How to choose a school

Finding the right school is imperative if your child is to thrive. Gillian Upton explores how to find the perfect fit

choose1

MATCH FIT

Every parent wants the best for their child but it’s equally not fair to put a child in a school where they will flounder. Tutoring may get them through the entrance exam but what happens after they start school? The bottom line is that not every child is St Paul’s or Westminster material, and children should not be put under pressure to be something they’re not.

“CHOOSING A SECONDARY SCHOOL IS A BIG SOURCE OF STRESS FOR MANY LONDON PARENTS”

“Choosing a secondary school is a big source of stress for many London parents,” says Sophia Ashworth Jones, head at Peregrines Pre-Prep at Falcons School for Girls. “It’s compounded by insufficient provision of places allocated non-selectively and the need for children to sit the 11+ exam”.

So where do those children go to find the right education? The number of schools for children who reach age-related expectations is shrinking as more and more non-selective private sector schools become more rigorously selective.

“The London market is so competitive, and selective, that parents of ‘all-rounder’ children find it hard to find the right, inclusive school,” says Dr Millan Sachania, head of Streatham & Clapham High School.

Clearly one size doesn’t fit all and our education system measures us against the yardstick of averages – how close we are to it or how far away – and then makes a judgement about our potential. The new yardstick this year – introducing grades 1-9 in Maths and English to better differentiate the A star students – will effectively segregate the top 3% who are expected to achieve a grade 9.

choose2Todd Rose, director of the Mind, Brain & Education Programme at Harvard University, argues that measuring us against a yardstick of averages is scientifically wrong. In his book, ‘The End of Average. How to Succeed in a World that Values Sameness,’ he asserts that no one is average and using that yardstick is a one-dimensional understanding of achievement. “This seriously underestimates human potential,” he says.

“While we know people learn and develop in distinctive ways, these unique patterns of behaviours are lost in our schools and businesses which have been designed around the mythical ‘average person.’ This average-size-fits-all model ignores our differences and fails at recognising talent. It’s time to change it.”

But while there are school league table positions to maintain, it’s highly unlikely that schools will change their admissions policies on this side of the pond. One head admitted: “No school wants to sell themselves in the lower leagues”.

Katharine Crouch, head of Sutton High School, believes that too many London schools are focused on their A level league table position and fail those students whose strengths lie elsewhere. “Parents increasingly base their selection of senior schools on the infamous league tables,” she says. “In order to maintain pupil numbers, schools need to climb these league tables so cannot afford to carry less able students.”

“These children can be really well-rounded and perfectly able to enjoy their education,” says Mary Lonsdale, owner of London Home Tutors. “Things have really changed. To get into an independent school years ago was relatively easy but now pupils are competing with the global elite in some of these schools.”

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