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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.


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.

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.

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