This site has moved to

21 Sep

Now that the content is ready, I have moved the site to

This blog will be here for a while but will not be updated. Please visit the new website Hope to see you there!


Abercorn School parent review

17 Sep

Thank you so much to mum of three Colleen for submitting londonpreprep’s first parent review!! She has three children at Abercorn School in St John’s Wood and has written the following in the comments section of the Abercorn School profile:

“I have three children at Abercorn School who have been students there since 2008. We are Americans living abroad and chose to send our children to a British school for the experience. We have never been happier about a decision! Abercorn is a lovely school with caring teachers and a dedicated staff. Our kids love going to school and have absolutely thrived. Abercorn gives each child the attention needed to reach their maximum potential. Children all learn differently and are at varying levels. Abercorn recognises this and sets the work for children accordingly. We are very impressed with how our children have performed and know that they will continue to excel thanks to Abercorn”.

It is great to hear how well her children at doing at Abercorn and really helpful for other parents visiting this site to get an inside view of the school. I hope this is the first of many comments to come, so if you do have children attending one of the schools featured here, please do leave a comment and let other parents in London hear about your experience!

Knightsbridge School visit

13 Sep

Knightsbridge school is a very popular school, but they offer any interested parent an appointment to visit the school at one of their show-arounds within a couple of weeks or so. When I went to visit the school, there was a group of about eight parents, at least half of them internationals. We were greeted by the founder and head of the school, Magoo Giles, who took the time to share his vision of the school and his values. He struck me as a very competent and enthusiastic man who is really in charge and passionate about bringing the best out of every child.

A lot of what he said resonated with me. He said he doesn’t want parents to just hand their child over to the school and say “now educate this child” but wants to form a team with the parents dedicated to working together in making the child into a phenomenal, well-rounded, happy individual. He is a strong advocate of constant communication and said if there is ever a problem he just wants parents or staff to talk to him immediately and sort it out together, rather than letting any form of resentment build up. I also liked his commitment to a very happy and caring environment. He is a firm believer that teachers should never need to shout, as shouting is a sign of loss of control, that if you have authority and are respected you should not get into a situation where you need to resort to shouting.

Walking around the school and visiting the classrooms, I could certainly feel the commitment to happiness and fun were not just empty words. You could even call the environment slightly informal – for example, in one science less we observed, children were allowed to stand or sit on tables while listening and didn’t have to sit still on their chairs. They were even allowed to drink juice and eat fruits at one time. It was very unusual for me to see and certainly not how my school used to be, but it seemed to work brilliantly. The children were happy and cheerful, listening attentively, very engaged, and when I heard the teacher say “I need a volunteer to…” five hand went up before she even completed her sentence. You could really feel that head, teachers, pupils and parents form a team and a community and that, in my opinion, is worth a lot.

Another fantastic aspect is the healthy food. Meat and milk are organic and food is very fresh, with lots of vegetables, dessert is usually yoghurt with fresh fruit or honey and as snacks children have fresh fruit and short bread with juice and water. We visited the cafeteria during lunchtime and it smelt and looked very good, and I can tell you this is very rare, even in top independent schools.

We also learnt more about the curriculum – children start learning French and an additional language (with a choice of Italian, Spanish, Greek and Mandarin) in Reception class already. As to extracurriculars, they can start Ballet and Karate in Reception, and then have a wide choice from Year 1 onwards, including Fencing, Chess, cooking, Football, Dance and more.

I was surprised how large the school is – they actually admit four classes of 18 children per class each year, so despite having a lot of registrations, it might be that it is not as impossible to get a place as I expected it to be. I also found out more about their exit results. As it was only founded in 2005, they have just had their first girls take the 11+ exams, and are going to have their first group of boys sit the 13+ this year. They are very flexible about parents who want their child to move at the 7+ stage already and do support children sitting the 7+ at other prep schools, even if it means they lose their brightest children to Colet Court or Bute House. It was another clear indicator that the school really cares about the best for their children, rather than worrying about their statistics.

Overall, I was very impressed by Knightsbridge School. It looks like a very happy and enriching place, and also an extremely well managed school with all staff committed to making it a great school. I am sure this school is going to do great over the coming years, and even though I thought I was done with registering my daughter, I couldn’t help myself and decided to register her with Knightsbridge School as well.

