with you. This thread looks bonkers for those who are not on this particular track. I’m in London but both kids at state schools. Sorry but this is all about buying privilege, or paying to consolidate it.

Stokey Mon 16-Nov-20 21:32:51

I don't think it's necessarily the influence of the head that makes the difference as the amount of prep the kids get for the exams from very early on. My nephew goes to a London prep school and has been getting reams of work in the holidays, and preparing for these exams (he's in Y6) since at least Y4 if not earlier. My dd1 (also Y6) is at a state school and has just done a selective exam. She's had no input from school, we started doing practice papers in June and had 3 months tutoring over the summer. She is an extremely able student but only just scrapped through the first round as she hasn't had the intense tutoring/prep. Ironically the school she has applied for was originally set up for poor children who couldn't afford private schools, but now is attended by middle class parents who can afford years of tutoring.

CatsAreAliens Tue 17-Nov-20 12:36:19

I think it totally depends on the school. A head generally has a relationship with 5/6 schools. They are very careful with their recommendations as otherwise what value is their opinion. It is about more than just academics - it is also about whether the school is right for that particular child. I think where a lot of people go wrong is that they are choosing the child for themselves rather than looking objectively at their child

PresentingPercy Tue 17-Nov-20 14:11:41

I feel London is so very different from elsewhere. We are not London and it’s more relaxed here.

My DD took an entrance test for a senior school - from state primary. DD had no coaching. We chatted about her interests which we had put on the application form and made sure she had something to say at interview! That was all. She was fine. She did get into another private school too, so we had to choose. I know at her school she was the only state educated girl in her year. She rather dined out on it! She definitely would have been at the other school.

I found out later that her senior school never had a reference, or indeed any info, from her state primary school at all. They refused to give any academic info. I had the best info for them - DD got 140/141 in the Bucks selection test. The Head was against private education and wouldn’t support us or DD.

After this episode, we withdrew DD2. Who needs this sort of behaviour from an alleged professional? DD2 followed DD1. So, by that time, I’m not sure if DD2’s prep head had any influence at all. Not sure if they supported us either as most DD left the prep school at 13, not 11. They did have a senior school head on their governing body but hardly any DDs went to her school! More went to the local very high achieving senior school! I would be very surprised if there wasn’t a close relationship there as they can virtually see each other!

user149799568 Tue 17-Nov-20 18:02:20

This question came up in an open day when DD was applying to North London Collegiate School. The head of admissions answered that they tried to err on the side of interviewing too many girls. If, for example, a girl's score on the math exam was too low to earn her an interview but her prep's head went to bat and gave testimony that the girl was actually quite strong at math, NLCS would usually grant the girl an interview - and use it to reevaluate her math, along with her personality.

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