Exploring all the possibilities in choosing schools: why parents need a trusted guide
I spent an evening recently at a prestigious prep school in the south of England, presenting to parents, and answering their questions, about the various choices they could explore for their children when they were considering senior schools. As the evening progressed, it struck me again, as it has frequently in the past, very forcibly, just how complex the process of applying to senior school can be.
As educators, we build up over many years an extensive understanding of the intricacies of what schools can offer, where their strengths lie, what their ethos is, how they support children with specific needs, what kind of an experience they offer to international students, and - extremely importantly - what they expect during the application process, including how they assess prospective pupils, and what standards they require in their entrance examinations.
Few parents can or should expect to have this same degree of nuanced information; and given that some of these school entry and assessment processes can start 3 or 4 years before the first planned day of term, and each school operates a slightly different process, it is not surprising that parents can experience an enormous amount of anxiety, and even feel lost or adrift.
Help, however, is at hand; parents should not expect to walk alone through the thorny process of choosing a school, or of ensuring that their child is well-prepared to be successful in their application. The three main messages I communicated to the parents at the school I visited last week were as follows:
1 - Start the process of researching schools early
So that you can cast the net wide, and look for the school which you feel will best suit your child. When parents embark on the process of choosing a school - wherever in the world they are - they often have a much more limited knowledge than they realise of which schools are around, and what these schools have to offer. In the U.K., membership of a schools’ association which is part of ISC (the Independent Schools Council) is a mark of quality, and all of these schools will have good track records in supporting their students into higher education and life beyond school. There are over 1,300 schools in associations which are members of ISC; there genuinely is a school for every child, and it is worth spending time looking for the right one, which offers the right fit and the right logistical support to meet your needs.
2 - Take time to understand your child
What strengths does he/she have? What interests him/her? In what kind of environment - large/small/rural/urban/boarding/day - does he/she thrive? It can be tempting as parents to focus on the prestige of a school, or its examination results, or the list of its alumni and the universities they attended, but while this gives some information about a school, these are by their nature all outdated facts, about how other children have fared; they do not say anything at all about how your child will thrive in this environment, and this is ultimately what you need to assess. Look for a school which fits your child, not one where your child will end up uncomfortable or stressed. Remember - in today’s world, your child will be at an advantage if he/she develops a strong and relaxed self-confidence, because this underpins the creativity and adaptable thinking that are absolutely crucial to career success now.
3 - Don’t do this alone
It is too important a decision to take alone. Find and work with an experienced and trusted educational consutlant who has made it their business to know exactly which schools are suitable for which children, and how best to prepare for entry. Even just gong through the process of articulating, to someone else, or having someone else diagnose your child’s strengths, can make an enormous difference to the quality of your thinking, and therefore the eventual outcome for your child.
Parents deserve to be supported in their journey, and help is out there.
Dr Helen Wright is an Advisor to William Clarence Education and is Chair of AEGIS, the UK’s Association for the Educational Guardianship of International Students
William Clarence Education offers unbiased advice on UK School and University Placement, Oxbridge Admissions, US College Applications, UCAS application and extensive support for parents and students in all aspects of preparing for entry to the UK. Please contact us on 02074128988 to discuss your particular needs, or email email@example.com