If you want to read more about Knightsbridge School, read the profile on the SCHOOLS page.

London’s top international schools

11 Sep

A large part of this website is dedicated to finding the best British independent preparatory school for your child, but in reality a fair share of internationals prefer their children to be educated in an international setting, particularly in a setting that nurtures entrepreneurship, groupwork and creativity rather than constant testing and test preparation. If this sounds like you, in order to provide useful information you, I also want to feature London’s top international schools here. I will start by discussing the top options that start at the Reception age/primary level, but I will also mention the top IB schools in London and what choices of primary schools might lead there.

Top international primary schools

Hill House International Junior School – discussed in detail here and here, Hill House is a family-run Swiss school that does follow the National Curriculum of Britain and does prepare children for the British 11+ and 13+ exams, so it is probably your most British international school. It does have 50% of children from international families and focus on arts and music as well as sports and games far more than your typical British school, and it also houses a campus in Switzerland that children attend for hiking trips and music courses in the Summer and skiing in Winter. This is a great choice for parents who like the international model but still want their children to have the option of continuing at British boarding schools or getting into the selective London day schools.

Southbank International School – this is a very popular school among internationals with three campuses in Hampstead, Kensington and Westminster. It is co-educational, very much follows a more American learning style (group work, communication skills, independent field research) and 90% of students come from international families (exact mix of nationalities is detailed here). Children can start at nursery aged 3 and continue on all the way to the IB. IB results are not as top notch as other IB schools discussed below, but keep in mind that many of the pupils take the IB in their second language English, so it may not be fair to compare the results to British IB schools.

International School of London – I only just found out about this co-educational international school for children from 3 – 18 that offers the IB as well. I do not know anyone who attends this school and therefore cannot say anything about it yet – if you have a child attending this school and would like to contact me, please contact me via email or leave a comment below.

French Lycee – more than international, this school follows the French educational system but is extremely popular among internationals, even though only few manage to make their way in. Due to a good number of French citizens of Arab and African descent, and well as children from mixed couples, the student body is fairly international, which is reflected in a breadth of GCSE and A-Level language choices students can make, such as Russian and Arabic, that is not offered at most London secondaries. Pupils can choose to pursue British or French educational qualifications at age 14. It is notoriously hard to get in – to find out how to get in through the back door, read this blog post.

American School in Londonanother very popular school in St John’s Wood that is very hard for non-US citizens to get into – 80% of students have at least one parent with a US passport. The school takes children aged 4 all the way to 18 and provides “American education with a global outlook”.

Top London IB schools

North London Collegiate – Average point score per pupil 40.0. Highest score in IB in Europe, just ahead of boarding school Sevenoaks, this girls’ school in Edware, Middlesex, accepts girls from Reception age onwards via assessment.

King’s College Wimbledon – Average point score per pupil 38.7. also one of the top performers in the IB, King’s College Wimbledon with its co-educational Sixth Form does have a junior school attached that admits boys at the 7+ level.

Godolphin & Latymer School – Average point score per pupil 37.2. Very popular girls day school in Hammersmith that also has stellar A-level results. All the top prep schools featured on this site, such as Glendower Prep, Falkner House and Kensington Prep send a large share of girls to this independent secondary school.

This compares with 33.0 scored by students at Southbank International School in 2011 and 31.0 scored by students of the International School in London. Keep in mind though that a) any exam would favour native speakers of English and b) not all girls at North London Collegiate and Godolphin do the IB, many take the A-Level instead, so the IB results only represent the results of those students chosen to take the demanding IB – the A-level results of these schools are stellar as well though.

How to get into the French Lycee London

10 Sep

Two new series I am starting here is to feature the top international schools in London and to discuss excellent value for money if not free alternatives to private schools. One of the most popular alternatives to preparatory and private secondary schools is the French Lycee in London. It consists of the main secondary school Lycee Charles de Gaulle in South Kensington, but it also has four attached Lycee primaries in South Kensington, Clapham, Fulham and Ealing.

You may have heard from others that the French Lycee schools, particularly the one in South Kensington, are impossible to get into. I have heard even Russian multimillionaires and managing directors at investment banks expressing hope that their children could get into the South Kensington Lycee, to no avail (“the French Lycee in South Kensington is impossible to get into!”, I often hear them sigh. But I wouldn’t write this post if I didn’t know a way in, would I? Here’s how.

