The prospect of moving on from a cosy prep school can be daunting, and deciding on the right senior school even more so. Port Regis School offers some soothing advice.
1. Which School?
First and foremost, get to grips with the basics: Single sex or co-ed? Day or boarding? Location? Cost? Academic suitability? Once you have honed in on a handful of suitable schools, you will want to visit them. It is probably best to do this without your children in the first instance – it is better to trust your own instincts to start with. Later in the process, of course it is a good idea to show your child the few schools which you have chosen to pursue.
2. Securing a Place
Once you have decided that a certain school would be perfect for your child, you need to register your interest. This requires a fee (usually about £200), and ensures that your child is in the system and that he or she will be expected to sit pre-assessment tests or Common Entrance for that school in due course.
When to register? For most schools, it is advisable to register your interest before your child completes Year 6. A small number of more traditional boarding schools (Radley, Eton, Winchester) require you to register even earlier, and it is important to adhere to these deadlines.
At this point, the procedures diverge. Increasingly, schools will ask your child to come for interview and to sit a pre-assessment test. This will usually be in Year 7. If the result is good, you will be offered a place at the school – usually described as being ‘subject to passing Common Entrance’.
Other schools do not use the pre-assessment process. They will merely ask your child to sit Common Entrance. This takes place in the summer term of Year 8 and involves exams in all academic subjects. Senior schools do their best to ensure that children do not fail at this hurdle, and will try to match applicants with places. However, there is always the possibility that too many children have taken Common Entrance for a particular school, and that places cannot be offered to them all.
3. Interviews, assessment tests and references
For schools following the pre-assessment route, your child will usually be asked to attend an assessment day during Year 6 or 7. There will almost always be tests in English and Maths, and often in Science too. Many of these tests are now done on the computer, and are not dissimilar to the 11+ and CAT tests. There will also be an interview, and some schools require the children to take part in group activities such as drama or sport.
Your prep school will also be asked to provide a reference for your child. This is usually prepared by your child’s tutor and signed off by the Head. It will report on all aspects of your child’s involvement at school – with specific sections on academic progress, sport, drama, art and technology. Schools will also be asked to give a general overview of your child’s personality, and to comment on his or her suitability as a pupil to the senior school in question. Senior schools also often request a comment on parental support for the school.
4. Scholarships and bursaries
While almost all schools are prepared to offer bursarial support, the level of financial assistance varies wildly. On the whole, the wealthier the school, the more bursarial help there is on offer.
There are two ways to access this support. Firstly, there is the scholarship route. All schools aim to recognise academic excellence. Many also offer scholarships for Art, Drama, Sport, Music and Technology or an All-Round award. These carry an automatic reduction in fees, ranging from about 5 per cent to 25 per cent.
If more support is needed, then you will have to apply for a means-tested bursary. Such support can be but is not necessarily limited to parents of children who have already won a scholarship, but it will certainly help if your child has a talent in a particular area which is valued by the school. You will need to fill out a lengthy form. Schools will apply different criteria when assessing applications. Obviously, there must be a real need for assistance and there is often an expectation that both parents are working; there is no point applying if you live in a castle and have chosen not to work for many years.