Mix And Match State And Private Education
It is no longer the case that parents opt to educate their children wholly in the private school sector or wholly in state education. Savvy parents are switching between the state and fee-paying sectors to maximise opportunities for their children and minimise costs.
But when is the right time to switch and why?
Why choose a state school education?
Advantages of state education are usually that it's close by and part of the community.A free school bus operates in country areas (often but by no means always avoiding the need to become full-time driver); a broad social mix; no school fees; a slight edge on the private sector when it comes to Oxbridge entrance (if your child has the determination and confidence to get straight As in a state school); often greater understanding of the wide world at the end of it.
Why choose a fee-paying school?
Advantages of the private school system are usually a greater chance of doing well in public exams, especially for an average child (although there are many exceptions); often better academic (as opposed to pastoral) care; a wider range of extras and often at a higher standard; smaller classes; the opportunity to study elite subjects such as Greek and start modern languages earlier; the opportunity to board and all that implies.
The right age to jump ship?
Many parents play the system, moving between the state and independent sectors. It helps, when planning your child’s journey through the maze of state and private schools, to know the main stages of jumping from one to another.
Age minus 1
Start looking at schools – you may need to book a place soon after birth in the private sector. For the best state schools you have three or four years to move into the catchment area. If you are after a religious school, start going to church every week. No school is impressed by six months attendance when your child is 10.
Age 6 months to 4+
Nursery/kindergarten, particularly in the private sector.
‘Pre-prep’ starts in the private sector.
Education is compulsory for everyone in the UK. Year 1, in the English state system, is the year beginning in the September following the child’s fifth birthday.
NB This places children born late in the school year at a disadvantage – so avoid getting pregnant between July and November inclusive - on average summer born babes will do less well throughout their school careers. Indeed the latest research suggests that they are 20 per cent less likely to make it to university. The problem appears to be one of social status within the school – younger children ending up at the bottom of the pecking order – rather than an intellectual inability to catch up.
The obvious remedy is to allow those younger children, who seem to be falling behind, to drop back a year. Until 2005 this practice was made particularly difficult by the government’s former practice of reporting schools’ GCSE and A level results. Fortunately Government policy has turned around, and accepted that what should come first is the interests of the child rather than the league tables. So, if it seems right to you that your child should drop back a year, this is a battle that you ought now to be able to win.
‘Prep’ school starts in the private sector.
State secondary schools, grammar schools and private girls’ schools usually start, ie in Year 7.
Age 13 (or thereabouts)
Move to most private secondary (senior) schools (some known as ‘public schools’ for reasons of history, a source of confusion to all but the Brits) for boys, and to private co-educational establishments, although some have lowered their entry age to 11.
Once GCSEs are over, all change is possible: boys and girls may move from state schools to private ones (almost all now have entry at 16+, sometimes with scholarships), or from private schools to, say, state sixth form colleges as petty restrictions begin to irk. You may want to leave for a school that offers the International Baccalaureate. Entry at sixth form level increasingly depends on GCSE results. Check with the school when applications need to be made. Girls applying to the sixth form of boys’ or co-ed schools may expect tough-ish competition.
If it looks as though A levels may be a struggle for your child and he/she is set on university, it is possible (though the logistics may defeat you and it will almost certainly mean going to school in Scotland) to change from the English exam system to the Scottish one of Highers (see below). This is much more broadly based – more subjects at a slightly lower level – and is now accepted by most English as well as all Scottish universities but the different age cut off (February rather than August) may further muddy the waters.
Another possibility, for the less academic, is to find a school or college that offers the more vocational BTECs and Diplomas, a blend of the academic and practical, delivered in a much more accessible style than A levels. If you opt for the vocational route do check individual courses at universities - not all will accept these qualifications. See the UCAS website for the latest qualifications tariff.
We have a whole series of articles and advice to help you every step of the way; whether tentatively embarking on choosing a school, or part way through the school choice process.
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