Preparing Your Child for School Admissions
Is your child 0 to 5 years old? In this article, our education consultants give their professional insight into school admissions, and how to prepare your child for entry into the British education system.
1. Prepare a shortlist of schools
The UK education system is fiercely competitive and not everyone plays by the same rules. With people moving into school catchment areas before the birth of their child and some parents attempting to register unconceived children for prep-schools, it’s really important to think about your child’s education early.
The first step is to identify your options: These are most likely to come down to your decision on the Private or State system, your location and financial means. It’s essential to start early as there are tight deadlines for school admissions –particularly for independent schools. Talking to friends who have children already at school can be helpful. However, remember that your child’s specific needs will likely differ to those of your friends’ children. Useful research tools include the school website, The SLT Schools Guide, and recent Ofsted reports. It is important not to get fixated on league tables as they can be misleading (bright children in = bright children out). Instead try to look for ‘Value Added’ by the school. The Telegraph measures this in their league table. Try to narrow down your search to around five schools or less – any more is logistically challenging and suggests you aren’t being realistic.
2. Before school registration
Very few parents actually visit their shortlist of schools. This is surprising, considering the invaluable insights a visit can provide. Katie Haigh, Director of Education at Simply Learning Tuition says “meeting the head teachers, experiencing the learning and play environments first hand is much more revealing beyond hearsay and a school’s website.” We strongly recommend visiting all the schools on your shortlist before registration. Most independent schools are selective so you must consider if your child is capable of passing the schools’ assessment. The most popular schools are not always the best schools and definitely may not be the best school for your particular child.
You need to evaluate the financial commitment. Not only is it financially viable but are the fees worth it? “We’ve found the level of financial investment doesn’t actually have that much of a difference in early years of education. In most cases it is better to save in order to make greater investments in the later stages of your child’s education”, says Nathaniel McCullagh, Managing Director at Simply Learning Tuition.
3. Registration process
The state system is relatively simple for school admission. Register your son or daughter through your local council and that’s it. You can apply for schools outside of your catchment area but if you want to guarantee a place, the Good Schools Guide recommend ‘you have about three or four years to move into a catchment area’.
The independent system presents more complex challenges. Admissions processes, waiting lists and application dates vary so it’s very important to explore your options early to ensure you don’t miss any deadlines. Reassuringly few schools have formal academic assessments at 4+. Some hold group interviews to evaluate social, communication and language skills. They are also looking at children’s levels of confidence, cooperation and concentration.
4. Preparing your child
Whether you’re preparing your child to embark on the independent or state school route, there are fundamentals to consider.
Pre-school tutor Amy Hydes says;“Don’t compare your son or daughter to those of your friends because it’s important to remember that every child learns and develops at different stages.”
Resist the temptation to control all of your children’s learning. Allowing for unstructured play, encouraging role-play and introducing your child to new faces all lead to natural development of confidence and imagination. Playing outside, investigating in the garden and splashing in puddles, paves the way for building the grit and resilience they will need to succeed in later-life. Discovering and exploring new materials and textures like mud, water and sand helps children to develop their motor skills; which will help them learn to write. Creativity is natural in children so avoid suppressing it with prescribed learning.
The jury is very much out when it comes to “professional” support for pre-schoolers. We suggest a careful, pragmatic and blended approach. Nurseries are generally local, affordable and provide a great environment for children to progress. Interacting with older and younger peer groups improves social skills and valuable language development.
Deciding between full or half day nursery comes down to your own family’s needs. Attending nursery in the morning combined with one-to-one learning in the afternoon is a good balance. However, morning-only places are more competitive. If English is not your child’s first language, we would highly recommend full day nursery. Exposure to English is one of the most important phases of preparing them for them for the British Education system.
Alternatives to nursery
Employing a nanny or joining a play group are alternatives to nursery. Although both are good childcare options, neither is likely to provide specialist educators. If you are preparing your son or daughter for school entrance assessments or if your child is particularly bright and you feel they need some stimulation beyond what their play school can offer, then a professional tutor may be useful. Pre-school tuition is fun and informal. It focuses on unlocking children’s potential. Tutors can help parents and nannies by providing an expert approach to learning and development focused on the best methods for the age and development of the child.
“Tutoring young children is about unlocking a child’s potential and building their confidence. Whether with Play-Doh or toy trains, I use play to unleash creativity but also make sure I am constantly talking and engaging with a child in a productive and positive way,” says Amy Hydes.