The most common route to the French Lycee is for French nationals resident in London to register as early as possible for entry into the Lycee. Even in the Lycee de Fulham, I have heard of French parents who couldn’t get their children in if they hadn’t registered them shortly after birth. The Lycee does reserve places for French nationals just moving to London, but for those already located in London, places are very tight (the precise admissions criteria give preference to siblings, then to French nationals arriving from France, followed by French citizens in London, followed by other francophone families – details in French here).

But given that places are restricted to French nationals, the Lycee realized it had a problem serving French families in London, particularly for those opting the A-Level route in the English section of the Lycee Charles de Gaulle: interacting solely with children of other French nationals at the French Lycee, many French parents in London were unhappy that their children did not learn English as well or make friendships with non-French children and many of them opted for international schools or private British schools to prepare their children for university life and the UK job market.

For that reason, in 2006, the French Lycee launched a new initiative at its primary school Ecole de Wix in Clapham: a cooperation with the local primary school WIX housed in the same building for a bilingual intake managed by the council. Each year, 28 children are accepted into the Reception class, 14 chosen by the Lycee Francais, 14 by the Wandsworth council according to the same process as other community primary schools, I.e. via proximity to the school. The great benefits of this bilingual track is that children can learn English and French equally well, share the classroom with a group of French, British and other international children, benefit from the high academic quality of the French Lycee education, and what’s more, have a guaranteed place reserved at the Lycee Charles de Gaulle for secondary transfer. This model has proven extremely successful in two ways – the academic standards are so good and pupils so motivated that in a standardized exam administered in all French schools in 2010, the bilingual Wix children outperformed average French primary pupils (see press report). In addition, places at the bilingual track, which is free of charge (as opposed to 600GBP charged to the Lycee intake), are so highly sought after that the catchment area has shrunk to a mere 0.2 miles. This is the downside – the intake is limited to those families living in a very small distance to the school, and with priority given to siblings, the catchment area is likely to shrink further.

Due to the Wandsworth council success, 2010 saw the launch of another bilingual track at the Ecole de Fulham in cooperation with the Holy Cross Primary school in Parsons Green.  28 students are admitted via catchment area and split up in two class of 14 each, to match them with another couple of 14 each chosen from the French Lycee intake. The popularity of this programme is growing fast, with the catchment area shrinking from 0.7m in the first intake that started in Sep 2010 to 0.5 miles in this year’s intake, and it is likely that the catchment area will continue to shrink in coming years.

Moving into the catchment areas of these schools could get your child access to very good quality education, the opportunity to grow up fluent in English and French and benefit from a guaranteed place at the French Lycee in South Kensington for secondary transfer. Does that sound like a good alternative to private school to you? If this sounds interesting but you are not planning to move to Fulham or Clapham any time soon, I recommend watching the other Lycee primaries closely for similar bilingual programmes of this type, particularly the one in South Kensington.

Hill House school visit

8 Sep

No appointment is needed for visiting the Hill House International Junior School in Knightsbridge. Parents are welcomed any morning during term time between 8.30 and 9am. How does this work, given that most other schools require parents to make an appointment well in advance, and others even fail to respond to parents enquiries unless they have already registered their children? I found out when I visited Hill House to see if I wanted to register my daughter here. When I arrived, five couples of Hill House pupils in their famous yellow and red uniforms were lined up on the entrance stairs, assigned to welcome visiting parents and give them a tour of the school. Two girls sitting in the front row welcomed me and took me on a tour of the school – without the interference of any teacher or other member of staff, who certainly seem to trust their pupils’ personal skills enough. My guides were very friendly and confident 11 year old girls in their final year at Hill House, one English and one American. They had just found out their secondary school placements – one was headed for the elite boarding school Benenden, another for the popular London Day school JAGS.

