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Choosing an independent school for your child is a big decision, probably the biggest decision you will ever make. After all, your choice of school will affect your finances, your family routines, and shape your child’s development. It’s not an easy decision, every independent school has its own unique strengths and values. So how do you know which school is right for your child?

We look at the academic and pastoral benefits of independent schools and share our 6 top tips for parents who are seeking to choose a school for their child.

 

Why choose an independent school?

The most obvious answer is academic performance. Independent schools offer a greater subject choice across all year groups than state schools, and they tend to attract the best teachers. This teaching expertise, combined with small class sizes, translates into excellent results in key national exams such as GCSE and A-levels.

Yet it’s important to remember that exam results are just a small part of a child’s school experience. Independent schools offer a rich variety of co-curricular activities and unrivalled opportunities for personal growth. Ultimately, parents are paying for a holistic education that prepares children to develop the skills and strategies they need to make a successful start on adult life.

6 tips for choosing an independent school

 

  1. Consider the location

Location is key when choosing a school, especially if your child will be attending as a day pupil. The first question you need to ask is this: is the school within reasonable commuting distance? After all, 60+ minutes twice a day is a LOT of travelling for a young person to do, especially if they’re involved in after school clubs and weekend activities. It’s also a lot of travelling for parents, so ask yourself if doing such a long school run will fit with your other commitments.

It’s worth mentioning that some schools provide their own bus service, but you’ll need to consider public transport if they don’t. Public transport can be a cost-effective option that allows your child to build their independence, especially if your chosen school is on a direct bus train route, but bear in mind the safety issues. Are you happy for your child to travel long distances on public transport, especially on dark winter evenings? If not, you may need to consider boarding your child at school, at least for the weekdays.

Distance is less of an issue for boarders, but the school surroundings still require careful consideration. Many parents are drawn to rural boarding schools which provide easy access to green spaces and the great outdoors. This rural environment can be idyllic, but it’s important to make sure that school is involved in the life and activities of the local community. If the school is isolated (geographically or socially), the pupils are more likely to grow up in a bubble that doesn’t provide the broad life experiences they’ll need to thrive after school.

 

  1. Ask yourself what matters to you and your family

What are you looking for in a school? Or, more specifically, what areas should your chosen school prioritise? Some schools focus on results and league tables, others take a more holistic approach to supporting the developing child and preparing them to thrive in the rapidly evolving world of work. Parents should also consider traditions. Every independent school has its own unique philosophy and values, some of which may be linked to their origins – for example, some schools have close links with the church or the military. The job for parents is to research the ethos of the school, and make sure that it aligns with their own values and priorities.

 

  1. Facilities are key

Grandiose architecture steeped in history.

Innovative, eye-catching modern design.

The school building is the first thing that most parents see, and those buildings make a powerful impression. Remember though, beautiful buildings may look good in a brochure, but bricks and mortar don’t make a school great. You need to see inside the building to truly assess the facilities. Are the classrooms spacious, are they plentiful? Are specialist teaching spaces such as labs and I.T. suites well-equipped and properly maintained? What about non-teaching spaces such as libraries, common rooms, and dining areas – are they cramped, or poorly laid out? Parents should also consider the quality and availability of creative facilities such as performance areas and art studios. These things will greatly influence the quality of your child’s learning journey, and even their willingness to get involved with new activities and experiences.

While you’re looking at the indoor facilities, don’t forget to check the outside spaces. For urban schools in particular, space is a valuable commodity that enriches a child’s life. A small, tarmacked yard is no substitute for spacious grounds where children can decompress and connect with nature. Sports facilities matter too, even for those children who are less physically inclined. Exercise is essential for developing healthy bodies and healthy minds, and helps children combat stress. What’s more, playing sport helps children develop essential life skills including team working, strategy and self-discipline. So, ask to see the playing fields, and ask about the other sports facilities on offer such as swimming pools, gyms and racquet sport courts.

 

  1. Don’t place too much focus on exam results

As we mentioned above, parents are often drawn to independent schools for their excellent academic credentials. However, we always advise parents to never judge a school on its examination results alone; they only show how academically selective a school is. Instead, we suggest that exam results should be considered in the wider context of the experiences and opportunities available to pupils, and careers and achievements that former pupils have enjoyed after leaving the school.

 

  1. Ask about co-curricular and extracurricular activities

Education doesn’t just happen in the classroom. In fact, it’s those experiences that students have outside the classroom that enrich their education the most. A good independent school will offer a host of activities to choose from, giving children new, unique experiences. These activities will vary from school to school but may include a busy clubs programme (debating clubs, choirs, and drama groups), plentiful sporting opportunities, and the chance to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Parents should also ask whether the school is involved in charity and community events where children can learn about real-world issues and spend time spend time helping others.

 

  1. Visit, visit, and visit again.

Visit as many schools as possible before making your choices, and when you’ve chosen a shortlist, visit those schools again. In-person visits may be difficult due to social distancing measures, but any reputable school should offer a comprehensive virtual tour. If possible, talk to teachers and pupils (online if necessary) to ask about their experiences at the school.

Visiting a school allows you to get a better feel for the school environment and their community dynamics. So, if you can physically visit the school, take a little time to observe quietly. Do the children seem happy and relaxed? Do they engage confidently and respectfully with their staff and peers?

 

Choosing an independent school for your child is just the start, the next step is to pass the entrance exam. George Alexander Tuition provides specialised math tuition for students sitting the 11 plus, 13 plus, and common entrance exams. We are based in central London, and our 1-1 lessons are available online or in-person. To make an enquiry, or book a tutor, you can contact us on info@gatuition.com, or call us on 07494 672719.

Liz

Liz

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