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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.

How I threw all principles overboard and registered my daughter at a girls school

18 Aug

For many international parents in London, the concept of a boys or girls only school may seem somewhat outdated. Most of us have attended mixed schools in our childhoods and really don’t see why children should be separated by gender so early on. I am certainly in this camp and I had all the right reasons to completely focus my school search on co-ed schools, among them:

  • you want your children to make friendships regardless of gender
  • you don’t want your young children to accept narrow social categories so early on so they can develop freely based on their personalities
  • you might have more children later so you want to make sure they all attend school together
  • you are looking for a broad range of extracurriculars, and single sex schools can be more limited in their choice (I found no girls school that offers martial arts, for example, whereas most mixed and boys schools do)

Right? So how did I end up registering my daughter at Glendower Prep School? To be fair, it is the only girls’ school I signed her up with, and the other two schools I chose for her are mixed. There are arguments to be made for single-sex schools, and if you are like me and are focusing your search only on mixed schools at the moment, I encourage you to consider them:

  • as it happens, some of the top pre-prep schools in London just happen to be single sex for historical reasons. If you are looking for the best school for your little one, you may be excluding a fantastic school for no other reason than its lack of a gender mix. When I looked at Glendower Prep School, I was incredibly impressed by their exit results and their academic quality, and I felt bad about preventing my daughter from having the best academic experience. Among boys’ schools, Wetherby has impressive exit results, and these might prompt you to consider it. I am not even arguing that they are successful because they are single sex, but the point is that there are very high quality single sex schools, and you don’t want to miss out on them
  • secondly, you can flip the gender stereotype reason used above around, as it is often mixed schools which highlight the “boy/girl” category in the pupils, whereas in single sex schools, boys will define themselves much less as boys and girls much less as girls and instead develop their own personality. This can give girls more freedom to develop into passionate scientists or boys to pursue artistic interest. I am not sure if this is relevant at the initial stage, but it could become important once children approach their teens and prepare for secondary school

I had two personal encounters that tilted the balance for me: first, I visited Glendower Prep School, and I just absolutely loved the girls I met there. They were so genuine, friendly, curious and confident that I immediately imagined my daughter as such a smart and competent girl in a few years time, and I loved the idea. I actually brought my baby daughter along to the visit, and the girls in each class were incredibly sweet towards her. I was very impressed by their attitude and behaviour and could certainly imagine my daughter as a Glendower girl. I was still not sold on the idea of a girls school though, that required a second enounter.

Recently, we met another international couple and their 7-year old daughter attending the Royal School Hampstead, a girls school. Their daughter had initially attended a mixed state school and been chosed for the gifted and talented programme. Her parents became increasingly disappointed with the local school failing to stretch their daughter and she became bored at school, so they started looking at private schools. Again, they found the concept of a girls school strange and would have preferred co-ed at first, but then they fell in love with the Royal School, which their daughter has attended for one year now. As with the girls at Glendower, again I was extremely impressed with their daughter, her behaviour, her maturity, her humour. Of course a lot comes from the parents, not from the school, but again I met this daughter and felt like if my daughter turned out anything like her, I would be very pleased. After meeting them and seeing how their daughter was thriving at a private girls school, I finally filled in the Glendower registration form that had been lying on our kitchen table for months, and now there is at least a chance that my daughter will one day go to a girls school.

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