They showed me around the main Hans Place building which serves as the Middle and Upper school. The library was buzzing with activity, and small groups of students seemed to occupy many of the small spaces here and there – some for intense exam preparation, others reading, drawing, taking music lessons. I got to ask them all my questions – at what age could children start taking individual music and singing lessons? In year 2. Was it true that they did sports every day? Yes. Had they taken advantage of the Switzerland campus? Yes, both had been skiing and loved it. Did they know all the children in their year (given that Hill House admits up to 100 pupils per year, spread across 8-10 classes)? Yes, they knew most, if only by face, maybe half well enough and the other half superficially. As we got back to the entrance, they handed me over to the Director of Admissions, Mrs Janet Townend, a very competent, no-nonsense lady who was happy to answer any further questions I had. I did find out during the tour that despite being co-ed, girls and boys were taught separately from age 8 to prepare the for the different 11+ and 13+ exams, which was a negative for me. I was glad to hear that having come so early, there should be no problem for offering my daughter a place. Mrs Janet Townend also gave me Mrs Bright’s phone number, Head of the Small School in Flood Street, so that I could visit the school where Reception age children start their life at Hill House.

One week later, I visited the small school in Chelsea, head by Mrs Bright, whose children all attended Hill House School. She is very warm and enthusiastic, although one could notice that she had done this parent tour hundreds of times before. Again, the place was buzzing with activity. I wasn’t sure if it is a perfect learning environment, I would think it depends on the personality of the child. There is certainly a lot of action, interaction, play and adventure, but I wasn’t sure if there was ever a quiet time to think and reflect, to study quietly or just concentrate. Maybe that’s not what children need at this age, but it makes me wonder.

I had heard parent comments that Hill House is a perfect place for outgoing, active and sporty children, and I could understand where they’re coming from following the school visit. As with every school, it seems important to know your child’s personality and decide if a school could be a good fit. My daughter is too young for me to know for sure, but for now she does seem extremely sociable and adventurous, so I did register with Hill House school following this school visit.

Coming up next: my Knightsbridge School visit.

Private school versus preparatory school in London explained

30 Aug

For most internationals arriving in London, the first confusing terminology to come to grips with is the term public school. Particularly for Americans, using the term public school for what is in fact a private school is counterintuitive to say the least. I assume most people who have arrived here know by now that public schools are in fact private schools, and more commonly referred to as independent schools. This is opposed to state schools, which are run by the councils, or boroughs if you are in London.

So the next important distinction, and one that some expats realize too late after their kids have already started at a London private school, is the one between an independent school and a preparatory school. Simply put, a private or independent school is ANY school that is not a state school, funded in part by fees paid by the pupils’ parents. There are private pre-schools, private primary schools, secondary schools and overall private schools that run from Reception to GCSE or A-level age (examples of these in Londonwould be South Hampstead High or the Royal School Hampstead).

Preparatory schools are a subset of independent primary schools that PREPARE pupils for exams, hence the name. The exams they most commonly prepare for are the 7+/8+ exam in the case of pre-preparatory schools. This is the exam for admission to PREPARATORY schools. The preparatory schools in turn most typically prepare pupils for the 11+ and 13+ exams, which are competitive entrance exams for entry to leading independent day and boarding schools.

They key to deciding for or against a preparatory school is what your further plans beyond primary school for your child are. A big advantage of a private school that is not preparatory is that all time is spent on real learning and personal development, rather than exam preparation. Preparatory schools will dedicate particular curriculum time to improve pupils’ performance in test taking, verbal reasoning and the like, time that they do not spend on classroom discussion, reading or extracurricular activities. If you are very happy with the current school and your child is thriving there, you might enjoy the long-term nature of knowing your child develops at his own pace, without continuous exam pressure, with freedom to explore different interests.

The advantage of a preparatory school is that it makes switching schools easier, so if you have a particular senior school in mind that you think is best for your child, you may want to make sure your child is prepared for the entrance procedure at such a school. Particularly if you like the idea of your child attending a leading Boarding School in the future, you will appreciate the dedicated effort a preparatory school is going to make in placing your child at the boarding school of choice.

I think there is an argument to be made for private schools that are not preparatory in nature, but since they are designed for those who do not intend to switch schools at a later stage, I would argue that very high quality of the school to minimise the chances that you may want to take your child out of the school at some point in the future is absolute key. I’d be very interested to hear what other parents think, especially those who decided against the preparatory school route.

If you want to find out more, I found this excellent article “Getting through the prep-school maze”, written by mother of four Carrie Symes in the Angels & Urchins magazine.

Upcoming independent school shows (free tickets!)

