When choosing a school for your child, the options can seem overwhelming. Below are a few key pointers to help guide you through the maze of the state and private school sectors
State versus private: The argument of state versus private education is unending and unanswerable. The simplest conclusion is to perhaps apply the idea that, ‘one size does not fit all’. Finances are often the driver in the decision of whether to place your child in a state or independent school. To privately educate a child from nursery through to university costs an average of £150,000. This exorbitant figure means it is an option available to few. As such, mixing and matching between state and private schools during the formative years, can provide a valuable balance. Supporting a child at state school with private tuition can also be a fantastic way to ensure they have access to one-to-one teaching.
State education: Unlike private schools in which places must be booked soon after birth, the state sector allows 3 to 4 years to move into the catchment area. Depending on where you live, the public sector can provide fantastic opportunities and often a wider view of society. Schools in Buckinghamshire and Kent are notable examples. State schools are differentiated by the following sub-divisions: grammar; comprehensive; academies; free schools; studio schools; university technical colleges. There are around 30 boarding state schools in the country, at which the education is still state funded but fees are paid for boarding.
Private education: The advantages of a private education tend to allow pupils greater success in public exams. As well as receiving a higher level of academic care due to smaller class sizes, independent schools tend to offer a wider range of ‘extras’ and higher standard of facilities. They push a broader range of subjects and enable an earlier start with foreign languages. In spite of much controversy, independent schools do have a higher success rate of pupils going on to higher education than the state sector. So, if only an option for sixth form, going private at this stage could be hugely beneficial to your child.
Faith schools: These are another very worthy option, particularly Catholic schools. It is vital that admission requirements are identified early on though – often the child must have been baptized before 6 months old. At the very least, the school will require you to attend church once a week. It is a good idea to check out how welcoming they are of other faiths.
Single sex vs co-education: This tends to be a very personal decision with a list of advantages for each. Boys tend to thrive with fewer distractions and so putting them into a single sex environment early, has shown to benefit their learning ability. Similarly, it has been shown that girls find it easier to study in an all-girls environment come the mid-teens.
Does the school follow A Levels, IB or a combination? GCSEs or IGCSEs? It is important to understand which curriculum the school follows as it could have an enormous impact on higher education and career choices.
Are children ‘streamed’ or ‘setted’? Do the children all learn together or are they ‘setted’ according to ability. How does the school stretch clever children and support those who are struggling?
What are the sports / music / arts facilities like? If your child already displays an aptitude for sports or music, inquire how this will be encouraged and developed. If they are keen explore and try new activities will they have the opportunity?
Boarding versus day pupils: Ask what the split is between boarding and day pupils at the particular school; it is important that the minority does not feel like a minority.
Scholarships versus bursaries: Both of these are excellent options for making private education more accessible. Whereas scholarships tend to provide a small reduction to those who excel in academics, music, art or sport, bursaries can offer significant support. Due to their nature, both are extremely competitive but definitely worth exploring.
4+ Assessments and Tuition
Whether to tutor your child pre-4+ assessments is entirely dependent on the ability of your child, the amount of ‘educational play’ they have experienced – either with yourselves or someone with a native English, well-educated background – and your child’s rate of development. Although some parents do see tutoring as an absolute from their child’s first words, Bonas MacFarlane are keen to advocate a balanced approach. Pre-prep’s look at a child’s character and ability to interact with other children, as well as their ability to count up to 20, recognise colours and shapes and recite the alphabet.
Co-ordination and dexterity are other key areas that must be developed; this is when activities and games are just as important to learning as classroom work. By instilling an enjoyment for learning during the formative years, the road to self-discipline, ambition and achievement should progress more instinctively. In addition, learning with fun, knocks and grazes encourages the development of a child’s character; just as important as their mental ability.
If you are concerned with your child’s progress during their early years by all means seek advice and do opt for some ‘educational play’ to help develop their senses, social ability and skill set. If however, you are keen to opt for a more stringent programme of formalised learning during the toddler years, I must leave this to your prerogative. I will say though that I would far rather see the children of today laughing and learning through games and fun, than having bags under their eyes before they even reach the joys of 7+ assessments.
By David Wellesley Wesley, Bonas MacFarlane