27 Aug

The summer holidays are almost over, and with the beginning of the new term, independent schools will be busy marketing for next year’s intake. There will be several excellent independent school shows in different areas of London over the next couple of months that I want to highlight. Those who register online can get free tickets, and this is a great way to screen a large number of potential schools before narrowing down the top five or so that you want to visit and register your child with.

Friday September 16th – Saturday 17th

The season kicks off in just over two weeks with the Archant Good Schools Show in Kensington Olympia W14 8UX. You can get free tickets to the show by registering here. None of the 25 pre-prep schools on londonpreprep currently are among the exhibitors, but there are several very popular Central London schools that are worth checking out, such as GEMS Hampshire in Chelsea and Prospect House School in Putney. The Good Schools Guide will also have a stall at the show.

Friday September 23rd

All the top pre-preps in Hampstead, St. John’s Wood, Belsize Park etc. will be represented at the Independent Schools Show 2011 North London. You will be able to meet representatives from Abercorn School and Hampstead Hill School, among others. The event is held at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Register for free tickets here.

Saturday November 5th – Sunday November 6th

The main Independent Schools Show 2011 is the largest of its kind and will be held in Battersea Park this year. Apart from very popular pre-preps such as Wetherby and Chepstow House, all the top boarding schools including Eton, Fettes College, Cheltenham Ladies’ College etc. will be present. There are free tickets for those who register in advance online.

I am planning to go to the Archant Schools show and the main Independent Schools Show in Battersea and report back on the schools I interacted with here. If you know of any schools show that is missing here, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

What to expect for the pre-prep school assessment

19 Aug

Newcomers to London find out about the famous assessment soon after their babies are born and people start telling them that they should now start thinking about schools! A few pre-prep schools are non-selective (notably Pembridge Hall, Wetherby, Hill House School, and the Eaton House Schools), but many very popular schools do run assessments in order to narrow down the registration list of one to two hundred candidates to the twenty to fourty children chosen for the Reception class. So if you want your child to get into Glendower Prep, Thomas’s, Garden House or the Knightsbridge School, for example, prepare yourself to bring your 3-4 year old in for an assessment by the future school.

Assessments for Reception entry are very different from assessments at the 7+ or the 11+ level, where children are tested on their school knowledge. At this young age, schools mainly look for social skills that suggest the child will fit into the school community. They will be looking for children who share and will socialise in a small group. They will probably read a story to check if your child can sit and listen, and they will ask questions on the story they have read. So you see that mostly, the assessment is about behaviour – taking turns to answer questions, sharing at play, and listening.

Additional tasks carried out individually might be:

– Recognising and writing of your child’s name
– Correct scissor use
– Recognise numbers to 10 and/or  count to 10

The Glendower Prep School has a good overview of their assessment on their website: “Prospective pupils are invited to attend in groups of 6 or 7 for about 40 minutes to be observed interacting by three or four adults… The skills being sought are mainly social maturity and readiness to learn in a group situation. Cooperation, flexibility, a “can do” approach and facility with the English language are all highly regarded. We are also looking for numeracy skills, letter recognition and a basic ability to follow instructions.”

How do you prepare for Assessment then? There is nothing really to prepare for the day as such, what is required is really to make sure your child picks up these social skills in the first years of his life. If you read bedtime stories and encourage storytelling and communication at home, those tasks during assessment should present no problem. All good nurseries would also teach children about sharing toys and being polite to other children and adults, so there is nothing really to worry about.

It is important that your child is relaxed on the day and expects the assessment to be a playsession to make friends and explore, as that way the school will be able to observe his skills in action. I have heard of several cases of children being so intimidated or confused that they refused to speak to the teachers or other children on the day, and none of these children were offered places at those schools. At that age, it is still quite common for children to go silent when strangers ask them questions, so it will be useful to work on that if you think this could happen to your little one.

Garden House School 8+ Boys Scholarship

18 Aug

Garden House School in Chelsea has introduced a new merit-based scholarship covering 50% of school fees!

It is open to boys in year 3 (for entry into year 4 in September 2011), and is assumed to be repeated each year. This looks like a fantastic opportunity for a high achiever currently attending state schools to attend such a great school at a much lower cost.

More information on Garden House School Scholarship.

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